When I climb into the shower the hot water pours over me, erasing the odd combination of laughter and lust of moments before and soothing the ache of my many beatings. I sigh with relief as heat seeps into my weary body. I needed this. Oh yes. I really needed this.
“Please don’t make noises, unless you’re going to sing something really silly that makes me forget you’re naked.”
My lips quirk. “What kind of noises am I making?”
A full smile manages to find my lips. “I like getting dirty, sweetheart, but I enjoy cleaning up now and then, too.”
“You’re just trying to embarrass me now.”
“If I can’t fuck you right, I might as well fuck you wrong.”
“You like the word fuck.”
I laugh again, working shampoo into my hair. “I suppose I do.”
“My father liked it, too. It surprised people.”
“A fancy university doesn’t seem like a fuck kind of place,” I comment, rinsing the soap off.
“Oh, don’t let the prestige fool you. It’s Texas, after all, and there were some redneck boys who held nothing back. And the thing is, my father was one of them, but he dressed and presented himself as very refined and proper, so it shocked people to see the other side of him.”
I turn off the water and rip open the shower curtain, grabbing a towel and wrapping it around my waist. “And what the fuck does that make me?”
She laughs, keeping her eyes on my face, not my partially naked body as she says, “Very fucking different. And my father would be appalled that I used that word.”
I grab another towel and dry my hair, struck by how fondly she talks about her father, and how difficult it’s going to be to get her to let go of her past life. Either Gia isn’t afraid of what the future holds or she’s in denial. Tossing the towel over the edge of the tub, I face her, closing my hand around hers where it holds the gun. “Do you want to survive this?”
The light in her eyes fades. “I am going to survive.”
“Good. Then the old you doesn’t exist. I’m your safe zone, the only person from this point forward who can know who you were or where you came from. Gia doesn’t exist anymore. Nothing you’ve done before now can ever be a part of your life again, or Sheridan will find you.”
“But you said you were going to destroy him.”
“Destroying Sheridan isn’t enough. He’s aligned with other very powerful, very rich people who want that cylinder. Assuming you’ve told me the truth, you denied them their prize by helping me escape.”
Her eyes glaze over, but she doesn’t cry. “Tell me,” she says, her voice quavering, “that I did all of this for a reason. I need to know. Or maybe you understand better like this. Tell me that I did this for a fucking reason.”
“The more you know, the more danger you’re in.”
“That’s bullshit. My life is ruined. I’m on the run. I deserve to know.”
In this moment, I believe there is more to Gia than meets the eye, but I do not believe she’s working for Sheridan. Or if she is, or was, it either wasn’t by choice, or it’s with the kind of gut-wrenching regret I feel over having made the same mistake. And I won’t make it worse by putting her in more danger.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” I reply, “it’s that life is rarely fair. And death is the biggest bitch of all.” I reach down and untie her hands. “Stay here.” I walk out of the bathroom, setting the gun on the nightstand before grabbing all the bags with her things in them and returning to set them all on the floor in front of her.
“There’s no window in the shower. The bathroom’s all yours. Make it quick, and be ready to leave suddenly if we have to.” I back out of the room and shut the door. Needing space. Needing to think and figure out what to do about her and with her.
Leaning against the wall, I close my eyes, one clear certainty in my mind: Gia’s the newest addition to the list of people I fucked over when I made a deal with the devil and found that cylinder. I shut my eyes against the sound of a soft, muffled sob from inside the bathroom, as if Gia’s covered her mouth to try to hide any sign of weakness. But she’s not weak. She’s strong. The tears are a part of the process of acceptance she has to go through to survive, but they come with pain, and her pain cuts me. God, how it cuts me, carving out what’s left of my soul and leaving me to bleed the only thing I have left: vengeance. Sheridan knows I’m alive. He knows Amy’s alive. I’m not starting another hide-and-seek session with this man. This is war, and it’s going to be nasty—bloody too, if that’s what it takes to end this. After six years, I know there’s no other option with Sheridan.
The shower comes on and it hits me that I am standing around in a towel, a dangerous way to be when we need to be ready to leave at any moment. I quickly dress in faded jeans and a black Coca-Cola T-shirt the kid at Walmart picked out for me. Tomorrow we’ll be able to tap into my many resources. Gia will have a proper fake ID, and we’ll be staying in a much nicer hotel room that includes two beds, not one to share—tonight is going to be interesting.
The shower turns off and I sit down on the bed, setting the alarm on my phone for five hours from now. As much as I want to get to Denver and Amy, my body is going to force me to sleep, and I can’t risk making stupid mistakes out of exhaustion. The wall-mounted blow dryer in the bathroom turns on and I grab the phone book, looking for the closest car dealer and typing the address into my phone. By the time I’m done and leaning against the headboard, my booted ankles crossed on the mattress, the bathroom door opens and Gia appears.