Mia Ryan's past and present are about to collide in startling ways, leaving her to question everything she's ever known about herself.
After a shocking turn of events that revealed some mind-blowing secrets, Mia becomes more determined than ever to take back her life from the darkness that's consumed her. In her pursuit for answers, she quickly discovers that parts of her past, which have always been a mystery, might be the key to saving the ones she loves...and the man that stole her heart.
Ethan Fitzgerald knows that things are never what they seem. Taking down his father's empire wasn't supposed to be a challenge-that was before Mia Ryan waltzed through his door. Forever changed by a love that reignites his purpose in life, Ethan is willing to do whatever it takes to protect Mia, and his enemies know it.
In this edge of your seat finale of the Secrets and Lies series, the stakes are higher than they've ever been before. Can Mia and Ethan's relationship withstand the malicious forces threatening them, or is letting go the answer that saves them and the ones they love? Everything comes at a cost-and it might just be true love.
EXCERPT FROM CONCEALED
The last few months couldn’t be summed up in words. In such a short amount of time, everything I knew to be true about my life was nothing but a lie. I should’ve known taking a sketchy deal that promised the finest of rewards was nothing but a ploy. I was well aware my life would never be the same, but I never wanted my poor choices to impact my friends. Learning a fraction of the truth about my past had already brought more death and destruction than I ever could’ve imagined. The sad part was it was just the beginning.
With every fiber of my being, I believed leaving Chicago was my only choice. I couldn’t bear to watch any more people I cared about get hurt. Leaving them behind, especially Ethan, was like having my heart go through the blender on the puree setting. All of the broken slivers settled into my bones, weighing my already agonized body down even more, but I knew there had to be a lot more about my family’s past that would endanger them. Having those answers to ensure nothing happened to any of them ever again was imperative and what I drew on to actually leave in the first place.
It didn’t really matter what I wanted in the end. After Lizzie and Nick shocked the hell out of me at the airport, I more or less had a momentary lapse of sanity. Now, we were in a black limo that had picked us up outside our gate in New York. Bright lights and flashing screens covered every inch of Times Square and brought me out of the incoherent daze I’d succumbed to after boarding the plane. I wasn’t sure how long I had been out of it and they certainly weren’t being very forthcoming with their intentions. Seeing as it was a tad late for us to try the whole “family” thing, them showing up more than confused the shit out of me.
All I knew for sure was they had a very healthy hatred for one another. Their rigid statures made me even more jumpy than I already was. Rather than deal with what was sure to be an inevitable meltdown from the fear, anxiety, and fury slithering through my veins, I focused on trying to learn more about them.
Fitting the part of FBI agents, they both dressed in all black attire and didn’t really have much vibrancy to them. Everything was sleek—right down to their shoes and expensive peacoats. Goose bumps coasted up my arm as I carefully studied Lizzie. I had a new respect for the term “mini-me”. Seeing how much I resembled her was downright eerie and I shivered from the vast amount of similarities between us. Our build, height—even our blonde hair was identical. Our only difference was our eyes; hers were crystal blue. She forced a smile after she caught me staring.
I hastily looked away, turning my attention to Nick. The only thing we shared was our dark-brown eyes. His face was full of scruff, showing his age, but other than that, he looked remarkably young. He leaned forward with his hand extended, as if he was about to touch me, and I flinched. I wasn’t sure why, but my guard was on high alert and my body was going with it.
He glared at Lizzie and she narrowed her eyes at him before picking up her phone.
Something was so off with these two. There were no signs that they had ever loved each other. How they ended up having me was difficult to wrap my head around. When my cell started ringing again, I snapped back to reality.
“Where the hell is my phone?”
Since I hadn’t said a word since the TSA agents apprehended me, my voice was hoarse. As my confusion about everything faded enough, my anger roared to the surface. An unfriendly fire brewed deep inside of me as my ire reached a new high. I was so over people taking matters out of my hands—especially them. I wanted a shred of control over my own damn life. The fact that they took advantage of my catatonic state at the airport infuriated me.
By the annoyed look in Nick’s eyes, my cell had been ringing a lot, but he didn’t give it to me. I looked at Lizzie, who was on her own phone talking a mile a minute and blatantly ignoring me. My gaze settled on Nick again, my eyes begging for him to hand over my phone. He huffed before grabbing Lizzie’s purse and sifting through it. He retrieved my cell, busted it into pieces, and tossed it out the window. Blistering cold air filled the car along with some straggling snowflakes, but it didn’t do much to cool down the raging inferno of anger inside me.
“We should’ve gotten rid of that before we left,” Nick muttered under his breath.
“What did you do that for? I know my friends have been calling. How the hell am I supposed to get back to them now?”
“Don’t worry about anyone else. We’ll make sure your friends know you’re fine.”
“That’s so not the fucking point. You have no right. You gave that up a long time ago,” I snarled. My face was on fire with the amount of fury coursing through me and the rest of my body matched it. With every passing minute, my hands and arms had become a darker shade of red
Abruptly hanging up, Lizzie’s eyes narrowed to thin slits as she snapped, “Sophia, you might want to check your attitude. We ensured you got to lead a normal life—one that didn’t include the mob. We did the best we could with the choices life gave us. You don’t seem to understand that. You’ve been on a crash course of destruction lately. It almost wiped away everything we did to keep you safe. The least you could do is show a little respect.”
Un-fucking-believable. They can’t possibly think after all this time I’m okay with any of their choices. They hijacked my identity for Christ’s sake! If they think what they did back then was right for me, they’re clearly more delusional than I could’ve imagined.
“If you ever say that name again, I’ll bitch slap you. In case you forgot, Sophia’s gone. I don’t know a thing about her, or either of you, for that matter. Why should I give you any respect? You left me with an asshole who didn’t give two shits about me. You used my identity to hide money you stole. Your mistakes put my loved ones and me in danger! I don’t owe you anything.”
Nick punched the window hard enough for it to crack and tossed a murderous glare in Lizzie’s direction. As they gaped at me like I had no right to be outraged, my chest tightened and my blood boiled over leaving me no choice but to curl my fists together to curb my anger.
How am I the one who’s out of line for pointing out the obvious? They better drop their appalled attitudes pretty damn fast or things are going to get ugly.
Our heated stare-down ended when a disgruntled voice came across the speakers. “We’ve got company. I’m not sure if it’s the east or Chicago crew.”
“Drop me off at Umberto’s before taking them to the address we discussed earlier,” Nick commanded. Lizzie was about to say something, but Nick shot her a pointed look to silence her. She shook her head, clearly pissed to be out of the loop. “I’ll deal with matters in the city. You handle everything we talked about on the flight.”
She huffed, but nodded. My eyes darted between the two of them at warp speed. I was about to butt in when the driver spoke up again. “We don’t have backup. They won’t get out here for a few days. It’s taking longer than expected to clean up matters in Chicago.”
I glared them down. “What’s going on?”
Picking at her manicured nails, Lizzie snottily replied, “You created quite the mess. We’re simply cleaning it up and steering people of interest in different directions. You didn’t think stealing some information would put an end to things, did you? You can’t be that naïve.”
Wanting to wipe that smug look right off her face, I lunged toward her, but Nick placed his hand on my shoulder and gently urged me into my seat. He shot a disapproving look Lizzie’s way before saying, “Soph––” I wound up to slap him, cutting him off. “I’m sorry. It’s going to take some time for us to remember. Please be patient.”
“How can you expect me to have patience? All you’ve done since we’ve met is speak to me in riddles. Why can’t we just return the money? What else are you hiding?”
Lizzie snorted. “That’s none of your concern. We’re handling things on our own terms. You might as well get used to it because there won’t be a debate about it.”
Nick clapped his hand over her mouth and bellowed, “Lizzie, shut up! You don’t have to be like that to her.” She bit down on his hand until he removed it and he stared at her in disbelief, almost like he was thinking about throttling her. He took a deep breath before focusing on me. “Mia, there are a lot of things you wouldn’t understand. Just trust that we’ll straighten everything out.”
“Trust you? I don’t even know you, and now you’re refusing to tell me even more about my past. It’s my life you keep messing up with every choice you make. For all I know, this could be another series of lies that’s just going to lead to even more heartbreak for me and everyone I care about.”
I heaved in a few breaths in a vain attempt to ease the weights clawing their way to the surface. Deep-seated pain from inside my heart shot in every direction and was about to crush my entire body. I couldn’t push it aside any longer and it had resurfaced with a vengeance, downright crippling me. Nick’s shoulders slumped as his eyes drifted out the window. For the first time, Lizzie actually seemed human. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes as she stared at me. She dabbed at them and looked out the window as well.
I opened my mouth to press them for more, but the limo stopped. Nick awkwardly patted my leg before focusing on Lizzie. Their eyes locked, seemingly having an unspoken conversation, before he got out.
“How’s my girl?” Gramps asks as he picks me up and kisses my cheeks. I giggle when he tickles my sides before giving me a big hug.
“I’ve missed you, Gramps! Mommy says I’m staying with you for a few days,” I answer, snuggling into him.
One of their helpers takes my bag upstairs while another collects our coats. On our way into their huge house, Mommy wraps an arm around Gramps. They keep their heads close together.
Mommy quietly says, “I think it’s best if I take this assignment to draw off some of the growing suspicions. Nick insists on coming with me. We won’t be gone long.”
Mommy raises an eyebrow at Gramps. He winks while covering my ears and I squirm to free them. After they talk for a few seconds, Mommy motions to uncover them.
She brushes my cheek and says, “Be good for Grams and Gramps. No pranks on the staff, young lady.”
I pout and grumble, “But Daddy showed them to me. He said it’s okay as long as no one gets hurt.”
Mommy chuckles as she taps my nose. “Daddy shouldn’t have taught you that and Mommy says it’s not okay. Promise me you’ll be good.”
I frown and Mommy pulls at the corners of my mouth until I grin and nod in agreement.
“Elizabeth, you worry too much. Sophia will be just fine here,” Grams reassures.
On our way to the living room, Gramps pokes me in the side. I laugh as he sits down on the couch with me in his lap. I beam after seeing the checkerboard and reach over to make a move, but Gramps pulls me back and points at Mommy. She smiles, but I know something is bothering her. She’s been sad for a while.
Before Mommy says anything, the front door opens and slams shut. “Liz, you didn’t tell me you were coming home! You better have Shorty with you!”
When Uncle Brayden enters the living room, I run over to him. He gives me a hug before putting me on his shoulders. I play with his shaggy brown hair until he pretends to drop me. Gramps glares at Brayden and he sighs, pulls me down, and sits next to Mommy.
“A little early for you to be home, isn’t it?”
Brayden rolls his eyes. “I wasn’t aware you needed an hourly schedule.”
Gramps crosses his arms. “Don’t get smart with me, boy. Did you make that delivery?”
Brayden takes a deep breath and snipes, “Yes. I’m not like the rest of your foot soldiers. I can get shit done without a thousand reminders.”
“Brayden! Language!” Grams chastises, pointing at me.
Scowling, Mommy decks Brayden across the back of the head. Gramps and Brayden glare at each other. Neither of them say a word for several minutes. Brayden kisses my head and whispers, “Sorry, Shorty. I’ll make it up to you with one of my special sundaes.”
I hop up and pull at his arm until he gets up. As we walk to the kitchen, I see someone pulling into the circle driveway and tug Brayden to the big windows. A man with a black hat and long grey coat gets out of a limo. I can’t really see his face, but I know he doesn’t work for my gramps.
Brayden kneels in front of me, his face white. “You go on to the kitchen.”
“But, Brayden, you promised to make your sundae. I don’t want to be alone with the cook. She smells funny,” I whine.
He laughs before pointing toward the kitchen. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
Gramps joins us and gives me a small push. “Sophia, please listen to your uncle.”
As I walk away, Mommy and Grams join Gramps and Brayden. They talk fast. When the doorbell rings, I pause in the dining room, but Mommy spots me. Her face is firm as she motions for me to keep going. My shoulders sag as I shuffle into the hallway toward the kitchen.
Not caring if I get in trouble, I stop to listen. After the man is inside, Gramps says, “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“Since when do I need a reason to visit? I heard Elizabeth was in town. I wanted to stop in to thank her for her loyal service to our family. It pleases us to have trusted eyes inside the Bureau. Our associates in D.C. are just as thrilled.”
I almost trip over my feet while walking closer so I can hear better, but I’m pulled back. The butler gives me a stern look and whispers, “Ms. Sophia, it’s bad manners to eavesdrop.”
On our way to the kitchen, my eyebrows crinkle and his mouth curls to a thin smile. “It means you shouldn’t listen to other people without their knowledge. Let’s get you a snack.”
Tears welled in my eyes. Angrily shoving the sheets away, I took several deep breaths to ease the pressure in my chest. The happier flashbacks nearly suffocated me in my sleep. Learning I had a really good childhood—one full of unconditional love—was really hard. This flashback was just as devastating as the others, especially finding out there was a point in time where Chase didn’t hate me. Tears dripped down my face as the happiness from that memory flowed through me.
I sat up while drying my eyes. As I focused on a huge revelation from that memory, my fists connected with the mattress. The FBI didn’t recruit Lizzie. She went to work for them out of family obligation. My temper flared with all the questions that posed.
Chase lied to me! He knows a lot more than he let on. What the hell were they involved in, and with who? This is like one giant jigsaw puzzle some asshole put in front of me without the key pieces to lead me to something substantial. Fuck!
I glanced at the clock and saw it was four in the morning, but there was no way I would fall back to sleep. Whenever these blasts from the past happened, I feared closing my eyes again. Shuffling toward the closet, I threw on a pair of sweatpants and headed for the kitchen.
Starting the day out at this hour required a huge cup of coffee. With my arms wrapped around myself, I hopped across the icy wood floors on my way downstairs to the kitchen. This house had to be ancient. With these frigid temperatures, the heat was twitchy at best.
We were staying in a house in the Hamptons. The Victorian structure backed up my theory that it was old, but it was still quite extravagant. All of the inside had been completely remodeled and had more of a modern feel to it, especially the contemporary furniture and decor.
There were four different levels. A variety of other rooms were on each level, but I hadn’t checked them all out yet. I stumbled into a spacious study the first day we arrived that seemed oddly familiar. When Lizzie found me in there, she was quick to show me a different part of the house. She worked in there the majority of the time, so it was next to impossible to snoop around, and also reinforced my suspicions that there was more to this whole mess than some stolen money.
Since our arrival, Lizzie and I had barely spoken. She wasn’t very friendly. As the version of her from my memory ran through my head, I released a pained sigh. There was a time when she wasn’t a cold-hearted bitch who avoided me. Seeing the person she was now, it was difficult to believe a loving heart had ever been inside her.
After reaching the kitchen, I turned on the overhead light above the sink and got a fresh pot of coffee going. It took a couple minutes to brew, but once it was ready, I retrieved a large mug from the cupboard and filled it to the brim. As it cooled, my eyes drifted to the snow-covered beach. My thumb circled my Claddagh ring as the time I spent out west with Ethan entered my mind.
He wanted to take me to Hawaii for Christmas. Even though I dismissed it, I secretly loved the idea of spending the holidays with him. He made me feel more cherished and loved than anyone in this world. When I was with Ethan, a sense of peace I had never experienced before flowed through me, and I wanted that for the rest of my life.
Waves of sadness cascaded over me and I swallowed against the growing lump in my throat to prevent myself from crying. At the time, leaving seemed like the only option to keep my loved ones safe, when in actuality, it was the dumbest thing I’d ever done. Without Ethan, I was barely holding on. Heavy weights sitting in the center of my chest confirmed that much. That heaviness had spread throughout my body, leaving me in a constant state of torment. I needed him now more than ever. He’d become such a central part of my life, but I never realized it until now. The love we shared enveloped every part of me. As the days away from him passed, the deep-seated ache inside me grew. Just thinking about never seeing him again made my heart drop well below the earth’s surface.
A loud crash made me jump out of my skin. I set down my coffee and turned around to see Lizzie rubbing her foot and sporting a sheepish look on her face. She straightened the stool she’d knocked over and sat down. So far, the only thing I knew about her was she relied on coffee as much as me. I pulled out another mug, filled it up, and slid it over to her.
Her smile was genuine as she brought it to her lips. Taking a long drink of mine, I sat on a stool. After seeing her FBI T-shirt and grey sweats, I shook my head. Aside from different logos on our shirts, we were dressed the same, leading me to believe we were more similar than I cared to admit.
“It looks like insomnia might run in the family,” Lizzie pointed out.
A huge part of me was still very angry about everything she had done, but I couldn’t resist the chance to learn more about her. As she sat across from me, her face was thoughtful. There was an openness to her I hadn’t seen thus far.
I traced the top of my mug. “In the past year, I’ve had more difficulties with sleeping, but it could go back farther than that. My memories are muddled at times.”
Concern covered her face and her eyes held nothing but fear. Her gaze fell to the island as she quietly asked, “Do you remember anything from the past? Do you remember me?”
She fidgeted with her hair before taking another drink. Clearly, the idea of me having any recollection of the past scared her shitless. That slip-up would cost her. My stomach rolled with the amount of lying I’d have to do, but it was worth it to uncover the truth.
“No, I don’t. I’m sorry.” Lizzie stared at me with a mixture of sadness and relief. My eyes narrowed as I said, “The only thing I remember is my childhood with Chase was full of isolation and fear.”
Her face fell and she looked away. “His life changed drastically because of me. I’m not making excuses for what happened between the two of you, but just know, he does love you.”
I scoffed. “You haven’t been in either of our lives for nearly two decades. You don’t have a clue about the type of man he became after––”
As my throat closed up, I rubbed my sweaty palms across my pants and looked at Lizzie. Her face had a stone-cold hardness to it. She reverted to cold and distant. Sucking in a quick breath, my eyes pleaded with her to drop the façade.
“So, we share an inability to sleep normally. What else can you tell me about yourself?”
Her posture remained rigid, showing no signs of loosening up. Resting my overly anxious hands on the counter with my focus on her, I admitted, “I just want to know more about you. I’ve been curious my whole life with no one to go to for answers.”
Lizzie tilted her head to the side, as if deciding what to share. “For the majority of my childhood, I grew up in Kenilworth, but my family has properties throughout the U.S. Brayden is my only sibling––” Her eyes widened as she waited for my reaction, but I remained expressionless. She noticeably swallowed. “I changed his name to Chase when I changed yours.”
I squinted, not particularly thrilled she wasn’t saying more, but refrained from pushing her on it. She was finally speaking to me and I didn’t want to jeopardize what she might reveal to provide some clarity to the flashback I had earlier.
Giving me a tight smile, Lizzie said, “We had magnificent parents. They put us in the finest private schools while giving us a well-rounded upbringing. I graduated from Yale with honors before moving on to a position with the FBI. My work with them has always been top secret, so I can’t share much about what I do. You know I was undercover to collect information against the Riggiattis. That’s how I met Nick and––”
I waved my hands for her to stop. Appearing rather confused, she sealed her lips. “Kenilworth is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the Midwest and you grew up there. Not to mention, you said properties. What the hell did your parents do for a living?”
She chewed on her lip before murmuring, “You always did have a mouth on you.” Forcing a smile, I raised an eyebrow.
“Some of it was from old money inheritance. They had their hands in a lot of prominent businesses throughout the U.S. that contributed to their fortune,” Lizzie answered, her voice tense.
“What old money? Who were their parents?”
Lizzie inhaled sharply while drumming her fingers on the island. “My father was born into the Carone family. My mother’s maiden name was Murday, but your great-grandmother was from Ryan ancestry. Their families immigrated from England and Ireland to start a new life. They built their businesses in New York, but as time passed, they spread throughout the U.S.”
My face softened as I quietly asked, “Is that why you changed my last name to Ryan?”
Her eyes glistened as she nodded. “I wanted a part of me to stay with you. It was unlikely anyone would dig that far back into history, and even if they did, they wouldn’t find anything about my family.”
My heavy head fell into my hands and I massaged the growing pressure there. I wasn’t sure what was more shocking: the fact that Lizzie told the truth for once or the newfound knowledge that my grandparents were wealthy. Something felt off. There was more to their lives than what Lizzie was sharing with me. When I looked up, she was next to me, retrieved my empty mug, and set it in the sink with hers.
Before leaving the room, she paused at the doorway with her eyes on me. “I want you to know my parents loved you dearly. They were well-respected people with more accolades than you could imagine, but they cherished you more than anything else in this world.”
Sadness and fury bubbled through me like a volcano. Not thinking, I slammed my palms on the island. “If they were that rich, why did you steal the money from Nick’s family? It makes absolutely no sense if there wasn’t something bigger behind it.”
Without another word, she bolted from the room. I rubbed my face, trying to make sense of everything she had shared. Nothing made sense, so I headed back upstairs in a daze.
As I reached the fourth floor, it dawned on me that I had a very powerful resource in my possession. I sprinted toward my bedroom to look for the USB drive with all of Harrison’s data. I needed to analyze it again to see what I might have missed. Before I left Chicago, I was so focused on the McAndrews, I blew past various details about Lizzie’s family.
Pulling out my luggage from the closet, I tossed all the clothes aside to find the envelope Jayden had given me. After everything was strewn across the floor, my stomach tied itself together—it was gone. Lizzie and Nick must’ve taken it. I hopped to my feet, crossed over to the window overlooking the beach, and lightly banged my head against it. Getting that drive back would take a miracle and I doubted one coming my way would happen anytime soon.
After my outburst in the kitchen, Lizzie avoided me. I snooped around the house as much as possible without someone tailing me, but alone time wasn’t something I was allowed often. In the rooms I’d managed to look around, I hadn’t found anything useful. If there was any information stashed in this place, it was well hidden.
Over a week had passed since we arrived in the Hamptons and Nick had yet to return. My restlessness was at a new high as I paced around my bedroom, trying to come up with ways to get in front of a computer.
I had a new appreciation for technology in general, since I hadn’t been allowed to use it. That restriction, coupled with my ever-present anger, made it very easy for me to keep my distance from Lizzie. She was rarely without her laptop, so getting my hands on it was unrealistic. Her team was just as sneaky as she was and I gave up trying to steal one of theirs as well.
With my hands balled into tight fists, I marched around my bedroom. Ethan slid into my thoughts, nearly making me drop to my knees from the waves of heartache that struck. As soon as I had access to a phone, I tried calling him, but hadn’t been able to reach him.
I knew him well enough to know he was probably out here looking for me. What had me more than terrified was not hearing from him. I couldn’t help but think something happened to him. Just the idea of him being in any danger at all made my cell in my body want to shut down.
Something needed to be done to curb those thoughts and the helplessness that accompanied them. They were chiseling away what was left of my very fragile psyche. Retrieving my running clothes, I changed and trotted downstairs. Lizzie was in the living room with her team scattered around her. I still didn’t know what role they played. They seemed like furniture fixtures more than anything else. After seeing me, she stopped mid-sentence.
“Going somewhere?” Lizzie asked, raising an eyebrow.
I shot her a fierce glare. “I need some air. I’m going for a run.”
Bristling, she stood up with her hands on her hips. “You’re not going alone. We have a few more hours of work to take care of before someone can accompany you.”
I snorted. “Doesn’t the FBI have bigger things to deal with than keeping me on lockdown? Your ban on technology is getting old. I still don’t understand why I can’t even check my email.”
“You’ve become a person of interest to the Bureau, so you’ll be staying with us until we see fit. As far as the rest, let’s just say you’ve created enough problems with your nosiness. Until certain matters are fixed, you’ll be offline,” Lizzie shot back.
I crossed my arms. “What a shock! You give me another half-assed answer. Listen, I wasn’t asking you. I’m telling you. If you keep this up, I’ll show you just how devious I can be, so I suggest you let me go on this run.”
We stood in an intense standoff. After a minute, her gaze fell to the floor and she swore under her breath. I chewed on the inside of my cheek to prevent myself from laughing. With a straight face, I stomped my foot to get her attention.
She scowled at me and barked, “O’Donnell, go with Mia.” I rolled my eyes, which infuriated her even more. Her body was rigid as she snapped, “Stick to the area. If you even try to make a break for it, I’ll show you how nasty I can be to people who cross me, so I suggest you heed this warning.”
Against my will, my eyes grew wide. Her mouth curled into a slick grin. I wiped the shock from my face as I made my way to the front door. Having her threatening me was more than fine. It increased my growing disdain for her.
Once we hit the beach, O’Donnell kept a safe distance behind me. I was thankful for the space, but that was about it. Why I hadn’t heard from Ethan flitted through my mind again, but I forced myself to think of something else. That fleeting thought was a hard punch to the gut. The ache spread through my body and I struggled to take in air for several minutes. I needed the time away to regroup or I’d inevitably have the meltdown my body was begging for.
All of the anger festering inside me from that brief spat with Lizzie flowed into my pores and chased away the pain. She went from one extreme to the next and it was hard for me to figure out the type of person she really was. Bursts of ire blasted through me and I picked up my strides. Lizzie made it clear I wasn’t going back to Chicago any time soon, but she didn’t stop there. Reasoning it was in everyone’s best interest to start fresh, she moved all my friends out of our house and changed all their numbers.
My friends dominated my thoughts as I pushed even harder. Bri was livid with me. I barely got out that I was with my parents before she went off on a tangent about how fucking stupid I was for leaving. I called every day since, but her anger hadn’t faded. She either ignored the call or let it run to voicemail. I had no idea when she’d let the silent treatment pass, but it wouldn’t stop me from trying to reach her. Unfortunately, once she did agree to speak with me, I’d have to fill her in on her own family’s place in this mess. Even though I was sure she had somewhat of an idea of what John was capable of, what I did still weighed on me every day and I hated myself for it. A very small part of me was okay with putting that off for as long as possible.
Sucking in a quick breath, my stride hit a near sprint along the snow-covered beach. I needed to outrun the ache attacking my heart. My mind drifted to the rest of my friends. Jackson wasn’t happy I took off, but he still spoke with me. He told me Trey woke up the night I left and was released from the hospital a few days later. After several mumbled attempts, Jackson finally spat out that Trey asked Bri to marry him.
Missing such a monumental moment in their lives made my heart shatter even more and I felt those shards now more than ever. The knives slicing away at my heart spread to the rest of my body. With each step, the blades slashed at the very thin walls holding me together. I glanced over my shoulder to see if O’Donnell was still behind me. He waved nonchalantly before wiping some sweat from his handsomely round face.
O’Donnell reminded me of Shane. He woke up the same night as Trey. After some rehab for his shoulder, he’d be back to normal. That eased some of my guilt over what happened to him. Once his finals were over, his parents were sending him to Italy for his last semester.
My breathing became heavy as my self-hatred kicked up another notch. Every single person in my life had been impacted in such horrific ways, especially Jayden. He had been released from the hospital, but wasn’t able to do much, and it put him into an all-out depression.
Lizzie’s field teams seized all his computers and equipment. When Jackson admitted that much to me, I almost imploded. When I confronted Lizzie, she told me I should be happy she wasn’t pressing charges. She didn’t really seem to care who she screwed over whenever she claimed to be “fixing” things.
Jackson and Jayden had moved into a three-bedroom apartment in the Trnka Tower. Jackson seemed pleased with the downtown location, but that was about it. Every time we spoke, he tried very hard to be indifferent to all the changes, but I knew better. He was struggling with everything that had happened.
A loud whistle broke my stride and I slowed down near a private property line. Catching up with me, O’Donnell motioned for us to turn around. I hunched to my knees and gasped to catch my breath.
The frigidness in the air blasted through me and my insides welcomed the pain. That was all I ever felt when I thought of Micah. He had stabilized enough for the doctors to complete the surgeries he needed, but he’d have to remain in the hospital for a while. When it came to him, I wasn’t really able to take comfort in much. He risked his life to keep me safe and I repaid him by shutting him out. If I had just given him the chance to explain, none of this would’ve happened. The guilt over it all, especially Wade’s death, was bone-crushing most days.
Wheeling around to head back, my eyes watered and my hands tingled as the chill settled into them. Not wanting frostbite on top of every other problem in my life, I ran as hard as I could for the deck. O’Donnell’s eyes widened when I blew past him. Hearing him behind me only pushed me to go faster. I refused to let my self-disgust cripple me to my knees. My aching body was screaming for it, but I wouldn’t allow it.
Taking the stairs two at a time, I burst through the front door. My loud arrival interrupted Lizzie. She arched an eyebrow as I walked past the living room, scowling at her. She opened her mouth, but closed it once O’Donnell slammed the door. He walked into the living room and collapsed in the first open chair while catching his breath.
Once I was breathing steadily, I raced upstairs. On my way into my room, I pulled off my jacket and sweatshirt while shaking my hands to get rid of the tingling from the coldness outside. My body registered the pain, but it was nothing compared to the despair eating away at my heart.
Ethan crept into my thoughts again. The more days that passed without hearing from him, the more it broke my will to keep moving forward. It was as though a part of me was completely empty without him. He should’ve had my letter by now. It clued him in to everything I did before I left. The flashback of my grandparents, coupled with what Lizzie shared with me, had my mind all over the place. I needed to speak with Ethan soon. If I didn’t, I’d go nuts trying to figure this out on my own.
I grabbed the burner cell from the desk, but my frozen fingers barely cooperated enough for me to dial his number. My stomach fluttered nonstop as the line rang. He had to answer this time. When his deep voice filled my ears, I held my breath, but let it go after hearing his voicemail again. My eyes filled with unshed tears. It wasn’t like Ethan to let his messages pile up or not call back. Something was wrong. There was no other explanation. It just didn’t add up for him to completely fall off the radar.