“No. No one has seen much of him, but Benny’s been around way more than usual. They want her brother something fierce. Better keep her close, Bax. They figure out she can be used to draw Race out, they’ll take her.”
I shivered and leaned closer to Bax’s side. I didn’t like that Chuck was talking about me like I wasn’t there, but I liked what he was saying even less. I didn’t want to be a pawn in some criminals’ chess game.
Bax tucked me into the curve of his body and tilted his chin up.
“I think that’s why Race waited until I was out to go ghost. I think he knew they would have to get through me to take her, and that buys him time to play whatever hand he’s holding. Benny can f**k off and I welcome Novak trying to come anywhere near her. I would love to have one more reason to break his neck.”
He was always so violent. It should disgust me, make me want to run the other way. It didn’t. It made me feel like Benny and even the mysterious Novak would leave me alone because it wasn’t worth the trouble of tangling with him. Bax was a shield against the reality of living the kind of life I had no choice but to live.
Bax seemed more keyed up than normal. He didn’t have the hood of his sweatshirt up around his face and his eyes kept bouncing around the room and then back to me. The place didn’t look so much like a trashy strip club tonight as it did a trashy casino. There were tables and dealers, and the girls who typically danced on the stage were walking around in itty-bitty outfits, handing out drinks and sitting on the laps of old men while the scent of dirty money and choking smoke from cigars filled my lungs. I felt Bax tense from where I was plastered against his side and he bent down so that his lips were practically touching my ear.
“Okay, see the guy in the gray polo shirt?”
I scanned the crowd. They all looked like bankers and golfers, guys who were out cheating on their wives. I pinpointed the guy Bax was asking about and gave my head a little nod.
“Do you recognize him?”
Why he thought I would recognize the guy confused me, so I opened my mouth to ask him what was going on when the older man suddenly lifted his head like he could feel me staring at him. I felt like the very ground under my feet slipped away. I had never seen him before, didn’t know him from Adam, but I saw those eyes in the mirror every morning when I got up. He looked a lot like Race and clearly he was where my dark green eyes came from. But he was a stranger.
It wasn’t a question and I saw a grim line flatten the older man’s mouth when he caught sight of who I was with. I stiffened up and went to pull away from Bax, but his hand tightened on my spine and his dark eyes pinned me in place.
“What do you want with him? Why did you want him to see us together?”
I was mad. I didn’t want him to use me. I wanted whatever was going on between us to be more than that. I was fooling myself. Now I understood why he had been so willing to let me come with him on this excursion tonight.
“Stop. He’s the one Race was asking about. Somehow he’s tied into Race’s disappearance and my trip to the joint. I wanted him to see that even with Race gone, someone has your back.”
“Because that rich ass**le wanted you gone.”
I jerked away from him and moved so we were face-to-face. I felt all the blood bleed out of my face and I started to get dizzy. Yeah, I knew Lord Hartman had no use for me, didn’t particularly want to acknowledge that I was a living, breathing human being, but wanting me off the face of the earth seemed a little extreme. What bothered me most was the matter-of-fact, chilling way Bax gave me the information. Talking about a threat on my life should bother him, crack that icy exterior he always had, but there was nothing. His eyes were as black and as infinite as always.
“Great, so my brother is missing and the guy responsible for my birth wants me dead. This was a fun date, Bax. Can we go now?”
“No. I need to talk to him. I need to find some of the missing pieces, and he’s bound to have them.”
“I’m not going over there.” I hated that my voice squeaked in alarm.
He leveled me a hard look.
“I need to talk to him. Either you come with me or you fend for yourself until I’m done. Benny’s bound to show once someone lets him know I crashed the party, so you need to keep your eyes peeled.”
If only he knew how many times I had heard that very warning where he was concerned lately. I backed away from him like I couldn’t get away fast enough. I purposely avoided looking at the man who had already paid one person to get rid of me before I even took my first breath, and now it sounded like he was trying to finish the job. I made my way up to the bar and found an empty seat. The bartender gave me a look and I rolled my eyes. I looked younger than my twenty years but I needed something to calm my nerves, so I hooked a thumb over my shoulder in the general direction of where Bax was winding his way through the crowd.
“I’m with him.”
The girl gave me a “yeah, right” look but gave me a shot of Jack on the rocks while I tunneled my fingers in my hair and tried to sort out the live current of emotions flowing through me.
“Back again.” It wasn’t a question, so I didn’t bother to answer, but when the stacked stripper that had been rubbing up on Bax from my first visit here slid into the empty space next to me, I was forced to look up at her or appear like I was scared of her and hiding. “That’s surprising.”
I wished she’d looked run-down and tired like so many other strippers in the District, but now that she wasn’t naked and dry-humping Bax, I could see that she was startlingly lovely. I bet she made a fortune.
“Why is it surprising?”
She snagged a plastic sword from the bar and stabbed a couple of olives from the drink station. She popped them in her mouth and met my gaze directly.
“Because you looked scared shitless and disgusted when you left last time. Plus, Bax isn’t known for being available for a repeat performance, if you know what I mean. His dance card is full.”
I slammed back the whiskey and blew out a stream of fire that followed it hitting my gut. “We aren’t dancing.”
The pretty stripper laughed a little and pointed the end of the sword to where Bax had gone. “Oh, yes you are. You should see the death glare he’s giving me right now. If I didn’t know for a fact that he doesn’t hit chicks, I would be so freaked out.”