Secrets are what keep a family strong. United. Elizabeth Martinez could still hear her father’s words echoing in the recesses of her memories. Over a decade had passed and not a day went by that she didn’t wish she could rewrite history. Some secrets had a way of eating a person alive. From the inside out, one giant bite at a time. Gnawing until she couldn’t stand it. If her father hadn’t forced them all to keep the family’s dirty little secret, maybe she’d be at home enjoying a nice glass of wine and a bubble bath. She wouldn’t be picking up her brother from a drug dealer’s house on a chilly Tuesday evening.
Lizzy put her BMW into park and slid from the vehicle. This particular mansion in Keystone Island was the last place in the world she wanted to be. Unfortunately her brother had called begging for help. Again.
Everyone else in the family had turned their back on Benny but she simply couldn’t say no when he needed her. Not when he’d always been there for her.
While she wasn’t sure what Benny was doing at the recently deceased Alberto Salas’s home, she knew it couldn’t be good. Salas had been infamous for running drugs up and down the entire East Coast. She’d heard his son, Orlando, had taken over his operation. She’d briefly interacted with Orlando at a few charity functions around Miami and he’d always been perfectly polite, but the man gave her the creeps. There were some things an Armani suit simply couldn’t hide.
Self-consciously, Lizzy tugged at her dress as if she could somehow make it grow a couple inches longer. The bright turquoise halter-style dress and black cardigan sweater she wore were completely respectable, but as she walked down the stone driveway toward the front door, she could feel several sets of eyes on her. Considering Orlando Salas was rumored to be in the same business his father had been, she guessed that even though she couldn’t see them, he had plenty of scary looking security guys milling around. They were nothing more than thugs in suits and ties. She worked for one of the best security firms in the nation and the guys she worked with—they sure weren’t thugs. No, they were highly trained, mostly ex-military, and didn’t deal with scum like Salas. They protected uber wealthy clients and government dignitaries and everyone they worked for got a detailed military level background check—courtesy of her computer skills—and if it appeared they were into anything like drugs, Red Stone Security didn’t take them on. With how much money their company made, they could afford to be picky.
Before she could knock on the bright red door, it swung open and a man carrying an assault rifle looked her up and down.
A cold chill slithered through her, mainly because of the look on his face, rather than the gun. She’d known the guards here would be armed, but yuck, this guy made her feel like she was naked. Clutching her purse tighter against her side—as if that could somehow save her—she started to tell him why she was there, but he beat her to it.
With a lecherous grin on his face, he stepped back and allowed her to enter. “Your brother’s out back.” He pointed down the tile hallway. “Just follow until you reach the French doors.”
Fighting back the growing panic humming through her, she nodded and did just as he said. Yeah, maybe she should have called her boss and told him what she was doing but she didn’t want to drag anyone she knew into Benny’s problems. Then everyone would know how messed up her family really was. It was too embarrassing. She’d take care of it just like she always had. Chin up, she ordered herself.
As she neared the doors she could see her brother stretched out on an Adirondack chair. She yanked the door open and hurried to his still form. “Benny!”
When he didn’t stir, an icy fist clasped around her heart. He looked like a corpse. His normally bronze face was a grayish color. She touched his wrist and a sharp burst of relief popped inside her. At least his pulse was strong. But his face…tears blurred her vision for a moment. A garish purple bruise covered his left cheek and one of his eyes was swollen almost all the way shut. A light trail of blood had trickled from his nostril and dried on his upper lip. Had they broke his nose? Her throat tightened with raw grief. He’d sounded bad on the phone but she hadn’t expected this. She wanted to touch him, comfort him somehow, but was afraid she’d only hurt him more.
Her hand hovered over his pale face for a moment before she settled on brushing a lock of his dark hair away from his forehead. “What have you gotten yourself into,” she whispered.
“He’s going to be out for a little while.” She swiveled around at a familiar male voice and let her hand drop.
Monster. The word echoed inside her but she bit it back. “Mr. Salas.” She tried to keep the disdain out of her voice as she faced the man who’d likely beaten her brother. Or at least watched while one of his men had. Somehow she managed to blink back the tears threatening to spill over.
“Please call me Orlando. You’re a very good sister to pick your brother up so quickly.” Standing about ten feet away from her, he leaned against the mini-bar with a glass tumbler in hand.
She narrowed her gaze. Anger battled with the fear blossoming inside her but she was still level-headed enough not to cower in front of him. A man like this probably craved the fear of others. “Did you do this to him?”
His shoulders lifted in a slight shrug. “Not personally. Benito owes me quite a bit of money and I intend to collect.”
“A hundred thousand.”
Lizzy swallowed but tried to school her shock. Benny had had problems with drugs in the past but he’d been clean for a while. Unfortunately, he’d found a new drug of choice. Gambling. If she had to guess, he owed Orlando the money because of bad bets. Or maybe he was back into drugs. She just didn’t know. And she hated what her brother did to himself. He had such a good heart but he couldn’t seem to keep it together.
Her parents had the money. She definitely didn’t. And it was unlikely her parents would fork over that kind of cash for the black sheep of the family. Unless she could convince them it was for her. Despite the terror splintering through her, she stood her ground. “So you tried to beatthe money out of him?”
His dark gaze seemed to penetrate right through to her innermost thoughts. “He’s lucky he’s not dead. Out of respect for your family, I’m giving him one week to pay me back.”
“And if he doesn’t?” She hated that the question came out shaky, but she couldn’t help it. She was scared, even if she tried to hide it.
“I sincerely hope he has a life insurance policy.” He placed his glass on the bar and covered the short distance between them in seconds. Before she could react, he’d pressed her against one of the columns lining the outer edges of the lanai. His breath was hot on her cheek and his expensive cologne nearly smothered her as fear clawed at her insides. “I might be willing to bargain, however, Ms. Martinez. You are a beautiful woman. Six months as mine, and I’ll let your brother off.” His hips jerked forward and she pushed back the bile in her throat when she felt his erection against her hip.
Instinct overtook her fear as she shoved at his chest. “You’re disgusting.”
He was immovable. Grabbing her wrist, he pinned it above her head. When she swung out at him with her other hand, he snapped it up with the same precision. She tried to tug against him, but the man’s grip was like an iron shackle. Cold sweat blossomed across her forehead and spread the length of her body. She hadn’t told anyone where she was going, and Orlando Salas was total scum. If he raped her, he wouldn’t let her live to tell anyone. No, he’d likely dump her in the ocean. She racked her brain, trying to think of a way out of her situation when a loud shout and glass breaking inside caused him to let her go. But not before he backhanded her across the face and growled, “Stay here.”
The abrupt action surprised her more than it hurt. A dull throb spread across her cheek, but it was nothing compared to what would happen to her if she didn’t get out of there. As he started to reach for a gun tucked in the back of his pants, the double doors flew open and the last person she expected to see stormed through, with a SIG in hand.
And it was pointed directly at Orlando.
“Are you okay, Elizabeth?” Porter Caldwell, her unlikely savior, asked in his typical clipped tone.
“I’m fine.” At the moment, all that mattered was getting out of there alive. She wasn’t exactly sure what Porter was doing there or even how he’d gotten past Orlando’s guards. She wasn’t going to balk at a chance to escape, even if her rescuer was her sort-of-ex/almost-lover. Even though they’d dated for a month and gotten pretty physical, they’d never actually had sex so she didn’t think that qualified him as an old lover.
“Do you know who I am?” Orlando spat, but Lizzy noticed he didn’t continue reaching for his gun. He wasn’t that stupid.
Porter’s pale blue gaze narrowed with deadly precision. “More importantly, do you know who I am?” Without waiting for a response, he strode toward Orlando and slammed the gun across his head with a vicious blow.