“Your brother has always been the smartest guy I have ever known. He not only blackmailed the old man for his college fund, he made him set up a trust with you as the beneficiary on it. There’s over a million dollars in it, and if anything—and I do mean anything—happens to you, the money in the trust gets donated to that halfway house you work at.”
Dovie blinked at me in stunned shock and whispered, “But what good is that? Lord Hartman can just change the terms anytime he wants.”
I shook my head. “No. Race made sure it was rock solid. The only person that can add or subtract anything to the trust is Lady Hartman, and for her to do that someone would have to tell her not only about the old man’s wandering dick, but about you too. Race has it locked down. He firmly has your piece-of-shit father by the balls.”
As for where that left us and the rest of the mess trying to suck us under, I told her as honestly as I could. “Everything else depends on what Race has. The only reason they haven’t snatched you and dragged you in to draw him out is because I’m in the way. He knew I wouldn’t let them use you to get to him. As for Hartman, if your mom is out of the way, and with me and Race circling around you, I can’t imagine he would be dumb enough to try anything with you. Plus Novak is the only guy he could ask and look how that turned out for him last time. Novak isn’t big on favors and right now you are far more useful in terms of him getting to Race and whatever Race has. That’s the threat we have to worry about.”
“Are you using me to get to him, Bax? Is that what all this is really about?”
I sighed and felt the vein in my temple throb. I looked down at the broken chains circling my wrists and then back up at her. I didn’t know the answer to that anymore.
“I don’t know.”
“I need to find Race. I like you, like getting you naked even more, maybe more than I’ve liked anything in my life up to this point, but at the end of the day, whoever is responsible for taking five years from me is going down. I know that won’t jive with you if it ends up being Race, and after I’m done with Novak, there won’t be anything left, so I don’t know what this is, Copper-Top.”
She got up off the bed and walked over to where I was sprawled in the chair. I just watched her until she was standing in front of me. Her hands hung loosely at her sides and her eyes were wild and full of fear and something else I couldn’t name. She was the epitome of everything good that came from bad people and a bad place. She was like a flower that grew out of the impenetrable face of a cliff wall. How she maintained that softness, that care, was a mystery to me and I hoped to God she found someone willing to kill for her in order to protect it after I was long gone.
She sighed so hard I felt the depth of it from the space that separated us. She bent over so her hands were on each of my knees and we were eye-to-eye. I couldn’t help but let my gaze wander down the now gaping neck of her shirt, but when I jerked it back up to hers, it was almost impossible not to get lost in that dense forest of green.
“Titus didn’t just happen to be there that night, Bax. Put the pieces together. Race was stuck between his loyalty to you and Novak holding me over his head. Call your brother.”
“Half brother.” The correction was automatic, which made her roll her eyes at me.
“Ask him about that night. I bet you anything that Race was the reason he was there. Race did set you up, Bax, but he did it to save you.”
I felt my heart rate drop and then thunder right back up so that blood and something else was rushing in my ears. “What do you mean?”
Her hands slid up my thighs and she leaned even farther over, so that her full lips, that mouth I wanted to just let make everything better, was a breath away from my own.
“He was always looking out for you, trying to save you. You don’t think in Race’s mind the option of sending his best friend to jail for five years versus watching you commit murder and forcing you to be Novak’s dog for eternity was the lesser of two evils? He was stuck. Maybe he asked Titus for help and that’s how the meet-up got busted. You made it worse by running, but that doesn’t surprise me.”
I wanted to recoil, to let the fury that had simmered under the surface of my skin for the last five years loose, but she was the only one close enough for it to land on, and I knew she deserved better than that from me. I was going to push out of the chair, I needed a minute to process this, to get my brain to stop spinning, but she didn’t give it to me. She closed the last fraction of space between her mouth and mine. Her lips, soft and welcoming, made everything else screaming at me go quiet. She always somehow managed to do that to me.
It was just a featherlight touch, so brief and delicate I could have imagined it had she not pulled away and lifted her hands to either side of my face. She held me in place while we watched each other. Her thumbs brushed under each of my eyes and her mouth kicked up in a sad half grin.
“The first time I saw you, I thought these eyes were empty. That there was nothing in there. I couldn’t understand why Race thought you were so trustworthy, so worth coming back to this awful place for. Now when I look into them, I can see everything he was trying so desperately to save.”
Something felt like it was squeezing me alive from the inside out. I couldn’t breathe, and suddenly this dingy apartment was the last place on earth I wanted to be.
“And what’s that, Copper-Top? What’s in there that you think makes me different from any other two-bit criminal you’re going to run into in the Point?”
She let go of my face and took a step back. She absently rubbed her arms as she considered me with a heartbreaking expression on her lovely face.
“We’re more than the sum of our parts, Bax. If we weren’t, I would be a cold-blooded murderer or a junkie. You talk about making the hard choice and living with the outcome . . . why don’t you try it? Try to live beyond the scared kid who had to steal so he could feed himself and his mom. Try to look past the bitter young man who is mad at his brother for leaving him behind and purposely doing the opposite of what he does to prove a point. There is more to who you are than the bad things you have done.”
I felt her words crawling all over me like angry ants. I shoved out of the chair so hard, I thought I heard a snap. She was just watching me and I had to get away from her for a second.
“I need a smoke. I’ll be back.”
I wanted to think I was smooth enough, had a tough enough shell, that she couldn’t see me running, but the truth of it was reflected in those leafy eyes. She turned her back on me as I stormed out of the door.