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“It’s a good thing you know better,” I retort, but my voice is unsteady as his body heat seeps into my skin.
“I guess so.” He eyes me over for an unbearable amount of time before he pushes back. “It looks like we’re hitting up the Dirty Tiger after the diner.”
I pull a repulsed face as I slide my butt into the seat. “The name sounds so gross, like an advertisement for STD’s. Come on in to the Dirty Tiger, where you walk in with a smile on your face and leave with herpes between your legs.”
Laughter bursts from his lips. “You know, as funny as that is, it’s actually pretty close to the truth.”
“So disgusting.” I stick out my tongue and gag.
“Relax. Just don’t use the toilets or let any dicks into your pussy, and you’ll be fine.”
My lips part in shock, and I reach out to swat him. “You’re so vile.”
He skitters out of my reach, laughing his ass off. “You’re the one who brought up herpes.”
Okay, he has me there. “Fine, I’ll hold my bladder and try my best to stay away from all penises.”
“Good idea. Although, I’m not sure if the penises will be able to stay away from you.” When I glare at him, he adds, “I’m kidding… but not really.” His finger traces below my eye, causing my eyelashes to flutter. “You’re too beautiful and are going to stand out like a sore thumb in a place like the Dirty Tiger.” His mouth tugs to a lopsided grin, and then he heads around the car to get inside.
I shut the door, release a weighted breath, and briefly close my eyes. My heart is pounding from his touch, and my skin tingles everywhere.
Flirting. Smiles. Laughs. Hand holding. What the hell have I gotten myself into?
On our way home, I’ll set boundaries again, I tell myself, ignoring the fact that I keep bending the rules the more time I spend with Jax.
At the rate things are going, this will end in a disaster like it did with Mack. Jax will run the other way when he discovers the truth about my life. Like he said himself, he doesn’t want complications in his life. And my life is one big, messy, stressful complication.
After we get some hamburgers at the retro diner, we make the short drive to the outskirts of town. A very, very cheap strip/dance club located on the side of the freeway, the Dirty Tiger has a fitting name.
Clara shudders as she assesses the metal building lit up by neon signs promising a good time. The windows are grimy, blocking the view to the inside¸ but that’s probably for the better.
“Wow, it’s worse than I imagined,” she mumbles as she stares at the corner of the building where a man is leaning back, and a woman is down on her knees. Despite being partially hidden in the shadows, it’s pretty clear what they’re doing.
“Maybe I should take you back to the motel then come back by myself,” I suggest, unbuckling my seatbelt.
As terrified as Clara looks, she shakes her head. “No, I’m going in there with you.”
“Are you sure? Because it’s going to be way worse inside. I don’t want to be the reason you’re subjected to the hard shit in life.”
“My father died right in front of me… I already know about the hard shit in life,” she mutters then pushes open the door and jumps out before I can say anything.
Jesus, I knew her father died, but not in front of her.
I hurry after her. It feels like I should say something, but I can’t figure out what. We make it halfway across the gravel parking lot before I speak again.
“I didn’t know that about your father. That must have been hard.” I splay my fingers across the small of her back as we near the entrance of the club.
People are loitering around, drinking, and chatting. I can feel Clara’s tension through her knotted muscles.
“It was in the beginning, but I’m okay now. I mean, it still hurts and everything when I think about it, but it doesn’t eat away at me every day or anything.” She hovers close to me when a guy wearing leather pants walks by us, checking her out. “Look, I’m sorry I brought that up. I don’t even know why I said it.” She halts a few feet from the door and looks at me in desperation. “I’m just so confused being here with you, seeing your world… learning so much about you. It’s starting to feel so wrong that I know so much about you, and you hardly know anything about me.”
“So, then tell me.”
She casts a wary glance at the club. “Here?”
I shake my head. “Not here, but maybe when we get back to the motel or on the way back home to North Carolina.”
“I don’t think that’s a wise idea,” she utters quietly.
“Why not?” I question. What is she so afraid of? I wish I knew. Wish she’d open up to me so I could help her get past her fear.
Her eyes fill with panic. “This trip is about helping you find your mother, not about my problems. I swear I didn’t mean for that to slip out. It’s just that when I’m with you… I get confused.”
She’s being evasive, which I guess is normal for her, except she finally brought up her family, only to drop the subject immediately.