Muscles tense, I focused on the window across the room as his arms folded around my waist and he dipped his chin, resting it on my shoulder.
“Did I tell you about the first time I met Clyde?” he said.
Shaking my head, I whispered, “No.”
“It was on a Sunday. Met him at the bar. He ended up making me tacos.” He paused, chuckling softly in my ear. “Said it was tradition if I was going to be a part of his family.”
The next breath I took was sharp as a little more of that drowning weight lifted off me.
It was later in the day and Jax was finishing up with his shower before he took me back to the house so I could get ready for our date.
It seemed odd to be going on a date, with everything that was happening, but Jax operated on his life-is-short mentality, so I wasn’t too surprised by it. And in spite of all the craziness and my hang-ups, I was feeling good about the date—about this morning and about us.
Since he was busy, I tried calling Teresa and I was thrilled when she answered on the third ring. “Yo,” she chirped into the phone. “I was just thinking about you.”
I sat on the edge of Jax’s couch. “You were?”
“Yep. I was wondering if you were still bartending, and if so, were you going to become our official drink mixer when you get back to Shepherdstown.”
I laughed. “I don’t know if you want that. Most of the people up here order straight from the tap, the bottle, or shots, which is a good thing because I’m not that good at mixing drinks.”
“I still can’t believe you’re bartending.”
I was sure there were a lot of things that Teresa probably couldn’t believe about me. “How’s the beach?” I asked.
Teresa’s sigh was audible. “It’s great. I have an awesome tan, and Jack really loves it here. It’s the first time he’s been to the beach.”
Jack was Jase’s little brother, whom he was superclose with.
“And you should see the two of them together out on the sand. Nothing makes your ovaries get all happy than seeing a hot guy with a kid,” she explained, and I grinned and then I pictured Jax with a kid, and there was a quiver somewhere down below. “Anyway,” she went on. “We’re leaving in a couple of days, but I swear, I think I could live at the beach.”
I really needed to get my ass to a beach at some point.
“So tell me about things in the great state of Pennsylvania. Is everything cool?”
“Well, yeah, things have been . . . they’ve been great,” I told her, glancing at the stairs. “I’ve, um . . . I’ve met a guy.”
There was silence.
And more silence.
I frowned. “You there?”
“Yes. Yes! You just caught me off guard. You went from things are good to there’s a guy and I was waiting for, you know, more detail.” She all but shouted the last word. “Like lots of detail.”
With another glance at the stairwell, I told her about Jax and our date tonight. I ended my impromptu confession with “So, yeah, I’m pretty sure he likes me.”
“Well, duh. Of course he does. So the place is called Apollo’s? Hold on a sec,” she said, and then her voice sounded farther away. “Hey, Jase, look up Apollo’s outside of Philly. What? Just do it.”
Oh my God.
“Back to the liking-you thing. Why would you be surprised that he likes you? Brandon totally liked you, but you—”
“What?” I interrupted her. “He did not.”
“Oh, yes, he did. It was cute. You were all quiet when he first started coming around and he was always looking at you, but then you really didn’t pay any attention to him. I thought maybe I read you wrong and you weren’t into him.”
Teresa was smoking crack.
“Do you like him?” she asked suddenly. “Because Jase just looked up Apollo’s—and, by the way, Jase says hi.”
“Hi,” I mumbled back.
“She says hi!” she yelled and then, “He says the place looks pretty classy. Do you like him, Calla?”
I closed my eyes and nodded. “Yeah, I like him. I really do.”
“Good. I can’t wait to meet him. And to see you. But I really want to meet him.” She giggled when I laughed. “I’m happy for you. Seriously.”
Sighing, I then admitted something kind of scary. “I’m happy, too.”
I got off the phone after making a promise to give her the details, and it was when I tucked my hair back behind my ear, I felt it—the awareness of not being alone.
Biting down on my lower lip, I twisted around and saw Jax standing at the bottom of the stairwell, already dressed for our date. Dark denim jeans and a white button-down. He looked damn good.
He was also grinning a smug little grin. “So you like me? You really do?”
I groaned, cheeks heating. “Shut up.”
Jax tipped back his head and laughed. He was lucky he had such a great laugh.
Lip gloss was almost the finishing touch and I was glad I was done getting ready. My tummy was grumbling and I really hoped Jax liked girls with big appetites because I had a feeling I was going to gorge myself on food.
I’d put loose waves in my hair and parted it on the side. I’d skipped on the Dermablend again, opting for the light look with smoky eyes.
The dress I had on, since I had to bring all my clothes with me, was cute and flirty. It was a strappy dark blue sundress that was fitted through the breast and waist. Maybe a little clingy around the hips, too, but then it flowed around, the skirt bouncy and ending just below mid-thigh. I paired it with a pair of sandals with a low heel. The final touch was the baby blue cap-sleeve cardigan that ended just below my br**sts and was also fitted.
Checking myself out in the mirror, I had to say that I looked pretty damn good.
I nodded at my reflection like a dork and then marched into the living room. While I’d been getting ready, Jax had puttered around the house and then made his way to the couch, where he was reading his book.
Studying his profile, with his chin dipped and his face masked in concentration, I had to say that he was hot. But when he looked up and saw me he was even hotter.
“I’m ready,” I said, and then added, “To go to dinner and eat.”
Yep. It was official. I was an uberdork.
His eyes darkened and heated. In a second he was on his feet, and then he was in front of me. One hand curled around the nape of my neck and the other landed on my cheek. His thumb moved along the bottom of my lip and got my stomach doing cartwheels.
“You look beautiful,” he said.
And I felt beautiful when he said that. “Thank you. You look beautiful, too.”
A dark eyebrow rose.
“You look manly beautiful,” I amended, but that sounded even more stupid. “Okay. That was dumb. You look hot.”
He chuckled as he moved in, brushing his lips over the curve of my cheekbone. He kissed the scar again, and I tensed, but it was for a different reason than the norm, because his lips had skated to the space below my ear.
“I’m hot and you like me,” he murmured. “It’s my lucky day.”
Another deep chuckle and then his mouth claimed mine. I liked—no, I loved—the way Jax kissed. It started off slow and then became something entirely different, definitely not slow, and very much deep and hot. Before I knew it, my hands were flat against his chest, sliding up to his shoulders.
“Dinner.” He kissed me again, his mouth lingering in the sweetest way. “We’re going to be late.”
My fingers dug into his shirt as I all but clung to him. I didn’t get the chance to respond, because he was kissing me again, in a way I felt devoured.
“Dinner,” he repeated, and his lips brushed mine. “I made reservations.”
Moving my hands down his chest, I tipped my head back and opened my eyes. “Yeah. Food.”
“Steak.” His arm tightened around me. “Really good steak.”
A grumble came from my stomach, and I broke away as he laughed. “Shut up,” I said again.
“It’s cute.” His hands dropped to my hips, so I didn’t get very far.
I rolled my eyes. “More like it, as in my stomach is hungry. Not cute. So if we don’t get—”
My words were cut off as something heavy hit the front of the house. Swallowing a startled squeak, I jumped and turned around. “What the hell?”
Jax was already starting toward the door when I heard tires peeling out of the driveway. My heart lodged into my throat as I followed Jax.
“Stay back,” he ordered, reaching the door.
I didn’t listen.
The muscles in his shoulders tensed as he unlocked the front door and yanked it open.
Slapping my hands over my mouth, I took a step back out of horror. Jax cursed and turned, shielding what waited for us on the front porch, but it was too late. There was no way to un-see the still, ghastly pale body or the small crimson hole smack dab in the middle of its forehead.
Dinner at Apollo’s was canceled.
A dead body thrown—literally—at the front of the house would do that. And the body was still out there, right where it landed, while the police did whatever forensics they saw fit.
The body had a name, I learned—a name that sent a jolt of fear and dread straight to my very core.
The body belonged to one Ronald R. Miller, also known by the street name Rooster, and rumored to be my mother’s boyfriend.
This wasn’t good.
Rooster had a bullet in the center of his forehead, and I had heard Reece outside talking to another officer. Rooster’s jeans had grass stains on the knees, and it didn’t take a huge leap of logic to imagine that he’d been on his knees when that trigger was pulled.
Classic execution style.
Where was Mom? That question played over and over again, because everyone said she’d run off with Rooster.
Who now had a bullet in his head.
I shuddered as I focused my gaze on Jax. He was standing by the window, back tense and his jaw a hard line. He hadn’t said much since this all went down. We’d already given our statements, which wasn’t much.
Clyde reached over and squeezed my hand. “You doing okay, baby girl?”
I nodded. He’d shown up about an hour after the police. How he’d found out about what happened, I had no idea, but he arrived in his old-ass truck, shouting and bellowing to be let into the house, to see his “baby girl” through this “traumatic” experience that “ain’t right” and a whole bunch of things that included curse words. They wouldn’t let him come up on the front porch, for obvious reasons, and they hadn’t wanted him coming in, but he yelled until he got his way and he came in through the back door, which was off the kitchen.
“How much longer do you think . . . ?” I paused, swallowing against the sudden nausea. “Do you think it will take before they move him?”
“Soon,” Clyde said gruffly. “It’s gotta be soon.”
My gaze shifted to him, and I noticed a fine sheen of sweat glistening on his bald head.
Jax turned from the window and walked over to where I sat next to Clyde. He didn’t say anything as he perched on the arm of the couch. A second later, I heard the front door open and Reece walked in with a detective wearing tan dress pants, and a white button-down like Jax’s, but paired with a tie that matched his pants.
For some odd reason, I thought about what Roxy had told me about Reece being involved in a shooting. It was the last thing I needed to be thinking about, but I wondered if it bothered him seeing Rooster like . . . like he was. Then again, he probably saw that a lot.
I’d almost forgotten his name—the detective’s. He wasn’t that much older than us, maybe late twenties or early thirties. He was handsome, very much so, with neatly trimmed brown hair and clear blue eyes.