Run to You

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Chapter Two

Stella plopped her backpack on the seat of a metal and vinyl chair at the little Cuban café tucked between restaurants and bars in Miami Beach. G.I. Joe pulled out a chair for her and waited for her to take a seat. “Thank you.” Nice manners from the guy who’d just punched Ricky in the head? The two just didn’t quite fit.

“You’re welcome.” He sat across from her, and her gaze landed on his chest. Hard muscles covered in a black T-shirt. This was Miami. Men didn’t go to clubs dressed like ninjas or stunt doubles in a Terminator movie. Not even on Back Door Betty Night. They wore cotton or linen button-down shirts tucked into designer jeans they probably couldn’t afford. Even if they had to eat hot dogs every night, they dressed like jetsetters and ballers who had money to burn.

A waitress in a tiny pink T-shirt, smooth black ponytail, and big gold earrings set two menus on the table. “You back already?” she asked, her accent barely discernable.

“I’ve changed my mind about that flan.” He reached for his hat and tossed it on the chair beside him. He looked up at the waitress, and Stella got her first good look at him. Like his muscles, his face looked hard, too. Hard like he’d been chiseled from stone. Like an action figure come to life. “Black coffee.” Captain America with a nasty case of hat hair.

The waitress turned her attention to Stella. “For you, miss?”

“I’ll just have decaf.” Caffeine was the last thing her central nervous system needed. As it was, she was going to be awake a long time anyway, trying to sort this night out in her head. “Cream and sugar.”

Joe watched the waitress walk away and combed his fingers through his short blond hair. “What time do you have to meet your someone?” He glanced at the big watch on his wrist, then looked across the table at Stella. “Or was that a lie?”

Gray. His eyes were gray. The color of storm clouds and smoke. Anna Conda had said he looked like Channing Tatum, but Stella didn’t really see it. Perhaps the shape of jaw and mouth was similar, but Joe was older than the Magic Mike star. Late thirties maybe, with tiny creases at the corners of his eyes. She couldn’t imagine that he was a smiley guy. They were probably scowl lines. “What?”

“You told your boss you were meeting someone.”

Oh. “I just wanted him to let me go.” She shook her head, and her Amy bouffant shifted. “How long were you out in the parking lot?”

“About twenty minutes.” He sat back in his chair like he was irritated and folded his big arms across his bigger chest.

“Sorry.” She reached above her head and untied the red scarf from her hair. “If I’d known I was being stalked, I would have hurried.” She shoved the scarf in her pack, then started pulling out bobby pins.

“The laws of stalking vary from state to state, but generally they are defined as a person who repeatedly follows and harasses another person and poses a credible threat of physical harm, whether expressed or implied. Of course that’s the short version.” He paused a moment to watch her pull the pins from her hair before he added, “The key word is ‘repeatedly.’ Tonight is the first time I’ve seen you, so I think it’s safe to say I’m not a stalker.”

She didn’t know if she should be alarmed that he knew the rules of stalking. Long or short version. She shoved a fistful of pins into her backpack, then pulled the bouffant from the top of her head and set it on the table. Instantly she felt cooler. “So what are you?” she asked, although she could guess. Stella wasn’t exactly hiding from anyone, but she didn’t make finding her as easy as a Google search. She’d never been involved in any sort of social media and mostly used the Internet to look up drink recipes and YouTube videos. “Are you a private investigator?” She ran her fingers through her hair, from the top of her forehead to her crown.

His stormy-colored gaze moved from her face to the bouffant on the table. “No. Private security.”

“Like a bodyguard?” He looked like he could be a bodyguard.

“Among other things.” The waitress returned with two cups of coffee and a small plate with flan drizzled in caramel.

“What other things?”

He waited until the waitress walked away before he answered, “Things you don’t need to know about.”

“Secret spy things?”

He picked up his fork and pointed to the wig. “What is that?”

The subject of secret spy things apparently not a topic for conversation, she answered, “A hairpiece.”

“It looks like one of those yappy dogs.” He paused to cut into his dessert. “Like a fat Pekingese.”

Out of everything that had happened that night, he wanted to judge her Amy bouffant? She poured a splash of cream into her coffee and added a packet of sugar. “So, who paid you to look for me?” She stirred, and with her free hand, she reached behind her neck and pulled her hair over one shoulder. The fine black strands brushed the top of her bustier and curled beneath the curve of her left breast. She thought about her family and wondered which one had actually coughed up their own money to find her. It wasn’t her mother. Her mother knew where she lived, but Stella doubted Marisol had told anyone. Not because she was tight-lipped, but because Stella had made her mother swear secrecy on the life of baby Jesus. And swearing on baby Jesus was deadly business. Her first guess would be her mother’s ex-husband. “Carlos?” Although she couldn’t imagine what he’d want from her these days. Money. Her biological father had died recently and Carlos had to think she’d received some money. She hadn’t. Her mother would have mentioned money.

He shoveled a piece of flan into his mouth, then raised the solid white mug and washed it down. “No.”

She took a drink of her own coffee, then wiped off the smudge of red lipstick with her thumb. “Tio Jorge?” She liked her uncle Jorge. He was one of the few people in her family she wouldn’t mind seeing. He’d always been good to her, but she couldn’t imagine Jorge parting with a dime to find her. He was a good man, but an extreme tightwad.

He pointed the mug at her. “Your sister.”

Equal parts relief and amusement curved her lips into a smile and she chuckled. “You’ve got the wrong girl.” He’d hung out with drag queens, waited in a parking lot until two-thirty in the morning, and knocked Ricky out. For nothing. “I don’t have a sister. Tons of cousins, but no sister.” Thinking of Anna Conda and her interest in Joe’s sexual aura turned Stella’s chuckle to laughter. She placed her elbows on the table and laced her fingers together beneath her chin. “Maybe you should think of a new line of work.”

His gray eyes stared into hers from across the table as he took another drink of coffee. Nothing registered on his face, as if the mere possibility of a mistake was so absurd it wasn’t worth the effort of a single thought or expression.

“Whoever paid you is going to want her money back. I hope it wasn’t much.” She needed to get going. It wasn’t her style to bullshit with strangers. She had to do a lot of that at work and preferred not to on her own time. There was nothing to keep her here now, except a perverse desire to see if she could get a reaction out of Mr. Stone Cold. “This stealthy ninja, lurking-in-the-shadows gig isn’t working for you.” And to be extra helpful she added, “I don’t know what they taught you at your security school, but the next time you’re working undercover at a drag queen pageant, you might think about blending in. Maybe wear some leather chaps or at the very least … pastel.” The thought of him in assless chaps or a pink shirt with maybe a scarf cracked her up.

Too bad he didn’t have a sense of humor. “I’m not undercover, and your name is Stella Leon. Correct?” Without breaking so much as a smile, he picked up his fork and shoved more flan into his mouth.

He knew her name. She didn’t know his but didn’t ask. First, because she didn’t care. And second, if he told her he might think he had to kill her. She tried and failed to control her laughter. God, she was funny sometimes. Maybe she should try stand-up comedy as her next career. She’d tried just about everything else. “Yep.”

“Your sister, Sadie Hollowell, is looking for you.”

Her laughter died and everything within her stilled. Shut down and off. Her heart. Her breath. The blood in her veins. Her hands fell to the table and she unlocked her fingers. “Sadie?” The name sounded odd coming from her mouth. She never talked about Sadie out loud anymore. Tried not to think about her and was for the most part successful. She pressed her palms and fingertips into the hard tabletop as if she could hang on to the smooth surface as her world tilted. “You know her?”