Eric squeezes my hand. “We’re all good, princess. I promise. All is as it’s supposed to be.” He kisses my hand. “Now we get the hell out of here.” He leans forward to speak to Adam in a low, muffled voice that I don’t try to understand.

Instead, I eye a runway with the plane waiting on us.

The plane that will take me away. Take us away.

The plane that will leave my mother behind.

Do I really dare to leave her behind?

Could I even get her to leave with me if I tried? No, the real question is: could I ever get her to leave with us if I tried? That’s the key here. She’s definitely not going to agree to go anywhere with Eric and who am I kidding? She won’t leave my stepfather.

I have to leave her here. I have no choice.

Adam opens his door and gets out of the vehicle as Eric settles back into the seat with me. “Adam’s going to clear the plane.”

My eyes go wide. “Clear the plane? Surely you don’t think someone is waiting on us here.”

His hand comes down on my leg. “Relax, sweetheart. He’s doing his job and doing it well by being paranoid. The safest place we can be right now is on that plane, in the air. And this was our plan anyway. We were going to give them space. Get away. Make the family feel safe. They’ll let their guard down. Adam’s team is watching.”

He’s right. I know he’s right and I can’t let my mother’s decisions make me a fool, any more than I can my miscarriage and where our talk will lead us. Yes, we’ll be trapped on that plane in our own swampland of pain and history, but we’ll both be alive.


At Eric’s softly spoken prod I shake myself and refocus on him. “Yes?”

“I promise you, your mother is safe. If there’s a shift in where she settles in all of this, Adam and his men will be here to get her out.” And then as if he’s reiterating my earlier thoughts, he adds, “She wouldn’t leave if we asked. You know that.”

“Maybe if she hears what happened tonight, that’ll change.”

His hands come down on my arms, those blue eyes of his connecting with mine. “You can’t tell her. You don’t know how she’ll react or what danger she’ll put herself in. We need to stick to the plan. Let them get comfortable. Let them lead Walker Security to whatever is going on here. All that’s happening right now, is that we’re making sure whoever thinks we’re a problem, thinks we’re not anymore.”

“You mean whoever thinks I’m a problem.”

“We’re one, baby. They know that. I came here for you.”

But we’re not one or he wouldn’t have left. Only he didn’t leave, I remind myself. “You really think this is all Isaac?”

“He’s involved, but he’s not the mastermind.”

“The mastermind of what?”

“We don’t know yet, but we will.” There’s a knock on the window.

“We’re clear,” Eric says. “Let’s move.”

He opens the door and exits the SUV, cold air gushing in through the open vehicle. I resist the chill, but my realization that we couldn’t even afford the time for me to pack has me worried we might have been followed. A thought that has me quickly scooting across the seat to catch up with Eric. He’s waiting on me and all but pulls me out of the backseat, a hint of urgency radiating off of him as I settle onto the pavement, into a bright night illuminated by a full moon. I shiver in the cold gust of wind, glancing up as I do at a star shooting across the sky.

Eric pulls me close, under his arm, setting us in motion toward the plane, while his big body is a shelter against the wind; shelter that he doesn’t seem to need, considering like me, he has no coat, not even his suit jacket he left in the warehouse. We start walking toward the plane, and I quickly look for the star again. It’s gone, but I make a wish anyway: Please keep everyone safe and alive. It’s the only wish that matters. It’s the only wish I’d dare make. We cross the tarmac toward the plane and Eric halts us by the stairs where Adam awaits. “I’ll have internet access in the air. Update me.”

Adam gives a nod. “Our team will have support waiting for you when you land.”

Eric inclines his chin and refocuses on me. “Let’s get inside, baby.” He urges me up the narrow stairs and I start walking, eager to find shelter from the wind. I’m relieved when I feel Eric right at my back, a protector that I never expected him to be, and never would have asked him to be. A protector to my mother, who wasn’t kind to him. A protector to—

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