Gabriel let her go. That’s why they were at the club, supposedly—although he was beginning to wonder if her real aim wasn’t to get him killed. She was certainly going about it the right way. Slipping off to a respectful distance, he watched cynically as Gina proceeded to show her engagement rock to anyone who happened to glance her way.
An hour or so passed. Gabriel spent most of it scanning the surrounding crowd, picking out faces and automatically running them against his internal wants and warrants database. He noticed that Ortega was on the dance floor with the stunning blonde woman he’d spent a lot of time talking to at the Botelli mansion. Gabriel watched them moving in and out of the shadows, swaying to the sultry music, a slow, sexy tune that was all heat and sensual rhythm.
And annoyingly, he felt a wash of jealousy as the woman wound her arms around Ortega’s broad shoulders, pressing close, molding herself against his body. For God’s sake, this was one of the bad guys. Second-in-command to an infamous Mexican drug lord. He could only imagine what heinous acts Ortega had performed to gain that position of power.
Sanchez had a rep for employing the most violent and morally corrupt. Ortega’s rap sheet was probably longer than his…well, it was probably long. And blood-drenched. The thought of reading it made Gabriel feel slightly queasy. He’d had no sense of the man’s true nature during their sexual encounter. Not a hint.
But then that was the thing that civilians didn’t understand.
Only comic book villains were evil 24/7. Most people came in shades of gray, and even sociopaths had been known to feed stray cats and send Mother’s Day cards.
Broodingly, he watched Ortega subtly maneuvering his partner away from his gun arm. The bastard even moved like a dream.
He watched Ortega guiding the blonde through some intricate steps. That graceful, loose embrace reminded Gabriel of old black-and-white movies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
He couldn’t even imagine moving with that kind of flowing confidence around a dance floor. Somewhere down the line Ortega must have taken ballroom dance lessons. Now what kind of vicious drug lord took ballroom dancing?
That was funny, right? So why didn’t Gabriel feel like laughing?
Bitterly he observed Ortega whispering in the blonde’s ear while they danced. The woman nodded, and Ortega whipped her around in some kind of tricky spin. The blonde threw her head back, laughing.
Gabriel wanted to shoot them both. It was like…Jesus. It was like high school again. Like being the skinny, frail, queer kid at the dance—wondering why the hell you were there. Or even on the fucking planet.
Gabriel forced his attention back on the job, scanning the dance floor for Gina. She wasn’t there, but he spotted her quickly enough, twenty feet away in her usual circle of admirers, downing shots of Amaretto and bouncing to a beat Gabriel couldn’t hear. Her engagement ring flashed in the spotlights like a lighthouse beacon, undoubtedly drawing every scumbag in five square miles.
He studied the crowd—and this time a familiar face caught his eye. Several faces in fact, and none of them belonged in these refined surroundings. Rocky Scarborough’s crew was pushing its way through the exclusive doors of Ruby Blue, shoving past the clearly outclassed bouncers and knocking down the pretty people in the path. Scarborough was Botelli’s major competition for the Sanchez alliance, and Gabriel didn’t believe in coincidences.
He looked to the dance floor and, to his surprise, Ortega was moving his way, dark eyes finding Gabriel’s own—locking on.
And Gabriel realized his uppermost feeling was relief. He could use help.
“What is it? You look unhappy, Contadino , ” Ortega said, reaching him.
Gabriel was already moving through the crowd to where Gina stood oblivious to her danger. He threw words over his shoulder,
“Rocky Scarborough’s crew is here. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think Scarborough is stupid enough to believe that if something happened to Gina, your boss might look on his distribution network more favorably.”
“Then he truly is stupid.” Ortega spoke calmly, his low voice slicing right through the thump of the music.
Stupid and vicious. That summed up Rocky Scarborough.
Gabriel could feel Ortega at his back, feel the man’s heat and solid presence, and it was reassuring. Ortega sounded calm—even resigned—clearly no stranger to violence, and Gabriel knew if he went down Ortega would somehow get Gina out of there. That was all that mattered. Gina might have the brains of a parakeet, but she was the innocent here.
His eyes raked the room as he chose his escape route. One set of emergency doors led onto an alley in back. Another exit, beside the bandstand, was closer but strobe lights and the moving crowd prevented him from seeing whether it was clear.
He unbuttoned his jacket, reaching up to ease his gun in its holster, making sure it would draw smoothly should the moment come.
“Frank Donald’s here,” Ortega said, and Gabriel spared him a quick look.
Ortega jerked his head in the direction of the side exit. Sure enough Scarborough’s favorite enforcer was positioned near the door. Either Gabriel had missed Donald the first time he’d checked or Scarborough’s men were stationing themselves around the room. Not good.
And he could see by the grim lines on Ortega’s handsome face that he concurred.
Briefly, Gabriel wondered how a Mexican underboss knew a local enforcer by sight. Had Sanchez considered partnership with the unstable Scarborough?
Then he reached Gina’s side and there was no more time for reflection.
“Time to go, party girl.” He grabbed her arm, and she nearly toppled over.
“Whaddaya doing, G?” she slurred, trying to straighten herself.
“We jus’ got here!”
“Yeah, but it’s way past my bedtime.” He drew her forward, away from her disappointed cronies, and Gina picked that moment to be obstinate.
“Don’ wanna go home. Wanna dance! Wanna dance with you, G.” She smiled up at him with glassy eyes. “Love you, G.”
Like things weren’t scary enough?
“No, you don’t. Don’t say that.” He threw a quick look around the room, and was disturbed to see that he could no longer easily spot Scarborough’s men. Bad news. He tightened his grip on Gina’s slender wrist, one of her jeweled bracelets cutting into his palm. “Gina—now.”