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Jake touched the cheek she’d taken the splinters from. She knew it was still red and angry looking. “You always seem to have a mark on you.”
“Hazard of the job.” When he didn’t move away again, she shifted in her chair, placing a bit of distance between them. “Udall thinks, and I agree, that Alvarez masterminded the poisoning. There will be an investigation...”
“You know as well as I do that nothing will come of it.” There was no mistaking the bitterness in Jake’s tone. Any hint of tenderness must have been her imagination. Those pale eyes were cool now, guarded.
“Probably not.” It was notoriously difficult to get inmates to come forward with information. Prisons were primitive communities, with a basic set of rules for survival. “But someone might hope to trade facts for better treatment. A transfer closer to home. Something.” She leaned forward, a note of urgency entering her voice. “The fact is, you know as well as I do that Alvarez is the one who wanted him dead. And I resent you trying to lay Stanton’s death at my door.”
She didn’t need anyone else on her conscience. She was haunted enough by Luz’s specter as it was.
“I wasn’t blaming you. Or maybe I was, but I was angry.” He reached out for his glass, brought it to his lips and drank. “I have no doubt that his death was planned to make everyone else come to the same conclusion. There’s no way to prove it, one way or another. God knows, Alvarez had the motive and he’s tried it before. But I don’t think he was behind it this time.”
“Who else would it be?” Her glass was in hand without her even thinking about it. “Since you’ve cleared me, and apparently Alvarez, who does that leave?”
“I’m guessing it was the guy who was in my office this afternoon.” His gaze caught hers over the top of the glass. “The man who hired me to kill you.”
There was a kick in her chest, strong enough to drive the breath from her lungs. Her hand hesitated an instant in the act of setting the glass back on the table. Then she recovered, looked at him coolly. “Well, what’s the going price on a hit these days? Are we talking pocket change or real money?” Her lips twisted. “Call it ego, but I’d like to hear he made it worth your while. No one likes to know their life is worth the price of a couple tickets to Six Flags.”
Jake stared at her for a moment. Could she really be that cold? From her reaction, one would think she had ice water running in her veins. But he had reason to know that her blood could, on occasion, run quite hot, indeed. “He offered me a hundred and fifty thousand.”
Amazingly enough, a flash of amusement flickered across her face. “Come to think of it, I’m not certain which of us should be more insulted. Did it occur to you that you might have been low balled because he’s underestimated you?”
He sat back in his chair, considered her. “I’m counting on that. And you’re taking this amazingly well. Most potential hits could be forgiven for being a bit jumpier.”
Her eyes chilled. And he was abruptly reminded that she was as adept at donning masks as he was himself. “You can try, Tarrance.” Her voice was a taunt, a dare. “Do your worst. But the first two men who came for me are dead. And the one who attempted a couple nights ago will be too, when I catch up with him.” She shrugged, picked up her glass again with a steady hand. “You might want to consider that before taking his money.”
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