Never Fade Page 17

“I am well aware,” Cole said, “but I told you, I don’t know who has it. They knocked me out, and I saw someone take it, but truthfully, sir, I don’t remember much beyond what happened after they got me to the bunker. I’m not sure it was my contact who picked it up.”

I watched him drag a bandaged hand over his close-cropped blond hair, wondering if it was as obvious to Alban as it was to me that he wasn’t telling the truth.

“And that’s understandable considering the circumstances,” Alban said, leaning back in his chair. He threaded his fingers together and rested them over the bulge of his stomach. “This is where Ruby comes in. She’s been instrumental in helping…to jog the memories of assets. She’s helped us track down more than one piece of information that’s gone astray.”

Please, please, please, not him. I didn’t want to see inside his mind; I didn’t want to see flashes of Liam or their life. I just wanted to get away from him before my shrinking rib cage shredded my heart.

Cole went pale under his tan, from the creases between his brows down to the fingers clenching the armrests of the plastic chair.

“Oh, come on now.” Alban laughed. “I’ve been told it’s completely painless—and if it’s not, we’ll have her stop immediately.”

That, I didn’t doubt. Even if I went rogue and didn’t release Cole’s mind, all of the advisers and senior agents carried these hand-held speakers that functioned like miniature White Noise machines.

“You’re the first to volunteer to jump off bridges and infiltrate the PSFs, and you can’t let a girl take a quick peek inside your memories for the good of your family here—for the good of your country?” Alban’s smile never wavered, despite all of his needling.

Clever, I thought. The Do It for Your Glorious Country speech was one step above a direct order, and Cole was smart enough to realize how much better it would look if he agreed by his own “free will.”

“All right,” Cole said, finally turning to look at me. “What do you need me to do?”

It was several moments before I found my voice, but I was proud of how strong it sounded. “Give me your hand.”

“Be gentle with me, sweetheart,” Cole said, his fingers giving a slight twitch as they touched mine. Alban laughed outright at this, but Cole blew out an uneven breath and closed his eyes.

His hand was ice cold and slick to the touch. I tried to ignore the insistent press of his thumb against mine. I’d always felt like Liam’s hand swallowed mine when he held it, but this one was somehow bigger, the palms rough with the kind of calluses that only came with years of being shredded by weights and weapons and fights. The way the fingers on his left hand kept twitching every few minutes.

I didn’t want to think about any of it. I kept my eyes on his left hand, the two fingers that twitched now and then as he quietly fought through the pain of his injuries.

“Try to relax,” I said. “Can you tell me what it is that I’m looking for? What it is, what size, what color—as detailed as you can possibly get.”

Cole’s eyes were still closed. “A standard-size flash drive. A little black stick about the length of my thumb.”

I had done this so many times over the last six months that I no longer felt any kind of pain, but I braced myself anyway. His hand was shaking slightly—or maybe it was mine? I tightened my fingers around his, trying to steady the both of us. “Think back to the last moment you remember having it. Try to bring it to mind, if you can.”

The breath went out of Cole in two short bursts.

It felt like slipping beneath the still surface of a sun-warmed river. For all the effort it took to get through his natural defenses, there was nothing cold or still about the smears of colors and shapes streaming past me. But they were moving too fast. Here and there, I saw faces or objects—a green apple, a lonesome swing, a small stuffed bear burning in dying grass, a door with a messy KEEP OUT! sign scribbled in crayon—almost like he was trying to think of everything but the thing I had specifically asked for.

Cole was practically limp in his chair, his head slowly falling toward my shoulder. I thought I felt him shake it, his hair brushing against my neck.

“Show me when you lost the memory card,” I said quietly. “The black flash drive.”

The memory floated up as quickly as if I had plucked it from the water. A little boy wearing overalls, no more than two or three, sitting in the middle of a sea of taupe carpet, bawling at the top of his lungs.

“The flash drive,” I said again. The scene smeared down and away, replaced by a nighttime sky and a crackling bonfire that cast a warm glow over the nearby tent and the dark silhouettes moving inside of it.

“Philadelphia!” I heard Alban say behind me. “Philadelphia, Cole. The lab!”

Cole must have registered the man’s voice because I felt him flinch against me. I pressed harder, plunging my hands into the stream, suddenly worried about what would happen to me if I couldn’t produce the kind of results that Alban was after. The flash drive, I thought. Philadelphia.

The memory wavered, hovering black and still like a drop of loose ink at the tip of a pen. And with one last shudder, it finally slid free.

The scene shifted around me, throwing me out into a rainy night. A flash of light cut across the brick wall to my left, then another—car headlights. I couldn’t hear the squeal of brakes or the accelerator revving, but I was Cole, seeing things as he was seeing them then—and Cole was running.

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