“You and your people are the ones who told me he was dead,” I remind him.

“Did he tell you why you had to hide?” he blasts back, never missing a beat.

“He didn’t tell me anything, to protect me. If he didn’t tell you, I’m betting that deep down, he didn’t trust you.”

His eyes narrow, the seconds passing like hours. “Meg visited you today.”

I blanch but recover quickly. “You were there,” I say, kicking myself for dismissing the prickling sensation on my neck when I entered the store.

“Surveillance requires a search warrant,” Liam says. “I’m betting you didn’t have one.”

Jared flicks Liam a look. “I just happened to be Christmas shopping, like the rest of the world.”

“You hacked the store cameras,” Tellar says, stepping forward.

Jared ignores him, his attention fixed on me. “What did she want?”

“The same thing you want,” I say. “To be convinced Chad is dead. It seems like everyone wants him to rise from the grave and suddenly produce some secret you think he had.”

“We know he had a secret,” Jared assures me. “The question is, do we know everything about that secret? That’s where Meg comes in. She lived with him, and we think she knows the answer to that question. We want her, and we need you to help us get her.”

“We couldn’t help you even if we wanted to,” Liam says, clearly not wanting me to share everything about Meg with Jared. “Amy reacted to her showing up about as well as she did to you ringing our doorbell. She got angry, and Meg took off.”

“And don’t tell us you didn’t see her abrupt departure on the camera feed,” Tellar adds.

But Jared ignores Liam and Tellar, his entire focus on me. “Meg is a valuable resource who helps ensure that Sheridan and clan rot in the highest containment-level facility.”

“Are you saying there’s a risk they might be moved?” Liam asks.

“The lawyers are asking,” Jared says, flicking him a look. “We need to be armed and ready to shut them down if they get any traction.”

“Will they get traction?” Tellar asks. “Have they?”

“Not so far,” Jared admits. “But I have no intention of making years of chasing these people mean nothing. I want to be prepared for anything.” He tunes in on me again. “We need her. I need your help to find her again.” He reaches into his pocket and removes a card, offering it to me.

Liam reaches for it. “If she shows up, we’ll call the agency.”

“Right.” He turns away and saunters toward the door, then pauses, facing the tree. “Nice decorations.” He cuts me a hard look. “Must be hard to celebrate with Chad gone.”

I feel the accusation of a lie like a physical slap. “Chad’s been gone to me for six years,” I say, hugging myself again to hide my trembling hands.

“Right,” he repeats. “Well then, happy holidays. And if you need anything, I’ll be nearby.”

He exits the house and Tellar shuts the door. We all stand there in silence, as if we’re stuck in some vortex and can’t get a grip on what just happened. All I can think is that he knows Chad is alive, which means Chad can’t be anywhere near me, ever, and I feel as if a part of my soul is bleeding.

I inhale deeply, finding the zone I’ve used to survive too many times to count, as I march down the hallway toward the kitchen. There I head for the giant stainless steel refrigerator and pull out a pasta salad. Liam and Tellar join me as I set it on the counter, one on either side of the island.

“How do we have food, when we just arrived?” I ask.

“I had a service clean the house and stock the fridge,” Liam replies.

“I’m glad you did,” I say, reaching for a drawer to grab a fork.

Liam blocks it from opening with a hip, his hand settling on my shoulder. “Jared doesn’t know Chad’s alive,” he promises. “He just wants to get into your head.”

“And it worked,” Tellar adds. “Don’t let him win.”

“I know he’s going to keep watching and waiting. He’ll stalk us like he’s done these past six years.” I press fingers to my temple, hating the reality I have to face. “Chad is dead to me now. He can’t even call us. Jared will trace the call.”

“That’s what disposable phones are for,” Liam reminds me. “He’s not dead to you, but he does need to lie low. And he will, to protect you.” He squeezes my shoulder. “And we have Josh in place. He’ll block and reroute Jared’s attempts to track us.”

“Are you sure Josh is better than Jared?”

“One hundred percent,” he confirms. “He and Dante will be a steel fence between us and trouble. Unfortunately, now that I know Jared’s watching us I can’t go to that party tonight and risk being seen with Dante. We may need to contact him through Josh for a while to keep attention off our arrangement. And we do need to hire Dante immediately. Especially since I don’t plan to hand Meg over to Jared.”

“Why not?” I ask. “Maybe that would get him to leave us alone.”

“He thinks she knows something,” Liam states. “And like he said, she lived with Chad. None of us, not even Chad, can be sure exactly how much she knows.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Tellar interjects. “She’s a bigger problem than Jared.”


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