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.All these years, I never knew how much until she came into the picture.I hired Mercer to threaten you so you’d give me the money.I suppose he saved you from the Mexicans so it worked out all right.When you didn’t show up last night, I decided it would work just as well to take the money in front of Joseph, rather than behind his back, but I didn’t expect him to outbid me.” She laughed bitterly.“I thought if I had the money, he’d have a reason to come after me.But now I have nothing.”“That’s not true,” I said.“He may have loved Carlotta once, but I think he’s over it.There’s only one person he loves now, and that’s you.”She gasped and glanced at me.“How can you be so sure?”“Easy.He puts up with her because of the boy, but he’s already got plans to get her out of the picture.Just hang in there.” I patted her shoulder.“I should go.”“Don’t tell him I’m here,” she said.“I won’t.” I walked toward the door.“Hey, how’s Ramos? Is he doing any better?”“Yeah, lots.He was here earlier, but Joe sent him on an errand.”“Good.Well, see you.” I slipped out the door and hurried out of the office to the elevator.It took me down to the main level, and soon I was out the revolving door to the street.My heart felt lighter; it was good that I’d talked to Jackie.I didn’t like the fact that she’d hired Mercer, but like she said, he’d saved my life, so I couldn’t be too upset about that.It was crazy that she thought she had to threaten me to get me to do what she wanted, but it was probably because of Uncle Joey’s influence.If she had asked me for the money and explained why she wanted it, I probably would have given it to her.That was the insane part.It was a good day for a walk: not too hot and the sun was shining.I was about halfway to the courthouse when I realized someone behind was keeping pace with me.It was the middle of the day, so I wasn’t too worried, but they seemed awfully close.Almost like they were about to step on my heels.I glanced back and caught a glimpse of a man in jeans and a baseball cap.He was looking down, so I couldn’t see his face.Irritated, I decided to move off the sidewalk so he could go around me.I let down my shields so I could hear what he was thinking, but his focus to move quickly overshadowed other thoughts.I stepped off the path and he hurried by, knocking against my shoulder.What a jerk.I waited until he was further down the street before continuing my walk, and soon lost sight of him in the crowd.Something about him seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place it.Just then, another person pushed by.This one had ugly legs and huge hair.Could that be the same guy dressed like a woman from the courthouse? I’d forgotten all about him.He passed by so fast that I couldn’t catch his thoughts, and other than thinking it was strange, I brushed it aside.I had bigger things to worry about.Like what to tell Chris.Shame washed over me.How could I even think of not telling him? Of course I’d tell him everything.How could I not? He was my husband.Keeping a secret like this would be bad for both of us.I needed to talk about this and get his advice, plus he needed to be able to trust me.I paused in front of the courthouse.Maybe I could just wait out here.That way I wouldn’t have to worry about what I’d hear inside.I glanced around the building and noticed a garden area off to the side.There were some pretty bushes behind a bench, and with the trees and shrubbery in that area, it was somewhat secluded.Relieved I didn’t have to enter the building, I sat down and pulled out my phone to let Chris know where I was.As I found his number, someone sat down on the bench, sliding into me, and grabbing the phone from my fingers.“Hey…”His arm came around me and something hard pressed into my ribs.“I could kill you right now,” Mercer said.A baseball cap covered his face, and I recognized his voice.“But I’d rather not.” My breath caught.He was the one who’d nearly run me down.“What’s going on?” I said, bewildered.“Uncle Joey paid you off.You don’t have to kill me anymore.”“Yes I do.I was always going to kill you.” He was close enough to whisper in my ear.I realized that anyone passing by would only think we were sharing an intimate moment and nothing was wrong.“I wanted to wait a little longer,” he continued, “but I have to leave town.Your Uncle Joey doesn’t like it when people double-cross him, and since I took more of his money than we agreed on, I’m afraid I can’t stick around.Unfortunately, that means I had to hurry this along.”“You don’t want to do this,” I said breathlessly, my voice shaking with fear.“If you do, you’re a dead man.Uncle Joey will never let you live.Your life will be over.You’ll never get another job, let alone live to spend the money you’ve already got.”He stilled, considering what I said.I’d always called Manetto my uncle, and if it were true, that could be bad.But if he was my uncle, what was I doing working for the police? It didn’t make sense, and from what he’d gathered from Manetto, he didn’t see the connection.Mercer wanted to kill me so bad it hurt.I had humiliated him.He couldn’t allow that to go unpunished.But I was right.Manetto had a lot of influence.He just had to decide if killing me was worth the risk.I knew when he made his decision.I crunched my eyes together and hoped it wouldn’t hurt too much.A whine, followed by a wet splatter across my face, startled me.Mercer’s arm around me slackened, and his head fell onto my shoulder.I cringed but found I couldn’t move.Was that blood? A shadow fell over me, and I glanced up to find Ramos at my side.He took my phone from Mercer’s hand and pulled me to my feet, sliding his arm around my waist.“Just walk away,” he said.“Put your arm around me and keep walking.”I focused on his voice and did as he said, amazed I could move at all.Mostly, Ramos was dragging me, but once I figured that out, I started moving my feet a little.“That’s right,” he said.“You’re doing great.” He took a cloth from his pocket and wiped at my cheek and nose.It came away red.“That’s better,” he said, and tucked the cloth back in his pocket.My legs wobbled, and I started to shake.“Keep it together, Shelby.We’re almost to the car.You can do this.”He turned us off the main walkway and down a sidewalk that entered the parking garage.There were a lot of steps going down, and my knees started to buckle.Ramos held me to his side and took most of my weight.We made it to the bottom, and he stopped to catch his breath.That was when I remembered he’d been shot.It probably still pained him wherever it was, and he’d had to basically carry me down the steps.It made me feel even worse.I leaned over and took big breaths, concentrating on fighting down the bile rising in my throat.I won, but just barely.Ramos recovered before I did.“This way.” Once again he put his arm around me for support, but this time my legs were working and he didn’t have to take so much of my weight.We reached his black sports car, and he helped me inside.I still felt a little lightheaded, so I put my head between my knees.By the time he got in and put on his seat belt, I felt well enough to sit up.I slipped on my seatbelt while Ramos backed out of the parking spot.He drove up the ramp and deftly pulled into traffic.The sound of sirens raised the hair on my arms and sent a shiver down my spine.Ramos eased the car over to the side of the road.In a moment, two police cars coming from the opposite direction raced by [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]