Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)(10)

by Jay Crownover

He dragged a hand over his frown and absently rubbed his thumb along the raised skin of his scar where it cut into the corner of his upper lip. Booker never mentioned where the mark came from and I wasn’t sure anyone but Karsen Carter had ever asked. It was a mystery as to whether he filled the pretty teenager in, but if anyone was going to pry the big man’s secrets out of him, it was going to be the leggy but too-young blonde. She was the only person, the only thing, that had ever made Noah Booker soft, and again I wondered what had happened to send her running away from him and her home. She’d been persistent and he’d been kind to her and only her. Their dynamic had changed, and I would have liked to know the reason why things happened the way they did.

“I know you guys said no cops, but I need to call Titus and let him know one of the goons that had her was on the job,” He sounded as tired as he looked, and I wasn’t sure if it was from the activities that transpired tonight or the fact that shit like this was commonplace in his life. He’d been shot twice in the short time I’d known him, and I couldn’t even begin to count on both my hands the number of times he’d shot someone else.

“How do you know he was a cop? Was he in uniform?” Unable to stand the distance between me and the unconscious girl any longer, I lowered myself to the edge of the bed and lifted her limp hand into my own. Her fingernails were trashed. Her knuckles were split open and crusted over with scabs and dried blood. She had calluses on the pads of her fingers and on her palm. She was a fighter. There was no doubt about it.

I hated the fact that she had to fight at all.

Protective and possessive instincts coiled around my gut and rage felt like it was going to choke me. I was so used to being cold and numb, I didn’t know what to do with the fire that was licking at my insides.

“I saw him take her out of the trunk when they got to the docks. He moved like a cop. Not the kind who is there to actually protect and serve, but the kind who pulls you over for no reason and slaps cuffs on you to prove a point. I was locked up for a lot of years, boy genius. I know what a dirty cop looks like. He had a busted-up nose and stitches on the side of his face. Should be pretty easy for Titus to identify him.”

Titus King was Bax’s half-brother and the only law enforcement officer in the entire city any of us slightly trusted. He was one of the few men the Point hadn’t tainted. He was a good guy, trying to do right by the people in our city, and he wouldn’t hesitate to throw Goddard’s dirty cop under the bus. But I didn’t want anyone going after the Mayor. His sadistic ass was all mine.

“Do you think they made it out of the container after you hit it with the truck?” That had been my idea. Nassir was only sending in Booker and Benny to get Noe out, but I didn’t think it was enough fire power. Since he refused to let me go, even siccing Chuck on me as a babysitter until the job was done, I made Benny go over the plan with me no less than a hundred times until I came up with a better one. Knocking the container sideways with one of the big semi-trucks that littered the area would give Benny the time he needed to get Noe out and distract the outside security detail enough that Booker could do his thing. It was a risk because the people inside the container—including Noe and Benny—might have ended up injured when the thing flipped, but the odds of them making it out were much higher than if Benny tried to take on everyone on his own.

“If Benny made it out, we won’t hear from him again. That was the deal he made with Nassir. He would get your girl and then disappear, so he can go and live happily ever after with his. As for the rest of them,” he shrugged, “I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Your girl said someone had a gun, so if they were shooting at Benny, he would do whatever he could to make sure they stopped. He’s not about to catch a bullet for any of us. I know you want that asshole alive for your own reasons, but honestly, it’s better if Benny popped him.”

It was better, but it wasn’t what I wanted. A bullet between the eyes was way too easy for a guy like Goddard. People would bemoan how bad the Point had become, how Goddard had been a staunch supporter of crime prevention measures. He would die a martyr and a legend. I couldn’t stand the thought of that. I wanted who Goddard was, who he really was, out in the open. I wanted his mansion doors flung wide open and every skeleton inside the walls exposed and thrown out on the perfectly manicured lawn for the entire world to see. I hated people who hid behind the law. I hated when men in any position of power got off on using their elevated status to jerk the helpless and hopeless around. Death wasn’t the answer. Devastation was.

I closed my eyes and squeezed the cold, still hand that was clasped in mine. Failure weighed heavy on my shoulders and fury lit up my blood like popping and sizzling firecrackers.

“When do we ever end up with anything that’s better for us?” That wasn’t how the Point worked. That wasn’t how we worked.

Booker grunted and I felt him move behind me. “It happens. It doesn’t seem like better should be able to find a foothold in this place, but despite all odds, it does.”

I lifted my head and looked at him over my shoulder. He was staring at the far wall, his thoughts obviously a million miles away from this room.

“And sometimes we get our hands on better and we don’t know what to do with it or how to take care of it, so we ruin it.”

He shifted his gaze back to me and then let it drift over the still form in his bed. He gave a stiff nod and pushed off the wall. “Sometimes better is better off without this place and the people in it.” In that moment, I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the situation with Noe or something that had nothing to do with Goddard’s proclivities toward his stepdaughter. At the door, he paused and quickly switched the subject to something less soul wrenching and about as normal as anything ever got in the Point, “I’m gonna go order a pizza and pour myself a drink. You want anything?”

I shook my head, unwilling to leave Noe alone until she opened her eyes. “I’m good.”

Booker snorted, “No, you’re not, and you aren’t going to do your girl any good if you end up flat on your face, boy genius. If Goddard made it out alive, this is just the beginning. He’s going to come after you and your girl with everything he’s got.”

I was going to tell him that was exactly what I wanted. It was much better to play offense with guys like Goddard than it was to be forced into a defensive position. I wanted him to come after me. Guys like him thought prestige and money equaled ultimate power, but they had no idea that information was the ultimate weapon in today’s wars. I didn’t get a chance to reply, because a weak and barely audible, “I’m not his girl. Not anyone’s girl,” drifted up from the cocoon of black covers.

Noe’s fingers twitched in my hold so I forced myself to gently place her hand back on the bed. Booker made his way over and took a spot next to me as we both gazed down at the girl I was willing to rip the world apart for. This was a lot to process for a guy who was used to being numb.

She blinked up at both of us, licked her lips, and let her eyes rove around the very masculine and darkly decorated loft. “Can I get a glass of water? My mouth feels like it’s full of cotton.”

Booker growled an agreement and disappeared out the door behind me. I couldn’t pull my gaze away from her midnight-colored one. I was so glad she was awake. So glad she was here right now and not in the ground. Letting out a sigh that felt like it escaped from the very bottom of my soul, I leaned forward and let my head hit the edge of the bed. My hands curled into fists where they rested on top of my thighs and I could feel some of the tension that had been coiled tightly at the base of my neck release. Maybe now that she was awake, I could put a lid back on everything that was threatening to erupt out of me. I needed my control back. I needed my reason and rationale pushed to the forefront so I could help her. I didn’t have the time or luxury to work my way through everything else.

“You’re awake.” For a guy who usually had no tolerance for asinine observations, it was all I could think of to say. I owed her an apology. I owed her so much more, but I figured it could wait until she had her strength back and could tell me to shove it.

“Appears so. I don’t remember passing out. Where am I?” The bed moved as she tried to push herself up into a sitting position. I lifted my head just in time to see a wince of pain tug her delicate features into a fierce frown.

I reached out to help her and bit back a litany of swear words when she flinched away from me and held up a hand in warning not to touch her. I couldn’t blame her. I deserved that, but it still stung. “You’re at Booker’s place. He lives right by the docks. This place is a fortress since Race Hartman lives a few floors up with his woman. It was close when you passed out, and since it’s practically impenetrable, it seemed like the best option at the time.” I pulled my glasses off my face and rubbed my eyes hard enough to cause double vision for a second. “We had a doctor come and check you out, Noe. He said everything that’s wrong with you will heal with time and care.”

She dipped her chin and looked at her abused wrists and hands. “I figured none of it was bad enough to kill me. The Mayor wanted me alive so I could tell him where Julia and the baby are.”