Liam’s gaze jerks to the right and I follow it to find Gia and Amy standing there. “Gia,” I say, rising to my feet, but she has already taken off.

NINETEEN

“STAY BACK,” I shout as I dart around the table and follow Gia, exiting the kitchen into the living area just in time to catch a glimpse of her disappearing behind the curtains and onto the porch. Running after her, I exit to find her already down the stairs to the right and fading into the darkness of the beach.

“Gia!” I shout, going over the top of the railing and landing hard on the ground, my body jolting with the impact, but I don’t pause, afraid of losing her in the darkness. “Gia, wait!” But she keeps moving and I launch into a run, aware Gia is wearing nothing more than I am; her jeans and T-shirt are no match for this cold even if she wasn’t still weak from being poisoned.

I watch her turn left, stumbling on the sand, and it’s all I need to catch her. She tries to catch herself and before she recovers, I shackle her wrist, pulling her around to face me.

“Yes,” she hisses. “I’m his daughter. You said you’d do anything for money. You said—”

“I didn’t kill him.” She jerks against me and I pull her to me, shackling her leg with mine, holding her wrists between us. “I swear it on everything I love or have ever loved that I didn’t do it. My family. My sister. You, Gia. I’m falling in love with you. I didn’t kill your father.”

“No. No, don’t say that word. Did you know he was murdered?”

“Yes, but I didn’t get the cylinder from your father.”

“Liar!” She jerks and twists and trips us both. She falls backward and I end up on top of her as she squirms wildly.

Pinning her hands by her head, I straddle her. “Stop, Gia. Stop and listen to me. I got the cylinder from Rex Lenard, your father’s former college professor. He retired in Alaska.” She pants several times, breathing deeply, but she isn’t fighting me anymore and I use that opportunity to explain. “I don’t know what made your father feel he had to hide the cylinder, but he was too obvious. I followed him to Alaska.”

“So you were there when he was there.”

“Only to see Rex, and I got to Rex too late. Someone in a ski mask, who I can’t help but think was Rollin, was there when I got there. I fought him, but he’d stabbed Rex and Rex was bleeding out. Rex told me where he had hidden the cylinder and why it had to be protected. With his last breath he begged me to protect it, and I promised I would.”

“What happened to my father?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart. I knew he’d been killed. I knew it was probably murder, and I wanted the hell out to protect my family.”

Her face crumples and she bursts into tears. I release her arms and hold her, burying my face in her hair. “I’m sorry, Gia. If I’d known who you were, I would have told you sooner.”

Her arms wrap around my neck, and relief at the acceptance in the act washes over me. “I didn’t really believe you did. But you kept talking about regret, and how bad you are, and it’s my father, and I was tormented and scared because—”

I lean back, trying to see her face in the darkness. “Because?”

“Because I was afraid I was blinded by what I feel for you.”

“Which is what?”

“Too much. Too much.”

“Not enough,” I say, lifting myself off of her and scooping her up. She curls into me, shivering in my arms. I quickly cover the stretch of beach, walking up the steps to the empty porch. Eager to warm her up, I track through the living area and down the long hallway. I enter our bedroom, kicking the door shut, the moon finally peeking from behind the clouds, illuminating the dark room through the sheer blinds.

Bypassing the bed, knowing we need to talk and figure out where this has led us, I settle Gia on a chaise near the double doors leading to our private patio, grabbing the blanket on the back and covering her. She curls her knees to her chest, and it’s torture, but I do not touch her. Even so, the enormity of the situation is starting to hit me.

“Were you plotting revenge against me?”

“Oh, God. No, Chad! I didn’t even know my father was murdered. I didn’t know Sheridan was a bad man until the day I helped you escape. He was—this is so hard to even say now—Sheridan . . . is my godfather.”

“He is what?”

“Yes. He and my father were friends, I thought. When my father died, I was in Austin, in college. Sheridan was in Austin, of course, because of his company, so it was logical that he came to me to deliver the news and comfort me. He told me my father had asked him to look out for me. He paid for my education, and on the day I graduated, he gave me a special gift: my father’s journal with partial equations and notes about his dream for a universal clean energy solution. Sheridan knew I’d spent a lot of time in a lab with my father, and he encouraged me to take those notes no one else could decipher and use them to continue my father’s work and finish it.”

“I’m guessing you have the legal rights to your father’s work.”

She nods. “Yes. All intellectual property. I’m not sure how or when that would have come into play, but that has to be why he hired me and kept me close.”

“I’m guessing you signed legal paperwork that somehow signed away your rights, and you didn’t know. And I assume he thought you might know more about your father’s work than you said you did or even realized you knew, thus making you a good investment all around. You did say you were onto something.”

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