“We’re wrapping up now,” he said, his gaze tracking over the three of us. “Right now, we’ve got some suspects, and we’re going to find who did this.”
I nodded. “Okay. Um. Thank you?”
His lips twitched. “Now, Officer Anders told me you two have been looking for Miss Fritz.”
Officer Anders? I blinked slowly and then I realized he was talking about Reece. My gaze moved to Reece and then to Detective Anders. Wait a sec . . . “Are you two related?”
“Brothers,” Jax answered.
“I’m the handsome one,” Reece said, grinning.
Detective Anders tilted his head toward what was now obviously his younger brother. “Most definitely not the smart one.”
Cop brothers. Hot.
I needed my head checked.
“Anyway,” the detective said. “He was telling me you guys have been trying to find your mom and that you had some problems yesterday when you were in the city. I know what’s been going on.”
Jax’s eyes narrowed, and my stomach sank. No matter what, if the police really knew what had been going down, she was in trouble. Lots of trouble.
Reece held his gaze with a look that said sorry, bud, had to. “He knows about Mack. And that lowlife is the first on our suspect list.”
“This was obviously a warning to Calla,” Jax responded, voice clipped. “But it doesn’t make sense. If Mack found Rooster, then how did he not find Mona?”
“Rooster could’ve decided he wanted out of this mess,” Detective Anders said, crossing his arms over his chest. “He could’ve come back and if what your . . . sources are saying is true, if he came back without the dope or the money equal to what they are holding, he would’ve gotten a warm welcome.”
Yeah, he’d gotten a bullet in the head. Mom didn’t have the dope. And she sure as hell didn’t have the money.
It had to be Mack, because like Ritchey had said, shit rolled downhill and that shit had rolled all over Mack.
“We’re also looking for the man who matches your description that came into the house and took the drugs. We’re going to find them,” Detective Anders said. “But we need you all to back off. Let us do our jobs. We don’t want you around any of these people.”
I didn’t want to be around any of these people, but I had days left before I was supposed to produce my mom. I didn’t respond because I really didn’t want to listen to them try to talk me out of what needed to be done.
We had a lead.
And Jax hadn’t mentioned Ike to the police or to Reece as far as I knew. Another officer popped his head into the room, announcing the front porch was cleared, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Jax followed Reece and his older brother out after the convo was wrapped up in here.
Clyde rubbed his hand over his chest. “This is a mess.”
I sighed. “I know. Mom . . . do you think she has any idea of what kind of mess she’s in?”
Clyde nodded. “I think she does, and I think if she is smart, she’s living in Mexico right now.”
God, that would suck—her moving far away and me never seeing her again, but if Mom was smart, that’s what she should do. There was no way she’d ever be able to come back here. “If she doesn’t come back . . . what happens to the bar?” I asked, focusing on the least important thing, because that was better than all the crazy more important stuff. I knew the bar would be left to me if she . . . if she passed on, but I had no idea about the technicalities if she simply disappeared.
“Baby girl, you don’t need to worry about that.” He lumbered to his feet, his chest moving in deep, heavy breaths. “The bar will be all right.”
My brows pinched with concern. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m doin’ fine. You ain’t needin’ to be worried about me.”
I wasn’t sure about that, but then Jax returned without the hot cop brothers. He walked straight to where I sat, grabbed my hand, and helped me to my feet. “You want to get out of here?” he asked.
Nodding, I wanted nothing more than to get out of here.
Clyde made his way over to me, and without Jax letting go of my hand, he gave me his bear hug. “I like that you’re not staying here. That’s good. Real good.”
I was reluctant to let him go when he pulled back. “Everything is going to be okay,” I told him, because I felt like I needed to say that out loud.
He gave me a toothy smile as his gaze moved to Jax. “Yes, baby girl, it will be.”
As Clyde left, I packed up more clothes and personal stuff and then we headed out to Jax’s truck. It was hard walking across that porch without picturing the body there.
Once in the cab of the truck, Jax looked at me. “You doing okay?”
I thought about that for a moment. “As okay as I can be.”
A slight smile appeared as he reached over, smoothing his thumb along my lower lip. “This shit with Rooster and Mack—with your mom isn’t right. It’s serious. It’s not normal. And it’s okay not to be okay with any of this.”
“I know,” I whispered.
His smile spread on one side of his lips. “Like I said. You’re brave.”
My chest warmed, and instead of denying that, I smiled a little. “Can we stop on the way to your house and grab something to eat?”
“Anything for you, babe.”
I liked the sound of that. A lot.
It was too late to do dinner anywhere, so fast food was on the menu. At this point, I’d probably have eaten horse meat, so I wasn’t complaining when he pulled into the burger joint. Not the best steaks in the state, but it would work.
Neither of us really talked on the drive to his townhouse or as we scarfed down our food. It wasn’t until we were cleaning up and I was tossing my soda in the trash that I knew we had to talk about this.
Or that I had to talk about this.
“Do you think Mom is okay?” I asked.
Jax was at the table situated by the door that led out to a small deck and postage-stamp-size backyard. He turned to me, chin dipped. “I don’t know.”
I closed my eyes as a rush of emotion swelled.
“I hate saying that, but I got to be honest with you.”
“I appreciate that.”
“I know you do,” he said, and then I felt him closer and I opened my eyes. He was right in front of me. “If Rooster bounced, then he was probably feeling the heat. That means your mom’s got to still be out there.”
Because she wasn’t lying on the porch alongside Rooster.
“But this isn’t good,” he finished.
Just like Clyde said. “There’s no way she can fix this. Even if they bust Mack for what happened to Rooster, there’s this Isaiah. That was a lot of dope and a lot of money. She can’t get past this.”
“No. She can’t.”
A ball lodged in the back of my throat. “She really did it this time. I mean, she really did it, Jax. There’s no fixing this. There’s no making it okay. And she dragged me into this, which has dragged you into this. And I’m so sorry about that. You don’t need this. You shouldn’t have seen Rooster today.”
“Honey,” he said softly, cupping my cheeks. He tilted my head back. “None of this is your fault. Know that. There is no need for you to apologize for any of this. You didn’t ask for it or bring it on yourself.”
What he said was true, but I couldn’t help but feel somewhat responsible, because it was my mom after all. Placing my hands on his sides, I did something I hadn’t really done before. I leaned into him, resting my cheek against his chest.
“What are we going to do?” And that question was important and it was hard to ask, because I was asking about “us,” as in I wasn’t expecting to do this on my own. That was a huge step, a scary one.
Jax folded his arms around me. “We still have Ike to talk to. If we can find your mom . . .”
“And what?” I asked. “We can’t turn her over. We saw what they did to Rooster.”
“I wasn’t suggesting turning her over, honey. We get to her first, make sure she understands the kind of shit she’s messed up in, and then . . . well, we go from there.”
Going from there meant we made sure she understood that the likelihood of her stepping back in Pennsylvania and not getting shot would be slim to none. “But what about Mack?”
“He’s not going to get near you.” Jax drew back, his eyes meeting mine. “You can trust in that. Neither will Isaiah.”
I wanted to believe that. I almost believed that, because he said it in such a way that it came across as if he could control such things.
He dipped his forehead to mine. “Sucks about dinner.”
My lips twitched and I said hoarsely, “Yeah, I was really looking forward to that steak.”
“There’s always tomorrow. Hell, there’s always next Sunday.”
I closed my eyes, liking the sound of planning that far out. It was only a week, but a week was a lot of time. The next thing just sort of burst out there. “That’s the second time I’ve seen a dead body.”
“Babe . . .”
“Not my brothers. Their coffins were closed, and I didn’t . . . I didn’t see them bringing them out of the house. But I’ve seen a dead body before.” I paused, drawing in a shaky breath. “A bunch of people were partying with Mom. This guy, I guess he overdosed or something, and everyone else was too messed up to realize it. I’d come into the living room and he was lying facedown, not moving or breathing.”
Jax’s chest rose against mine. “Shit, baby, I don’t know what to say. You should’ve never seen something like that.”
“I don’t want to see any more dead bodies.”
A gap of silence stretched out between us. “It’s not something you ever get used to,” he admitted. “I saw it a lot in the sandbox—the desert. Sometimes it was insurgents, other times it was innocent civilians caught in the crossfire and . . .”
“And sometimes it was your friends?” I asked quietly.
“Yeah,” he replied. “I never forget any of their faces.”
I bit down on my lip hard. I totally got what he was saying. There were some things that you could never forget.
There was so much going on in my head. Mack. Mom. Dead bodies with bullet wounds in their forehead. Clyde rubbing his chest, obviously worried and stressed over everything. Glorious steak dinners that never happened. Coming back here. Leaving here. The way Jax had held me this morning with my back pressed against his front.
I didn’t want to think anymore.
Lifting my gaze, I met his. “I don’t want to think.”
Jax didn’t question or comment on this. There was a flare of something hot and heady in his eyes, and then he dipped his mouth to mine, and he kissed me sweetly—the kind of kiss that went beyond the heavy and sensual ones. It meant something, and I seemed to open up to it, really feeling it, believing in it.
And that was pretty damn spectacular.
When the kiss did run hotter, my mouth opened to his and the moment our tongues touched, his hands dropped to my hips. He pulled me against him, and I could feel him pressing against my belly. I remembered this morning, my hand around him, his powerful body shaking with release. Those memories scorched my skin, but it was nothing compared to the kisses he trailed across my jaw, to my ear and below, over my throat. My head tipped back as my fingers delved into his soft hair.
“You’re not going to think,” he told me in between those wicked nips. “Not for one f**king second.”
“Good,” I said.
He chuckled against my throat as his hands slid off my h*ps and quickly made their way under my dress. I really liked where this was heading, especially when he hooked his fingers under the band of my panties.