regular occurrence. Mari sat up and looked around; the room was simply decorated with a bed, a little table beside the door, and a cabinet containing small bottles and rolls of bandages.
“I guess I’m in the medical clinic,” she croaked, her throat burning when the words squeezed by. She ran her fingers over her chin and down her neck to her collar bone. Her skin was tender to the touch and she knew without looking that bruises were forming.
God, I almost died. “You can thank me for your survival.” Perez appeared before her, fully clothed and sporting a cocky expression. “How so?” She husked and threw her legs over the side of the bed. Her boot heels hit the floor and the vibrations awoke her other sore muscles, and they joined with a newborn headache to create a full body throb. She groaned. “Once I saw those men following you, I knew something was up. I sent Ty a mental nudge to go find you, and I put a pinch of urgency in it.”
For the first time since arriving in 1856, Mari was grateful for Perez’s interference. If he hadn’t “nudged” Ty, she’d… Well, she’d probably be the one type of victim she swore she’d never become.
Those men weren’t just hanging around town looking for someone to plunder, they’d come right for her. Someone sent them to find her, attack her, and deliver their message. Too bad those men hadn’t shared more than the littlest information about their boss: he was ruthless and he was interested in her for some reason. Mari couldn’t fathom why anyone would be interested in her. She’d only been there for eight days, and she hadn’t set foot off the ranch until that morning, so how did anyone know about her enough to become interested in her? Suspicion and wariness knit together in her gut.
She rubbed her still sore throat and felt a pang of weariness. She didn’t want to believe that another
complication had arisen to give her the finger. “Who’s to say it isn’t Espada who’s shown a sudden and appalling interest in you? He did seem a little intrigued when you ran out into the fray at the ranch and kissed Ty like he was water and you were hella thirsty.” Perez’s laughing tone held a note of concern and wariness. Despite his flippant attitude, he seemed genuinely worried about her.
Mari swore under her breath. Perez shouldn’t have to worry about her, he should be out, floating around, doing whatever it was he did to move his tasks along. The faster he completed his portion of their plan the sooner she could infiltrate La Rosa Negra’s hideout and put a bullet between Espada’s eyes. Cut the head off the snake, and the body died. Kill Espada and La Rosa Negra would fall apart, right?
Dear God, she hoped so. Neither she nor Perez could think of another solution to rid Laredo of the scourge without innocent people getting hurt. No more innocents would die on her watch, not if there were something she could do to stop it. If Espada was the one behind her attack, what was his motive? What did he gain by attacking and threatening her? The better question was why had he turned his attention to her? Her gut told her there was more to the story of the attack than a man trying to make a point. There was intent there she couldn’t put her finger on. Though she’d spent years training for her DEA assignment, she and her instincts had spent years together before that; her gut never steered her wrong and she was thankful for its forceful voice throughout her years
of service with the undercover drug task force. Her instincts and the twinge in her gut had kept her alive more times than she could count. Too bad she hadn’t always listened to them.
The sound of purposeful footsteps pounded in the clinic hallway right before the door to the room
slammed open. Perez vanished only milliseconds before Ty appeared through the doorway.
Mari gasped and stiffened at the sight of the man before her. Usually crowned with a halo of bright
goodness and radiating a glow of laughter, Ty was a man of good-natured charm. The man who strode through the door wasn’t the man she knew—he was a wholly different creature…and her body immediately responded. Ty stalked toward her, his golden face a hard mask of anger, his countenance a blistering violent heat, and his body tightly wound, ready to uncoil and ensnare her in its trap.
He stopped just short of where she stood in the middle of the now-too-small room, his jaw worked and his nostrils flared beneath blue eyes darkened with anger and something she refused to name.
“When you first came into my life, there was something about you that told me you’d turn my life upside down. You confuse me, you twist me inside out, you enrage me, and you make me want things with you I’ve never wanted with anyone else. You’re a mystery, you’re a goddamn fire in my blood, and now you’re a danger to yourself.” Mari could only stare. What was he talking about? He wanted things with her? What things? She took a step back and opened her mouth to respond, but not before Ty silenced her with a punishing glare. “Marisol, what were you thinking taking a walk through town by yourself? I don’t know what life is like where you’re from but in Laredo, beautiful unmarried women are like fresh meat to a pack of coyotes. Of course you were attacked; this town is filled with men who wouldn’t think twice about raping and killing you.” He’d moved closer, his chest mere hairs’ breadth from her suddenly aching breasts, his lips only inches from her face. She could easily lean forward and brush her mouth against his. Would he recoil in surprise, sputter in anger, or devour her as she longed to be devoured? Keep your mind on the words, not the man, Mari, or else you’ll find yourself flat on your back in a country clinic. Her logical killjoy harped.
“Don’t you care what happens to you? How did you end up in that creek? What happened? Did you walk blindly into an attack? Did you let someone rob you and leave you for dead?” Mari couldn’t hold her peace. “That’s not fair, and you damn well know it,” she exploded. When he flinched as if slapped, she paused, startled and confused by his actions. The alarming truth struck her hard, forcing the air from her lungs. Ty had burst into the room and rained anger and insults down on her head…in English. And she’d responded without thinking. His gaze raked over her expression and a humorless smile thinned his lips. “So, the senorita speaks English after all. What’s wrong? Couldn’t keep up the ruse?”