Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)(5)

by Jay Crownover

I was man enough to admit that I wanted all parts of her back, and there was no pushing down the bitter regret at the fact that I was the reason she was gone in the first place.

I pushed off the couch and lowered my big frame toward the floor so I could carefully put Noe’s stuff back where it belonged. She didn’t have much, and that pissed me off. There was that wild, uncontrollable anger again. It loved being off the leash and was happy to snap and pop all around me. She had the brains and the looks to get whatever she wanted, but she wasn’t a user like that. She wasn’t part of the problem. She was the solution to everything that was wrong in the corrupted parts of the city.

There was a sharp knock on my front door, and before I could fully turn my head or climb to my feet, it swung open, and a dark-haired man in a sharply tailored suit strolled in like he owned the place. On his heels was a large African American man, also in an expensive suit, and another man I had never met but had heard plenty about. He was in a suit, as well, but unlike the other two men, his was flashy, pin-striped, and accented with a patterned silk tie, gold pocket watch, and bling on his fingers that looked like it cost more than the down payment on my townhouse.

The first two men may have been mistaken for well-off businessmen if you weren’t paying attention, but there was no way the third guy could ever pass for anything but what he was . . . even with the beard that covered his jaw. He was a hustler. A player. A dealmaker and a game changer. This guy was a criminal and proud of it. He wore that fact with pride and aplomb. He earned the money to buy that suit and those rings by doing bad shit—and he didn’t care who knew it. He was the opposite side of the spectrum of what the streets could do to a person in the Point. Crime and corruption moved this man to the top tiers of power and respect, and he thrived in the chaos. He was the enemy, and he liked it that way. He was great at being bad.

I pulled off my glasses and made a big production of wiping them on the bottom of my t-shirt. I blinked several times and sneered at the unwelcome visitor. “I thought you were dead. Heard you got shanked in prison when you refused to cooperate with the feds.”

Benny Truman used to be the man who made other men cower in fear. He was the right hand to the old crime boss who ruled the Point with a heavy hand and a thirst for blood. There wasn’t anything Benny wouldn’t do as long as money was the primary motivator. That blind loyalty made him just as ruthless, cruel, and callous as the man who used to be in charge. When the old crime boss was taken out of play, his entire crew went down with him. Everyone knew Benny wouldn’t sell out anyone, even if it meant a lifetime spent locked up, but word on the street was that someone on the inside wanted to make absolutely sure he didn’t open his big, fat mouth. No one grieved his loss when he was declared dead, and the two men standing with him in my living room didn’t seem at all surprised by his miraculous return from the grave.

“I’m hard to kill.” Benny grinned at me and tilted his head slightly so I could see the long, thin scar that ran across the entire width of his neck. It looked like someone had tried to take his cocky head clear off.

Two minutes in his company and I could see why. There was something about him that made me very uneasy. That was also a new emotion. I was big enough and intimidating enough that it was usually the other way around. I was the one who made people uncomfortable, and I typically didn’t give a shit about it.

I rubbed a hand over my short, dark hair and sighed. “I wouldn’t tell Bax that. He’ll see it as a challenge.”

Nassir Gates, my de facto boss, the man who now called the shots in the Point, lifted his hand and gave his dark head a little shake. His voice had the faint trace of an accent. The more time I spent around him and the more I listened to him, I was confident that his original home was somewhere in Israel. I was good with dialects. Hell, I was good with a lot of useless shit that would put a price on my head at a very early age. Nassir never mentioned where he was from, and I never asked, but he slipped into Arabic when he was frustrated or annoyed, which somehow made his quiet, intense anger even more intimidating when it was directed at you.

“Bax doesn’t need to know about this little visit. Neither does Race. That won’t end well . . . for any of us.”

Chuck, Nassir’s head of security and quite possibly his only friend, chuckled from where he had sprawled on my sofa. “Personally, I’d like to see just how creative our boy would get if we let him loose on you, Ben.”

Bax was our boy. All of ours, even though he was only tied directly to Race. Nassir tolerated him since he was Race’s best friend, Chuck considered him one of his flock, and I hesitantly considered the guy a friend. We’d gotten tight when the deep muck of the Point sucked me in, and Bax was the only one who bothered to warn me that struggling only made guys our size sink faster. He was full of good advice when it came to dealing with the shit the Point could throw, and sometimes he seemed just as emotionless and detached as I was. He cared about his girl, his car, his city, and not much else. He was slowly softening toward his older brother and the cop’s growing family, but even that was hit or miss.

Benny flipped Chuck off and watched me warily as I climbed to my feet. Chuck was big; I was bigger. None of the guys filling up my tastefully decorated space were exactly petite, but I had at least a couple of inches and fifty pounds on all of them. Nassir had asked me more than once to bust heads in his underground fight ring. I always told him no, but with Noe missing and nowhere to put the new rage and loathing I was feeling, I was starting to reconsider bloodshed as an outlet. My recently awakened anger was a powerful thing and I had no idea what to do with it.

“You don’t look like a ghost, even if that’s what you are. People are going to notice you and word will get back to Bax and Race.” Logic. I couldn’t escape it even when I wanted to. It was coiled around my brain like a squeezing fist. Race and Nassir might be the shot callers in the Point, but Shane Baxter—Bax, to those in the know—was the Point. All the others might make things happen, but those things didn’t happen unless Bax let them. The Point was all he knew, and the worst part of the city ran through his blood. If he didn’t want Benny back, then Benny wouldn’t be back, and whatever plan Nassir had would go up in a puff of smoke, even if it meant that Noe died.

“Race and Bax are with their women in Colorado for a long weekend. Something happened between the giant and the teenager . . . something . . . not good, I would guess.” The teenager was Race’s fiancée’s little sister, Karsen. The giant was Noah Booker, another bruiser on Nassir’s payroll. There had been something tenuous and unnamed going on for years between the ex-con and the quiet, shy teenager. Race hated it; everyone else was waiting cautiously to see what would happen when the girl hit legal age.

But something went sideways right after her graduation, and Karsen Carter decided to go out-of-state for college after months of declaring that she would never leave the Point. She’d been gone for a couple months and now it was her first winter break. I wasn’t surprised her family was checking up on her. Nassir’s eyes narrowed slightly. “If you ask me, she’s running away and that only makes a predator want to chase, but that’s neither here nor there. We have a small window to work with and we’re wasting time worrying about Benny’s longevity.” Nassir didn’t mind logic, especially when it worked in his favor. His tone was even and steady when he explained why Benny was allowed in the last place he should be.

I narrowed my eyes at Nassir and snapped, “The only person’s longevity I care about is Noe’s. It’s been two weeks, Gates. Fourteen fucking days. I don’t have to tell you what kind of hell she could have endured in that time if she’s still alive.” I already knew that Goddard liked to hurt women and had no qualms about forcing himself on someone who couldn’t fight back. If he did that to Noe, if he let his rich goons defile and degrade her, I was going to take him apart with my bare hands. But I needed to know where she was first, before I could give the fury that was pulsing through me an outlet.

Nassir dipped his chin in acknowledgement. “I am aware that the clock has been ticking every day, Stark. That is why I found Benny.” His gold eyes narrowed and his mouth tightened into a line of annoyance as he muttered, “Men who look like Jonathan Goddard, who bleed blue blood and come from where he comes from, do not do business with men who look like me and come from where I come from. There are some doors that even a shitload of dirty money and well-placed threats cannot open. I could not get inside that gilded cage, but Benny, he’s been sliding into places he doesn’t belong for a very long time.”

I felt my eyes widen as I turned to the quiet, bearded man who was watching me thoughtfully. I could tell he wasn’t sure what to make of me, but I didn’t have time to worry about it. No one was ever really sure if I was friend or foe. That’s what happened when you were dead on the inside, when you were robotic and stiff. The best parts of me were dead and buried with my sister, so I could be either friend or foe, depending on the circumstances. Not that the two were much different. I treated pretty much everyone exactly the same. Like they were an annoyance and a distraction. But I wanted to treat Noe differently.