Ignoring the couch to my left, I reclaim the window seat to my right that I’d occupied earlier. I’m just strapping in when Liam appears and pulls the curtain between us and the front of the plane shut. Wordlessly he sits next to me and, with a purpose it seems, removes his laptop from the briefcase beneath the seat.

“What are you doing?” I ask as he pulls the table from his armrest and quickly brings his computer to life, keying up the beginning of a Skype chat. “Aren’t we about to take off?”

“Calling Chad.”

I shut the lid of the laptop. “No. Please. I don’t want to talk to him right now.”

He looks at me, his jaw set with determination. “You need—”

“You,” I whisper. “Right now, I need you.”

His eyes soften and he sets the laptop under his seat, folding the table back into the arm of his chair, and then goes down on one knee in front of me. “You’re grieving for him like he’s really dead. He’s alive, Amy.”

“But he’s gone.”

“He’s not gone.”

“Like he wasn’t gone these past six years?” I challenge. “I know the magnitude of what we’re dealing with, Liam. That cylinder is a miracle that could become a disaster. What else can you call something the size of a pencil eraser that can power the world with clean energy and still manage to crumble economies and create dictators?”

“That is why he made sure the world believes it’s dead, right along with him.”

“Which is exactly why he won’t risk seeing me and putting us back in danger. And I know you, Liam Stone. You aren’t going to let that happen, either. I just . . . the past seventy-two hours since he dropped this bomb on us has been a whirlwind. I don’t think he had to do this. His creation of the Circle of Trust was enough to protect us. Twelve people who have a piece of a map to find the cylinder and triggers to bring them together. We made suggestions for the Circle but we don’t know who he chose, Liam. And Chad swears he approached them with a fake identity. Make me understand why all of that added up to today.”

His lips thin. “That’s exactly what I asked him three days ago when he handed me this bombshell to pass on to you.”

“And he said what?”

“Too many people connect us to him to be safe,” he explains. “He needed those people to get the message that he was gone and he’d never shared his secret with us.”

“All those responsible for killing my family and hunting us all those years are in jail.”

“The people who hired Chad to find the cylinder in the first place are in jail, true. But Jared and Meg are both missing, completely unaccounted for.”

Everyone my brother trusted betrayed him. It makes me value the trust I have with Liam all the more. “Jared was captured by the Chinese when we gave them the fake prototype.”

“Perhaps promising them our secrets for his freedom. He betrayed us. We can’t trust him.”

“He doesn’t know our secrets.”

“They don’t know that, Amy. The bottom line here is what I just told you: Chad felt that too many people had connected us with him for safety. His objective was to give them all a reason to write us off as potential sources of information.”

His words deliver a hard punch of betrayal I have no choice but to face. “And since he knew all of these things from the moment he came up with the idea of the Circle, he clearly planned his death from the beginning.”

“It would seem that way.”

“He should have been honest with us.”

“I told him that.”

“And his defense was what? Or did he even bother to offer one?”

“He didn’t want you to fight him,” he admits grimly.

I shake my head. “And I would have. How ridiculous is that? I mean, if he doesn’t want to be in my life, then why am I fighting so hard to have him in it?”

“Amy,” Liam says, his voice softening. “Baby. I know this hurts, but this isn’t like the last time. He didn’t fake his death and let you believe he was dead, the way he did six years ago.”

“Because I’d expect him to do just that, and I’d look for him if he had. He’s not a fool, Liam. He knew that. He had to keep me in my place.”

His expression darkens, and as much as I want him to deny that I’m right, he does not. “He’s not gone,” he says instead. “Call him. Hearing his voice will reassure you that this isn’t a repeat of the past.”

“Right now, if I call him and he doesn’t answer, I’ll spend the entire flight worried that I’m never going to see or talk to him again. And if he does answer, I don’t know what I’d say to him.”

“Tell him how you feel.”

“Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure screaming would be involved.”

“I’d say screaming is acceptable.” The engine roars into high gear and the plane begins to move. Liam lifts his hand, which I now realize that I’m clutching, and kisses mine. “The pilot said it’s going to be bumpy taking off. We both need to buckle up.”

I nod and reluctantly release him, fighting the urge to hold on and never let go. Some part of me is afraid he’s going to disappear, like everyone else does in my life. The thought shakes me to the core, and a memory of that horrid casket rips through my mind. That could so easily be Chad’s future, and I wonder if I’d even know. The thought rattles me all over again as I try to fasten my belt. Liam settles into his seat, and he must see me trembling because he reaches over and buckles me in and then covers my hand with his. “Easy, baby.”

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