This is a section from FORSAKEN that I wrote and ended up deleting because I found out the writing Gia’s POV spoiled a lot of secrets for readers. So I decided to stick with only Chad’s POV, but that means I get to share this now! I hope you enjoy!
Please note: this is entirely unedited so please don’t hold my mistakes against me! Copyright Lisa Renee Jones 2015. This is not to be copied, shared, or sold in any manner.
Chad leads me outside the backdoor of the stranger’s house, into the dark, muggy Texas night that defies the November month. Stepping onto some kind of concrete patio, I can barely see my own hand for the inky black of the space around us. A few more steps and I hit a piece of furniture, irritated with myself when I barely contain a yelp that could get us killed. The darkness might allow us cover but just beyond our cloak are the dangers of us being blind, unarmed, and in a rough neighborhood riddled with gangs, when we are already hunted by Sheridan’s men.
Reaching the chain link fence, Chad hurdles it with only a quick, short shake of metal. “Come on,” he hisses, removing my moment of fear that he might leave me behind. Relief washes over me and I don’t let properness get in my way of an escape from Sheridan, I don’t have a plan for on my own. I yank my skirt up my hips, and stick a foot in the fence. His big hands shackle my wrists, and it’s unnerving how aware of this man I am as a woman, when I don’t know him or trust him. He helps me balance each step, and I bite my lips as the spike on top rips open my palm. I pant heavily through the pain, managing to keep silent. I don’t know if Chad realizes I’m hurt or he’s just impatient, but his arm wraps my waist as I clear the top and I come down against his body, his hand somehow ending up on my bare backside. Unnerved all over again, I shove away from him, tugging down my skirt, cursing the dash of heat I’d felt in reaction that shouldn’t even be possible with this man.
I’ve barely adjusted the grip on my shoes when he shackles my wrist, and starts running, which means I am too. Blood trickles down my hand and onto my wrist and I blink rapidly into the darkness, realizing we’re in some sort of nasty back ally that has me fearing the dangers to my bare feet I can’t see to avoid.
We run forever it seems, behind a row of small houses I believe, and all I can think of in these eternal minutes is how I got here. How one moment I never expected to exists, lead me to this one, and the next. One moment, one discovery, that changed my life forever, or in reality, opened my eyes to truth beyond the naive façade I’d been living. Nothing had been what it had seemed to be. I was, I still am, a token in a game I cannot allow the wrong people win and impossible as it seems, I trust Chad, a complete stranger, more than I trust anyone else in my life, and I don’t trust him at all.
We reach the end of the ally and Chad stops abruptly, and I run into his back, jolting us both. Unfazed it seems, he inches around the corner to inspect what might lie in wait for us. Obviously not liking what he finds, he curses under his breath, and squats, taking me with him. Leaning close, his breath is warm on my neck and cheek, and oddly, insanely intimate, as he whispers, “We’re crawling to the right, along the edge of the building. Sheridan’s men are to the left.”
The hair on the back of my neck stands up just thinking about how close to capture we are and I give a decisive nod. Whatever it takes to escape, I’m up for it. Sheridan won’t kill either of us, at least not immediately, but he will make us suffer and suffer horribly.
Chad holds up a hand, silently telling me we aren’t moving yet. I hold my breath in wait, still managing to be shocked when his hand comes down like a flag on a racetrack, and he’s moving forward, still on his knees as he darts into the darkness, and leaving me stunned and staring after him. Adrenaline surges through me and I pursue him, still struggling to hold onto high heels, concrete digging into my knees. I want to throw my shoes away but at this point, the only thing I know I own in this world, is what I have one me right now. I have to hold onto them, like I have to hold onto my reasons for doing all of this. I can’t forget. I can’t be weak. The very idea that I might, speeds up my pace, and pushes me past the bite of gravel through my hose and into my flesh.
We travel the length of a giant warehouse, and enter the parking lot of another. The instant we are at the building, Chad shifts into a squat, leaning against the wall, the darkness still consuming us. Following his lead, I do the same, my shredded knees thanking me, blood tricking down my calves as it is the wrist of my injured hand. Chad doesn’t speak and either do I. We both just listen and I squeeze my eyes shut at the sound of muffled voices to both our left and right, and the realization that we are sandwiches in between trouble is not good one. The only way out if forward or backwards, and I’m not sure either is clear.
“We’re going forward,” Chad instructs softly, “back where we came from, exactly what they won’t expect us to go and we’re going now.”
I blink and he’s pulled me to my feet and into a run to cross a road, and then we’re tracking down the sides of one warehouse, and then another, both dark and deserted. The voices fade behind us and it gives me hope, driving me to run harder and faster. Minutes become a blur of adrenaline and the small bit of relief I feel at the sight of the highway disappears when I realize we have two blocks of open space to cover to get to it. If Chad cares, he doesn’t react, simply pressing forward with obvious, fierce determination to escape and survive, that doesn’t ease at the edge of the highway.
He pulls me into the road, cars coming towards us at a far too rapid speed for comfort, our destination clearly a huge parking area favored by downtown partiers. Once there, we ducks down in between cars and I follow him as he starts checking for unlocked doors. Cars zoom past us on either side of the parking lot and above on the ramp, and there are people around us, lots of people, considering it’s Friday night and the nearby sixth street is the cities weekend hotspot.
Two people pass right by me, and I don’t know how they miss me huddled on the ground. Ready for cover, hiding in a vehicle doesn’t seem a horrible idea, and I start checking for options myself, leaving a stain of blood on several door handles.
“Bingo,” he says, opening the door to some sort of black pickup truck. “Get in.” I don’t have to be told twice. I quickly scramble inside, and he follows me, adding, “Stay low, but I’m already smart enough to be in the floorboard.
He yanks the plastic panel from under the steering column. “You’re stealing the truck?” I ask anxiously, grabbing tissue from a box on the floor next to me and without looking at my wound, I ball a big wad in my palm.
“If you wanted to grow morals you should have done it before involving yourself with Sheridan.”
“Says the man looking in the mirror.”
“I never claimed to have morals. I’m the one stealing the truck.”
“Won’t this get more attention, not less? What if it’s called into police scanners? Can’t Sheridan track us that way?”
He ignores me, yanking wires from the panel and the speed in which he starts the engine is a testament to this being a skill he’s mastered. “Don’t get up,” he orders as he backs out of the parking spot. “They’ll be looking for two of us.”
Reality is setting in hard all of the sudden. “I don’t have my purse. Or my credit cards. I have to go to the bank, maybe in another city. I’ll grab it and then we’ll be gone before he can get to us.”
“There is no “we” sweetheart and I have a plan that includes untraceable resources. Why don’t you?”
I read the underlining accusation, like my lack of a plan, is a plan, to get close to him. “I acted spontaneously. They were about to cut your toe off. You would have talked.”
“No,” he states with a humorless laugh. “I wouldn’t have talked.”
“You don’t know what pain will make you do. No one knows until they’ve been in that situation.”
“What would you know of pain? And what is all of this to you, anyway?”
“Enough to risk everything.” I move out of the floor to the seat, watching as we exit onto Ben White. “You don’t betray Sheridan and get away with it. You have to know that.”
His fingers flex on the steering wheel, several beat passing before he demands, “Who are you to him?”
“His secretary,” I say, the lie far less bitter than the danger the truth holds for me. “Which means I’m close to him and he trusted me and the betrayal will cut deep.”
“His secretary,” he says flatly, casting me a quick look I can only call disdainful.
“Yes,” I say, hoping I sound indignant. “His Secretary.”
Turning the truck sharply, he pulls into a storage facility, puts the vehicle in park and turns to face me. “I hate lies.” His voice is low, rough, but somehow that makes it all the more intense, even a intimating. “I hate the people who tell them even more.” He shocks me by getting out of the vehicle, leaving me stunned and wondering if he just left me here to fend for myself. Scrambling forward in the seat, I lean over the dash and watch as he approaches gate and it becomes clear he knows this place when he punches in a code. How can he have the code to this place? He can’t have a unit here, can he?
The gates open and in a blink, he’s back in the truck, shutting us inside without looking at me, tension waving off of him like a nuclear charge. He pulls inside the facility grounds, and I twist around to watch the gates slowly close, a horrible thought hitting me. Wouldn’t a storage unit be a perfect place to hide a dead body? My mind races with my options but there are none. If Chad really has what Sheridan thinks he has, then it’s Chad, not Sheridan, I need to be right here with him. Then again, if I’m dead, this is as over as it gets.
We halt in front of one of many storage units and I reach for the door. He grabs my arm, sending heat radiating up my arm, and this time my reaction to his touch has nothing to do with him being incredible, impossibly male. It’s about him being the man who might be about to kill me. “Stay here,” he orders. “I’ll only be a moment.”
I inhale and let it out, giving him a nod that is far more choppy than decisive this time. Apparently satisfied with my response, he releases me and exits the vehicle. My healthy hand digs into my legs and try to be relieved that’s he’s left me in the truck. Surely he’d want to get me out of it to murder me.
Trying to keep my mind busy with something other than the possible ways he could kill me, I examine my wounded hand to find the cut is not overly deep, but it’s still oozing. I grab fresh tissues and ball them inside my palm, and stuff the dirty one’s inside the now empty box. Already, the driver’s door opens, and Chad throws one duffle bag, and then another, onto the seat between us. He climbs back inside and locks us inside, flipping on the overhead light and unzipping a bag.
“I guess you know Austin,” I observe, as he dashes long wisps of blonde hair off his brow to display a rather nasty bump on his temple.
“I know it well.” He wraps some sort of strap around his ankle, and cuts me a hard, unreadable look and adds, “Know your enemies and their territory better than they know you and yours.” He reaches in the bag, removing a handgun. “Isn’t that why you’re here? Because Sheridan thinks a pretty woman in trouble is my weakness?”
I lean against the door, one hand reaching behind me for the door handle, feeling like a fool for not running when I could. “I’m not a setup. I swear.”
He pops an ammunition clip into place. “What is in this for you?”
“Do you know what could happen if what you have lands in the wrong hands? And Sheridan is the wrong hands.”
“What is it that you think I have?”
“So you have it?” I ask hopefully, unable to contain the lift in my voice.
“What is it that you think I have?” he repeats tightly.
“You don’t know?” I ask, afraid making this too important will only trigger his mental calculator.
“One single element that is the answer to worldwide energy without oil or coal,” I say, adding nothing else, trying to downplay what in my mind cannot be downplayed. It’s about clean air and water and the protection of our ozone layer. It’s a miracle science wasn’t even sure was possible.
He doesn’t deny or confirm his knowledge of what I’ve said, but neither does he blink, or show the slightest inkling of surprise. “And you know this how?”
“I told you. I was his secretary. He trusted me.”
“Enough to tell you something this big.”
“He told me he was out to save the world and I passionately tried to help him, but I overhead him talking about you, and it, and that’s not his motivation at all. That element would destroy him, as it would all of the oil and coal industry. He’ll won’t let that happen. Will you?”
He studies me long and hard, seconds ticking by like hours, his expression unreadable. Finally, he holds up the gun, the barrel facing the ceiling. “Do you know how to handle one of these?”
“Yes,” I say quickly, trying to get back on topic. “I know how to shoot a gun. Do you have the element?”
The streetlight brushing the cynical curve of his mouth. “You know how to handle a gun,” he says rather lazily. “Why does that not surprise me?”
“I’m a single woman in a big city. I’ve made it a point to be able to protect myself. Chad please-”
“You’re just a single girl who needs to protect herself. I believe that about as much as I do you being Sheridan’s secretary trying to save the world his greed might destroy.” He plants his foot on the dash and shoves the gun into what I now realize is an ankle holster. “Secretaries don’t know how to set bombs.” I open my mouth to explain, not quite sure what’s going to come out when he stops me with a command of, “Don’t. A lie is just going to piss me off all over again.”
“If you believe nothing I say, then why am I here?” I demand, angry, and with nothing to lose right now. “Why haven’t you just dumped me or killed me?”
“Because I haven’t decide if you’re useful or not.” He turns more fully to me, his blue eyes, or rather one eye since the other is swollen to a slit, meets mine, as he adds, “I’m leaning towards, “no”, you are not.”
My bravado, a defensive mechanism I have honed this past six months far too well, steps up to the plate, and I ignore the obviously threat, baiting him instead with, “They say you’ll do anything for money.”
“Who exactly is “they”?”
“Does it matter who? Is it true?”
“I find what no one else can, for a cash price, yes.” He moves abruptly, his fingers lacing into my hair, pulling my mouth a breath from his. I can’t breathe. I can’t think as he lingers there. “But money isn’t what you’re offering, now is it? And like I told you. If you offer, I won’t decline.”
I press on his chest and his heart is thundering beneath my palm. “I offered you nothing. I’m not his whore or yours.”
“Prove it.” His mouth comes down on mine, hard and full of demand, his tongue stroking against mine, and I tell myself not to respond. I don’t know him. I don’t trust him. I have no idea his motives for his actions or what he would do for money. I try to resist. I do but something happens with the flex of his fingers that are somehow on my waist, and the lick of his tongue are quickly becoming bittersweet temptation. I do not want to kiss a man I do not trust, and may not even like, but another swipe of his tongue that I feel in every part of my body, and I moan with the sensation, trying not to respond, but I do. I cave to what I can only see as acid temptation, and it happens. I kiss him back. It’s a mistake I regret instantly as he releases me, setting me away from him and settling behind the wheel, his hand resting on the steering wheel.
“That meant nothing,” I pant out, wiping my mouth, to try to rid myself of the spicy male taste of him, affected in a way I can barely fathom. My God, he’s more likely my enemy, than ally. I thought he was going to kill me a few minutes ago. I can’t want this man. I don’t want anyone who’d negotiate a price for that Element with Sheridan and he did.
“We both know that’s the biggest lie you’ve told all night.” He reaches inside one of the bags and I find myself cringing, expecting another gun, relieved when he removes a cellphone instead, along with a battery that he slides into place.
“What does that mean?” I demand. “It proved nothing. It means nothing.”
He does what he is proving to do so well, ignoring me, shifting the truck into gear and doing a U-turn. I want to reach for the door and leave and I do. I reach for it and he slams the truck to a stop and grabs my arm. “Don’t make me tie you up.”
“Do you have the Element?” I demand, wanting to know all of this is for something, that I have made the right decision by aligning myself with him.
“If I did, I’d make sure it wasn’t found by anyone I didn’t want to find it, and no one could fuck me good enough, or hard enough to get it. Ask Meg, Sheridan’s last bitch. She tried and failed. That’s how I got there with you tonight. As for Sheridan, that bastard can go fuck himself before he’d ever get that element.” He pauses, his teeth grinding together. “If I had it.”
“I don’t know Meg. I’m not trying to seduce you. And I know you don’t fully believe I am either or I’d already be tied up.”
His jaw clenches and unclenches, several beats passing as he stares at me with such intensity I can barely breathe. Then, without a word, he releases me to hit the accelerator again, and puts the truck in motion.
More of that nuclear quality energy radiates off of him and I zip my lips, hugging myself to hide the way my hands are shaking over that interaction. The gates open as we approach and exit, while Chad dials a number on his cell, then curses when he seems to get a voice mail. “I’m alive,” he says into the cellphone. “So break out the damn confetti but not until you call me back. And my sister better be alive and well or you won’t be.” He drops the phone on the seat and we fall into silence but my heart has slowed to a normal beat, my nerves a hair less frazzled. I have just learned that this man is more than his next business deal. He’s a real person, a brother, perhaps a friend to whoever he left a message for. And woman really is his weakness but she isn’t me. She’s his sister Amy.
Chad navigates us back onto IH-35 and offers up no conversation, and yet, I am aware of him on every possible level. There’s a charge in the air between us that has everything to do with that kiss and our distrust of one another. I’m certain that he thinks I’ve proven I’m trying to seduce him, and why wouldn’t he? I not only kissed him back, that is what Sheridan’s wants in his eyes. So why didn’t he just leave me behind?
I’m still debating that question five minutes later when we exit the highway again and pull into the Greyhound Bus Station where he parks. “This is for you,” he says, setting a large purse-sized duffle he pulls out of one of the bigger bags beside me. “Fifty thousand dollars.” He grabs a pen from inside the duffle and scribbles a name on a piece of paper he hands me. “Go to New Mexico and see this guy. He’ll get you a new identity but that alone won’t protect you. Don’t do anything Sheridan would expect you to do. Not the same work. Not the same lifestyle. Don’t touch your bank account or call anyone you know or he will find you.”
My lips part in shock. “That’s it. Get out. You’re done with me.”
“That about sizes it up.”
My options run circles in my mind, but they comes back to two. Beg or leave and begging won’t work. I see it in the set of his jaw and feel it in the tension in the air. He could have the element and I’m about to lose him and it. Buying time, trying to think of what else I can do, I reach for my shoes and put them on, then slide the bag over my shoulder. He surprises me by grabbing my arm. “You’re a risk I can’t take. Too many lives are on the line.”
“And here I thought you cared about money, not lives.”
“If that were the case, sweetheart, I would have taken the fifty million dollars, you’re boss offered me for his prize. This isn’t about money anymore. It hasn’t been for a long time. He made sure of that.”
His statement stuns me, and while I want to believe he sees the bigger picture, a much more likely through cuts through me. “Or it’s about you not having what he wants at all. Maybe that’s why you were so confident you wouldn’t talk.”
“If you’re baiting me, it won’t work.”
My lips thin. “I was just trying to figure out if I lost everything to save a man who didn’t even have the secrets I was protecting.”
“This conversation is over.”
“I can’t just leave town.”
“Stay then and die. My conscious will be clear knowing it was your foolish mistake, not me, that got you killed.”
I inhale at the cold bite to his words that tell me I’m on my own, and apparently trying to dig myself ten feet under. “Right. You’re welcome. Happy to save your life to screw mine up.”
“He wasn’t going to kill me.”
“I stand corrected. He was just slice off your toes.” Desperation kicks in. “Let me help you protect the element. Please. Let me feel this was all for something.”
“If I had it, I wouldn’t need any help protecting it, and you’re a fool if you don’t get as far away from this as you can. Get on the bus. Go to New Mexico and get a new identity. If you’re telling me the truth, then you were smart enough to do what you did tonight. Be smart to stay off Sheridan’s radar. I let down my guard. Don’t do the same.”
“With the other woman,” I state.
“Yes. With the other woman.”
“I’m not her. I swear.”
He faces forward, wrist on the steering wheel. “Go get on a bus and get out of town.”
He’s done with me. It’s in his tone and his body language. I can fight and argue, but I won’t win. Reaching for the door, I shove it open, still holding onto the hope that he will stop me but he doesn’t. I step outside and I’ve barely shut the door when I hear him gun the engine. Clutching the bag to my chest, I don’t watch him leave. This is for the best. A man like him doesn’t turn down fifty million dollars. He doesn’t even have what I’m after. It’s the only thought that gives me any comfort.
I take a step towards the bus station and stop in my tracks. What am I thinking? Sheridan will look for me on buses, trains, planes, and anywhere obvious. Chad set me up. The coward didn’t have the courage to kill me himself. He’s going to let Sheridan do it. No hesitation, I start walking towards the mall right around the corner. I don’t know what time it is but if it’s closed, I know for certain there are several fast food restaurants and convenience stores where I can clean up and regroup out of sight.
Quickly I cross the parking lot and a street, and I hesitate by a hotel, considering it has a public bathroom but decide my bloody legs will garner too much attention. And it’s too close to the Bus Station. Sheridan will look her. Passing it by, I strive for distance from this place and safety. It’s dark though and this time I don’t have a big hunky treasure hunter by my side, and even if he was only a façade of protection, he was a good one.
I walk several blocks without so much as a car passing and approach the mall parking lot that is both deserted and suffocated black. Drawing a breath, I remind myself darkness is a cover I need, and I rush forward. The next few minutes I run through the darkness, any ache or pain I have, fading away. There is only my need to get out of this parking lot.
Finally I round the building and I can see the three fast food joints I’ve been targeting in sight. Picking up my pace, I decide the Village Inn 24 hour breakfast restaurant is the right place to go. It takes me another five minutes, but I get there, and it feels like a major accomplishment. I enter the building, and thankfully the hostess is not at the stand. Escaping to my left, I dart down a hallway and enter the ladies bathroom wishing the door had a lock, not two stalls that invites visitors.
Quickly, I toss the tissue I’m still holding and check my hand to find it has stopped bleeding but it needs a Band-Aid I don’t have, and I’m not likely to get anytime soon. Unzipping the bag, I check inside, relieved, and more than a little shocked, to find the cash I’d been promised. I don’t know what to think of Chad. Why give me the money but leave me exposed at the bus station? It doesn’t matter. I don’t have time to think about it he’s gone anyway. I’m on my own. I grab a bunch of paper towel in case my hand starts bleeding again and stuff them in the bag before I re-zip it. Glancing down at my blood matted knees and torn hose, I realize my hands aren’t the only thing that needs attention. Having no other option, I roll down my pantyhose and take them off, then clean up the scrapes on my knees.
Glancing in the mirror, I confirm the blood is gone from my face, but my hair is a crazy mess, and I have mascara smudged under my eyes, both making me stand out more than I need to right now. I clean the mascara and decide I need a 24 hour Walmart to buy clothes and personal items before I hit the road, but I can’t take a cab, for fear Sheridan will be able to somehow find me that way. It’ll suck but I’ll walk. Right. Good but then what? Think, I tell myself. Think. Renting a car means using ID that can be tracked. Same goes for buying a car, but maybe if I find a cheap car lot, and pay them double the price, they’ll lose the records. That seems like my only option. I’ll find a lot and sleep there until they open, maybe inside one of the cars. It’s not a great plan, but it’s all I have. I reach for the bag to leave when the door opens and I am stunned as Chad charges inside. A moment later, I pressed against the wall, with his big body molded close. For a moment there is relief. I’m not alone, and I’m not starting from scratch again. But his eyes are cold, his jaw set, and my stomach sinks. Maybe he’s decided I’m a loose end he can’t afford to leave to Sheridan to handle.
My hands press to Chad’s chest. “Let me go.”
“Did you call Sheridan?” he demands, his voice as hard as his thighs shacking my knees.
I blink, certain I’ve missed something. “What? Why would I call Sheridan?”
“Did you call Sheridan?”
“No. I don’t have a phone nor do I plan to call and invite him to torture me like he did you. Did you call Sheridan?”
“Why the fuck would I call Sheridan?”
“Isn’t that why you left me at that bus station. So he’d find me?”
“I left you there to see what you would do and you damn sure didn’t go to New Mexico like I told you to.”
“I’m not getting on a bus where Sheridan is sure to find me. Thanks for that death sentence suggestion, but no thanks.”
His jaw flexes, his lips set thin and the next thing I know, he’s grabbed my bag, snagged my arm, and is pulling me towards the door. I grab the wall. “No. Stop. I’m not leaving with you with an explanation. Where are we going?”
“Wherever I say we’re going.” The door opens and a woman enters. “Get out,” Chad barks at her. Looking startled, she backs out of the room and he turns to me. “Don’t make me carry you out of here, because I will.”
“That’ll get attention we don’t need.”
“I’ll do whatever I have to do. You don’t seem to get that. Sheridan might be the Devil but I’m the Devil’s enemy whose been locked up in hell for seven years, and I’m pissed off.”
”You’re not worse than Sheridan so if you think that scares me it doesn’t. Why would you want me to come with you?”
“You were close enough to Sheridan to earn his trust. That means you know things about him and his operation, I intend to know as well.”
“You left me at the Bus Station.”
“I needed to know if you’d contact him. Now, are you walking or am I carrying you?”
He means it. He’ll carry me in a heartbeat but he doesn’t mean to kill me, at least not yet. And if there is any chance he really does have what I’m after, I have to find out. “I’m not his whore or yours either. Don’t treat me like I am.” He takes a step towards me and I hold up my hands. “I’m walking.”
He wastes no time confirming my submission, leading me to the door and down the hallway.
We pass through the hostess area and the woman who’d tried to join us in the bathroom is talking to a man in a suit, I assume to be a manager. “Bathroom’s all yours,” Chad says, continuing on the door he shoves open.
Worried they will call the police, I glance over my shoulder and wave, calling out, “Have a good night.”
Chad snorts as we head down the sidewalk towards the back of the restaurant. “Have a good night? Really?”
“I don’t want them to call the police and risk Sheridan monitoring the police frequency which is why you should hold my hand or let me go. Right now, I look like your prisoner.”
He stops walking, dragging me in front of him, towering over my five feet two inches by nearly a foot I suspect. “You are my prisoner and you’ll stay that way until I’m done with you.”
“Done with me? Then what? Kill me? Hand me over to Sheridan?”
“Sheridan will be out of the picture when I’m finished when I’m done with him.” He laces his fingers with mine and sets me to the side of him, begin and charge forward again.
I double step to keep up, desperate for answers before I’m alone with him again. “As in you plan to kill him?”
“Death is too good for that SOB.” We step over a curb and enter the mall parking lot, where the truck is parked, stopping at the passenger’s door. Releasing my hand he opens it and wait for me to enter.
I stand my ground. “You didn’t answer my question. What are you going to do with me whenever you’re done with me?”
His hand comes down on the window and he steps closer, crowding me. “The same thing I was going to do for you with that fifty thousand dollars but better.”
“You set me up to fail back there.”
“I told you. It was a test. Stand in the way of me and Sheridan. Then we have problems.”
“Why doesn’t that answer make me feel any better?”
“It’s the only one you’re going to get right now.” He motions to the truck cab. “Get in.”
“If I say no?”
He’s right. I won’t. This is bigger than me and any danger I might meet. I do as he says and climb inside the truck. He doesn’t immediately shut the door. He stares my direction, as if he can see me in the darkness. I feel the hesitation in him, the torment, and I know it’s about me. He’d said “know your enemies” and I have a bad feeling that’s what he is doing and perhaps I’m the one in danger of being manipulated.
Finally, he slams the door and rounds the hood of the truck before climbing inside. The two duffle bags are gone that had sat between us and I suddenly realize we aren’t in the same truck as before. This one has a backseat. Chad climbs in beside me and shuts us inside, setting my bag down in between us to mess with under the dash, confirming he got this truck the same way he did the last.
I unzip the bag and pull out a paper towel, balling it in my sticky palm, before moving it to the floorboard. If I have to exit quickly, I’m taking the money with me. “Where’d you get this one?”
He glances up at me. “Since you seem to believe Sheridan can tap the police scanner, I got if from the hotel. They won’t miss it for hours, at which time we’ll be long gone.” He straightens. “Any more questions?”
“Where do you want me to start?”
“I don’t. Forget I asked. You might as well lie down and rest. We’ll be on the road for hours.”
I want to point out that he hasn’t slept in days and we could wake up in a ditch, but somehow I think that might land me on the sidewalk. Sighing in defeat, I kick off my shoes and curl my legs to my side on the seat, letting my head fall back on the cushion and I start replaying every moment I’ve spent with Chad, every word spoken, looking for a way to understand him. Ensuring I haven’t missed anything that might save my life. We are just leaving the Austin City Limits headed towards Lubbock, which makes me think New Mexico as he’d suggested before, when I linger on the way Chad had vehement insistence that death was too good for Sheridan and his claim he turned down fifty million dollars, something I know Sheridan wouldn’t take well. And I think of his weakness.
“He threatened your sister didn’t he?”
He cuts sharply off the road and pulls onto the shoulder of the highway, and literally drags me across the seat, his fingers biting into my arm. “What do you know about my sister?”
“Nothing,” I pant, barely able to catch my breath. “I swear, Chad. Nothing. I just…it explains why it’s not about money.”
“If I find out you’re with him and that was a threat-“
“It’s not. I swear to you. I’ll help you protect her. I’ll tell you anything I can to help.”
“Did he talk about her? Did you hear the name Amy?
Amy. My stomach churns. “Yes,” I whisper. “I heard him tell someone to find Amy. It meant nothing to me at the time. I didn’t know who she was. I didn’t even know who you were until three days ago.”
“When did he talk about Amy?”
“About a month ago.”
“Who was he talking to?”
“I don’t know.”
He glares down at me. “If I find out you know more than you say you do -”
“You won’t. I don’t.”
He sets me aside and pulls us back onto the highway. I settle against the door and watch him drive, no question in his mind that this situation has become personal to him. It’s personal to me, too, in ways no one can know.
He dials the phone and pounds on the steering wheel and I know it’s going to be a long drive. “Answer you’re damn phone Jared. I need to know Amy’s okay and still in Denver.” He dials again. And again. He’s coming out of his own skin, and I wonder what Sheridan did to have him this upset.
“If he had her,” I say, “he would have used her against you to get you to talk. He would have. You know he would have.”
He inhales and lets out a deep breath. “I have to get to Denver. That’s where I left her.”
“I’ll take shifts driving so you can rest.”
“No. No I-“
“Chad you have to sleep. I’ll drive fast. We won’t pull over. We’ll go straight through. We can be there by morning.”
“We’ll see. If I get tired.”
“Of course. Whatever you say.”
It’s a tiny branch of trust, I don’t intend to break.