He was fighting himself. With his demons. She could see the battle raging in his dark eyes. He stared at her, allowing her to see the pain and guilt eating away at him. Whatever things he’d done could be forgiven. She was sure of it. But she wouldn’t ask him to confess those things. He’d have to tell her on his own.
A muscle jumped in his jaw. “I never told you how I got Calero to notice me.”
His eyes darkened. “For a man as smart as him, he didn’t let just anyone into his inner circle. Don’t you want to know how I became ‘friends’ with him?”
She nodded because she didn’t trust her voice.
“I became one of the foremost weapons distributors in Panama and I sold to anyone and everyone. If they had the cash, I sold them a weapon. AK-47s, AKM rifles, RPGs, whatever. And let me tell you, I made quite a name for myself. Someone needed something, they came to me. If I didn’t have it, I got it. Eventually I started making so much bank I got noticed and Calero decided he didn’t want to kill me, but go into business with me. I had the supply and the name to back everything, so I guess it was easier for him than offing me.”
She couldn’t help the small gasp that escaped.
A bitter smile stretched across his lips. “See? Not so pretty now, am I? I’m not chivalrous and I have no business being a father to our son. What happens when he wants to know where I was the first five years of his life, huh? And what are you going to tell your friends? That the father of your kid was a gunrunner for one of the biggest cartels in the Americas? That one will go over real well. Talk about awkward conversations at cocktail parties.” His eyes were icy. Filled with self-loathing.
She descended the few stairs separating them until she was eye-to-eye with him. She raised her chin a notch. “Did you enjoy your work?”
He frowned. “What?”
“It’s a simple question. Did you enjoy it?”
It was slight but she noted a shudder rake over him. “No.”
“Did you sell weapons to kids?”
“No.” His tone was firm and adamant.
“Did you go out of your way to hurt people? And did you hurt or abuse women?”
His frown deepened. “Hell, no.”
“Then whatever problem you’ve got with staying in Hurley Beach is your own deal. I want you in my life and I know Jonathan does. All that stuff you’ve just laid out is bad, I won’t lie. And will you have some uncomfortable conversations with our son when he’s older? Probably. But what you’ve told me is not unforgivable, especially considering why you did what you did. I know you want me to let you off the hook and tell you I don’t want you around us, but that’s never gonna happen.” She refused to make it easy for him to walk away again. “When I look at you I still see that intense, loving man who stole my heart six years ago. I want a future with you, but if that’s not possible, fine. I still want our son to have a relationship with his father no matter what happens between us. He deserves that much and you do too. Even if you don’t realize it or even believe it, you deserve a place in his life.” She placed a hand on his chest and was surprised when she felt his heart racing wildly. “The ball’s in your court, Hunter.”
“Mom, I don’t want to wear this stupid thing,” Jonathan grumbled.
Alexis pulled his kitchen chair closer to hers and tugged the blue-and-green-striped skull cap down a little farther on his head. “That’s too bad because it’s freezing outside and you’re not going out without it.”
He slid from the chair and tried to wiggle away from her.
“Wait.” The tone of her voice made him stop struggling. She grabbed his gloves from the kitchen table and held them out.
Sighing, he jerked them on. “Now can we go outside?”
“Yes, but we’re not going to bother the policemen or Hunter. Is that understood?” She stood up and pulled her own gloves on.
A blast of icy air assaulted them as they stepped outside, but it was a little after ten so the sun was already warming things up. She zipped her jacket up higher and Jonathan immediately ran to the trunk of beach toys.
“Honey, are you sure you don’t want another sweater?”
“Mom, I’m fine.” He didn’t even turn to look at her as he dug into the trunk.
She knew she was being slightly neurotic this morning, but she couldn’t help it. All morning men in uniforms had been milling in and out of the house. Taking pictures, asking questions and basically invading every inch of the downstairs. The dead body was gone, but the garish bloodstain and wretched stench wasn’t. Jonathan hadn’t seen it, but only because she refused to let him in the living room just yet.
“What are you doing?” Hunter’s voice caused her to jump.
She turned to find him standing in the doorway. His expression was unreadable, which further annoyed her. Simply being near him right now annoyed her. She needed to keep her distance from him if she was going to keep a level head about everything. “I’m taking our son down to the beach for some fresh air.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” He stepped outside and closed the door behind him.
“Well, Jonathan is antsy and I don’t really care what you think right now,” she shot back.
“Damn it, Alexis—”
“Oooh, Hunter, you’re in trouble now.” Jonathan bounded up to them, electric airplane in hand.
“What?” His expression immediately softened as he looked at Jonathan.
“You said a bad word.” Jonathan’s dark eyes widened expectantly as he glanced back and forth between his parents. He chewed on his bottom lip as he stared at her. Maybe he was expecting her to reprimand Hunter. Despite her dark mood, a smile tugged at her lips.
Jonathan had once repeated the same word in front of his teacher this year. He’d had to miss activity time and he’d lost his bedtime story at home. A very big deal to a five-year-old.
“I did?” Hunter looked at her for confirmation.
Suppressing a smile, she nodded. Damn wasn’t exactly a bad word for a man like Hunter.
Jonathan continued. “Yep, you said—”
“Jonathan.” She raised her eyebrows at him.
He instantly closed his mouth and ran back to the trunk of toys.
“We’ll talk later, Hunter. For now, I’m taking Jonathan to the beach. He needs to get out for a few minutes, and I don’t want him inside around…all that.” She waved her hand in a wide arc.
The back door opened, causing both of them to turn. “Mind if I smoke?” Alan stepped out onto the deck, already unzipping his jacket to pull out cigarettes.
She shook her head and motioned toward Jonathan. “Just not close to him.”
“No problem.” He nodded, flicked his lighter on and strolled to the other side of the deck, downwind from them.
Glancing back at Hunter she started to continue when the other man interrupted them. “You guys headed down to the water?”
She nodded. “Jonathan wants to fly his plane.”
“I’ll keep them company, Hunter. I need a little break from all the questioning anyway.” Alan patted his jacket, presumably to show Hunter he was armed.
Hunter scrubbed a hand over his face, then turned back to Alexis. She could see a battle waging in his head. Whether he admitted it or not, he was just as much a control freak as she was. “I’m almost finished up in there so I’ll be down in five minutes. You guys will be safe with Saltz. Don’t stray too far.”
She gritted her teeth and turned on her heel. It wasn’t like she had a death wish. They were surrounded by cops and DEA agents. She turned back to Jonathan. “You ready?”
Without glancing at Hunter, she grasped the remote control Jonathan handed to her and then took his hand in hers.
Alan, or Saltz, as all the men called him, stayed a few feet behind them as they walked down the long dock. Once they hit the beach, a blast of wind blew sand over their shoes, but Jonathan didn’t mind.
“Come on, Mom, I’ll show you how it works.” He took the remote from her hand, then froze.
She half-turned to see what had his attention and halted. All the air left her lungs in one whoosh. Alan was holding a big, black gun. And it was pointed directly at them. “What are you doing?” Her words came out as a whisper. She barely heard herself above the wind, making her wonder if she’d spoken at all.
“No questions. Move.” Using the weapon, he motioned for them to walk north down the beach. The sand dunes and overgrowth completely blocked anyone from seeing them. And Hunter said he’d be down in five minutes. That wasn’t long, but it suddenly seemed like an eternity.
Instinctively, she shifted, blocking Jonathan more than she already was.
“Why are you doing this?” Maybe if she kept him talking, she could stall him.
“Money.” He snorted and the quiet, laid-back man she’d seen over the past couple of days disappeared. As if he’d never existed at all.
In front of her stood a stone-cold killer. She could see it in his eyes. He’d kill both of them and not lose a minute of sleep over it. Maybe that was why she’d been so wary of him when they’d first met. Whatever the reason for her discomfort, it wasn’t important now. The only thing that mattered was getting Jonathan to safety.
“Are you deaf? Move or I blow the kid’s head off.” His voice deadpanned, sending a tremor through her body, straight to every nerve ending she had.
She heard Jonathan gasp behind her, but she forced herself to do as the man said. Taking her son’s hand, they trudged over the thick sand. Alan walked next to her, keeping his gun pressed into her spine. Horrific visions of her son witnessing her murder flashed in her mind, but she thrust them away. Now wasn’t the time to lose it. If she played this right, maybe she could at least save Jonathan.
Jonathan tugged once on her hand and started to speak, but she cut him off with a look. They couldn’t afford to piss this guy off and she needed to focus and come up with a plan.