Stay with Me / Page 16

Page 16



“It is.”

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 heroin. Lots of heroin. 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.

Fifty bucks.

God.

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.”

Damnit.

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.

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?”

“Huh?”

“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?”

“Marines.”

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.”

“What?”

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.”


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