I come back to the world at his low, guttural moan followed by a final thrust, and he, too, finds release. His body shakes, his fingers flexing into my flesh, and I lean into him, holding him the way he always holds me. When finally he calms, we cling to one another, letting time pass, neither of us eager to part.

“We’ll stay tonight,” he finally says, leaning back to look at me. “On one condition.”

“What condition?”

“We reassess tomorrow, after I meet Dante and we evaluate Meg and Jared as potential threats. If there’s a valid reason to worry, we leave.”

“And I go to the party with you tonight,” I counter.

“Amy—”

I silence him with a press of my lips to his, lingering there a moment. “I’m safer with you. I want to be with you.”

“Let’s talk to Tellar and Josh and decide from there.”

“I can live with that,” I agree, deciding it’s enough, considering my man is as stubborn as they come and I’ve already won a major battle by staying in the city tonight.

He brushes the hair from my eyes and kisses me on my forehead. “Let’s get dressed and I’ll finally feed you.”

My stomach seems to growl on cue and we both laugh. “I think that’s a good idea.”

He pulls out of me and helps me sit, before he stands up and walks toward the connected bathroom in all his naked glory, proving once again that my husband-to-be has a really sexy butt. He’s gone a few seconds, returning to toss me a towel that I snatch up while he reaches for his pants.

An alarming thought hits me. “Please tell me you shut the bedroom door and Tellar won’t walk in.”

“I shut it,” he assures me.

I clean myself up and at my first attempt to stand, Liam quickly offers me his hand, and I laugh as I realize that somehow my panties are still around one of my ankles.

Liam glances down and laughs as well, but our amusement quickly fades. Our eyes lock and he strokes a strand of hair behind my ear. “Christmas at home, huh?”

There is a hopeful sadness in him that I know has to be about the family he’s lost, the holidays he’s hidden from, and I know we are both going to visit the ghosts of our past. But I also know that together we’ll defeat them. “Yes,” I say, covering his hand with mine. “Christmas at home. Our home.”

He kisses my temple, lingering there a moment before he moves to a row of shirts, removing a freshly starched selection. “Why are you changing?” I ask. “You have to dress for the party soon.”

“Feeling sharp is being sharp,” he states, and I have my answer. Control. He’s given some to me, but he doesn’t plan to give it to anyone else.

I decide he’s right, and reach for a pair of black dress pants and a light blue long-sleeved silk blouse. I’ve just pulled on a pair of high-heeled ankle boots when my stomach growls again. Liam slides his gray tie through his collar and knots it. “Sounds like I really need to feed you.”

“I’ve been saying that for hours,” I remind him.

The doorbell rings, and his brow furrows.

“Derek?” I suggest. “But why would he be at the door in front of the security gate?”

“He wouldn’t, and I told him to call first.” He shrugs into his jacket, already striding out of the closet.

I hurry behind him, following him down the stairs and past the living area. Tellar is just opening the door as Liam and I reach the Christmas tree, and my heart stops beating.

Tellar draws his gun and I hear, “What the fuck are you doing here, Jared?”

PART NINE

Everything Is Not What It Seems

LIAM STEPS IN FRONT OF ME, shielding me.

“I repeat,” Tellar snarls. “What the f—”

“Look at the badge in my hand, asshole,” Jared says. “I’m CIA. Put the damn gun down.”

I gasp. CIA? No. Despite what Meg has told me, it seems impossible. He was Chad’s college buddy. They’ve known each other for years.

“I’m not putting it down until I confirm it’s true,” Tellar replies. “And keep the badge. A hacker can fake just about anything.”

“My badge is as real as the piece of shit who gave you that scar on your jaw four years ago,” Jared assures him.

“Aren’t you smart?” Tellar says dryly. “Do you want a cookie as a reward for knowing that information? Because if you know about that mission, you know I was the only one who walked out alive.”

“And the other six didn’t,” Jared concurs. “I know. You killed them.”

“Like I’ll kill you, if I have to.”

“You won’t. You’re one of the good guys, like me, whether you like it or not.”

“I am not remotely like you. I don’t gut my friends for an agenda.”

“You just gut your enemies.”

“No. I put a bullet between their eyes,” Tellar warns him.

“Call Coco,” Liam tells me, handing me his phone. “Auto-dial number ten.”

“Coco Reynolds?” Jared asks. “You mean my boss’s ex-wife?”

“Another fact you could have hacked,” Tellar says in a bored tone.

“And do you know what they say about hackers?” Liam asks, stepping to Tellar’s side, forming a full barrier between me and Jared. “They hack because they aren’t good enough to be invited to the party directly.”

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