“Right,” I mumbled as Roxy poured brown liquid into the three shot glasses.
“Next thing I know, my legs are slipping down the pole, and I’m all like ‘Man down!’ or at least ‘Stripper down!’”
Another funny-sounding cough escaped Roxy as she slammed the bottle on the bar, and I forced myself to take several deep breaths as I murmured, “Oh noes.”
“Yep,” she said. “Cracked my head right off the stage. I was out like a belly button.”
Out like a belly button? What the what?
“And the rest is Long Island Medium history, but without seeing the dead people or the cool, poofy blond hair.”
“Really?” I gasped out.
She nodded. “So your life’s going to change. Ain’t going to be easy, but it’s going to change.”
I turned slowly and looked at Roxy.
“Shots anyone?” she offered.
“Shots! Shots! S-S-S-hots!” Katie shrieked, snatching one of the glasses as she bounced her shoulders back and forth. A freaking second later, her shot was gone.
“Impressive,” I said.
After Roxy took her shot, both of the girls looked at me, and I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”
“Told you,” Katie said.
Roxy frowned at me. “I want to see you taste liquor for the first time, and I poured you the good shit.”
My stomach coiled tight. The idea of seriously drinking, of not having control and . . . I couldn’t even think about it.
Sighing, Katie reached over and grabbed my shot. “Snooze, you lose.” She downed it and then cracked the glass off the bar top. “Yeah, I just said that. And yeah, I got to go and make some mon-nay! See you later, bitches!”
I watched Katie spin like a ballerina on her heels and head for the door just as it opened and two other girls walked in. One of them, a busty redhead, curled her lip in Katie’s direction and then whispered something to her friend, causing the other lady to giggle.
Eyes narrowing, I realized I didn’t like that.
Katie stopped, looked the redhead straight in the eyes, and said, “I’ll cut a bitch.”
Roxy’s mouth dropped open.
I snorted. Yep. Like a pig in a cozy blanket.
The redhead paled and the other woman flushed.
“And those bitches back there won’t serve you, so you can go hang out at Apple-Back down the street.” Katie glanced over her shoulder at us. “Right?”
Since I figured I had some ownership over the bar, I nodded. “Right.”
“Be gone, bitches.” Katie all but ushered them back out the door, pausing to throw us what looked like a gang sign. “Peace out, home skillets!”
Roxy and I were quiet for a good minute and then I looked at her. “Katie’s always been a wee bit different, but I’ve always liked her.”
She nodded as she grabbed up our shot glasses, grinning. “Oddly enough, she has been right with some of her predictions. She told me something once . . .” Her tiny button nose wrinkled. “Something I really should’ve listened to.”
I gaped. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“Nope,” she remarked. “But I love that girl. Crazy shit always happens when she’s in here. And I like her feelings.”
“Feelings . . .”
“Feeee-lings,” Roxy crooned loud enough that Reece’s table turned in our direction again.
His lips were hitched at the corners as he watched Roxy spin around like a drunk go-go dancer and place the shot glasses in the tray to be cleaned. She twisted back to me and pointed. “Nothing more than—”
“Feeee-lings,” I sang, just as badly and loudly. Probably more badly. “Trying to forget my feeee-lings . . .”
“Oooof loooove,” Roxy belted out as she spread her arms and bowed dramatically.
A round of applause went up from Reece’s table, and we broke into a fit of giggles just as Jax rounded the bar. He stopped a few feet from us, grinning as he eyed me. “What in the holy hell is going on out here?”
“Nothing,” Roxy sung, and I stared at him a moment too long, but he looked good in his jeans, like always, and in his worn shirt, but then she twirled back to me. “So you’ve never been drunk?”
“Back to this again?” I crossed my arms. I’d rather be singing.
Jax’s grin slipped into a look of incredulous disbelief. “What?”
I rolled my eyes. “Is it really that big of a deal?”
“She’s never been drunk,” Roxy pointed out to Jax, who was still staring at me like I had whipped off my top and was shaking my ta-tas at him. “Like ever.”
“Do you drink at all?” he asked, strolling forward, and somehow he managed to get in the minuscule space between Roxy and me, which meant the entire left side of his body was pressed against mine.
I tried to suppress the shiver of response and lost. “I drink a beer or two every once in a while.” Truth was, I never finished a whole beer in my life.
Placing a hand on the bar top, he angled his body toward mine, which lined our h*ps up and put me at eye level with the tight black shirt that stretched over his chest. Oh my. I could see his pecs. The boy had actual pecs. “Have you ever drunk liquor before?”
I shook my head as I stared at his chest.
“Nope,” I whispered. Staring at a guy’s chest like it was a chocolate mousse cake was dumb, but it was the kind of dumb I liked.
“Before that drink I tried, I’d never tasted liquor,” sighed Roxy. “Never been drunk. Missing out on a lot of stupid.”
“We’re going to have to change that.” Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see Jax move his other hand. My chin jerked up as he tucked a strand of my hair back behind my left cheek. “Soon.”
When he exposed my left cheek, I jerked back, banging my butt into the ice well. I could see Roxy watching us, brows raised and grinning. God, this bar needed to be busier on Thursday nights so it would leave Jax less time to torture me.
And Jax was really in the mood to torture me with his charm and flirt. He dipped his head, and I knew it wasn’t just Roxy watching us. “What else haven’t you done? I think you said something about this before.”
My breath caught in my throat and then was released. Him being so close threw me. “I haven’t been to the beach.”
Roxy shook her head.
“And . . . and I haven’t been to New York City or been on a plane. I’ve never been to an amusement park,” I rambled on, stomach tumbling. “I haven’t done a lot of things.”
Jax held my gaze for a few moments and then he backed off, heading toward the other side of the bar. I stood where I was, finding myself staring at Roxy.
She arched a brow and mouthed, What?
I shook my head, feeling warmth in my face as she turned back to Jax, her grin spreading. I had no idea what she was thinking, but I was sure it involved something dumb. Turning to the stack of dirty glasses, I figured it was a good time to hit the kitchen.
The door opened, and I felt the change in the atmosphere before I saw who walked in. Tension poured into the air, crackling with strain and anger. Biting down on my lip, I caught the way Jax stiffened as I turned.
Mack Attack was back, and he wasn’t alone this time. A buddy was with him, just as big and just as shady looking. They looked across the bar at Reece’s table, and then Mack’s gaze swung back to mine.
He grinned a shit-eating grin.
My stomach tumbled some more.
“You’re not welcome here.”
That came from Jax, and as my gaze swung toward him, I saw that his jaw was so hard it could cut ice.
“Oh boy,” murmured Roxy.
Mack’s buddy chuckled darkly, sending a shiver up my spine.
“I ain’t planning to stay,” Mack responded, eyes never leaving mine. “I just got a message to deliver—a message I’m f**king thrilled to deliver.”
Jax got in between the bar and me. “I don’t give two shits, Mack. Get the f**k out of here before I make you get the f**k out of here.”
Mack’s dark eyes turned into flints of obsidian. “I told you once and I’ll tell you twice, you don’t know who you’re f**king with.”
“I know exactly who I’m f**king with.” Jax leaned against the bar top, his voice low and dangerously calm, like an eye of a hurricane. “Nobody.”
Mack looked like he wanted to say something, but his buddy shifted and he moved, too, so that he could see around Jax’s tense frame. “Isaiah needs to talk to your mom. Like last week.”
Who the hell was Isaiah?
“That’s not her problem,” Jax replied.
“She’s her mom’s bitch, and since her mom ain’t around, it’s her job to make sure her mom talks to Isaiah,” Mack fired back.
Mom’s bitch? What the—
The cop table was starting to pay attention, and I doubted that if this Isaiah dude was looking for Mom, he was on the up-and-up. So that had to make Mack and his buddy pretty stupid to do this in front of a bunch of off-duty cops.
“She’s got a week,” Mack said, backing toward the door. “Before Isaiah gets impatient.”
Mack and his buddy were out the door before I could say a word. My heart was pounding as Jax turned to me, a muscle throbbing along his jaw. “Who’s Isaiah? Like some kind of Amish mafioso?”
Some of the tension eased in his face as his lips twitched. The look in his brown eyes softened a bit. “Not quite. But close.”
Oh no. I didn’t like the close part.
“What’s going on?” Reece was at the bar, his gaze steady on Jax.
“Isaiah is looking for Mona,” Jax replied.
I glanced at Roxy, kind of surprised that she hadn’t hurried off to pretend to be doing something. “I don’t know who Isaiah is and I don’t know where my mom is,” I said, feeling like I needed to throw that out there.
“I know.” Jax’s voice was level. “Reece knows that, too.”
His cop buddy looked over at me. “You sure you want to hang out here for a while?”
I started to open my mouth.
“It’s a done deal,” Jax answered for me. “She’s staying.”
My gaze swung toward him; I was surprised that he’d done that. On the plus side, I was glad I didn’t have to stumble through a non-embarrassing explanation for why. On the negative side . . . well, I wasn’t sure there was a negative side.
Reece blew out a breath as he focused on me again. “If you have any problem with that shithead or any of those shitheads, you let me know.”
“She’ll let me know first,” Jax said to me, and again, I all but gaped at him. “Then we’ll let you know.”
Reece arched a brow. “Man, I don’t know what you got going on here,” he said, and my spine stiffened. “But you need to stay out of any shit with Isaiah.”
“I’m already in shit with Isaiah, because of this place, and you know this.” Jax tilted his chin up. “And it’s not my shit I’m worried about.”
“Okay. Who is Isaiah?” I asked, determining that was the most important thing. “And why is the word shit included with his name a lot?”
Reece’s lips formed a half smile. “He’s a bit of a problem around here. Usually runs in circles in Philly, but his stink has traveled far and wide.”
“Drugs,” Jax added, voice low.
I thought about the her**n. Oh shit.
“I’ll have some boys pay him a visit,” Reece said, turning his gaze to Jax. “Make sure he understands that Mona is not Calla’s problem.”
“I’d appreciate that,” he replied, relaxing a fraction of an inch.
So did I. “Thanks . . . I think.”
Raising an arm, Jax rubbed his fingers through his messy hair. “Roxy, you good closing the bar down tonight?”
She nodded. “Sure.”
“I’m going to be here,” I tossed at him, but Jax shook his head. “What? I’ve got hours left on my shift.”
“Not anymore.” He took my hand and started walking, leaving me no option but to follow. On the way across the bar, he grabbed a bottle of brown liquor. “We’re going to scratch out one of those ‘never done before’ things tonight.”
“What?” I shrieked.
Roxy’s grin spread into a full smile. “Right on.”
One would think that Isaiah, who may or may not be a drug kingpin, sending his minions to the bar would be the most pressing problem at hand, but because I specialized in dumb, it wasn’t.
Standing in the kitchen of the house, my gaze shifted from the bottle of José and the two shot glasses Jax had also taken from the bar, to the current huge pain in my ass.