Never Fade Page 18

Dirty water and stray garbage flew up around my ankles; I kept one hand against the brick wall, feeling through the dark. The concrete flashed as if something sharp had sparked against it, then again and again, until I knew exactly what was happening. I was being shot at, and their aim was getting better.

I took one flying leap up, catching the black ladder of a fire escape and dragging it back down to the ground. My hands were stiff and frozen, to the point that I could barely curl them around the bars as I climbed. And still the shooting didn’t stop, not until I was rolling onto the rough finish of the roof, catching dust and loose plaster in my hair. Then I was up and off like a shot, jumping from that building’s roof onto the next. I saw the ground in the second it took for me to soar over it. The flashing red and blue lights of the police car tracked my progress across the building tops like a mocking shadow. Overhead, the wind stirred, plucking at the loose button-down shirt I wore.

I dropped over the edge of the next building, gagging slightly at the overpowering smell of rotting garbage. My feet hit the rubber lid of the Dumpster, and the shock of the impact buckled my knees and hurtled me headfirst into the ground.

There was a heartbeat, maybe two, but I was too stunned by the pain to actually move. I had just gotten my hands under me when the alleyway flooded with pure white light.

You can’t move very fast with a limp, and you can’t go very far with a dead end at your back. But I scrambled up anyway, bolting for the battered door to my left, letting the soldiers and police holler what they would after me. My steps were slow but sure—I knew where I was going, and I made sure the door locked in place behind me.

It took two precious seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dim hallway. I stumbled up the stairs to 2A, a pale blue door, and shouldered it open.

The apartment was lit—coffee was still brewing on the counter, but there was no one inside. I checked every room, under the bed, in the closets, before making my way back out into the hall, reaching for the black jacket hanging there.

The building seemed to shake with the force of boots on the narrow stairwell. My hands shook as they grabbed the jacket, feeling the inside lining, running over the bottom seam in disbelief over and over again.

The door exploded open beside me, and there was no opportunity to move, to fight, to run. I was tackled onto the ground, my arms wrenched behind my head and locked there. I saw their boots step over me, heading toward other rooms, their guns up and ready to fire as they cleared each one. And it was only then, after they reappeared, that I was dragged downstairs. Past the shocked faces of my neighbors, through the battered outside door, back into the rain where a black van waited to carry me off.

There were PSFs, National Guardsmen, police. There was no way out; I didn’t struggle as they lifted me up into the rear of the van and locked my handcuffs into place. There were other people in there, but none of them were familiar. None of them were him.

I don’t know why I looked up then—instinct, maybe, or desperation. The door was slamming shut on my life, and still, the most important thing was that half-second image of Liam’s terrified face beneath the nearby flickering streetlight, disappearing into the dark.


“HOW COULD YOU?” Cate’s shrill voice rang out. “She hasn’t slept for the past two days, and you put her through this?”

I kept my eyes fixed on a small garden statue of a prancing boy, half hidden by the American flag hanging from Alban’s desk. I was on the floor, flat on my back, but I had no memory of getting there.

“She is not a trained puppy who will perform tricks for you at the drop of a hat!” Cate had a way of yelling without ever raising her voice. “She is a child. Please do not solicit her services, as you so eloquently put it, without checking with me first!”

“I think,” came Alban’s thin reply, “that’s about all the lecturing I can stand to take from you today, Agent Conner. This child is of an age now to make her own decisions, and while she may report to you, you report to me and I do not—ever—need to ‘check’ with you or vet my decisions with you, and I will ask you now, very kindly, to leave this office before you say something that you will regret.”

I forced myself off the ground and back into the chair. Cate lunged forward to help me, but I was already there, brushing her off. It looked like she hadn’t sleep, either—her hair was matted and stringy, her face as ashen as I’d ever seen it. She had burst in here like a tornado five minutes ago and hadn’t stopped to even take a breath. I don’t know who tipped her off—Rob, maybe—but the only thing she had accomplished in that time was making me feel like a humiliated five-year-old.

“I’m fine,” I told her, but she didn’t look convinced.

“I’ll wait outside,” she said.

“Then you’ll be waiting for some time. We have a guest downstairs that I’d like Ruby to meet.”

Of course. Why would I get a day off from “entertaining” the guests?

“Oh?” Cole’s gaze shifted among the three of us. “Am I invited to this party?”

Alban stood, finally, and came around to the front of his desk, standing between Cole’s and my chairs. He lowered himself back down on the edge of the desk with care, and it was the first time I had ever been close enough to him to realize he smelled like the mildew that we could never fully scrub from the showers.

“I’ll see you at senior staff meeting, Agent Conner.” Then, in a lower voice, “Come prepared. Agent Meadows is bringing his proposal to vote again.”

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