“I know you wanted to be and that’s enough.” I lower my lashes a moment, reining in my emotions before I look at him again and say, “It feels like a slap.”
“It’s meant as one.”
“So you think he’s involved.”
“Yes. I have no proof, but I’ll get it. Meg. What happened to her?”
“Jared showed up at the restaurant and she took off.”
“Interesting. I’ve been checking on her.”
“Her identity is a nothing but a shell like yours.”
This doesn’t surprise me. “She says she’s Chad’s wife.”
“Nothing in any of the data I received on her suggests she’s married to anyone, let alone Chad.”
“Jared seemed surprised too when I told him, especially since Chad didn’t mention her. He has a picture of her with the man who was having the affair with my mother.”
Liam scrubs his jaw. “There’s one from right field. I didn’t expect that. Does he know who the man is?”
“No. He’s just this perpetual mystery we can’t solve.”
He studies me with hooded eyes, several seconds ticking by. “About Jared--”
“I’d been with him all of an hour. He tracked me from my travel just like you did.”
“Why is he even involved in this?”
“He’s an old friend of my brother’s,” I explain and detail everything Jared has shared with me.
“You believe him?” Liam asks, sounding more than a little skeptical.
“He had a voice message from my brother begging him to protect me. I heard it, Liam. He’ll play it for you.”
“So your brother’s...alive.”
“Yes. Or he was. All these years he’s been alive and living a few blocks from me. But now--” Meg is gone. “Oh God.”
I sit up and Liam follows. “What is it, Amy?”
“Meg was my connection to whoever has Chad. I was so taken aback by Chad’s voicemail, I forgot how important her link to my brother is.” I scramble of the bed and cringe with cramps.
“Amy.” Liam is by my side in an instant, arms around me. “Easy, baby. What’s wrong?”
I swallow hard and straighten. “Nothing. I’m fine. It’s over. Just some cramps. From sex, I think.”
His brows furrow. “Is that normal?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll call Dr. Murphy.”
I grab his arm, urgent to save my brother’s life. “Not yet. Not now. My brother left me a message with Jared. He said he wasn’t going to make it through the night but to tell me 111 was the way to protect myself. I hope it’s also what these people want so we can get him back. I hope he’s still alive.”
“He was doing this message in a bottle thing where he wrote notes and stuffed them inside it. I asked him what it was and he said ‘a hundred reasons why and eleven ass**les’.”
“What does that mean?”
“I asked that and he said he hoped I never had to find out.”
“His back-up plan. Where is it?”
“My senior year, right before the fire, my gym class buried a time capsule at school to be opened in twenty years. My brother brought that bottle and put it inside.”
“Then we need to go dig up a time capsule. Right after we deal with Jared.”
It’s ten o’clock at night when we reach the back of my old high school near the football field, and the site of the buried time capsule. Tellar does the dirty work while I, Liam, and Jared keep our flashlights beaming for him. Thankfully, the building hides the lights from the main road. The capsule is buried close to the surface and the shovel clangs against metal in all of five minutes.
Tellar dusts off the big steel box and we squat around him as he lifts the lid. Anxiously, I dig through the various items placed with such care inside, relieved when I spot the bottle. “Thank God,” I whisper, removing it and hugging it to me. “Please let this be the ticket to saving Chad.”
Liam strokes my hair behind my ear. “Let’s hope, baby.”
Tellar shuts the lid and covers the hole and we kill our flashlights to make the dark trek back to Liam’s rental, a massive Land Rover that easily holds all four of us. Tellar and Jared pile in the front of the vehicle and Liam and I claim the back. I immediately uncork the bottle and start trying to remove the paper stashed inside.
“We should wait until we get to the motel again,” Liam warns, having arranged a nicer place for us to stay up the road that he says is safer. All I care is it’s farther from my old home. Being near it is harder than I’d thought it would be. But I’m not prepared to wait to get there.
“I need to know what’s inside and if it can save my brother.” I pull out several pieces of paper from the surprisingly wide opening of the bottle.
Liam curses and Tellar locks the doors with a grumble of, “I guess were doing this now.”
Obviously caving to my urgency, Liam beams his flashlight over one piece of paper after another until I prod, “Well?”
He glances around at all of our watchful gazes and announces, “Names, dates, and types of transactions. And the details are clear. They’re all illegal.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Jared says. “Powerful men believe they can get away with anything.”