He tensed. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying I want in.” I settled on the corner of the desk and levelly met his look of disbelief. “I want you to take me to his place so —“
“I can do this.”
Rui stood and walked back to the car.
“You don’t know what I can—“
“I don’t care what you think you can do.” He whipped around to face me, his expression hard. “You don’t know jack shit about my —“
“I know what he does,” I said quietly. “I know what he did to you. To your broth—“
In one fluid movement, he swept me off the desk and shoved me against the wall. Two hundred pounds of muscle locked me into place and confirmed Troy’s story.
Rui’s actions revealed a high degree of training, a controlled, physical strength I’d initially suspected in the school courtyard.
An icy shiver shot down my spine. If we were thrown into a ring together, he really might give me a run for my money.
Muscled forearm pressed against my neck, effectively pinning me in place.
“Rui,” I said through my teeth. “I can stop him.”
The smart thing to do was walk away and let him, his father, and Troy sort out this mess. Sure, Troy would get the short end of the stick, but that wasn’t my problem.
Except my conscience wouldn’t stop prickling. I couldn’t let it go.
Maybe because Troy reminded me of past regrets and this was an opportunity to change the outcome. Maybe because the white-hot anger in Rui was a festering wound that felt all too familiar.
Hell, maybe I just really wanted to prove to my mother I could do this.
I could stop one human male.
Rui’s voice dropped to a whisper. “You don’t know shit.”
Cold eyes bored into me, hard and demanding. Magic bubbled through my veins. Beneath the anger, Empath sensed determination and worry. It was almost as if he was willing me to understand…
My gaze flickered up. Harsh light illuminated the ugly industrial walls of the garage, bouncing off metal and steel. Something winked in the corner.
Lens reflection meant surveillance. The entire place was probably bugged.
I blinked once. Slowly.
Rui studied me for a moment longer before the grinding pressure against my windpipe eased. I coughed, lungs desperately sucking in air.
Without another word, he exited the garage and I followed. Flickering yellow streetlights cast sickly triangular patches across the asphalt. Night air closed in, thick and humid.
The relentless drone of the Route 60 overpass grew louder and more insistent as we neared the main street.
“I’ve seen you,” he finally said. “At Rave.”
The club was only a few blocks away. “Yeah.”
“You like working the floor.” I felt the weight of his glance through the shadowy gloom. “But you don’t buy.”
“Not my thing.”
“You sound offended.”
I shrugged. “Needing something makes you weak.”
“Sometimes what we need is good for us. Sometimes it’s not. But we all got something we’re addicted to, girl.” He laughed, a harsh rumble of bitter amusement. “You’re just addicted to physical release.”
The scrutiny made me uncomfortable. “So what’s your addiction?”
“Belief.” He pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “You working with the cops?”
Empath swept through him, attempting to make sense of the puzzle that was Rui Vergara. He wasn’t lying or concealing who he was. The pain was there, hot and unstable. A thread of something wistful, too. Sadness? Maybe regret.
But there was also ruthlessness and a barely controlled fury that came from being kicked down one too many times.
Who was it directed toward? His father? Troy? And how quickly could it shift to me?
The lighter’s flare briefly highlighted the solemnity etched into his skin. He seemed far older than his age.
“No, you’re not a rat.” He took a long drag and tilted his head. Wariness heightened at the shrewd look in his eyes. “Just another person who has something to hide.”