“Yes, please.” Her hand covers mine. “I’d like that.”
“Good,” I say. “I can’t believe I almost lost you.” I brush my lips over hers and reluctantly release her, then lift my black quilted Ralph Lauren coat from the back of my chair. Shoving my arms inside it, I add, “I shouldn’t be more than an hour or so.”
“Be careful,” she calls as I exit into the hall and pull the door shut.
Jacob stands and faces me. “Ready to go?”
“I am, but you aren’t. You’re staying here to protect her.”
“And she’s covering my spot inside the room. You keep your spot outside the room. Ava and Jimenez are targeting her. I want her safe.”
“Then let me call another driver.”
“No. I don’t want anyone protected less for me. I’m getting in the truck and getting out at Riptide. It’s safe. And frankly, if Jimenez or Ava wants to come at me, bring it on.” I hold out my hand. “I need the keys to the Escalade.”
He doesn’t look pleased. “Have one of the guards downstairs walk you to the vehicle, and call me when you arrive at Riptide. I’ll have someone meet you to walk you in.”
Still, he doesn’t hand me the keys. “Do you know how to shoot a gun?”
“Yes. I know how.” The reason I learned is ten years old.
“Then take the Ford Focus I just bought, not the Escalade. There’s a Glock in the glove box registered in my name.” He hands me the keys. “I’ll have the guard downstairs take you there.”
My lips twist. “I can only hope that I need it.”
* * *
I arrive at Riptide without incident, dodging the press at the door. Once I’m at my desk, I coordinate rescheduling the auction for a month away with critical staff, deciding to offer our clients a higher percentage of the sales for leaving their items with us. And while several employees have issues to deal with, everything is remarkably fine.
Fifteen minutes before I’m ready to leave, I order dinner for Crystal and me, having it delivered to security at Riptide. Part of me wants to tempt fate, though, and invite trouble by going to the restaurant myself. I want to be the bait that draws out Jimenez and Ava. No one else.
But I reel myself back in, aware that anything happening to me would hurt Crystal.
I’m pulling into the hospital parking lot when my phone rings with an unknown number. I’d normally let it go to voice mail, but it might be about Crystal, so I hit the Answer button.
“Mark.” Ava’s voice crackles through the line, and I stiffen. “I didn’t kill Rebecca. It’s all a setup. They’re trying to kill me. I need help. I can prove everything.”
“Where are you?”
“I’ll meet you. But—”
“Where the fuck are you, Ava?”
“I need assurance that you’ll protect me. He’s trying to kill me. I’ll get you proof.”
“Get me proof and I’ll protect you,” I say, knowing there is no proof, wanting to strangle the bitch.
“Promise me you’ll give me a chance to show you the proof before you turn me in.”
Or kill you, I add silently. “I promise.” She’s silent. “Ava—”
“I’ll call back.” She hangs up.
“Fuck.” I hit the steering wheel. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
I begin to dial Jacob, but hesitate, my chance at vengeance burning in my heart like a new love I can’t resist. She killed Rebecca. She almost killed Crystal. I pull into the parking garage, sitting there and contemplating my next move.
Suddenly something bangs against a window and I jump, finding Ava pounding on the passenger door. It’s all I can do not to open that glove box, and I force myself to get out of the car so I won’t, slamming my door and rounding the trunk to confront her.
She whirls on me, a disheveled mess in jeans and a T-shirt, her hair wild, face filled with bruises that are at least two days old. “They’re going to kill me!” she says.
“Ricco. Jimenez. You have to get me out of here.”
The sight of her, the sound of her voice, is acid in my soul, and I’ve never hated the way I hate her in that moment. I walk up to her and grab her hair, shoving her against the window. “I’ll kill you.”
“You said you’d help.”
“You killed Rebecca. You almost killed Crystal.”
“No, it was Jimenez. He did it all.”
“No. You did this.” I’m shaking, and my hand is on her throat, and I’m not sure how it got there. In a moment of sanity, maybe the last one I have, I click open the trunk and drag her over by the neck. I shove her inside and shut the door.
For several seconds, I lean on the top and try to calm my breathing. A small slice of reality hits me, and I realize I have no idea if anyone has just seen what I’ve done. I have no idea why I’ve even done it.
I turn, scan, and, finding no prying eyes, I start walking.
Crystal . . .
I’m sitting in a giant hospital lounge chair, starting to worry about Mark, when he walks into the room. “Leave, Kara,” he orders gruffly. “Shut the door behind you.”
I’m not sure who is more stunned, me or Kara, but she stands. “Is everything—”
“Go,” he growls.