CAN’T HOLD BACK: SIX POINTS SECURITY ~ BOOK FOUR
When Dorcas Otero’s sister goes missing, and all signs point to foul play, she’s forced to turn to security specialist Nate Flint for help. The sexy man has all the right skills…and a smile that can turn almost any no into a yes. But he’s also on her don’t-touch list, because she doesn’t have time in her life for a man who likes to hit it and quit it.
There’s more to Nate than meets the eye, though he prefers to hide it behind a veneer of smooth-talking charm. He can have any woman…except for Dorcas, the sexy Latina who turned him down when he asked her out. But when she’s threatened, he knows it’s time to strip away the bad boy image and show her just how much she means to him. He’s been trained to handle almost any situation and will do anything to keep her safe, but the hardest part might be convincing her that she was always meant to be his.
His informant was late. Again.
Nate Flint leaned back in his chair so that the front legs came off the floor. Luckily, the lunch rush was over, and the diner was quiet enough the waitress wouldn’t get annoyed at them for taking up one of her tables. Still, he’d leave a bigger tip than usual to ensure he’d be welcome the next time he stopped by.
Honestly, he wasn’t all that surprised his informant hadn’t shown up yet. Serena typically worked until the wee hours of the morning, only to be shaken down by her pimp, maybe roughed up a little for good measure. He hoped to change that, if she’d let him. It had taken him months to earn her trust, even longer for her to agree to join his network of people who provided scraps of information about the seedy side of Orlando. Now he had a different proposition for her, one that would take her off the streets and give her a chance at a life where she didn’t have to sell her body to survive.
That is, if she ever showed up.
Beside him, Luther drained the last of his drink, checked the time on his phone, and frowned. A year ago, he’d been one of Nate’s informants, but now Luther worked for him at Six Points Tactical & Security. Aside from the occasional bouts of attitude, he was coming along fairly well. “She ain’t coming, man.”
“Trust me; she’ll be here.” He hoped. Otherwise, he’d be sorely disappointed. “Five bucks says she’ll be here in five minutes or less.”
Luther scoffed. “Sucker. You’re on.”
After four minutes of waiting, Nate started to sweat, but then the front door swung open and Serena stepped inside.
Without a doubt, she was the oldest nineteen-year-old he’d ever met. Two years of living on the streets had a way of doing that to a person. Her face was gaunt, her body lean, her long blonde hair pulled back in a harsh ponytail. No makeup, but even if she’d worn it, she wouldn’t have been able to mask the bruise along her jaw. Her shorts and tank top appeared dingy from not being washed in a while. But what struck Nate most were the shadows in her eyes, put there by the things she’d seen and done and would never be able to forget.
He should know. At one point in his life, he’d been a street rat as well. Fortunately for him, his situation never got as dire as hers, but he’d seen enough to empathize and want to help in some way.
With wary eyes, she scanned the diner, and he could tell the exact moment she saw them because the tension eased from her shoulders. She approached their table and set the backpack he’d given her during their last visit on the floor beside the one he’d brought today, and then sat on the empty seat across from him.
“Sorry I’m late.” She sounded as tired as she looked. “Long night. I overslept.”
“It’s okay.” He pushed a menu across the table. “Who hit you?”
She lifted and lowered one bony shoulder, her eyes glued to the laminated sheet of paper. “I don’t remember his name. It happened three days ago.”
That was bullshit—the bruise was a day old at the most—but he chose not to call her on it. If he did, she’d put up the walls, and then he’d never get through to her. So instead, he signaled the waitress to refill his drink and take Serena’s order.
“Got anything for me this week?” he asked once the waitress walked out of earshot. Some of his contacts preferred a little chitchat, but Serena liked to get to the point. That was their deal: in exchange for information, he gave her a fresh backpack stuffed with clean clothes, toiletries, meal bars, and basic over-the-counter medications. He’d take her old pack home with him, clean what he could and replace everything else, so they could do it again next week.
He hoped there wouldn’t be a next week. But even if there wasn’t, he’d prep the pack for the next person who could use it.
Serena looked around as though checking to see whether anyone was paying attention, her fingers toying with a chip along the edge of the Formica countertop. “There’s a new dealer in town. He took out Pinky.”
Luther’s eyes got all big and wide, but he didn’t say a word.
Pinky was one of the oldest dealers in the area, and by far the most ruthless. It was why he’d survived the better part of two decades in one of the roughest parts of Orlando. His death would create a power vacuum, with the remaining dealers—and, apparently, the new player—fighting to fill the void.
“Got a name for the new dealer?” If she did, he’d pass it along to his contact in the Orlando Police Department.
“Nuh-uh. Don’t got a name, but I heard he’s got connections with some cartel in Mexico.” She paused while the waitress dropped off her glass of soda. Then she leaned partway over the table and lowered her voice. “Word is he plans on taking over the entire south side.”
Forget filling the void; this could trigger a long and bloody turf war. The south side of Orlando had a patchwork of dealers, many of them deeply entrenched and well-armed. None of them took kindly to others infringing on their turf. Not cops, not gangs, and certainly not a cartel from another country.
The waitress returned with Serena’s order, and the woman tore into her bacon cheeseburger and fries as if she hadn’t eaten in a week. Which could be the case; she was thinner than the last time he saw her.
At the rate she was going, she’d probably last another six months on the streets. Eight tops. Beneath the hardened exterior, she was a decent kid, one who deserved a better life than the one she’d been dealt.
Nate waited until she finished the burger before asking his next question. “What do you see yourself doing this time next year?”
She glanced up, clearly not expecting the question. “I don’t know. Why?”
“Just curious.” He ran a hand through his short, dark hair. “Do you think you’ll still be on the streets, or are you looking for a way out?”
“What is this, a job interview?”
“Actually, it is. But more than that, it’s a chance for a fresh start.”
Serena froze, a French fry inches from her mouth. Her gaze slanted to Luther. “Is he for real?”
“As real as it gets.” Luther shifted in his seat, his shaved bald head glinting under the fluorescent lights. “He gave me a chance last year when I was living out by the underpass.”
The endorsement didn’t seem to impress her. Living on the streets also did that to a person. Chewing on the fry, she leaned back and crossed her arms. “What kind of job is it?”
“Nothing glamorous, but it’s legal. You’d be working at a bar in south Florida. Minimum wage plus tips. Plus, there’s a small cabin behind the bar where you can bunk with one of the other waitresses, free of charge.” Nate considered mentioning the cabin was air conditioned, but held it back for fear of overselling.
Suspicion narrowed Serena’s eyes. “What’s the catch?”
“No catch. This is a one-time offer for you to start your life over. Nobody there will know who you are or what you’ve done to survive. In exchange, you have to work your ass off. And keep your nose clean. No drugs—”
“I don’t do drugs.”
“And no turning tricks. One slip and you’re out on your ass.”
“It’s how I got off the street,” Luther added.
She shot him a look. “If it’s so great, why ain’t you still there?”
“Small town’s not my thing. Don’t get me wrong; it was a good opportunity. Lola—she’s the one who owns the bar—she’s tough, but she’s nice. She gave me a break when no one else would, and for that I’ll always be grateful.”
Luther had worked at the Swamp for six months before returning to Orlando. He’d been smart about it, saving his money and biding his time until he had enough resources to make a fresh start. And because he’d displayed such a strong work ethic—and he’d had the courtesy to give Lola plenty of notice—Nate had offered him a job at Six Points. He was still in the training phase but learning fast, and it wouldn’t be long before he was ready to work on a personal protection detail.
Indecision crossed Serena’s face as she picked at her ragged nails. “Do I have to answer right now?”
Nate shook his head. In truth, he wanted to nudge her in the right direction but understood she needed to reach that conclusion on her own. “I’ll give you three days to think it over. Call me when you’ve made up your mind.”
“What if I say no?”
“It’s cool. No hard feelings.” But he’d be disappointed. She was a good kid in a shitty situation, and he really hoped she’d seize the opportunity to get the hell off the streets before the hole she was in got too deep for her to dig out. “If you don’t want the job, we’ll continue our current arrangement. But think about whether you want to be doing what you’re doing in another year. Or ten. This is a chance for a brand-new life.”
Serena nodded. “I’ll let you know when I make up my mind.”
She stood, picked up the backpack closer to Nate, and left the diner.
“Think she’ll bite?” Luther asked once the door closed behind her.
Nate idly scratched his denim-covered leg. “I put the odds at eighty percent.”
“Why not higher?”
“She’s scared, and the fear of the unknown has a way of clouding people’s judgment. A lot of folks choose to stay in a bad situation because the devil they know is less frightening than the devil they don’t.”
Luther nodded in agreement, though he didn’t seem happy about it. “We seeing anybody else today?”
“No, Serena was the last on my list.”
As Nate signaled the waitress for the check, he heard the chime that signaled the front door opening.
Luther tilted his head toward him. “Hot momma at two o’clock.”
Curious, Nate looked to his right and was surprised to see a familiar face staring back at him. And like every other time he came into contact with Dorcas Otero, his heart kicked like a mule.
She was the best friend and former roommate of his sister-in-law, Nina. Average height, she was slender yet curvy, with an ass that would put JLo to shame. Her wavy hair was jet-black, her smooth skin a rich olive tone, both courtesy of her Hispanic heritage. She had sharp brown eyes, and an even sharper tongue. On more than one occasion, he’d been on the receiving end of that sharp tongue, and, sick bastard that he was, it never failed to give him a rise.
He’d asked her out awhile back, but she’d turned him down cold. Some bullshit about him not being her type, though he’d seen the interest in her eyes. But there was also wariness. A hint of fear. As if she didn’t want to be—or perhaps she was afraid of being—attracted to him. So he’d let the matter drop, at least until he could figure out what the problem was.
Shoulders squared, she strode toward their table. But before he could ask what brought her to the diner, she said, “Nina said I could find you here.”
“She did? How did she—” Then the answer dawned on him, and he waved a hand in dismissal. “Never mind.”
His sister, Larissa, was the computer wizard at Six Points, and knowing her, she’d probably loaded some sort of GPS tracking app onto his phone that allowed Nina to pinpoint his location. Considering how many times he’d misplaced the damn thing, he supposed he didn’t mind.
Nate paused to finish the last of his drink and set the empty glass on the table. “So what can I do for you today?”
She paused, as if choosing her words carefully, and then straightened her spine and tipped up her chin. “I need your help breaking into a house.”
O—kay. To be honest, Nate wasn’t sure what he’d expected her to say, but it sure as hell wasn’t that. Granted, he didn’t know her as well as he wanted to, but he hadn’t pegged her as the breaking and entering type. “I’m going to need some background information before I agree to commit a felony.”
It wasn’t that he was afraid of going to jail. Hell, in his misspent youth, he’d been there a few times and knew how to navigate the complex social structure that existed within a correctional facility. But he’d rather avoid it if possible, and if he was going to risk another mug shot and set of fingerprints, it had better be for a damn good reason.
Dorcas propped a hand on her hip. The red blouse she wore molded to all of her curves, and it was distracting as hell. “It’s my sister’s house. I promised to watch the place and take care of her fish while she’s away on business. But I, uh…” A blush crept up her neck. “I lost the key.”
“How did you manage to do that?”
“Does it matter?”
She blew out an exaggerated exhale. “My purse got stolen at the gym a few months ago. I thought I’d replaced everything, but I totally forgot about my sister’s house key until after she left town. If I don’t get in, her fish are going to die, and I’ll never hear the end of it. Now are you going to help me or what?”
How could he say no? Well, technically he could, but then he’d feel like a total asshole. Besides, if he turned her down, her friend Nina would bug the living shit out of him until he relented.
Still, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to jerk her chain a little. “I don’t know. What do I get in return?”
“What do you want?”
Nate grinned, and she threw him some world-class shade.
“Just kidding.” He reached for his phone. “What’s the address?”
When she rattled it off, he pulled it up on a map. Nice area, not far from Universal Studios, though it was less than a mile away from a shady part of town. Though to be fair, almost every address in Orlando was within a mile or two of a shady part of town.
“What kind of security does she have?” He glanced up at her. “Alarm? Locks?”
“She doesn’t have an alarm. I don’t know what kind of locks she has, but I doubt it’s anything out of the ordinary.”
Okay, that would make things a lot easier. “Does she have any nosy neighbors who might call the cops on us?”
Dorcas shook her head. “I don’t think so. Besides, I’ve been around enough times they should recognize me.”
Nate studied her for a few long moments, as if mentally deciding whether to help, but in reality his mind was already made up. In all likelihood, it wouldn’t take much effort to get into her sister’s house. Also, it wasn’t as if he had any plans for the rest of the day, and the favor just might soften Dorcas’s attitude toward him.
“All right, let’s go. I’m driving.” He stood, pulled out his wallet, and set enough cash on the table to cover the bill plus the tip.
“You want me to come with?” Luther asked, and Nate shook his head. The guy just pulled his life back together after being homeless for more than a year. If things went south, he’d rather not drag Luther down with him.
“No, we’re good, but thanks anyway.”
Luther tipped his head back. “Cool. That’s probably for the best. Cops get called, y’all just get arrested. If they see a black dude, the odds of an officer-involved shooting go through the roof.”
Rita’s house was located in a subdivision full of cookie-cutter houses in muted earth tones and small, well-manicured lawns. There weren’t any children playing in the street, or people out walking dogs. It was the kind of neighborhood where everybody minded their own business and didn’t know the name of the guy who lived next door. And if that neighbor turned out to be a serial killer, they’d all say, “But he seemed like such a nice guy.”
Perfect for what Nate was about to do. The fewer witnesses, the better.
Nate parked his truck in the driveway, cut the engine, and gave the property a quick inspection. Unlike the house next door, there was no alarm company sign in the yard. No visible security cameras. The blinds in the front windows were drawn, making it impossible to see inside.
He retrieved a screwdriver from the center console and looked over to Dorcas. “Are you sure you want me to do this?”
“All right, I just wanted to make sure.” He climbed out of the truck and followed Dorcas up the narrow walkway, enjoying the way her gorgeous ass swayed with every step. At the door, she moved aside to allow him room to work his magic.
During his teenage years—okay, early twenties—he’d honed the fine art of lock picking. It wasn’t something he was particularly proud of, but the skill proved useful on occasion.
The absence of a dead bolt would make his job easier. Instead of a traditional pick, he opted to use a simple bump key and inserted it into the lock one notch short of full insertion. Careful not to smack his fingers, he maintained a slight rotational pressure on the key while giving the end a quick smack with the handle of the screwdriver. The impact forced the pins to rise, and the lock cylinder turned.
As he twisted the knob, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. A jolt of unease went through him. It was totally irrational, he couldn’t explain it, and yet…something didn’t feel right. He glanced over his shoulder to see whether anyone was watching them, but nope, there wasn’t a soul in sight.
Not sure what to expect but hoping for the best, he nudged the door open and went inside.
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