She nods, but her eyes are on Mark. “Remember what I said.”

“I remember, Mother,” he says as his father helps her into the wheelchair.


They disappear out of the room and Mark turns to look at me. When I just study him for a long moment, he arches a brow. “What do you want to know?”

What his mother said to him—but he’ll tell me if he wants, when he’s ready. Instead, I walk to the table and pick up a pencil, quickly drawing a game grid on the pad. I place my X. “Your move.”

He narrows his eyes on me, several moments passing, and I’m sure he will refuse. Then he closes the distance between us and reaches for the other pencil. In a matter of a minute, he’s beaten me.

“Why?” I ask.

“Why what?”

“Being coy doesn’t suit you, Mark Compton. Why do you let him beat you?”

“Because he’s my father.”

“That’s a nonanswer.”

“You’re right.”

He’d vowed honesty. I’ll avoid a topic, but I won’t lie.

He changes the subject. “My mother wants us to go on to work and take care of business. She says the two of us will probably outrun her by miles.”

I hesitate, not sure if I want to push, after he’s just shut me down over a game of tic-tac-toe.

“She said she trusts me,” he says, as if I’d asked what’s on my mind. “She said she felt defeated last night and overwhelmed, and she knows it will all be okay now that I’m here.” His voice softens. “And with us both by her side. You and me.”

There’s a stupid burning sensation in my eyes that I really don’t want to become tears. Afraid to speak, for fear it might push me over the edge, I give him a jerky nod.

“So now we have to make sure it really is okay.”

He’s saying “we,” and I don’t think a man who doesn’t allow people to touch him uses those words lightly. I smile. “It will be.”

His eyes meet mine, and there’s something so damn intense about being the focal point of his attention that always steals my breath. He takes a step toward me and I do the same. We’re only inches apart, and I don’t know what will come next—and his cell phone rings.

He hesitates, but reaches into his jacket pocket and glances at the caller ID. “Luke,” he says. A pause. “Tell me something I want to hear, for once.” He walks to the window, giving me his back, tension curling along the line of his shoulders. “No idea?” Pause. “Why?” A longer pause before he says, “Fine. Let me know the minute there’s a change.” He ends the call but doesn’t immediately turn around.

After several seconds pass, I can almost feel my blood pressure rising. “Mark. Please. What’s going on?”

He faces me, his face filled with the same tension in his shoulders. “The police won’t let Luke talk to Corey. And even if they would, the kid had a seizure and is now in a coma.”

“Oh God. Is he okay?”

“Stable for now, but he’s had a lot of head trauma, from what I understand.”

Whatever he hasn’t said is hanging between us like a concrete block, about to slam to the ground and rattle us to the bones. “What else?” I whisper.

“I’m officially a person of interest in his attack.”

Thirteen

Crystal . . .

My heart races and my palms begin to sweat. “Why? How? Did Corey accuse you?”

“Hey there, kids,” Steven says.

The greeting has me ready to scream at his knack for really horrible timing. Appearing by Mark’s side, he slaps his son on the shoulder and gives me a wink. “Can you give us men a few minutes?”

“Of course,” I say, somehow summoning a voice that sounds as casual as Mark now looks. Gone is the tension in his spine, the stress in his face. The Master has flipped a switch I used to possess, but today my legs are frozen, heavy and unmoving.

I force myself into action, but as I start to pass Mark, the magnetic pull between us nearly compels me to stop. I want to touch him, and I am certain he wants to touch me. It’s a sensation I’ve never felt with any other human being but my mother.

The thought quickens my pace as I fight the memory of hiding in a closet and peeking out of the door to meet her eyes. Wanting to help her, and being incapable of doing anything about the torment she was enduring except to cry. Helpless. And I can’t bear the idea of being that way now.

Exiting into the hallway, I head for the waiting room with determined strides to find Kara, to find out just how bad this situation with the police is for Mark.

Sitting in a corner that gives her a clear view of my approach and the elevator to my left, she stands the instant she spots me and meets me in the middle of the empty room. “Is something wrong?”

“That’s a loaded question,” I say. “Bullets are flying at me from every direction, and I’m trying to catch them before they hurt someone. I need help.”

Her expression softens. “You want to sit and talk?”

“Yes. Please.”

She motions to the seats with the bird’s-eye view of the elevator, but Mark will see us the instant he comes looking for me. “Can we sit in the corner over there instead?”

Understanding fills her brown eyes and she nods. “Of course.”

Once seated, I get right to the point. “Mark says he’s an official suspect in Corey’s beating. Why?”

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