My breath caught again, and I opened my mouth, but there were no words at first, because there was so much I wanted to say to him. I wanted to list the things that I loved about him, but all I could say was “I’m in love with you.”

Jax drew in a sharp breath as his eyes flared wide, and I realized he didn’t think I was going to say that. He was an idiot if so, but he was the idiot I loved, so I said it again, and then he moved, dipping his mouth to mine, and that kiss . . . oh God, I recognized that kiss, because he’d kissed me like this before and it was full of just as much love as it had been every time he’d kissed me like that.

And then, maybe because Jax loved me—was in love with me—and I was in love with him, or maybe because I’d just been shot and was on some really good meds, I started crying.

Jax murmured something against my lips and then he caught the tears with his thumbs. Because there was no way for him to get in this bed with me, he did the next best thing. He scooted the chair as close as he could and stretched his upper body toward mine, circling an arm around my shoulders as he rested his cheek on the pillow next to mine. Some time passed before the waterworks ceased and I found myself smiling at him. I managed to get my right arm to work and I had my hand on the back of his neck, my fingers slowly threading through his hair as he explained in great detail how he planned on showing me when I got better just how much he loved me, so much detail I was sure my face was as red as a tomato, but boy did I have something to look forward to.

More time passed, enough that I wondered how he got the staff to let him be in my room, but I didn’t care. He was here and that was all that mattered. Both of us were getting tired when he said, “There’s some things we need to talk about, but it can wait until you’re out of here. Okay?”

At that moment, he’d said everything that I needed so desperately to hear him say, so I could wait to hear whatever else he wanted to tell me. I nodded and my eyelids felt droopy and it was then, after being awake for God knows how long, it hit me.

“Oh God.” I started to sit up again, but Jax was there, gently keeping my shoulders down.

“What?” Concern poured into his voice. “What’s wrong?”

I grasped his wrist with my right hand. “Mom. Mom was there, Jax. She was in the parking lot. Was she hurt?”

He stared at me a moment and then shook his head as his brows slammed down. “Mona was there?”

“Yes! She was outside waiting for me, but a car pulled up and then someone starting shooting. Was she hit?”

“Okay. You need to calm down.” He curled his hand around my cheek again. “This is the first anyone is hearing about your mom, honey. No one knows she was there.”

Confused, I stared at him. “Wait. She was there. I talked to her. She called me baby. She was there, Jax.”

He didn’t say anything.

My mind raced. “She was there when they started shooting, and I heard the car pull away—”

“The police found the car they believed was used abandoned a few miles away from the bar,” he explained. “I don’t know who it’s registered to, but they think it was probably stolen. I’m sure we’ll get more info later.”

“But . . . but that doesn’t make sense.”

His eyes met mine and then he kissed my cheek. “Honey, I . . . I’m sorry.”

I started to ask him why he was apologizing, but then I knew. I got it. He was apologizing because my mom had showed up at the bar, had seen me and I had seen her, people who were pissed at her had opened fire and I got hit, and . . . and Mom had to have known that.

Blinking slowly, I shook my head. “She had to have known I was hurt.”

He smoothed his thumb under my lip, and I felt the disbelief piling up on me. I remembered calling out for her and there being no answer. “She left me there, Jax, in a parking lot, bleeding from a gunshot wound meant for her. She left me.”

“Honey,” he said softly. “I don’t know what to say.”

Because what the hell did you say to something like that? My own mom had left me bleeding in a parking lot. Good God, did she care at all? My lower lip trembled, and Jax moved back in, his fingers spreading across my cheek as he turned my head toward his.

His lips met mine and he said, “I love you.”

I closed my eyes as I nodded slightly. He pressed his forehead against mine, holding me the only way he could until the exhaustion finally caught up with me, washing away all the very good and all the very bad.

Over the next two days while I was kept in the hospital for observation, my room became a very happening place. Detective Anders had been in and out more than once; so had Reece. Roxy and Nick had showed, the former sneaking me in doughnuts that I wasn’t allowed to eat yet, but I hadn’t the heart to tell her and the latter had been broodier than ever. I felt responsible for that. He’d offered to take me home and maybe if I’d taken him up on that offer, Mom wouldn’t have attempted to approach me and I wouldn’t be lying in a hospital bed going out of my mind with cabin fever.

The shooting had hit the news, and somehow Cam had heard about it or Teresa had kept calling my cell and Jax had finally answered—I didn’t know which or if it was a combo of both, but my friends—God love them—were back in town, having driven up the moment they’d heard I’d been shot. They were staying at a hotel a few blocks from the hospital and they were playing the whole thing cool. Jase had even joked around how I kept summer break interesting for all of them, but I could tell that they were seriously worried, especially when Teresa had said that she wanted me to come home, back to Shepherd as soon as possible. But I also didn’t have the heart to tell her that wouldn’t solve anything.

Turned out I was in the same hospital as Clyde. He was well enough to be up for short periods and that meant he was in my room, cussing up a storm and usually getting taken back to his room before he had another heart attack.

Throughout all of this Jax rarely left my side. He took time off at the bar, and Nick and Roxy really stepped up to help out. He had some kind of hot guy Jedi mind control over the staff, because he stayed in my room throughout the night and I knew that was a big no-no, but I didn’t question it. Those long hours in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep and all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there, he was there. We talked about important stuff, like what we’d fought over, and then we talked about stupid things like where to go in case of a zombie apocalypse or what our favorite reality shows were. I admitted that I still watched Toddlers & Tiaras, might have a wee crush on Property Brothers, and he was a fan of Kitchen Nightmares and Bar Rescue, and had more than just a wee crush on Robbie Welsh from Shipping Wars. When he’d started talking about his favorite football team, I dozed off, and when I woke up some time later, he’d been asleep in what had to have been the most uncomfortable position known to man.

He’d fallen asleep in his chair, but his head had been resting on arms that were folded on the bed beside me. His cheek had been turned to me, and I had hit an exceptional level of creeper, because I didn’t know how long I’d lain there and watched the way his lashes fluttered in his sleep or just stared at his face.

It was like that for two nights, and on the morning of day three, I was being discharged to go home and take it easy. The nurses had given me permission in the morning to wash my hair while Jax made the trip back to the house to grab some clothes for me. Sponge baths weren’t cutting it, but the angry little scar on top of the faded scars and the twinge of pain if I turned too quickly or breathed too deeply told me that I needed to be careful.

Even now I couldn’t believe I’d been shot.

My friends were still in town and I had no idea how long they planned on staying, but I knew they were going to swing by tomorrow since I’d been ordered to not do crap today, so I guessed they’d turned their second trip into a mini vacation.

As the doctor checked me over, and Jax was back, waiting by the door, the thoughts I’d been avoiding since the first night in the hospital crept into my mind.


I closed my eyes as the doctor took my blood pressure.

My own flesh-and-blood mother had left me lying in my blood. That hurt like having a rusty nail driven into your heart. Repeatedly. No matter what excuses she had or how scared she might’ve been, there was no justification for that, and that was such a hard wake-up call to go through, because I didn’t understand until the moment I realized she’d left me that I still fostered a little bit of hope that one day she’d be like she was before the fire, the deaths, and the drugs.

There was no hope now.

I’d done the right thing when I’d spoken to Detective Anders. I told him that I’d seen my mom, and he hadn’t looked too happy to hear that and I wasn’t too thrilled to even be talking about it.

Right now, I couldn’t let myself think about her, because even though getting shot sucked and being forced into debt wasn’t too great, either, I was alive and I had a lot to be thankful for.

I glanced over my shoulder at Jax as the doc slipped the pressure cuff off. He winked, and I grinned.

Almost dying really did put things into perspective.

I was cleared to go and we made a pit stop at Clyde’s room before heading to Jax’s townhome. From what we learned, Clyde would be released by the end of the week, maybe even tomorrow if the tests were positive.

When we got to Jax’s townhome, I made it to the couch and plopped down there, tired from a freaking car ride.

“You okay?” Jax knelt in front of me.

I nodded. “Yeah, I’m just tired. Not sleepy.”

He didn’t look convinced. “Your stomach doesn’t hurt?”

I smiled. “Only if I do something stupid.”

His eyes searched mine and then he rose, placing one hand on the arm of the couch. He brushed his lips over mine. “You think you can eat something? They said bland food, right? Like chicken noodle soup?”

“That would be nice.”

He drew back, his eyes still clouded with worry. He grabbed one of those ultracomfy blankets off the back of the couch and draped it around me. “Stay there.”

As he moved away, I clawed my way out of the blanket and grabbed his arm. “Thank you.”

An eyebrow rose. “For what?”

“Everything and anything.”

His lips twitched and then he swooped down, kissing me once more. “There’s nothing you need to thank me for, honey. If anything, it’s the other way around.”

Confused, I frowned. “How so?”

Before he answered, he eased that frown right off my lips and created a series of shivers low in my belly. “You’re sitting here on my couch and there’s nothing I could do that will outdo that.”

Wow. My chest got all mushy, which was just another reason to be thankful for him. When he left to go fix the soup, I snuggled deep into the blanket and then we ate soup while watching a marathon of Property Brothers, which made me want to buy an old house and have them renovate it into pure awesomeness. And the fact that they were hot twins might have a little to do it with, too.

It was early in the evening when there was a knock on Jax’s door. I was stretched out on the couch, my back to Jax’s front, and had almost dozed off. I craned my neck and saw the frown on his full lips.

“Not expecting anyone?” I asked.

He shook his head as he carefully slid his arm out from under my shoulders. “Stay here, okay?”

Nodding, I gingerly sat up after he virtually climbed over me. He stalked around the couch, heading to the door, where he peered through the peephole. “What the f**k?”

Unease exploded in my gut and I jerked to my feet, pulling tender skin. I placed my hand over the wound. “What is it?”

His head cocked to the side as I heard a muffled voice coming from the other side of the door. I had no idea what was being said, but several moments passed and then Jax wheeled around. My jaw dropped open as he went to a hutch in the dining room, opened it, and pulled out a handgun. The unease spiked to a whole new level.

Even though I knew he had a gun and I’d seen it before, it still came as a shock whenever he whipped it out. “Jax . . .”

“It’s okay,” he said, stopping by where I stood. His free hand wrapped around the back of my neck and he tipped my head back, kissing me quickly. “Just precautionary.”

In my book, there was nothing okay about a gun being a precautionary measure, and my heart was pounding as he went back to the door, throwing the lock. My muscles tensed as he opened the door, holding the gun in plain sight.

“I don’t give a f**k who you are, make one move I don’t like, and you won’t be walking out of this house,” Jax warned in a low voice as he stepped aside.

There was a beat of silence and then a response in a male voice. “I’d like to think I’m smart enough not to cause you to use the gun in your hand.”

“And I’m smart enough to know that you probably got my place f**king surrounded and if I didn’t let you in, you would’ve found your way in.”

What the f**kity f**k was going on?

A deep masculine chuckle resonated. “That may be true, but I’m not here to cause any trouble, Jackson. I’m here to end it.”

Those words were like ice being drilled down my spine.

Jax stood there for a moment and then he nodded curtly.

A second passed and then a man walked into the house. Hell, he glided in. Dressed in a deep gray suit that was obviously tailored to fit his narrow h*ps and broad shoulders, hair shiny black and combed back from a high forehead and cheekbones, he reeked of money and power.

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