Half of his full lips were tilted up in a lazy grin that matched the lazy look to his brown eyes. He was leaning against the counter, well-defined arms folded across his chest.
An attractive pain in my ass, but still, a pain in my ass.
“No.” I said again, for probably the tenth time. We’d been back at the house for about forty minutes, and every minute had been spent with him telling me to take a shot and me telling him various reasons as to why I couldn’t.
Not once did he lose his patience.
Not once did he get angry.
Not once did he make fun of me for not wanting to drink.
Not once did I not have to stop myself from telling him the truth to why I didn’t drink.
I was running out of excuses, and my gaze shifted back to the full shot glasses. I swallowed, frustrated and . . . just really frustrated. It wasn’t like I never wanted to drink. I wanted to. I wanted to experience what everyone and their mother apparently liked to indulge in. Being drunk was a great unknown to me.
A lot of things were the great unknown to me.
I wanted to throw myself on the floor and roll around like a toddler, like my brother used—I cut that thought off, shaking my head.
“Hon, you’ve got to try it. Just one shot.”
My gaze flickered to his. I liked it when he called me hon or honey, which was the stupid icing on the dumb tier cake. Our eyes collided, and those thick lashes, those eyes, those eyebrows, and that face.
If being distracted by a hot guy with a beautiful face made me one-dimensional, then at least I recognized that about myself.
“Is it because of Mona?” he asked.
Whoa. The force of him hitting it right on the nail caused me to take a step back. I hit the chair at the table, and its legs rattled against the floor. “What?” I whispered.
He pushed off the counter, arms going to his side. “Is it because of your mom? Because of how she is?”
Holy holes in the moon, my feet were rooted to the floor as I stared up at Jax. I hadn’t known him for more than a week and some-odd days, and he seriously got it. Just like that. Might have something to do with the fact that he knew my mom when no one—not Teresa or Avery—had ever laid eyes on her or had a chance to experience the wonder of Mona.
It was because of my mom. That wasn’t a surprise to me, but to hear him hit it like that floored me.
I’d seen my mom do terrible, stupid things when she was drunk or high. I’d seen horrific and humiliating things done to her when she was drunk or high. She never had any control when she was like that. Hell, she never had any control before then, but it was worse when she was drinking or popping pills. She was the reason I didn’t do a lot of things and I wanted complete control, because I . . .
I never wanted to be her.
I wasn’t her.
I would never be her.
My feet moved before my brain caught up to what I was doing. Walking toward the counter, I brushed past Jax and I felt him turn as I reached for the shot. My fingers trembled as they closed around the cool glass.
I turned to where Jax stood, my hand steadying. “I’m not my mom.”
And then I tipped the glass to my lips.
Just one shot. Ha! Famous last words.
Four shots later, I was lying on the floor, on my side, cuddling the half-empty bottle of liquor to my chest. My eyes were closed. There was a warm, electric blanket coiled up in my belly and a pleasant buzz trilled through my veins. I’d long since kicked off my shoes and was currently deciding on if I wanted to take my shirt off or not. I had a tank top on underneath, but sitting up, raising my arms, seemed like it required too much effort.
A soft caress, a feather-light touch, traveled over my forehead, causing the electric blanket in my belly to heat and the trilling in my blood to hum louder. “Tequila . . . Jax, tequila is . . .” I ran out of words, because . . . well, words were so hard to think up and string together.
“Awesome?” he drawled, pulling his hand back.
I opened my eyes and grinned. He was sitting next to me, his long legs stretched out in front of him with his back pressed to the couch. We were only a couple of inches apart, and I didn’t remember how I ended up lying on the floor, but I do know that he’d gotten down there with me immediately.
“Hmm?” My eyes had closed on their own, so I opened them again. He reached over, tapping my knee with his fingers, and I giggled. “I’m a lightweight, aren’t I?”
His smile spread. “Since this is the first time you’ve ever been drunk, I’m gonna say four shots is pretty damn good.”
“Tequila is like a long-lost, not so annoying friend.” I squeezed the bottle in my arms, pressing it against my chest. “I really like tequila.”
“We’ll see how you feel in the morning. Why don’t you hand over the bottle?”
A frown pulled at my mouth. “But I like it. You can’t take that from me.”
Jax leaned forward, chuckling. “I’m not going to hurt the bottle, Calla.”
“Maybe I want another shot.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
I tried to pull off a pissy look, but I think all I ended up doing was crossing my eyes. Sighing loudly, I eased up on my bottle death hold.
He gently pried the bottle out of my grasp and placed it on the coffee table, just out of my reach. I immediately missed the golden bottle of happiness, and I thought I should sit up and retrieve it, but again, effort. When his gaze settled back on me, his grin made me feel funny in my chest and in my tummy.
And in lots of other places that made me giggle.
“So back to the things you haven’t done.” He leaned back against the couch, obviously not feeling as good as I was. We’d gone over most of what I hadn’t done in my twenty-one years of life, a staggering list of embarrassing material, but I didn’t care. I liked how he grinned each time I’d told him what I hadn’t done and how this look would creep into his striking face, like he was coming up with something clever. “Never felt sand on your toes?” he added.
I shook my head. I thought I did. “I have plans. My plans don’t involve those things.”
“What are your plans?”
“They’re the Three F’s.”
His brows rose. “Three F’s?”
“Yep!” I shouted and then I said much lower and in a much more serious voice. “Finish college. Find a career in the nursing field. Aaannnd finally reap the benefits of following through on something.” I paused, curling my upper lip. “Though I’m not sure on the following through part. I kind of follow through on most things, but there’s not a lot of things that start with the letter F that would involve planning, so . . .”
He grinned. “So that’s it? Your big plans are basically finish college and find a job?”
“Yeppers peppers and pandas!”
He shook his head at me. “Honey, that’s not much.”
I started to tell him that was everything, but then I thought about it, and it must’ve been the tequila, because I thought he was right.
And then I said, “You were my first kiss.”
“We need to get—wait.” The easy, lazy grin slipped right off his face. “What?”
At first I didn’t realize what I said to him, so I had no idea why he was staring at me like I’d said something crazy. Then I realized what I had admitted and . . . yeah, I didn’t care that I’d blurted out that little humiliating factoid.
Tequila was awesome.
“I’d never been kissed before,” I told him.
One dark brown eyebrow rose. “At all?”
I shook my head. Or I kind of wiggled on the floor.
His brown eyes widened. “You’re twenty-one and you’ve never . . .” The look on his face got even better as his gaze flitted to the ceiling, as if he were praying to the heavens.
Feeling a little weird lying down now, I forced myself to sit up. The room spun for a second and my stomach dipped precariously. I did not like that feeling—the spinning—but it settled quickly and then I was staring at Jax.
Gosh, he was so . . . so good-looking. The longer I stared at him I realized it wasn’t so much a conventional hotness. Some might think his lips were too full or his brows too thick, but he did it for me. He made me wish I was . . .
I really needed to stop thinking about his hotness, because low in my belly, my muscles were tightening and my br**sts felt heavy.
Jax tilted his head toward me, his expression odd. “Damn, honey, that wasn’t even a real kiss.”
“Oh,” I whispered.
Dipping my chin, I let that settle in, and though it didn’t make it very far through the tequila haze, there was still a pinching deep in my chest, a feeling of things settling into place where they should be. Of course.
“What?” Jax asked.
I’d said that out loud. Lifting my gaze, I focused on his shoulder. I felt a little stupid for thinking that it had been a real kiss. I mean, he barely knew me now, but then, he’d only known me for a few days. And boys like him—guys who looked like him and talked like him and walked like him . . . and breathed like him, didn’t kiss girls like me. Not girls who looked like me, and who grew up pulling the white in white trash.
“Calla? You feeling okay?”
The concern in his voice tugged at the pinch in my chest. “I . . . I still like tequila.”
There was a pause and Jax burst into laughter. “Wait until you try vodka.”
Jax grinned. “And you can’t forget about the whiskey.”
“Whiskey?” I gasped, eyes going wide as I clasped my hands under my chin. I was beginning to realize I was a bit overdramatic when I drank or I was sobering up. “No. Not whiskey. Mom used to drink whiskey and things . . . yeah, she would be really happy or really sad.” I rose to my knees, pushing my hair back over my shoulders. “Is it hot in here?”
“It’s comfortable.” He wrapped his hand around my wrist, steadying me. “Mona does like her whiskey.”
Yeah, duh. Jax knew Mom. Our gazes collided, and I thought . . . I could tell him this. “I thought . . . I’d be like her if I drank, you know? Doing dumb stuff and . . . I saw things done to her when she was drinking.”
An alertness seemed to bleed into Jax, and maybe later, when there wasn’t so much tequila sloshing around inside me, I’d realize that he was nowhere in the near vicinity of being as trashed as I was. “What kind of things?”
Rocking back so my butt was pressed against my calves, I knew I shouldn’t tell him the things I’d seen. No one wanted to hear that. It was messy. It was ugly. Not ugly like the scars on my body, but deeper and nasty.
But I had tequila tongue. “The first time—and it was the first because it happened more than once—she was having a party. She was always having parties, but this night it was late and I was thirsty. I had a cold or the flu. Something. I needed to get something to drink. I had to come downstairs. Mom had told me before not to come downstairs when she was having parties, but I had to.”
“I get you,” he said quietly. “How old were you?”
Shrugging, I struggled to flip through my memories. “Twelve, I think? I don’t know. It wasn’t too long after . . . well, anyway, I came downstairs and there were people passed out on the floor, and I heard Mom. She was making these weird noises—not good noises and her bedroom door was open. I looked in, and she was on the floor. Some guy was with her. He was . . .” I shook my head slowly, seeing the fuzzy, cloudy images in my head. “Mom saw me. So did the guy. She freaked, and I ran upstairs. She’d been so drunk that night.”
His chest rose sharply. “Did any of those guys ever . . . mess with you?”
I stared at him a moment and then laughed. It wasn’t funny. It was far from being funny, but back then . . . I looked worse than I did now. “No.”
“That doesn’t make it any better.”
“No. I guess not.”
“I’ve seen people get themselves in stupid situations while drinking and I’ve seen some in really precarious ones,” he said, his brown eyes serious. “You don’t have to worry about any of that here. You’re safe to enjoy yourself.”
“Thank you,” I said, thinking that needed to be said.
“But God damn, Calla . . .” His fingers squeezed my wrist gently as a hard look entered his eyes. “You shouldn’t have seen shit like that.”
“I know, but I did and there aren’t any take-backs in life.” I trailed off as his gaze held mine. I wished he thought I was pretty and that his kiss had been real. “But it’s not like that. Tequila is better than whiskey.”
His expression softened. “We’ll take whiskey off the list, honey.”
I smiled. “Good. This . . . this hasn’t been like those times with Mom. Why was I so afraid?” I didn’t give him a chance to answer, because I jumped to my feet, my wrist slipping free from his loose grasp. The sudden movement caused me to stagger, and I threw out my arms to steady myself. “Whoa doggie . . .”