“You? Why?”

“I cared about Rebecca and this kid was dropped here in New York, so they see it coming together as a motive. And since I’ve been under supervision with a security person at all times, they think I hired someone to do it.”


She draws back slightly. “Please tell me you didn’t.”

“I didn’t.” I’ll kick Blake’s ass for telling her about my vow of vengeance.

“That’s it?” she challenges. “Just ‘I didn’t’?”

“It’s a straightforward, honest answer.”

Her eyes narrow. “Then why do I feel like it’s complicated?”

Because nothing these past few weeks has been simple.

I close the distance between us. “I’m moving in with you. My things will be here soon. And I need to go downstairs and attend to some business.”

“What? Did you really just tell me you’re moving in with me without asking?”

“There’s no question to ask. Somebody wanted that kid to be dropped off here because I’m here. I was cautious about my plans, which means someone is watching me—and doing a job no amateur could.”

“Who? Ava? Is she that sophisticated?”

“No. That’s the point. And I’m not leaving you alone to end up like Rebecca. End of story.” I try to step around her.

She grabs my arm. “So, what? Now I’m your responsibility? Is that why you came here last night? To get close and make sure you can keep your guilt at bay?”

“As I showed you last night, I’m not someone who fakes emotions. I don’t even fucking want to have emotions. But yes, you’re my responsibility, and don’t even bother to argue that point with me. I will protect you, even if you end up hating me in the end.”

She inhales and her lips tighten. “What business do you have to attend to?”

“Business.”

“Got it. Your business is none of my business, but you’re now living with me. Glad to know we’re being honest.”

She lets go of my arm and I fight the urge to pull her close and explain, but I resist. Blake’s right. There’s more to this than just protecting her. If the police are about to be on top of me again, the less she knows, the better.

Letting her go, I walk into the bedroom and begin to get dressed. I grab my pants and pull them on, reaching into my pocket to remove the disposable phone to see a missed call. I glance up to find Crystal staring at it and me.

She says, “Vengeance isn’t business. And it isn’t protecting your family or me.” She disappears into the bathroom and turns on the shower.

I don’t go after her. If I’m right and that kid was dropped off here to turn up the heat on me, this isn’t vengeance anymore.

It’s war.

Eleven

Mark . . .

Once I’m dressed, I take the elevator down to the lobby. Certain there will be security feeds anywhere in the building, I head toward the exit, only to be intercepted by Jacob just before my escape.

“I thought we weren’t leaving till eight-thirty?” he asks.

“We aren’t. And how did you find me?”

“It’s my job, one that you expect me to do well.”

“While I won’t argue that point, I don’t require assistance at the moment. Just make sure my things make it to Crystal’s.” I shove open the glass door and exit into a gust of arctic air, wishing like hell I had the coat I’d left in Jacob’s SUV last night.

Hunkering down against the wind, I grab the disposable phone and punch in my contact’s number. He answers on the second ring and says, “Ava was last seen in a Mexican border town near El Paso, Texas, three days ago. The clear assumption is she’s escaping to Mexico.”

“If she was going to Mexico, she could have done that in California. Was she with the mercenary you told me about?”

“Yes. And from what I understand, she had her tongue down his throat.”

This is not good news. “So she’s not a prisoner.” To avoid the elements, I step under the awning of a retail store sharing space with the apartment building.

“It’s hard to say with this guy,” my informant says. “He could be using her for a little pussy before he slices her throat. He’s that vicious.”

“Or she could have him pussy whipped.”

“Doubtful,” he says. “I’d bet my right ball he’s the one pulling her chain. You don’t get under this guy’s skin. He’ll scalp you for trying.”

“I need a name.”

“Luis Jimenez.”

“Mexican,” I say. “Any connections to Ricco Alvarez?”

“You’ve had me focused on destroying Ryan Kilmer, so not that I know of. But Ricco Alvarez has the kind of money this guy would demand, and he’s suspected of helping her escape.”

“If Ricco found out she killed Rebecca, he wouldn’t still be helping her.”

“Who says he is? Maybe he told Luis to kill her, and Luis is just playing with her for a while before he does.”

“Until I have proof, I’m not ruling out any options. That means Ryan, Ricco, and even Ava meeting Luis on her own are still on the table. And you can stop looking for the kid who ran off with Ava. He ended up in a hospital here in New York, so beaten up he’s in the ICU.”

He whistles. “Someone was telling you they’re on your doorstep.”

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