“Yeah. Armstrong said it isn’t without a toll on her.”
“Armstrong is the detective?”
“Yes. He said Avery looked a little rattled, a lot bruised, and thin.”
“I need to go.” He pushed back from the table.
“Glad to hear you say that. You won’t be able to force her back, but you can keep her from making a lethal mistake. My guess is she thinks this is her fight and her fight alone. If it were you or I, I’d agree. But I have a strong aversion to men beating on women. Even if the woman can take him.”
“No one is going to touch her. I’ll make sure of that.”
Reed smiled. “Perfect. You take care of Avery, we’ll find her attacker.”
“If the police can’t . . .”
The expression on Reed’s face shut Liam up.
“It’s what we do. If he’s there, we will find him.”
“I thought you were in private security.”
“I am. Sometimes security means being a PI and neutralizing threats before they attack.”
“That sounds illegal.” And while that would have made him question Reed in the past, Liam was willing to look past it now.
“Nah . . . my goal is to find him and offer Avery the closure she needs. We make sure he can’t hurt her, and she doesn’t hurt him and end up on the wrong side of the law. I want this cleaned up before the women find out what’s going on.”
“And Shannon,” Liam finished.
“Yeah. Keeping them out of the mix will be impossible.” Reed looked at his watch. “I’m giving this seventy-two hours before everyone is on their way home and sleeping in their own beds.”
Liam liked his confidence, found it contagious. “Are you calling the SEALs?” Liam joked.
“Not quite.” Reed reached into his jacket and removed an envelope. “Your plane leaves in three hours—”
“I bought a ticket to New York that leaves on Sunday.”
“Cancel it. Use this one.” Yeah, Liam liked that idea better.
“I’m sending you a link. Click it and we will have you tracked at all times. I haven’t forgotten what this guy did to her, so if there is any safety threat at all, the rules change.”
“How can you know there isn’t already a threat?”
“Because Avery is still vertical and she’s been there over two weeks.” Reed stood. “Three hours, Holt. Click on the link. I’ll be in touch.”
Either Armstrong stripped her confidence and single-handedly made her paranoid or Avery was being watched.
She supposed it was entirely possible that the detective put someone on her, but she couldn’t imagine the limited resources the police department had would warrant that.
Still, the tingle up her spine and the need to turn around and find the eyes fixed on her was a constant cloud as she walked around Manhattan. It was midday and the streets were packed.
She stepped away from the curb and lifted her arm for a passing cab. Avery opened the back door and jumped in. “Times—” Someone holding her door open stopped her. “Sasha?”
“Scoot over, sweet cheeks.”
Avery released a frustrated breath and slid across the seat. “How long have you been following me?”
Sasha wore black. Her sleek, dark hair was tied back in a ponytail and nearly reached her waist, dark sunglasses hid her eyes, and olive skin and near perfect features made you think she was famous. “Ten minutes,” she said.
“Not possible. Someone has been on me all morning.”
Sasha’s curt accent, one born in Germany and honed by spending much of her childhood in eastern Europe, demanded attention. “I’ve been on you for ten minutes. I have no idea about the others.”
Avery looked out the back window of the cab. “Damn it.”
“Hey, ladies. Where yous goin’?”
Sasha managed to pierce Avery with her eyes, through her sunglasses. Yeah, her presence was that huge. “Well?”
Avery leaned forward. “Times Square.”
The cab took off to a blare of horns behind.
Sasha’s presence meant only one thing. “They all know he’s alive.”
“Not everyone. But that is only a matter of time.”
“Trina? Please tell me she hasn’t—”
“No. If you want to keep her away from this, we must find your Spider Man before she’s told.”
Avery didn’t try to argue. Since Sasha worked with Reed, it stood to reason there were other security guards hidden in the crowd.
For a couple of blocks, Avery stared out the window and worked through the quick change in events. “You’re not going to tell me to go home. Tell me my search is in vain?”
“I know a thing or two about revenge.”
“I guess you would.” Considering the woman’s father had killed her mother and nearly killed her. Sasha was a poster child for a life bent on revenge.
“I applaud your tenacity, but your execution is pathetic.”
“Hey, I don’t do this as a lifestyle.”
“Based on the bruise on your face, that’s obvious.”
Was that a smile on Sasha’s face?
No, couldn’t be.
The cabbie dropped them off once he reached the tourist mecca of the city.
“What have you learned? Two weeks here, there must be something.” Sasha walked with long strides, forcing Avery to keep up.
“The best tattoo artist in the city is in the Meatpacking District. Very expensive and months out on appointments. But the parlors I’ve been to point the finger to him being the guy who did the art on Spider.”
“You call him Spider?”
Avery followed Sasha as she crossed the street without heeding the light.
“Spider-Man is a superhero.”
“You’re sure of this artist?”
Much as she would have loved to say yes, she couldn’t. “No. But it’s the only solid anything I’ve found.”
Sasha opened the door to a diner and stepped in.
“What are we doing here?”
For the first time, Sasha removed her sunglasses and looked Avery in the eye. “You look like shit. What have you lost, two, three kilograms?”
“Yeah, maybe a couple of pounds.”
Sasha glared and took a seat in a booth as far away from people as she could. “We’ll talk while you eat.”
Since Armstrong had stolen her appetite at breakfast, and it was getting close to dinnertime, Avery’s stomach growled.
Avery tried to order a soup and salad, but Sasha interrupted and ordered two hamburgers, loaded, soup instead of fries.
“I feel like I’m having lunch with my mother’s evil twin.”
Sasha did have a smile. Brief, but it was there.
“Tell me everything about Spider. Every tiny detail you remember.”
Avery started from the beginning, adding little things that had come to her over the past two weeks. The meal came and Avery continued to talk while she ate.
By the time she finished her meal, nothing but the pickle was left on her plate, and she was out of information to share.
“Do you know anything of the man my father sent to kill you? The man who the police said attacked you?”
“Not really. I called him Scarface. He went by Krueger when he was alive.”
Sasha nodded. “He was an amateur. Liked dealing drugs more than killing people. My father’s resources were not unlimited, and hiring a professional would have meant you’d be dead, and your killer would never be found.”
Avery swallowed the chill. “I’m happy Daddy was hard up for money.”
“Why did you decide to search nightclubs?”
“Because the guy seemed young to me. A punk. The tattoo was expensive and his shoes were new. He’s like the guy you see at a bar where you move down four stools and squeeze between two strangers because you don’t want him hitting on you.”
Sasha tapped a perfectly plain manicured finger on her water glass. “What did he smell like?”
Avery sat back. “Smell. I don’t know. I didn’t . . .”
“You said he wore pants that were too big, frayed. A sweatshirt, but the sleeves hung down and easily displayed his tattoo when he grabbed you.”
The waitress stopped at the table. “Anything else?”
“A bag, please.” Sasha pulled money from a pocket.
Avery noticed her uneaten burger. “You weren’t hungry?”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
They exited the diner and immediately left the tourist block and moved down an alley.
“Tell me what you smell,” Sasha demanded.
That was easy. “Garbage.”
They stepped around puddles of unidentifiable liquid, past an abandoned cardboard box that looked like it had been someone’s home.
“And now? What do you smell?”
“Humor me.” Sasha led her down a few more blocks. While there were still people everywhere, they weren’t shoulder to shoulder.
For what felt like no reason, Sasha stopped walking and stepped off of the sidewalk and against a building. “That man. What do you see?” She pointed to a sad staple that plagued every major city in the country.