“For my interviews. For a couple of team meetings. I think maybe four times.”
“What about when he hosted all those weekly dinners?” I press. “Did he talk about anything personal at all?”
“He asked us a lot of personal questions as we ate, and seemed genuinely interested in the answers. But once the food was cleared, it was all about the research progress.”
“This really shouldn’t be news,” I say. “Sheridan is a smooth operator who is never foolish.”
“He left a door open, and Gia overheard a conversation that led her to help you escape,” Jared reminds me. “That sounds pretty foolish to me. Greed and desperation create screwups. And six years is a long time for both things to fester.”
“Yes,” Gia says, averting her gaze to punch a random key on her computer. “Six years is a long time for it to fester.”
Sensing a shift in her mood, I tilt my head to study her, but she leaps to her feet, tugging her teal T-shirt over her snug black leggings, and announcing, “I need a soda. I put some of the beer from the grocery order in the fridge earlier—anyone want one?”
Jared lifts a finger. “I’m in. I hack better with a buzz.”
Gia arches a brow in my direction, but I don’t miss how she doesn’t quite make eye contact.
Lifting a hand, I decline. “I hack better with caffeine. Another Coke for me.”
“Coke it is.”
She turns and hurries away, her pace a little too fast to be casual. “Chad hacks like my kindergarten teacher,” Jared yells over his shoulder at her. “Better get him Kool-Aid.”
“Since when did you grow a sense of humor?” I ask, not sure why I haven’t let the friendly banter bait me into admitting just how good at hacking I’ve become.
“Since when did you lose yours?” he challenges.
“Six years ago,” I snap, the question setting me off for no logical reason.
He gives me a level stare. “Which is why you have to end this.”
I nod, still trying to shake off the irritation I don’t understand while he’s already moved on, keying a couple more strokes before adding, “I just sent you the list of party attendees, but remember, it’s going in my program tonight. I wouldn’t bother to analyze it too much until the program finishes.”
“The party is a setup,” Gia says, setting the drinks on the table and sinking back to the floor, her strange energy from a minute before seemingly gone, leaving me to wonder if I’d imagined it. Or, considering how touchy I am with Jared, maybe I just absorbed it. “Anything too convenient,” she continues, “or too good to be true almost always is.”
“I’m not denying it reads like a trap,” I assure her. “In fact, I’m certain that’s exactly the case.” I look at Jared. “This consortium member on the guest list lives in Houston,” I say, having studied each member quite extensively. “Can we find out when he arrives for the party?”
“One step ahead of you,” Jared responds. “He’s out of the country at present, and his return ticket is a week out.”
“That pretty much confirms the trap, and that Sheridan is watching Amy,” I conclude. “And Liam’s a little too close to the situation for my comfort.”
“Liam is too close to your sister for your comfort,” Gia comments. “That means you aren’t objective. Don’t let him be a distraction from a real threat, like you did me.”
“I don’t trust Liam any more than Chad does,” Jared interrupts, “and I haven’t made that a secret to Amy. I can use that to get to her. I’ll call her and tell her I have information about your whereabouts and will only talk to her. She’ll agree, but finding a way for her to ditch Tellar Phelps is going to be the issue.”
“That’s the bodyguard?” Gia asks.
“Yes,” Jared confirms, “and a damned good one at that.”
Fighting an urge to pace, I say, “Tell her no one but her means no one but her. Tell her I’m in a life-or-death situation. Fuck, man. Tell her whatever the hell you have to. Just get her free of Liam and Tellar.”
He reaches into a briefcase and sets another folder on top of my pizza box. “You need a reality check. These are shots I took while watching them. I find when I’m at a distance that I miss things that I see later in photos. And they tell a story: Namely, that Amy won’t cut Liam out of the information loop.”
Gia moves to sit on the ottoman next to me and I open the folder, suddenly staring down at a close-up of my sister, feeling like I’ve just taken a punch in the chest. It’s then that I realize that watching her from a distance, seeing her and knowing she was alive, had quite possibly kept me sane all of these years.
Gia’s hand slides to my leg, warm and welcome, and I can almost feel Jared’s eyes on us but I don’t give a shit. “She looks like you,” she observes. “Her hair is much blonder than yours, but she has the same defined cheekbones as you, and you both have the same remarkable pale blue eyes.”
“She looks exactly like our Swedish mother,” I say, hating the memory of Amy braiding her hair and wearing dark-rimmed glasses for years after the fire. I laugh sadly. “My father called the two of them Twinkies. Amy loved it. So did my mother.”
“What’d he call you?” Gia queries.
“Same thing as you. Asshole.”