Rules of Protection (Tangled in Texas) (Volume 1)(7)

By: Alison Bliss

“Honey, I say the same thing every time I’m drinking in a hotel bar,” Dale said with a chuckle. “But I always end up in a room, and I’m never alone.”

Gina grinned knowingly. “This guy has you scared to death.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Any time something scares you, you unleash the sarcasm,” she responded. “It’s what you do.”

I rolled my eyes. “Whatever.”

“See what I mean? Come on, follow him and find out what he’s doing,” Gina said. “He looked like he was hiding from someone.”

Probably one of the women he tried to shake loose. I hated to admit it, but I was curious. His behavior intrigued me. He had looked around as if someone watched him, though I never saw anybody paying attention…unless you count us, of course.

“Okay, fine,” I said, getting out of my chair. “I’ll take a quick peek, but I’m not sleeping with him.”

Dale laughed as I walked away. “Girl, you better watch out for those magicians. Like magic, he could easily make your panties disappear.”

I pretended not to hear him and kept walking. When I got to the back of the room, I paused and leaned against the wall. What the hell was I doing? If I had any brains left, I’d go back to the table and forget the whole thing, but there was a problem. I couldn’t get Jake out of my head.

From the first time I saw him, my mind clouded over, as if he shut it down and forced me to do things I wouldn’t normally do. He caused my brain to fog, but I didn’t know how or why. It was as if he put a dunce cap on my head, and I took it literally.

Now I had a decision: follow him or go back to the table. The smart thing to do was rejoin my friends, but nobody had ever accused me of doing the smart thing.

I let out a breath and swung through the door. It led to a narrow hallway undergoing some renovations. A ladder, some painting supplies, and a few boxes of new lighting fixtures lined the walls. The corridor was long and quiet with no sign of Jake.

Most of the fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling were broken or not working. One blinked constantly as if it were getting ready to go out. That alone made the passageway eerily dark, but I followed the length of it anyway.

When I got to the end, I wasn’t sure what to do. I could go left or right, but had no way of knowing which way Jake had gone. So I used logic. The bulge in his pants had hugged one side more than the other, suggesting he was a righty. Therefore, I ended up going to the right, and moments later, came to a door labeled Lounge 3. I opened it and peered inside. Nothing. Entire room was empty, except a few pieces of furniture covered with thick, clear plastic.

I continued on and stopped at the next room labeled Lounge 4. The last door in the hallway. If he wasn’t here, I’d have to try the other hall in the opposite direction. I turned the knob and started to pull it toward me, but stopped when I heard voices. Curious, I cracked the door open without making a sound. I peered in through the two-inch slit and caught a glimpse of more furniture covered with the same thick plastic.

A familiar voice rose as a man walked into view. Even by his profile, I recognized Sergio as he stood in front of the plastic-covered couch against the wall. He spoke to someone out of my eyesight.

“You know it wasn’t me!” Sergio said in a tense voice.

“Take a seat,” the other man said.

Sergio sat, but stayed nervously on the edge of the cushion. “Come on, Boss. You know I wouldn’t lie to you.”

The mystery man finally strolled into view in his navy blue tailored suit. He was a short, heavy-set man with a round, pudgy face, a large, crooked nose, and a mole under his left eye. “It’s a shame, Sergio. I told you to lay low and I’d give you a pass, but instead…”

Two men in sleek suits with short dark hair joined his side. They resembled bodyguards, and both silently stared at Sergio.

Sergio stood, waving his arms frantically. “Wait, Mr. Felts. I’m telling you…”

The other man—the one referred to as Mr. Felts—shook his head and clicked his tongue sarcastically. “We have a problem that needs some attention. My associate on the inside says someone’s been feeding data about my operation to the feds. That’s no good. I can’t afford to lose the respect of my family and friends. I need a scapegoat to correct this problem.”

“Please, Boss, I’m telling you…it wasn’t me.”

“Sit down, Sergio,” Mr. Felts ordered. “And stop carrying on. You’re something all right, but you’re not a damn goat.”

The two big men behind Mr. Felts chuckled. Sergio blew out a huge breath. Relieved, the tension melted from his posture as he sat back, kicking an ankle up over the knee of his other leg.

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