My chest rose and fell, air rushing in and out of my lungs, but I didn’t feel like I was breathing. I didn’t feel like I was anything. “She deserves better.”
He snorted and I had to turn my head and crack an eye to look at him. “She was sold out to Novak’s guys by someone she considered a friend, her own father put a hit out on her, she has a junkie mom, a brother who plays with fire, and she’s in love with you . . . yeah she deserves better, but this is what her life looks like, Bax. There is no better, there is just making do and being happy with what you have. She’s a good girl, she’s lived with all the same darkness, the same struggle, as you have, and yet she manages to still be soft, still manages to see the good in guys like you and Race. Don’t f**k this up, it will be the worst decision you have made to date—and holy hell, have there been a lot of bad decisions made on your part over the years.”
I halfheartedly threw a pillow at him, but he just caught it and chucked it back at my head, making me wince when it landed with a thunk on my tortured skull.
“Why do you care?”
“Because you’re my brother. Because even if you don’t see it, you deserve better, too. Do something with the garage. Do something with the girl. Do something with your life, Bax. This time, you can’t blame being the bad guy on not having any other options.”
His words landed on me like physical blows. I was drunk, but even under the blanket of booze and denial, I couldn’t hide from the truth of his words.
“What if I take the garage and do something with it you won’t like?”
He groaned and shoved to his feet. “Are you seriously telling a cop you plan on running a chop shop?”
I would have laughed if I didn’t think it would make me puke. “No, I’m telling my brother I might not have the most illustrious plans for the future. You think you can handle that?”
“I’ll handle it the same way I always have. I love you, Bax, but if you break the law and I catch you, I will put you back in jail. Now that you know what it’s like to be behind bars when you have something to lose, I’m hoping going forward that it might be enough to keep you on the right side of the law.”
I cracked a grin and slowly swung my legs over the edge of the bed. I looked around the sad little apartment and realized it was the last place I wanted to be.
“At the very least it makes me motivated to not get caught.”
“You are an epic pain in the ass. You know that, right?”
Getting to my feet was a little bit trickier than just sitting up. I needed all the coffee in the Point and a shower the temperature of Satan’s hot tub to get my head working right.
“I have been told that a time or two. Do you know where she is? Did she go back to that crap apartment across from the diner?” I figured the “she” didn’t need any further explanation.
Titus shook his head and moved toward the door. “I think she was tired of me harping on her to keep her mouth shut about the shooting. She took the news about her friend sending Novak’s boys pretty well, but I think it still stung. I haven’t talked to her since you got out. Race is still staying in the loft above the garage, but she isn’t there.”
A sharp and icy sliver of rage worked its way through the boozy haze.
“Who was the friend? The blonde from the restaurant?” Dovie didn’t have very many friends, or people she was close to, so the suspects were limited.
“No. They worked together at the group home, but before you get all worked up and think about doing something idiotic, you should know the feds scooped her up as a material witness as well. She took them up on the offer to relocate so you can’t get to her.”
I glared at him, even though it hurt like a bitch. I swayed a little on my feet, which totally ruined the badass, threatening look I was trying to throw at him. “But you can.”
He lifted an eyebrow at me and pulled open the door. “I could if I was so inclined, but you should know by now, people make bad decisions all the time. Those decisions shouldn’t be used to define them forever.”
I snorted and rubbed my hands over my face. I didn’t even feel like a human.
“You’re just saying that because she’s gorgeous and has those big blue eyes.”
“I’m saying it because her actions almost got Dovie killed and forced me to watch my little brother hold a gun to his own head. Do I want to throttle her for that? Yes, but I also know what it’s like to feel like you’re trapped by something bigger than you and more powerful than you with no way out. I knew Novak was never going to just let you go and I pu**yfooted around the law and tried to be the good guy, play it legal all along. Looking back . . . maybe I wish I had been just a little bit more like you. Maybe I could have saved everyone a whole lot of heartache by breaking the rules.”
“It’s not in your makeup, Officer King.”
“I dunno about that, Bax. We do have half of the same DNA. Good luck with your girl.”
The door closed behind him with a soft click and I tottered into the bathroom to try and drown some of the drunk out of me. It took longer than it should have. By the time I got out, the water was cold and I had wrinkled fingers. I had to run a razor over my face and brush my teeth, twice, to even get to a semirespectable state. I still wasn’t a hundred percent sober, but most of the fog had cleared and I was coherent enough to dig my cell out of the drawer it had been living in since I got out, and call Race.
It rang for a long time and I didn’t think he was going to answer, which made my heart start to thump and tick an unsteady rhythm in my chest. I could drive all over the town until I found her, and I would do it if that’s what it took, but I had wasted enough time and I just wanted to go to her.
“So you made it?” He sounded annoyed and I couldn’t say I blamed him.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“You’re an ass**le. You get that, right?”
I let my head fall forward on my neck and stared at the carpet between my feet. “I just got the same thing from Titus. Yeah, I get it.”
“Look, dude, I get you not wanting her to see you all jailed up. And I even get staying away for her own good . . . it actually makes me want to kick your ass less, but this total freeze-out, not cool. You really hurt her.”
I blew out a breath. “Well, where is she at so I can go unhurt her?”
“It doesn’t work that way. She almost died, almost watched you die, and Novak messed her up pretty good. All she wanted was you, or to at least do right by you, and you stonewalled her. I don’t know that she wants to see you anymore.”