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Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)
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Looks can be deceiving.
I knew that most people took one look at the ink and the impossibly big and strong body it covered and decided I was a brawler…a bruiser…a beast. However, I was hardwired to be a thinker, not a fighter—my mind being my greatest weapon and my biggest weakness.
I should have chosen to use my brain and talents to be one of the good guys, a hero, a man with dignity and worth.
I turned my back on dignity and sold my soul to the highest bidder, deciding to dance with the devil, instead.
I couldn’t figure out how to help myself, so there was zero chance I knew how to save someone else.
That someone else was Noe Lee. She was the unkempt, unruly thief who was just as smart as I was and twice as street savvy. She was annoyingly adorable beneath the dirt and grime and she was in trouble. In way over her head, I told myself it wasn’t my job to keep her from drowning. In the Point, it was sink or swim and I wasn’t the designated lifeguard on duty.
I had shut the door in her face, but now she’s gone…vanished…disappeared without a trace. It took less than a second for me to realize that I wanted her back.
When a woman comes along that melts all the frozen, hard things you’re made of, you’ll do anything you have to, to bring her home.
What you see is not always what you get…and with a man like me there is more than anyone ever bargained for.
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If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.
~ Lucy Larcom
I was going to do something I swore to myself I would never, ever do again in my life . . . ask for help.
I’d learned early in life that the only person I could rely on, the only person who would never let me down or disappoint me, was me. No one else had my best interests or wellbeing in mind. I was the only one who cared if I made it through each day and into the next. I didn’t need anyone. I’d been doing all right on my own while surviving some pretty shitty circumstances for a long time. I watched my own back and called all my own shots. That was the way I liked it, the way I needed it to be. But right now, I was scared. Terrified really. I was also smart enough to know that I was in way over my head.
I needed help and there was only one person I felt comfortable enough asking to yank me out of the murky, dangerous mess I’d waded into.
It didn’t make sense because we’d only met once. Oddly enough, in that brief encounter, he had called me a thief and a bitch. He wasn’t going to be happy to see me. In fact, there was no guarantee that he was going to agree to get me out of the bind that had me so wound up that I couldn’t even move, but I had to ask. I needed someone on my side, someone else needed to know what was going on. In this moment, my mind was telling me that someone was him.
I was afraid to show my face. Afraid to come out of hiding. Afraid of every dark corner and every shadow that lurked in the back alleys I called home. I was afraid that I’d finally gone too far, something I never really thought was possible before now. People were looking for me, and while I was notoriously hard to find, they seemed to have eyes everywhere and enough money to pay people to look in the places I normally hid. I was no longer invisible. No longer overlooked and dismissed like most homeless and displaced people were. The streets were never safe, but now, day in and day out, I was actively being hunted. There was a price on my head and everyone in the Point was looking for a payday.
The last time I’d been at this fancy townhouse complex on the outskirts of the Point, I’d been using a lock picking set to jimmy the front door open so I could rob a guy blind. He had come looking for me, and I didn’t like it when people I didn’t know tried to find me. Especially guys like him. I really didn’t like it when people had money, drove nice cars, had obvious free time to blow at the gym, and were as good with computers and tech as me. Everything about him rubbed me the wrong way, and when I heard he was trying to find me, I wanted to make sure he never made that mistake again. I didn’t want to be anywhere on his radar even though he was a huge, gigantic blip on mine. He pinged and beeped alerts all over the place long before he dragged me down to the Lock and Key to meet with his enigmatic boss.
I’d never had the opportunity to meet Snowden Stark before he came looking for me, but I knew all about him. Everyone in the digital underground did, and not because he was tied into some shady business dealings with Race Hartman and Nassir Gates, the undisputed golden king and dark knight of the Point. The two of them ruled this broken kingdom and it was no secret that Stark was their tech wizard. He was the one who made magic happen. Even before he sold his soul to the highest bidder, he’d been into some questionable practices behind his keyboard. It was rumored that he was the one who had hacked the state’s police database and sent the names, addresses, and mug shots of each and every possible sex offender to all the parents in the Point. Not the registered, supposedly rehabilitated pedophiles, but the ones who had gotten away with their crimes. The ones who hadn’t managed to get caught yet.
The watch list was long and terrifying. The list made its ways through schools and was talked about for weeks on the news. People were torn between fury at the invasion of privacy, since the names on the list belonged to people never convicted, and relief that the bad guys had names and faces before they could offend, or offend again. It was always trial by fire in the Point and nobody was really innocent until proven guilty. They were always guilty, and most of the time, they didn’t get caught. There was little the police could do without solid proof and witnesses. Stark didn’t operate that way. No one seemed too concerned when the people on that list started dropping like flies. Vigilante justice was nothing new in the Point. In fact, it was often the only kind of justice this place saw. Sure, some of the people with their name on Stark’s hit list left town and disappeared on their own, but it was common knowledge that most of them were run out of town by Nassir, and those who didn’t want to go disappeared another way. A more permanent and bloody way that involved shallow graves dug under the moonlight.