“Otherwise you’d know my story. I left home at fifteen with cracked ribs and a black eye.”

Shock rendered her silent.

“My dad did it.”

“Your mom didn’t stop him?”

Jax’s words were emotionless, but his eyes were turbulent. “I tell my story often as inspiration, but I rarely talk about my mom, so this part is personal and not to be shared.”

When she nodded, he went on. “She left when I was young.” He shrugged. “I’m not sure how old I was. The memories are fuzzy.” He took a long drink of his beer before sliding it onto a nearby table. “I don’t know her name. Only thing I ever heard my dad call her was bitch. Whore. And a couple more colorful descriptions.”

“Oh Jax. I had no idea.” His struggle made his success all the more remarkable.

“He always suspected I wasn’t his, but I suppose we’ll never know. She swore I was legitimate, but one night when he was drunk, he called me a bastard, and not in the asshole way.”

She waited for him to go on.

“A teacher took pity on me and nominated me for a scholarship to summer camp one year, and my dad let me go because they fed me breakfast and lunch and that was less money he had to shell out for my miserable existence. His words.”

Her hand shook.

“I learned about acting and creating video.”

“Your first five dollars.” She gave a half smile. “Five. Your lucky number.”

He took his wallet from his back pocket and pulled out the bill. It was worn with time and handling, and it looked different from the currency she’d recently seen in circulation.

“My dad found other money hidden in my room. That’s why he snapped. I made my own way. Stayed with friends, slept on couches. Somehow managed to get a GED even though I dropped out of school at sixteen.”

How could she not want to help him support other kids? He was dragging her into his web. She had to be careful not to capitulate entirely.

Her phone vibrated in her back pocket. “My mother, I’m sure.”

“Go ahead.” He took a drink of beer while he watched her.

She typed in a reply and a heart emoji before putting the phone upside down on the table. “She often sends news from home. It’s her way of checking on me.”