Still The One (Family Stone #4 Jack)(9)

By: Lisa Hughey


For a few seconds she clearly forgot he was in the office with her, her honey-colored gaze far off and unfocused. “Dammit. I should have known.”

“But you don’t have any personal experience with a total relocation,” Jack argued. He couldn’t stand to see that anguished look in her eyes. “You shouldn’t beat yourself up.”

Bliss’s expression froze for a fraction of second. Her eyes widened, and then she blinked until the fan of her lashes hid her from his suddenly far more interested gaze. And then she curved back into the wings of the chair as if very subtly hiding.

Everything in Jack tightened, sharpened, narrowed in on Bliss and her reactions. He saw beneath her outward show of frustration before she relaxed carefully. Denial. She did have experience with relocation.

His Bliss had had another identity. If he’d read her body language correctly, she’d had the kind of identity and relocation that meant she’d been witness to or had direct experience with a violent situation that she needed to be protected from. And she’d never mentioned it the entire time they’d been together.

Jack’s brain kept circling around to one thought. She had experience with relocation. Questions bombarded his brain at Mach speed. When? Why? How? Where?

But Jack wasn’t an idiot. If he asked her outright, she’d deny and shut him down. But what if her experience could help them figure out what Maria was doing, where she was going? Shit.

He had to shove that revelation to the back of his mind. Take it out and examine the ramifications later. Right now his focus needed to be on finding Maria. “Did you take her to Iowa personally?”

Bliss seemed to relax when she thought her reaction had dodged his notice. Far from the case, but Jack had to time his questions and come at her with them when her guard was down and she wasn’t expecting them in order to get an honest answer out of her.

“Yes,” Bliss admitted.

“And how was she?”

“Terrified of the sun.”

“Terrified?” Jack asked skeptically.

“Honestly, she hadn’t been outside in eight years.” Bliss said angrily, “Eight years. She was afraid of everything. She’d been completely isolated, no interactions with anyone.”

“What about her captors?”

“They shoved food at her through a cat door installed in the ceiling.”

“Medical?”

“If she got sick they bought her over the counter medicine.” Bliss rubbed her palms over her biceps. “Fortunately she seems to be extremely healthy.”

“Exercise?”

“They gave her an exercise bike, a television, and a small refrigerator, and a single burner.”

“Jesus.” Jack rubbed his severed brow with his index finger and contemplated that information. “So where the hell would she go?”

“I don’t know.” Bliss tapped the gnawed end of her pen on the manila folder with all the details of Maria’s case. “That’s why I didn’t think we’d have to worry about her taking off.”

Jack stared at a pair of etchings of colonial era buildings stacked on the wall. “Are we sure she didn’t just barricade herself in the basement?”

“There’s a basement and a storm cellar. We inspected them thoroughly once we realized she was gone.”

“How long did it take before she bolted?”

“Only a few hours.” Bliss grimaced, her brows crimped in concern. “Her large cash withdrawal at the ATM triggered an alarm in our system. I called her right away but she didn’t answer. And the guard we’d placed in town was at the ATM within ten minutes.”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “You provided the cell?”

Bliss said, “Yes. But her cell phone hasn’t moved. She left it at the safe house.”

“Who would she call?” Jack tried to approach the problem analytically. But he kept getting caught up on one fact. If he was in trouble he could call any one of his siblings and they’d drop everything to help him out. And he’d do the same for them. But Maria Torres had been alone, abandoned, for what probably felt like forever. “She didn’t need the phone. She’s been alone for eight years. It wouldn’t occur to her that she had anyone on the other end who gave a shit.”

Bliss’s mouth curved downward as Jack’s words hit home. “I gave a shit,” she replied softly.

“I get that.” Jack resisted the urge to take her in his arms and comfort her. “But she probably didn’t believe you.”

Bliss’s eyes were glassy as she blinked rapidly.

Jack desperately tried to distract her before she started crying. “If she’s been underground and isolated for the last eight years, how did she know what to do?”

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