“You lost a lot of blood . . . a lot. You needed a transfusion, but on the way here in the ambulance, you went into shock. You almost didn’t make it.”
I gasped and looked down at my tightly bandaged chest. I knew it had hurt, that the knife felt like it was cutting into the very heart of me, but I couldn’t believe I had almost died.
“Race took a pretty bad beating. He’s got a broken leg and a dislocated shoulder and they were worried about internal bleeding because of the severity of his injuries, but all in all, he’s actually in better shape than you at the moment. He was discharged this morning while you were still out of it. He was taken to a safe house by the feds, but now that you’re awake, I’m sure he’ll be here in a flash. He was really hard to handle when he heard how bad your condition was.”
I was so relieved that Race was okay I started to breathe a little bit easier, until Titus kept talking.
“Gus didn’t make it. They shot him in the gut and left him to bleed out. I’m sure it was Novak’s way of paying him back for double-crossing him, for letting Race hide out right under his nose this entire time.”
I gulped. I didn’t really know the old mechanic that well, but he was important to Bax and he had gone out of his way to keep my brother safe and offer us shelter in the storm. It wasn’t right. I cleared my throat a little and asked Titus to hand me a glass of water.
“I’m a little out of it, but not so much that I can’t tell you are avoiding telling me where Bax is.” If he had been willing to die for me, shouldn’t he be here when I narrowly escaped death myself?
Titus’s hands curled around the rails of the hospital bed, and even under the black and blue coloring his handsome face, I could see the ghastly white of his pallor.
“Listen, Dovie.” He sighed heavily and peered at me intently out of his swollen eyes. “You can’t say anything about what happened to Novak.”
“What? No way. I’m not letting Bax go back to jail for something he didn’t do.”
Titus swore under his breath. “You don’t have a choice. I knew Novak was going to have his guy on the inside grab me. I knew there were dirty cops in on all his action. I called the feds the day Bax handed me the flash drive. Getting Nassir to agree to help was a little trickier because that guy doesn’t do anything for free. I had him set up the fight, knew Bax would show, knew Novak would grab me and take me in, but I have no clue how he found you or Race. The feds have a good case against most of Novak’s crew, including the abduction of you. You can’t start telling people you shot Novak in the back. It would ruin everything and Bax would come unglued. Do you understand me?”
I tried to shake my head, but it hurt so bad, I had to squeeze my eyes closed and concentrate on breathing.
“There was a room full of people. Everyone saw me shoot him. Bax gave up so much for my family, for me, already. He can’t go back to prison.” I didn’t feel like I could make it without him.
Titus sighed again and let his head fall forward. “I’m not going to let him go back, but right now he’s an ex-con caught up in a seriously tangled federal investigation. If you try and get involved, try and sacrifice yourself for him . . . Jesus, Dovie, can you imagine the kind of self-destructive shit he’ll pull to keep you out of trouble? He’s in love with you, he was going to kill himself so you would be safe. Do you really think he’s going to stand by and watch you sit in a cell while the feds try and figure out who is to blame? Fuck no.”
I let my head fall to the side and felt my heart thud in my chest. “He’s locked up?”
“For now. He’s in a federal holding facility while the feds decide who is who and what charges to level at all the players. They need you and Race to testify, and chances are they’ll cut a deal with Bax in exchange for his testimony as well.”
“I didn’t mean to kill him. I just wanted him to stop.” My voice was so soft, I wasn’t sure I actually spoke the words aloud.
“I don’t care what you meant or didn’t mean. I’m glad the bastard is gone. It’s the only way Bax has any kind of shot at living a seminormal life.”
“He never even told me Novak was his father.”
“Because he hated it. When he was a little kid, Novak spent a lot of time denying Bax was his. He called my mom a whore, pretty much ruined her. She was never great, but I think that made her hit the bottle even harder. When Bax got a little older, started getting in trouble, started boosting cars like it was effortless, all of a sudden Novak sees the heir apparent to his criminal kingdom. At first Bax thought it was cool. Guys like Benny handing him wads of cash and having anything and everything handed to him was addicting. It wasn’t until he got popped a couple of times and Novak kept pushing him to go harder, make bigger deals, take more risks, that Bax realized what he was doing. Novak never wanted to claim him as his son, but he sure as shit wanted to mold him into a carbon copy of himself. Novak hated that he could never fully control him. Honestly, Bax’s stubborn, go-to-hell attitude is the only thing that kept him free of Novak’s grasp, plus I think that’s why Novak wanted him so bad. Novak couldn’t handle his own kid’s defiance.”
We stared at each other for a long, tense moment. I flinched automatically when he reached out and brushed a knuckle across the pristine white bandage that was covering my entire chest.
“He talks about sometimes having to make the hard choice. I know you don’t want to let him sit behind bars for something he didn’t do, but if you care about him, if you love him like I think you do, then that’s what you’re going to have to do. Right now I’m ninety percent sure I’ll have him out in a week or so. If you go storming in and throw yourself on the pyre, he’ll do something stupid to try and save you, and we’ll never see him again.”
I gulped and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to believe what he was saying, but I could hear the logic and truth behind his words. Whatever issue Bax had with him, Titus really did have his younger brother’s interest at heart.
“Can I go see him when I get out of here?”
A bitter laugh broke out, and even behind his battered eyes I could see frustration and sadness.
“He won’t even see me. He’s locked up, back in jail; that’s the last place on earth he’s going to want you to see him. You’re just going to have to be patient, Dovie. Let this play out.”