“Is that what happened to you?”

My walls slide into place and I release her. “If you have pants that fit and tennis shoes, change. We’re going to be walking a few miles.” I turn away from her, grabbing my shirt and tugging it over my head.

“Chad,” she whispers.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes, Gia, all with consequences others have paid for.” Turning to face her, I add, “And you aren’t going to be one of them. Go change.” When she doesn’t move, I want to go to her. I know I have to make sure that’s not an option. “I am that guy you accused me of being. I will do just about anything for a rush, and cash. You stay around too long, I might sell you. If the price is right.”

She pales, her shoulders slumping as if I’ve punched her, before she rushes to the bathroom and shuts the door. And it takes everything in me not to punch the wall.


FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER, I eye the clock on the nightstand that reads 11 a.m. and curse myself for being a good hour behind my planned departure time. Eager to get packed up and out of this rat trap, I secure my gun in my ankle holster and try Jared again. I’m listening to it ring, ready to throw the phone against the wall, when I hear the bathroom door. Glancing up, I find Gia standing at the end of the bed, her long brown hair brushed sleekly again, her lips glossed, and if I’m not mistaken she has on some makeup. She’s wearing black jeans and a red Mickey Mouse T-shirt with red Keds, or whatever the hell they’re called, to match. I’m struck by two things. She looks completely different and still adorably, impossibly sexy. What the hell is the deal with the shirt?

“Fuck me,” I grumble, removing the phone from my ear and discarding it. “Did the kid just want you to silently scream for everyone to look at you? Is there any other option in the Walmart bag?”

She folds her arms in front of her, and I don’t miss how carefully she avoids eye contact as she says, “There seems to be a fictional-character theme that includes neon green and hot pink.”

“Of course there is,” I say, regretting the large bills I handed the kid to avoid a high-profile, drawn-out checkout. “Put a hoodie over the top.” I toss an empty duffel in her direction. “And put whatever you want to take inside that. Keep in mind that you can shop for better choices when we get to where we’re going and get settled.”

Her gaze meets mine, and the vulnerability of the woman I’d bound and fucked, or even the woman who’d darted into that bathroom, is nowhere to be found. This one is coolly reserved, absolutely composed. “Which will be when?”

“We’ll arrive late tonight if things go right.”

She studies me for a beat, then another, and I think she will ask the obvious question, but she does not. Instead, she simply walks into the bathroom and quickly returns with the Walmart bags in one hand and the hoodie in the other. She sets the bags on the bed and slips the hoodie over her head before picking through the purchased items and choosing a few things to stuff in the duffel.

“Done,” she declares.

I toss the small cash bag on the bed in front of her in obvious invitation for her to take it. She looks at it, and then me. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll run? You did tell me that you’d sell me if you got the chance.”

“Rest assured, you’re of more value with me than not, right now. I told you, you’re helping me take down Sheridan.” I step closer, bringing us toe-to-toe, giving a cue at how badly I want to pull her to me and fuck her all over again. “You try to run, I will come after you.”

“I have no doubt,” she replies tightly, and there is a new detached coldness to her voice that tells me my promise to sell her if I got a whim to didn’t sit well. It puts a distance between us that should please me, but it doesn’t.

“Then we’re clear,” I state.

“Crystal,” she confirms.

Neither of us looks away, and what ensues is a battle of wills mixed with enough sexual heat to have me ready to say screw it and strip her naked again. And that would be yet another mistake I can’t afford. Gritting my teeth, I grab the one duffel bag I’m taking with us. “Let’s go,” I snap, walking to the door and opening it.

She doesn’t move. “Where are we going on foot?”

“You’ll find out when we get there.”

“Right. Of course.” She closes the distance between us, surprising me by stopping in front of me, her blue eyes burning into mine. “Just so you know. That lesson you wanted to teach me. Learned.”

I told her not to trust anyone, including me. For a man who likes to get his way, success sure bites, like a bitch on too much caffeine and sugar.

Following her outside the door, I note that the year-round warm Texas weather is leaning toward hot. Putting on my baseball cap, I say, “No one would wear a hood on a sticky day like this. Stuff your hair under the back of the hoodie so it’s not obvious you have long hair.”

She does as I say while I pull the door shut and motion her forward. We start walking and she crosses the strap of the duffel bag over her chest and shoulder, while I do the same with mine. Gia goes to my right, next to the highway, and I grab her arm and pull her to my left, where she’s safer. She folds her arms over her chest and keeps walking.

We walk a short path along the highway and then enter a row of stores and restaurants. “We’ll get food when we get back on the road. I don’t want to risk being recognized.”

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