HIS ANGER FILLED THE CAB OF THE SUV, leaving me cold, my thoughts frozen as his threat blew around in my brain.
“What do you think they meant? What has Dexter done?” I hadn’t talked to Dexter since I returned; I thought to avoid making it harder when disappeared.
“I think it’s pretty fucking clear what they meant. Dexter’s got himself in debt with some bad people, and the little fucker thinks running for Magnally will get him out.” His hands re-gripped the steering wheel, knuckles turning white. “Anatoli thinks he can use that. He probably set that shit up. Now he wants me to bring him in. Just another thing linking me with them.”
I rubbed my temples, trying to process. “But why would Dexter do that? After everything?”
Gage was staring straight ahead at the traffic around us, his voice low. “I don’t know for sure, but I can guess.” He glanced at me, and I glimpsed the heaviness of his thoughts darkening his gaze. “After you left, I cut him off.”
The way he spoke sent a chill through me, down to my toes, and I twisted in my seat to face him. “Like, you haven’t talked to him at all?”
He stretched his jaw as he shook his head slow and then stretched his neck just as slow, taking his time to respond, “I stopped funding him. I’d been giving him money every month, sometimes more, for bills, school, whatever he said he needed.” The tension settled back on his shoulders, and he was clenching his jaw again. “I fucking knew he was still gambling, but I gave him the money anyways. I wanted to keep him from owing the wrong people, and I didn’t want his family to go without. But when he let you just walk away, and then I couldn’t find you anywhere.” He flicked his eyes over me. “I punished him for it. I know it was my fucking fault you left, but I took it out on everyone else. And I left him dry when he was used to living a certain way.”
I slid my hand to his leg and gripped his thigh, aiming to give comfort as much as take comfort. I didn’t want him to be angry over me anymore.
He didn’t respond to my touch but kept his hands gripped on the steering wheel, knuckles whiter than ever, and the lines of his forearms stood out as his muscles strained.
“So what does this mean for us? Does it change anything?”
“I don’t know.” Then he jerked his head to me and grabbed my hand on his leg, keeping me in place. “I mean no, it doesn’t. But it might take more time, I need to talk to Dexter.”
He sighed, a sigh I knew well. A sigh that meant he was trying to think and wasn’t clear on anything. A sigh that usually meant my questions weren’t welcomed right now.
“All right. Talk to Dexter, find out what’s going on with him, and then we can adjust whatever needs to be adjusted.” I nodded, trying to quiet my own thoughts that warned me it wouldn’t be that simple.
He glanced at me before training his eyes back on the road to make a left turn at an intersection. “I will.”
Before the silence could settle and my doubts begin to rise, Gage slid his hand behind my head and leaned across the console to place a kiss on my forehead. Then he cast his lips down and pecked my lips. He pulled back just as suddenly as he had started, and I was left blinking at him for a moment.
“I love you. This will work out. We’ll figure it out.” He laced his fingers with mine and held my hand between us on the center console. Then he glanced at me with a hesitant smile. “Don’t doubt us, okay? That’s what they want, to put pressure on us. They want to keep us in line and always second guessing ourselves.”
It’s like he read my mind, speaking to the fears that were creeping in. I gripped his hand tighter and nodded, knowing he was right about them, but hoping he was right about us.
The light was on in the hall, it streaked into the dark room, but that’s not what woke me up. Gage’s voice from down the hall did. He wasn’t yelling, but he was forceful.
“—that’s the deal. You want my help, you fucking come here and earn it.”
I slid out of the bed and walked down the hall to his office.
“A few days. That’s all it’ll take, but you need to listen and do what I say— Fuck him, I’ll deal with him. He’ll let you because he’ll want you in on this.”
I turned the corner to the office, pushing the door open to see in. Gage was sitting behind the computer, focused on the screen.
“That would have been good to think of before, but it’s too late now. Maybe now you’ll fucking learn. So you’re either doing this or you’re not, which is it?” Gage looked up then, seeing me in the doorway. He inflated as he inhaled and then stuck up one finger, signaling me to wait. “Okay.” He clicked the computer mouse on something. “It’s all set up. Now don’t fuck this up, I’m counting on you.”
He hung up the phone and tossed it onto his desk. He looked up at me and slide his chair back to give me room between him and the desk.
“Was that Dexter calling you back?” I took a guess as I walked in front of him and sat on the edge of the desk.
He nodded and rolled forward, wrapping his hands around my waist. He looked up at me from where he sat, something in his gaze, something dark that I could fall into. “He’s going to come help with the shipment.”
I tensed. “Really? But, I thought—are we not going to give that information?” I couldn’t even say the words FBI, it gripped my stomach to even think about it.
He dropped his head, and I wanted to reach out and slip my fingers into his hair, but I sat still, waiting on his answer.
“We will.” He looked up at me and then rose to his feet, stepping close. His hands pulled me into him. “Call him today. Set it up. We’ll give the information about all the drop offs, the names, locations, everything. Dexter won’t be near any of it, he’ll be here with us.”
“And what about Leona and Felix? If Dexter owes money to some dangerous people—”
“She’s back in Baltimore visiting with family, for now. By time they get back, he will have paid.”
“So our plans aren’t changing?”
“Set up the meeting. Hopefully what we say will help Ian too. And after everything, we disappear.”
My hands were shaking as I placed them on his chest, but I was unable to still the vibration. “Shouldn’t we wait for the meeting? It could be dangerous for you to go back to them after. I thought we were giving the information and leaving right away.”
“Babe.” He gripped my shoulders. “It’s probably going to take more than one meeting for him to get the information he needs, the evidence he needs. We have to give them time to set things up. It’s all a risk, but the plans are flexible. We need to be ready for whatever might happen.” His eyes searched mine. “Are you ready for this?”
I nodded, breathless. I had to be ready. This was what I wanted, what I started. He was doing this for me. “I’ll call.”
“Use this phone.” He reached past me and opened a drawer to my side, pulling out a flip phone. He pressed a few buttons and after a moment he handed it to me, its screen lit up.
“I’ll go get the number.” My blood ran cold as I stepped away from him, back to our bedroom to get Anthony’s card.
“It’s ringing.” I picked up the phone from the table.
“Answer it.” Gage pulled me back against his chest, arms wrapped around me on the couch.
I pressed the accept button and held the phone to my ear.
“We’ll meet at the Dollhouse at four.”
“The Dollhouse?” I turned to read Gage’s face. That wasn’t one of the places we had said earlier today when I first spoke to Anthony.
Gage’s face hardened, and he shook his head.
“That place is still a crime scene, it’s closed since the bust.” And that was the truth. “We can’t meet there.”
“I know it’s closed. But they’re done their investigation, it’ll be private.”
“There’s no one there anymore?” I questioned so Gage would know.
“It’s empty and remote. No one will see us.”
“It would be private. At four today?” I kept my eyes on Gage and he nodded.
“Yes. Will you be there?”
“We? No, I’m not meeting with Gage. I’ll only do this if it’s just you.”
The pressure in my chest was building. I pushed away from Gage and rose to my feet, unable to stay still. “What? Who are you to make these demands? You either want the information we can give or you don’t.”
“Considering the last time I saw you, you threatened me with him, I’m taking precautions.” He kept his voice calm. “I’m taking a risk here Regan, and I’m not even sure you have information beyond what I already know anymore.”
“I’m taking a risk too—” Gage grabbed the phone from me and put it on speaker.
“I know. And I want to keep this safe for both of us. I still want to help you. Please, this once, meet me alone. We can set something else up with him after today.”
“He can give more information than me.”
Anthony sighed. “Then lets set up a real meeting. But you asked for this to stay unofficial, private. If you want it to be just me, I need it to be just you, for now.”
Gage stood stone faced and arms crossed, but he nodded.
“All right. I’ll see you then,” I conceded.
Gage pressed the end call button, staring at the screen for a moment before he looked up at me. “You’re not going alone.”
“I thought you told me to agree?”
“I did, but I’m not letting you go alone. I’ll be there, he just won’t know it.” Gage and I both looked at the clock; it was a little past three. “Bastard didn’t give us much time.”
I dropped Gage off on the opposite side of the woods that backed up to the club, and then I drove slow to a side street where I could park and walk up on the club myself. I didn’t want my car to be seen in the parking lot.
Anthony must have had the same idea because his car wasn’t in the lot either. No cars were in the lot. But Anthony stood at the back door, propping it open with his body.
“Let’s talk inside, out of the wind.” He nodded his head into the back room.
I looked around the area outside the club, everything was empty, but I felt eyes everywhere. On me. On us. And I quickened my pace into the club.
“We can sit at a table in here.” Anthony started walking in front of me and then glanced back and slowed to fall beside me with a small smile. He gestured for me to go first. “You know the way, I almost forgot.”
I didn’t believe him. He hadn’t forgot any of it, and his play at casual fired warning shots throughout my body.
Every step I took, I scanned the area, eyes straining to see in the shadows. I flipped on the floodlights to the main club, hoping to wash away any hiding spots. I still felt eyes on me and my skin crawled. I chose a table in the corner with a position to see the rest of the room.
Anthony sat, pulling his chair close to my side as he scanned the empty room too. He kept pulling at his jacket, sliding his hands in and out of his pockets. Maybe he felt the same nerves I did.
“Why now, Regan? Why not before when I approached you?” He stilled his movements and then leaned towards me but stopped himself from touching my arm when I pulled away.
I placed my hands on the table in front of us, clasping them together, and shrugged. “I’m over caring what happens to me. And the more I think about the people that have been hurt, the more I want to tell. Someone has to stop them.”
“Who? We arrested Ian Balov and three of his men, as well as saving a dozen girls, and we’re closing in on the rest of his operation. Is there someone else bigger?”
“Ian’s not anyone.” I leaned forward on the table, surprised that he thought he had taken down someone important. I shook it off though and got to the real information, wanting to end this as soon as I could. “There’s a big deal going down next week, coke being shipped to three points in the U.S. If done right, you could bust several key players including Alessandra and Anatoli Rusnak.”
He leaned back in his chair, eyes narrowing. “Drugs?” He tapped the table. “All right, I can pass on whatever you tell me, but I’m here about the human trafficking, Regan. That’s my role. Do you have information on that?”
“The Rusnaks are part of that, they work with Viktor Kabinov—” I cut off my words at the look that flashed across his face.
“Who have you been talking to? What sort of game are you trying to run?” He rose from his seat but leaned in close to me over the table, anger turning his face red. “I believed you. I thought you were here to help. That you had real information.”
“That is.” I stood and pulled my arm from his hand as he reached for me, but his other hand locked on my wrist. “Let go.”
“How do you know Viktor?”
“I told you, he’s the head of—”
“The Bratva? I’m supposed to believe he’s the head of the Russain mafia here in New York?”
I jerked my wrist down, out of his grip, and he moved to block me from leaving. But I wasn’t going anywhere. I faced him. “Who is he to you?”
He shook his head. “Like you don’t know? He’s the lead legal council for our task force.”
I shook my head, and he must have seen something in my eyes because he dropped his anger.
“You’re serious aren’t you?” His hand ran across his hair and he spoke loud, “Viktor Kabinov is part of the mafia?”
I hadn’t seen the door open, but suddenly Gage was walking towards us, entering through the front. Anthony whirled away from me and reached for his gun, but Gage’s was already out and aimed at him.
“Keep your hands up where I can see them,” Gage commanded.
“What the hell is this Regan?” Anthony spoke low to me, hands up at his side.
Gage was there, gun pressed into Anthony’s stomach as he searched his pockets. “What do you have? Are you recording her?” He slipped a phone from Anthony’s pocket into his own and then pushed Anthony to the back door. “Come on, this meeting’s over.”
“Stay here,” He threw the command over his shoulder but wouldn’t meet my eyes as he forced Anthony to the back room.
Like hell I would. I needed to see what he was doing, my mind was spinning.
The second they stepped through the back door a gun was pressed to Gage’s head.
“Let him go.” The mystery man spoke. I could only see his arm from behind Gage and Anthony.
I went to reach for the gun at Anthony’s waist just as his hand moved for it, but I was shoved away. Hard. I stumbled back, never looking away from the scene in the doorway, not even to break my fall on the cement floor.
It all happened so fast. Gage moved, gripping Anthony’s arms that now held his gun. He pulled Anthony in front of him as shots fired, and Anthony dropped with a bullet to the neck, blood pooling around him. I could only see the shoes and legs of the man beyond Gage, but he was crumpled on the ground as well. Gage was still standing, his lips pressed together, but a smile somewhere in his hard look.
“I didn’t even have to shoot.” He slipped his gun back under his coat and stepped over Anthony to me. He put his hand out, reaching to help me up.
I scrambled back, picking myself up off the ground, about to explode. “What the hell just happened?” Standing, I could see clearly now. The guy in the doorway was dead, a bullet to the head.
“I’ll explain when we get out of here. Come on.” He stepped towards me again, arm going behind me.
His touch made me shake, that and Anthony’s blood almost reaching our feet. I couldn’t breathe. I remembered the phone Gage slid into his pocket. Anthony’s phone.
“This was your plan all along? You set me up, didn’t you? You used me to do this?” I gestured at the two men.
Gage pulled me to him, keeping me from backing up further, and I was shaking too hard to fight him off. Panic hurt my bones. I didn’t know what to trust.
“Come on. We need to get out of here.”