“How do you even know what that number means? It could mean—”
“Grant works for the Miami PD and he’s done a lot of undercover work with the local gang task force. I know what that number means and it’s a message. This is just a warning. You don’t want to be around when they come back.”
She’d forgotten his other brother was a cop. “Shouldn’t we call the police then?”
He nodded. “While you’re packing I’ll call Grant. He’s a detective now. You can make a statement to him later and he can have someone head down here to document your front yard. I don’t want to stick around in case these guys decide to make another visit tonight.”
That was fine with her. The more reality set in, she didn’t want to hang around her house either. And she hated that. Her home was her safe haven and now she felt violated. She wiped sweaty palms against her pajama pants as she stepped out of his embrace. “I’ll go pack.” As she passed the guestroom, she paused when she saw a folded piece of paper on the nightstand.
She hurried toward it and picked it up. Glancing over her shoulder, she sighed when she realized Porter hadn’t followed her. Her hands trembled as she unfolded it. It was Benny’s handwriting.
I’m so sorry, hermana. I’m a coward to leave in the middle of the night but I’m too ashamed to face you in the morning. For the first time in months everything is clear. Next time I call you asking for help, I beg you not to do it. I’m so ashamed I asked you to Orlando’s house knowing what a monster he is. I don’t deserve a sister like you and I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you. I’ve done something stupid but I needed insurance. Orlando doesn’t know what I’ve done yet but he will soon enough. My insurance will keep you alive. I left it for you in our childhood hiding place. You’ll know what to do. Don’t trust anyone with what I’m giving you. Te quiero, Benito.
Insurance? What did that mean? And what could he have left for her?
“Elizabeth?” Porter’s voice trailed down the hall.
Fighting back the sting of tears, she crumpled the paper and hurried to her room. There would be time enough later to figure out what kind of trouble her brother was in. She didn’t care what Benny said, she could never abandon her brother.
* * * * *
Orlando stared at the picture of Elizabeth Martinez on his computer screen. Everything about her was perfect. She came from a respected family, she was well-liked around Miami, and she was beautiful. Not in a showy, trashy sort of way, but elegant and refined. Exactly what his family wasn’t. And exactly what he wanted in a wife.
He’d made a mistake yesterday by striking her, but he’d finally gotten her right where he wanted her and he’d lost control. At every function he’d ever spoken to Elizabeth, she’d been a quiet little thing and he hadn’t expected her to fight him. It had taken months to get her brother, Benito, in a position to owe him money. Orlando had wanted to push him into a corner and force the man to call Elizabeth and beg for help. After that time and planning everything had gone to shit in seconds.
And all because of Porter Caldwell. Orlando hadn’t recognized the guy until it was too late. Porter’s involvement with Elizabeth put a wrinkle in his plans.
He’d known she worked for the Caldwell family but hadn’t realized the apparent extent of her relationship with them. If it had been anyone else, he’d simply kill them and be done with it. But if he had a member of the Caldwell family executed, it would surely fall back on his doorstep ten-fold. Porter’s family had ties with almost every branch of the government—and he was pretty sure Porter’s father was a retired spy if the rumors around the city were true. Orlando didn’t need that kind of heat.
Despite the fact that growing up his father had always told him what a screw-up he was, Orlando wasn’t stupid and he certainly didn’t have a death wish. No, he’d have to deal with Porter another way. More subtly.
A sharp knock on his office door jerked him out of his thoughts. Frowning, he glanced at the clock. It was barely five and the sun hadn’t yet risen. There was only one person who would be up as early as he.
He clicked off Elizabeth’s picture and pulled up a spreadsheet. “Come in.”
Miguel, his cousin and one of the few people in the world he trusted, stepped in. His dark eyebrows pulled together in concern. “Hey, you busy?”
Orlando shook his head. “What’s up?”
Miguel cleared his throat. “I just got a call from Juan.”
“And?” Orlando had sent Juan and Eddie, two members of the Seventy Ninth Street Gang, over to scare Elizabeth at her house. If he hadn’t been sure that Porter would be there, he might have had them do more than scare her, but he couldn’t risk Porter getting hurt in the crossfire. Not yet anyway.
“Looks like it worked. They did as you asked. Currently her car’s still there but it looks like she’s cleared out.”
“Good.” He’d expected her to leave. If she was scared she’d be more amendable to listening to him next time. He had eyes all over Miami and he knew exactly where she worked. Even if she stayed in hiding, all he’d have to do was follow her home from work one day. Well, he’d have one of his men do it.
He needed her terrified of him, to realize that she had no other choice but to listen to his demands. From what he knew about Elizabeth, she was loyal to a fault to her brother and Benny’s debt wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. He needed to convince her to pay off her brother’s debt with herself. Yes, he’d have to scare her again very soon. If he let too much time lapse between what the gang had done tonight and another incident, it wouldn’t make as much of an impact.
When Orlando’s cousin didn’t make a move to leave, he arched an eyebrow. “Is there something else?”
Miguel cleared his throat again, a definite sign he was nervous. “I don’t understand why you’re using our manpower for something as trivial as a hundred K. With our new product, it doesn’t make sense to focus on this. We should just kill Benny and make him an example. Why not leave the sister alone?”
“Since when do you question my decisions?” Orlando didn’t understand his cousin’s view toward the opposite sex. Women were nothing more than entertainment—or trophies to display—but for some reason Miguel had a soft spot for women. He knew that was the real reason Miguel wanted him to back off from scaring Elizabeth.
His cousin held up his hands in a placating gesture. “You’re right, I’m sorry.” He quickly backpedaled and shut the door behind him.
Sighing, Orlando sat back in front of his computer and pulled up another picture of Elizabeth. Need burned deep inside him as he stared at her. Her head was thrown back and she was laughing at something her mother had said. All that dark hair of hers spilled around her face and shoulders. The woman looked like a goddess. The picture was from a charity function for animals or some other crap. He might not remember the reason for the event, but he remembered everything about her from that night. She’d only had two glasses of champagne before switching to water, and every time she’d moved, her long black dress had swayed seductively, showing him peeks of her mile-long legs. She was a tall woman, especially for being Cuban, and her body was her best asset. Well that and her family name.
He’d tried to talk to her, but she’d been surrounded by her family. Her two oldest brothers hadn’t left her side the entire night. They’d been like rabid guard dogs, baring their teeth to anyone who got too close. But he’d find a way to get to her. It was all about timing. One way or another, Elizabeth was going to be his. Her family was highly respected in the Miami circuit and he needed that clout. He might have money but his father had never made an attempt to gain any respect around town. No, all he’d cared about was people fearing him.
Fear was important to Orlando too, but he didn’t want a life like his father’s. He wanted someone classy like Elizabeth to be his. Not some trashy dancer like his father had married. Orlando’s lip curled up as he thought about his dead mother. Good riddance to both his parents. His life was going to be much different than his father’s. He’d make sure of it.
Porter tried calling his brother again, impatient as he waited for Grant to pick up. He’d gotten in touch with him last night and Grant had sent a uniform over to document Elizabeth’s yard. He’d wanted her to come down to the station but Porter had been adamant that she make a statement later. The time lag wouldn’t make a difference since they knew who’d left that insignia in her yard. Leaving a calling card wasn’t exactly a genius move.
Next he’d called his other brother, Harrison, and told him that Elizabeth wouldn’t be coming to work—though he expected her to fight him on that. That was too bad.
Now he needed more info from Grant so he could figure out how best to protect Lizzy. After eight years in the Marines and the six after that spent protecting people, he had a lot of training and experience when it came to security situations and he wanted to know as much about this enemy as possible. Any edge he had to keep Elizabeth safe.
Grant answered on the second ring. “Hey, I was just about to call you back.”
“What do you know?”
“Good morning to you too.” Grant’s voice was wry.
Porter didn’t bother with niceties or an apology. Right now he was too wired. “I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
“I know, man. We’re going to keep Lizzy safe. Has she been able to tell you anything else?”
Porter ignored the twinge of annoyance by his brother’s use of Elizabeth’s nickname. So far everyone in his family was at perfect ease around her. She’d been working for Red Stone Security for the past couple years, and hell, she was the best friend of Harrison’s fiancé. If it hadn’t been for all the security jobs he’d taken around the globe the past couple years, he’d have met her in person long ago. Instead he’d only met her face to face months ago and he hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind since. He should feel comfortable around her and he hated that he always seemed to be edgy in her presence. “No, but she’s still sleeping. Didn’t want to wake her yet. And you know everything I know. Her youngest brother seems to have gotten into trouble with Orlando Salas and now Elizabeth is being targeted by the Seventy Ninth Street Gang.” Porter guessed to give Benny more of an incentive to pay up. Going after Benny through Elizabeth was actually smart. The Martinez family might have washed their hands of Benny but they’d never let anything happen to their daughter.