Clearing his throat, the tall, dark haired man with flawless ebony skin sat at the loveseat across the coffee table from them. “Ma’am, your brother has been placed in WITSEC.”
“The Witness Security Program?” She blinked, looking from Benny to who she assumed must be a US Marshall.
“You’ve heard of us?”
Snorting, she nodded. “I watch television.” There was a new show about the WITSEC program she was addicted to. She wasn’t sure how much of it was real and how much was bogus, but she’d at least heard of them.
“Your brother is in the program and one of his only stipulations…” The man sighed, as if it pained him to speak, “…was that you know he wasn’t dead. He said he wouldn’t join otherwise. Now, you get two minutes alone, but we’re still listening so Benny, you don’t tell her where you’ll be living or what your new name is.” The man stood, nodding at the other man hovering by the window and they both exited into her foyer, leaving Lizzy alone with Benny.
Two minutes. Lizzy felt as if her heart would jump right out of her chest. Her brother was still alive! “Why are you going into the program? Why did you fake your own death?”
Benny scrubbed a hand over his face. A face that looked surprisingly fresh and full of hope. He didn’t have that gray pallor she’d come to associate with his drug problems. “That wasn’t my idea. Eventually it’ll come out that I’m still alive but for now they want everyone to think I’m dead. The state’s attorney is building a case against Orlando and his entire organization so until a trial date is set, I’ll be in protection. In case anything else falls through, I’m going to be a star witness. He kidnapped and attempted to kill me. That alone would be enough to put me in the program, but he likes to talk and…well, he’s got a big mouth and he assumed I’d be dead soon so he didn’t mind talking business in front of me. Arrogant bastard,” he muttered, shaking his head.
“So how long will you be gone?” she asked, unable to hide the hope in her voice that it wouldn’t be very long.
He shook his head as he threaded his fingers through hers, holding her hands tight. “I have no idea, but don’t get your hopes up. This might be a permanent thing.”
As her throat tightened and she felt tears start to well up, he shook his head and pulled her into a tight hug. “I love you more than anyone, hermanita. For the first time in my life I feel like I can give something back. Make a difference. I can’t tell you where I’m going or anything about my new life, but they’ve already lined up a counseling program for me to get a handle on all my addictions. Knowing you showed up at Orlando’s house because of me…” He shook his head. “If I could go back in time I’d redo a lot of things, but dragging you down with me was a shitty thing to do. And I’m not just talking about this mess with Orlando. You’re the best sister anyone could have ever asked for. I don’t know why you stuck with me so long, but…I’m sorry for all the grief I caused you and the danger I put you in.” His voice shook as he pulled back from the embrace.
She squeezed his hands in her own. “Benny, you don’t have to apologize.”
He grunted. “Yeah, I do. I got a raw deal with our parents. Hell, we both did. But I’m taking control of my life and it feels good. You’re the only person who ever believed in me, who ever…really loved me, I think. I love you so much and I know how much you’ve sacrificed over the years looking out for me. Please know that I understand and appreciate all you’ve done. More than you’ll ever know. I’m going to miss you, but I’m glad I’m getting a fresh start.”
“I’m going to miss you so much.” She could barely squeeze the words out.
Benny drew her into another tight embrace. She savored the feel of her brother’s arms around her, knowing it would be the last hug they shared for a very long time.
As they pulled back, he paused for a moment, as if trying to decide what to say. Finally he spoke. “The Caldwell brothers know about me going into the program.”
“What?” If she hadn’t been sitting, she was sure her knees would have given out.
Benny nodded. “I just thought you should know. Grant is part of the select few who know I didn’t die last weekend and…as of yesterday, Porter and Harrison know too. They’ve both got classified clearances, but I think the real reason they know is because of Grant’s insistence. He told me that you and Porter, uh, well…anyway, your boyfriend knows too.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.” The words were automatic. Hell, she didn’t know what she and Porter were now.
Benny snorted softly and stood, pulling her up with him. “I’ve got to go. Just know that I love you and I’m finally…content. If they let me I’ll write letters to you, but I don’t think that’s a possibility. You can’t tell anyone else about this, not even our parents.”
She’d been keeping secrets from the time she was fourteen. Keeping this from her parents wouldn’t be a problem. Especially considering the way they’d failed to help her brother or her when they’d needed it most. She nodded and gave Benny one more hug. Then, he was gone. Out of her house as if he’d never been there. After watching her brother leave in an SUV with tinted windows, she shut her front door with shaking hands, unsure how to feel.
She was thrilled her brother wasn’t dead, but couldn’t believe he was being placed in the WITSEC program. Or that Porter knew her brother was alive. Benny said he’d only found out yesterday and she’d been ignoring his calls the past few days. She thought she’d seen him at the funeral today, but couldn’t be sure. There had been so many people.
She’d been there only long enough to be polite, then slipped out. Sighing, she toed off her shoes and unzipped her simple black dress as she headed for her bedroom. She didn’t bother hanging it up, just let it pool in a messy lump near the foot of her bed before climbing under the covers.
Her eyes felt heavy and gritty. The past week she’d barely slept. She’d cried more than she’d imagined possible and now it finally felt as if an entire week of needed sleep was crashing in on her. Even though it was daylight, she was unable to stay awake any longer. Pulling the covers up to her neck, she let the blessed peacefulness of sleep overtake her.
* * * * *
Porter’s heart beat erratically as he eased open the backdoor to Lizzy’s house. Her place was eerily silent, but her car was outside. He’d rung her doorbell and called her cell, but she hadn’t responded. He’d wanted to talk to her at the funeral earlier, but she’d been surrounded by her family and hell, she hadn’t been returning his calls. Confronting her at Benny’s funeral would have been a mistake.
But he couldn’t take it anymore. He wouldn’t let her erect these walls between them. Not after what they’d been through together. More than anything he was worried about her. Especially when he’d heard the faint jingle of her cell phone inside a few minutes ago. The house was just too damn quiet for her to be in there and simply ignoring him.
Withdrawing his SIG, he crept silently through her dark kitchen. A single light above the sink area was the only source of light. As he continued sweeping the house, his alarm grew. Once he’d cleared the living room and guest bathroom, he headed down her hallway.
He froze when he heard a squeaking sound coming from her bedroom. Increasing his pace he hurried down the rest of the hallway and stopped only when he reached the partially open door.
Easing it open with his foot, he took a step inside. For a moment, time seemed to stand still. Lizzy stood near her bathroom door wearing a bra and panties and carrying a glass of water. When she saw him she let out an ear piercing scream.
He immediately tucked his weapon into the back of his pants and held up his hands. “It’s just me!”
Lizzy’s hand flew to her chest and she slammed the glass down on the antique desk next to the door. “What the hell are you doing here? Are you trying to scare me to death?”
“I’m sorry. I called and rang the doorbell and…” Now he felt like a fucking stalker. After everything she’d been through he’d just been worried. Not that she’d be suicidal or anything, but shit, he’d been concerned. “I’m sorry, Lizzy.”
She dropped her hand and took a tentative step forward. The light from the bathroom shone around her, illuminating her long, lithe frame. “How’d you get in?”
“I was worried about you so, I, uh, picked the lock to your backdoor.” He swallowed hard, fighting back the guilt inside him.
Instead of reaming him out, she just stared at him for a long moment. “Benny came by today.”
She knew. Thank God. “I just found out last night from Grant. I tried calling, but…” She hadn’t answered, something they both already knew. “How are you?” It’d been hell to watch her grieve at the funeral and not be able to tell her Benny was alive.
Shaking her head, she walked to the end of her bed and sank down on the edge of the mattress. “I have no idea. I…” Her voice cracked and she wrapped her arms around herself in a protective gesture.
Screw it. He crossed the distance between them and gathered her in his arms. To his relief, she didn’t pull away. She molded to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and plastering herself against his body.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so distant this week. I didn’t know how to talk to you,” she whispered against his neck.
The feel of her hot breath sent a shiver through him. Wanting to feel all of her against him, he picked her up and stretched her out on the bed. After quickly divesting his weapon on the nightstand and taking off his shoes, he slid in next to her and held her tight.
“I’m not walking away from you, Lizzy. I’m glad your brother is alive but even if he’d died, this thing between us…I don’t want anyone else and I’m tired of fighting it. You’re stubborn and sexy and you’re it for me,” he murmured against the top of her head.