Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)(11)

by Jay Crownover

I blew out a breath and put my glasses back on so that she was in focus when I quietly asked her, “Do you need the doc to come back and do a sexual assault exam? I couldn’t give him the go ahead when you were knocked out. That felt like something you should consent to.”

She lifted a dark eyebrow in my direction and grimaced at the motion. She lifted her fingers to her forehead and closed her eyes. “He doesn’t need to come back.”

I gritted my teeth and pushed to my feet so I could continue my pacing. I put a hand to the back of my neck and rubbed at the stiffness that still lingered there, wanting clarification but dreading the rationale of why she didn’t want the doctor to return. “Do you not need him to come back because nothing happened, or because you don’t want anyone to know what went down while you were being held captive?”

God, I hoped it was the first, but if it was the second, I was going to respect her wishes and let the subject drop. Noe only gave what she wanted someone else to have. Nothing more, nothing less.

She sighed and rolled her eyes so that she was looking up at the ceiling, “Nothing happened, Stark. One of the guys, the cop who grabbed me from your neighborhood, had busy hands, but that’s it. I made it clear if any of them forced themselves on me, I would make the girl disappear. They had no idea that I don’t know where she is.”

I stopped moving long enough to stare at her in a mixture of shock and awe. “You don’t know where she is?”

She shook her head slightly, her colorful hair falling into her dark eyes. “I never know. It’s safer that way. I use recording software and a dictation program that can pick out keywords and form an intelligent response from a prompt. I was never checking in with Julia, but they didn’t know that.”

Smart. She was so fucking smart. It made something heavy throb in the center of my chest and the fit of my jeans a little bit tighter. Biting back a hum of appreciation at her brilliance and boldness, I plowed my fingers through my hair and looked at her through the glass that covered my eyes. Lenses were made to bring things into sharp focus when, in reality, her brilliance and overwhelming calm clarified things better than any refractive lens could.

“I should have offered to help.” The words were wrenched out of me, broken and twisted with remorse. I was so tired of making mistakes. I was supposed to be a genius, brilliant, and above basic human pitfalls, but they kept happening. I kept tripping over the right thing like I couldn’t even see it.

She made a strangled noise low in her throat and lowered her inky lashes so that her eyes and her secrets were hidden from my prying gaze. “You don’t know me. We aren’t friends. I stole your stuff and don’t feel even slightly bad about it. You were my last resort, Snowden. I was disappointed but not surprised you sent me on my way. People don’t like to get involved.”

I fought a reaction to her use of my real name and shook my head at her. “No one calls me that.”

“Snowden? It’s your name, isn’t it?” She lifted both her eyebrows this time then hissed out a breath between her teeth when it obviously caused her some serious discomfort. She rubbed her fingers across the bridge of her nose and continued to watch me.

“It is, but it’s stupid. Snowden Stark sounds like a character straight out of Game of Thrones. I’ve always been Stark.” It was too flashy, too whimsical for a guy who had nothing human and living on the inside.

“I like Snowden. Snow and Noe. We rhyme.” Her mouth kicked up in a lopsided grin and I could see that her jet-colored eyes were a little glassy and slightly out of focus.

“You have a concussion. You won’t think our names sound that cute together once your head is healed up.” I doubted she was going to want any part of her attached to any part of me once she was back in fighting form.

Booker came back with a big glass of water and a couple of painkillers that she gladly took. She gazed up at the big man with genuine gratitude as she told him softly, “Thank you for getting me out of there and bringing me somewhere safe.”

Booker shrugged one of his massive shoulders and slapped me on the back. “Thank the boy genius. It was his plan and his insistence that we get you out. I only do the heavy lifting and the point and shoot. Are you hungry? I was gonna order pizza.”

She put a hand over her stomach as it growled her response. “I guess so. Once I get cleaned up and the room stops spinning, I’ll get out of your hair. You don’t want me here if Goddard made it out of that showdown alive.”

Booker waved her off and pulled a cell phone out of his back pocket. “Don’t rush it. This is as good a place as any for you to get back on your feet. No one gets in or out without security’s permission, and that includes Goddard. In fact, there’s an empty unit across the hall. You might want to see if Race is up for letting you use it as a hideout until you have a handle on this situation.”

She muttered, “I can’t afford that,” at the exact same time I agreed, “That’s a great idea.”

He let out a whistle and slipped out of the room, his phone pressed to his ear.

Noe and I stared at each other, her eyes searching and mine assessing. She sighed and broke eye contact. “I asked for your help, Stark. Not for you to take care of me. I’ve been on my own for a long time. The only person I ever count on to show up when I need something is me.”

I inclined my chin at her to silently let her know that was probably a smart move on her part. Nothing and no one in the Point was very reliable.

“You need to be somewhere safe until we figure out what players remain in the game. No one will look for you here and Race will let me have the apartment for free. He still owes me from when I helped him figure out someone was digitally spying on his girlfriend.”

“And if Goddard is still out there? He’s not going to let this slide. He still wants the girl and he’s going to want payback for the way things went down tonight.”

I grunted and turned my back on her so she couldn’t see the rage and uncontrollable hunger for revenge that overtook me. “Goddard isn’t your problem anymore. He never should have been your problem in the first place. You worry about getting better. I’ll take care of the rest.” Like I should have when she showed up on my doorstep.

“Stark?” Her tone was questioning and curious but I didn’t turn around.

“I’ll have Booker bring up something for you to eat and then, if you’re up to it, I’ll help you get cleaned up. I can’t look at that blood all over you anymore. It makes me want to break things.” I had no idea what to do with that. I wasn’t the guy who breathed fire and dreamed about revenge. But she turned me into him. In that moment, I realized that my name and actions were more reminiscent of a Game of Thrones character than I wanted to truly admit. Revenge and justice being the driving forces behind everything I was doing right now.

She called my name again as I stalked out of the room, beyond confused and so grateful she was alert and awake that I almost fell over. But I never turned around. I left my back to her. The irony not lost on me that turning my back on her was exactly what brought me to this moment.

She wanted my help . . . well, she had it . . . and whatever was left of my broken parts that I could offer her.

Noe

I was tired and my head throbbed in time with my heartbeat every time I closed my eyes. The bed with the black sheets and comforter was a far sight cleaner and far more luxurious than the linens from the no-tell-motel. Who would have thought a guy like Noah Booker in all his scarred, glowering fierceness was a guy who gave a shit about thread counts?

All the men who made the Point what it was had things about them I found surprising. I never would have guessed Nassir Gates would get involved in something that he had zero interest in, which meant he did have an interest: keeping Stark happy and making sure his tech skills weren’t compromised because he was distracted by my abduction. If I had to wager a guess, I would bet that Nassir has a personal investment in helping Stark, as well. I was pretty sure the slick and smooth man they called the Devil was fond of Stark. And everyone knew Nassir didn’t have a fondness for many. I noticed it that day when I’d been summoned to his office.

I’d only been around Chuck, the head of Nassir’s security, for a brief minute. I remembered him from the bad old days when he was on the streets doing the former crime boss’s bidding. Even then, he always had a way about him. He was a good man caught up in some bad things. His lifestyle bothered him. The choices he had to make clearly sat heavy on his strong shoulders. Now that the old boss was gone and Nassir sat on his torched throne, Chuck seemed at peace. He still worked for men who did bad things, sometimes for the right reasons, but more often because that was the only way things went down in the Point. He treated Nassir more like a rebellious son than as his boss. The same went for Race, Bax, and Booker. The man had adopted an entire flock of black sheep and it appeared he couldn’t be prouder of himself or them. They were the fibers that held this city—and the people in it—together.

I was also surprised at Booker’s willingness to give up his bed to me, knowing exactly what kind of wolves were outside my door. The threat didn’t seem to faze him at all, and neither had risking his neck to save a woman who was a complete stranger. I would never go so far as to call any of these men altruistic or moralistic, but there was no denying they all had their own kind of honor and thread of dignity that ran fast and deep. They didn’t play by the regular rules that society laid out, but the ones they did play by, they followed to keep the ones they considered their own safe.

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