I closed my eyes and drew in a deep breath. So much anger rose inside me, eating away at me like a cancer. And it was a poison that had been inside me, pecking away since I was a little girl. That was nothing new, but as I opened my eyes and watched her scratching her arm as she trekked a path in the floor, I was suddenly too exhausted to hold on to the more razor-sharped edges of the anger. After tonight, I was never going to see my mom again. She would be gone. Over the last couple of years it was like she was dead, but now it would be even more real. Before, I knew she was here or at least in the general vicinity of here, but after tonight, I’d have no idea where she’d be. If she got hurt or something worse happened, there’d be no Jax or Clyde to call me. I’d never know. She would be seriously gone.
I sat down, exhaling.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
My gaze lifted and she was closer now, still pacing and still scratching at what were most likely track marks. I tensed up. “I know.”
She stopped, looking at me like a deer in front of a speeding semi, and then she started walking. Frowning, I twisted around and watched her make her way toward the dining room table I doubted Jax had ever made use of.
There were a couple of sheets of paper.
With trembling hands, Mom swept off the paper and she turned to me. She started forward, stopping a few feet behind the couch. “This is . . . yours.”
Brows knitting, I stood and came to her. “What is it?”
She wiped at her sweaty forehead with the back of one emaciated arm. Temperature was set to ice box in his house. “It’s your life back.”
I stared at her, having no idea what she could’ve meant by that. Then she extended her arm, holding the papers out to me. Preparing myself for anything, I took them and quickly glanced at them.
Then I really took a real long look at them.
The papers turned out to be only three sheets, and one was longer, folded, and as I unfolded it, my breath caught. “Mom . . .”
“It’s yours. The house,” she said, and as I glanced up, she was running both hands down the sides of her cheeks. “There was never a loan on it. I never took a loan out against it. I . . . I just left it alone.”
I hadn’t known that. I assumed there was a loan she was many months behind on and the place would be foreclosed on at any minute. The fact that she hadn’t used the house as a source of additional funds blew my mind. I looked down at the papers to make sure the words hadn’t changed. Nope. Still a deed. Still signed by Mom and some guy whose name I didn’t recognize.
“All you have to do is sign it, but it’s done.” She moved away from the table and then stopped. “The house is yours. Sell it. You’ll get at least a hundred grand for it.”
My hands shook and it felt like the floor moved under my feet. I couldn’t even process this. The house was mine—if this was legit—the house was mine. I could sell it, make back almost if not all of the money to pay off the debt. My life would be back where it was, but better, shinier, because I had so much more in my life now.
I looked up at her, the ball of emotion back again, but this time the size of a basketball in my chest. “Mom, I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t thank me. Whatever you do, don’t thank me.” She swallowed hard. “You and I both know I wouldn’t deserve it.”
My lower lip trembled. “Mom.”
“I love you, baby.” She took a step forward, got within arm’s distance of me, but then backed away quickly. “I know it doesn’t seem like that, but I do love you. I’ve always loved you. I always will.”
I closed my eyes as I inhaled shakily.
“You make me so proud,” she whispered.
My body rocked and my eyes shot open. She was standing there, staring at me as she slowly walked backward, away from me, and I knew I could hug her. It would be the last time I saw her in maybe forever. I should hug her. She was my mom and as much as I hated her at times, I loved her. I would always love her.
But she didn’t give me the option.
Mom walked away, going to the back door, and I knew this was her way of saying no touching. She was leaving and with my heart firmly lodged in my throat, I watched her open the door—the one she had picked the lock to open.
And then I thought of Mona’s.
“Wait,” I called out, holding the papers close to my chest. And I knew it wasn’t so much my concern for the bar that had me calling out to her. I was delaying the inevitable. “What about Mona’s—the bar?”
Her dark brows pinched. “What about it, baby?”
Okay. I doubted she had forgotten about it. “The bar, Mom. What are you doing with that? If you’ve left me the house, did you sign over the bar, too?” Because that bar only passed to me in case of her death, and I sure as hell didn’t want to say or think that.
Mom shook her head. “Baby, I don’t own the bar anymore. I haven’t in . . . a year or so.”
The floor shifted again. “What?”
“I sold it for . . .” She barked out a dry, weak laugh. “That doesn’t matter. I sold it and it’s in good hands, baby.”
The hair on the back of my neck rose and a weird rush of goose bumps raced across my skin. I suddenly thought I should be sitting.
“And you’re in the same good hands. I always thought that . . . you and Jackson would be perfect for one another. He’s a good boy. Yeah, a really good man. He loves strong and he cares, really cares,” she went on as I reached out, bracing myself by putting a hand on the back of the dining room chair. “He’s been good for the bar. He’ll take care of it like he has been.”
I drew in a sharp breath. “Jax owns the bar?”
Mom nodded and her hand tightened on the door handle. “I don’t want that kind of life for you. You’re going to be a nurse, right? You’re going to make a difference in people’s lives. Good things. That’s your . . . it’s your path.”
I blinked. Wait. What? “How did you know that?”
She opened her mouth and then her stringy hair bounced around her cheeks again. “I gotta go, baby. Be good. I know you will, but be good and . . . and be happy. You deserve that.”
Then she was gone, slipping out the door like a wraith, and I stood there, caught between too many emotions to even move. Mom was gone. She was really gone now, and before she’d left, she’d given me the world.
And she had also rocked a very large part of it straight down to its now-cracked foundations.
I felt like an idiot.
Gathering up the papers Mom had given me, I took them with me to the couch and picked up my phone off the coffee table. I wished I had my car. Since the back window had been shattered and there were a few unnecessary holes in the body of the car during the Pennsylvania version of the O.K. Corral, my car was in the repair shop for the second time around, and I doubted these repairs would be a freebie. None of that mattered right now, though. I just wanted to get out of here. I needed to do something, because my head was spinning and there was pressure building in my chest.
It was almost eleven. Jax should be home soon, and as I eased up my grip on the phone, I considered texting or calling him. Instead, I dropped the phone on the coffee table.
I was so damn unobservant and stupid.
All of it made sense now and I should’ve known that Mom hadn’t had anything to do with the bar anymore. The condition it was in, the way it was running smoothly, and all the legit paperwork in that office screamed that someone else was in control. And Clyde had told me that I didn’t need to worry about the bar. Obviously not.
Mom had sold it to Jax and he had never told me. Neither had Clyde, but I wasn’t sleeping with Clyde, I wasn’t in love with Clyde; therefore Jax’s lack of sharing on that minor little detail seemed way more important.
I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t even understand why he didn’t tell me, especially after the first time I was in the office going through papers thinking I had every right to do so when apparently I had no right whatsoever.
Scrubbing my hands down my face, I stared at the deed to my mother’s house—now my house, my ticket out of the debt Mom had forced me into. That fixed the major problem looming over my head, the one I never forgot but tried not to dwell on because it would drive me crazy, but now . . . now there was this.
Jax had lied to me.
I didn’t know what to feel about any of this and I was feeling too much, because Mom was here and she had left for good, and Jax had kept something so big from me. My trust was rocked. It was shattered, barely held together.
If he lied about this, if he kept this from me, what else had he lied about or kept from me? I didn’t think that was an unreasonable question. From past experience I knew that when people kept things from others, there was more hidden in their depths.
Hell, I was a prime example.
My gaze flickered to my phone as I lowered my hands, then I leaned forward, snatched it off the table, and did something that I’d never done in the past.
I kind of felt bad for calling Teresa, because it was way late and I was sure I might have interrupted some one-on-one time with Jase based on his wrinkled clothing and the current tangled state of her hair.
But like a true friend, she answered the call. Not only that, but she and Jase had driven back over to Jax’s house and picked me up, taking me back to the suite they were sharing with Cam and Avery.
It was past midnight, the suite door was open, and I was sitting there with them. Curled up in one those uncomfortable as hell floral armchairs, I told them what had just gone down.
Avery looked floored.
Cam, who was sitting behind her on the floor with his arm around her waist, his long legs cradling her body, looked none too happy with the latest revelations—the whole Jax owning the bar I thought would one day be mine part.
Teresa had a thoughtful expression on her face.
Jase was leaning against the headboard of the bed and his face was unreadable, but he was the first to really say something other than “what the f**k” and “holy shit.”
“People have their reasons for keeping some things a secret,” he said. “I’m not saying that justifies any of it or whatever, but you got to hear him out.”
Cam rolled his eyes. “Bud, that’s not something you keep a secret.”
“Yeah, I know all about things that shouldn’t be kept a secret.” The look Jase sent Cam had my radar going overboard. There was something in their exchange. “But people have their reasons. He seems like a pretty cool guy and he didn’t keep it from her her to just be a dick.”
“Jase is right,” Teresa said before Cam could respond. “I mean, it isn’t cool that he kept this from you. It’s important, but there has to be a reason.”
I nodded as my gaze dipped to my phone, which rested in my lap. About twenty minutes ago, Jax had called. I hadn’t answered, but I texted him back, and all I said was that I was with Teresa. He’d responded, but I hadn’t allowed myself to check it. He’d called again, and then I’d turned the ringer off. Not the most mature thing to do, but I still had no idea what to say to him, what to even think.
But Teresa and Jase had a point. We all had our secrets and we all told our lies. I was woman enough to admit that I had told some major lies to my friends and they’d heard me out and they’d forgiven me.
I just needed to get my head on straight. Too much had happened in too little time. I was doubting everything.
“He really cares about you,” Avery said, and my gaze moved to her. I wondered if she was a mind reader and a gorgeous redhead. “When you were hurt, he wouldn’t leave your side.”
“I know,” I whispered.
“No,” she said. “I mean, when you were out of it, we heard about how he acted from your friend Roxy. He threw a fit when they wouldn’t talk to him about your status because he wasn’t family.”
My heart turned over. “What?”
She nodded. “He almost got kicked out. It was one of his cop friends that finally got him calmed down and talked to the doctors. He really does care about you, Calla, so there’s got to be a reason for—”
A knock on the hotel door interrupted her, causing my back to straighten. It was way late, so this was odd. “You guys expecting someone?”
Cam disentangled himself from Avery and rose to his feet. “We’re not, but I’m willing to wager a kiss as to who it probably is.”
Teresa’s eyes widened on me, and my pulse started pounding. I unfurled my legs and gripped the arm of the chair.
Cam peered through the peephole. “Yep. I was right.”
I started to stand, thinking I probably should’ve answered the phone or whatever, because now I had a sinking suspicion of who it was.
Cam opened the door and stepped aside, revealing who stood in the doorway and that my suspicions were totally correct.
Jax stood there, and the look on his face, the tension in the thin line of his lips and around his dark eyes, told me he knew that I knew.
That I knew everything.
He stalked into the room as Cam closed the door, muttering, “Come on in.”
Jax ignored him, his gaze fixed on me. “We need to talk.”
My heart was pounding as I stood, clenching my cell phone in my hand. “Yeah, we need to talk.”
“Am I the only one who is wondering how he knew she was here, in this hotel?” Cam asked as he walked back over to where Avery was.
“There’s not too many hotels around the hospital,” he replied, still looking at me. “And I have friends who can find shit out for me very quickly.”