“Here,” I say when mine opens, and wasting no time, she climbs inside the side door and scoots over, going low. Again I follow her, settling the bag between us, my gun at easy grip range. Praying the owner doesn’t show up when we’re in the car, I quickly yank the dash panel off and connect wires, bringing the engine to a start.

“Chad,” Gia says urgently, and I glance up to find that two men wearing gloves, both Mexican, I think, with the hard edge of hired professionals, have just cleared the rope.

I put us in gear, back up, and hit the accelerator.

EIGHT

NEVER LOOKING BACK, I force myself to keep a steady foot on the Jeep’s gas pedal rather than gunning the engine, trying not to stand out, my mind already processing the magnitude of target a stolen vehicle makes us in a fairly small city. Driving around the other side of the building, I exit onto the main road, and then my foot goes heavy as I pull away from the restaurant and weave in and out among several vehicles to gain some much needed coverage.

“What just happened?” Gia asks. “I went to the bathroom and—”

“Don’t talk,” I snap, trying to put this all together. Either Jeff screwed me or Gia screwed me, and Gia was in that bathroom a long damn time.

“Chad—”

“Don’t fucking talk, Gia,” I growl, pissed at the idea I’ve been stupid with her all over again. She must get that I’m serious, because she doesn’t push. But I plan to, and soon. She can count on it. Detouring to the highway to get out of the immediate view of any cops looking for the Jeep, but knowing it’s still a sore thumb, I have a destination I can’t bypass. I also can’t trust Gia with the location.

“Get down on the floorboard,” I order.

“What? Why? Are we—”

“Just do it, Gia.”

She inhales and does as I order, wisely keeping her mouth shut. I focus on the road, and ten miles later, I exit in an area that is heavily residential and take several turns to bring us smack into middle-class Lubbock, rows of basic houses side by side. Pulling up to a redbrick residence, I park at the curb.

“Don’t ask,” I say, sensing Gia is about to speak. I grab the duffel. “Let’s go.” I climb out of the Jeep and keep my hand in my bag, over my gun. Juan Carlos has reasons to be loyal to me, but that doesn’t mean he’s alone. I round the Jeep and meet her at her door, where she is looking exceedingly uncomfortable.

“What are we doing?” she asks.

“Calling in a favor,” I say, closing my hand around her arm as I start walking.

“Then this is a friend?”

“I told you,” I say as we stop at the front door, “I don’t have friends.” I ring the bell. “Just people less willing to fuck me over.”

She glances at my hand on her arm and then at me. “Why are you so angry with me?”

“That is a conversation for another time.”

“Please,” she encourages. “I need some insight into the ever-changing playbook that is your mood.”

The door is opened by a thin Mexican woman in jeans and a T-shirt. “Hola, Maria,” I greet her. “Is Juan Carlos in?”

“He isn’t expecting you. He doesn’t do drop-ins.”

“I’m certain if you tell him it’s me, he’ll be fine with the visit.” She opens her mouth to argue and I toughen my voice and order, “Tell him I’m here.”

She frowns but disappears, shutting the door. Without looking at Gia, I say, “It’s your playbook we’re going to discuss.”

“Good. I need one of those.”

I look at her then. “We both know you have one. You’re going to open it to me.”

“I told you I’ll help you with Sheridan.”

“Deflection will get you nowhere,” I say.

“Deflection? What am I deflecting?”

Maria reappears. “Go to the backyard.” She shuts the door on us, and I grab Gia’s arm again and start walking.

“You know I’m not making a run for it, right?” she demands. “Where would I go?”

“Not a conversation for here and now.” We cross the driveway, where a shiny new black Escalade is parked, and hit grass again as we travel to the back gate. I open it and pretty much set Gia in front of me, following her and shutting us inside.

“Chad—”

“Save it,” I bite out, grabbing her arm again and walking toward a small building, a converted garage turned into an office, about a hundred feet away. At the door, I don’t bother knocking. I simply open it and step inside, taking Gia with me and releasing my hold on her as I kick it shut.

Juan Carlos sits behind a fancy mahogany desk, his long dark hair in a ponytail, a scar down one cheek that I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing him receive. “Chad, my friend,” he greets, standing and offering me his hand.

“Stay here,” I murmur to Gia, stepping forward and shaking hands with him, as he adds, “I hope my sister wasn’t too much of a bitch to you.”

“She was just the right kind of bitch to protect you. How much did that Escalade out there run you?”

His hands settle on his jeans-clad hips, a ring carved with the Mayan sun symbol on his left hand, which I happen to know is invaluable. “A cool hundred Gs. Isn’t she a beauty?”

“I’ll buy her for a hundred and twenty Gs.”

“What? No. I just brought it home. You need a vehicle, I’ll get you a vehicle.”

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