“Yes.”

“Working as a secretary,” I press again.

“I was with Sheridan as a chemist for almost a year, then there were layoffs, and I was kept on as a secretary.”

It’s a ridiculous story. Completely fucking ridiculous. “You know I can check all of this, right?”

“It’s the truth.”

“How old are you?” I ask, trying to find truth of my own.

“Twenty-six.”

Four years younger than me, which would have made her only twenty when my parents were burned alive. But that means nothing. I did a lot of shit at twenty I’m not proud of. I reach down and turn up the radio, needing out of this conversation and back into my own head. Trying to put the pieces together again, with Gia as a possible part of the puzzle. Could she have been there that nightmare of a night six years ago? Or maybe her father? My gut says no, but something doesn’t add up with her. In the absence of Jared’s aid, I’m going to have to use one of my familiar private for-hire contractors to check her out.

Gia seems to get that we’re done talking, and lies down across the seat again, but she isn’t sleeping. I sense her unease, her alertness. I wonder if she regrets the story she just told me, or simply everything about tonight, the way I regret so many of my decisions. It’s a thought that shifts me back in time, and I am twenty-two again and of the opinion that I am invisible, refusing to listen to my father’s always sound advice. I can almost smell the smoke and wood from the crackling fire my father and I sat around that night, years ago, almost taste the strong-ass coffee we were drinking.

“You don’t have to run around the globe with this ‘treasure hunting’ operation chasing God-knows-what for rich old farts.”

“Isn’t that what we do, anyway?” I argue. “Treasure hunt?”

“You’re chasing money, not history, and history is often the key to the future.”

“Sheridan wants me to locate a piece of art for him, Father. It’s not that big a deal, and he’s offered to wipe away your debt to him.”

“He’s the wrong person to get into bed with.”

“You borrowed money from him to fund this dig site.”

“Which is how I know he’s the wrong person to get in bed with.”

I drift into more of those moments, revisiting my mistakes, promising myself that Gia won’t be one of them, until near dawn, when we finally enter Lubbock, Texas. After surveying my options, I pull in to one of the many cheap motels in the city, this one with not a big rig in sight, which is the idea. We don’t need CBs radioing us in to Sheridan for cash, and we don’t need lobby cameras or extra eyes.

Beside me, Gia stirs and I flatten my hand on her shoulder. “Stay down. We’re at a motel, and Sheridan will have a reward out for a man and a woman fitting our description.”

She slides onto the floorboard and sits, the hoodie over her legs again. “Where are we?”

“A motel,” I repeat, irritated at the way the soft, sexy whisper of her voice radiates through me. I let down my guard while we were driving, the way I let down my guard with Meg, and it can’t happen again.

“Which city?” she presses.

“The one we’re spending the night in.” I grab a baseball cap from a bag behind the seat and tuck my way-too-long blond hair underneath it to hide the color. Climbing out of the truck, I say, “I’ll be right back, and don’t even think about getting out and finding a phone. The motel has an outdoor check-in and the window is right in front of the truck.”

“Darn. I really wanted to call Sheridan and ask him to go ahead and kill me and get it over with.”

“You’re brave for a prisoner.”

“And you’re tolerant for a killer.”

“I told you. I’m not planning to kill you.”

“I hate that word, planning.”

I think of the bomb she set, and my temper flares as hard and fast as the fire that killed my parents. “Let me make this real damn clear,” I bite out. “No reading between the lines. If you were in any way responsible for my parents being burned alive, then you’re dead. If anything happened to Amy, and you were a part of it, you’re dead. Stand between me and Sheridan, and good luck—we’ll see where that takes you. Otherwise, you’re safe.” I slam the door, every muscle in my body burning with the fierceness of my anger that isn’t even about Gia. It’s about Sheridan. It’s about me.

Walking away, I lower the bill of my cap, feeling zero regret over my bluntness with Gia. We’re living on the edge, and I can’t afford to operate with anything but the facts. Reaching the hotel office, I hit a buzzer, and the attendant, a white kid not more than eighteen with dreadlocks and a baseball cap, enters the glass-enclosed check-in kiosk from a back room. Barely looking at me, he takes my cash payment for a room. Considering it’s five in the morning, I pay for two nights, certain we can’t sleep and take care of business in the six hours left until checkout. I keep an uneasy eye on the truck while I wait, replaying those moments on the back porch just before the explosion: the flash of light, the crackle of sound. A shiver of unease runs up my spine. Who was behind that damn explosion? I’ve tried to find out without any success, and I damn well need to know.

Finally, I’m given a key, and I return to the Ford, finding Gia still huddled on the floorboard. “At least you didn’t steal the truck.”


Tags: Lisa Renee Jones The Secret Life of Amy Bensen Romance
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