Totes-ma-goats? Oh my God. I drew in a sharp breath that ended in an attractive snort.
“And in my line of work, looking like a carrot doesn’t get the bills paid,” Katie went on as she stopped playing with Avery’s hair, turning to Teresa. “And OM Gee, you are stunning. Like I might be considering switching sides.”
Teresa grinned. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Katie cocked her head to the side. “You’d make a lot of money dancing.”
“Oh. I used to dance, actually. So did Avery.”
Katie’s eyes slid to Avery and then back to Teresa, who was slurping on her soda. “I busted my knee,” Teresa added. “But I danced for years.”
“I doubt you did the kind of dancing I do. Either of you,” Katie explained without an ounce of embarrassment, and I loved her for that. “I work across the street.”
Avery’s brows pinched, and I knew she was mentally seeing the outside again, and the moment understanding seeped in, her eyes widened. “You . . .”
“Take my clothes off?” Katie laughed. “I flashed my goods from time to time, but it’s more classy than your average shoving your vajaja in unsuspecting faces.”
I couldn’t help it. A laugh burst out of me, but Teresa kept a straight face. “You got to hate it when that happens.”
“Or when it’s a penis,” Katie replied.
My jaw was aching from how hard I had my lips pressed together, and Avery giggled from behind her glass.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to do that—strip—at least once,” Teresa announced thoughtfully, and my eyes almost popped out of my head. “It looks like it would be a lot of fun.”
Excitement flooded Katie’s face. “I could so help you with that!”
Um. I had a feeling Jase would so not be down for that and neither would her brother. Actually, I wanted to be around when Teresa announced that she wanted to scratch stripping off her bucket list.
Pearl was starting to run around like a madwoman and I was feeling bad about standing around talking. “Guys, I need to help out. I’m sorry, but . . .”
“It’s totally okay.” Teresa waved her hand, grinning at Katie. “Don’t worry. We’ll probably be here for a little bit.”
“Okay.” I hopped forward and kissed her cheek and then Avery’s. “Be good.”
Teresa giggled as I hugged Katie and then hurried off, hoping that when I came back Teresa wasn’t across the street warming up a pole. I skirted around the guys, but I’d made it about three feet when Jax was suddenly by my side. He dropped his arm over my shoulders and steered me down the hall toward the office and stockroom before I could blink an eye.
There, he stopped outside the door and faced me. Head bent down, he spoke in a low voice. “What’s wrong?”
His eyes narrowed. “There’s something wrong with you.”
There was a lot wrong with me right now, but I really didn’t want to get into it with Jax. “I’m fine. I’m probably going to be hanging out with everyone tomorrow since they’re going to be in town.”
A muscle in his jaw spasmed. “You’re not fine. And you’re totally bullshitting me.”
I folded my arms across my chest. “How so?”
“You were out there, talking to your friends like someone drop-kicked your puppy into oncoming traffic.”
“I did not look like someone kicked . . .” My chest rose with a deep breath and then I said screw it and prepared to unload, because what was the point in lying and stewing about it? I met his gaze. “You know what? I’m not okay. And maybe it’s because I told Teresa about you.”
“You did?” The frustration leaked out of his expression and he started to grin. “Nice.”
I was going to hit him. “It isn’t nice. Because she told Jase, who in turn told Cam, who then told Avery, who by the way are like the most awesomely adorable couple in coupledom, and they came up here to surprise me, but I also know they all have a hidden agenda, and that’s to check you out, because I opened my big mouth and told them about that.”
His grin spread. “Good friends. I like that.”
Actually, I was going to throat-punch him. “Well, I’m so glad you like that, but the first time they see you is when there’s another girl who has her hands all over you.”
Jax drew back, straightening.
“Yeah. That,” I continued. Now that I wasn’t bullshitting him, I was on a roll. “They saw you and they saw Aimee before I had a chance to even introduce you guys, and that . . . well, that sucked.”
“Babe . . .”
“Don’t ‘babe’ me,” I snapped, taking a step back. “I know there aren’t any labels between us and we haven’t known each other that long and maybe this is something casual to you, but I really wished that the first time my friends met you wasn’t when Aimee was giving you a breast exam.”
“Something casual?” he repeated, and I wondered if he’d heard anything I’d said. “Is this something casual to you?”
I started to say yes, because . . . well, because I wanted to be a bitch, and that ugly icy feeling was back in my stomach. My feelings were hurt and I was embarrassed, and I wanted to play that game, but that’s not what I said, because I had no idea how to play that game. “No. This isn’t casual for me. Not in the least.”
His expression softened as he stepped forward. “Baby, this isn’t casual for me, either, and the fact you think it might be blows my mind.”
“Honey, every signal, every act and word I’ve sent in your direction from day one says this isn’t casual for me,” he said, leaning his hip against the wall. “I know you don’t have a lot experience with relationships and that’s cool, but I really don’t know how else to show you that. And the whole label shit?” he continued as he curved his fingers along my chin. “I think you know what we are.”
The thing was, I didn’t. I might’ve had a guess Sunday night when I’d stripped down to my undies and he’d worshipped my body like I was some kind of goddess, and he did so every time since then, but seeing him with Aimee? Yeah, I was inexperienced when it came to relationships, but I wasn’t dumb and I wasn’t stupid.
And it wasn’t like he’d been caught making out with her or that he even knew my friends would be popping by, but there was still the fact that every night he worked, Aimee was here. And every night he worked, Aimee was up his ass. And every night he worked, as far as I could tell if I was being honest with myself and unless she was the densest chick alive, he didn’t really do anything to stop her advances.
And he let her touch him.
And that wasn’t cool.
The back of my eyes stung, because that was that. What was happening wasn’t a huge thing, but it was inappropriate. For f**k’s sake, I worked right here. And I really didn’t know what to say right now, because I wasn’t okay with that.
I drew in a deep breath. “Look, I’ve got to get out on the floor. We’re busy.”
“And we’re not done talking.”
“Yeah, we are. For right now, okay? We can talk about this later or whatever.” I started to turn around, and his hand slipped off my chin.
“I never thought you’d be the jealous type.”
My feet came to a complete stop as I turned back to him and stared. Oh boy, that was the wrong thing to say. “I’m not jealous.”
He arched a brow.
I narrowed my eyes on him. “Fine. Maybe I am. Is that so surprising? I mean, I just said this”—I waved my hand between us like I was having a seizure—“isn’t casual, so yeah, I’m not going to like seeing a girl get all up on you night after night. Especially a girl you’ve hooked up with.”
Jaw tensed, he inclined his head. “You have nothing to be jealous of, Calla.”
A dry laugh burst from me. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, seriously. And the fact of the matter is all you have to do is trust me. Not her. But me. And if you trusted me, then you wouldn’t be jealous.”
I gaped at him. Part of that made sense. It took two to tango and all that jazz, but seriously?
“And if this is going to work out between us, you’re going to have to trust me,” he continued, and that—the if this is going to work out between us—caused my stomach to drop. “Because your financial aid came through and you’re going back to school in August, there’s gonna be some miles between us, and all we’re going to have is trust. You get what I’m saying?”
I totes-ma-goats got what he was saying. Half of my heart did a little jump and squeal, because he was planning for when I returned to school and that was great, but the other part of my heart was somewhere in my stomach. Trusting him was one thing, but this wasn’t okay. I could trust him all I wanted, but that didn’t mean I had to be cool with him letting the chicks feel him up and chalking it up to me being jealous.
I needed time to think about this.
He sighed. “Calla . . .”
Shaking my head, I backed away. “I really need to get back on the floor.”
When I turned away this time, Jax didn’t stop me. I walked back out onto the floor and it took everything in my power not to jump on the back of Aimee’s luminous blond head like a rabid spider monkey.
Yeah, I was jealous.
I was also human.
Jase and Cam were over with the girls, and Brock was with them. Katie was nowhere to be seen and I wondered if Teresa was going to be looking into a new profession. I wanted to chat with them, but when I saw Pearl, she looked like the rabid spider money.
Sending Pearl an apologetic look, I started working tables and running orders from the kitchen out to the floor. Before long, my brain was empty with the exception of drink and food orders, and that was perfect. Even though I needed time to think about what had happened, I didn’t want to think about it then.
I’d just ran an order of fries smothered in cheese and crab meat—what I planned on gorging myself on during break—to a table along the wall near the door, when I turned to head toward the cluster of round tables circling the pool tables and felt a hand curve around my arm, just above my elbow, and then there was a voice I didn’t recognize, right in my ear.
“Cause a scene, and I’m going to light this place up.”
Every molecule in my body turned to ice as I froze. The only thing that moved was my pounding heart.
“Good girl,” the man said, his hand tightening around my arm. “We’re going to walk right out of this bar. Behave and no one gets hurt. Got me?”
My mouth dried, and I jerked as I felt something press into my lower back. A gun? Shock blasted through my system, halting comprehension of what was going on. The man behind me started guiding me toward the door, and I imagined that to anyone around us, we looked like we knew each other. Well, other than what had to be a horrified look on my face, but we were at the door in seconds.
There was a crowd around the bar. Roxy and Nick and Jax were all serving drinks, and there were enough people that I couldn’t even see Aimee or my friends as the man reached around me and opened the door.
No one looked over.
No one stopped us.
I was freaking being kidnapped!
This didn’t happen in real life. Maybe in books and in the movies, but not to real people.
But it was happening unless I was having a full-spectrum hallucination. My heart was working into cardiac territory as I was ushered around the side of Mona’s, toward the back parking lot, which butted up to trees, empty warehouses, and probably where people went to die.
The hand on my arm was harsh, biting into my skin, and I didn’t feel what I suspected had been a gun pressing into my back any longer. My legs were shaking so badly I was surprised I could walk or even stand, but then I saw the dark SUV parked near the Dumpsters, engine running.
The window rolled down on the driver’s side and from deep within the dark recesses, a voice boomed. “Hurry the f**k up, Mo.”
Oh my God, there were two men, and there was a good chance I was going to end up like Rooster.
Every female in the world was taught to never let a kidnapper take you from whatever location you were originally at. That the risk of fighting back and getting an unexpected hole in your body was far less than allowing yourself to be taken to wherever.
That realization, something I’d learned ages ago, snapped me out of my shock.
I jerked forward, the movement catching my kidnapper off guard. He stumbled, but his grip tightened until I cried out. I twisted back toward him, catching a flash of an unfamiliar face. I opened my mouth to scream louder than I ever screamed in my entire life. I got a small shriek out before the man cursed, yanking on my arm fiercely. My back was suddenly pressed to his front and his hand smacked down on my mouth.