Gia gives me a concerned look. “Tell me we’re not hiding in an area like this.”
“The complete opposite,” I assure her, “but there are plenty of areas like this in the city.”
Her thoughtful gaze returns to the window. “I don’t think I’m going to like New York.”
“You’ll like it,” I promise. “You have to focus on the good, and forget the bad.”
She twists around to face me. “Forget? You say that like it’s easy, or even right.”
“You have to find a way to let go of certain things.”
“Like the past?”
“Yes. Like the past.”
“You make it sound like it’s easy when I know you don’t believe that. It’s not.”
“No. But it gets easier.”
“I don’t want it to get easier,” she whispers, turning away, and her pain is present between us, alive and real.
I’m glad I wasn’t with Amy to feel her pain, but not out of selfishness—rather, it’s out of fear I wouldn’t have been strong enough to tell her no when her safety was at risk.
We fall back into silence, and I’m strangely aware of Jared’s presence, as if he’s waiting for me to comfort Gia. As if he’s damning her, or me, or both of us, for what he believes is a relationship based on some sort of weakness. The idea that it might be condemnation based on something he’s found in her past grinds through me and suppresses my urge to reach for her.
It’s another forty minutes before we defeat traffic and reach midtown Manhattan, where I have the driver stop at a corner near a number of luxury department stores and a major subway stop. I pay our fare and send him on his way, covering our trail by never letting anyone see our endgame.
“Shopping time,” I explain as Gia looks around, her blue eyes big with the same wonder all first-time visitors to New York experience in the crush of people amongst towering buildings. “We need to be prepared for anything. That means we both need a full wardrobe and suitcases befitting our final destination, which is a money-driven neighborhood. And we need it all quickly.”
“And you didn’t allow the driver to know where that destination is,” Jared comments. “Smart.”
“It’s better than stupid,” I retort dryly.
“Yes,” he says, giving Gia a quick look before adding, “it is. Especially considering we still don’t know how Sheridan found you in order to insert Meg into your life.”
Gia reacts instantly, stepping closer to him. “I’m not Meg, if that’s what you’re inferring.”
“Just making conversation, Gia.”
“I don’t trust you any more than you trust me,” she replies.
“Good thing you aren’t the one handing out the cookies at the party, then. I’d hate to get denied a good snack.”
“Enough,” I snap, irritated that Jared didn’t keep this between him and I, even more so that he’s choosing to do this now, where it could escalate into attention we can’t afford. “Let’s make this quick,” I say, grasping Gia’s arm and stepping forward, setting us all in motion.
Jared eagerly falls into step with me while Gia double-steps to keep up, stumbling and falling. I twist, grabbing her waist to catch her and stand her up. Our eyes lock and hold, and she doesn’t have time to hide the uncertainty, the hint of fear, in hers. Things I can’t dissolve with words. “You okay?”
“I’m just fine. A perfectly peachy New York tourist.”
I have no idea why, but I laugh, and then she laughs, and the tension of the confrontation is gone. Lacing my fingers with hers, I ignore Jared, and start walking again, all of us falling into step.
“I’m surprised you’re touching me after his accusations,” she murmurs for my ears only.
“I told you: If you die, it will be my choice. I’m keeping you close enough to make that decision myself.”
“Thanks for that comforting thought.”
I offer her nothing more. Not until I find out what’s at the root of Jared’s attack.
FOR THE NEXT hour we shop, and I douse every objection Gia offers over the expense of our purchases. I need us ready for any event, action, or travel, without another outing, and I press to ensure that’s what I get. Finally, we’ve spent enough to buy a luxury car, but have managed to acquire full wardrobes for all three of us, along with accessories and various beauty products for her. When all is said and done, we each pack a brand-name suitcase with shopping bags, and I arrange delivery of the rest of the items. From there, we take the subway to one of my ministorage units, where I fill an extra suitcase with a duffel stocked with weapons that I make sure Gia doesn’t see.
It’s late afternoon by the time we take another few trains and arrive at our true destination, the Two57 residence inside the elite high-rise Park Hotel. We stop at the edge of the eighty-story building and Jared glances up, letting out a long whistle. “This is Liam Stone living.”
“More importantly, it’s an extremely profitable rental property I purchased years ago. It’s also been vacant for the past three months. Until now.”
Moving forward, I hand the doorman one of my fake IDs along with Gia’s, motioning for Jared to show his, all of which I’ve arranged to be on an approved list through my broker, who wasn’t loving me at four this morning. “My girlfriend and my best man are here to visit me for a few days.”