“Understood,” she says, still staring straight ahead. “I guess I can’t ask how we’re getting back on the road, so I won’t.”
I motion to a shithole car lot next to a hamburger joint. “There’s your answer.”
“We’re buying a car?” She stops walking and faces me.
“I have a plan for everything, remember?” I take her arm, telling myself it’s out of the need for urgency, not the need to touch her again. “We’re out in the open. We need to move.” I start walking, taking her with me. She double-steps to keep up and we cross the parking lot of the restaurant. “Keep your head down,” I say as we pass several people exiting a car in the lot.
“Can Sheridan’s reach really be so far that he can get to us on the street?”
I keep it straightforward and honest. “Yes.”
“Money won’t bring back the ones you love, but it can do a lot to destroy those you don’t.” We reach the edge of the car lot and I lift a rope with flags hanging on it for her to slide under. She darts underneath and I follow, an uneasiness coming over me that has me stopping and scanning the area for trouble.
“What is it?” she asks, looking around as well, not nearly as discreetly as I am.
I grab her hand and walk briskly toward the back of the small, gray concrete building that’s no bigger than the double-wide trailers so popular in parts of Texas. Scanning as we round the corner, I stop, backing against the wall where I have a bird’s-eye view of the entire perimeter and pull Gia flat against me.
Glancing over her shoulder, my gaze travels to the other side of the lot, where a grandpa in a polyester suit and cowboy boots who I assume to be a salesman is chatting it up with a middle-aged couple in jeans and flip flops. The salesman seems to sense my attention and waves. “I’ll be right with you.”
I give him a wave in return and fix my gaze on Gia, my voice tight, my jaw tense. “Don’t ever make it obvious that you’re looking for signs of trouble. That draws attention you don’t need.”
Her fingers curl in my shirt. “You think there’s trouble?”
“I’m always cautious,” I say, choosing not to tell her that the hair on the back of my neck is standing on end. “And you need to be, too.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Talk later in the truck. Not now.” I turn her to face the lot, hands on her shoulders. “The basic white one in the corner. Tell me why I’m picking that truck?”
“It’s the only big truck on the lot, and you like big trucks.”
I rotate her to face me again. “This is a lesson. Everything is a lesson, and it’s about life or death. Texas is truck country. In other words, it’s easy to blend in with a truck. The repeating theme of my message being don’t stand out.”
She sucks in a breath and lets it out. “Right. Don’t stand out. I’ll learn.”
“You need to learn quickly.”
“I know, and I’m sure it gets easier.”
“You can’t let it get easier. If it does, you’ll make mistakes, so make sure it doesn’t. And after six years, I know from experience that making sure it doesn’t takes a concerted effort. You will be tempted to feel like the storm has passed.”
“You keep mentioning six years.” Her hands close down on my upper arms, her voice going raspy. “What happened six years ago?”
I arch a brow, aware of the salesman’s approach, while Gia seems oblivious. “You didn’t know it was that long?”
“That long since what?”
“Since that bastard killed my parents. And Gia—”
“Six years,” she repeats. “Chad—”
“Sorry about the delay.” The sound of the salesman’s voice is my cue to wrap my arm around Gia’s shoulder and turn us to greet him as he adds, “Can I help you folks?”
“I’ll take that white truck in the corner.”
The man’s brow furrows. “You mean you want to test drive it?”
“No,” I correct. “We’ll take it. How much?”
“I’ll make it six if you can get us out of here in fifteen minutes.” His eyes go wide, and I quickly explain away any suspicions I’ve created. “We were headed to Austin to get my sister away from her dickhead husband who beats her, but my BMW broke down. The part for the repair won’t be in for a week, and I’d counted on beating that man’s ass by sundown.”
He arches a brow. “You carry around that much cash?”
“Asshole is a computer programmer with some hacking skills, and my sister is scared shitless of the bastard. I’m making her throw away her credit cards and stay off his radar while I deal with him. This will deplete that money, but I’ll replace it when we get to her.”
Gia surprises me by adding, “He’s horrible.” She presses her fingers to her eyes. “She and I are like sisters. I’m sorry. I’m scared for her.”
“Oh, honey,” the man says, clearly convinced and sympathetic, and I don’t blame him; she’s practically sold me on the story. “Ain’t nothing I hate more than a woman-beater. I’ll get you out of here in fifteen, and you keep that extra thousand.” He opens the door and waves us inside.