Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)(15)

by Jay Crownover

Booker snorted. “Guys like Goddard think they are above any kind of law. They think they can explain away something like a midnight visit to the docks with a few careful words. He has his supporters snowed. What he declares as the truth they’ll believe, even with the facts right in front of them.”

Goddard was the kind of politician who ensured the rich got richer and pitted the poor against one another. His supporters were influential and well off. They wouldn’t want to rock the boat by questioning why the man who paved their way on easy street was skulking around in the middle of the night, in the slums, with an armed escort. It would take more than a video of Goddard going in and out of that container to push him off his pedestal.

“I know all about guys like Goddard.” He was exactly like the men who made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. He operated the same way they did. Stripping away choice and putting the vulnerable in impossible situations. It was going to be an absolute pleasure to flip the script and put this asshole in a position that was impossible to wiggle out of. “You tell Titus about the dirty cop?”

Booker nodded. “I did. He was pissed. Guess he won’t have to kick ass considering the guy is now fish food. He also mentioned Reeve left a bunch of stuff here when they were using the loft I want to put Noe in. He said she was welcome to any of it.”

Reeve Black was the cop’s stunning baby-momma. Before they had been parents-to-be, she’d been a witness to a crime and the girl the entire Point despised. Titus was supposed to keep her safe and at a distance. He’d failed at both but got the girl and the bad guy in the end, so he was still a hero. Reeve was all long legs and rocked the body of a stripper before the cop knocked her up. She was still round and stacked in all the right places, but now those places were overshadowed by her baby belly. Anything she left would be the opposite of what Noe typically wore, but I guess it was better than Booker’s hand-me-downs, which swallowed her up.

“I’ll let her know.” I’d checked on her throughout the night. After everything she’d been through, I wasn’t surprised that she was exhausted. She didn’t move. She slept still as stone, which I figured was unusual for her. She didn’t flinch or make a sound when I touched her pulse at the hollow of her throat, and she didn’t make a sound when I touched the full curve of her lower lip. I knew it was inappropriate, that I shouldn’t have my hands on her in any way when she wasn’t aware of it. But I needed to know her heart was still beating. I had to feel her breath on my fingertips to calm the raging inferno that was burning every rational thought and every sane and reasonable part of me to ash.

“She was working on getting up when I headed down here. I told her I was leaving for the day and that you were hiding down here in the Batcave. She didn’t want breakfast or coffee, but she did say she wanted a shower.” He pushed off the desk and flicked his fingers over the diamond cufflinks that were attached to his shirt. Even badass enforcers liked a little bling here and there, apparently. “You might want to check on her. She looked pale.” He reached out and clapped a heavy hand on my shoulder. “And get some sleep, boy genius. You look like shit.”

I grumbled a half-hearted agreement and pushed to my feet so I could follow him out of the basement. He paused at the entryway and gave me a look that made my spine stiffen. “If you need a piece, there’s a Sig Sauer in the kitchen behind the Froot Loops. There’s a Glock in the closet in my bedroom, and there’s a ten gauge in the armoire in the guest room.” His eyebrows quirked upwards and a small grin tugged at his mouth. “There’s a twenty-two hidden underneath the sink in the bathroom, and God forbid you need it, there’s an AR-15 in a lockbox under my bed. The key is in the nightstand.”

Booker had an arsenal scattered throughout his apartment. I wasn’t the least bit surprised, but I was a tad intimidated. I knew my way around a weapon, but I’d never been in the position where I’d ever had to use one to defend myself or someone else before. Usually my hands and the training I received under the tutelage of good ol’ Uncle Sam were enough to get the job done. “Good to know, but if someone is badass enough to get through all the security I set up around this place, then they’re probably coming in better armed than I’ll ever be. I’ll get Noe moved over to the other apartment today.” I selfishly wanted her out of his bed.

“Give her the nine mil that’s behind the cereal.” He said it in a way that left no room for argument.

“How do you know she can handle it?” I didn’t like how familiar he was with her after such a short time. It bugged me that he acted like he knew her when I had barely scratched the surface.

He lifted a shoulder and let it fall. “Something tells me there isn’t much that girl can’t handle. She’s made of tough stuff.” He slipped out the front door before I could agree with him. She was made of tough stuff, the kind of stuff that didn’t break no matter what was thrown at it.

I was dragging ass when I took the stairs up to Booker’s unit. Typically, I could run up the three flights and not even get winded, but I was running on fumes and the last traces of adrenaline. My brain was fuzzy, and my normally sharp thoughts felt scattered and unruly. The past and the present were at war in my mind, and the battle for which one made me feel worse was raging.

I made my way through the quiet loft listening for any sound that would indicate Noe was up and moving around. When I got closer to the bedroom, I heard the shower running and swear words chasing the steam out of the open door. It was going to be painful for a while when the water sluiced over her wounds. The thought had me squeezing my eyes closed and clenching my hands into fists. Just because tough things didn’t break didn’t mean they couldn’t be damaged, dented, and scratched. The fact Noe was currently suffering so much wear and tear because of me scraped across my skin and dug into my belly like sharp knives.

I was turning to walk out of the room so she could finish in peace when the running water went silent and her swearing ramped up a notch. I heard her banging around in the bathroom and then she yelled, “Booker, I need a towel! I’m dripping all over your floor.”

I opened my mouth to tell her Booker was gone and that I would go find her one. I didn’t need her poking through his stuff and running across a submachine gun or a rocket launcher. My brain was ping-ponging between annoyance that she’d called for Booker instead of me and the unrelenting image of her, naked, wet, and dripping onto the tile. I wasn’t a guy prone to fantasy, but damn if I didn’t get all kinds of caught up in the thought of her pretty olive skin glistening with moisture from head to toe. I needed to get away from her. I needed space so I could find a way to wrap armor back around all the soft parts of me she exposed.

I was shaking my head to marshal my thoughts back in order when I heard her swear again. Suddenly, like I conjured her out of a dream, Noe was standing in the pocket doorway of the bathroom wearing nothing more than a scowl of irritation and shimmery, shiny water droplets. Her midnight-colored eyebrows shot up to her hairline, and a bright pink flush stained the top of her chest and crawled up her neck into her face. She didn’t lift her hands to cover herself. She stood as still as I was, not moving at all under my furious and hungry gaze.

I wanted to be polite and look away. I told myself it was rude to stare and that the last thing she needed was some guy she barely knew gawking at her like she was a priceless work of art on a museum wall. I berated myself for this invasion of privacy but none of the lecturing or preaching did any good. The only way I could have torn my eyes off that petite frame, with its perfectly perky breasts and slightly rounded hips, was if someone slapped them out of my head. I couldn’t blink. I was scared to breathe. I felt like if I moved at all she would bolt like a startled deer, and I needed another second, another minute, another hour, to memorize every single part of her.

She was small, but all the parts added up to perfection. Seeing her like this, stripped bare with nothing to hide behind, I couldn’t believe I’d ever been stupid enough to think she was a boy. Everything about her was delicate, feminine, and soft. The hollow of her neck, the elegant curve of her shoulders, the flare of her hips and the fullness of her ass. Her legs weren’t long, but they were toned and shapely. She was the very definition of good things coming in small packages and all I wanted to do was wrap her up and put her on a shelf that was too high and too hard to reach for anyone but me.

Choking on possession and a surge of lust unlike anything I’d ever felt, I belatedly turned my back on her and muttered thickly, “I used all the towels in there last night when I cleaned you up. I’ll go find where Booker keeps the extras.”

She moved. I felt it. The current that ran between us pulsed and throbbed with something hot. I heard her bare feet on the carpet and it took every ounce of willpower I possessed to keep my feet planted and my back turned. She was naked in a room with a very big bed and I was a man who never had such a visceral reaction to anyone . . . ever. If I had a switch, Noe Lee was the only person who had ever come along and flipped it. I was the actual definition of turned on when I had been off for most of my life.