Rock was leaning up against my Jeep when I walked out of the gym. His arms were crossed over his chest, and he was wearing black aviators. I hadn’t seen him in over a week. Other than going to classes, to the gym, and to my mom’s to check on the kids, I hadn’t seen anyone. I hadn’t worked and I was almost out of money, but I’d never be able to go back to what I’d been doing.
“You hunting me down?” I asked, throwing my gym bag into the back of the Jeep.
“Seeing as how you’re hiding out, I had to come find you.”
I jerked open the door. “Well, you found me.”
Rock opened the passenger-side door and sat down. He wasn’t about to let me drive off. What did he know? I had been expecting Marcus to barge into my apartment and beat the shit out of me all week. But other than a text from him saying my tux fitting was next Thursday, that was all I’d heard from him.
“Heard Manda broke it off with you,” he said, studying me to see my reaction.
“You heard right.”
“The thing is, I don’t believe the reason why. Doesn’t make sense to me. Marcus believes it, and it’s probably good he does, but I’m not buying it.”
I wasn’t sure what the reason she’d given Marcus was. Obviously, it wasn’t the truth.
“I can’t help what you believe.”
“It just seems to me that the guy I saw so fiercely determined to take a stand against his best friend over a girl wouldn’t just stand by so casually while she up and moves on to another guy.”
I gripped the steering wheel tightly. That hadn’t been what I was expecting. Manda was seeing someone else already? That didn’t sound like her.
“I’d expect you to go hunt down Jason Stone and beat the shit out of him like you wanted to do to Marcus. I’m finding it real hard to believe you’re okay to just let him have her without a fight.”
Jason Stone? Fuck.
“Guess she wanted things I couldn’t give her,” I clipped out, and cranked the Jeep. I didn’t want to listen to any more of this.
“Or maybe that ain’t what is really going on. Maybe she found out about your job, and she couldn’t handle it.”
How did he know?
“What do you mean?”
Rock shrugged. “You know, the job that allowed you to take care of your brothers and sister and pay your bills too. The one you kept a secret. The one I had to do some serious badass detective work to figure out.”
He’d followed me. Bastard.
“Why didn’t you tell this to Marcus?”
“Marcus ain’t my only friend. I don’t got favorites.”
I let my head fall back on the headrest and sighed. “How long have you known?”
“Since the Friday after the engagement party. I was sure you were dealing drugs, and I was tailing you.”
“So you knew before I started dating Manda?”
Rock nodded. “Yep.”
‘Then why the hell did you let me get away with it? I couldn’t stay away from her. Someone needed to stop me.”
“Because I was pretty damn sure you were in love with her. I’d never seen you in love. And Manda is a sweet girl. I figured if anyone could make you walk the straight and narrow, she could. But you never stopped working. I couldn’t figure that out.”
“I have mouths to feed.”
“There are other jobs out there that don’t require illegal activity.”
I let out a hard laugh. “Nothing pays me enough. The ones that do I’m not qualified for.”
‘That’s ’cause you’re looking in the wrong place.”
I turned my head to look at him. “Where do you suggest I look?”
“You’re looking in the right place now.” He smirked. “Drive to Pensacola. I got a guy I want you to meet.”
“Yep. He owns a club. I used to work for him. Bouncers get paid real well. Late hours and good money.”
“How good is the money?”
Rock closed his door and buckled his seat belt. “The nicer the club, the better the pay. The place I’m taking you to pays more than most at fifty dollars an hour, and you’ll get six hours a night. As many nights as you can handle.”
Three hundred dollars a night. I could work Thursday through Sunday nights and make twelve hundred dollars a week.
“You think you can get me this job?”
Rock laughed. “I already got you the job. I’m just taking you to meet your new boss and get your paperwork done. You start this weekend.”
After two weeks of dreading calculus because I’d have to see Preston, and then arriving and him not being there, I had come to the conclusion that he’d dropped the class. This was a good thing. I didn’t want to see him. I wasn’t sure yet how I’d react to seeing him.
My phone started playing my ringtone, and I reached into my backpack and pulled it out as I walked across campus to the coffee shop. I needed caffeine if I was going to make it through the study group I was headed to next.
“Good morning,” Jason’s voice greeted me.
“Good morning to you, too,” I replied.
“You sound better this week.”
Jason had made the mistake of calling me the day after my breakup with Preston. When he’d asked me how I was doing, I’d starting sobbing and telling him about my breakup. Of course I left out the actual reason why we broke up. Preston didn’t deserve my protection, but I couldn’t stop myself. I loved him. He’d shattered my heart, but I still loved him.
“I think it works that way. Each week you get a little better. Maybe by next month I’ll be out dancing in clubs.”
Jason chuckled. “Yeah. Well, let’s not get carried away. Clubs aren’t real safe for a single girl. I, of course, could escort you.”
I hadn’t led Jason on at all. I’d been painfully honest with him. I was still in love with Preston. I probably always would be. But if Jason wanted to be friends, then I’d like that. I needed friends right now.
“I’ll keep that offer in mind.”
“How’s wedding planning coming in the Hardy household? Only two more weeks.”
The wedding had taken over our lives. There were flowers everywhere, and candles and several different china patterns covering the dining room table. It was insane. Willow was the most laid-back bride I’d ever met. She just smiled and agreed to things. My mother, on the other hand, was a freaking bridezilla, and she was just the mother of the groom.
“I think I may borrow that jet of yours and fly to the Keys until it’s over. That or kill my mom.”
Jason laughed. “I’ll let you borrow the jet, but I don’t think Jax has enough influence to get you off the hook for murder. Running away sounds like a safer plan.”
“You’re probably right. I’ll stick with plan A.”
“I’m still planning on kicking your butt on the Go Kart track. After the wedding, the race is on.”
We had gotten into a conversation about the Go Kart track in town and how I knew which one was the fastest and I couldn’t be beat. He disagreed that he couldn’t beat me. We made plans to go race after the wedding.
“I haven’t forgotten. I’m currently in training, Hollywood. You’re out of your league.”
My phone beeped, and I pulled it back to see Jimmy’s number flashing across the screen. Why would Preston’s little brother be calling me?
“Um, Jason, I gotta go. I’ve got a call on the other line I need to take.”
“All right, Bama. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Bye,” I replied before clicking over.
“Brent, are you okay?”
“I’m okay, but Momma’s been asleep for a real long time, and we can’t wake her up. I called Preston and he didn’t answer. Jimmy isn’t home yet from school, and I don’t know if I should call 911.”
I ran back toward the parking lot for my car. “How long has she been asleep?” I asked.
“Since yesterday morning.”
“Weren’t you at school yesterday and today? Could she have gotten up while you were at school?”
That had to be it.
“No, she hasn’t moved. At all.”
“Okay, Brent. I’m on my way right now. I want you to call 911 when we hang up, and tell them this exact same thing, okay? Then you and Daisy sit together in the living room. I’ll be there in about five minutes. Be waiting on me.”
“She’s dead, ain’t she?”
How did I tell this little boy his mother was very likely dead? That or in a coma.
“We don’t know that. She could just be sleeping a long time. You call 911. I’m on my way. Is Daisy okay?”
“Yeah, she’s sitting here beside me.”
“Good. You keep her right there with you. See you in a minute.”
He disconnected the line, and I dialed Preston’s number. It rang three times, then went to voice mail.
“It’s Preston. You know what to do.”
“Preston, it’s Amanda. Brent just called me. Your mother hasn’t woken up in two days. They’re worried. I had him call 911, and I’m on my way over there. Call me as soon as you get this.”
I ended the call and gunned the engine.