Liam arches a brow.
“Some powerful men,” Jared amends. “And the jury is still out on you.”
“How do the crimes tie to Chad?” Tellar asks, ignoring the exchange.
A larger piece of paper piques my curiosity and I unroll it to see the names my brother had alluded to, with Sheridan’s name at the top. I hold it up and show it to Liam. “The eleven ass**les.”
“What?” Jared and Tellar ask at the same time.
“When my brother was filling the bottle he said there were a hundred reasons ‘why’, whatever that means, and eleven ass**les. These are the names of the eleven ass**les.”
“Rich ass**les,” Jared adds.
Liam glances at the list and hands it to Jared. “Anyone else you know on it?”
Jared gives it a once over. “I hacked for #3. Don’t know the rest.”
Tellar surveys the names. “No one from our research, but I’ll get Derek to run it through the FBI system.”
“Don’t,” Jared warns. “It could trigger alerts we don’t want with law enforcement. Chad would rather be dead than in jail, I promise you.”
I remove a larger piece of paper with my name on it and show it to Liam. His hand slides to my leg and he leans in as I unroll it, shining the light on it, and reading it with me.
If you’re reading this, everything has gone terribly wrong. Just know this: I hope things aren’t as bad as I’ve imagined they could be. It all started with creative fundraising. Dad and I wanted to work certain sites, and it just wasn’t happening financially. That led us to a group called The Underground, treasure hunters all over the world, each with their own leadership. Someone wants something and the price is right, so we get it for them and we ask as few questions as possible. I got greedy. The money...well, the money. I hope like hell you never read this and know the way I’ve let it control me.
I took jobs I shouldn’t have, ones off the grid of the Underground. Well, one of those treasures is what I can’t hand over. It would cost too many lives, and I know you can’t live with innocent people dying any more than I can.
The Underground is working on how to protect me and our family even as I write this. But I can’t take a chance I end up dead and they don’t protect you. Copy the list of names and the one hundred crimes I’ve included. Then tear the list in half to show only the first five names. March into Sheridan Smith’s office and tell him if you, or anyone you need to protect ends up dead, you’ve arranged to have the rest of the list and the documentation I’ve provided mailed to the District Attorney, the FBI, the CIA, and local law enforcement. You have to go in person. Look him in the eyes and make sure he sees no fear. I know how the man operates and this makes certain he really gets the information himself.
This is my fault, Lara, and I’m sorry. I love you and I love Mom and Dad. I would never do anything to hurt you and it kills me to know that I can’t just make this go away.
His words stab me in the heart a million times over. The bottle doesn’t save him. It saves me. And I wait for some kind of meltdown, but it doesn’t come. It’s there, though, simmering in a hole inside me that was carved with what I thought was his death.
In this instant, I seem to be in that zone of mine, that place my mind takes me when I’m least capable of handling reality and have to survive. I hand the note to Jared and calmly start rolling the other papers back up. Liam’s hand goes to my chin, pulling my gaze to his. “Nothing in that letter says he’s dead.”
“I know I--” Pain rips through my pelvic area and I hunch forward, forgetting the other two men to press my hand between my thighs. “Oh...Oh Liam.”
“What is it, baby? What is it?”
“Call Dr. Murphy. Call her now.” I grab the seat back Jared occupies and another cramp rips through my abdomen.
“Get her on the line now,” Liam is saying into the phone. “I don’t know where she’s at. Just get her.”
A damp sticky sensation forms between my legs and I look down to see blood seeping through my jeans. “No. No. This can’t be happening. No. Liam, no.” I turn to him. “I’m bleeding. I’m bleeding.”
Liam curses. “Get us to the hospital now.”
Jared curses and says, “What the f**k is going on back there?”
I hear Tellar say something to him, but I don’t know what, and really don’t care. Liam pulls me to him and I grab his shirt. “I got you, baby. I told you that. I got you.”
“This is why I didn’t want to be pregnant. I lose everyone.” My eyes burn but not nearly as much as my soul. “Everyone. I’ll lose you too if you stay with me.”
“You aren’t going to lose me,” he promises.
“But you can’t tell me I’m not losing the baby, can you?”
He caresses my hair. “Whatever happens, we’ll handle it together, baby.”
“Wrong answer. Wrong answer.” I bury my face in his chest. He was supposed to tell me it‘s going to be okay, like he always does. Instead, he cups my head and holds me like he’s afraid he’s going to lose me. I squeeze my eyes shut, the dampness clinging to my cheeks and the prickling in my head is welcome over the cramping in my belly. And for once, the past is easier to deal with than the present.
The sound of fire trucks fills the air and I hurt. Oh God, I hurt all over. It’s all there is, but for the smoke. I can’t escape the smell and slowly I become aware of the crackling of flames and everything comes back to me. My mother’s screams. Mom. Mom. I try to lift my head but I can’t. Tears spill from my eyes and I feel someone’s hand on my wrist, then my back.