A bastard like him cannot have that kind of power. But with all the money trails connected to oil and coal, many of them running through our own government, can anyone? I put on my helmet and climb onto the bike. I knew a day might come when I’d have to decide to put protecting the cylinder above money, and I’d come up with a plan. There has to be someone in my circle of resources who can create a fake prototype to hand over to Rollin and at least buy some time. And then I’ll take care of whoever betrayed me inside The Underground, and they will pay for their sins. I never thought I was a man who’d look to spill blood, but the day I met Sheridan, everything changed. I changed, and there’s no turning back.

FOUR HOURS LATER, I’m on the other side of Austin, Texas, back at my family home in Jasmine Heights for the night. Sitting at the small, square kitchen table, I sip the cup of coffee I settled for after my mother protested the beer I’d favored. Seems twenty-four is still a baby to her. I scrub my day-old stubble, trying to remember back to five years ago, to a time before The Underground, when I was that person she wants me to be now. Lara appears in the doorway looking younger than her eighteen years, her long blond hair touching her shoulders, her blue eyes as wide and innocent as ever. I give the familiar brown T-shirt she’s paired with sweatpants a once-over and laugh as she approaches. “Aww, little sis, you still wearing my old shirt?”

“It was lucky when we were in Egypt,” she says, slipping into the seat across from me. “I wore it when we hit that tomb, remember?”

“How could I forget? You screamed like you were being attacked.”

“It was exciting,” she says through a laugh as she reaches for my coffee, takes a sip, and crinkles her cute little nose. “Don’t you have hair on your chest yet? That’s strong enough to burn a hole in my belly.”

“Then don’t drink it. We don’t want you getting hair on your chest.”

She laughs, but quickly turns somber. “I’m glad you came home for my graduation.”

“You know I wouldn’t miss it.”

“Dad’s going to Mexico right after it’s over.”

“I know,” I confirm, having secretly arranged the offer for my father to take over a dig site that will keep him away from here or Egypt, and away from Sheridan in the process.

“Are you leaving again, too?”

“Actually, I talked to Dad about all of us going together.”

Her big blue eyes go wide. “What? Are you serious? You mean me, you, Mom and Dad?”

“That’s right.”

“What happened to you pushing me to stay in school?”

“Once you start school, you’re committed for four years, and Dad’s not getting any younger.”

“Chad! You didn’t tell him he was getting old, did you?”

“He knows he’s old, sis. Believe me. He knows.”

“So this is real? He agreed?”

“He’s leaning toward yes.”

She squees and stands up and rushes me, giving me a hug that I return a bit too tightly, but regrets and fears are eating me alive. I need my family close and safe. “Chad,” she whispers, leaning back to look at me. “That man who visits Mom. He was here last week right before Daddy got back from his last trip.”

“Don’t talk about this,” I warn her, wanting to beat his ass all the more for letting my sister see him with my mother. “I told you that.”

“But Dad knows. Or I think he knows. I heard them fighting.”

“Leave it alone. Understand?”

“How? How can I?”

“Because I damn well said you can.”

She reddens with anger, but my cell phone rings on the table before she can reply. I glance down to find a call I’ve been waiting on is coming in. “I need to take this,” I say. “And you need to stay out of things I tell you to stay out of.”

“You’re such an ass sometimes.”

“An ass who loves you. Go to bed.”

“I love you, too, asshole,” she says, rushing out of the kitchen.

Scrubbing my jaw, I answer the call. “Jared, man, I need you to put your hacking skills to use.”

“I told you. I did one job for The Underground, and now I’m my own man.”

“Right. You ‘went legit.’ We both know that’s a farce.”

“I work for myself. The end. You have hackers working for The Underground.”

“No one is as good as you. I need you, not them.”

“Look, Chad, don’t get me wrong. That one job I did made me enough money to pay for my sister’s chemo. Without it I might have lost her, and I will never forget what you did for me. But the bottom line here is that working alone is safer. No one can run their mouth and screw you.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

He snorts. “You started a chapter for those people.”

“And I’m walking away. I’m in something deep, man. Really deep. I’ve started taking steps to protect my family, but I’m not sure it’s enough.”

There’s a beat of silence. “Give me the details.”

“Sheridan Scott has a consortium of eleven powerful people he does business with. I’ve been gathering dirt on them all.”

“Sheridan Scott as in the oil man? That Sheridan Scott?”

“That’s him.”

He whistles. “Just what the hell are you into?”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones The Secret Life of Amy Bensen Romance
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