Home > Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)(6)

Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)(6)
Author: Jay Crownover

All those rigid things that made me who I was were churning and grinding under my skin at the thought of what Noe might be going through. The pipes had run dry for a long time and now there was a river of fury and regret blazing through them. I slammed the door in her face because she was the one person who made me feel something I couldn’t ignore. Even when I thought she was a boy, I was curious and confused. Lured in by her sharp wit and outright rebellion. She seemed fearless and it called to me. Her defiance echoed loud in the cavernous depths that were left behind when my soul was ripped away from me. I couldn’t get away from the feelings that she energized within me, and I couldn’t shake them off fast enough.

She needed me and I couldn’t handle it. I relinquished the desire to be needed by anyone, and I willingly accepted that I didn’t want to need anyone. I couldn’t stand with the weight of others’ expectations on my shoulders because I was weak, because I was scared and scarred from things that had nothing to do with her. I disappointed her and put her in danger. Whatever happened to her was on me, and I was fully prepared to accept any and all responsibility. If she was dead, well, then the hard fact of the matter was that I didn’t deserve to draw another breath. Her life had been in my hands and I let it slip through my fingers without even attempting to hold onto it. I’d lost another fight my mind couldn’t afford to lose.

From the start, Nassir had use for me in his criminal empire. He considered me a valuable commodity, and more than that, his business partner long considered me a friend. Neither would let me go without a fight, but if Noe didn’t make it out of this, I wouldn’t either. The emotions I’d ignored for so long would take over, and I would be helpless to stop them. I wasn’t strong enough to survive looking at the still, silent face of another innocent woman taken because life wasn’t fair. I was a failure and eventually both men who ruled the Point would realize I was more of a liability than an asset. Over the years, I had perfected the art of faking being useful and invaluable. The expiration date on my usefulness was fast approaching, I just knew it.

I kicked the table again, this time sending the liquid-laden laptop and Noe’s backpack crashing to the floor. When it hit the hardwood, the broken zipper split open and her few meager belongings spilled onto my cork floors. All she had were a couple of old t-shirts, a pair of sneakers that also had duct tape on them, a water bottle, a paper-thin blanket, and a laptop that I knew cost as much as the one I just ruined. After all, it was one she’d jacked from me when she robbed my place. I wasn’t surprised to see it when I went through the bag trying to find any kind of clue as to where she might be.

She had good taste in computers. She snatched one of my more tricked out toys. I was also suitably impressed that she got past all my security firewalls in order to use the damn thing. I told her that her brain was sexy, and I wasn’t lying. It was the first thing I noticed about her. Intelligence was the only thing that ever really caught my attention and held it. I was impressed that she had alluded me for so long when Nassir sent me after her for information. I was intrigued by the way she showed no fear when she faced me down. That day, my anger had been hot and heavy, uncontrollable from lack of use. It raged between us in my empty, unplugged apartment. I wasn’t sure where it was going to land or how to handle it, but she hadn’t even flinched. I was curious about her defiance in the face of a well-known threat when she went toe to toe with Nassir. I was very aware of her on every single level and I hadn’t even known she was a her, at the time. That anger and fascination with her from the start was a lot to process for a man who had been mostly numb and entirely emotionless for far too long.

Now that I knew she was, in fact, all female, and a particularly cute one at that, I let myself like more than her mind. I liked her dark, untrusting eyes. I liked the sassy arch of her midnight-colored eyebrows and the little beauty mark that rested high on the sharp curve of her cheekbone. I liked her full lips and the way they looked like they were painted a rosy pink even though I knew she didn’t wear any kind of lipstick. There was no makeup in that tattered backpack. She didn’t need it sleeping on the streets. I was secretly obsessed with her streaked hair. The red looked like fire, and the black was so dark and shiny it didn’t look real. She wore it short in the back and longer in the front so she could pull off her androgynous look if she wore a hat, but it suited her. It was no-fuss and striking at the same time. I hadn’t liked anything about anyone long before my mind had been broken and my heart had been shattered, but even with everything inside of me misfiring, I could tell I was attracted to Noe Lee. It was another reason I had to turn her away. I didn’t want to work through new feelings when I could barely contain the old ones.

I was man enough to admit that I wanted all parts of her back, and there was no pushing down the bitter regret at the fact that I was the reason she was gone in the first place.

I pushed off the couch and lowered my big frame toward the floor so I could carefully put Noe’s stuff back where it belonged. She didn’t have much, and that pissed me off. There was that wild, uncontrollable anger again. It loved being off the leash and was happy to snap and pop all around me. She had the brains and the looks to get whatever she wanted, but she wasn’t a user like that. She wasn’t part of the problem. She was the solution to everything that was wrong in the corrupted parts of the city.

There was a sharp knock on my front door, and before I could fully turn my head or climb to my feet, it swung open, and a dark-haired man in a sharply tailored suit strolled in like he owned the place. On his heels was a large African American man, also in an expensive suit, and another man I had never met but had heard plenty about. He was in a suit, as well, but unlike the other two men, his was flashy, pin-striped, and accented with a patterned silk tie, gold pocket watch, and bling on his fingers that looked like it cost more than the down payment on my townhouse.

The first two men may have been mistaken for well-off businessmen if you weren’t paying attention, but there was no way the third guy could ever pass for anything but what he was . . . even with the beard that covered his jaw. He was a hustler. A player. A dealmaker and a game changer. This guy was a criminal and proud of it. He wore that fact with pride and aplomb. He earned the money to buy that suit and those rings by doing bad shit—and he didn’t care who knew it. He was the opposite side of the spectrum of what the streets could do to a person in the Point. Crime and corruption moved this man to the top tiers of power and respect, and he thrived in the chaos. He was the enemy, and he liked it that way. He was great at being bad.

I pulled off my glasses and made a big production of wiping them on the bottom of my t-shirt. I blinked several times and sneered at the unwelcome visitor. “I thought you were dead. Heard you got shanked in prison when you refused to cooperate with the feds.”

Benny Truman used to be the man who made other men cower in fear. He was the right hand to the old crime boss who ruled the Point with a heavy hand and a thirst for blood. There wasn’t anything Benny wouldn’t do as long as money was the primary motivator. That blind loyalty made him just as ruthless, cruel, and callous as the man who used to be in charge. When the old crime boss was taken out of play, his entire crew went down with him. Everyone knew Benny wouldn’t sell out anyone, even if it meant a lifetime spent locked up, but word on the street was that someone on the inside wanted to make absolutely sure he didn’t open his big, fat mouth. No one grieved his loss when he was declared dead, and the two men standing with him in my living room didn’t seem at all surprised by his miraculous return from the grave.

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