Never Fade Page 45

Jude actually fell over.

“What are you—” I began. “How did you—” She couldn’t have just guessed where we’d be. She was good, but she wasn’t that good. I must have missed a tracker, something…

“The collar of the undershirt,” Vida said, nodding toward Jude. “Next time you decide to cut it and run, make sure you get all the damn trackers.”

“Trackers?” Jude repeated, looking between us.

“Jude fried the car,” I said, “and everything electric inside of it.” Including, I had assumed, the trackers in his clothes.

“That would be why they coat all of the Yellows’ trackers in rubber,” she said, shaking her head. “God, you didn’t know that?”

She was clearly proud of herself despite looking like she had just been ridden hard and put away wet. Her blue hair was twisting into its natural curly texture.

I hauled Jude closer, unzipping his coat to feel around his undershirt’s stitching. Sure enough, I felt the small bump, no more than the size of a grain, sewn into the collar. I cut it out with my Swiss Army knife and held it for him to see. Before he could grab it, I crushed it with the hilt of the knife.

“They…put trackers in our clothes?” Jude looked between us in disbelief, though it was clear he was talking to himself. “Why would they do that? That can’t be…”

Vida looked like she was about to burst into her particular brand of cruel laughter, but her expression changed—narrowed somehow. Her full focus shifted behind us, and she rose back onto her feet, swinging her gun up out of its holster in one smooth motion. I turned, my hair tumbling down around my face as I scrambled back onto my knees for a better look.

The world dropped.

I actually felt it cave under me, felt every bone and muscle in my chest fall with it. I don’t know how I managed to pull myself back up or how I came to be standing, but I was too numbed by shock to care that I was in full sight of whoever might have been watching.

Then, I was running. I heard Vida and Jude call after me, but the wind and rain carried their voices up and away, and I wasn’t hearing anything over the thrum of blood in my ears. I shoved my way down the slight roll of the hill, through the tangle of tree branches, through the collapsing fence, through to him.

He slipped out of the window, climbing through the torn dark screen one leg at a time until, finally, his shoes sank into the mud below. His hair was longer than I remembered it, the bones in the profile of his face sharper. He had gotten larger, or I had become smaller, or memory really was a lie—it didn’t matter. He heard me coming and spun around, one hand going for something inside of his heavy camo jacket, the other for something in the waistband of his jeans. I knew when he spotted me—every part of him froze.

But then his full lips began to work, silently, until they finally settled on the tiniest of smiles. My feet slowed but didn’t stop.

I was breathing hard. My whole chest heaved with the effort to keep the air moving. I pressed a hand hard against my heart. Exhaustion and relief and the same bitter terror I had felt the afternoon I’d lost him came flooding in. I just didn’t have the strength to fight them back anymore.

I burst into tears.

“Oh, for the love of…” Chubs shook his head and sighed, but I heard the affection in his voice all the same. “It’s just me, you dumbass.”

And without another word, he crossed those last two steps between us and wrapped me up tight in his arms.


THE PROBLEM WAS, ONCE I STARTED, I couldn’t stop. I felt every bit of me sag against him, needing the reassurance that he was solid and that the heart beating next to my ear was his. Chubs patted my back awkwardly as I buried my face in his jacket and went to pieces.

“How?” I choked out. “Why are you here?”

The rustling in the trees behind us barely registered in my mind, but Chubs looked up, calling, “Oh, come on, Lee—I know you want a hug, too—”

It happened too fast for me to warn him—to stop any of it. Chubs released me only to spin me behind him, throwing me more off-kilter than I had been before. I thought, for sure, that my mind was playing tricks on me, because it looked like he had pulled a long hunting knife up out of the waistband of his pants. It looked like Vida was pointing her gun straight at him, switching off the safety.

“It’s—” I began, feeling his arm strain under my grip. “Chubs—”

“Who the hell are you?” he demanded.

“Not the person who brought a knife to a gunfight,” Vida said, waving her weapon for emphasis.

“Wait, wait, wait!” Jude said, popping out from behind the tree to her right. He slid partway down the muddy hill, throwing himself between them. “Not Liam,” he said, pointing at himself, then at Vida. “Not Liam, either.” Jude turned back toward Chubs, his thick eyebrows drawing together as he moved his finger our way. “Also not Liam…?”

At that, Vida turned to stare at him. “In what universe does this tool look anything like Cole Stewart?”

Jude’s voice went high when he got defensive. “I don’t know! Brother from a different mother? There is such a thing as adoption—”

Chubs lowered his knife. I could see his mind working behind his eyes, jumping from one horrible possibility to another as he took account of the strangers, my tears, and the absence of Liam.

“Oh my God,” he said, going gray in the face. He pressed a fist against his stomach, like he was about to be sick. “Oh my God.”

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