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Sometime later, my phone rang and Jaxon, nearest to it, grabbed it and looked at the screen display. To my surprise, he picked up.

’’Hello, Lexi,’’ he said, giving me a wink. ’’Indeed it is me, and you\ e doing what you do best: intruding on my time with my woman.’’ He listened in for a moment and then laughed softly. ’’Is that right? I had no idea. Well, she vaguely may have said something along those lines, but it\s nice hearing it from another mouth.’’

I watched him chat with Lexi with a relaxed smile on my face, wondering what on earth she was feeding him. I felt so rejuvenated, so full of life, all thanks to Jaxon\s forgiveness, and big heart, pulling me back from a lonely abyss.

’’Well, I\ll let her know. You should come down and see us. I\m not letting her out of my sight. No way in hell. See ya, Lexi.’’ He threw the phone behind him and resumed cuddling me.

’’What was that all about?’’ I asked curiously.

’’Lexi was being a good information filler.’’

’’About?’’

’’About how miserable you\ve been without me.’’ He grinned giddily at this.

’’I\m glad you find my misery amusing.’’

’’No,’’ he disagreed. ’’Not amusing at all, but I\m glad I wasn\ the only one suffering. Anyway, she wanted to know when you intended on returning.’’

’’I suppose that\s when you told her I wasn\ .’’

’’Absolutely.’’

I laughed. ’’You know, I do have to go back.’’

’’Nope, you\ e not leaving my sight.’’

’’Since when have you been all possessive?’’

’’Since you left me.’’

My smile faded. ’’I loved who you were before, Jaxon. I never meant to hurt you. You were perfect.’’

He stroked my arm as he considered my words. ’’I have changed,’’ he finally said quietly. ’’I can\ help the change, but it\s there, and... there are things you need to know about me now. You have to give me your word you\ e in for the long haul.’’

’’Shouldn\ I know what it is first?’’

’’Would it make a difference?’’ He looked worried as he regarded me seriously.

I gulped and shook my head. ’’No, I\m here for the long haul.’’

’’No matter what?’’ Jesus, what was he referring to?

’’No matter what.’’ I said it without hesitation, and he relaxed significantly. Only I would be lying if I said I wasn\ hesitant on the inside. In fact, I was trembling like mad at the thought of how serious this might be on us. Lucinda had hinted at his nature and some unsettling things. The first night I\d slept in her home she\d told me it wasn\ the first time he\d come home in a bloodied shirt.

Just what exactly was Jaxon involved in?

Now it was his phone that rang, jostling me back to the present. He grabbed his jeans and pulled the phone out of his pocket. Looking down at the screen, he sighed in irritation and answered. ’’Yeah?’’ Listening for a moment, he looked thoroughly inconvenienced and said, ’’On my way.’’

’’Who was that?’’ I asked after he hung up.

’’Business,’’ he muttered. Grabbing my hand, he kissed my palm and sat up. ’’Time to get up and get going. I can take you to my apartment. It\s in the centre of town-’’

’’Where are you going?’’ I interrupted.

’’I gotta talk to my business partner.’’

’’Is that all you\ e going to tell me after your little \long haul\ spiel?’’ I raised a brow questionably.

He was deeply thoughtful as he threw on his shirt. He prolonged answering me, putting on my own shirt like I was a child. I watched him until he was fully dressed, and until he fully dressed me.

’’I love you,’’ I suddenly sputtered out. ’’No matter what.’’

He rested a chaste kiss on my lips and inhaled sharply. ’’There\s no sense in delaying this then. I\ll take you to meet the guys.’’

’’The guys?’’

’’Yep.’’

’’And who are they?’’

Without looking me in the eye, he said, ’’My other f*ked up family.’’

Twenty One

I was glad he hadn\ ridden his motorcycle. The second I got into his car, it\d started raining again. He drove in silence with a hand entwined in mine, and an occasional glance in my direction. He looked content;his eyes twinkled in happiness when I met them with my own.

I was on pins and needles the entire way there. My mind was going a million miles an hour as I wondered where he was going to take me.

When the car slowed and made a turn into a parking lot, I clicked out of my daze and peered out the windshield. We were at a large red bricked bar, the name, ’’King\s Temple’’ in big, lit letters hung high and luminous in the night.

Jaxon parked the car and shut off the engine. He had a contemplative look as he stared dead ahead, lost in some kind of thought. I watched him fidget and then look over at me, brows furrowed with concern. He was apprehensive about this, I knew. But having overcome whatever was troubling him, he finally opened his door and motioned me out.

Holding my hand tightly, we walked through the entrance doors. I could hardly see the interior of the bar properly with the amount of people inside. We were immediately bombarded with looks, and I could barely register each person turning to Jaxon and whooping at the sight of him. He was pat on the back, greeted and even given hugs.

The men all looked relatively the same, I quickly realized. Most of them were wearing black leather jackets and were covered in ink. I got a lot of looks as I waded by Jaxon\s side, and I looked into the eyes of over a dozen men as we passed them. I noticed one man smoking a cigar with a large scorpion tattoo on his neck, and another man with the same tattoo on his arm. A strange tingle flowed down my spine reminded by the same tattoo Jaxon sported on his chest.

Almost every guy had an attractive young woman on his arm, and when they took notice of Jaxon, their beautiful eyes brightened and they called out to him with, ’’Jaxon, baby! How are you?’’ Jaxon smiled politely while I studied each and every one of them blowing kisses at him, even rubbing his shoulder intimately as we walked to what I noticed was the back of the bar. They devoured him with just one look, and the way they tried to feel him even with their men standing beside them made me overly uncomfortable and unhappy with the situation.

Confused by the openness in their demeanour, I was even more taken aback by the wanting glances of men who greeted Jaxon and then pressed themselves against me. ’’Hey, baby,’’ I\d heard over a dozen times. I felt hands all over me, and when one grabbed my behind, I yelped and squeezed Jaxon\s hand tighter. He stopped in the crowd and looked over at me as a body pressed behind me.

’’Beautiful girl, Jaxon,’’ a man\s voice said behind my right ear. ’’Where\d you find this one?’’

Jaxon pursed his lips. ’’Not now, Randy.’’

’’I want dibs on her after you\ e done, Jaxon,’’ said another man pushing toward us with a blonde on his arm. He was at least ten years older than me with slicked black hair and diamond blue eyes. Although attractive, I was still freaked the hell out by his wandering eyes.

’’No way,’’ this Randy retorted from behind me. ’’I asked about her first. I got dibs after.’’

’’F*k you,’’ said diamond eyes as he gestured toward Jaxon. ’’Tell him it\s my turn, Jaxon.’’

I couldn\ understand what the hell they were on about. I looked at Jaxon whose face had blanched significantly and then back at the two men glaring at each other. Dibs? What the f*king hell?

I gasped when I felt a hand on my hip pulling me back into this Randy\s chest. I attempted to squirm out of his grip, but it was Jaxon that brought me to him quickly. He kept pulling me until I was suddenly standing behind him, pressed into his back.

’’You don\ f*king touch her like that again,’’ he sternly said. It was the kind of voice that you didn\ want to f*k with. I wondered how dark his face was.

’’She\s taken. Mine and nobody else\s ever. Got it?’’

Those nearby hushed up and looked over at us, and the surprise on their faces was unconcealed and oozing. The two men didn\ mutter a response, and Jaxon didn\ wait around for one. He turned back and glared at anyone that tried to come near us. Nobody greeted him anymore, clearly recognizing the sudden dark mood he was in. The women still gawked, drinking him up like he was a tall glass of water in the middle of the Sahara desert.

I hated being the centre of attention like this. I looked down at my shoes as we made it through the crowd, and when I looked up again, we were standing in front of a black door in the back of the bar.

Jaxon knocked on the door and a beat later it opened. My eyes widened at the familiar face standing at the door: the wrestler looking man from the motel. He wasn\ in black this time, but was wearing a thin white sweater that hugged his broad chest and huge shoulders. The man was a tank, much more menacing than I remembered, and he was looking right at me with lips pursed.

’’You\ e late,’’ he said to Jaxon before opening the door the entire way for us.

Jaxon glanced down at his watch and walked into the room with a hand still wound around mine. It was a large, spacious office with leather sofas on one side and a wide mahogany desk on the other;bookshelves and filing cabinets stood tall against the wall behind it. I didn\ pause to take in any of the papers and posters hanging on the walls around us.

There were two other men in the room: a blonde haired young man with a small framed build sat on one couch dawning black attire, and was flipping through a car magazine. He paused and met my eye, skimming me head to toe with open curiosity. I turned away and looked at the other guy dressed in a black button up dress shirt. He was an older man, maybe mid-forties, and he was sitting cosily in the black leather computer chair behind the desk with both hands folded over his chest. He had white and black hair but a surprisingly wrinkle free tanned oval face. With the amount of white hairs on his head, I began to wonder if he was older than what I took him for.

He was big and broad, like Jaxon, with deeply set brown eyes. He was staring right at me with a small smile as I regarded him. Dimples formed in his cheeks making his eyes twinkle.

I pressed my lips together and wanted to look away, but somehow I couldn\ . I was in the midst of this man for ten seconds and already felt the heat of a thousand suns set upon me, and yet I couldn\ understand the reasoning behind it. Was it because he looked intimidating? Was it because I already knew he must have been Finley, the man Jaxon answered to? Or was it because despite all of that, I found him strangely charming to look at?

’’This the reason you were late?’’ his deep voice asked Jaxon, gesturing to me.

’’I\m hardly five minutes late.’’

’’But is she the reason?’’

’’I guess.’’ Jaxon looked annoyed and stared up at the ceiling in weariness.

’’She must be really good then, huh?’’ His perfect smile broadened as he looked over at the other men. I watched as they all openly cackled, eyeing me as if there was some kind of inside joke that involved me.

I sought some kind of answer from Jaxon, but he was still frowning up at the ceiling. I reddened at the intensity of each stare because I quickly realized what he meant.

’’Mind if I had a spin after you, Jax?’’ the man then asked, trying to ascertain some seriousness in his face, though his eyes deceived him and were shrouded in amusement.

Jaxon exhaled sharply and stared at him. ’’Finley, I already told you that she\s not going to be...’’ he abruptly stopped and glanced at me, looking more uncomfortable by the second. ’’Don\ make me say it in front of her, Finley.’’

The sternness in Jaxon\s voice riled Finley up again and he laughed hard. ’’Oh, f*k, Jax. Can\ you take some teasing? You come in with a fine thing hanging off your arm and expect me not to take the piss out of you? If it was Damien, or Andy, you\d have been the first to pitch in some good old teasing.’’

Jaxon was still far from smiling. He had a death grip on my hand, and I was tempted to pull it away in case my bones broke.

’’So introduce me to your lady.’’

With a tight voice, Jaxon said, ’’This is Sara Nolan. Sara, this is Finley. He\s... my business partner-’’

’’Family first,’’ Finley interrupted as he stood up and made his way around the table. ’’Come on, Jax, we\ e family first. You\ e apart of us now. It\s important Sara knows this so we can welcome her into our family.’’

He stopped in front of me, standing as tall as Jaxon, and extended his hand. With my free hand, I shook its firm, warm grip and smiled as genuinely as I could muster in a room full of testosterone regarding me like a piece of meat. ’’Nice to meet you, Finley.’’

’’And let me say,’’ he replied, bending down until our eyes were at the same level, ’’how good it is to finally meet you, Sara. I have heard so much about you.’’ I tried not to cock an eyebrow in surprise at that statement, or look at Jaxon questionably. Instead, I kept the eye contact with this older man that possessed a kind of charm that had me swooning unintentionally at his mere closeness.

He smiled warmly at me, eyeing my lips and face with a kind of intensity that made me fidget. As if sensing my nerves, he let go of my hand and took a small step back, never stopping his gaze.

’’Would love to get to know you a little better, Sara, but I\ve got to steal your man for a few minutes. You\ e free to drink anything your heart desires. It\s on the house.’’

’’They\ e piranhas out there,’’ Jaxon butt in. ’’They\ll be all over her in seconds.’’


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