The second she ended the call she dropped the phone into her lap and took a deep breath. Her face was pale and the hand he held was clammy, but when she looked at him all he saw was raw determination in her eyes. “He’s going to be there. Let’s go.”
Porter shot Grant a quick look. His brother’s face was grim but he didn’t say anything, just slid out of the passenger seat. The moment he’d shut the door behind him, the vehicle jerked to life as the driver steered out of the parking lot.
Lizzy looked out the tinted window as Grant got into another SUV then she turned back to Porter, confusion on her face. “What’s going on?”
“He’s heading to the marina to get in place with the rest of the guys.” Grant and his boss had only involved a very small fraction of the SWAT team and a few guys from vice they trusted. There was no way in hell they’d chance this leaking to Orlando. Not when he was finally within reach.
She withdrew her hand from his. “Why aren’t we going with him?”
Porter wanted to reach for her again, but decided against it. “Honey, they can’t allow a civilian to be part of this operation.”
A frown marred her lips and he could see the understanding in her eyes. “So…you lied to me?”
“Yes, you did. You sure as hell didn’t correct Grant when he told me I’d be waiting on that boat to lure Orlando. When he reassured me his team would be covering me the entire time and that they only needed to bring Orlando out into the open to prove he’d kidnapped Benny. You sat there and held my hand and didn’t say one damn word!” She crossed her arms over her chest and scooted a little closer to the door—away from him.
“I promised you I’d help bring Benny home alive. If you refused to work with them and didn’t call Orlando, or tried to meet him on your own, you and Benny would have been killed.”
“Why didn’t you just tell me the truth and give me a chance to make the right decision?” she asked quietly.
The accusations he saw in her dark eyes sliced right through his chest, making him feel even shittier. “They needed to make sure you would call Orlando. This operation had to go off without a hitch. Everything you said to him needed to be believable.”
“Did you know about this before or after we…” Even in the darkened vehicle he could see her cheeks flush red. She glanced at the driver then back at Porter.
“After, but…I knew that once they had the notebook you wouldn’t like whatever plan they came up with.” Might as well go with full honesty.
Her lips thinned. “I don’t understand why I can’t be there. Grant said Orlando was never going to make it to the boat. What if he gets to the marina and doesn’t have Benny? What if—”
“You’re a civilian. There is no way in hell they’d allow you to even remotely be a part of this. There’s an undercover policewoman on the boat so in case he sends someone to scout it out first, ‘you’ will be there. But you have no place there.” Something he had no doubt she understood perfectly well.
With her arms crossed, she turned in her seat away from him and stared out the window. “You shouldn’t have lied to me.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I…I know. And I’m sorry for that. But not for anything else. Even if for some insane reason Grant would have allowed you to be involved, I wouldn’t have.”
Her head whipped back around, her eyes blazing. “You wouldn’t have allowed me?”
“Damn straight.” If she thought he’d ever let her walk head first into danger, she was out of her mind.
Her dark eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth, no doubt to blast him, when his cell phone buzzed. Porter tensed when he saw Grant’s name. “Yeah?”
“Lizzy still with you?” His voice was grim.
Of course she was. Porter tightened his grip on the phone. “What’s going on?”
“I need to talk to her.”
“Sorry man, I’ve gotta talk to Lizzy.” There was no room for argument in his brother’s voice.
That alone told Porter something very bad had happened. Please don’t let it be Benny, he silently prayed. His gut twisted as he handed the phone to her. “It’s Grant, he wants to talk to you.”
Her eyebrows drew together. “What about?” Porter shook his head as she took the phone and held it up to her ear. “Grant?…Wha…I don’t understand…But…How…” Tears started rolling down her cheeks as she dropped the cell.
Porter picked it up and started to speak to his brother when Lizzy broke into a sob. “Benny’s dead.”
A vise tightened around Porter’s chest. Shit. He ended the call and shoved the phone in his pocket. He’d get the details later. Right now Lizzy needed comforting. He attempted to pull her into his arms but she jerked away from him, slapping at his chest. “Don’t touch me!”
He reached for her again, desperately wanting to offer support. “Lizzy—”
With a pale face and shaking hands, she shoved his hands away. “Oh God, I’m going to be sick.” She slapped a hand over her mouth. Tears tracked down her cheeks as she struggled with her seatbelt so he unsnapped it.
Her face was ashen and she made a blind grab for the door handle so he tapped their driver and motioned to the gas station they were approaching on the right side of the road. A neon sign proclaimed they were open twenty-four hours.
Nodding, the guy pulled in to the brightly lit station. There weren’t any other cars there so they got a spot right out front. Lizzy—still holding a hand over her mouth—jumped from the vehicle and darted for the glass doors before Porter had even unbuckled himself.
He thought about calling Grant but decided to go in and wait for her. She’d likely want some privacy while she got sick but he’d be waiting outside the door when she was done.
The store was quiet, the young female Asian clerk texting on her phone barely glanced his way when he entered. Once outside the unisex bathroom door, he knocked lightly. “Lizzy?”
“Go away.” Her voice was muffled but he could hear the tears in it.
“Just give me a couple minutes!” She sounded angry, not that he blamed her. He knew once it fully hit her that Benny was dead she’d be a wreck. And he planned to be there for her.
He wanted to call Grant back and demand answers. Wanted to know how the hell Benny had been killed and who had done it. Guilt ran rampant through Porter as he wondered if they should have done something differently. He’d never know until he knew the details.
When he heard Lizzy quietly crying inside the restroom it was like knives being dragged across his skin. He raised his hand to knock again but knew her well enough that she wouldn’t appreciate the intrusion. Hating that she was stuck in a fucking gas station bathroom crying, he took a step back and headed down the aisles until he reached a cooler of doors and pulled out a water bottle for her. He might not be able to ease any of her sorrow but he could at least take care of her the best way he knew how.
When he heard the bell above the door jingle he automatically glanced toward the front of the store. A young Spanish guy, maybe in his early twenties, was at the counter buying cigarettes. That wasn’t what interested Porter though. The guy had a black and blue bandana shoved in his back pocket.
Ducking down, Porter made his way over a few more aisles until he had a perfect view of the front of the station. There was a blue muscle car that looked just like the one he’d seen outside the motel. There was no one else inside though. So this guy was alone.
Porter peered around the edge of the aisle to get a good look at the guy. Just flirting with the sales clerk, not paying any attention to his surroundings. Which meant he hadn’t been following them. The area of town they were in wasn’t exactly a rough neighborhood but it was on the cusp of a bad neighborhood. The same one the Seventy Ninth Street gang frequented.
Any other day it wouldn’t have mattered. Setting the water on the ground, Porter hurried around the corner of the aisle so that he was walking parallel to the glass windows. He wanted to get as close to the door as possible, but still remain hidden from the guy.
Porter was too far away to get to Lizzy and there was a big gap of space between the aisles of food and the short hallway where the restroom was. Nowhere for him to hide his approach. He just prayed she stayed inside. If she did, they wouldn’t have any issues. If she came out and the guy at the register recognized her, things could get shitty.
As the guy pocketed his change then grabbed cigarettes and a candy bar, Porter saw Lizzy stride out of the restroom. Her head was down as she wiped tears from her cheeks and her skin was abnormally pale beneath the harsh fluorescent lights.
The young male hadn’t noticed her. His back was to Lizzy as he turned toward the front doors. Crouching a few inches lower, Porter remained hidden behind the first row of canned sodas and beers. Every muscle in his body was tense as he readied himself for a fight even while he prayed it wouldn’t come to that.
For a brief moment, he let a small breath of relief escape. Then the guy turned back around.
It was as if everything moved into slow motion. The gang member headed back for the register but paused when he saw Lizzy. He reached into his pocket and Porter took a step forward, only stopping when the guy pulled a phone out.
He looked at the screen, then back at Lizzy. Then he reached into his jacket pocket.
Porter didn’t pause to wait and see if he pulled out a weapon. Silently, he moved out from behind the long row and rushed at the guy.
Though he didn’t make a sound, the clerk made a slight yelping sound, causing the dark-haired guy to turn in Porter’s direction. In the guy’s hand was a .45 semi-automatic pistol.
Porter was vaguely aware of the woman behind the register screaming and Lizzy letting out a strangled sound, but all his focus was on the gang member. Without losing momentum, he opened his arms and tackled him, not giving him a chance to raise his weapon. Porter had one of his own, but this wasn’t a situation that called for it.