He expelled a long breath. “He’s a good boy. He’ll protect you.”
I frowned, not just because of Clyde’s words, but because Jax was in the bedroom, picking up the stuff Greasy Guy had thrown around, which included a couple of pairs of undies. “Uh, Uncle Clyde . . . I got to go.”
“I mean it, baby girl, he’ll do good by you,” Clyde went on, and his words caused the flutter to return to my chest, more powerful than before. “You hear me?”
“Yeah,” I whispered. “I hear you.”
“Good. Call me in the morning. Okay?”
“Will do.” I hung up and slowly entered the bedroom, my heart skipping around in my chest. I stopped just inside the door. “Jax, what are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” He righted the mattress. “I doubt this was your idea of rearranging a room.”
“No, but I can take care of it. You don’t—”
“I am helping, so don’t argue with me about it.” He bent down and grabbed a sheet, tossing it toward me. “And I’m staying the night.”
The sheet hit the floor. “What?”
“I’m staying with you.” He went about fitting the other sheet to the mattress. “I can take the couch.” His thick lashes lifted, and his eyes were back to the warm brown. “Or I can stay in here . . .”
I had no words.
He took the other sheet from where it lay in a pile, and I just stood there as he finished the bed and went back to picking up the strewn-about clothes. As he grabbed a handful of colorful, silky items, I snapped out of it.
I stormed over, snatching my undies out of his hand. “You’re not staying here.”
“Then you’re coming to stay with me.”
A minute went by before I could even process that. “I am not staying with you.”
“And then I’m staying with you.” He started grabbing what was left of my clothes on the floor as I shoved my undies in a drawer. “This house isn’t safe, obviously, especially when you’re opening the door to random thugs—”
“I’m not going to open the door again!” I shouted.
Pausing while closing a dresser drawer, he straightened, and as he did so, his lips tipped up at one corner. “What are you wearing?”
“What?” I glanced down at myself. The shirt was black, with a built-in bra, thank God, because I didn’t want to be all boobalicious, and the sleep shorts were a soft pink. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
“Nothing.” Grinning, he closed the drawer. “Like the socks. It’s cute. You’re cute.”
The socks were a blue and pink plaid, and they were cute. “Thanks,” I muttered, distracted by the pleasant buzz invading my thoughts. Which was bad. Very bad. Like very, very bad, because there didn’t need to be any buzzing of anything. I bitch-smacked the buzz into next week. “You’re not staying—”
“Then you’re coming to my place? Awesome.”
My temples began to pound. “I’m not going to your place.”
Jax moved to the foot of the bed, near the mountain of pillows. That was one thing about Mom that never changed. She always had at least five pillows on a bed, and the pillows were never more than a month old. “Are you always so argumentative?”
I squinted at him. “Are you always so bossy?”
He cast a grin in my direction. “Honey, you haven’t seen bossy yet.”
“Yay . . .” I blessed him with some unenthused jazz fingers.
Smirking, he grabbed two pillows, and then rounded the bed. His long-legged pace carried him right to me, and he stopped only a few inches from my face. “You can tell me not to stay here all you want. Yell. Wiggle your fingers at me. Whatever. It’s not going to change anything because I seriously doubt you can make me leave this house. You get what I’m saying?”
I felt my eyes widen. Yeah, I got what he was saying, and I didn’t like it, so I wondered if I kicked him in the balls, if that would help him get what I was saying.
Jax tipped his chin down, and by doing so, his lips were within the same breathing space as mine. In spite of the irritation marching across my skin like an army of fire ants, my heart jumped in my chest. “I know deep down, you get why I’m here and why Clyde isn’t.”
Uh. Actually, I didn’t. I started to tell him that, but then he went on.
“I want to make sure you’re safe since you’re staying for . . . however long.” He shifted slightly, tilting his head to the side as he did. A heartbeat passed, and his eyes locked with mine. “And being here by yourself isn’t safe, so I’m going to make it safe for you.”
A breath pushed out between my now-parted lips. An urge rose out of nowhere. My body wanted to lean into his. Damn. That was the strangest thing ever. Never before had I wanted to lean into a guy. I’d read about the need, but never really believed in it. But it would feel safe to lean on him and to be close. The desire rode me hard, and worse yet, I knew his body would be warm, and it would be hard in all the right and interesting places.
Oh man, my thoughts were going down the wrong road—the pervy road—but I couldn’t stop it. Jax . . . he was beautiful in a way that seemed impossible, untouchable, and he also had great eyebrows. Seriously. Darker than his wavy hair. Naturally slanted. Striking. They were just eyebrows, but they were hot.
But it was more than that.
God Almighty, I might’ve just committed a cardinal sin just by thinking it, but he was like Cam 2.0.
Because from what I knew about Jax, he was nice, really nice, which made him oh so very dangerous to my mental well-being, but I imagined going crazy for him would be a fun adventure.
I just knew I probably wouldn’t recover from something like that.
But I could almost feel his lips on mine. When he’d kissed me earlier, it had been brief and to prove a point, but I could feel them now.
Something deep and warm stirred in his eyes, and I wondered if he knew what I was thinking. Oh God, I prayed to a chubby baby Jesus that he didn’t. His lashes lowered, and my lips tingled from the weight of his gaze.
“Yeah, I think you’re starting to get me.” Then he swaggered past me into the living room.
“I need an adult,” I muttered, slowly turning around to see him by the couch in the living room.
“Oh, before I forget—”
“Don’t change the subject!” I stomped my foot and was damn proud of it, too.
He looked over his shoulder at me, brows raised. “Did you just stomp your foot?”
Heat crept across my cheeks as I grumbled, “Maybe.”
Jax’s lips twitched. “Cute.”
“It’s not cute! And you’re not staying here. And I’m—”
“And you’re going to give me a ride home tomorrow morning when you head to the bar,” he finished, stopping in front of the couch.
“I’m not going . . .” My shriek faded off as his words sunk in. “What?”
“I’m going to need a ride tomorrow,” he repeated, dropping the pillows against one arm of the couch. “I drove your car here. The windshield’s been fixed.”
I stared at him for so long he probably thought something was wrong with me, and then I hurried past him to the window near the TV. I yanked the curtains and there it was, my Focus sitting in the driveway.
“Let me guess. No cable?” asked Jax.
“What?” I gazed out the window, my heart racing.
“The TV? Mona probably didn’t keep up on the cable bill.” What sounded like the remote dropped onto the coffee table. “I have cable at my place. HBO. Starz. Just saying.”
There was a knot in my throat as I faced him. “How . . . how much do I owe you for the windshield.”
“I need to pay you for that. It’s not the same thing as you getting me fast food. I’m not that broke. I can pay—”
“I didn’t pay for it.” He ran his fingers through his hair as he eyed me. “Like I said, the guy—his name’s Brent—owed me a favor. He took care of the windshield. No charge.”
“He owed you a favor?” I repeated dumbly. “Are you, like, in the mob?”
He tipped his head back and let out a deep, rumbling laugh that caused my tummy to twist. “No.”
I liked his laugh.
Inching away from the window, I suddenly felt . . . I didn’t know how I felt. Relieved? Tense? Stunned? I felt all those things at once, but I knew not to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Thank you.”
One broad shoulder rose. “It’s no big deal.”
A moment passed. “You tired?”
No. I was wired, so antsy I felt like my bones and muscles were going to come out of my skin, but I lied and said yes, because I didn’t think I could be in the same room with him any longer. There was a burning behind my eyes I needed to get under control.
His eyes met mine for a second, and then he dropped down on the couch. He didn’t say anything else as I walked over to the small linen closet and pulled out the other blanket I’d seen earlier. I walked over, placing it on the arm of the couch farthest from him.
“By the way . . .” Jax gave me that half grin that caused my toes to curl inside my socks when I twisted toward him. “Those shorts and those legs? Fucking perfection.”
Flipping onto my back, I stared with wide eyes. Several of the thin panels in the blinds covering the window in the bedroom were broken, so slim slices of moonlight spread like fingers playing peekaboo across the ceiling.
I tossed and turned for what felt like hours, unable to shut my brain down. Each time I moved, the bed creaked a little. Or maybe a lot. It sounded superloud to me, but so did my heart as it pounded blood through my ears.
Jax was lying on the couch, mere feet away from the bedroom. And he’d kissed me earlier. And he’d gotten my windshield fixed. And he’d said my legs and my shorts were f**king perfection.
What was up with his fascination with my legs?
Flopping onto my stomach, I groaned into the pillow. My legs shouldn’t matter. It obviously wasn’t important, but I was fixated on how it was my legs he kept focusing on. There were other things about me, more noticeable things like my face that got attention. Not my legs.
But he kissed me and he was in the next room, right there, and my lips were tingling again. My first kiss—at age twenty-one, I’d experienced my first kiss. Finally. And I wasn’t even sure if it was a real kiss.
“God,” I moaned into the pillow.
I twisted onto my side, deciding I wouldn’t think about Jax anymore, because that was seriously pointless. So the next thing I thought about was her**n. Lots of her**n. Like maybe hundreds of thousands’ worth of it. How much he**in was that really? Like on the street? How many lives would it infect and ruin? Hundreds? Thousands?
And it had been in this house—Mom’s house.
I squeezed my eyes shut as unease curled in my stomach, spreading like noxious smoke. Was she doing that stuff now?
Okay. This wasn’t good to think about, either. My mind was empty for a few blissful moments, and then I started thinking about school. The initial panic surrounding how I’d pay my tuition had faded somewhat, and I knew I’d get federal aid. They didn’t use credit, but that didn’t fix everything. I’d need to get a waitressing job when I got back because I needed money to pay bills. That sucked because the last few semesters of nursing school were going to be ridiculously hard. And finishing school didn’t fix the rest of the crap—the debt, the bad credit, and everything else.
I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I didn’t want to think about it anymore because I was doing the best I could do. I made fifty bucks today and that was better than making nothing.
I rolled onto my back and that position lasted all of five minutes. This sucked, and I moved again, this time freezing as I settled on my other side, facing the bathroom.
The old hinges on the bedroom door squeaked as it was slowly pushed open. I held my breath. My back was to the door, but I knew it was Jax. His presence practically sucked the oxygen out of the room.
What was he doing? Did my tossing wake him up? Probably, since the bedroom door wouldn’t close all the way, leaving a half-foot gap between the door and the threshold. Something was wrong with the hinges. I didn’t know what and it didn’t matter.
The floorboard creaked under his footsteps.
Oh my God.
“Calla?” His voice wasn’t loud, but it was still like a crack of thunder.
Should I pretend to be asleep? I squeezed my eyes shut, thinking that was stupid, but I was willing to give that a shot.
“I know you’re not asleep.”
I still didn’t say anything because I was pretty sure I was beyond speaking. A wave of tiny goose bumps spread across my skin as I slowly opened my eyes. Sad, but true, I’d never been in bed before with a guy in the same room. Well, not entirely true. Jacob, a classmate at college, had been in my dorm once, but that wasn’t the same thing as right now.