Exiting the highway, I cross over to a service road, cutting behind the adjacent strip mall and turning down a side street to enter the parking lot of the bus station, where I pull into a space. I reach to the floorboard and set the bags between us again. I stuff money in a small, as of yet unused bag and hand it to her.
“That’s for you. Fifty thousand dollars.” I grab a pen from inside the duffel and scribble a name on a piece of paper before stuffing it in her bag. “Go to New Mexico and see the guy on that card. He’ll get you a new identity, but that alone won’t protect you. Don’t do anything Sheridan would expect you to do—not the same work, not the same lifestyle. Don’t touch your bank account or call anyone you know, or he will find you.”
Her lips part in shock, and I really hate that I remember kissing them as vividly as I do.
“That’s it?” she says, disbelief wrenched into her voice. “Just ‘get out’? You’re done with me?”
“That about sizes it up.”
I can almost see the arguments running around in her head, but to my surprise, she clamps her lips shut and puts on her shoes, slipping the bag over one shoulder. She reaches for the door, and for some godforsaken reason, I grab her arm and she turns to me, her brown hair waving around her heart-shaped face. Her blue eyes, illuminated in the overhead light, hold a hope I’m not going to give her as I say, “You’re a risk I can’t take. Too many lives are on the line.”
A hint of anger replaces the hope in her gaze. “And here I thought you cared about money, not lives.”
“If that were the case, sweetheart, I would have taken the five hundred million dollars your boss offered me for his prize. This isn’t about money anymore. It hasn’t been for a long time. Sheridan made sure of that.”
“Or it’s about you not having what he wants at all. Maybe that’s why you were so confident you wouldn’t talk.”
“If you’re baiting me, it won’t work.”
Her far-too-kissable lips tighten; her voice with them. “I was just trying to figure out if I lost everything to save a man who didn’t even have the secret I was protecting.”
“This conversation is over.”
“I can’t just leave town.”
“Stay, then, and die. My conscience will be clear knowing it was your foolish mistake, not me, that got you killed.”
She inhales, telling me that she feels the cold bite I know is in my words, looking like she just dug herself six feet under. “Right. You’re welcome. Happy to save your life by screwing mine up,” she says.
“He wasn’t going to kill me.”
“I stand corrected,” she snips, bravely managing to bristle despite clearly feeling the intended heat of my actions. “You were just going to be injected with truth serum and who knows what else, until they got the information they wanted from you. Then they would have killed you.”
“I told you. I plan for everything. What they would have gotten from me would not have led to my death.”
She looks conflicted and then blurts out suddenly, “Let me help you protect the cylinder. Please. Let me feel this was all for something.”
“If I had it,” I bite out, irritated that I’m presently thinking that she’s convincing and beautiful, which only makes Sheridan more of a bastard for choosing her, “I wouldn’t need any help protecting it, and you’re a fool if you don’t get as far away from this as you can. Get on the bus. Go to New Mexico and get a new identity. If you’re telling me the truth, and you were smart enough to pull off what you did tonight, then be smart enough to do what I’m telling you now.”
“I’m not whoever that woman was who screwed you over. I’m not her, and I’m not like her. I promise.”
I can almost feel my face harden, my voice lashing out like a whip. “Go, get on a bus, and get out of town.”
She glares at me for several long seconds, her bottom lip quivering perhaps from anger, perhaps from some other emotion, before she says, “Sheridan didn’t think about the betterment of the world. He thought about the betterment of himself. I gave up everything to protect you, and it.”
“The bus,” I repeat, not willing to be swayed by the passion in her voice that could be truth or fiction.
“Get out, Gia, or I swear to you, I’ll put you out.”
She inhales, clearly shaken by my threat, and it works. She shoves open the door, exiting quickly and sealing me inside, alone. I rev the engine, backing out of the parking space before she can return, eyeing her in my rearview mirror, the bag clutched to her chest. She looks defeated, when she’s already proven she’s a small package that packs a big punch. I refuse to feel guilt. I simply want the answers I’m about to get.
Exiting from the driveway, I turn into the hotel parking lot across the street and pull into a spot that is obvious—out of sight but also right in front of Gia’s nose—and park. And now I wait. She’s too smart not to figure out the bus station is dangerous, a place that Sheridan will look for her. That means she’s either going to go inside and call someone who will come and get her, or she’s going to start walking, looking for safety. What it won’t tell me is if she’s looking for escape from Sheridan’s anger at her failure, or Sheridan’s anger at her betrayal. But either way, I’ll know she’s no longer loyal to Sheridan.