Pablo kept his face bent to the magazine, though he watched from the corner of his eye. The limo came on at its same crawl.
As Maria reached the spot where she’d started, the limo glided smoothly forward, turned its long body, and blocked the road.
Maria slammed on the brakes. Pablo’s magazine fell. “Gun it. Get around them.”
Maria started to, but she made herself stop. If she hurtled the truck up through a yard and around the limo, they’d chase her, stop her, maybe shoot her and Pablo both. Besides, she had a better idea.
“No,” Maria said.
“Shit, woman. That’s Bradley.”
“I guessed that. Wonder what he’s doing here, and not holed up in his house?”
“I don’t care. Aw, damn it.”
Four men exited the limo. They wore casual clothes, jeans and polo shirts, no business suits in sight. They looked like Texas businessmen out looking at their properties, except that three of the men surrounded the fourth as though they were his bodyguards. All four wore guns in holsters on their belts, no hiding them.
The fourth man was shorter and slimmer of build than the others, had a thick shock of salt-and-pepper hair, and wore wire-rimmed glasses. He looked innocuous, a Texas man with enough money and confidence that he felt no need to dress to impress, until he turned his head and looked at Maria.
The cold in his eyes made her gasp. At five paces away, the chill of him seeped over her, a man with no remorse, no conscience. He could tell his three bodyguards to open fire on the truck, killing her and Pablo without a word, even in front of the construction workers, and walk away without worry.
Pablo’s hand went down his jeans to his ankle holster, but Maria put her hand on his arm. “Wait.”
“I can get off at least two shots before they can.”
Pablo started muttering in Spanish, asking Mary, the mother of God, to protect him from crazy bitches who thought they were invincible because they ran with Shifters. Maria ignored him, opened the door of the truck, and hopped out. She spread her hands and kept them out to her sides so they’d see she had no weapons.
Even so, two of the bodyguards drew pistols, holding them close by their sides, but definitely training them on her.
“Mr. Bradley?” Maria asked, as though the guns didn’t make her nervous. “I’m Maria. I was hoping I could speak with you.”Chapter Fourteen
“Were you?” Bradley’s voice was flat, uninflected. “I don’t know you. I know Mr. Marquez there, but not you.”
“You know about me. I work for the Shifters—well, they make me work for them. Your men have followed me when I’m out with their cubs. I know you took one of them today. I asked Mr. Marquez to bring me to your house so I could tell you I can get you more Shifter cubs if you want them. If you’ll pay me, that is. They use me as a babysitter a lot, so I’m left alone with them all the time.”
Bradley’s gaze remained on Maria while she spoke, then he flicked it to the truck. “If that’s true, why are you here and not at my front gate?”
“I was trying to talk Mr. Marquez into it.” Maria smiled. “He’s afraid of you, you see. He brought me this far, but refused to tell me where to go from here. When he saw you, he wanted us to run away, but I really want to talk to you. I need the money, and here’s an opportunity.”
Bradley assessed Maria without changing expression. Good thing he wasn’t Shifter, because he’d scent the deception pouring off her. If she could keep him interested, while Ellison and the others got into his house, he’d have a nice surprise waiting when he went home.
“I’m willing to hear your suggestions,” Bradley said. He gestured to the limo. “Ride with me, and be my guest.”
Maria didn’t need Pablo to tell her not to get into that car. “Can’t we talk here?” Out in the open, with witnesses.
“No. There’s nothing to be afraid of Ms . . .”
“Ortega.” No sense in lying. He could check.
“Ms. Ortega. We’ll talk, we’ll have coffee, and you’ll go. But only if Mr. Marquez comes with us.”
“Of course,” Maria said. “He’s good at business. He’s advising me.”
Bradley didn’t move, but the two bodyguards who’d taken out their pistols went to the truck. One aimed his gun through the door Maria had left open, the other went around. Pablo slid out his side of the truck, and let the goon pat him down and take his weapon.
Pablo’s face was a careful blank, but his eyes held molten fury. Bradley waited until Pablo was in the limo, then he ushered Maria ahead of him as he walked to the limo’s open door. The bodyguard who’d taken Pablo’s gun got into the pickup and started it with the keys Maria had left, waiting to follow.
Maria swallowed her misgivings, climbed inside the leather-seated limo, and sank down next to Pablo. She tried not to flinch when the door slammed shut, enclosing them in a cushy, cigar-scented, dark-windowed prison.
Bradley had four bodyguards surrounding his house today, Ellison noted after he and Tiger had sniffed around then met up with Broderick and Ronan. Four guards, four Shifters. Poor bastards didn’t stand a chance.
Ellison was about to give the order to take down the guards when he saw Bradley’s limo leave from the semicircle of the drive and roll down the lane to the gate.