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“Kim’s?” I sneered. “Even if I did stil consider her my friend, I have no desire to live in the dorms again.”

Jared grimaced. “She’s the safest, option, Nina, and yes, she’s stil your friend.”

“Why is she the safest?” I asked.

Bex grinned. “They don’t mess with her. She’s like bug spray.”

I smiled. “She would hate that if she heard you.”

Bex pul ed a gun from the back of his jeans and scratched his head with the barrel. “Okay. Where to, then?”

“I stil have things at Cynthia’s. We’l go there,” I said, taking in a deep breath. Luckily, Cynthia was consistently busy with charities, so she would be out and about more often than not.

“You’ll go there,” Jared said.

My mouth fel open. “I’m not going anywhere without you. You told me once you couldn’t go back to that, again. What happened to that?”

“It’s not my first choice, I assure you,” he said, an uncomfortable grin twisting his mouth.

“It’s my house, Jared. You’re coming,” I said. I looked at Bex, then. “And there’s a room for you, too.”

“I have a room, thanks,” Bex said.

“Nina,” Jared began.

I held up my hand. “If you make me go to that house alone, I wil spend al of my time in Jack’s office. I'l move my bed in there. I swear to God.”

Jared had once told me that Jack's office was the only room in my parents' home that wasn't wired with microphones or cameras. Jared could stil hear me, of course, but having to guess what I was doing drove him crazy.

Jared smiled. “Don’t swear at Him. We need Him on our side.”

I frowned. “You know what I mean.”

He sighed. “Cynthia’s it is, then.”

Chapter Nine

Kil ing the Messenger

Nothing goes as planned. People say goodbye. Buildings burn, and the impossibility of moving back in with Cynthia Grey after the age of eighteen can actual y happen.

As I stood before the colossal home my father left to me after his death, I felt a bit nauseous at the prospect of walking its hal s everyday again.

Some of my best and worst memories happened within those wal s: Jack chasing me down the hal s, cooking my first meal, my father dying before my eyes, and everything I thought he was slipping away as I read a hidden file on the second floor.

But it was stil home.

The gravel crunched beneath my feet as Jared walked me up the steps to the front door. The sun had hidden behind the thick clouds that were quickly moving in, and the air smell ed like a mixture of winter and spring.

I took a deep breath and let it out as the wind blew the blonde strands of my hair against my cheek. “I’m going to get unpacked and organized. I have to go into Titan before they think I’ve defected.”

Jared tossed the keys to Bex. “Update Mom and Claire. I need you back here at six thirty.”

Bex nodded once. “You got it.”

The smell of freshly brewed coffee fil ed the air as we walked in, and Cynthia's heals signaled her approach. She stopped suddenly in the foyer.

“Oh! You startled me. Real y, Nina, you could at least call if you’re going to visit so early.”

“We’re not visiting. We’re moving in,” I said, making my way up the stairs.

Cynthia rushed to the first step, looking up at us. “What on earth are you talking about?”

Jared turned to face her. “Donovan set explosives in the loft. Everything except what’s in our bags is gone.”

Cynthia paused for a moment, a common tactic of hers to calm her voice before she spoke when she was angry or taken off-guard. “Wel . I’m glad Nina’s safe. How long wil you be staying?”

“Indefinitely,” I said.

I had reached the top before she spoke again.

“You’re filthy,” she snapped, her heels clicking to the kitchen.

I smiled. She was always snippy when she didn’t want to show emotion—the soft sort.

Trying to find a professional ensemble from my high school wardrobe was nothing short of frustrating. It was then that it hit me that al of my belongings were gone. Everything Jared and I had purchased together, the bed we shared...the downstairs tub. Different items in the loft flickered through my mind. It was strange how each of them, however insignificant they used to seem, were attached to a memory.

Tears pooled in my eyes and escaped down my cheek. I wiped them away and groaned. “I have nothing to wear! What was I thinking buying this crap?” I yel ed. “Not a single pair of pumps matches anything in my closet!”

Jared sat on the end of bed, letting me express my anger and frustration with an understanding expression. After the rage-fueled tirade to find the right pair of shoes, I rode with Jared to Titan Mercantile.

We didn't speak for most of the trip. Jared kept his eyes on the road, no doubt formulating a plan for the next step in finding the book. I was too tired to initiate conversation, or to try to find out piece by piece what plan of action he was considering.

“See you soon,” Jared smiled.

I kissed his cheek, and then stepped out onto the curb, looking back once more before pushing through the entrance doors.

Beth waited me for me in my office, already organizing my call list in order of importance.

“And don’t forget the conference with the Japanese firm at nine,” she said, her head down.

“I’ve told you a mil ion times, Beth. Yawatahama. It’s not that hard if you practice.”

Beth raised her hands in frustration and then dropped them, letting the papers in her hands slap her thighs. “I sound ridiculous,” she said. “Sasha laughs at me every time I try.”

“Oh, to hel with Sasha. Ask her to say something German. She sounds like a bloated mule.”

Beth laughed out loud, surprised at my mood. “You’re not sleeping again, are you?”

Two quick knocks, and then Grant opened my office door wide, keeping his hand on the knob. “The prodigal daughter returns! How was your trip?”

“Great, Grant. I’m busy, what do you need?” I said, putting the phone to my ear.

His expression screwed, his nose wrinkling in disgust. “The Bainbridge group wil be here in twenty minutes, Nina. Why didn’t you just wear pajamas?”