I glared at him and tossed the bag in the car and inclined my head toward Dovie. “Get in the car, Copper-Top.” She opened her mouth like she was going to argue, but I just looked at her until she snapped her mouth shut and did what I said.
Once she was out of earshot, I stepped up to Titus. It was an even match; he was an inch taller than me but just as wide, and thicker with muscles used for protection and security rather than mayhem and destruction. We had the same dark hair and similar builds, but his old man must have had blue eyes, because where mine were as black as night, his were the color of the sky on a summer day. Sharing a mother hadn’t made us identical, but there was no missing we were related and shared blood when we were this close to each other.
“I’m going back to jail over my dead body, Titus. Know it.”
He reached out and clamped a hand on my shoulder before I could dodge it.
“That’s what scares the shit out of me, you prick. Mom’s barely hanging in there. Novak wants you dead, or worse, and I know he wants me dead. Race is in the wind, and what, you’re fighting again and running around with some chick who looks barely legal? You can’t stay out of trouble if you try, and I’m going to have to bury you. You think I want that?”
I shook him off and shoved him back with a hand on his beefy shoulder.
“I’m not scared of Novak. I’ll find Race and figure this all out. She’s totally legal and Race’s sister. I’m not running around with her, Benny trashed her place and is hounding her trying to find Race. Mom isn’t my problem, you are not my problem. You lost your right to worry about me when you snapped those handcuffs on me, Titus.”
I went to yank open the door when his words stopped me.
“So you’ll forgive Race, keep an eye on his sister, even though he’s the one that set you up, but you won’t forgive me for doing my job?”
I looked at my half brother, the only person in the world besides Race who had ever tried to save me from myself. Titus and I were never really close. There was a six-year age gap between us and he had always been one to follow the rules, to toe the line as much as anyone could when fighting for survival. When I was ten, he had decided to leave me and Mom and go live with a friend of his on the Hill so he could switch schools and get out of the slums. As an adult, I didn’t blame him, but as a kid, I felt abandoned and alone. My mom’s care fell solely onto my young shoulders and it didn’t seem fair Titus got to go live the dream, while I became a criminal to keep up and keep alive.
“Your job sucks, Officer King.”
“Blow me.” I opened the door and slid in next to Dovie. She was looking out the window and twisting her hands together. She wanted to ask me about all of it, I could feel it rolling off of her, but she kept her pretty mouth shut.
“Go see Gus, Bax.”
Titus’s voice was barely audible over the roar of the powerful motor of my car.
A drive that should take twenty minutes only took ten as I raced back to the little house in the burbs. Going there with Dovie made me hate it less each time I walked in the front door. She was like some kind of balm that made all the ravaged and torn pieces of my soul feel less raw. I plopped all the grocery bags down in the kitchen and looked at her where she was leaning against the fridge.
“We need to put this away.” My voice was harsher than normal.
She let her head fall back and I wanted to run my tongue all along the length of her neck.
“Tell me about the night you got arrested.”
“Yes. I need to understand how Race set you up.”
“I don’t even understand it.”
“That cop, who is he to you?”
I growled—actually growled—and stomped over to her. I put my palms on the freezer so that she was caged in my arms. I don’t know if I wanted to scare her, intimidate her, or just fall into those forest-colored eyes and leave the harsh reality of who I was behind for just a minute.
“I need to know,” she said.
Probably, but I didn’t want to be the one to tell her. She reached up between us and put her hands on both of my bristly cheeks. I couldn’t look away from the lure of the pleading in her evergreen-tinted gaze.
“Race called me that night and said Novak had a job. An Aston Martin Vanquish up on the Hill. I didn’t want to do it. Those cars are high end, which means security is top-notch. I told him no, not only because it was risky, but because we were supposed to be working on getting out of the game. Novak was taking bigger risks, calling on Race for more and more errands, and it was all getting too deep and too tangled.”
I was breathing hard and drifting back in time, even though she was trying to hold me on to the present.
“Race called me back a couple hours later and told me I didn’t understand. We had to get the car. We didn’t have a choice. Either I went or he was going to have to go alone. Race is great with security systems, with car alarms, the LoJack and the digital systems that cops can override, but he’s not a thief. He’s not a car guy, so if he had to go on his own, it would’ve ended badly.”
I blinked, trying to make sense of it still. “I should’ve asked, Why? Why that car? Why that night? Why it HAD to get done, but I didn’t want Race to risk his neck for no reason, so I met him on the Hill and went to work.”
I pulled away from her and walked over to lean against the sink.
“Race was weird, nervous and twitchy. I kept asking what was going on with him but he kept telling me we just needed the car, Novak was being really specific about it. We got in the gate, got through the security on the garage, and the car was there, all shiny and beautiful, just like it was supposed to be. I would be a liar if I didn’t say I was looking forward to taking it, to getting behind the wheel.”
I could still see the perfect black paint and smell the flawless leather interior. I let my head drop and closed my eyes. I had to rub the back of my neck to keep going.
“I told Race to do his thing, get me in the car, but he just looked at me. I knew something was wrong, that it wasn’t just a simple boost. Before I knew it, we’re in the house and forcing the guy that lived there, some rich old bastard, into the car and heading back down to the District to meet Novak. I kept asking what was going on, who the old guy was, but Race just kept saying he was sorry and that I didn’t understand. He kept saying over and over he would pay me back, but I didn’t know what he meant. We get to the meet-up spot, Novak is there, Benny is there, and the old guy is freaking out. I wanted to hand the keys over, get out and never look back, and the next thing I know the cops are there, like every cop in the damn city descends on us. Bullets start flying, everyone scatters, and Race vanished as I took off in the car.