It hits me then that he doesn’t trust Gia any more than I would a stranger in the mix, and he’s been investigating her. I’d expected it. I knew it was coming. And I hate the dread I feel in my gut right now over what he might have found out. “Upstairs,” I reply.

We stare at each other for two hard beats, and then in unison we turn and start walking toward the elevators. I have the strong need to separate him from Gia by putting him on my left and Gia on my right, where I hold onto her arm. Inside the elevator, no one talks, the explosion seeming to wait to happen until we are certain to be free of recording devices.

Finally, we’re on the forty-ninth floor and we enter the two-bedroom, four-thousand-square-foot apartment, walking across black hardwood floors toward the floor-to-ceiling windows with huge white beams at the corners. Stopping in the center of the room, Jared and I face each other. “The master bedroom is behind me, Gia. Jared and I need a few minutes.”

“Yes, but—”

“You’re next,” I say, not liking the idea that she feels any need to preface this conversation with her own statement.

I sense her hesitation, but she grabs at least one suitcase from beside the door and rolls it toward the bedroom. I wait for the door to shut, and when it does, Jared immediately demands, “I need to know what I’m dealing with here.”

“And I need to know what you just found out.”

“Among other things, Liam Stone, a man known to be rather reclusive, is making a rare public appearance on Friday night, with his fiancée by his side.”

I blink at the unexpected news that has nothing to do with Gia. “Why, and where?”

“A fundraiser for the governor’s upcoming reelection campaign. It’s not his type of event. No event is his type of event. And Wes Wells is on the guest list.”

A chill goes down my spine at a name I know to be part of Sheridan’s consortium. “That can’t be an accident.”

“The question is, does Liam Stone know Wes is attending? No. Scratch that. The real question here is, what the hell am I involved in, Chad?”

I run a hand down my face and walk to the window, resting my hands on a small wooden handrail there. Jared joins me and the two of us stare out across the city, where trees and buildings jut upward here and there.

“Sheridan, the consortium, and who knows who else believe that there’s a cylinder that creates enough clean energy to render all other forms of energy, oil included, unnecessary. I don’t have to tell you what kind of power a cylinder that creates enough energy to power the world would have. If it’s in play, a second device wouldn’t even be needed. And of course I don’t have to tell you what being the only person to possess that kind of power would mean to Sheridan.”

“He hired you to get it?”

“Yes,” I confirm.

“And?”

“And I told Sheridan I couldn’t find it the day of the fire. Rollin offered me five hundred million dollars for it and I told him I can’t give him what I don’t have.”

“Do you?”

Responding to the weight of Jared’s stare, I cut him a look. “Someone got to the man who had it before me,” I say, and it’s the truth—just not all of it. “Rollin accused me of having it. He said someone in The Underground told him I did.”

“Who?”

“I didn’t tell anyone in The Underground anything about this, and Rollin didn’t name names. But he and his father clearly thought I was entertaining bidders, since he tried to kill me and everyone in my family.”

“You couldn’t give it to him dead.”

“I couldn’t give it to anyone else, either. He wants to know who has it now, but in the meantime he’s trying to duplicate it. Gia isn’t a secretary. She’s a chemist who was working on a project to attempt the recreation of the cylinder, with no success thus far. She thought he was going to use it to save the world. Then she overheard him talking about my captivity and saying he was going to use it to hold the world hostage. That’s how she got involved.”

I expect him to lash out at Gia, but instead Jared asks, “Why is he so convinced you have it?”

“It hasn’t shown up,” I repeat. “Do you know how many people would do just about anything to get it?” And knowing that could include Liam Stone, I straighten, facing Jared. “Does Stone have access to the party’s guest list?”

Pushing off the rail, Jared turns to me, his hands on his hips. “Not officially, but generally Liam Stone can get just about anything he wants.”

“No. He gets what he’s allowed to get.” And just that fast, I’m angry—or maybe it’s not so fast at all, but rather a festering black spot that’s been growing since Jared’s return that I didn’t want to acknowledge. I grab Jared’s shirt and shove him against the railing over the window. “Why didn’t you get my sister out of Liam Stone’s hands?” I demand, realizing now how much that’s been under the surface, bothering me since he told me about Stone.

He grabs my arms. “I’ve seen what you haven’t. She won’t leave him unless it’s in captivity. I’m sorry, Chad, but I had no idea if you were ever returning. Me locking her away in a cage was too far for me to go. You want to go after her now, fine. But you need to understand that that man has a hold on her, and he won’t easily let go of what he considers his.”

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