“I’m fucking dangerous,” I growl at her, “and your boss is equivalent to the kingpin of these so-called gangs.”

“He’s not my boss. Or, he is. It’s complicated. But I’m serious about this neighborhood. We shouldn’t just walk around in this area of town even if it were daylight.”

“You’re right. It’s not safe, but it’s the right place to get lost with a woman cuffed to your arm and not have the cops called on you.” I cut her a hard look. “So I suggest you keep quiet, so we won’t draw attention we don’t want.” We top the hill and I spot the piñata shop that’s been around since before I was old enough to come to Austin to party, and is the marker for gang town. Everything beyond it is a bitchfight waiting to happen. As we approach the shop, a fortysomething Mexican man is closing up the gated area that displays all kinds of colorful hanging objects.

He pauses there, cautiously tracking our approach, and when we stop on the opposite side of the gate his intelligent eyes meet mine, no doubt taking in my beaten face, and then shift to the woman next to me, who is still sporting my blood all over her cheek. He glances at the cuffs, then at me again, and no doubt back to my blood on her face. He gives a snort and returns his attention to me.

“Qué chingados paso?” he demands, in what I translate to mean “What the fuck happened?”

Already having formulated an idea in my head, I answer in Spanish, giving him my quick and outrageous explanation and plea for help. He listens intently, his eyes going wide with sympathy before he murmurs an introduction and a fast invite inside, opening the gate as he does. My ball and chain looks up at me, the streetlight illuminating her expressive eyes. “What did you say to him?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes,” she insists, making it clear that either she doesn’t know Spanish, or, again, she’s a damn good actress.

“Too bad,” I say, motioning her forward, and when she doesn’t move, I pull harder on the restraint locking us together and drag her along with me, murmuring an apology to Hugo, as he claims to be called, and explaining to him that she’s “embarrassed.” I pause to face Hugo, who barely contains a smirk as he shuts the gate and steps ahead of us.

“This is dangerous,” she murmurs as Hugo stops at the entryway of a broken-down house.

“He’s not as dangerous as I am,” I promise. We follow Hugo directly into a room that’s been converted into a storefront with a counter and a cash register, and pass through to a very seventies puke-green kitchen. My shadow and I linger in the hallway as Hugo walks to a drawer and removes a pair of scissors. He hands them to me, with instructions to use the spare bedroom and bathroom down the hallway to clean up.

“Telephone?” he asks in English.

“No,” I say quickly, half expecting my companion to argue, but she wisely does not.

A knowing look settles in Hugo’s eyes and he gives me a nod. Thanking him, I accept a first aid kit and urge the woman to lead the way to the single door to our right. She opens it and I follow her inside a small bedroom that is simple but clean, with a door to what Hugo has told me is a bathroom. I shut us inside and toss her high heels, along with the first aid kit, onto the rainbow-colored Mexican blanket that’s spread over the top of a twin bed. She grabs the plastic between our arms, as if trying to stop me from cutting us apart.

“Move your hand or I’ll cut it,” I warn, blood trickling irritatingly down my cheek. “We don’t have much time, and we can’t leave with these cuffs on.”

“You can’t leave me.”

“Says who? Besides Sheridan.”

“Me.” Her voice quakes. “I say.”

I narrow my eyes at her, or I think I do. I can’t feel one of my eyelids, and—damn it to hell—blood drips down onto my arm. “What’s in this for you?”

“I told you. I don’t want him to get what he’s after. And how do you know that man isn’t just buying time to call the police or some gang?”

I ignore her question, and my desire to ask her a few of my own. “Move your hand.”

“You’re bleeding again, badly.”

“Move your hand.”

“Please,” she whispers. “Don’t leave me behind. I gambled on you helping me when I chose your silence over Sheridan’s demands. He doesn’t forgive or forget, and I don’t know how to hide from him. I don’t know what to do.”

The desperation in her voice does nothing but irritate me. It reminds me of that lying bitch, Meg. I’d fallen for her desperate damsel-in-distress routine, and she’d been nothing but Sheridan’s puppet. The thought spurs me to anger and action, and I reach under her arm and grab her elbow, twisting our arms and forcing her to let go of the cuff. Wasting no time, I cut the plastic tying us together and then make fast work of the bracelet remaining on her arm and then the three on mine. Unwilling to let her get her hands on the scissors, and not ready to let go of my only weapon, I shove them in my pocket.

My hands come down on the wall on either side of her head and I find myself staring down into her sky-blue eyes, a fear in their depths that she seems to try to hide with a defiant lift of her chin. Her attempt at bravado is my undoing, a reminder of my sister’s youthful, spirited replies. Amy is nothing like this woman, who is maybe five years younger than my thirty years old, with experience and secrets in her eyes where Amy is innocence and truth, but it doesn’t seem to matter. This woman, this stranger and enemy, keeps making me think of her anyway. And that’s a dangerous path I’m not letting myself travel.

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