Never Fade Page 37

The highway was lined on either side by hills and pockets of dense trees, but we were still far too exposed. Every time a passing freight truck bathed us in white headlights, I had to steel myself all over again.

I took a deep breath.

“Do you have your panic button?” I asked. “Jude—look at me. Do you still have it?”

“Why?” he asked, patting around his pants pockets. “I think so. But—”

“Toss it.”

His thick brows were drawn together, the tip of his long nose red and running with cold. He used his free arm to swipe it against his coat. “Ruby, what’s going on? Please, just talk to me!”

“Toss it,” I said. “We aren’t going back to LA. At least not yet.”

“What?” Jude sounded small, far away. “Are you serious? We’re…ditching?”

“We are going back—eventually,” I said, “but we have another, special Op first. We need to keep going before someone comes looking for us.”

“Who assigned it?” Jude demanded. “Cate?”

“Agent Stewart.”

Jude didn’t look convinced, but I had him on his feet now.

“I have to recover information from one of his sources,” I explained, trying to make it sound as mysterious and dangerous as I could. And it worked. The nervous look he’d been wearing changed to one of interest. And a small, fizzing excitement.

“It’s vital to the mission of the League, but I couldn’t let Barton know the real reason for leaving. I had to figure out a way to make sure that Rob was gone by the time we get back.”

“You should have told me!” Jude said. “From the beginning—I could have handled it.”

“It’s classified. A need-to-know Op,” I said, adding, “a dangerous one.”

“Then why the heck are you taking me?” he asked.

“Because if you go back now, they’ll kill you just like they killed Blake.”

I felt ashamed—the feeling snuck up on me, gripping me by the throat. I’d taken him without giving him any kind of choice, and then simplified the truth to make this reality go down that much easier. Hadn’t I hated Cate for doing the exact same things to me? Had she felt as desperate to get me to agree as I did with Jude now?

Jude slowed again, looking at me like he’d never seen me before. “I was right,” he whispered. “That is why he picked me. I was right.”

“Yeah,” I admitted. “You were.”

Jude nodded, working his jaw back and forth, trying to get the words out. Finally, he reached into his EMT jacket and pulled out the familiar black button, tossing it aside.

“It was dead anyway,” he muttered, pulling back out of my grip. “I fried that car and everything in it, remember?”

Right. Of course. The trackers in his clothes would be dead, too.

“All right,” he said, his voice sounding stronger. This was the Jude I had been counting on—the one who thought all Ops would be as cool as the video games he played with Blake and Nico.

I reached over and brushed the snow powder from his hair and shoulders. “You have to follow what I say exactly, understand? We’re going completely off the grid, and no one can know where we are. Not Cate, not Vida, not even Nico. If they find us and bring us in, we ruin every shot we have at this Op—at making sure the League is a safe place.”

As quickly and simply as I could, I laid the Op out for him. Everything, from where we were headed first to what Rob and the others had been planning. I gave him a sliver of the truth: that I had been traveling with Liam for a while, but we’d split up before Cate brought me in and I’d lost track of him.

Would it really be so awful to just tell him the whole truth? I was surprised there was a part of me that was even tempted to talk about those last few precious moments in the safe house. It just…didn’t make sense to complicate everything by letting him into that moment of good-bye. I was the only one I wanted living in it, thinking about it, dreaming of it. And, to be honest, I needed him to trust me absolutely now, more than he ever had, if this was going to work. If I told him what I had done to Liam, every look Jude would give me from that moment on would be tainted by the fear I could do it to him, too. If he could even bring himself to look at me at all.

This was the kid who had sat with me for every meal, when half of the League was too afraid to look me in the eye. He didn’t flinch when I touched him; he waited for me to get back from Ops to make sure I was safe. As annoying as it had seemed to me then, I had never thought about what it would be like to lose it. Him.

Jude listened to it all, strangely calm for him. He didn’t react at all when I told him what was on the flash drive Liam was carrying. At first I thought he had stopped paying attention, but at the end of it all, he nodded and simply said, “Okay.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked. I was fully aware of how stupid that question was. What wasn’t wrong? “Are you feeling okay? Nothing bumped, bent, or broken, right?”

“Oh, uh, no, I’m fine, all in one piece, at least.” He knocked on the top of his head. “It’s just I was wondering…”

“About?” I prompted.

“About before. Before-before, I mean.” He turned to look at me. “Did you have to deal with the PSFs a lot at your camp? It’s just—you were so calm. Don’t get me wrong, when you were all, Get lost! it was pretty epic, but you didn’t seem, you know, scared.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies