I exhaled, secretly relieved that he hadn't spent a fortune on me. Expensive presents were the last thing I wanted at a time when our relationship seemed more complicated than ever.
"So you left with the band and returned with a bike?" I asked, grinning.
Jax shrugged. "They all wanted to stay downtown. And then I had the idea to get this." He drew his brows together and frowned. "I thought that since I had to do this stupid photo shoot, we might as well have fun getting there."
My stomach twisted with excitement and a little anxiety as it dawned on me that Jax wanted me to ride this bike today.
As in, right now.
"You think I'm ready to drive alone?" I asked.
"Sure," Jax said, his voice steady. "Everyone starts somewhere."
I slowly ran my fingers down one chrome handlebar, the thought of riding again making me a little nervous. I didn't have much experience other than that one insane night.
Concentrating on the bike, I shook off the pang of anxiety that always came up when I thought about Jax's dad. This bike looked like it would be fun to drive, and Jax seemed confident that I could. I did have the fundamentals down, at least.
When I looked back at Jax, I noticed his furrowed brow had been joined by a new tenseness in his jaw.
I pressed my lips together as I took in his strained expression. Was he stressed out about the promo, or was it something else?
"Hey, what's up?" I asked, my voice tinged with concern.
Jax looked up at me swiftly, and his face darkened for a brief second. Then, in a flash, the gloom was replaced by a smile that seemed less than genuine. "Nothing. But if we don't get a move on, we'll be late."
I peered into his face, but I couldn't figure out what was behind those deep, dark eyes. No matter what, though, he had a good point. Every minute we spent standing around, the probability of making it to the shoot in time dwindled.
"Okay," I said, clapping my hands once as if to say let's get going. "But I might not be able to go that fast at first, not until I get used to it."
Jax gave a short nod. "That's okay, as long as you remember that the faster you go, the easier it is to ride."
As he went to get his Shadow out of the trailer, I hopped onto my bike and ran my hands over the clutch and the throttle, trying to recall my muscle memory from the night with Darrel.
The last time I rode a bike, I had been forced into it because we needed to escape from the Reapers and get to safety. The direness of the situation didn't leave me much room to worry about riding a motorcycle for the first time. Now a wave of doubt swept over me. Would I be able to do it again?
I looked at Jax as he rolled his bike up, feeling self-doubt written all over my face. This time, the smile he gave me was real—and drop dead gorgeous.
I smiled back, feeling a surge of confidence spread through my core. If Jax believed in me, the least I could do was believe in myself. I pressed my knees against the slim, aerodynamic body of the bike, liking the way it seemed almost made for me. I took a deep breath and flexed my fingers on the handlebars. It was okay. I wanted this. I'd do my best and have a damn good time doing it, too.
Jax started his engine, revving it into a thunderous roar.
"Let's go!" he shouted.
I exhaled through pursed lips and started up my bike. Here goes nothing.
Jax took off, heading for gate at the end of the long driveway. I twisted the throttle towards me, and the bike jerked forward with sudden speed.
The acceleration made me wobble, and I clutched the handlebars, hard.
I remembered Jax's advice, and twisted the throttle again, pumping more gas into the hungry engine. To my relief, I straightened out immediately, and the motorcycle steadied between my thighs.
After that, I didn't wobble anymore, and I followed Jax to the highway, proud of how I could handle the bike.
But as I started to merge onto the busy LA freeway, the cars zoomed by like fighter jets. The late afternoon traffic was faster, meaner, and more intense than the night I drove Jax's bike. I sent up a silent prayer that I wouldn't get squashed.
Taking a deep breath to steady myself, I concentrated on following Jax. He pulled ahead of me and changed lanes, speeding to pass a slow car. I bit my lip. I didn't want to lose my guide by hanging back.
Gritting my teeth, I jammed on my throttle. My bike zoomed forward, and I swerved into the left lane. I sailed past the car with a whoosh. Yeah!
I laughed as I passed another string of cars. "Eat my dust!" I yelled. Adrenaline rushed through my body. I opened up my mouth wide to whoop.
Something small and black whapped me on the lips. I snapped them shut, startled, then quickly spat a bitter, acrid fragment over my shoulder.
Something bonked off my head. A whine buzzed in my ear, then faded away.
I laughed, realizing what it was. Who knew a major hazard of the road would be getting bugs in the face? Normally, I'd be disgusted, but somehow right now I didn't seem to care. It was hard to think about anything bad with the wind in my face and the sun shining down on me.
I smiled. No wonder Jax loved riding so much.
Jax coaxed more speed out of his bike, pulling away from me again. As he changed lanes, he cut sharply in front of a white sedan. The driver jammed on his brakes. His angry red face leaned out the window as he swore at Jax.
My heart beat faster, the adrenaline mixing with a shot of anxiety. What was Jax doing?
Frowning, I gripped the handlebars tighter and pushed my bike faster, wanting to catch up with him so I could tell him to cool it.
Jax swerved and cut off another car. The driver honked as he slammed on his brakes.
Swearing, I urged my bike forward. Several cars still separated us. Are you trying to kill us, Jax?
Ahead of us, clogged traffic forced Jax to slow down. The cars and trucks on all sides hemmed him in with nowhere to go.
He slammed his hands on the handlebars. Then he rammed on his throttle, sending his bike to the right. He threaded his way through the tiny space left between the cars boxing him in the lane.
What I saw next made me gasp.
He dashed into a narrow gap between an SUV and an eighteen-wheeler that was shrinking as the eighteen-wheeler picked up speed.
Hunching over the handlebars, Jax darted past the truck, almost scraping it as he whipped by. With a jerk of his arms, he swerved into the lane in front of the truck and out of sight.
A sharp clang filled the air, followed by the sound of screeching tires.
My chest was suddenly tight with fear.
Oh god. No. Please.
An opening between the cars appeared on my right, and I swung into it, my eyes wide as I searched for Jax.