Earl glanced over his shoulder toward the door and pitched his voice low. “Why is he meeting you here?”
“So we can drive out to the house together.”
He lowered his gaze and shook his head. “Would you consider doing me a favor?”
Done with the topic, Savannah fished her sunglasses out of her bag and propped them on top of her head. “What’s that?”
“Take your own car, and let him take his.”
She started to argue, but Earl held up a hand. “Look, Savannah, you and Gia are like daughters to me, and I’m only giving you the same advice I’d give any of my own girls. If you insist on doing business with that man, at least take precautions. Tell him it’s getting late, and you have to meet up with someone right after the showing, so you’ve decided to take your own car.”
Savannah caught her bottom lip between her teeth.
“It’s not even like that’s not true.” Gia didn’t know Buster Clarke, but for Earl to be so worked up over it, the man must be bad news. And Savannah heading out to a deserted house in an area even more remote than Gia’s community with a man she didn’t know but whose reputation preceded him, did not sit well. The thought of calling her boyfriend, Savannah’s cousin, Captain Hunter Quinn, shot through her mind at warp speed.
Savannah pointed a finger at Gia. “Don’t even think about it.”
“What?” The innocent look she aimed for was probably ruined by the ‘you caught me’ expression she was most certainly wearing. Sometimes, having Savannah’s thoughts run so similar to her own had its down side.
“Listen, guys.” She kissed Earl’s cheek and patted Cole’s hand. “Thank you for worrying about me. I really do appreciate it, but this is my job. I don’t have a choice but to do it, even if it’s not always comfortable.”
“Are you sure, Savannah?” Cole leaned closer to her. “I’m covering grill, and I’m sure Gia wouldn’t mind rescheduling her interview so she could go with you.”
A pang of hope shot through Gia.
“Aww…sweetie, thank you.” She kissed his cheek as well. “You guys are the best, but I’m okay. Buster hasn’t done anything inappropriate either of the times I’ve met with him so far, and once was at the office after everyone else had left. He’s been nothing but professional, no matter what he does in his personal life.”
Gia stepped forward, a sinking feeling in her gut that she shouldn’t let Savannah go alone. “Savannah…”
Savannah’s gaze shifted past Gia’s shoulder and out the front window. “Shh. He’s here. You guys behave now. Please.”
The front door opened, and a middle-aged man strutted in, his mostly black but peppered with gray hair slicked back with more grease than Gia scraped off the grill after cooking five pounds of bacon. His perfectly tailored suit hugged the solid build of someone who spent a good chunk of his day in the gym. He reached a hand out to Savannah. “Savannah, dear. So good to see you. I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Um…” She glanced at Earl, Cole, and Gia grouped together beside the counter. “No problem, Buster, but would you mind if we take separate cars out to the Oakley Manor House? I have a meeting right afterward, and I’ll need to head straight there once we’re done.”
He shifted his gaze to the trio beside the bar, looked them up and down, and then dismissed them to look at Savannah. “Of course, dear. That’s fine.”
Buster turned and headed for the door without acknowledging any of them.
Savannah shot them a wink, then followed.
Earl whirled on Gia. “I’m not comfortable with this. Sloan was hurt really bad by that guy.”
“Did he press charges?”
“Nah, Buster’s slick. He had a couple of his goons take care of Sloan when he couldn’t repay the loan he’d taken, then threatened to come back for his wife and kids if he went to the police.”
Bile burned its way up Gia’s throat. “What ended up happening?”
“Sloan learned a hard lesson about the dangers of gambling. He paid back every dime, including the astronomical interest, and was grateful to be done with the whole thing. Once he finished rehabilitation, he went back to work, though he still walks with a limp.”
Gia’s gut cramped. “You said Buster had Sloan’s legs broken because he couldn’t pay him back. Where’d he come up with the money to satisfy the loan?”
Red blotches crept up Earl’s cheeks. “A friend loaned it to him.”
“Did he pay it back?”
Earl shook his head. “Sloan’s a truck driver with a pack of kids and a wife who doesn’t believe in working. He has a hard enough time keeping food on the table without having to pay back that kind of money. That’s how he ended up in trouble in the first place, just tryin’ to make ends meet.”
Gia hugged him. “You’re a good man, Earl, and a good friend.”
He blushed even deeper, then turned to stare out the front window in the direction Savannah had gone. “Then why do I feel like I failed Savannah?”
“She’ll be all right, Earl. She does have to earn a living, and showing houses is part of that. Besides, growing up with five brothers and a pack of male cousins made her tougher than she looks.” She hooked an arm though his and nudged his side. “And, I happen to know she carries a can of mace somewhere in that massive purse, and she’s not afraid to use it.”
Gia glanced at the clock. Three hours before Savannah was supposed to meet her back there to go shopping. She had a feeling it was going to be a long three hours.