The floor didn’t creak again, but the bed suddenly dipped under his weight. Forget pretending to be asleep. My body wouldn’t allow it. I rose onto my elbow, twisting my neck back, my eyes peeling wide. In the silvery moonlight, I could see the tips of his high cheekbones and the form of his body. That was more than enough.
“What are you doing?” My voice was pitched embarrassingly high.
Jax was leaning on his hip, his hand planted into the bed near mine. “You weren’t sleeping.”
“Yes, I was.” I was a terrible liar.
“I think I’ve listened to you moving around in this bed for the last hour.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, but my heart had turned into a steel drum.
“And I’ll admit, it’s pretty distracting.” In the shadowy room, he shifted closer, and I tensed.
“I’m sorry,” I blurted out.
His chuckle was deep and low. “You don’t need to apologize. It was distracting in a good way.”
After I mentally repeated that, I still had no idea what that meant.
“Do you normally have this much trouble sleeping?”
“Sleeping,” he repeated, and I could hear the amusement in his voice. “Do you normally have a hard time at it?”
Did I normally have this much trouble handling a conversation? I bit down on the inside of my lip and shook my head. “Not until I came back here.”
Jax didn’t respond for a moment, and then he said, “I feel ya.”
“You do?” Surprise shuttled through me.
“Yeah, when I first came home—not here, but home, I had a hell of a time falling asleep and staying asleep through the night. Too much going on up here.” He raised a hand toward where his head was.
Common sense told me I needed to tell him to get the hell out of my bed, or I needed to hightail out of it and put some space between us, but curiosity got the best of me. “Home from where?”
There was another pause, and then he shifted again—rolled onto his back, his head on the pillows next to mine. Onto his back, beside me, in a bed that I was in! What in the holy hell? My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth as my heart bounced around, and then the flutter in my stomach got all kinds of excited.
“I was overseas,” he said, and it took me a moment to remember what he was talking about.
My brain sorted that out and I only came up with a one-word response. “Overseas?”
“Why don’t you lie down and I’ll tell you?”
Lie down? In bed? With him? No way. No way, Jose. I was frozen in this position. Nope. Nope. Nope.
“Come on,” he said in a soft voice, the kind of tone that did funny things to my brain cells, melting them together like putting butter in a microwave. “Lie down, Calla. Relax.”
I don’t know what it was about the way he said it, but my left arm caved under me, and the next thing I knew, my right cheek was plastered to the pillow.
His voice was freaking magic.
“I enlisted when I was eighteen, as soon as I graduated,” he explained. “It was either that or work in a coal mine like my dad and my older brother.”
Coal mines? Holy crap. “Where are you from?”
The bed dipped again, and I imagined that he’d rolled onto his side, facing me. “Oceana, West Virginia.”
“Oceana . . .” I whispered, staring at the bare wall across from the bed. “Why does that name sound familiar?”
Jax chuckled. “Probably because it’s been nicknamed Oxyana and there was a documentary about the town. It has a little problem with the painkiller OxyContin, as in, half the damn town is on that shit.”
Yeah, now that did sound familiar.
“Working in the mines, it’s hard work, and some think it pays well, but I didn’t want that. There isn’t much else around, and I wanted out of that damn town.” A sudden hardness to his voice caused a shiver to roll down my spine. “Enlisting seemed like the only other option.”
“What . . . what branch did you enlist in?”
Wow, marines were badass. They were like the ass kickers of the military. My dad’s brother had been a marine, and I remember the stories he used to tell about training and how hard-core it was. Not everyone was cut out to be a marine, but apparently Jax was, and seeing how he vaulted over the bar earlier and got right up in Mack’s face, I could see the marine in him.
Kind of hot.
An image of Jax in a dress uniform, the kind I’d seen in my uncle’s closet when I was little, formed in my head.
Okay. Lots of hot.
“I enlisted for five years, hit active war duty two years in, spent almost three over in the desert,” he explained, and I swallowed hard. Active war duty was no joke. “When my term was up, I wasn’t sure I wanted to reenlist. And when I got back home, I couldn’t sleep. Didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. There wasn’t shit back home and being over there wasn’t actually the best thing in the world, you know? It’s a different life over there, and it changes you. The things you have to do. The things you end up seeing. Some nights I could only sleep for a few hours. Some nights I didn’t sleep at all. My head wouldn’t shut down, so I had a lot of restless nights.”
I wanted to roll over and look at him, but I couldn’t move. “Do you . . . regret enlisting?”
“Hell no.” His reply was quick and firm. “Felt good doing something for the country and all that shit.”
Something warm invaded my chest, and I really wanted to see him, but that required effort and courage. So, I went with words because that was all I had to offer, and I wanted to give him something. “I think that’s amazing.”
Heat crept across my face. “Enlisting in the marines and fighting. It’s brave and honorable and amazing.” Three things I wasn’t, and three things I honestly couldn’t say about a lot of people I knew, including the Hot Guy Brigade. Well, with the exception of Brandon. He’d been overseas, too.
Jax didn’t respond to that, and silence stretched out between us, and I squeezed my fingers together. “How long . . . have you been out?” I asked.
“Hmm, it’ll be two years next spring.” His voice sounded closer.
I quickly did a bang-up math job in my head, finally finding an answer to one of my questions. “So you’re . . . twenty-four?”
“Yep, and you’re really twenty-one, even though you look like seventeen.”
My lips twitched. “I don’t look seventeen.”
“Whatever,” he murmured. “When’s your birthday?”
“It’s in April—the fifteenth.”
“No shit?” A deep laugh came from him, causing the twitch in my lips to spread. “My birthday is April the seventeenth.”
I grinned. “April’s a cool month.”
“That it is.”
As I grew accustomed to his closeness, my body relaxed. “How did you end up here?”
“You met Anders, right? At the bar?”
“Anders?” I frowned.
“You probably know him as Reece.”
Oh. “The young cop guy?”
“He’s actually a deputy in Philadelphia County. Met him when I was enlisted. He got out a year before me, but we kept in touch,” he explained. “He knew I hated being back home. Offered a place for me to crash. Took him up on the offer and headed up here. At first, I was kind of all over the place.”
Nibbling on my lip, I stared into the dark. “How so?”
“Just all over,” he responded without really answering. “Went to Mona’s one night, ended up with a job, finally got my own place, and here I am, lying in bed with Mona’s pretty daughter. Life is f**king strange like that.”
I sucked in a soft breath. Pretty daughter? “You’re . . . you say nice things.” It was a stupid thing to say, but now I was tired and my brain wasn’t functioning properly.
“I speak the truth.”
A moment passed. “Do you still have problems with sleeping?”
There was no response to that, and as more silence drifted out, I dropped it and whispered a concern. “Do you think someone will come looking for those drugs?”
He drew in a deep breath. “I don’t know, Calla.”
I didn’t believe him. Probably had to do with the doubt he expressed earlier about Greasy Guy being the owner of the crap ton of her**n, and honestly, the guy didn’t look like he had the means to have that amount of drugs. “Mom . . . she’s in a lot of trouble, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, she is.”
My heart turned over heavily.
“It’s not the kind of trouble you need to get involved in,” Jax added quietly, firmly. “And this is the kind of trouble you’re not going to be able to fix this time.”
God, that sucked, because I knew that was true, but I didn’t know how he realized that over the years, I’d spent a lot of time fixing Mom’s problems. It was like an after-school job.
“Okay,” I whispered, because I didn’t know what else to say.
As I lay there, trying to swallow a loud, obnoxious yawn, I remembered something he’d said when we first met, about life being too short. I imagined he had firsthand experience with shortened lives while he was serving. That mentality came from experience. I got that now. Could even understand it, but there was something I didn’t understand.
“Why?” I asked.
There was a beat. “Why what?”
Jax sounded tired, and I should shut up or point out that I was now tired and could sleep, so he could leave. But I didn’t. “Why are you here? You don’t know me and . . .” I trailed off, because there really wasn’t anything left to say.
A minute went by, and he hadn’t answered my question, and then I think another minute ticked on, and I was okay with him not answering because maybe he didn’t even know. Or maybe he was just bored and that was why he was here.
But then he moved.
Jax pressed against my back, and the next breath I took got stuck in my throat. My eyes shot open. The sheet and blanket were between us, but they felt like nothing.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Getting comfortable.” He dropped an arm over my waist, and my entire body jerked against his. “It’s time to sleep I think.”
“You can’t sleep when you talk,” he remarked.
“You don’t need to be all up on me,” I pointed out.
His answering chuckle stirred the hair along the back of my neck. “Honey, I’m not all up on you.”
I freaking begged to differ on that point. I started to wiggle away, but the arm around my waist tightened, holding me in place.
“You’re not going anywhere,” he announced casually, as if he wasn’t holding me prisoner in the bed.
Okay. The whole prisoner thing might be melodramatic, but he wasn’t letting me up. Not when he was getting all kinds of comfy behind me.
Oh my God, this was spooning. Total spooning. I was spooning with an honorary member of the Hot Guy Brigade. Did I wake up in a parallel universe?
“Sleep,” he demanded, as if the one word carried that much power. “Go to sleep, Calla.” This time his voice was softer, quieter.
“Yeah, it doesn’t work that way, Jax. You have a nice voice, but it doesn’t hold the power to make me sleep on your command.”
I rolled my eyes, but the most ridiculous thing ever was the fact that after a couple of minutes, my eyes stayed shut. I . . . I actually settled in against him. With his front pressed to my back, his long legs cradling mine, and his arm snug around my waist, I actually did feel safe. More than that, I felt something else—something I hadn’t felt in years.
I felt cared for . . . cherished.
Which was the epitome of dumb, because I barely knew him, but feeling that, recognizing what the warm, buzzing feeling was, I fell right asleep.
It was warm and oh so very toasty when I woke up, and I didn’t want to leave the bed. I was in this snug cocoon of awesomeness and I wanted to snuggle down, cozy up against—
My eyes peeled wide open. All drowsiness disappeared and I came wide awake.
I wasn’t alone.
Oh hell no, I so wasn’t alone in the bed and I knew I hadn’t gone to bed alone, but if I remembered correctly, I hadn’t fallen asleep with my cheek on a hard male chest. Which was really strange, because I was one of those sleepers who never moved around once they fell asleep. I stayed in that position all night, so this . . . this was weird and I took no responsibility for my current position.
Oh my golly God, every muscle in my body locked up as I fully became aware of how I’d been sleeping.
My cheek wasn’t the only thing all up on Jax. My shoulder and my br**sts were smushed to his side, as in there was not even a centimeter of space between us. My left arm was thrown across his stomach, and with every breath he took, I could feel the hardness of his abs, tightly rolled. He still had a shirt on, thank God, because I’d probably combust in flames if he hadn’t. One of his legs was thrust between mine, pressing against an area that pretty much had had nothing that didn’t belong to me pressed against it. Our legs were literally curled together.