The big man stared at me with eyes so dark, I could barely discern iris from pupil. The dark brown all but glittered with the intensity of some emotion I couldn’t name as he stared at me.
“I know he was the man you were fighting with, Jerrel. He already told me.” I clutched my keys tightly, unsettled by his focused stare. I didn’t feel like I was in danger, but I had a bad, bad feeling that I wouldn’t like what he had to say.
Not at all.
“That ain’t what this is about, Dr. Downing. That ain’t it at all.” His rough-hewn features tightened in a scowl before he sighed and shrugged. “Not that it ain’t related. See, we got into that fight because I told him he needed to stop lying…”
He trailed off for a few seconds, and I wondered if maybe he wasn’t going to just stop and walk away.
I wouldn’t mind it if he did.
“Fuck this shit,” he muttered. Then he looked back at me, his eyes hard. “Look, that man’s been lying to you from the start. I don’t know exactly how you two hooked up, but he’s not being level with you.”
“What in the hell are you talking about?”
He took two steps toward me. I backed up toward the house, and he stopped in his tracks, holding up his hands.
“I’m talking about the fact that he works for the Castellanos family.” He said it in an almost gentle tone, like he didn’t want to be talking to me.
“I…” I shook my head, confused. “What?”
“Come on, Briar.” Jerrel made a disbelieving snort under his breath. “I know what the Downings are involved in, okay? And I know about the Castellanos too. And Cormac MacTavish works for the Castellanos. After the shit their family tried to pull against yours not that long ago, I’d think you’d connect the dots a little quicker here.”
My mouth worked up and down, desperately trying to form a word. Finally, I managed, “Why are you here?”
“None of this shit sat right with me, and I knew I couldn’t keep quiet about it any longer. I felt like I had to say something to you, so here I am.” He flung out his arms. “I did my part.”
As he turned around and walked off, I stumbled a few steps forward and all but fell against my car, the strength draining out of me.
Cormac…he worked for the Castellanos?
I closed my eyes, squeezing them shut tight for a few seconds. I was dreaming. I had to be dreaming. When I opened my eyes, I’d be in bed and realize this was all a dream.
But, no. I opened them in time to see the man who’d just imploded my world make a sharp right turn out of my driveway and continue walking down the sidewalk. Jerrel’s words played over and over in my head.
Cormac worked for the Castellanos.
I stared at Jerrel’s back until a hedge down the street blocked him from view. Closing my eyes once more, I pressed the tips of my fingers against my ears, as if that would block out what I’d heard.
It didn’t do any good.
I could still hear that guy’s rough, steady voice as he told me, Cormac MacTavish works for the Castellanos.
I shot a look at the house.
I should go back inside. Wake Cormac up and ask him about this. Maybe Jerrel was messing with me. Or this could be some bullshit attempt to screw with Cormac. It was obvious the two of them didn’t get along.
I took one step toward the house, then stopped.
Part of me wanted to run in there and face him, demand he tell me the truth. But even as I considered it, I thought of the meeting between the two men. They’d been talking at the restaurant, and while they hadn’t looked buddy-buddy, they’d managed to carry on what looked like a rational discussion.
And what happened if I went in there and confronted him…and realized that Jerrel was right? That Cormac was working with the Castellanos?
It wasn’t like I knew all that much about him. There had been times when I felt like he was holding back on me.
My phone buzzed in my hand. Absently, I checked it and saw a message from Anneke. I didn’t bother to read it, but I saw the time. I didn’t even hesitate.
Maybe it was the coward’s way out, but I wasn’t ready to deal with this. Not now. Not until I’d had a chance to think.
Turning back to my car, I climbed inside. I didn’t have time to go in and deal with Cormac right now.
I’d have to do it—later.
I needed to think through all of this first, figure out whether I believed Jerrel, figure out a lot of things.
I already knew I didn’t want to believe him.
That didn’t matter, though.
There was too much at stake.
* * *
Consciously, I didn’t think about it.
I got to work, changed into my scrubs, and headed out to the floor where it looked like it was already ramping up to be a crazy day. It had begun drizzling on the way in, and by the time I pulled into the parking lot, a cold, heavy downpour had started. One thing was for certain when it came to rain—it led to lots of accidents, which meant emergency departments were often flooded with patients for hours afterward.
But even though I couldn’t consciously think about Cormac and what Jerrel had told me, in the back of my mind, I was working away at it.
By the time I was able to take a break, it was more than four hours into my shift. I sat down in the lounge with a cup of coffee and stopped hiding away from what had happened earlier.
The conversation with Jerrel had left me unsettled. Not that it had been much of a conversation, really. More like him talking and me just gaping at him. I was embarrassed now about my total lack of reaction, my inability to ask even a simple question.
But I was also pissed.
A huge part of me wanted to brush it all away, wanted to believe that Jerrel was lying and just wanted to cause trouble for Cormac. I suspected Jerrel could very well do just that, but instinctively, I knew that wasn’t the case. I’d known something was off with Cormac. Ever since that terrible fight where he’d flung my family in my face.
I’d always had this weird suspicion that he was holding something back from me.
Was it this?
Yes, that voice whispered in the back of my head.
It made sense.
But what about how he is with you?
My heart was still in denial. Earnestly, it clung to the belief that there was a real thing between Cormac and me, an emotional connection that wasn’t, that couldn’t be, one-sided.
I shoved the notion aside.
I had no idea if Cormac felt something for me or not, but even if he did, it didn’t matter now.
If he was working for the Castellanos…
Jerrel’s words came back to haunt me yet again. He’d mentioned something about the Castellanos causing problems for Brooks and Daria…
I thought of my brother and what he’d told me about Marcos.
My mouth went dry. Automatically, I took a drink, forgetting about how hot the coffee was until I scalded the roof of my mouth.
“Damn it,” I muttered, putting the cup down. Gingerly, I probed the sore area with my tongue, although I was actually grateful for the minor pain. It served to distract me just long enough that I could get some distance from all the shit in my head.
Brooks hadn’t told me much, definitely not enough to help me come to any conclusions, so the puzzle remained just that…a puzzle.
I pulled my phone out and did a search on Marcos Castellanos, finding several news articles. The most recent ones related to his arrest the night he broke into Brooks’s penthouse. The details were vague and full of legal terms like allegedly.
But the overall picture was clear enough.
Marcos and his goons had gotten past the security guards in the high-rise building where Brooks lived with Daria, and they’d forced their way inside when Daria was home alone. There was video footage that had been used to by prosecutors, and while Marcos had been released on bail, he couldn’t leave the immediate area. If he did, bail would be revoked, and a warrant would be issued for his arrest. He’d also had to surrender his passport.
Anger pulsed inside me, hot and liquid, turning the blood in my veins to lava.
I thought of Daria, so sweet and bubbly, alone in the condo with a couple of thugs forcing their way inside, threatening to do who knew what. And Marcos there with them.
I didn’t like Marcos.
I’d only met him a couple of times, but I could tell that he looked at the world and the people in it like they were pawns to be used in some grand game he was playing.
Basilio had reminded me a lot of my father, and I’d liked him, although I’d since re-evaluated my position, especially now that I was still struggling to come to grips with the reality of my own family. I didn’t know what to think about Duardo.
Who had hired Cormac?
I’d been brooding over it for several minutes before I came to the realization that I was no longer questioning if Jerrel could be right.
I knew he was.
And my heart broke a little more.
When I heard my name go out over the Bluetooth, I had to clear my throat before responding. I didn’t want anybody hearing the huskiness of my voice.
I got back to work and told myself that I just had to make it through the rest of the shift, then I could go home, bury my face in the covers and hide away from the world for a little while.
I doubted it would be long enough to heal from this mess, but it would be a start…right?
Of course, I still had to deal with Cormac.
How in the hell was I going to do that?