My heart races, my mind chasing the possibility that Jared is lying as I punch in the number. He has to be lying, I think, counting the rings. One. Two. Coco answers and I blurt out, “Jared is standing at our door with Tellar holding a gun on him.”

“Holly Mother of Jesus,” she hisses. “Hold on.” The line clicks and I wait, my mind racing with what this means. Jared was Chad’s best friend. Chad trusted him. Jared helped me escape from Meg and Sheridan. But if he’s CIA, it changes every interaction any of us ever had with him.

“Why are you here, Jared?” Liam demands.

“I heard you were asking questions about me,” he replies. “I figured it was time I tore off the blinders.”

Coco comes back on the line. “It’s true. He’s CIA. He was deep undercover.”

Shock rolls through me and I end the call. “It’s true. He’s CIA,” I say. I can barely wrap my head around the implications.

“You can put the gun down now, Tellar,” Jared orders.

“I’d rather shoot you, you bastard,” Tellar growls.

“I’d like to watch,” Liam agrees.

“You’d never have time to bury my body,” Jared promises. “Too many people know I’m here.”

Liam doesn’t reply and seconds tick by, as if all three men are in a silent standoff. “Invite me in,” Jared says tightly, “or I can take you in for questioning.”

Another few seconds tick by, and I watch Tellar and Liam exchange a look. Apparently reaching an agreement, they part in unison and I see Jared fully, a man I know but never really knew. Tall, with a light brown ponytail tied at his nape, he’s wearing his typical faded jeans and T-shirt, this one sporting a Batman emblem. And I kind of think it comes with a message. Like the superhero, he’ll do whatever he must to get the job done, even if it includes stabbing friends in the back.

He stops beside the Christmas tree, his brown eyes fixed on me. Tellar shuts the door behind him and Jared closes the space between us, leaving a mere foot between us as he demands, “Is he really dead?”

Adrenaline pumps through me, fear nowhere in sight, my anger front and center. “You bastard,” I hiss, my voice quaking and my body with it, and without a conscious decision to do so, I launch myself forward, wanting to hit him. I’m a hair away from him, my fingers brushing his shirt, when Liam shackles my waist from behind and pulls me back. I fight him but lose, shouting at Jared, “You were supposed to be Chad’s friend! You’re supposed to care! You were supposed to be someone we trusted!” Liam whirls me around and I try to reach for Jared again, only to smack into the wall of Liam’s chest. “Let me by!”

He grips my shoulders, holding me steady. “Amy, stop. You have to stop.”

I inhale on a shaky breath. “He’s a bastard,” I repeat. “I want him out of this house.”

“As do I,” he assures me. “Go to the other room. I’ll handle him.”

“It’s Amy I want to question,” Jared says from behind him. “We can do this here or somewhere else. That’s her choice.”

“Go to the other room,” Liam repeats. “He can’t force you into talking, and my attorney will shove his request down his throat.”

I shake my head, wanting this over with now and for good. “No. He’s the one hiding things, not me.”

He studies me, a mix of resistance and regret in his expression. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I confirm, crossing my arms to hide the way my stupid hands shake every time I get upset. Any calm I’d hoped to claim was gone the instant I saw Jared again.

Liam gives a deep sigh and then moves to stand beside me, where he’s been since the day I met him.

Any calm I’d hoped to claim is gone the instant I see Jared again. “Were you ever Chad’s friend?” I ask.

“Yes,” he replies.

“Yes?” I hiss. “That’s it?”

There’s a slight twitch to his lips, a hardening of his jaw. “You want to know about me and Chad? I’ll tell you. He set me up with a job that paid for my sister’s cancer treatments. It didn’t save my sister, but I fully intended to save his. And believe me, Amy.” His voice tightens. “When I was with you, I was protecting you.”

“Then why betray him?” Liam asks.

“That job he gave me to save my sister got me busted. I was either going to jail or joining the CIA.”

“You mean going to jail or betraying Chad,” I bite out, my arms dropping to my sides, my fingers digging into my palms and around the phone I am still somehow holding.

He gives an incidental shake of his head. “No. The CIA wasn’t after Chad when they recruited me. It was someone inside the Treasure Hunter group he worked for. And it was a matter of national security. I knew Chad would never willingly dip his hands in something as dirty as this was.”

I reject everything this man claims. “I don’t believe you.”

“You’re shocked, and that’s understandable,” he replies coolly. “But know this. When Chad needed help making you disappear, I did it blindly, out of friendship. I didn’t figure out that Sheridan, a man already on the CIA watch list, was involved until much later.” His jaw sets and he levels me with a stare, refocusing on his original question. “I need to know if Chad’s really dead.”

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