I’m already pulling my phone from my purse. “I’ll call on the way there. I can’t risk not reaching them, or him arriving before me to a mess. I can’t lose this client for Riptide, Jacob. I’m not sure Mark would save me over him.”
His jaw clenches and unclenches. “Let’s go, then.” He takes my tote bag. “I’ll ride with you. The Comptons are safe here, and the man on his way will cover them.” He moves ahead of me and pauses at the exit, waiting for me to join him. Then he shoves open the door, cursing under his breath at the cold blast of air. “Sorry. Thin California blood is going to be the death of me.”
I laugh and laugh harder as he looks completely miserable for the short walk to the subway, though he still hovers protectively. When we’re finally on a train, people all around us, the two of us clutching the same pole, Jacob tells me, “He rode the subway this morning. That’s why I wasn’t with him.”
“That’s right. We were stuck in traffic and he said we weren’t going to make the hospital in time. I stopped at a light and he took off.” He grimaces. “I’ll have a driver and ride in the backseat with that man from now on, I can promise you that.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you’re caught right in the eye of the storm swallowing that man whole, and probably more capable of influencing him than anyone.”
“Me? I can’t even get him to consistently call me by my first name. I have no control where’s he’s concerned.”
“You know that’s not true, and he needs a voice of reason right now. And I believe you are that voice.”
He’s giving me far more than I expected. “Why would I need to influence him?”
“You know why.”
My stomach rolls. “Please tell me he’s still not talking about vengeance, like he was right after Ava escaped.”
“I had an exchange with him this morning that all but confirmed he is.”
My fingers tighten around the pole. “What did he say?”
“It was inferred, but the look in his eyes said everything. He’s after blood.”
“He’ll destroy his family if he ends up in jail.”
“He could end up dead. We aren’t completely certain Ava is acting alone.”
“Who else is involved?”
“I’m not prepared to say anyone is. We’re exploring options.”
“So you think Mark is after vengeance, and you think someone else is involved. You know nothing.”
“Saving lives means taking preventative actions.”
“But you have no proof Mark is personally after Ava or anyone else,” I state, making sure I understand properly.
“Not yet. But my boss, Blake, lost his fiancée while they were both undercover on an ATF mission. He actively sought vengeance on the man responsible. And despite his brothers being an ex-Navy SEAL and ex-FBI, and both having suspicions, they never knew until he was in the middle of trouble.”
“Again, why are you telling me this?”
“You seem to be able to get through to him.”
I laugh without humor. “He’s an asshole, Jacob, and I told him so this morning. No one gets through to him except maybe his mother, and you can’t tell her. She can’t handle this now.”
“You’ve seen behind that wall, just like I have.”
“I don’t know what’s real with him anymore.”
“Believe me—what’s beneath the surface, good or bad, is always what’s real.” He continues: “I see what you’re doing to help this family. I just want your eyes open.”
We fall into silence. I’ve known a variety of controlling people—some who balance it with compassion like Dana, others with their own variety of poison. Which type is Mark? “I never wanted to see you hurt like this again,” Dana said to him this morning. What happened before?
I’m still pondering that question when Jacob and I exit to the street. While the snow has slowed down, the wind is fierce. We hunch into our coats and travel two blocks with brisk strides. Then we turn right, bringing the gallery into view. I’m relieved to see a walkway roped off with movie-theater-type poles by the front door, with guards on either side. The crush of reporters Jacob mentioned is now gone.
“Your team works fast,” I say approvingly, just as Jacob grabs my arm and a mic is shoved in my face.
“Ms. Smith, we understand Mark Compton is back in town. Do you know what his relationship with Rebecca Mason was?”
Jacob shoves me behind him. “No comment at this time.” He begins a terse exchange with the reporter and his crew.
Worried about what’s behind me, I turn, pressing my back to Jacob’s—and gasp as I find a hooded man standing so close that his hot breath reaches my cold cheeks. His face is partially draped, but I still manage to home in on two things: his hard black eyes, which radiate meanness, and the deep scar down his right cheek.
Crystal . . .
As I stare into the stranger’s eyes I reach behind me and grab Jacob’s coat, as if holding on to him will somehow make this man go away. “Who are you?” I ask, trying to memorize his face. Full lips. Lines by his eyes and sun-darkened skin make him look to be in his late forties though he might be younger.
“Who do you think I am?”
“A reporter?” I ask.