her way. “A week or more before I contacted you, I was at a bar in town—”
“With who?” Hart asked.
Lisa paused, considered several cutting replies, and chose instead to ignore him. “I was sitting somewhat in the corner, and next to me, at another table, were two men. They were conversing very quietly, but when I heard Hart’s name, I started to listen. Not that I normally engage in eavesdropping, of course.”
Dex said, “Of course not.”
Hart slid down in his seat and crossed his arms over his chest in a sign of disgruntlement.
Joe gave him a sideways glance, hid a smile, and said, “Go on. I’m listening.”
“The men said that Hart was an obnoxious ass—or words to that effect—and though I agreed, they spoke with a certain vitriol that alarmed me.”
Hart nudged Dex, saying, “She speaks like you write.”
They all continued to ignore him.
“The men agreed that Hart needed to be taken down a peg or two, and they decided the best way to accomplish that would be to ensure he wouldn’t win, rather than leave it to the judges.” Lisa frowned as she recalled the conversation. “At the time I didn’t understand what they meant by that, but they didn’t appear inebriated, so I took the threat seriously.”
“He has a fight coming up,” Joe said. “A big one, sort of his major debut as an SBC contender. Maybe his popularity was a little quick for some to like it.”
“Did the men look like fighters?” Dex asked.
“I don’t know what a fighter looks like,” Lisa told them. “I certainly never suspected that Hart, who I knew only as a painter, would engage in such a thing. But I’d recognize the men if I saw them again.”
“I have an idea on that,” Joe confided. “But first, let me hear the rest.”
Lisa nodded. “One of the men, the more muscular of the two, said that he could arrange for a ‘skirt’ to get Hart alone.”
“A woman,” Dex said.
“I took the derogatory comment to mean that, yes.” Lisa frowned at Hart, and he gave her a look that asked, What did I do?
She shook her head. “And then he—the other man—said he would hit Hart in the leg, or perhaps the arm, with the intent of disabling him. I believe a baseball bat was mentioned as the weapon of choice.”
Hart winced. “Damn. My leg?”
Dex frowned in worry.
“He said that with a busted elbow or knee, Hart wouldn’t be able to fight for a while, but that it’d look like a mugging, not anything more.” She glanced at Hart. “The other fellow suggested that perhaps it’d be prudent to take out both the knee and the elbow, just for good measure.”
Joe sat back. “It almost has to be someone in your weight class hoping to scale down the competition.”
“Thinking back, I agree.” Lisa mused over the comments. “There was a ring of jealousy, and I believe that with Hart out of the running, the man thought he’d have a better chance of ‘walk ing through’ his weight class.”
“I thought they all liked me,” Hart murmured, clearly disturbed by the deviousness.
Lisa almost felt sorry for him. But not enough to offer genuine sympathy, not after that crude comment he’d made on her attire—true as it might have been.
The comment had been especially stinging since she’d struggled with wanting to dress sexier for him, to see his appreciation again. But she was not a stupid woman, and saw no reason to prod his interest.
She turned to Joe Winston for a distraction. “So how do you play in this? Are you a police officer or something?”
Joe grinned. “Nah. I run a casual resort on a lake with my wife and kids.”
Dex laughed. “Don’t let Joe fool you. He’s been everything from a bounty hunter to a private eye and a bodyguard. He has unique skills that come in handy in situations like this.”
“Meaning he thinks as ruthlessly as the criminals do,” Hart pointed out. “Until he met Luna and settled down into marital bliss, he was a real hell-raiser.”
“Still is,” Dex