He lifted a black eyebrow at me. “I know, that’s your whole problem, little brother. I’ll be in touch.”
I watched him walk away and tried not to feel a twinge of envy when he climbed into a perfectly restored ’69 GTO. I had built a pretty strong foundation of hatred based on the belief that Titus had abandoned me when I was younger, and that we had nothing in common after he became one of the Hill elite. When he had arrested me five years ago, I was convinced he was trying to teach me a lesson, to prove that he was better than me, but now I wasn’t so sure. Just like I wasn’t so sure what my life was going to look like if I managed to make it out of this confrontation with Novak alive and a free man. I was so certain that this was the end of the road for me that I never had given a second thought to what might come next.
Irritated that Titus had managed to get so expertly under my skin, I slid out of the booth and headed to my own car. I was going to go find Nassir and have him set up another fight for me. I had too much energy, too much stuff buzzing around under my skin, and I needed a physical way to burn it off. Otherwise, there was a pretty good chance I was going to throw caution and good sense to the wind and say “the hell with it,” and go find Dovie and bury myself inside her until it burned us both alive. Inherently, I knew that was a far more dangerous option than letting Nassir find some ’roided-up meathead to take a few cheap shots at me.
I was racing down the mostly empty streets, since it was still too early for most of the city to be up and active, when my phone rang. Since only a few people had the number for the disposable unit, I answered it without looking.
“What did you do to my sister, Bax?”
I choked back a laugh and wheeled the car to a spot in front of the rickety-looking building that held all Nassir’s dirty little secrets.
“I don’t think you really want me to answer that question, Race.” He didn’t, because I could recall with startling clarity every touch, every kiss, every whimper and moan that I had elicited out of her pretty mouth over the last few weeks.
He swore at me. “That’s not what I meant. She used to be reasonable and understanding. The group home wants her to come in this weekend and I told her it was too dangerous right now. She won’t listen. She agreed to get her shift at the restaurant covered and skip school for the week, but she won’t relent on the group home. Before I left, she used to just take my suggestions and roll with it because she knows I always have her best interests in mind. So I repeat, what did you do to her?”
I climbed out of the car and stuck a smoke between my lips. I leaned a hip on the door and squinted at the ramshackle building.
“Your sister was born into the life, Race. You fell into it by accident because of me, but Dovie . . .”—I had to clear my throat—“she has the streets in her blood. I think spending time with me made her remember how tough she has to be to survive out here. She’ll be fine, just keep an eye on her. I’ll make sure nothing happens to her at the house this weekend.”
“I thought you were going to throw the gauntlet down with Novak?”
“Titus convinced me to give him some time with it.”
Race snorted. “And you actually listened? Maybe I should be asking what my sister did to you.”
“She makes me want to think that even the bad guy can be a good guy when he needs to be. She’ll be fine, Race. It can’t happen any other way or else I’m going to take this godforsaken city apart brick by brick in order to make it right.”
He was quiet for a long enough amount of time that I thought that maybe he had hung up on me. I started to make my way to the staircase that led to the inner sanctum.
“Well, shit, Bax. You’re in love with her.”
I finally lit the cigarette that was dangling out of my mouth and wished I had my hoodie so I could pull it up over my head.
“She matters more than I wish she did.”
He grumbled something at me that I wasn’t paying any attention to. “Hey, are you ever going to forgive me for what happened that night?”
The quick change in subject jerked me back to the present as I punched in the code to open the heavy steel door.
“Probably. It sucks, and doing hard time for five years isn’t something that’s easy to forgive, but you’re my only friend in the world, Race.” I blew out a cloud of smoke and squinted through the haze. “Someone needs to miss me when I’m not around anymore. Plus, I banged your sister, so that kind of makes us even.”
“Don’t say that crap, Bax. You seriously think Dovie is just going to move on, just pretend like you weren’t a part of her life? If so, you don’t know her for shit, and I knew it last night, even though it pissed me off, that there was more going on than you just hooking up with her.”
I flinched involuntarily at his harsh tone.
“It’s for the best. Look, I gotta go. I’m trying to hook up something with Nassir.”
“What? Why? I didn’t hand your ass to you thoroughly enough last night? You need another beating?”
I barked out a dry laugh and maneuvered my way through the narrow hallway that led into the club. It was bound to be empty this early, but I knew Nassir would be around. He did all his actual, legitimate business, what little of it there was, during the day.
“Gotta make a living somehow.”
“Dovie told me you cleaned Nassir out on the last fight, so don’t pull that with me, Bax. It’s been a while, but I rode shotgun with you for a long time.”
“Don’t tell Dovie that I’m gonna keep an eye on her this weekend. She’ll be upset.”
“No, she won’t, which is why you’re out there looking to get your ass kicked, isn’t it?”
“I’ll talk to you later, Race. I gave Titus a week. After that, I’m opening the gates of hell and everybody better be ready for what comes crawling out.”
“You would burn the entire city down just to spite yourself, Bax.”
“Then I guess some things never change, even with age and wisdom. Feel free to kick Nassir in the nuts for me.”
I hung up and stuck the phone in my back pocket. The answer to his question of what his sister had done to me was too long and too involved for me to try and break it down. I had always been a guy who was comfortable in my skin, in the knowledge that I was what I was, no more or no less. I made it day to day understanding the path I chose to walk in life only had a couple of tragic endings, but I had so few attachments, so few emotional entanglements, it had never mattered before. Now . . . now the idea of disappointing a certain redhead, of leaving her with the knowledge of just how destructive and terrible I could be, left an oily and thick feeling all over the inside of me.