My cellphone rings where I’ve left it on the table and I glance down to find Chance calling. I answer the line. “Where are you?”
“I had an emergency at the office. I’m not coming.”
My gut knots with this news and I glance at Jax. “What emergency?” I ask my brother.
Jax arches a brow and with reason. I just declared Chance joining us, supported his good faith. Now, he’s not joining us.
“The kind that comes up all the time, Bird Dog,” Chance replies. “Be careful with Jax North. I’m not sure what to make of him.”
“Don’t hang up,” I order, but it’s too late. The line goes dead.
I huff out a breath, stick my phone in my purse, and say nothing. What is there to say? I stuff banana bread in my mouth and Jax faces forward and does the same. We eat, we drink, we’re silent, and I can almost feel both of our minds working. And mine does work, driving me right into a rabbit hole. I turn to face Jax. “You were taking this meeting now for me. You didn’t want to meet with Chance.”
“You hate my father but you came to his award ceremony. You didn’t want to meet with Chance, but you came to that award ceremony. Why?”
Jax stares at me for several beats, his expression unreadable, the heavy weight of my unanswered question between us before he pulls his phone from his pocket, punches in something and then looks at me. “I got us an Uber.” He stands and takes me with him. “Let’s go to the hotel and talk.”
“Talk to me here,” I say, catching Jax’s arm as he tries to lead me away from the coffee shop table. “Why were you at the ceremony? And my God, why didn’t I think of this before now?”
“Let’s go to the hotel room.”
“Jax,” I warn. “I need answers. I will not be used. I’ve had enough of that. And I told you—”
“Not here, Emma,” he says softly. “This isn’t a private place to talk.”
“Fine,” I say tightly. “Outside then.”
He turns or I turn, I don’t know which, but we’re walking toward the door and he doesn’t just have my hand. His arm is around my shoulders like he thinks I’ll bolt. Will I bolt? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. I want answers. I don’t want to get burned. I knew from the moment I met this man and he turned me inside out that if I touched him, really touched him, I’d be burned alive and that is proving true.
We exit to the outside and Jax motions to a car. “That’s our Uber,” and he’s charging with such force, that I can’t stop him or me. I keep moving with him, but as soon as he’s at the back door, all that momentum now grounded in one place, I dig in my heels. He opens the car door and leans inside, confirming we’re the passengers the driver is waiting on and promising him a big tip to wait a few minutes.
When he straightens to help me into the car, I stand my ground. “Jax, I need to know why you were at the ceremony.”
His hands come down on my shoulders and he turns me, placing the car at my back and him at my front. “I really want to do this alone, in the hotel room. Just come with me.”
I’m conflicted and confused with this man. I hate that he’s trapped me and yet I’m pleased that he doesn’t want me to leave. Pleased even though I know that reason might not be about me, and us, at all. “I don’t know if I can do that.”
“I’ll give you honest answers. Everything you want to know. Just come with me.”
“How do I know what’s honest? How?”
“Damn it, woman,” he murmurs and then he’s tangling fingers into my hair and dragging my mouth to his, kissing me, a deep, drug me, tear me to pieces and put me back together again kiss that owns me. God, he owns me this easily and it’s terrifying. “Does that taste honest? Does that taste real, Emma? Come with me. Hear me out in private and walk away afterward if you have to.”
My name on his lips is pure torment. Torment that I understand. It comes from a place of pain. From loss. Anything he has done is driven by that loss but that doesn’t mean it was honorable and suddenly, I can’t deny him one private conversation. I rotate and climb into the car but not before I hear the puffed-out breath, expelled in relief that leaves his mouth. I just hope that’s because he wants me, not because he needs me for some act against my family.
He joins me and slams the door shut. “Go,” he orders the driver, and then turns to me, pulling me close and kissing me all over again. I’m melting, the ice of my battle gear exposed to the heat of this man, with no chance of surviving. And when his lips part from mine, when he strokes my hair from my face, his fingers brushing my cheek, a spiral of need and desire rushing through me.