Page 33 of Marked With Love

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Wray steps in. “Restaurants like Louis’ do a significant amount of their transactions in cash.”

Oh, he’s a money launderer. “Great. I think that’s fantastic. I’m no cop lover, and I’m happy to let you go and do your fun criminal activities, so I’ll get your painting, and we can call it even.”

“I don’t believe you.” Wray shakes the hammer toward me.

“That’s because we’ve just met and haven’t developed a relationship, but you can ask anybody. I'm a pretty trustworthy guy.”

“It’s counterfeit plates,” Louis blurts out. “I’m not laundering money.”

This earns him a wicked slap across the face. I wince in sympathy.

Wray pivots toward me. “Your turn.”

I struggle against my bonds, but they hold firm. Fucking hell. I guess I’m in for a little pain. I brace myself and then nearly fall over when the door flies off the hinges. A stream of black-clad figures with long guns suddenly fill the trailer. At the very back, I spot Violetta, Alfred, and Morgan.

“What the hell is going on? And why is Morgan here? It’s dangerous.”

“Hi.” She waves at me.

Violetta nudges Alfred. “Isn’t that sweet? He’s about to be pummeled, and his first thought is of our Morgan.”

Alfred grunts. I guess that’s his way of agreeing. I’m taking it as a positive sign.

“I’m here to save you,” Morgan announces. She rushes over and pulls at my bonds.

“I think you’re going to have to cut them off.”

“Who has a knife?”

Alfred appears at her side with a switchblade in his hand.

“You’re really prepared for anything, aren’t you, Alfred?”

“It’s in the job description,” he replies in a flat tone. He bends down and slices through the plastic zip ties.

“What’s this all about?” Violetta wants to know.

I rub my wrists and explain. “Louis promised Mr. Wray the painting to settle some gambling debts, so I think to make it right, you should give the painting back to Mr. Wray, and I’ll cover your loss.” The thing is I don’t want Violetta and Morgan in danger. I don’t know if Mr. Wray is the top of the food chain or some flunky. It’s best to play this off as something simple.

“Thanks for saving me.” I give Morgan a simple kiss on the forehead. “And not believing I stood you up and ran off.”

“I did actually doubt you. I went over to your house to give you a piece of my mind, but your mom convinced me that you wouldn’t have done that. I checked your location on your phone and came over here to confront you. When we got here, there were all these black cars and sketchy men outside, so I called my grandma, and she put the team together.”

“I’m impressed.” I grab her hand and usher Morgan and her grandma and Alfred out of the trailer, leaving the commandos to deal with Wray and Louis. When we get into the car, Violetta turns around from the front seat and spears me with a glare. “Gambling debts? Do you really expect us to believe that?”

“Probably not, but I think it’s best if we continue on with that pretense so that everyone remains safe.”

“Hmmmph.” She crosses her arms but doesn’t question me further.

I reach for Morgan and hug her tightly. “Sorry about leaving you hanging like that.”

“Don’t ever do it again,” she mumbles against my chest.

“I won’t.”

“I was so scared for you.”

“Not gonna lie, I was a little nervous myself. I think you better take me home and give me some tender, loving care.”