“I need it tonight. Now.”

“This is why you came to me?”

“And I need documentation for the woman.”

“That’ll take time. I can get you a vehicle and the identity by tomorrow night.”

“We both know your ID packets are done and ready to go.”

“For a substantial upcharge. I don’t want to charge you extra.”

“Then don’t.”

“I’m a businessman.”

“How much?”

“A hundred and fifty thousand for the identity.”

I whistle. “That’s steep.”

“Wait until tomorrow night. I’ll get you a car and a reduced fee.”

“Tonight,” I insist. “On credit, of course. You know I’m good for it.”

“I also know you’re always cheating death by one step.”

Not about to argue that truth, I reach in the bag, grab a wad of cash and toss it onto the desk. “That’s a down payment.”

He glances down and seems to do a mental calculation before opening a drawer, flipping through folders, and choosing one. He sets it on top of the desk and opens it for me. I glance down at the Texas driver’s license with a rather unattractive brunette female who’s a stretch as Gia, with a name that reads “Ashley Woods.” “When do we get her picture to replace this one?”

“Now.” He grabs his cell phone and dials, speaking in Spanish to his sister before refocusing on me and confirming what I’ve already understood.

“Maria’s headed over here to take her photo, which will replace the current ones in all public databases in about seventy-two hours. We’ll need several different looks to ensure the effectiveness of the cover story. As you should know by now, your price includes a family history, college degree, and a track record that reaches all the way back to birth.”

“Social Security card?”

“Of course. And a birth certificate. As always, you receive everything you need to make the person she is now disappear.”

The door behind us opens and I shift to put Juan Carlos in profile as I watch Maria enter. She quickly moves behind the desk, giving us her back as she and Juan Carlos talk. I motion to Gia and she steps forward. “Thank you,” she whispers.

“For what?”

“I couldn’t have afforded to do this without you.”

Ignoring the punch in my gut at the vulnerability of her words, I stiffen my spine, refusing to let down my guard with this woman. “I need you alive to help me. This was for me, not you.”

A stunned look slides over her face, replacing the appreciative one of moments before. “I see.”

“Good,” I approve. “Then we’re clear.”

“No, nothing is clear at all—but then, maybe it never will be again.” Her chin lifts in the now familiar way I’ve come to expect from her, an act of bravado she doesn’t feel. Or maybe it’s just an act, period. “What do I need to do?” she asks. “What’s next?”

I grit my teeth at the bite of pain I sense in her words, and resist the stupid need to comfort her, taking her arm again, and turning her to face Maria and Juan Carlos. “She’s all yours,” I say, but the way Juan Carlos’s eyes flicker over Gia, the interest in their depths, leaves me regretting those words.

Maria motions for Gia to follow her through a door, Juan Carlos behind them, and a wave of protectiveness overcomes me. It’s laughable that I would feel such a thing about a woman who must have decided she couldn’t manipulate me, so she’d just turn me back over to Sheridan to save herself. It’s logical. It’s what has to have happened, so fuck her and any discomfort she might feel in that other room. I even turn for the door before I stop dead in my tracks, cursing and crossing the small space between me and her, telling myself her safety is in my best interests—I’m simply protecting an asset in the war against Sheridan.

Entering the room, I find Gia sitting in a chair facing me while Maria brushes her hair, an array of make-up and hair tools everywhere. Gia’s eyes meet mine, and the bond that I sense between us has me cursing again. It’s not real, I remind myself, any more than the name on those IDs we’re buying. Maria steps between us, breaking the spell of the moment, and I let out a breath I seem to be holding in. Leaning on the wall, Juan Carlos joins me, a camera in his hand as he waits on the women.

“Who is she to you?” he asks.

“Just another curve in the ever-winding path that is my life,” I say, wishing it were that simple, somehow knowing it isn’t.

“Who’d she piss off?”

“Me,” I say.

“She got in the way of you and a prize, then.”

“What’s mine is mine,” I confirm, embracing my reputation, “and right now, that includes her.”

“Her?”

I throw a look at Juan Carlos. “That’s right. She belongs to me. And so we’re clear, there is no ‘even’ where she’s concerned. You hear of anyone looking for her, I don’t care what price they offer—you keep your mouth shut.”

“I don’t stay in business by running my mouth.”

“We both know you like money.”

He lifts his hand, indicating the ring. “I wear enough money on my left hand to leave any time I wish.”

“I wondered about that. Why don’t you?”

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