I pass two stores and I swear I can still feel Jared watching me. Why would he still be watching me? The hair on my nape prickles and I start to think about Jared’s “Texas” shirt and the way he’d questioned me about not knowing the area. He’s familiar. Why is he familiar? I don’t know. I am suddenly glad I didn’t cave and ask about the shirt, and that I didn’t answer his questions with any more detail.

At the corner, I stop by a bank, and I rotate to face the door, pausing before entering the building to look for Jared, but he is nowhere obvious. A funny, knotted sensation tightens in my belly and it’s not comfortable at all. In fact, it’s downright uncomfortable, which is crazy. I have every reason to be relieved that he is gone, and as I enter the building, the cash machine appearing to my left, I have every reason to focus on what’s important. Like answering the question of how much cash I have to survive.

I pull my wallet from my purse and pull out the card I’d used during my life in New York and stare down at it. The desire to claim my cash from the bank and know I have it is powerful, but out of the blue, an image of Liam comes to my mind. He’s a billionaire, a man who has the money to find out anything he wants to know about just about anyone, including me. How do I know that whoever is chasing me doesn’t have just as much money? What if my cards are all flagged or tracked in some way? I sigh with painful resignation and slip my card back into my wallet. If I touch that money it has to be on my way out of town, or maybe the country. My gut says I should keep my cash card and my old identification that lets me withdraw larger amounts in my purse, just in case.

Removing the new card my handler has given me, I slide it into the machine and punch in the code I’ve been given, searching for my balance. My name comes up on the account and I wonder how my handler managed to set up the account without my signature. My balance is $5000. My new rent is $2200, but it’s paid for this month already. I have no idea if I really will get more money as promised, and I’m too cautious to assume I will. That means I have to hold onto two months’ rent to feel secure until I see another cash deposit in this account. That leaves me with $800 to buy clothes and food. I’ll need more money to survive. Please let there be more money.

My head begins to spin and I remind myself my handler said he’d deposit weekly installments into this account, but when? On what day? Do I have utility bills to consider? I remove the card and head into the lobby. There is no way I’m letting anyone, not even my handler, track me by my card number. I’m withdrawing all the money now.

***

Fifteen minutes later, I’m in a dressing room in a store by the mall, wearing a pair of black shorts and a pink tank top, with a cheap, but cute, pair of black Colosseum-style sandals on my feet. And what a relief they are. In only a few blocks my feet are blistered—or, as my father used to say, my dogs are barking. I’m going to take the tags to the cash register and wear my clothes out of the store.

I’m just gathering together several other small items, enough to make three cost-effective outfits that I can wash and rotate, when the phone in my bag starts ringing. I sit down on the wooden bench against the wall and listen to it, fighting the urge to pull it from the bag. I should have taken the phone by the hotel first, but the idea of walking into that fancy place with my t-shirt and skirt on was too much. And now it’s ringing and it can be only one person. Liam. Liam is calling me and I want to answer.

Without a conscious decision to do so, I reach in my bag and pull out the box holding the phone. It stops ringing and starts back up almost instantly. I set the box down on the seat and stare at it like it’s some kind of alien. It stops ringing again and my stomach twists and turns like rope in a tangled mess. I’m a tangled mess. A beeping sound comes next. A message. Liam has left a message and I don’t even think. As if I want to prove I am indeed a mess, I snatch up the box and open it, punching the message line and listening.

I haven’t heard from you and we both know you’re in some kind of trouble. Call me, Amy.

Don’t text. I need to know you are okay. If I don’t hear from you in the next fifteen minutes I’m leaving my meeting and heading to your apartment.

A thunderstorm of emotions rushes through me, and I let the phone drop to my lap. Liam is worried about me? He’s going to leave a meeting to check on me? He barely knows me. Why would he do that? We both know you’re in some kind of trouble. I squeeze my eyes shut, conflicted clear to my soul. No one worries about me. No one should know enough to know to worry about me. But Liam does. He does and I want him to. I want him. The phone starts to ring again and I can barely catch my breath. I have to talk to him, and I tell myself it’s not because some deep part of me craves the sound of his voice. I have to turn him away and be convincing.

For him. For his safety. Money can buy things, and even people, but it can’t keep him alive. Not from a threat I don’t understand enough to explain.

I draw a breath and answer the call. “Hello.”

“Amy,” Liam says, and somehow my name is both a command and a caress.

“Liam,” I reply and I like how my name sounds on his lips. I also like how his name feels on my tongue. Even more so. I like how his tongue feels against mine, how he feels when I am with him.

“You didn’t text me like I told you to.”

Normally I would bristle at the command, but it takes effort to muster objection. “I’m not good at taking orders, Liam.”


Tags: Lisa Renee Jones The Secret Life of Amy Bensen Romance
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