The thing was, I had a feeling I was in danger even if I wasn’t out there looking for Mom, but I didn’t say that. “I’ll be okay. I promise.”

Clyde pulled back and scrubbed a hand over his head. “Baby girl, I’m happy to see you around and to see you smiling again . . .”

I was smiling again? When had I stopped smiling? Well, when I’d lived here before there hadn’t been a lot to smile about.

“But if being safer means heading back down to the school, then I’d rather see you safe.”

“I can’t go back now,” I told him, and I smiled for him. “You know that.” But I left out Mack’s threat of them finding me if I left. “It’s going to be okay.”

Concern pinched his face and I knew he didn’t believe that as he turned, picked up the spatula with one hand, and rubbed his chest with the other. I lingered at the double doors, wishing I could do something to ease his worry, but the only thing I could do was stay safe.

Back out on the floor, there was only a slight reprieve from random acts of concern. As soon as Nick came in for his shift, he offered to chauffeur me around, which surprised the hell out of me, but that offer was quickly pooh-poohed by one single look from Jax. But if Jax wasn’t out on the floor while we worked, I noticed Nick was never too far.

I didn’t know what to think about that. I barely knew Nick, but it was sweet and a bit disarming.

Roxy was concerned and offered up her apartment as a place to crash, but that was also shot down when Jax announced that I was “crashing” at his place, before he disappeared into the stockroom.

“You’re staying with Jax?” she asked as we stood in the narrow hall. “Like staying at his place?”

“I guess so—for tonight.” I paused, frowning. “And last night, too.”

Her eyes got huge behind her glasses. “You stayed the night with him last night? And he took your drinking cherry the night before?”

“Well, yeah . . .”

A wide grin appeared. “Are you guys together?”

I didn’t answer, because Jax had come out of the liquor room, carrying several bottles. His eyes narrowed on us as he strolled past, but there was a small grin on his full lips. He winked at me.

My tummy fluttered, because my tummy was dumb.

“You know, he really is a great guy,” she said, not like I didn’t already realize that. “Like the kind that really has your back. Last year, Reece . . .” She said his name with a pause that caused my eyebrow to rise. “He was in an officer-involved shooting. Totally legit, but you know, I think shooting someone kind of messes with your head. Jax was totally there for him.”

Now both of my brows were in my hairline. Damn. I didn’t know what to say to that.

She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the office. “So you two are together.”

“No. I mean, I don’t know.” I squeezed my eyes shut and took a breath. “I guess we are. Kind of.”

“Kind of?” Her brows shot up over her black rims. “Either you’re together, like one-on-one with rules.”

“Rules?”

“Yeah, like you’re only seeing each other.”

Oh. There was the fourth duh of the day. “We haven’t discussed that.”

“Then you’re f**k buddies?” she asked, eyes narrowing.

My cheeks heated. “I don’t think we’re that, either.” Or were we? I mean, it wasn’t like anything was labeled or discussed or anything.

“Okay.” Roxy patted my arm, and I blinked away thoughts of f**k buddies. “I can so tell that being f**k buddies would not be cool with you. So that leaves, you guys are together, as in dating, as in seeing how it goes?”

“That sounds about right. We’re going out tomorrow, to Apollo’s.”

She clapped. “Oh, that’s a damn good place. Great steaks.”

“That’s what I hear,” I murmured.

“Fuck buddies don’t take each other to Apollo’s.” Her lips slipped down at the corners. “They take each other to places like Mona’s. Trust me, I know.”

I noticed that frown, but she went on. “Apollo’s is for those dating who are serious. Like as in, the guy knows what kind of coffee you like in the morning and how you like it. Apollo’s is impressive. And did I mention the steaks were great?”

Suddenly, I wanted to talk to Teresa. I wanted to tell her what was going on because I had a feeling I really didn’t know what was going on. But it was late and Teresa was at the beach with Jase. I looked down at Roxy and bit my bottom lip. I didn’t know . . . oh hell, f**k it. “I’ve never had a boyfriend.”

Roxy blinked slowly and then took a step back. She raised a finger, walked over to the door and closed it, then turned to me. “Not a single boyfriend?”

I shook my head.

“Have you ever had a f**k buddy?”

I shook my head again.

She leaned against the door. “So I’m assuming that the cherry convo we had before hit close to home?”

“Uh. Yeah.” I sat on the edge of the desk, crossing my ankles. “Cherry is intact.”

“Wow,” she murmured.

I frowned. “What?”

“I don’t know. Virgin twenty-one-year-olds are kind of like Big Foot.”

My shoulders slumped. “Gee. Thanks.”

“You know what I mean.” She slid her glasses up to the top of her head. “You hear about Big Foot, but no one has really seen Big Foot in person. Same with twenty-one-year-old virgins.”

I was beginning to think sharing was a bad idea.

“Why?” she asked, and my brows rose. “Why no boyfriend?”

Cocking my head to the side, I stared at her. “Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

I folded my arms across my chest. “You can see with the glasses, right?”

She squinted, scrunching her nose. “Yeah, I can see. And you’re really pretty. And you’re nice. You have to be smart to be in a nursing program, so what’s the deal?”

“Pretty?” I murmured.

Then she blinked again as she pushed off the door, approaching me. “I get it. The scar on your face? It doesn’t distract from your prettiness. You have to know that. And I kind of wanted to say something earlier, but thought it would be way uncool to bring it up,” she went on. “But you look nice tonight. I can tell you’re not wearing a lot of makeup, and you looked great before, but you look awesome without it.”

Dermablend was no joke—a heavy makeup used for maximum coverage, and I always knew it was noticeable. I just thought I looked better with it.

“I’d kill to have your lips,” Roxy continued, drawing my attention to hers. They were nice lips. Bow-shaped lips. “And I’d murder someone to have your boobs. You cover them up, but I know they are there, and they look nice.”

“They’re not,” I blurted out before I stopped myself.

Confusion marked her face. “What do you mean? Do you have, like, the most awesome bra in the history of bras? If so, can you let me know where you got that?” She placed her hands over her small chest. “Because these babies could use some help.”

I smiled softly. “No. It’s not that. Sorry.”

“Damn.” She pouted. “Then what?”

I’d never talked to anyone about what I looked like in the buff and finding the right words was more than difficult. “The scar on my face is nothing compared to the rest of me. It’s pretty bad. For real.”

Roxy opened her mouth, but it was clear that she wasn’t sure what to say, so I rushed on. “I don’t have a lot of experience with guys, so I think we’re dating, and I think I . . . I like that.”

“You like him,” she corrected softly.

Sighing, I nodded. “I do. I do like him. And I know it’s dumb.”

“It’s not dumb.”

I carried on as if I hadn’t heard her. “I mean, he’s hot, like so hot and so nice, he’s the perfect combo, and with everything going on with my mom, now probably isn’t the smartest time to get involved with anyone.”

“Yeah, the stuff with your mom does suck.” She shifted her slight weight from one foot to the next. “Sucks big-time, but also doesn’t really have anything to do with Jax, you know? They are two separate things.”

I could see that. “But I plan on heading back to school in August.”

“So?” she said. “Shepherd is like three hours from here. Big whoop. You guys can still date. Not only can you drive, there are these neat things called trains.”

I laughed. “I’ve heard of those things a time or two before.”

“He likes you,” Roxy said, and then nodded to drive the statement home. “Jax likes you, Calla. Trust me, I know.”

“Do you?”

Her chin jerked up and down again, but before she could continue, the door opened and Nick stuck his head in. “If you two are done doing whatever you’re doing in here, we really could use your help.”

I glanced at Roxy, and she rolled her eyes. “Boys,” she said, spinning around. “What would they do without us?”

I didn’t answer, but I wanted to giggle at the look Nick shot her way. We headed back out and the bar was packed. Jax stopped me, tied on my apron, gave me a not so secretive tap on the behind, and sent me on the floor.

“Girl, I don’t know what’s going on tonight, but it’s a madhouse,” Pearl said as I picked up the notebook to write orders.

It was.

The crowd was a mixture of the young and old, and the moment Melvin caught sight of me, he motioned me over to the table with one crooked finger. He wasn’t alone. Tonight he was joined by an equally old-looking dude.

“What’s this I hear about you and Jackson almost getting run over by a car today?” Melvin asked, and I was reminded, once again, how fast news traveled.

I glanced at his buddy, and was unsure of what to say.

“That’s Arthur.” Melvin nodded at his friend. “This is Mona’s daughter.”

Arthur’s heavily lined face crinkled as dark eyes centered on me. “Good to meet you, darlin’.”

Giving him a short, somewhat awkward, wave, I admitted to being almost run over, but downplayed it to a run-in with a really bad driver since I didn’t want to worry either of them. Melvin didn’t look too convinced when he patted my arm and told me to be careful.

The crowd didn’t thin as the night wore on, and when I replaced Nick for break, I was happy to be behind the bar and not out running the floor like a madwoman.

I was making two Jäger bombs when I looked up and saw them. Well, I saw him first and almost dropped the smaller glass in a way one was not supposed to drop it in a Jäger bomb.

The guy was huge—like bigger and broader than Jax, even taller. He wore a black shirt that stretched taut over a defined chest and arms. His brown hair was buzzed on the sides, a little longer on the top, and it stood straight up, a little longer than Jax’s, which looked like it would be curly if it grew out. This guy had an angular face with definite Hispanic descent. Smooth brown skin covered high cheekbones and thick brown lashes framed dark eyes. There was a crescent-shaped scar under his left eye and another under the center of his lip, cutting into it.

He looked bad—like bad in a very good way.

The girl trailing behind him seriously could’ve been Britney Spears in the flesh—Catholic-schoolgirl Britney. Her blond hair was wavy and cut perfectly to frame a heart-shaped face. She had full lips and big brown eyes and a nice body. How did I know she had a nice body? Because most of it was on display.

She was wearing a strappy tank top that showed her trim midriff and a short jean skirt that revealed awesome tan legs. The chick had to-die-for boobs, and she was universally hot.

And she wasn’t paying attention to the big, handsome guy next to her. She was staring straight at the bar. Not at me. Not at Roxy. Her brown gaze was fixed on the side of the bar farthest from Roxy and me.

On Jax.

Aaand she wasn’t just looking at him.

“Do you know who that is?” Roxy asked, shoveling up a buttload of ice. “That hot as hell guy right over there?”

My gaze shifted from the girl to him. “How could I not notice?” I handed over the Jäger bombs with a smile and took the money. “Who is he?” I asked when I really wanted to know who was she and why was she staring at Jax like he was for dinner.

“Brock,” Roxy answered, and started fanning herself. “The Brock.”

“Um? Who?” I asked as I turned to a college-age guy. “What can I get you?”

“That’s Brock ‘the Beast’ Mitchell,” the guy said instead of answering, and I blinked. “You don’t know who he is?”

I glanced over at “the Beast” and shook my head. “Should I?”

The guy snorted as he shook his head. “He does MMA—a pretty big deal. Or about to become a big deal.” He looked over, an expression of awe creeping into his face. “Man, he is not a dude I’d want to piss off. Didn’t know he was in town. Anyway, I’ll take a Bud.”

Grabbing the beer, I peeked over at Brock. I knew what MMA was—mixed martial arts, and I was guessing a pretty big deal meant he was fighting pro on one of those circuits that Cam and Jase were obsessed with. I knew for a fact that the guy wasn’t local. I would’ve remembered a face like that even if he’d been a whole lot smaller in our high school days.




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