In the morning, the harsh reality of the situation with Jaxon pushed itself into the forefront of my brain. I rolled over and tugged the blankets up higher, snuggling into Knox’s side, trying to pretend for a few minutes more that all this wasn’t happening. A quick peek at Knox told me he’d been awake for hours. He was lying still but staring straight up at the ceiling, looking lost in thought.
I sat up in bed, looking down at his dark, troubled expression. We needed to do something, not just cave to this gang’s demands. “Knox?”
He glanced over at me, the crease between his brows softening just slightly when he met my eyes.
I took his hand, giving it a squeeze and letting him know we were in this together. I was here and I would help in any way I could. “We should call the police. They jumped Jaxon. And we can’t just turn over this much money.” Now that it was morning, I was thinking more rationally about the situation.
Silence hung heavily in the room around us. “No police, angel,” he said. “These guys will just retaliate if we get the police involved. Last year something similar happened—a guy who owed them payment for gambling debts talked to the police when they got too rough with him, and the next day they put a bullet in his head.” Knox looked back up at the ceiling, his mouth pulling into a tight line. “I won’t put any of us at risk. Money isn’t worth any of our lives. And I’ll pay you back every cent, I promise.”
I started to wave him off; this wasn’t about money. I didn’t care about Knox paying me back, but the grim expression etched across his face told me now was not the time to argue. I gave an imperceptible nod. “Okay,” I whispered. We’d do things his way. This was his family, and I knew he’d protect them the best way he knew how. All I could do was be there for them.
I dressed in yesterday’s clothes and kissed Knox good-bye, and after heading home to shower and change, I went to the bank. It turned out getting twenty-five thousand dollars in cash was a lot more difficult than I expected. After meeting with a teller, an assistant manager, and then the bank branch manager, I headed off to work. They would have my money by the end of the day. It would take them several hours to get it all together.
I sent Knox a text. I didn’t know if something would happen to Jaxon in the meantime, but I figured the men who had threatened him would give him some time to get the cash together.
Me: I’m coming over tonight with the money.
Knox: I don’t like this.
Me: Me neither. But we have to do it.
He didn’t respond and unease churned inside me all day long. I hated thinking that he’d try to take matters into his own hands today, try to persuade the guys who’d done this to Jaxon. I couldn’t have something happening to Knox, too. Brian was barely healed and now Jaxon was lying in bed, broken and beaten up. We just had to bite the bullet and pay the gang off. This had to work.
Thankful I still had my rental car, when I left work I drove straight to the bank again. The bank manager looked at me as if I were crazy when he handed me the backpack full of stacked bills. He asked again and again if I was okay. I think he thought I was being bribed or threatened into withdrawing this money. Well, I was, sort of. Someone I cared about would be badly hurt if I didn’t fix this.
As I headed back to Knox’s, Brian called to let me know he would be back in the morning, but I could barely concentrate on what he was saying.
When I arrived at Knox’s place, he looked ready to murder someone. He was pacing the floor in the living room and his brows were drawn together, his eyes hard and fierce. I’d never seen him so worked up.
I held up the backpack. “I brought it.”
He nodded and crossed the room toward me, then immediately gathered me up in his arms and pressed a firm kiss to my forehead.
I hated to admit it, but he was scaring me. My knees trembled and my stomach felt queasy. I had no way of knowing if this was all going to turn out okay and I couldn’t lose another person I loved. I couldn’t. The desperate need to never let him go, to stay by his side tonight, clawed at me. “I’m coming with you.”
He shook his head. “Not happening.”
His mouth closed over mine and the rough edge to his kiss killed my protest. He was a desperate man, doing what needed to be done to protect his family. But it was obvious there’d be no negotiating this. I realized he had no choice taking my help with the money, but it was obvious that was where my involvement ended. I didn’t want to argue and push him when it seemed like he was already at the edge of his control. I knew what happened when he lost control; I wouldn’t push him there willingly. If staying behind at the house was the way I could protect him and preserve his sense of calm, I would do it.
“I want to keep you safe. Stay here with Luke and Tucker.”
I released a heavy exhale and nodded. “Okay.”
“Lock the doors and don’t answer if someone comes knocking.”
I nodded again, my stomach cramping with nerves. Jeez.
“If anything happens to us, call the police.”
Oh God. I couldn’t handle something happening to Knox. Tears filled my eyes.
“Hey, shhh, it’s okay,” he whispered, brushing his knuckles along my cheek. “We’ll be all right. Stay strong.”
He was right; I needed to pull myself together. I didn’t want to alert Tucker that anything was wrong. I blinked the tears away and fixed a neutral expression on my face. I just had to have faith.
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