Marcus had let it slide when Cole told him he was ordering lunch in at the garage—and he’d confirmed that himself when he parked unobtrusively down the street so he could keep an eye on Cole’s bike and the path to the diner.
And now, there was a customer’s hand in Cole’s front pocket. And Cole was looking at him with a lazy-lidded look—could’ve been just an act to cover embarrassment, but it looked more like something Cole was pretty damned practiced in.
Jesus. Should’ve known.
The anger and betrayal that ran through him was a complete overreaction to a total stranger, but, hell, Styx had wanted to make sure he wasn’t getting cold. And right now, he was anything but.
He watched Cole extricate himself. The customer looked over his shoulder at Marcus and back at Cole, and he didn’t catch what the guy said but Cole gave a tight shake of the head. After another few seconds of conversation, the customer was walking away, semi glaring at Marcus—who glared right back and headed to Cole.
Cole, who stuck his hand up and said, “I got another note.”
“So you get your customers to comfort you?” Marcus demanded.
“God, you suck,” Cole muttered, pulled the paper from his pocket and handed it over.
Since you can’t stop being a whore, I’m going to make sure I redeem you.
“Does this phrasing mean anything to you?” Marcus asked.
“I don’t know what it says—I didn’t read it,” Cole admitted, and for the briefest of seconds, Marcus wanted to believe everything. Then got immediately pissed at himself for thinking that.
“You know who I think is sending these notes? I think they’re from a jealous lover.”
Cole didn’t exactly deny it, but finally he said, “I haven’t been with anyone since I moved to town.”
And after what Marcus had just seen, Cole’s admission didn’t hold much weight. Opportunities like the one with the customer probably happened all the time—Cole was young and single, and there was no reason he should say no.
“Why didn’t you call me when you got this?” Marcus asked, trying to keep his temper in check.
“Because you don’t believe me,” Cole said calmly.
“Maybe it’s the guy you were just propositioning,” Marcus suggested.
Cole stared down at the wrench in his hand, then threw it against the wall. It landed on the cement floor with a loud clank.
“What—you were going to hit me with that?” Marcus scoffed.
Cole glanced at him. “For your information, that guy’s been propositioning me. And no, I don’t think he’s the one leaving the notes. And yes, I was in danger of hitting you with the wrench.”
Marcus smirked. “Got a lot of jealous sugar daddies in this town?”
“You’re such a f***ing asshole.”
“Not an answer.”
“F***. You.” Cole walked away from him and Marcus hung around, watching him clean up his station, pack his tools up and strap them to his bike. Marcus followed behind him closely, making sure to check for anyone following them.
But there was nothing suspicious at all happening during that short ride.
Cole drove the bike smoothly up the driveway. Marcus parked behind him and caught up with him as Cole picked up his mail and a small package, juggling them along with his keys.
Marcus put a hand on Cole’s forearm, and Cole stiffened at the contact. But Marcus didn’t pull away, asking instead, “Any idea who sent that package?”
For a second, Cole looked like he wanted to shoot him a sarcastic comment, but something shifted quickly. He looked down at the package and back at Marcus. “There’s no return address. I’m not expecting anything. You saw me pull in and find it.”
Yes, Marcus had. He’d also heard the jangle inside the cardboard when Cole had picked it up, and now Marcus brought his ear to it and heard a low tick. Most likely, it was a pipe bomb set to explode when Cole opened the box, which would cause the most damage. But he couldn’t rule out that it might go off when Cole simply put it down unopened.
He kept a steady hand on Cole’s arm and took the box from him with a practiced pressure with the other. He held it in both hands and looked at Cole as he began to back away gingerly. “Take my phone from my pocket. Get into my truck. Call Styx’s office and tell them I’m in the woods—that I need dry ice and you need your apartment swept.”
Marcus stared into Cole’s eyes. “There’s a bomb in the box, Cole.”
Cole paled. “Put it down. Call the police and get away from it.”
“I’ll be okay.”
“I want to defuse it. I can learn a lot about a person from the kind of bomb he makes.”
“You know how to defuse bombs?”
“It’s what I was trained to do, yes.” Marcus was good at defusing explosives, and typically, defusing people. “Please, Cole, take the phone, lock yourself in the truck and do what I asked.”
Cole reached into his pants pocket and pulled his phone out. “Got it.”
“Keys are in the truck. And there’s a gun in the glove compartment. But if you don’t know how to use it…”
“I know how to use a gun safely.”
“Good. I’m going into the woods. Any danger comes, you shoot at it or run it over.”