I stopped on the low stoop and fought the urge to hesitate. If they were gang members worth their salt, they’d already have spotted me and were watching my every move. If I looked to the window to the side of the door, I’m sure I’d see the venetian blinds move. But I was there to see Dana and no reason to cast a suspicious eye upon the house.
Seeing there was a doorbell, I rang it, a loud chime that nearly made me jump out of my shoes. I had to, had to, had to watch myself. I needed to do this for her sake, my sake, Gus’s sake.
The door opened and a short Hispanic man appeared, dressed casually in a white polo shirt and khaki shorts. Did we even have the right house? He didn’t look to be much older than me and his posture was relaxed. The only thing that gave me a hint right away was the fact that he had a bandage across his temple, the area red and raised.
“Can I help you?” he asked. He was polite too, though I detected a hint of suspicion in his tone.
I smiled. “Hi, is Dana home?”
He frowned. “Dana? No.”
“She does live here though, right? 425 East Beach?”
The man crossed his arms and I got a glimpse of some pretty bad-ass tribal tattoos on his biceps. I could take him, easily, but he’d put up a good fight. He leveled his stare at me. “This is 425 but there is no Dana here. Sorry.”
He was about to close the door when I raised my hand to stop him. A ballsy move but I wanted to make sure Gus had enough time.
The man eyed my hand, then fixed his eyes on me. He didn’t look relaxed anymore. He looked annoyed. I was pressing my luck.
I kept grinning like an idiot, like I wasn’t picking up on the obvious signals he was giving me. “Do you know if there’s a Dana in the neighborhood? She’s supposed to offer computer services.” I patted my backpack. “Got my laptop right here.”
“All I do know is that if you don’t get the f**k out of here right now, I’m going to break your balls with my foot.”
I let my smile fall because that’s what anyone would have done. I was half-tempted to break his balls. Instead, I raised both hands as a peace offering and gave a meek, “Sorry man, sorry,” while backing away.
The man didn’t move. He kept staring at me. I started thinking, maybe, just maybe he already deduced something about me, maybe something was given away.
Then I heard a gunshot.
“So, how would you like to kill Travis, Ellie? A bullet to the head or something more subtle?”
I turned and glared at Raul. It was day two at sea and the massive yacht was already starting to feel too small. I was alone only in my cabin. Everywhere else I went it was either Raul, or the other guy, or one of the crew boys. Unlike the other two, the crew boys were nice enough and kept their distance lest they incur the wrath of Javier, but I could tell they were watching me. Little matching spies all in black.
Oddly enough, Javier hadn’t been around a lot. Most of the time he was at the helm of the ship, even though one of the crew boys seemed to be extremely adept at handling a sailboat, even one of this size. Javier always had a thing for control, but I started to get the feeling he was avoiding me. It was somewhat unwelcome and I couldn’t figure out why.
“Who said I’m killing Travis?” I shot back at him and took a large, medicinal gulp of my wine. I had been sitting in the “theatre lounge” area, hiding out from the relentless sun and trying to occupy my frazzled mind with books. The peace didn’t last long. Raul had sat down across from me, leaning back in the seat, one leg crossed, drink in hand. His eyes had gotten extra lecherous, even though I was wearing breezy pants and a flowing peasant top. His eyes were so much more intrusive than Javier’s.
Raul tipped his chin down and smiled. “I suppose you think Javier will be the one to do it, that you’re just the trap. The bait.”
“Something like that,” I muttered and looked down at the book I was attempting to read, Stephen King’s Duma Key. It seemed fitting, the storm and boat on the cover.
“Doesn’t that bother you,” he continued, “knowing he only sees you as a pawn.”
“I’d rather him see me as a pawn than anything more than that,” I said.
“Hmmm,” he mused. “And I see you mean that too. Do you still have feelings for him?”
I lowered the book again and gave him the most disgusted and incredulous look that I could muster. Considering I was already buzzed from the glass of wine, I’d say it was probably pretty good. The drunker I got, the nastier I became – facial expressions included.
“Sorry to disappoint you, Raul,” I drew out the syllables in his name, mocking it. “Whatever feelings I had for Javier died six years ago, when I found him cheating on me.”
He raised a brow. “Oh yes. That. Have you ever asked him about it?”
My heart stopped a bit. Raul knew. This was public knowledge. Oh, of course it was. Javier was probably screwing everyone, calling anyone with legs – even scarred ones – his angel and coming all over them. Somewhere deep inside I flushed at that last memory and shook it off.
“No I haven’t because I honestly don’t care. I’d like to find that chick and shake her f**king hand. If it wasn’t for her, I’d probably be wasting my life, attached to a complete psychopath with an addiction to p**sy.”
“And being a con artist wasn’t a waste?”
“What are you, a shrink?” I asked and looked away. The book wasn’t helping anymore. The wine was. I got up and made a move to the bar (there was one in every single room on this ship, a total booze cruise) but Raul beat me to it. He was quicker than he looked and within seconds my wine glass was being filled with expensive Sauvignon Blanc and I was slightly too buzzed to care.
He sat back down across from me and brushed back his hair. My god, why did cartel members have to be so ugly? I’d lucked out when I picked Javier for my plan all those years ago. He was the only one who was pleasing to look at. Even more than pleasing, when you added in the fact that he had that whole primal animal vibe that slithered off of him.
Why was I thinking so many pleasant adjectives about a man who was blackmailing me and essentially holding me hostage on a ship that launched Raul in my direction at every turn?
“How are you going to kill him?” he continued after a moment.
“I told you, I’m not. I’m the bait.”
“You know, if I had you in my possession, I’d set you free.”
I glared at him. “Right. And I’m not in his possession.”
“Maybe he’s in your possession.”
“Seriously, what do you want? If you want to annoy me, you’re succeeding. If you want to be creepy, you’re succeeding at that too.”
“I’m just wondering how it is that you’re going along with all of this so well. It’s like you belong here.”
“It’s called making the best of a bad situation.”
Raul leaned forward and lowered his voice. “I think you only do your best in bad situations. Because you’re a bad, bad little girl, Ellie Watt. And I can teach you to be worse.”
“What’s going on here?” Javier’s voice broke in.
I swallowed the sour feeling in my mouth and looked over at Javier who was standing by the entrance to the lounge, eyes boring into Raul in a most unsavory way.
“He’s annoying me,” I said, not caring if it got me in shit with either of them.
Raul only smiled, his eyes darting to me and back to Javier. “I’m trying to prepare Ellie here for what’s to come. You know, Javier, for an assassin, she’s awfully blasé about the whole thing. Doesn’t that worry you? Perhaps she might flake out, maybe f**k everything up. On purpose, no less. She really seems to harbor some sort of grudge against you.”
Javier didn’t look at me. “She’ll get it, sooner or later. And I trust her.”
I almost snorted wine through my nose. Javier trusted me? I’d dump him over the side of the ship at the first opportunity if I knew that Raul wouldn’t kill me right afterward.
“That trust might get you killed, señor,” Raul said bitingly.
I raised my brow at that comment but Javier’s face was blank.
Finally he cleared his throat and said, “Well, Raul, I think you’re done with annoying Ellie for today. Why don’t you go join Roberto at the helm, huh?”
Raul narrowed his eyes at him and got up. He left the room without saying a word, brushing past Javier with utter disdain.
The whole exchange had put a weird vibe in the room. For some reason I felt like things had gotten even more off-balance, or perhaps that was the combination of the wine and the ship. Not seeing land for twenty-four hours couldn’t help.
Javier folded his arms and looked at me. “Are you okay?”
I raised my glass of wine. “Drinking away the blackmailing blues.”
“That’s funny,” he said, though his tone was flat. He walked over, smooth and sleek. That whole primal animal analogy came darting in my brain again. Today he was a cat dressed head to toe in olive green. He stopped right behind the chair I was sitting in, so I had to twist around to look up at him. “What was he talking to you about?”
“About how I was going to kill Travis.” And if I had feelings for you anymore. Of course I didn’t want to say that. I didn’t even want to go there.
He peered down at me. “That wasn’t all. He said he was going to teach you to be a bad girl.”
“Well, I don’t know what he meant by that …”
“I do. I don’t like the way he talks to you.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what. If you want to go stick Raul all the way up the crow’s nest, you have my full support.”
Finally his mouth twisted into a smile. He raised his brow and nodded at my glass. “I say the drinking is working. You’ve got a little spring in your step.”
For one split second I was able to fool myself into thinking we were old lovers who were having a lovely cruise together, old sparring partners, shooting the shit. But things couldn’t have been further from the truth.
His face grew colder as he studied me. He turned around and left the room, calling over his shoulder, “Enjoy your book. Dinner is at six.”
He didn’t remind me to eat like he’d been doing at every meal, even though that’s one of the reasons the wine was hitting me so hard. And just for that, I decided I would finally partake in dinner. My stomach punched me in anticipation and I went back to reading.
As much as I hated to admit it, dinner was fabulous. The snapper was so fresh I could have sworn that they’d just caught it off the side of the boat. The coconut rice and mango salad was amazing. The cocktails, syrupy hurricanes, were phenomenal. It was almost good enough to make me forget why I’d been avoiding meals in the first place.
I did my best to put a damper on my enjoyment of the food and instead paid attention to what was going on around me. It was just the four of us since the crew had their own mini mess hall in their quarters. The other man I came to learn was Peter. He seemed fairly intelligent if not quiet most of the time. I didn’t know why he was there with us or what he did but Javier seemed to treat him with respect. Maybe it just seemed that way because he was getting increasingly short with Raul while Raul was acting more and more like a petulant child. I could feel Javier’s authority over him crumbling brick by brick and it kind of scared me.