“Are you really going to fight me about this now? Your brother needs help.”

Sighing, she shut and locked the door behind them and pointed straight ahead. “Kitchen’s this way.”

In the brief time they’d dated he’d never been to her place since she’d wanted to take things slow, but the cozy home fit her. Picture frames of various sizes dotted the wall along the short hallway leading to the other room. She pushed open the swinging white door to the kitchen and propped it open. Quickly she grabbed the vase of bright flowers in the middle of her table and moved it to one of the counters. “Lay him on the table.”

Her brother groaned but didn’t protest as Porter stretched him out onto the rectangular wooden table. At least he was conscious. If he hadn’t been, they’d be on their way to the ER.

“Do you have a first aid kit?” he asked her.

Wordlessly she nodded and disappeared from the room. When she did, he found a pair of scissors in one of the drawers and cut Benny’s already ripped polo shirt away from his body. The sides of his waist and stomach were bruised, but nothing looked fatal. And he’d have a serious shiner for the next week but unless he’d sustained internal injuries, he likely only had a few broken ribs. They’d hurt but they’d heal. If Orlando had beaten him because Benny owed him money, he wouldn’t want the guy dead. Just in enough pain that he knew how bad it would be if he didn’t come up with what he owed.

“We need to take him to a hospital,” Elizabeth said as she strode back into the room. She handed Porter a basic first aid kit.

“No hospitals,” Benny’s voice was strong.

Porter ignored him. “Help me lift him up to a sitting position.”

When she did, he pressed his fingers against Benny’s ribcage.

“Ahh, what are you doing?” Benny moaned.

“Your ribs are probably cracked, maybe broken. You’re going to need to see a doctor, get X-rays, but until then, I’m going to wrap this around you.” Porter held up the elastic bandage.

Her brother nodded. “Okay.”

“Can you hold him still while I wrap him?” he asked Elizabeth.

She bit her bottom lip, but nodded and slid her arm up under Benny’s shoulders.

“I’m not going to wrap this too tight, Benny. You need to be able to breathe so tell me if you feel too much pressure.” When Benny grunted, Porter continued talking. Elizabeth’s brother didn’t seem like he was close to going into shock but Porter wanted to keep him lucid. While he’d prefer to take him to the hospital, Porter could tell it would only cause Benny to fight them, and that was the last thing Elizabeth needed right now. “There’s only so much we can do here. If one of your ribs is broken, it could puncture your lung or possibly your aorta.”

Elizabeth sucked in a ragged breath beside him. “Benny, you need to see a doctor.”

He shook his head. “No way. I can’t…I can’t stay here either. Gotta get out of here.” He tried to struggle but slumped against his sister. “I just need to rest and I’ll be fine,” he mumbled.

After grabbing a bag of frozen peas from Elizabeth’s freezer, he lifted Benny up. “Do you have a guest bedroom or somewhere you want to lay him?”

She nodded jerkily and motioned behind her. “Follow me.”

His boots thumped lightly against the wood flooring as he trailed after her down a short hallway off the kitchen. There were two open doors on the right side of the hallway. The first opened into an office. She bypassed it and ducked into the second one. When he entered carrying her brother, she was pulling the light green and white flowered comforter back.

“Do you want to lay towels or something down? I still need to clean off some of his blood.”

“I don’t care about the sheets, Porter,” she said softly.

Of course it was the wrong time, wrong place, wrong everything, but his heart jumped when she said his name. It always had. Probably because he always imagined her saying it under much different circumstances. Naked ones.

Wordlessly, he stretched her brother out. While he did, he was aware of Elizabeth leaving the room, but he continued inspecting the rest of Benny’s wounds.

From what he could tell, time and sleep were the only things that would heal him and until he decided to go to a doctor, there wasn’t much anyone else could do. At least the makeshift ice pack would help with the swelling on Benny’s eye. Once Porter cleaned and bandaged Benny’s face and arms, he tucked the covers around him and went in search of Elizabeth.

Whether she liked it or not, he wasn’t leaving her side.

* * * * *

Lizzy smoothed her hands down the front of her dress. Why couldn’t Porter just leave? While she really appreciated what he’d done for her—probably more than she’d ever be able to put into words—he was the last person in the world she wanted to witness her family drama. It was too embarrassing. Especially when his family was so normal.

After their break up she’d been able to deal with him ignoring her. At least then it was easier to keep things professional. Of course it hadn’t done anything to quell her fantasies of him. Maybe if they’d actually had sex she’d be over him. It was just the unknown physical aspect she was drawn to because their personalities were way too different for anything long term to ever work out. That’s what she kept trying to tell herself anyway.

Now she felt lost. She couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that he’d put a tracker in her car. It made no sense. It’s not as if she was a bad employee. Even though things had never taken off between them she’d always thought he still respected her.

When he entered the kitchen, she wrapped her arms around herself and took a step back, bumping into the counter. His pale blue eyes always seemed to see right inside her, as if he knew what she was thinking. That every time she saw him all she wondered was what he’d look like completely naked. But that wasn’t important now especially since it was never going to happen. “Why do you have a tracker in my car?”

“Your mother called not long ago worried about Benny. She said he had a tendency to bring you down with him…” He paused and she cringed at the judgment in his voice. “She wanted to know if I could keep an eye on you.”

Her face flamed at his words. She was twenty-five, had a PhD in computer science and a really good job despite what her parents thought of her chosen profession. And her mother was calling people she worked with like she was an irresponsible teenager? Lizzy knew that even with her slightly darker coloring her face had to be bright red at the moment. “So that’s the only reason?”

He cleared his throat and for the first time since she’d met him, he looked angry. At her. “She told me that a few years ago you picked your brother up from one of the southwest barrios and almost got assaulted. Why didn’t you tell me about that when we were together?”

Now the color drained from her face and instead of heat, cold snaked through her body. Everything she’d ever wanted to keep private—especially from Porter, someone she was insanely attracted to—was now apparently common knowledge. Assaulted was a civilized way of putting what had happened. She’d almost been gang raped by a vicious bunch of meth addicts coming down from their high. The police avoided most of the southwest barrios but there had been a big enough disturbance the day they’d been there. If it hadn’t been for the overwhelming police presence, she’d be dead. “It wasn’t my brother’s fault.”

“Whose fault was it then? Do you frequent crack dens and meth houses on a regular basis?” His voice was soft but there was an underlying edge to it. Something told her it wasn’t directed at her though, but her brother.

Everyone in her family judged Benny. She couldn’t take it from Porter too. Not when Benny had always been there for her. Her family might want to brush their history under the rug but she wouldn’t when it came to her brother. When she’d been twelve and he’d been barely fourteen, he’d stood up for her and had saved her from the worst possible thing any child should ever have to go through. “You don’t know anything about my brother or my family,” she snapped.

His blue eyes flashed angrily. “You’re right, I don’t. The only thing I know is that I would never knowingly put one of my family members in danger. I’d rather die first. I also know that when we were together, anytime he called, you jumped, night or day, ready to run into the worst situation to save him. Or loan him money. Your brother needs help but you can’t give it to him. He needs to want to get help and all you’re doing is enabling him. The sooner you realize that, the better.”

“You need to leave.” Her throat was tight and her voice unsteady. If she was in his presence any longer she was going to break down. She’d been getting Benny out of trouble for longer than she cared to admit. Having Porter see her at her worst was the last thing she could handle right now.

He snorted and took a few more steps into the room. “You just pissed off Orlando Salas and now you’re on his radar. If I thought you’d listen, I’d pack you a bag and get you the hell out of here. Since I know that isn’t going to happen, I’m staying.”

“What do you mean, staying?” She felt stupid after asking since it was pretty obvious what he meant, but she was a little more than shaky. Since things had never progressed to a sexual level between them he’d never stayed at her house. The thought of him doing so now frightened her on too many levels.

One of his dark eyebrows arched. “I’m sleeping on your couch tonight darlin’ so get used to it.”

Darlin’. The word sounded far too intimate for the kind of relationship they had. Which was essentially nothing. An unexpected vision of him stretched out naked in her bed flashed before her eyes and she nearly gasped aloud. Where had that come from? Okay, it wasn’t much of a surprise. She’d been fantasizing about him since before that first toe-numbing kiss they’d shared. Right now she couldn’t help but wonder what he’d look like stripped out of the stuffy suit he wore. He was a good six inches taller than her and considering she was five foot eight, that was saying something. His broad shoulders simply begged for her to run her fingers over them. To clutch on to.