“Exactly. Find Luis and Ava and see if there’s a connection to Ricco. And yes, I know it will cost me.”

“I expect a wire today for what you owe me.”

“Words aren’t proof. You’ll get the money when I get proof that Luis is with Ava, and Ava is alive. And I want everything you have on Luis.”

“Not a problem. The hotel manager where they were staying likes extra money under the table. He took a photo. I have a man in New York. I’ll have a file delivered to your hotel to avoid electronic signatures.”

“No. I’m moving locations. Deliver it to Riptide. Make sure you put ‘Confidential’ on the front.”

“It’ll be to you this afternoon.”

“Then you’ll get your wire this afternoon.”

“And you’ll be happy to know Ryan Kilmer has another blow awaiting him today. That money-laundering scandal you wanted linked to one of his primary properties is sure to put him back on the police radar.”

“Good. Include details in the paperwork you send me. But most importantly, find Ava and Luis.” I end the call and head back toward the entry to the building, glancing at my watch. It’s already eight o’clock. We need to leave for the hotel to clear the safe in thirty minutes to be sure we make the hospital in time to see my mother before her treatment.

I quickly enter the welcome warmth of the lobby, my long strides eating up the path to the elevator. If I end up with proof that Ava’s alive, I have to tread carefully. I won’t go to the police and let them screw up a chance to catch her. I have to get to her before she gets to me and the people I care about.

Once I’m back on the fiftieth floor, I’m keyless and forced to knock, vowing to remedy that situation quickly. “Who is it?” Crystal answers after a good minute.

“Me,” I say.

The door cracks open but she doesn’t appear. I step inside to find her walking away, her hair wet, her skin damp, with nothing but a towel covering her. I’m in the hallway, locking the door in an instant, in hot pursuit. I catch her just as she rounds the corner to the living room, snagging her wrist and pulling her around to face me.

She whirls on me. “Damn it, Mark, let go.”

“Not a chance,” I say, pulling her to me, inhaling her sweet, floral scent, which is becoming as addictive as she is.

Her hand flattens on my chest. “When I’m pissed, don’t touch me.”

I flatten one hand on her back, molding her to me. “I have to touch you. That’s just it—I have to. And that’s not familiar to me. I’m trying to be honest here, Crystal. And I’m asking you not to push me on some things right now, and don’t shut me out. I’m doing what I feel I have to do—but you’re the one thing keeping me grounded.”

Her fingers curl on my chest. “You’re riding grief and guilt, Mark. And you’re scaring me.”

“I’m not going to do something foolish, but I’m also not sitting back and letting you or my parents get hurt. If anything happened to you or them right now . . . I would lose it. And I wouldn’t be responsible for my actions anymore.”

She wraps her arms around me. “I’m scared for you, Mark. Let the police handle it.”

A knock sounds on the door and I kiss her, a deep, possessive claiming, before I start to set her away from me.

She grabs my arm and wraps her arms around me again. “I want to be here with you and for you, and I’m not shutting you out. But I’m also asking you not to shut me out.”

“Whatever I do is for your protection.” There’s another knock and I kiss her again, hard and fast, and this time I set her firmly away from me, turning away to end the conversation. “Who is it?”


I glance over my shoulder to make sure Crystal’s no longer standing there in a towel, to find nothing but the towel remaining. My groin tightens. She’s sending me a message and it’s loud and clear. She won’t be dismissed, and it worked. I unlock the door, pulling it open to reveal Jacob and my bags. I have only one thing on my mind. Her.

I wave Jacob forward, and he rolls a cart inside. “Where do you want them?”

“Just leave the cart. Come back in about twenty minutes and I’ll be ready.”

“Will do. Luke Walker wanted me to give you a message.”

Unease rolls through me. “And that would be what?”

“The kid started talking before he got there. He has no idea what was said, only that they asked a lot of questions about you.”

“Are you saying the kid accused me of beating him up?”

“All Luke knew was that you were the focus of the questioning.”

I inhale and hold in the breath a moment before I say, “I need to make a phone call. We’ll go by my hotel after the hospital, on the way to Riptide.” I glance at my watch. “It’s eight twenty. Be back here at nine.”

I snatch up the towel and turn away, already grabbing my phone from my pocket and dialing my attorney, Tiger. The door opens and closes, telling me Jacob has left. I wait through a series of rings and get voice mail, which doesn’t please me.

I say, “Call me when you get this. I might need you in New York. And yes, I know it’s going to cost me. When have you ever been cheap?” I end the call and stuff my phone back into my pocket. Clutching the towel, I stare down at it. Everything inside me wants to go find her and fuck her. Everything inside me just wants her, period. Selfishly. Completely. In the face of danger she shouldn’t be a part of.

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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