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«Copyright © 2014 J. Kenner The right of J. Kenner to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the ...»

-- [ Page 20 ] --

I’d kept a key for myself, and though I hadn’t used it originally out of respect for my father’s privacy, I put it in the door now, then gingerly cracked it open. “Dad, if you’re in the bathroom, I’m coming in.” I pushed the door the rest of the way open, then froze.

He was gone.

Except that made no sense. How could he be gone? Where could he have gone?

I looked more closely around the room. Nothing in the drawers. No suitcase anywhere.

I felt the rise of panic and tried hard to tamp it down.

Had they found him?

No—no, because then the room would be wrecked. So he was safe. Or, at least, he’d been safe when he left the room. But where had he gone?

Did he not trust me to help him? Had he suddenly gotten spooked by this room? Had he seen someone watching him?

I didn’t know—hell, I couldn’t know—and the whole situation both pissed me off and scared me. This was my dad. My dad. And he’d gone into the wind on my watch.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I locked the place back up, then stalked down to the management office. A bored clerk who looked to be all of fourteen was playing games on his phone. He barely glanced up at me. “Help you?” he asked, between smacks of gum.

“There was a man in room 247,” I said. “Do you know where he is now?” “Lady, this isn’t the kind of place where the guests leave a forwarding address.

He was here, now he’s gone.” “So then he’s definitely checked out?” “Not too long ago, actually. Took his stuff. Paid the bill for the movies he rented. Left.” “In cash?” “Yeah, then he took off with two guys.” Fear cut through me like a blade. It must have been Muratti. His goons had let Daddy pack. Given him that false sense that everything could be worked out.

I swallowed, forcing myself to push back the fear and focus. “Tell me about the two guys.” The clerk’s face scrunched up as he remembered. “Um, a pretty-boy type in a suit, and a black guy—maybe some Hispanic blood there, too, had that light-skinned look, you know? But who can tell? Big, though. He was in a suit, too.” “Did they say their names?” I asked, though I knew the answer would be no before he said so.

That didn’t matter, though. I knew who the men were.

Evan and Cole.

Shit.

Cole had come up with a plan, all right.

But despite looking me in the eye and promising to keep me in the loop, he’d gone and moved my dad without telling me a thing.

He’d lied to me, goddammit.

And that, frankly, pissed me off.

I sat in my car with the engine off and the top down and worked the phone. Not that it made a difference.

Neither Cole nor Evan were answering, and though I caught Angie at work, she didn’t know a thing.

“Evan only said that he and Cole had something to take care of this morning.

Why? What’s going on?” “Nothing.” I felt guilty that Angie knew nothing about my dad. Hell, about my old life. But how could I tell her now? “Nothing,” I repeated. “Long story.” “Does this have anything to do with you and Cole finally hooking up?” I’d been eating one of the bean and cheese burritos, and now I choked. “Oh my god.

What did he tell you?” Angie’s delighted laugh sparkled across the phone line. “Nothing, are you kidding? When has Cole ever overshared?” “But—” “He didn’t tell me or Evan anything. Or, if he told Evan, then he’s keeping it to himself.” “Like Evan would keep something from you,” I said.

“I know, right?” She said the words matter-of-factly, like a given, and I felt a tinge of jealousy. How nice to know someone so well. To trust them so completely.

“I figure Cole is keeping quiet,” she continued. “No, Kat, the sad truth is that you are the source of your own intelligence leak.” “Me!” My voice rose indignantly—at least until I figured it out. “Flynn,” I said.

“I had breakfast with him this morning. He sends his love. And,” she added airily, “he told me to tell you that the apartment did not burn down last night, in case you’d acquired some misinformation and that’s why you didn’t go home.” “You know I hate you both.” She laughed. “You do not.

That’s why you’re my maid of honor.” I made a grunting noise of acquiescence. “All right.

Maybe I love you. A little.” “Mutual, Kat. And I’m thrilled about you and Cole. I mean, that’s been a long time coming.” “No kidding.” “Listen, I have a meeting in a minute, but tell me quick what’s going on with your house.” “I close tomorrow,” I said, unable to keep the excitement out of my voice.

“I thought it was tomorrow. That’s so cool.” “I’m giddy,” I admitted.

“It’s like a rite of passage or something.” I hesitated, then pressed on. “Listen, about the house. There’s something else—” “What’s wrong?” I heard the sharp note of concern in her voice.





“Nothing. I swear. It’s just this thing I’ve been thinking about. You know, my everpresent plan to get rich quick.

Only I’m not sure this would be quick.” “I’m intrigued. Tell me about it over drinks?” “You get married in a week,” I reminded her.

“When are we supposed to do that?” “Maybe before the bachelorette party? Or breakfast? Anytime really, if I can tear you away from Cole.” “Speaking of, I need to try again to track him down. And you need to go to your meeting. We’ll figure it out,” I promised, then we said our goodbyes and ended the call.

Angie was smart. If getting into real estate was a bad idea, she’d tell me.

Mostly, though, I just liked knowing that I had a friend to share my plans with.

I sat in my car and ran my fingers through my hair, wondering when in hell I’d become so settled?

And how the hell could I be settled with a missing con man of a father, and two of Chicago’s most wanted escorting him around the city?

The knights own a lot of businesses, and I called every one of them. No Cole, no Evan, no Tyler. And the more time passed without any word —without any report as to where they’d taken my dad or what the plan for keeping him safe was—the more my temper soared. And, yes, so did my worry.

I had no real reason to go see Sloane, but I did anyway.

I told myself I wanted to know if she had a clue. And if she didn’t, I wanted a distraction. But it was more than that.

I was about to buy a house, I was getting serious about a guy, and I was thinking about pursuing an actual career outside of the coffee-pouring arts.

I was putting down roots, just like I had told my dad.

In other words, I was looking dead center at Big Life Things, and coming clean with my friends was part of making those things happen.

This new life I was building—this life that I’d be starting tomorrow when I signed my closing papers— needed a solid foundation.

But until I cleared up a few lies of omission, that foundation didn’t exist, and I was terrified that one day everything that I’d built would crumble, and everything I wanted and loved would shake and fall and turn to rubble.

I didn’t want to risk that.

Not now. Not when I was falling in love with my life and my world. And, a tiny voice in my head added, with Cole.

I found Sloane destroying the punching bag in The Drake’s gym.

“Getting a workout?” I asked. “Or working something out?” “Both,” she said, then landed a hard punch. “Or maybe neither. Shit, I don’t know.” She got in one final blow, then stood back, breathing hard. After a moment, she held out her hands to me and I helped her off with the gloves.

“Are we ladies who lunch now?” She glanced up at the clock. “Correction. It’s cocktail hour. Are you here for a drink?” “I wouldn’t turn one down.” “Come on.” I followed her to the service elevator and then into the ornate suite she called home.

“This really is primo,” I said, looking around at the classy, well-appointed living area.

“It is,” she agreed as she moved to a small fridge by a wet bar. “Although I’m starting to feel boxed in. I’d like a yard. Flowers. My old partner is actually refurbishing his house. It’s pretty cool. I keep bringing it up with Tyler and he keeps changing the subject.” She scowled a little. “It’s starting to get on my nerves.” “He just sick of owning real estate?” “I don’t know. I’m letting it go for now. Our caseload is too intense to do the housesearch thing anyway. But it’s a conversation we’re going to have to have eventually. The trials and tribulations of being a couple,” she added with a sigh.

“You love it,” I said.

“I do,” she agreed, and smiled so brightly she lit up the room.

“Well, if you have a whim to paint, feel free to come over to my place. Anything I can do to contribute to the peace between you and Tyler.” “That’s right,” she said, bringing a bottle of pinot noir to the coffee table in the living room. “Tomorrow’s the big day.” She opened the wine, poured us each a glass, and lifted it in a toast. “To home ownership,” she said, and I laughed.

“Thanks. I can’t believe it’s really tomorrow. It’s a huge deal for me. This will be the first house I’ve lived in that wasn’t a rental.” “Seriously? Did you move around a lot as a kid?” “An insane amount,” I admitted.

“That makes tomorrow all the more special.” She took a sip of her wine. “So did you come over because of prehouse jitters? Or—oh, shit— did I forget something about the wedding?” “No. Honestly, I just wanted to hang out and catch up.” I shrugged. “And I was wondering if you knew where Tyler was. And if he’s with Cole.” “Misplaced the new boyfriend already?” she said with a laugh.

“Did you talk to Flynn, too?” “No, I talked to Angie.

She talked to Flynn.” I rolled my eyes in mock irritation, but I had to secretly admit I was enjoying myself.

My friends cared about me.

About Cole. They were cheering for us.

That was pretty damn cool —and it reinforced my determination to tell Sloane the truth. Because the longer I waited, the more entrenched the lie would be.

And, frankly, I’d waited too long already.

“But to answer your question,” Sloane continued, not realizing my mind had wandered off, “no, I don’t think Tyler’s with him.” “You don’t think?” “Cole called here this morning and they talked for a while, and I overheard Tyler ask him if he needed help.

Cole must have said no, because Tyler said that was good because he had plans today. Which, frankly, surprised me because I thought he was just catching up on paperwork at Destiny today.” “What did he say he was doing?” “I overheard the call,” Sloane admitted. “I didn’t feel right about asking.” I watched her face. “But you have an idea. What are you thinking?” She sat back. “Nothing good, I’m afraid.” I cocked my head. “Are you worried it’s something that’s going to get the cops looking at them?” Sloane glanced at me, surprised.

I rolled my eyes. “It’s not like I don’t know what they do.” “I’m supposed to know what they do,” she said with a sigh. “I didn’t insist Tyler go squeaky-clean, but I do want to be in the loop. And, honestly, he was laying low for a while, and I liked it.” “Laying low to avoid Kevin?” I asked. Kevin Warner was an FBI agent who had once dated Angie, and who now had a chip on his shoulder. His attempts to nail the knights for all sorts of nasty stuff he believed had been going on at Destiny had fallen through—primarily because the knights weren’t the bad guys there, but the good ones.

But Angie had told me the rest of the story. It turned out that Kevin had continued to press, and he’d let Sloane know just how dirty he believed they were. And that he would push to take them down.

“He’s backed off,” Sloane said. “He was transferred to D.C., and so the guys are off his radar as far as I can tell.

At least for the time being.

With any luck, he’ll get over his broken heart and forget Angie and Evan and all the rest. But to answer your question, yes. That’s why the guys were more careful for a while. But now I’m pretty sure Tyler’s got some sort of jewelry scam going—” “Jewelry scam?” “I found out that he’s been spending a lot of time in the diamond district.” She pressed two fingers to the bridge of her nose. “Just another issue we’ll be talking about.” I frowned. “But you two are okay?” “Are you kidding, we’re awesome. I swear I walk through the world with a big, goofy grin. It’s astounding that cartoon birds don’t fly around me, encircling my head. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a complete idiot at times. What?” she asked.

“You’re laughing.” “You’re funny,” I said.

“And that’s just good to hear.

I’m not very good at relationships.” “But you’re getting better at them, I think,” she said, and from the tone of her voice, it was clear she was talking about Cole.

“Maybe,” I said. “Right now, I’m a bit pissed at the man in my life, too.” “Really? Why?” I hesitated only a moment.



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