I stand there, knowing I should tell him the truth, trying to force the words that just won’t come. Telling myself it’s to protect him, I say, “I need to deal with a situation. I’ll be back in a few, and I’ll want to see everything you have on Mr. Liam Stone, and anyone who’s been anywhere near my sister since I’ve been gone.”

“I assumed as much.” He glances at the blood on my chest. “And your . . . situation. Does she have a name?”

“Her name is ‘My Problem, Not Yours.’ ” I don’t give him time to argue, turning and rushing up the stairs, not about to lose sight of what I know in my gut: Gia’s no secretary, and she’s about to tell me the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. Reaching the bedroom door, I open it and step inside a room with brick walls and steel beams across the ceiling, a huge king-sized bed in the center. And sitting on the end of it is Gia, my shirt still wrapped around her hand and a gun, one of several I have stashed in the room, lying across her lap.

ELEVEN

CAUTIOUSLY, I SHUT THE DOOR. “I see you found my stockpile of weapons.”

“Now we’re even,” she replies. “You have one, and so do I.” I step toward her. “Don’t,” she warns.

“Why?”

“Because you want the gun, and I’m not letting you take my only way to protect myself.”

“You don’t have to protect yourself from me. I pulled you out of the arms of that attacker today, remember?”

“To serve a purpose. To serve you.”

“I thought we agreed that we both want to destroy Sheridan.”

“You want my help until you don’t need me anymore. Then you’ll do just what you promised and sell me to the highest bidder.”

“I don’t have any reason to sell you.”

“You’ll find one.”

I narrow my gaze. “Why did those men come after you?”

“Do you have the cylinder?”

“You’re deflecting. You also told me to convince everyone I didn’t have it, and I assume that includes you.”

She stands, holding the gun on me. “Do you have the cylinder?”

“Don’t you think I’d have sold it by now if I did?”

“I don’t know. Would you?”

“Why do you care so much?”

“I have nothing and no one because I tried to protect it. You know this.” She scrapes her teeth over her lips. “Fine. Don’t tell me. Just answer this. Did you mean it when you said you’d do anything for money? When you said you’d do anything for a price?”

“Why? Are you offering?”

“Don’t keep playing word games with me. You said you’d do anything for money, but you also said you turned down five hundred million because this was bigger than the money.” Her voice is quavering, laced with some mix of emotions—anger? Fear? “Which is it?” she demands.

Fear and anger. Yes. That’s what I see in her, but there is pain, too, heartache, like what I’d seen in her face when we talked about children. Whatever is going on here is far more personal than she’s letting on.

“Gia,” I murmur softly. “Put down the gun.”

“Answer me, Chad!”

I close the distance between us and cover the gun with my hand, aiming it past my body. “Gia.”

“Damn you. I just want an answer.”

“Tell me why this matters to you,” I order.

“I told you—”

“The real reason, Gia. The reason I see in your eyes, in the shaking of your hand. The reason that you gave up everything. The reason those men were after you.”

She releases the gun and sinks onto the bed. I go down on a knee in front of her, and set the gun on the ground, out of her reach. “Talk to me,” I order softly.

“I’m not a secretary.”

“I knew that.”

“I was working on a top-secret project, which I destroyed before I helped you escape.”

“Re-creating the cylinder?”

“Yes.”

“How’d you get on that team?”

“I won awards and trained with some cutting-edge chemists in the field of clean energy. It was a topic that my father . . . lectured on frequently. It was his passion. Now it’s my passion, and my way to stay connected to him. The idea that an oil company would want to change the world, to be a part of the change they usually stifle, however naive it obviously was, appealed to me.”

“How close was he to creating a new cylinder?”

“It could have been a year or decades, but I thought we had a seed of something that felt special. It wouldn’t come together, though.”

My hand closes down on hers where it rests on her knee. “Did you really burn your work, or did you take it with you?”

“I burned it.”

“Would you tell me if you had it?”

“You didn’t even know about this when you said you’d sell me to the highest bidder—so no, I would not make myself sound more valuable to you or anyone. For what it’s worth, though, I didn’t keep it. There wasn’t time. But anyone on that team has knowledge that Sheridan doesn’t want shared with others. So this isn’t just about me betraying him. It’s about what he thinks I took, and can give to someone else. Ironically, if you give him what he wants, I won’t matter anymore—but that defeats the entire reason I did this. It would make an evil man the most powerful person on this planet.”

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