Ritchey nodded. “Track him down—he’s been living north of Plymouth, in the camp called Happy Trails. Can’t miss him. Got one of those souped-up trucks.” He glanced over at me again. “We’ve met, haven’t we? Man, ’cuz you look familiar. I can’t put it. Wait . . .” His pale eyes widened. “Holy shit, it’s true.”
“Ritchey,” warned Jax in a low voice as he reached into his pocket. “Don’t piss me off.”
“Whoa, man, I’m not trying. I like you. Always have, being we both have seen battle.” He raised his hands, and I saw it then, the vicious red track marks on his arms. “But you got to know, there’s more word on the street, talking about how Mona’s daughter is here. I just didn’t believe it. You better hope Isaiah doesn’t catch wind of that shit.”
Well, a little late on hoping for that.
“Stop looking at her,” Jax ordered, and Ritchey stopped looking at me as Jax pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket and dropped it on the counter. “Use that to get your boy some food. If I even f**king catch wind of you spending it on dope, I’m going to revisit and it isn’t going to be pretty.”
My breath caught as I stared at the money. It wasn’t a whole ton of it, but it was a decent-size wad. Then I stared at Jax. He was giving money to Ritchey for his kid. I think in that moment, I definitely went from liking Jax straight into crush territory.
After Jax dropped the money on the counter, he said something to Ritchey about us not being there, and then he took my hand and led me out of the house. I wanted to grab the child and make a run for it, but considering how everything was going for me, I doubted he’d be better off with me.
“Should we have checked upstairs?” I asked as the door closed behind us.
Jax shook his head. “Ritchey isn’t lying. Mona isn’t there. We’ll check out Ike and see if he has any idea.”
I headed down the stairs, my mind caught up in everything. I’d come home thinking I could get my money back from Mom, or at least have it out with her; realized neither of those two things were going to happen; and tried to make some much-needed money, but in the end, found myself in the middle of a million-dollar drug dispute.
“You okay?” he asked quietly, squeezing my hand as we hit the sidewalk.
Glancing up at him, I realized something else, something that was probably the most unexpected part in all of this. I’d found Jax. I nodded, and then I said, “No. I mean, it’s been so long since I’ve been around any of this stuff. I forgot what it was like.”
Jax tugged me closer until I was walking with my body pressed against his side and, letting go of my hand, he dropped his arm over my shoulders. This was nice. Brandon would do this sometimes, but it never felt like this.
“Not cool that you have to remember what this was like,” he said. “That you couldn’t just forget. I didn’t want that—”
Tires squealed, shrieking, and the smell of burnt rubber filled the air. The sound raised the hairs all over my body as Jax’s arm tightened on my shoulders. He spun around, keeping me tucked close, just in time to see a black SUV cut between two parked cars, smacking into one. Metal crunched and grinded, giving way as the SUV jumped the sidewalk.
My heart stopped and then sped up.
The SUV was coming straight for us.
Holy crap on a cracker, we were going to be run down in the middle of the crappiest part of Philly, looking for my jerk of a Mom.
The SUV was so close I could make out the damn emblem and smell the engine fumes. Air lodged in my throat as my heart threw itself against my ribs.
Jax sprang into action.
One second he had his arm around my shoulders and the next, he had an arm around my waist and my feet were off the ground. We were flying, or at least it felt that way, because I was up in the air and we were moving fast.
We crashed through a dried bush. Tiny, scratchy branches dragged over my arms and snagged in the hair tucked up in a bun at the back of my neck. Jax rolled at the last minute, and when we hit the ground, I landed on top of him. The impact was jarring and the air was knocked out of my lungs, pushing my eyes wide.
Jax rolled as he shoved me onto my back and reached behind him. He flipped up into a sitting position, his body shielding mine as he extended his right arm. Something black and slim was in his hand.
The SUV spun out over the sidewalk, bouncing back into the road and peeling off, sending puffs of white smoke into the air as the tires squealed again. Rising fluidly, Jax kept his arm trained on the quickly retreating SUV.
I lay there, half on the bush and half on a patch of yellow, burnt grass, absolutely stunned. Unless the driving ability of those who lived in Philadelphia had significantly gone down the pooper, someone had tried to run us over. And Jax was holding a gun. Not only was he holding a gun, but he had to have had the gun the entire time, and I remembered him coming out of the townhouse, tugging the back of his shirt down. And not only that, if that wasn’t enough reason to be totally mind blown, he’d tucked and rolled like a pro and he handled that gun like he knew what he was doing.
Jax faced me and was suddenly kneeling beside me, placing his hands on my shoulders. They were shaking. “Are you okay?”
His face was pale, strained. “Are you sure?”
I nodded as my heart pounded for a different reason. There was panic in his face—a stark fear. “I’m really okay.”
He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. “When I saw that car coming, I thought . . .” He shook his head. “The roadside bomb—we never saw it.”
“Oh God,” I whispered.
His eyes were dark when they reopened. “Just f**ked with my head for a second.”
“Understandable. You okay now?”
He nodded, and the color was back in his face. Cursing under his breath, Jax jerked around as one of the doors down the street opened and someone shouted something. It sounded like Ritchey, and it also sounded like he was yelling something about bringing bad shit to his doorstep, but my attention was focused on Jax.
He looked down at me.
“Do I even know you?” I asked.
One eyebrow rose as he reached around to his back, and when his hands returned to where I could see them, he wasn’t holding the gun anymore. “You know me.”
I blinked up at him as I sat up. “That . . . that was pretty impressive. You know, the whole thing.”
“Had a lot of practice dodging shit in the past, honey.”
That’s right. Military training. Duh. “And the gun?”
“Working at Mona’s, I’ve ended up face-to-face with people that make me feel a bit better chatting with knowing I’m holding a gun.” He reached down, took my hands in his, and hauled me onto my feet. “Plus, holding and firing a gun aren’t anything strange to me.”
Double duh. Military training. “What . . . what do you think that was all about?”
A door—most likely Ritchey’s—slammed shut. “Probably not something good.” He gripped the sides of my face, tilting my head back. “You really okay?” he asked once more.
Breathing heavy, I nodded. Other than a little sore and scared out of my mind, I was okay. “Someone tried to run us over.”
“They tried and they failed,” he pointed out.
“But they tried.” And then it really hit me. That someone did try to run us over and Jax carried a gun because of Mona’s, or more likely because of Mona, and someone seriously tried to run us over.
My knees started to knock together. It made me feel weak, but in all my life, no matter how crazy or how crappy it got, I’d never had a knife held to my face and almost been run over in less than twenty-four hours. That was kind of scary.
“Shit,” Jax said, and then he tugged me forward, against his chest, and I went, clutching the sides of his stomach. “Honey . . .”
I closed my eyes, soaking up his warmth and his strength, and I held on.
There were no naps or afternoon orgasms after almost being run over. Which sucked for various reasons. Besides orgasms just being a great thing to experience, I could really have used a nap after the morning and afternoon I had.
Jax had called Reece the moment we got in his truck and got the hell out of there. We ended up filing a police report with a cop I’d never seen before, an older gentleman with dark skin and tired eyes, but a warm smile. His name was Detective Dornell Jackson, and he seemed to know what was going on, because he asked a lot of questions that had to do with my mom and Mack and even Isaiah. Then we’d met up with Reece, and Jax had filled him in. Reece did not look happy, especially when we got to Jax’s house and both guys noticed a few tiny—and by tiny, I mean harmless—scratches along my upper arm.
This discovery resulted in me being dragged into the half bath downstairs, peroxide being whipped out, and cotton balls being dabbed along my arm like there was a chance they’d get infected and my arm would fall off.
It was assumed that someone had been watching Ritchey’s place, most likely for Mona, and that’s how we ended up almost getting run down, but it didn’t explain why. If I was potentially vital in handing over my mom or luring her out, why try to turn Jax or me into roadkill?
No one had an answer for that.
Before the start of my shift, Jax had taken me back to the house so I could get ready. Instead of leaving, he hung out until it was time. At some point, he’d made the universal decision that I was riding with him to and from work.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” I told him.
Jax dropped down on the couch, brows raised. “I want you safe, Calla. And obviously shit is going down. So you’re going to stay safe. Besides that, we literally work the same damn shift. You can save gas money.”
I really couldn’t argue with that.
“Pack up some clothes, too, you’re staying with me tonight,” he went on, and my mouth opened. “Calla, it goes back to keeping you safe. My place is better. No offense, but I have more than oodles and noodles in the cabinet and I have cable TV.”
Okay. Real food and cable TV were a bonus. “That’s a lot, Jax. I mean, staying with you is—”
“Good,” he cut in, grinning. “Fun. Better than staying in this house?”
I pressed my lips together as my eyes narrowed.
He leaned forward, resting his hands on his thighs as he sighed. “Calla, I just want to make sure you’re safe while we deal with this crap, and, honey, you know this house isn’t safe. No one is going to barge into my house, but this place? Anything goes.”
Hesitating at the doorway to the bedroom, I had to acknowledge that he had a point and he was right. This house wasn’t on the up-and-up. I would be safer at his place, but it was his place, and staying at his place meant something, and . . .
It did mean something. That was the third duh of the day. Jax wanted me at his place because it did mean something to him, to us—to our thing.
“I see it sinking in,” Jax remarked smugly.
I whipped around. “Shut up.”
He laughed as I all but pranced into the room. After changing into a pair of dark denim jeans that were on the tight side of things, I slipped on a pair of cute flats, a standard black tank top, and a loose thin shirt that had a tendency to slip off one shoulder, but didn’t expose my back. When I took my hair down, it had dried in waves from being in the bun, and then I reached for my purple makeup case.
My gaze darted to the mirror. I’d washed my face before I changed and it was all kinds of fresh and clean. I felt light, like I always did without the makeup slathered on.
Pressing my lips together, I glanced down at the tube of foundation. I’d gone all morning and most of the afternoon without a lick of makeup on, and no one, not even small, easily frightened children, had run screaming for the hills. No one had really stared. And I honestly didn’t really think about it. Meeting Ritchey and almost being run over might have something to do with that, but still.
My stomach jumped a little.
Most people wouldn’t understand, but it was a big deal for me to put that tube back in the pouch without putting it on. The makeup was like a shield and it was literally a mask.
There was a knot in my throat and my fingers trembled slightly as I picked up the other foundation I wore—some kind of BB cream that gave the face a dewy complexion but really didn’t do much for coverage. I put that on, smoothing it over the slightly raised scar. I had to blink a couple of times before I did my eyes, giving them a smoky, working the bar appropriate look. I put some lip gloss on and then I was done.
I backed away from the mirror slowly.
Taking a deep breath, I left the bathroom and grabbed my bag from the bed. When I entered the living room, Jax looked up, and then he sat forward, his head cocking to the side. His eyes hooded, his gaze turning lazy as it drifted over my face.
And my heart flipped, not a little, but a lot.
Word about killer SUVs on the warpath and Mack Attacks traveled at the speed of a rocket.
Clyde had grabbed me the moment I’d walked into the kitchen to say hi and had given me one of his giant bear hugs. “Baby girl, Jax told me you guys were going to go out and look for your momma, but I don’t like this.”
I didn’t like it, either, but Thursday wasn’t too far away and we needed to find Mom. “It could’ve been a coincidence,” I said into his massive chest.
“There ain’t no such thing as coincidences.” He squeezed me again, and if I were a toy, I would’ve squeaked. “I don’t want you in danger.”