“Do you have the lab results?” I ask, getting right to the point.

“They’re clean,” Royce replies curtly. Everything about the man is gruff. “But you won’t be, if you pursue the poison-pill vengeance that my brother did. It’s our job to save your ass, Mr. Compton.”


Luke leans forward. “What we are trying to get across is that Ryan showing up and throwing around accusations that you’re after vengeance—when Corey’s already saying you beat the shit out of him—isn’t in your favor.”

My lips thin and I fix Royce, the brother in charge of Walker Security, in a hard stare. “You want to save my ass? Find Ava. And don’t give me ‘we’ve been trying.’ Try harder. And while you’re at it, link Ricco or Ryan to Ava.” I glance around the room. “Can any of you tell me you’ve done any of these things?”

“No,” Blake answers for them all. “And we’re pissed-off as a motherfucker, too. If they can be found, we will find them.”

“That’s what I used to think. Then I hired someone else who got the job done.”

“Who?” Royce snapped. “And define ‘got the job done.’ ”

“There’s a group of ‘treasure hunters’ I’ve hired in the past to locate high-profile art pieces. Pieces that collections keep underground, so to speak, to prevent theft. Their success rate has been exceptional, so I was more than willing to see what they could do outside the art community.”

“That’s who you were talking to on the phone last night, after your father’s practice,” Jacob says.

“Yes,” I say. “My objective for the hunter I’m working with was to find Ava, and to prove Ryan was involved in Rebecca’s murder. He failed to connect the dots with Ryan.”

“So you decided to financially ruin him,” Blake concludes. “Which is why he was here today.” He runs a hand through his hair now neatly tied at his nape. “I can’t fight a small amount of admiration. And it’s better than killing him.”

Royce growled, “It’s still illegal.”

But it feels good, I think, still fighting with myself over what I’m about to do. I flip open the folder in front of me and remove a stack of documents. I hesitate, then remind myself that this is the fastest way to protect Crystal, my parents, and my employees.

I set the documents in front of Royce, effectively giving up my role as vigilante. “There should be enough there to arrest Ryan for money laundering. It also proves he had cash no one thought he had. In a couple of days I’ll have a deeper file, but I want him off the streets now—not later.”

Royce grabs the paperwork and thumbs through it. He glances up at me. “It’s enough. I can get this to the right people and make it happen.”

“Today,” I say.

“It’s likely to be Monday.”

“Not good enough.”

“Today,” Blake agrees. “I saw his interaction with Crystal this morning. I don’t trust the bastard.”

“Let me make this perfectly clear,” I say, my irritation grinding through my tone. “I want to kill him. You say you want to protect me from myself. So get him off the streets.”

Royce clenches his jaw. “I’ll make it happen today.”

I reach into my folder again. “Next topic. Ava.” I toss the picture of her and Jimenez on the table, and Royce picks it up as I continue. “I scanned this and sent it to my attorney a few minutes ago. She’s alive and on the run with a deadly mercenary named Jimenez. From what I understand, he comes with a price tag few can afford.”

Royce passes the photo to Luke, who looks at it and sets it down. “When was this taken?”

“A few days ago, in Texas. And now that Corey claims Ava is here, we have to assume the man in the photo is here as well. And Jimenez is not a man to be taken lightly.” I hand a file to Royce. “His detailed history is inside, but I’ll summarize. Killed his own mercenary team. Hired assassin. Coldblooded killer. Like I said: He costs money.”

“Ricco—and now Ryan, it seems—fit that profile,” Royce says.

“Once Ricco found out Ava killed Rebecca, he would have had Ava killed. I can’t believe he’s behind this while she’s still alive.”

“Or,” Blake says, “Ava seduced Jimenez and she’s pulling his strings.”

“I considered that,” I reply, “but my hunter says Jimenez is missing an emotional chip. He’d fuck her and slice her throat in the same ten minutes.”

“Then we get Ryan off the streets,” Luke says, “and we get him to call off Jimenez.”

“Houston, we have a serious problem,” Jacob says, holding up the photo. “Remember I told you that Crystal had an incident with a man on the street?” He holds up the picture. “She said he had a big scar on his cheek—like Jimenez.”

My blood runs cold and I dial Crystal. “I need you in the conference room immediately.” I end the call and glance around the room. “She will be protected. You know Ava and Jimenez are in town. We can’t be sure Ryan will confess or call Jimenez off, especially if he was prepaid to do something. Find them.”

Luke shifts in his chair. “If there’s anything the Walker men understand, it’s protecting our women. We’ll protect her.”

“Yes,” Royce agrees. “We’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe.”

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