“Red Heaven,” I whisper.
“I’m not sure what kind of food it is,” Meg says. “Did you want to go in and see?”
I think about the fact that some patron or patrons are sitting at a table that might well be the same spot my mother screamed while she burned alive. “Evil,” I say.
“What? The food is evil? That’s a new one.”
I don’t speak to her. I can’t speak to her. My gaze travels over the building again and goes back to the sign. It’s an insult. A battle cry and a threat. I expect pain, and a flashback that takes me down. Instead, there is a burn in my chest and tension in my shoulders. My jaw clenches and I shove open the car door.
“I guess we’re going to eat evil food,” Meg mumbles and I ignore her, charging for the door.
I grab my purse and on the way to the door, fix it cross body over my chest. Pushing open the doorway, I’m in a homey restaurant with hardwood floors and wooden tables with comfy chairs. Homey being the operative word. Like the home it once was.
“Who owns this place?” I ask the twenty-something girl behind the wooden hostess stand before she can speak. And God, I think she’s the kid I use to babysit a few blocks from here.
Her dark brown brows dip. “Do I know you?”
“No. You don’t know me. I need the name of the owner.”
“Sheridan Smith. He owns everything around here.”
So Derek had said. “Do you have a business card for him?”
“The manager might. She’s behind the bar right now.”
“Did we get a table?” Meg asks.
A shiver of unease slides down my spine and the source seems to be Meg. Aware that my nerves are jumping and my mood is suited for a tornadic event, I don’t try to understand it. “I’m going to the bathroom.” I start walking, praying she won’t follow. I intend to head to the bar and I do not want Meg to be a part of this.
Frustrated, I follow the bathroom sign and push open the door, thankful it’s made for one. Turning to lock up, I never get the chance. A man shoves into the door and shuts it behind him, giving me his back, his long, light brown hair tied at the nape, while he locks the door himself.
My heart races and my hand goes to my purse, but he’s turned before I can make a move, and where I’d once thought him rugged bad-boy hotness, I know better now. He’s danger in a way Liam never was.
I clutch the strap of my purse. “What are you doing here, Jared?”
“I have a message from Chad.”
I blanch, but for some reason I’m not as shocked as I think I should be. I think I always knew Jared was more than just my next door neighbor in Denver. “Let me see your tattoo.”
“I’m not a part of your brother’s Underground Society, but I think the message will clear up the trust issues.” He holds up his phone and sets it on the counter, then pushes play.
Jared, it’s Chad.
At the sound of my brother’s voice, my hand leaves my purse and my back hits the wall, the air gushing from my lungs. Tears burn my eyes. He’s alive. Deep down, a part of me hadn’t allowed myself to really believe it could be true.
You were right on the ping on Lara, the voicemail continues, I moved her to Denver as we’d planned but there’s trouble. I have to make arrangements. I need you to come here and look out for her for a couple of weeks. Fuck. I have to go. I need you here. I have to protect my f**king sister, man.
And there it is. Proof Chad has been alive all these years and an explanation as to why Jared felt so familiar. On some soul-deep level, I think that Chad must be that odd attachment I felt to Jared in Denver. I felt a bond with him to my brother. “Tell me I haven’t lost him before I find him again.” My voice quakes, the fear digging a hole in my already bleeding heart.
“I don’t know where he is, but I promise you, I’m trying my damnedest to find him.”
“Not the answer I want.” My throat is raw and scratchy.
“It’s the only one I have to give.”
I hate that reply as much as Liam must have when I used it on him. “What did he mean by ping?”
“I’m what you might call a tech expert—”
“I’m a hacker, legit now, but I wasn’t always. I use those skills to monitor internet chatter that involves you or your brother and set up pings or notifications if a match occurred. I wasn’t the only one watching you. You went to work at the museum and someone had a wide search that fit the profile of your employment which triggered my pings.”
“So I did this? I made this hell start all over?” I don’t know why I’m asking. I know I’m responsible.
“No. You didn’t do this. Chad did this, but I think you know that.”
“Know this? I know nothing. Nothing. I am living on the run and I didn’t even know what you knew, that my own brother was alive.”
Suddenly I’m against the wall and his hands are by my head. “Shhh. You have to be quiet.”
“I have to do a lot of things. Hide. Change my name. Lie. I have to lie a lot. Don’t lie to me, Jared.”
“And don’t call me sweetheart, or Lara for that matter. I’m Amy and I’m staying Amy and you’d better not be here to tell me I’m Mary or Casey or Sandy. I’m Amy.”
He stares at me for several beats and says, “Amy. I didn’t come to change your name. I came to save your life and I hope like hell, Chad’s, while I’m at it.”