Better When He's Bad (Welcome to the Point 1) - Page 6

She let out a shrill laugh and moved toward the kitchenette that was the size of a closet. She took something off the fridge and handed it to me. The picture was a few years old, but there was no mistaking Race’s elegant good looks or the way he was smiling at the camera with his arm around this strange girl.

“What rich, powerful man do you know that keeps it in his pants? I’m the Hartmans’ dirty little secret, only no one kept it very well and Race came looking for me about four years ago just after I turned sixteen. Different moms, different last names, same ass**le father. If you can help Race, I’ll tell you anything you want to know, and if you can’t, I’ll find him on my own. He’s the only family I have and I love him. He saved my life.”

I looked from the photo back to her face. Race was a handsome dude, refined and regal. This girl was basic and ordinary, aside from that hair and her smart mouth. Those green eyes stared at me unblinkingly, and I saw it. It was all in the evergreen gaze that was watching me like a hawk. Race and the copper-top had the exact same eyes.

“You aren’t going to do anything but fill me in. Race is family to me too, which means I’ll do whatever I can to pull his ass out of the fire.”

Hell, I had already done five years for the guy; going toe-to-toe with Novak would be a walk in the park.



I HAD BEEN AROUND long enough in the worst parts of town to know the difference between a bad boy and a boy who was just bad. Bad was stamped all across Shane Baxter and it had nothing to do with the star tattooed on his face or the ominous and deliberate way he moved, like a coiled snake ready to strike and eager to fill you with poison before you could blink. His dark eyes were flat, like his emotions had long ago been switched off and he had no interest in tapping back into them. I grew up poor. I grew up where sometimes it was a luxury to just be poor because that meant at least you had a little bit of money. So I had seen that look more than once, but I had never seen it worn in a face you just knew could destroy everything you loved and not even blink a ridiculously thick black eyelash. This was a young man who had seen more—lived more—in his short years than most people did in a lifetime. You survived in his world by being the best of the worst and there was no doubt in my mind that was exactly what Bax was.

Sure, Race had given reassurance after reassurance that Bax was a good guy. That once he was out, he would be able to help my brother fix the situation with Benny and Novak, that he was just a guy who had been handed a hard lot in life and did the best with what he had. But looking at him in my run-down apartment, I could see that Race was way wrong. My brother wasn’t familiar with desperation, with having to suffer without; he couldn’t see what I saw in the man before me, and that was the undisguised willingness to do whatever it took to survive. Five years in prison hadn’t beaten him down when he went in as a scared kid. It had made him stronger, made him a bigger threat, and if I wasn’t mistaken, probably a better criminal. I didn’t want him anywhere near me, but if he was my only option to help Race, I would do whatever it took, give him whatever he wanted. Race was that important to me.

Bax didn’t bother to ask if I cared if he smoked, just lit a cigarette and put it between his lips. The bottom of his mouth was puffy and cracked like he had smacked it on something. His dark eyes roved around my space and I felt like he was taking stock. I hated it. I lived on what I made, I supported myself by working my ass off, and I knew how to live and protect myself in the slums. I wouldn’t let him judge me and find me lacking. He was a convicted felon after all. I might not have had much, but everything I did have I came by honestly.

“What do you know?”

His voice was scratchy, rough, like he didn’t use it often. He walked over to the cracked window and pulled the sheers I had over it away so he could look at the diner across the way. He was probably worried about his precious car.

“Not much. Race showed up at the group home I was dumped off at when the last foster family I lived with moved right after you went away. He told me he was my brother. He gave me the basic rundown on the Hartmans and I realized my father was as much of a nightmare as my mother. Race took me out of a really bad situation, gave me a pretty good life for a brief minute, made us a family, and then he brought me back here to wait.”

“Wait for what?”

I shrugged and flopped down on my ancient couch. “Wait for you, I guess.”

I sent Carmen a text to let her know so far things were okay. I had the entire neighborhood keeping an eye out for the elusive thief with the star tattoo for the last week. It was almost a relief he had finally shown, even if he thought breaking and entering was appropriate. It bugged me that I had missed with the Taser. I needed to spend a couple more sessions at the local Y working on self-defense. A single girl in this kind of neighborhood could never be too safe or take too many precautions.

“I grew up in a town just like this, in a place just like this, but a state over. From what I managed to piece together by listening to Race when I shouldn’t have, Lord Hartman paid my mom off and she was supposed to get rid of me and disappear. She didn’t. Took the money and ran; only she didn’t want me so much as she wanted a fix. I was in the system—foster care, group homes—and Race found me just as I was getting ready to get placed in a notoriously bad home. The dad had grabby hands, mom was a drunk and didn’t care. I wanted to take off, but Race talked me out of it; told me he would take care of me. He bribed the lord to step in and claim his parental rights so I wouldn’t be in the system anymore, and we stayed in the town where my school was at together until I graduated. He never told me why he couldn’t come back to the Point and I got tired of asking. And then a year ago something changed, and he packed us up and moved us here like he was on some kind of mission. Like he had a plan. I felt like I owed it to him to come along without question. He saved me.”

I shook my head and twisted my hands together. “I don’t know what he had going on, but I liked this neighborhood, liked the community college, so I settled in. He kept to himself and kind of skulked around the streets. I thought he was just waiting for you to get cut loose, but then the guy in the suit showed up. He roughed me up a little, scared the hell out of me, and Race went off like a lunatic. I’d never seen him that fired up. I know he went to see Novak. He said he was done being a puppet, that he was done letting other people call the shots. He told me he never forgave himself for what happened to you, and that if you came around I needed to trust you. That was weeks ago, and no one has seen or heard from him since.”