I WAS GOING STIR-CRAZY. Five days catching up with my brother was nice, but spending it in the cramped, tiny apartment above Gus’s garage was not. I still wasn’t one hundred percent clear on who Gus was, Race seemed to gloss over the fact that the old mechanic ran Novak’s chop shop for him, but his loyalty was to Bax. According to Race, Gus had had a fling with Bax’s mom back in the day and had taken to both her young sons. Titus had already been older and not so interested in developing a relationship with the very married mechanic, but Bax was a different story. He took to Gus and his knowledge about any kind of automobile like a duck to water. Eventually the affair had petered out, but Race insisted that Gus viewed Bax more as a son than anything else, and there was no way he would compromise our safety by revealing our location because of their relationship. After all, Race had been hiding out here for over a month and no one was the wiser.
The apartment was even smaller than the studio Bax kept in the city, and as much as I honestly adored Race, I was tired of him being my only company. I was also sick of the endless grilling about my feelings for Bax. We were literally tripping over each other, and that, coupled with the heartache I was feeling, was enough to make me want to lose my mind. Luckily most of my teachers had agreed to e-mail me assignments for the week, so I was staying busy using Gus’s old laptop to keep up on my homework. Even with that minor distraction, I couldn’t shake the hollow feeling when I woke up in the middle of the night to reach for that hard body I had so quickly gotten used to being curled around, only to come up empty. I missed him. I knew why he was doing what he was doing, but that didn’t stop me from longing to be back with him—all of him. As much as I missed Shane, there was no denying I missed the gruff and harsh Bax as well. It sucked, and I was doing a piss-poor job of keeping my feelings from Race.
I was ready to get out of there, even if it was not the most advisable way to spend the weekend. Race mentioned that Bax’s brother had convinced him to hold off on taking the video to Novak, that he was trying to come up with a more delicate solution that would hopefully get Race and Bax off the hot seat permanently. He also let it slip that Bax was going back to fight for Nassir, which made bile rise up in my throat. Not only because I hadn’t heard a word from him in a week, but because I knew there was no way Nassir was going to set up a clean fight and he was just asking for trouble and looking to hurt himself. I hated everything about it, but I bit my tongue and refused to give in to the temptation of trying to call and reason with him. He made it clear that now that Race was back on the scene, I was my brother’s responsibility.
I made my way as quietly as I could down the metal stairs that led down to the locker room the guys who worked for Gus used. It was well after the legitimate part of the garage closed for daily business, but that didn’t mean the more lucrative and illegal part of the shop wasn’t running full steam ahead. The first few days I had been scared to come down the stairs, scared one of the mechanics would see me and rat us out to Novak, but whoever Gus was in the grand scheme of things, he was awesome at keeping our location secret. I hadn’t seen another human aside from him and my brother in days.
I peeked around the corner and saw Gus’s gray head bent over something on his desk in his office. After making sure the coast was clear, I tiptoed across the shop floor and knocked on the glass window until he looked up and saw me. He waved me inside and pushed back in his chair so his greasy boots were propped up on the edge of his desk.
“You ready to roll?”
“Yeah. I’m just going to take the bus. The Mustang is too memorable, and if anyone puts two and two together, they’ll realize I was probably with Race.” It was frightening how after only a handful of weeks with Bax, I could draw those kinds of lines between things with zero effort.
“Smart girl. Well, it would probably be smarter to just stay here, but I understand the need to show you’re not giving your life up.”
I blew out a breath that sent a copper curl twisting across my forehead. “I just can’t spend any more time with Race breathing down my neck. I’ll murder him.”
Gus laughed and folded his hands on his portly belly. “He’s been worried about you. Add in the fact you went and got all tangled up with Bax, and he has good reason. Those boys . . .” He shook his head and closed his eyes briefly. “Those boys could run this city if they wanted. Your brother is one of the smartest and most loyal kids I’ve ever come across, and he has an innate sense for when something isn’t right. And Bax”—he sighed—“that kid never got a fair shot, but he is about as ruthless as anyone I’ve ever seen. He has the tools, the mettle to get the dirty work done. Unfortunately, he also has a conscience buried somewhere deep down inside.”
I cleared my throat and shifted uneasily on my feet. “It’s not buried that far. I didn’t have to dig too far to get at it.”
The mechanic grinned at me, only it was full of sadness.
“You’re one of the few, then, little lady. You better pray that your brother and Titus get this all figured out before Bax gets impatient and stirs up a hurricane of vengeance. No one will be safe when that boy finally unleashes everything he’s been holding back for the last five years.”
I was surprised. I thought Gus was on Team Bax. The way he was talking now made it sound like the opposite.
“Race told me you were close to Bax.”
“I love the boy like my own, but I don’t mistake that for excusing what I know he’s capable of. God forbid you get hurt—or worse—in the middle of this shit storm brewing. Bax won’t care if it was friend or foe involved, he’ll destroy everyone until nothing is left but dust, and that includes your brother and his.”
I gulped a little. “I think you might have the wrong idea about what kind of relationship we had. He wouldn’t feel compelled to do that because of me.” After all, he had ditched me with Race as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
“Girly, the fact you had any kind of relationship with Bax is more than most people can say. A boy like that doesn’t get attached, because he knows all it’s going to lead to for the other person is heartache and loneliness. The only reason Race got through was because he was willing to go down in a blaze of glory right alongside him. Now you’ve gone and shaken the dynamic all up.”
I didn’t want to think that I was the only reason Race had managed to turn his life around and realized a life of crime wasn’t worth it. I also flat-out just did not believe I had any impact on the choices Bax chose to make one way or the other.