She laughs, and I swear there is some kind of a musical, sweet quality to it that takes just enough of the edge off to allow me to turn to the next photo, a shot of Amy with Liam. My sister is looking her normal, sweet, innocent self in a floral dress of some sort, her arm latched around that of an impeccably dressed Liam Stone. She’s laughing up at him, and the joy in her expression is something that I’ve not seen since before the fire—and he, in turn, is looking at her like he’s the wolf and she’s dinner.

Shutting the folder, I glare at Jared. “I’ve seen enough. I get the idea. He’s possessive and she’s head over heels. She’ll want to believe Liam is good even if he’s the devil himself.”

“He might actually be a good man,” Gia argues.

“And I might be Prince Charming,” I reply dryly, eyeing Jared. “You say Meg told her that Liam’s life was in danger to lure her away before. So let’s go that route again. Tell her he’s in danger again and you can’t risk him taking the wrong actions. She can’t tell him about the meeting.”

Gia makes a frustrated sound and flips open the folder, holding up the shot of Liam and Amy. “What do you see in this photo?”

“What I cannot unsee,” I snap.

She glowers. “I’m serious, smartass. What do you see?”

“A man who wants to fuck my sister.”

“Fine. Be stubborn. I see a man in love. Completely, totally in love.”

I glance at the photo and back to her. “I still see a man who wants to fuck my sister, and could easily fuck her over. So what the fuck is your point?”

Her glower turns to a scowl. “ ‘Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.’ Will you fucking stop with the F-bombs, and think beyond your caveman-brother routine? She loves Liam. You say she feared for his life once before. If you put her through the hell of that again, she’s going to be furious. Don’t push her away before you get her back.”

“She’s going to hate me no matter what, so, no harm, no foul. At least she’ll be alive to do it.”

“You just said that the party setup confirms Sheridan’s people are watching her. She’s safe while they wait for you to make a move. And if Liam Stone is in love with her and she with him, what’s to stop them from holding him for ransom, or even killing him, to get to you through your sister?”

“Liam Stone has proven he’s capable of taking care of himself. We’ll warn him to tighten his security.” I eye Jared. “I need an option that doesn’t include you alerting Amy of anything in advance.”

“Amy has a doctor’s appointment every Tuesday and Thursday.”

“What kind of doctor’s appointment?” I ask, immediately thinking of her miscarriage.

“She’s being treated for the blackouts she’s apparently been having for a while now.”

“Blackouts?” Gia asks. “What kind of blackouts?”

I inhale and let it out. “Post-traumatic stress disorder. She’s battled it off and on since the fire, but honestly, I’d thought she’d have beat it by now.”

“She had, too, for a while,” Jared confirms. “They seemed to be retriggered by recent events.”

“Right,” I say, the reminder that I wasn’t there for her again feeling like a bullet to the chest. “All the more reason to protect her,” I reply. “Does Liam go with her to the appointments?”

“He drops her off and goes to the bank,” he informs us. “And then they meet up at the coffee shop next door. But Tellar is always with her.”

“Does he go inside the doctor’s office?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “And I can’t hack that answer for you. The thing to do would be to watch from a distance on Tuesday to figure out the routine and act on Thursday. That gives us tomorrow to focus on our many loose ends, like Meg and Rollin.”

Gia grabs my arms. “Please think hard about what your next step is. You and Amy are the ones who will feel the outcome of what you do next, Chad. Can you really live with Liam Stone ending up dead if he’s truly the love of Amy’s life?”

I stand up and walk to the window, hands settling on my hips, and stare out over the lit-up Manhattan skyline without really seeing it. Liam Stone is a problem that could create more problems, and a whole lot of heartache, for my sister.

Gia steps to my side. “You okay?”

“Fucking beautiful,” I murmur.

“She’s safe. Sheridan is waiting on you. Faster is always better.”

But she’s wrong. And I believe Jared is right. Six years has bred greed and desperation in Sheridan. “If I don’t show up to that party, Sheridan will try to flush me out rather than risk losing me again. In other words, seventy-two hours from now, my sister could well become a target, and if Liam Stone is involved in this, then he could be the one to pull the proverbial trigger.”

WE FIND OUR way to bed at nearly four in the morning, and I fall asleep with Gia curled at my side, feeling the warmth of her body as a cushion against all things cold and icy in this world. I think I can’t sleep. I’m certain I can’t, but then somehow I’m in the middle of a nightmare, aware on some level that I’m asleep but unable to escape.

Smoke burns my lungs and I choke, shouting for my sister. “Lara! Lara!” I wait, the flames licking across the spare bedroom floor, eating away at the carpet and any time I have left. I wait, though, listening for a reply that doesn’t come, the heat burning my skin without touching me. Now my fear is shifting toward my parents, still trapped in their room, the sound of the fire trucks still too distant. I grab a tree limb that juts toward the house, using it to haul myself onto the roof and feeling sick as I observe flames consuming the opposite side of the house. They’re gone. My parents are gone. But Lara might not be.

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