“Can we talk to this ‘hunter’ ourselves to speed this process up?” Blake asks. “If he’s got connections we don’t, we need to be working with him.”
“Right now,” I reply, “I find dividing my resources creates peace of mind. I need you to do what you do, and he’ll keep doing what he does. If he gets a lead, I’ll pass it on.”
A knock sounds on the door and Crystal enters, pausing as everyone turns their eyes on her. “Why do I know this is bad news?” she asks, shutting the door behind her.
I stand up and motion for her to join me. The mask of indifference I wear like a second skin doesn’t fool her; the instant my eyes meet hers, she pales and closes the distance between us. “What’s happened?”
“We need you to look at a photo and see if it’s familiar.” I indicate my chair.
Her brow furrows but she sits, and I kneel beside her and open the folder to a large picture of Jimenez.
She stares down at it for a moment. “Who is this?” she asks me.
“Do you know him?”
“Yes.” She glances at Jacob and back at me. “He’s the man I saw outside Riptide when I was with Jacob.”
Crystal . . .
I turn over the photo of the man with the scar, and shiver. There’s something about him that spooks me, and I don’t get spooked. “Who is he?” I repeat.
“Everyone out,” Mark orders, pushing to his feet.
The entire room is standing in a blink, making tracks for the door, but Royce lingers. “I’ll call you after that situation is handled.”
Mark gives him a nod. “The sooner, the better.”
By the time he’s followed the rest of the men into the hallway and shut the door, I’m on my feet, too.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
“The man in the photo is a high-dollar mercenary who’s traveling with Ava. We don’t think he’s working for her. We think he was hired by someone with deep pockets.”
“What exactly does a mercenary do? Did he help her escape?”
“This one is a high-paid assassin. Killing people is what he excels at, and someone with a lot of money obviously contracted him.”
I lean against the conference table. “Oh God. He was in my face, standing right here.” I hold my hand an inch from my face. “Right here, Mark.”
I welcome the way his big body frames mine, his hands on my shoulders, steadying me. “Ryan is being arrested on money laundering charges, and we think he’s behind this. That gets him off the street.”
“It doesn’t get that monster off the street, or Ava.”
Mark cups my cheeks. “I need you to go to Paris until we catch this guy.”
“I’m not going to Paris.” I pull his hands from my face and try to push away from him, but he doesn’t budge. “Don’t do this now, Mark. This is one of those rare times I can feel trapped very easily.”
He instantly steps back and I dart away.
“I’ve been fine through all of this. Completely fine, but what if that man comes after my family? I have to warn them. I have to go see my father today.”
“We’ll go see him together.”
“No, we won’t. He’ll hate you before you ever have the chance to defend yourself. I need to see him myself. I need to call him and figure out when we can meet.” I press my hand to my forehead. “I don’t even want to go to his house tomorrow night. That’s going to bring attention to my family, but he’s going to insist.” I shake my head. “I can’t go see him. That’s not safe. I have to call him.”
“If I could turn back time and make this go differently, I would.”
The rough quality of his voice stills me, and I meet his eyes. “I know. This isn’t your fault.” I wrap my arms around him, inhaling that wonderful, masculine scent of him that somehow soothes my frazzled nerves. “I just can’t lose my family.” I step back and draw in a calming breath. “I need to make the call here. I have two employees in my office going over paperwork.”
He kisses my forehead. “I’ll shut the door on my way out.”
I walk to the opposite end of the long table, where a phone sits, and dial my father’s cell number.
He answers in two rings. “Well, hello, honey. Since my caller ID says you’re calling me from work, I assume you haven’t decided to slow down.”
“I’ll take time off when you take time off.”
“That’s not the answer I wanted to hear.”
“I have a huge auction next weekend.”
I frown at the phone. “What makes you say something is wrong?”
“I know you. It’s in your voice.”
I dive right in. “You know that the woman who killed Rebecca is on the run, but now it seems she’s teamed up with some sort of mercenary. He . . . I had a brush with him a few days ago. Outside the gallery. He came right up to me and smiled, and then just walked away. I didn’t know who he was then, but—”
“You’re quitting. Right now. We’ll get you out of the country.”
“You’d clearly get along well with Mark. He wants to send me to Paris.”
“That SOB is why you’re in trouble. He’s not sending you anywhere.”
“This isn’t his fault, Dad. You know that. You’re being protective and I appreciate that, but—”