“Let’s hope that’s what’s about to happen.”
“You want your brother back. That’s not going to happen today. Don’t get your hopes up. You don’t need to be torn down again.”
Anger stirs inside me, a mask to the pain I’m fighting to control, and I’m glad when Liam motions us forward. “Hope is all I have, Jared. Don’t take that away from me.” I’m angry. Borderline furious, and I know it’s not about Jared. It’s about the ache inside me I can’t contain.“And your timing for this conversation really sucked,” I add before I start walking.
“Amy.” He calls after me, but I keep going, and when Liam casts me a curious look I don’t look at him for fear he’ll see me as the stupid wilting flower I feel like right now, before I shake it off. And I will. Before we get to the meeting, I will be a rock.
We step into the elevator and Liam wraps his arms around my waist, a silent show of unity, and it’s exactly what I need. I draw a few breaths, and I find my zone. The twenty-fifth floor dings and the four of us enter an office with a fancy oriental rug softening our steps. The lobby is expensively furnished, and like so many downtown Austin offices, the walls are decorated with artwork highlighting the city and state.
A pretty brunette receptionist, with long silky hair touching the shoulders of the pale pink jacket she’s paired with a black skirt, stands up to greet us from behind a mahogany desk. “Mr. Stone,” she says tightly, her attention focused on Liam and not because he’s every woman’s fantasy. There is hostility in her look that I assume should prepare us for more to come.
“I’ll show you to Mr. Smith’s office.” She flicks an irritated look at Jared and Tellar. “They won’t be invited.”
“That’s all right,” Jared says, sitting down in a cushy leather chair, draping his arm over the back, and settling the ankle of one long, jean-clad leg on his opposite knee. “We’ll just keep you company here in the lobby, sweetheart.”
“Sure will,” Tellar agrees, claiming a seat across from Jared, stretching his legs out in front of him.
The woman’s lips tighten, and it’s clear she’s not enticed by how good-looking both men are, nor pleased, for that matter. But I am quite pleased. I like knowing they are aware of what’s going on out here, when we’re wherever we’re about to be. “This way,” the woman says, turning on her heel and walking down a long hallway.
The instant we follow, my nerves are jumping all over the place. Liam’s hand settles on my back, a silent message of protection and comfort that brings me back down a notch. I’m not alone. We are doing this together.
The hallway stops at a walnut-finished double doorway. “This way,” the woman says, opening both doors and stepping aside to let us enter.
Liam looks down at me, and the promise that we are in this together is in his eyes. Together we step onto the hardwood floor and toward the centerpiece of a sprawling corner office with a downtown view and expensive walnut furnishings.
Mr. Smith, every bit his sixty-plus years, with grey hair and a rather regal carriage, stands as we approach his desk. His lips twist rather wickedly as he says, “Nothing like bringing the mouse to the cat.”
“Unless the mouse has become the cat,” Liam replies, his hand slipping away from me as he walks forward and sets the large envelope on the desk. “Look inside.”
I step to my left to have a view of the two men, who have the room crackling with tension.
Smith’s dark brown eyes narrow on Liam and he appears just curious enough to bite. He tears open the seal and removes the paperwork, studying it a moment, then holds up the list of names cut in half. “Where’s the other half?”
“Insurance?” He crosses his arms. “Go on.”
“That complete list and the damning paperwork attached to it will be mailed to the District Attorney, a number of congressmen, and local law enforcement in the event anything happens to me, Amy, or anyone who has ever breathed our same air.” Liam leans forward and plants his fists on Smith’s desk. “But because I’m a paranoid kind of guy, I took it a step further. I put a price on your head and every name on that list.”
I gape. A price? As in he hired a hit man? Surely not.
Smith leans in and plants his hands on the desk just as Liam has. “Two can play that game. A price for a price.”
“Then we go nuclear,” Liam replies.
“Yes,” Smith agrees. “We go nuclear.”
Liam pushes off the desk and moves to stand beside me, his hand on my waist. “Let’s go.” He starts to turn me but Smith looks at me for the first time since I’ve entered the room and the cold calculation in his eyes sets me off. “I want my brother back,” I demand.
“It takes a miracle to raise the dead, little one,” he replies. “And I don’t see you offering me any motivation to create one.”
“I have nothing to offer,” I reply.“I was never a part of this. I never knew anything.”
His jaw sets and he reaches for a picture and turns it to face myself and Liam. My lips part in shock as I stare at the stranger we’ve been trying to find. “My son. He was killed tragically in a plane crash six years ago. Your brother was with him. So I guess we can all agree. Your brother’s future has always been in his own hands. But then, if I could have helped him, I would have. Just as I’m sure, you would have helped your brother.”