“He protected my sister.”

“Who is the best way to get to you.”

“He doesn’t even know what Sheridan is after.”

“If he’s good enough and smart enough to be worthy of protecting your sister, do you really think he didn’t dig in and find out?”

“Sheridan hasn’t exactly made this public.”

“You think that he couldn’t have found out, Chad? Trust no one.”

“Including you, sweetheart.”

“I’m not asking for your trust. I’m demanding your brains. Use them. Now.”

“Why does this matter to you?” My fingers dig into her arms and I give her a shake. “Why?”

“Because,” she hisses without any hesitation, “if you really have the cylinder, and if it really works, it could save our world as easily as it could destroy it, and that’s all in your hands. And mine, too, if I can influence you to protect it.”

“And if I have it? What do you want to do with it? Whose interest are you servicing?”

“Not yours, if you want to sell it to the highest bidder. It can’t be sold. It can’t be given to anyone who will abuse it. I don’t know what the hell to do with it—but I know you can’t sell it like you said you’d sell me.”

“I’m not selling you or it.”

“You have it. Tell me.”

“Trust no one, baby. No one.”

Her fingers curl on my shirt. “Convince all of them, whoever they are, that you don’t have it—or else they will never stop coming.”

“You think they’re going to believe that?”

“Make them believe it.”

She’s shaking. Her lips, her hands. Her entire body. I stare down at her, this woman who has managed to spell out the backup plan I’ve worked on for six years and never perfected, any more than I’ve figured out what the hell to do with the cylinder.

“Right. I’ll just tell them it’s all been a big mistake, and we’ll all go our own sweet ways. If that was possible, don’t you think I would have done it before now?”

“They thought you were dead,” she argues. “You didn’t have to tell them anything before now.”

“Obviously they didn’t think I was dead, or they wouldn’t have kept looking for me.”

“All the more reason to convince them you don’t have it. Including whoever we’re going to see now. It won’t be easy, but there has to be a way.”

I glare back at her. “What’s your story?”

“It’s not my story that matters. It’s yours.”

I study her another moment, like I’ll see some answer in her face I don’t find. Shoving my hair back under my baseball hat, I say, “Let’s go,” and dig cash out of my bag, stuffing it into my pocket for easy access. I also stick the gun in my waistband, instead of my ankle holster.

Gia notices this gesture, eyeing the gun a moment before she tugs the hoodie over her head and tucks her long dark brown hair underneath without me telling her to. We stare at each other again and I don’t fucking know why, any more than I know why I’m not walking. We just are. We’re staring and standing and not moving. And then I’m moving.

With a low growl, I cave to the ever-present need to hold onto her, lacing her fingers with mine, and leading her to the door. We step into the elevator and still I keep her close. Exiting the elevator, I’m on alert, on edge, and I blame Gia. Granted, I’m always there to some degree, but she has me ready to drop and roll with my gun drawn.

I fork over a big tip to the doorman and when he offers to escort us to the side of the hotel where the Escalade still waits, I wave him off. My instincts are buzzing, and this time it’s not about Gia and her warnings. This is a sense of awareness I’ve lived with even before Sheridan, when I first started walking the line as a treasure hunter. The same instinct that made me damn good then, and even now, at getting away with things others cannot. I have a sense that a wrong move now will be lethal, like there are eyes all around me, and Jared’s claim no one else saw me at that apartment isn’t true. It was a risk, one I could have made more calculated had I not been fucking emotionally coming apart at the edges over my sister’s well-being. I’d been in the moment, not the big picture.

Following Gia to the passenger’s-side door of the Escalade, I hold it open and ensure she’s safely inside before quickly moving to the driver’s-side door. Climbing inside the vehicle, I lock the doors and start the engine. Every nerve ending in my body is jumping.

“Chad—”

“Later. When I know we’re safe.”

I pull onto the road and my sense of unease increases. I veer into the neighborhood behind the hotel and start weaving through the streets. When I see no signs of trouble following me, I turn onto a main highway and head the few miles downtown. Still, I’m cautious, and travel down another residential street—and notice the dark sedan from two streets back. Abruptly, I put us in reverse and back toward the vehicle. It starts backing up and I shove us into Park and draw my gun.

“Chad!” Gia calls out.

“Lock the door,” I order, exiting the Escalade and shutting her inside.

The sedan stops moving, idling, and I rush at it, closing the distance between it and me, but the hair on the back of my neck stands up at the same moment I hear the sound of fast approaching motorcycle engines revving. I glance over my shoulder as the glass shatters on the passenger’s side of the Escalade. Gia. Forgetting the sedan, I turn and start running, rounding the vehicle as Gia’s scream pierces the air. A man, or I think it’s a man, in leather and a helmet is leaning into the Escalade while another waits on a motorcycle nearby, holding a gun in my direction.

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