It was near eight in the evening and I’d just gorged myself on a pack of Twizzlers. On the way back from tossing the package in the trash, I smoothed my hand through my hair even though it probably still looked like a hot mess and then headed around the couch.
From where Jax sat, he leaned forward and settled his hands on my h*ps as I went to walk past him, to take the seat next to him. Apparently that wasn’t happening. “I think I’m going to pull out of Dennis’s bachelor party.”
God, I’d totally forgotten that was tomorrow night. “Why?”
One shoulder rose as he rubbed his hands up and down my hips. “With everything going on with Clyde and with you, I think the last thing I need to be doing is sitting in a strip club.”
“I’m pretty sure with everything that’s been going on, you could use the break. Just don’t go into any of the private rooms,” I joked.
“Thursday nights are kind of busy, hon, and I don’t feel—”
“We have the bar and the kitchen handled. And I promise not to get kidnapped or anything crazy.”
An eyebrow arched. “You promise?”
He smirked. “I don’t think that’s something you necessarily have control over.”
“If I stay behind the bar, I think I’ll be fine. Plus Nick will be there. And you already have him coming in on Thursday to cover you. We’ll be fine.”
“You sure are fine.”
I sighed. “Jax.”
With a wicked grin on his lips, he pulled me into his lap and I went to him, straddling his thighs. I liked this. A lot. But he wasn’t going to distract me. “Go. Okay. I’ll be at the bar and you’ll come get me before we close. I’ll be fine.”
He leaned back against the couch cushion. “But what if I want to take a girl home with me?”
“I don’t know about that. The way Katie talks, those girls oil themselves up. You might have a hard time holding on to one of them.”
Jax tipped his head back and laughed. “Nice.”
Then something occurred to me. “What if Katie’s dancing?”
He shook his head. “That will be a bathroom break for me.”
“She’s really hot.”
Hooking his arms around my hips, he spread his legs and I slipped farther onto him. “It’s not that. It’s just that she’s Katie . . . and I don’t want to see her like that.”
I grinned and hoped that she was dressed as a fairy again. “So you’re going?”
One hand slid up the line of my spine, tangled in my hair, and then he tugged my head down to his lips. “I’m going.”
He nipped at my lower lip. “You’re probably the only girl in the world who would just say good to the fact her man is going to a strip club.”
My man? I got a little caught up in that phrase so I didn’t point out that I thought a lot of girls really didn’t care about strip clubs, because then he was kissing me, slow and sweet.
When his mouth left mine, his lips brushed over the curve of my jaw. The bruise from the botched kidnapping had already began to fade, but he placed a kiss there, and my heart did a little dance.
I settled in his arms as he idly flipped through the stations on the TV and it wasn’t long before my eyes drifted shut. I was lulled away by the steady sweeping motion of his hand along the line of my spine. It was strange. I never thought I could ever allow someone to touch me there, even if I was wearing clothes, and here I was, comforted by a caress that would’ve made me cringe not too long ago.
So much had changed.
Once he’d settled on a baseball game, he dropped the remote and his hand ended up in my hair. “Reece called earlier, when you were on the computer doing your school stuff.”
My eyes opened, but I didn’t move. I was feeling way too lazy for that level of effort. “What did he want?”
“Just keeping us updated on Mack. Reece and Colton really think he’s gone to ground, especially since they’ve been riding Isaiah hard, which won’t bode well for Mack, either,” he said as he twisted my hair around his fingers.
“Yeah, Detective Anders said something like that yesterday when he talked to me.” My hand was on his chest so I started drawing a circle with my finger. “It’s just crazy. It’s like all of them know that this Isaiah is dirty, but they don’t do anything.”
“They can’t, honey. Isaiah is smart. He cleans up after everything and nothing leads back to him. That’s why he’s not going to be happy with Mack. He messed up with your mom and Rooster, obviously took Rooster out—”
“Couldn’t that have been Isaiah?” I asked.
Jax flipped the mass of hair over my shoulder. “I don’t think so. He’s cleaner than that. And he’s smart. He’s not going to drop a body in the daylight on a front porch. He’s more of the going for a cement swim type of guy.”
I shuddered. “How well do you know Isaiah?”
“As well as I want to and nothing more.” His hand flattened along the curve of my behind and stayed there. “He’s been in Mona’s a few times. I think checking the place out.”
“That’s kind of creepy.”
“He’s Isaiah.” He patted my behind. “Anyway, if Mack’s gone to ground, there’s a good chance you’re done with this shit.”
That’s what Detective Anders had said, too, but it really didn’t make me feel like I should go traipsing down Main Street or anything. “Have they found Ike?”
“Do you think . . . something happened to him, too?”
“I don’t know. The kind of life these people live, it’s not odd that they disappear. Could have nothing to do with any of this.”
I hoped so. Well, I hoped whoever the Ike guy was, he wasn’t missing in a bad way. I didn’t know him, never even seen him, but still, a human life was a human life.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said as he gently untangled his fingers from my hair. “When you head back to Shepherd, you’re staying in a dorm, right?”
I nodded. “I’m in the Printz apartments this year. Or I had approval before. I guess I still do, but Printz is a dorm with two- to three-bedroom apartments in them.”
“Yes. Just like a normal apartment building, but nicer.” I laughed.
“This is good, because we’re going to need the privacy.”
I bit down on my lower lip, but it didn’t stop my smile from spreading. “We do?”
“Honey, I don’t want to be na**d in bed with you with some chick in another bed a couple f**king feet away from us.”
“Good point.” I giggled.
Actually f**king giggled. I was so dumb.
“If I keep my schedule like it is, I could come down on Sunday and stay with you for a few days.” He caught a strand of my hair again and tucked it back. “And maybe when your schoolwork isn’t too heavy, you can come up on the weekend.”
Lifting my head, I met his gaze.
“Of course, to work, that is.”
I laughed at that, and he grinned. “I can do that.” His grin turned into a smile and I said, “I think you like me, Jackson James.”
He raised a brow. “Wow. Are you finally getting it?”
I pushed my hand at his chest, and he chuckled. “No. I think you really like me.”
“Like I said, you’re finally just getting it?”
He kissed the corner of my lip. “It’s a good thing you have such a sweet ass.”
I smacked his pec for that, but then he caught my wrist and lifted my hand to his mouth. He kissed the center of my palm. “Yeah, babe, I really like you.”
My eyes locked in on his. “I really like you, too.”
“I know,” he murmured lazily.
“Arrogant,” I whispered, and then I kissed him quickly before settling down against his chest again, not wanting him to see that my “really like” went into the “really love” territory.
Conversation faded as he turned his attention to the baseball game, and I relaxed completely, curled up in his arms. I never thought I’d have this with someone, especially someone as wonderful as Jax.
And in a weird way, I had my mom to thank for that.
It wasn’t long before I fell asleep like that, and when he was ready for bed, he simply turned off the TV, gathered me closer, and stood.
“I can walk,” I mumbled.
His arms tightened. “I got you.”
I liked the sound of that and it was way nice, him doing this. As I wrapped an arm around his neck and closed my eyes, I allowed myself to be a total cornball and my insides melted into cornball goo.
In spite of everything, I was lucky. So damn lucky.
He carried me upstairs and then I also liked it when he helped me undress, which ended with me wearing nothing but one of his shirts. I got tucked into bed while he headed back downstairs and locked up. It wasn’t long before he was in bed with me, his front pressed to my back, one leg between mine and an arm secured around my waist.
Jax’s lips brushed the back of my neck, and before I slipped back into sleepy land, I heard him say for no reason at all, “You’re beautiful, babe.”
When I woke up, I knew something was different. Jax wasn’t behind me, tucked as close as he could get. I rolled into his space, catching the faint scent of his cologne, and blinked until my vision adapted to the darkness.
The green neon light from the clock on the nightstand said it was three in the morning.
Sitting up, I looked around the room. There was no light peeking under the closed bathroom door, but the bedroom door was open. This was strange to my sleepy brain. I couldn’t think of a time where I’d shared his bed that he’d gotten up in the middle of the night. Granted, we hadn’t been sharing beds that long.
I sat there for a moment as my mind started to come back on line. I knew that a lot of people who’d seen battle had problems with sleep and Jax had said that when he returned, he had trouble with it. Concern tugged at me, waking me up. Was he having a bad night? Since we hadn’t been sleeping together that long, it was possible he had them and I didn’t know.
Throwing the cover off, I slipped off the bed. His shirt settled around my thighs as I stepped toward the door left ajar. That’s when I heard his voice.
My brows furrowed as I opened the door and walked the short distance to the top of the stairs. From my vantage point, I could see down the whole stairwell and I could see the front door. It was opened, but no one was there.
Then I heard the second voice.
“I know I should’ve called.”
My heart stopped in my chest—stopped like it had hit a brick wall. That was most definitely a female voice. In the house. At three in the morning.
If Jax responded, I didn’t hear him, but I heard the girl again. “I was out and I missed you, baby. I’ve missed you so much.”
Oh. My. God.
I reached out, grabbing the wooden ball carved into the top of the banister to steady myself. I had to be dreaming. It was not three in the morning and some girl, who sounded vaguely familiar, was not in Jax’s house, telling him how much she missed him and calling him baby. No way.
I heard Jax then, but it was only bits and pieces of what he was saying. “. . . now isn’t a good time . . . no time . . . call first, but . . .”
Ice drenched my veins.
From what I could hear, it was pretty obvious. Call before you come over, because there might be someone else here. A second later, my theory was confirmed.
“Is someone here?” The voice rose.
Oh God . . .
Then I heard Jax loud and clear. “Keep your voice down, Aimee.”
No wonder the voice sounded familiar to me.
Aimee? Beautiful ex-pageant queen with perfect teeth Aimee, whom he had a history with and who gave him free breast exams at the bar? Maybe a not-too-distant history with?
I think I needed to sit down.
“Is that a purse?” Aimee demanded. “What the f**k, Jax? You do have someone here. Where is she? And does she know that the last time I was in town, we were together? Which, by the way, wasn’t like a month ago?”
My stomach dropped to my toes. A month ago? I did a quick calculation of the time from when I came home and now, and really, that didn’t add up in a way that made my stomach get back where it belonged.
“Shit, Aimee, it was more than a month ago,” Jax said, his voice louder, too. “Look, you know I care about you—”
“Do you?” she fired back.
You know I care about you.
I squeezed my eyes shut. A couple of hours ago, we were in bed, and he’d held me and told me I was beautiful, and a few hours before that he’d told me he really liked me, and we were making plans for when I went back to Shepherd, but now Aimee with two e’s was in his house and they’d been together a month ago, and he cared about her. I opened my eyes. They didn’t feel dry. The front door was still open.