Six years ago . . .
HOT. STICKY. PISSED OFF. That’s how I feel as I skid my motorcycle to a halt on a country road just outside of New Braunfels, Texas, a limo idling to my right, the sun starting to set on my left. Removing my helmet and brushing away wisps of the long blond hair that clings to my face, I dismount. After setting my helmet on the seat, my hands settle on the waistline of my faded Levi’s and T-shirt as I watch the limo doors open. Two beefy dudes in suits exit the front doors. One of them opens the back door of the vehicle, and my jaw clenches as Rollin Scott, the thirty-two-year-old son of oil mogul Sheridan Scott, steps out of the car. He straightens his posture, his suit expensive, his black hair neatly styled, as always—unless my mother’s fingers had been running through it. The idea that she slept with the bastard, trying to get him to forgive a debt owed by my father is still hard to fathom. She had no idea what we were into—what that debt truly entailed, how big it was, or what I agreed to do to make it go away.
The dickhead gives me an arrogant smirk, and I console myself by visualizing a short, pleasant fantasy in which I slam his fucking head against the window of the limo. Over and over. And over. Near euphoria washes over me as I promise myself I’m going to kill him before this all ends.
“I hope that smile means you have good news for me,” he comments as he and his Doublemint duo of security guards stop in front of me, crowding me. He has no idea how brave he is to step into my personal space. He’s close enough for me to wrap my fingers around his throat and smell the same sickening scent of his expensive cologne I’ve had the displeasure of smelling on my mother on more than one occasion.
“Was I smiling?” I ask. “I guess I’m just glad to see you. Where’s your father?”
“I told him that you and I needed to have a chat. Have you found the cylinder?”
“Not yet,” I lie, having done more than found what he wanted. I now know what it is, and why Sheridan can never have it.
“Really? Because I heard from a reliable source that you do indeed have it. In fact, I understand that you’ve had it for weeks, while we’ve been patiently waiting for months for you to locate it and turn it over.”
My blood runs cold at his announcement, which, if true, can mean only one thing. Someone inside the elite group of treasure hunters I work with has betrayed me, but I don’t miss a beat. “A source is not reliable just because you pay them—not unless they have proof. And since I don’t have it, looks like you got taken for a payday.”
“You told us yourself you had a solid lead. Some man who was supposed to have what we’re after.”
“He was a solid lead, until someone killed him. He died over some fucking cylinder the size of a pencil eraser. I won’t. I’m out.”
I expect cursing. I expect anger. I don’t get it, and it feels off. Really damn off. He stares at me, seconds ticking by. “If you’re playing games with us for more money—”
“This isn’t a negotiation. I’m out.”
He glares at me, time stretching painfully. “I have to call the consortium members for more money.”
“Call Donald fucking Duck and quack for all I care. I told you, it’s not about money.”
“And yet your father owes us money.”
“Not anymore.” I walk to the back of the bike, untie a duffel bag filled with half of my savings, and toss it onto the ground, wishing I’d just paid these bastards off in the first place.
Rollin motions and his guard grabs the bag, handing it to him. “Ten million?”
“That’s right. Treasure hunting has been good to me. So, like I said, I’m out. My family is out. And stay the fuck away from my mother or I’ll kill you.”
Contempt slides over his face. “We’ve told you, we don’t want your money. You aren’t walking away that easily. The word on the street is that you have the cylinder. Let me be very clear, every member of our eleven-person consortium would kill for what you have, as would many others. In other words, it’s in your best interest, and your family’s, for it to be known that we have it.”
My blood turns to ice, but I stick to the only plan I have that might work. Denial. “Fuck you. I don’t have it. All the threats in the world aren’t going to change that.”
“Five hundred million.”
And there it is: the offer that confirms that a dying man with a knife in his chest had been telling the truth when he begged for my help. That tiny cylinder somehow generates enough clean energy to power the world and destroy the oil industry, and Sheridan Scott with it.
“I guess that number rendered you speechless?” he presses.
“I don’t know what language you need me to speak. I don’t have it.” I repeat it in Spanish, French, and German. “No lo tengo. Je ne l’ai pas. Ich habe es nicht. Should I continue?”
Apparently not entertained by my smartass reply, Rollin ignores it altogether and demands, “Forty-eight hours. Right here in this spot. Have it here, or pay the price.” He turns and walks toward the limo, getting in without another word or even a look.
I stand there staring at him, feeling like Satan just crawled out of the ground and fucked me over. If that old man was telling the truth, handing over that cylinder is like handing Sheridan a key to ruling the world. He could singlehandedly destroy industries, and create a new one to make the world dependent upon him. Or he could destroy a clean energy source that might save the world one day.