Stay with Me (Wait for You #3)(8) by J. Lynn

My gaze flickered over the worn-out bar, dancing over the old street signs and black-and-white photos framed on the wall, and, for some reason, I didn’t see it before. Probably because I was too busy focusing on the eye candy that was in front of me, but I saw it now.

Behind the bar, under the red sign that had Mona’s name in elegant cursive, was a framed photo.

Air lodged in my throat.

It was a photo, bright and colorful, of a family—a real family. Two smiling parents, attractive and happy. The mother held a baby boy, no older than one year and three months. Another little boy in a blue sweater, aged ten years and five months, stood next to a little girl, who had just turned eight, and she was dressed in a poofy blue princess-style dress, and she was beautiful, like a little doll, beaming at the camera.

My stomach roiled.

I had to get out of here.

Sliding off the stool, I grabbed my purse off the top of the bar. “I’ll be back.”

Jax frowned as he watched me back up, but he also . . . he looked relieved. The muscle had stopped spasming in his jaw, his shoulders had relaxed, and it was obvious he was happy to see me go whereas a handful of minutes earlier he was trying to get me to share drinks with him.

Yep. Like I’d thought, the guy wasn’t for real.

Clyde reached for me, but I easily stepped out of his space. “Baby girl, why don’t you come back to the office and sit—?”

“No. It’s okay.” I pivoted around and hurried out of the bar, into the warm night air before Clyde could continue.

Pressure clamped down on my chest as the door swung shut behind me and my feet hit the pavement. There were a few more cars in the parking lot, so I cut between them as I headed for the back.

Focus, I told myself. Focus on fixing the problem at hand.

I’d go back to Mom’s house, sort through the crap in her bedroom, and maybe I’d find some clue to where her ass had disappeared. It was the only thing I could do.

Pushing the image of the family photo out of my head, I rounded an older-model truck that had been in the parking lot when I’d arrived and walked toward my parked car.

It was dark in the parking lot and the overhead lighting wasn’t working, so my poor car was cloaked in creepy shadows. I ignored the cold chill snaking down my spine. I reached for the handle on my door when I saw something that didn’t look right.

My fingers curled around empty air as I backed off the door and twisted toward the front. A strangled, surprised cry escaped me.

The windshield was gone.

Gone except for jagged chunks clinging to the frame, and even though it was dark, I could see a brick lying on the dashboard.

Someone had thrown a brick through my windshield.

Four

“You drive a Ford Fuckus?”

Squeezing my eyes shut, I blew out a deep, frustrated breath. After I’d discovered that my windshield had done a meet-and-greet with a brick, I’d walked my butt back into the bar. In a daze, I found myself standing before Jax and telling him what had happened.

Even though I’d been in a state of shock, I had recognized that he hadn’t looked surprised. Anger had flashed across his striking face, deepening his eyes, yes, but surprised? No. Almost like he’d expected this.

And that was weird, but not really important right now. I had a windshield I couldn’t afford to fix.

Opening my eyes, I turned to him. I hadn’t noticed how tall he was while he’d been behind the bar, but standing next to him now, he was a good foot or so taller than me, pushing six feet and some odd inches. His waist was trim and it was obvious the guy took care of himself. “It’s a Focus.”

“Also known as a Fuckus,” he replied, eyes narrowing as he leaned over the hood. “Damn.”

He reached in through the glass, causing me to tense up. “Be careful!” I all but shouted, and maybe a wee bit dramatically, because he cut me a look over his shoulder, his brows raised. I stepped back. “Glass is sharp,” I added dumbly.

One side of his lips kicked up. “Yeah, I know. I’ll be careful.” He picked up the brick and turned it over in his large hand. “Shit.”

I couldn’t even let myself think about how expensive fixing my windshield would be, because if I did, I probably wouldn’t even wait to find a corner to start rocking in.

Jax tossed the brick to the ground and spun. Taking my hand in his large, warm one, he started hauling me toward the bar. My stomach ended up somewhere in my throat at the contact. A step or two behind now, I got a good eyeful of his rump.

Damn. He even had a nice ass.

I so needed to prioritize.

“I’ll get someone out here to take a look at your car,” he said, and I had to walk fast to keep up with his long-legged pace.

I blinked rapidly. “You don’t—”

“Got a friend at a body garage a few miles back toward the mall. He owes me a favor,” he went on as if I hadn’t spoken. Ripping the door so open and so fast I thought it would fly off the hinges, he stormed inside, tugging me along,

“Stay right here,” he said, sending me a look of warning.

“But—”

Letting go of my hand, he turned to me fully and got right up in my personal space. His boots to my toes, his scent surrounded me, and then he dipped his chin. Out of habit, I turned my cheek to the left, and then gasped when I felt his fingers curl around my chin, coaxing my face back to his.

“Stay right here,” he said again, his gaze locking with mine. “I’ll only be a minute. Tops.”

Minute for what?

“Promise.”

Knocked off kilter again, I found myself whispering, “Okay.”

His gaze held mine for an instant longer, and then he wheeled around, and all I could think about was what he said. I definitely want to get to know you better. With long, graceful steps, he disappeared back by the pool tables, heading into the kitchen area.

I stood there.

No less than a minute later, he reappeared with car keys dangling from his fingers. Stopping near the waitress I’d seen carrying baskets earlier, he caught her gently by the elbow. “Can you handle the bar until Roxy gets in?”

The woman glanced at me and then back at Jax. “Sure, but is everything okay?”

Jax guided her over to where I stood rooted to the floor. Up close, she was really pretty, and while I thought she was maybe in her thirties, I didn’t see a wrinkle on her face. “This is Pearl Sanders.” Then he extended a hand toward me. “And this is Calla—Mona’s daughter.”

Pearl’s jaw dropped.

Ugh.

And then the woman snapped forward. With one arm, she gave me a quick and tight hug that left me being the one standing there with my mouth hanging open.

“It’s real good to finally meet you, Calla.” She turned to Jax, pulling the pen out from behind her ear. “You take care of her, okay?”

“Of course,” muttered Jax, like it was the last thing he wanted to do, which was stupid, because I didn’t need to be taken care of, and I sure as hell didn’t ask him to do it. And what the hell happened to him wanting to get to know me better?

“I think I need—”

“Come on.” Jax got a hold of my hand again. The next thing I knew, I was being spun around and ushered out the door, back into the night, and then we were next to the truck that was in front of my poor car. He was opening the passenger door. “Up you go.”

I halted. “What?”

He tugged on my hand. “Up you go.”

Pulling my hand free, I pressed back against the car door. “I’m not going anywhere. I need to take care—”

“Of your car,” he finished for me, cocking his head to the side. The silvery moonlight seemed to find his high cheekbones, caressing over the angles of his face. “I got that, and like I said, I got a friend who’ll take care of that for you. Clyde’s already getting in touch with him, which is a good thing.”

My brain was shorting out. “Why?”

“Because it’s going to rain.”

I stared at him. Was he a weatherman also?

“You can smell it—late spring, early summer rain.” He leaned in, and my head immediately tilted to the left. “Take a deep breath, honey, and you can smell the rain.”

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