He laughs low and cynical. “A woman. Isn’t it always? If I ever convince her I’m not a monster, maybe she’ll actually run off with me.”

“Indeed,” I agree, thinking that’s exactly what happened with Meg, and will happen with Gia too, if I let it. But what stands out in my mind are the words a monster. It’s the way I imagine Amy will see me when she knows I caused all of this.

Maria motions to Juan Carlos, and I follow him toward the women. We hover over Gia, and she doesn’t look at me or Juan Carlos. “Gia,” I say softly, her gaze lifting to mine, and I see the uncertainty, the unease in her eyes, and somehow it’s okay for me to put it there, but not anyone else. “We need to be on the road in fifteen minutes,” I tell the group.

“Then let’s get the first photo done for the driver’s license,” Juan Carlos says. “I’ll get that document doctored while Maria takes a few for school records and things of that sort—unless you want to tell me the lady’s real name, in which case I can hack her existing records.”

Gia’s eyes go wide and I answer, “No. Take the photos.”

“Very well,” he concedes, motioning for Maria to step back as he aims the camera at Gia, and says, “Smile, pretty lady.” She doesn’t smile. He doesn’t seem to care. He shoots several photos and then waits for Maria to pull Gia’s hair back and help her change her jacket.

After four clothing changes, I’ve had enough. “We’re done,” I say, pulling Gia to her feet and tugging some sort of red jacket off her shoulders as she whispers, “Thank goodness.” I lace my fingers with hers and walk to the outer office to find Juan Carlos working at a computer. “Time’s up,” I tell him.

He rotates in his chair and hands me a folder. “Everything you need.”

I take it from him. “Keys?”

He fishes them out of his pocket and hands them to me. I accept them and lead Gia to the exit, urging her outside as I pause and glance over my shoulder. “I left you a present at the curb. You should get rid of it quickly.” I step outside and shut the door to the echo of his string of curse words.

Wordlessly, the air thick and awkward between us, Gia and I rush through the backyard and open the driver’s-side door of the Escalade. Gia steps in front of me and climbs in the door, and damned if I don’t get a nice, long view of her backside that I know is even better naked than in those jeans. I follow her inside and she settles on the floor.

“You don’t want me to see how to get back here,” she says as I start the engine.

“That’s right,” I confirm.

“You think I had something to do with what happened at the car dealer.”

I back out of the driveway. “I told you, Gia. I can’t afford to trust you.”

“So I’m right. I didn’t have a phone. And even if I did, if I really was working for Sheridan and this was all one big ploy to earn your trust, why would I call him to tell him where you were?”

I hit the brakes and put the vehicle in drive. I cut her a condemning look. “I guess you figured out that I won’t be manipulated.”

“And what? I wanted to go ahead and let him kill me for failing and get it over with?”

“Or you’re naive enough to think helping him capture me again will save you. It won’t.” I hit the accelerator.

“I had no phone, Chad,” she hisses.

“You were in that bathroom a long damn time, Gia.”

“I told you—”

“You were feeling sick. You seem just fine now.”

“I’m not you, asshole, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be fine again.” I watch her turn to rest her back on the seat, curling her knees to her chest. “Maybe you should stop blaming what happened on me in time to stop it from happening to us again.”

“There is no ‘us’ and you’d be smart to remember that,” I reply sharply. But as I find my way back onto the highway, on edge, I replay her warning in my head. My mind retraces every second at that car dealership. I’ve lingered on Gia as the guilty party because those goons were on us too soon after the salesman exited for it to have been his doing. But even if Gia somehow had a phone, I’m not sure she had time to call Sheridan and have those men arrive that quickly, either. Over and over I replay the events, with something hard and sharp biting at the back of my mind. I shove it away. I deny it.

Two hours into the drive, we’re continuing our way to Denver, crossing through New Mexico’s high desert country, and my mind hasn’t slowed down yet. Gia, however, is breathing deeply, somehow sleeping on the floorboard she never even tried to get up from. That sharp, biting possibility I’ve been fighting is making me crazy, making me want to crawl out of my own skin. Finally, after what seems like miles and miles of nothing, a secluded rest stop appears. I quickly pull off the road down a tree-lined path to find a deserted parking area that is nothing more than a dirt road with a wooden, cabin-like structure next to it.

Parking, I sit there behind the wheel, my nerves jumping, as Gia stretches. “Are we ‘here,’ wherever it is we’re supposed to be going?”

I exit the Escalade without answering, slamming the door shut. By the time I round the hood, Gia is exiting as well. “Oh, good,” she murmurs. “I really need a bathroom.”

She’s adorable, pretty, so damn innocent—which could all be a façade, only it doesn’t fucking feel like one at all. I start walking toward the deserted building and she quickly catches up with me, taking the wooden steps to a porch that divides the men’s and women’s bathrooms.

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