Never Fade Page 46

“No, no,” I said quickly. “He’s not dead!”

That you know of, my mind whispered.

“Why aren’t you together?” Now he looked close to tears himself. Chubs’s hair had grown out past its usual neat crop, and the silver-rimmed glasses that actually fit his face made him look so much more mature than I remembered. He didn’t really look like himself, not until I saw the fear come crashing over him—this was the Chubs I remembered, always between one panic and the next. “He never would have left you, never!”

I looked away. Not toward Vida and Jude, who had gone silent watching this, but to soft mud cupping rain puddles at our feet.

“Ruby,” Chubs began, his voice strained. “What happened?”

I shook my head, pressing my freezing hands to my face.

“You left him?” he guessed. “You had a fight? You split up for a few days?”

By whispering it, I was hoping I could take some of the sting out of the truth, but that wasn’t the case at all. Chubs took a stunned step back, his eyes flashing with horror.

“No, you didn’t!” he said, gripping my shoulders. “That was the only reason I thought it would be okay! I thought you two would stay together!”

“What was I supposed to do?” I demanded, not caring that my voice was rising. “You were—you were dead, and they had taken us in, and I made a deal, and I knew, I knew he wouldn’t go otherwise. What the hell was I supposed to do?”

Chubs shook his head. “And these kids, they’re League? You’re with them?”

“They’re—” I started to say.

“—still standing here, waiting for an explanation as to who the hell this is,” Vida cut in, every trace of amusement gone from her face.

My brain was finally starting to reassemble itself into working order, and with it came fresh, sharp fear.

Vida was here. Vida, who had been chasing us down to bring us back in to the League. Vida, who had now seen Chubs and could identify him to the League, if it came to that. Who might even try to bring him in.

I pushed him back, trying to keep him behind me. “He’s no one,” I said. “He’s not any concern of yours.”

“Uh, yeah he freaking is if he’s coming with us to find Stewart,” Vida said.

“What did you say?”

“Plug your empty-ass brain in,” she said. “I’m not here to take you back; I’m here to help you.” She turned on Jude. “Nice of you to repay me by electrocuting me, you little shit.”

“If you weren’t there with Beta Team and Barton to take us in to HQ, then why?”

Vida rolled her eyes but did answer eventually—with the smuggest look possible. “I was looped in on your little romantic quest. The only way to get me out without it looking suspicious was to suggest that I come after you dumb asses, since I supposedly know your crappy personalities so well.”

“What about Beta Team?” Jude asked.

“Recalled to HQ. Orders to bring Rob back in or something—you two lace panties about caused a f**king riot back home with your little stunt.” She tossed her hair back. “Alban gave me two weeks to find you. So let’s get this horror show on the road.”

I stared at her, shaking my head. “You are so full of it. You think we’re just going to skip away with you into the sunset?”

“No,” Vida said, “I expect you to f**king prance, and you’re going to do it with a smile and the least amount of bitching possible, or Cole isn’t going to honor your stupid deal to have the League free the camps.”

It was true, then—she was telling the truth about being here to help us. Cole wouldn’t have looped her in otherwise. The objective was too valuable. It surprised me how much it stung my pride to know he didn’t think I could handle this Op on my own. That I needed backup.

Jude turned to look at me, totally lost.

“Okay, vámonos!” Vida said, clapping her hands. “If you’re going to check out the house, then do it fast.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Chubs cut in. I recognized the expression on his face—how many times had I seen it after the others took me in, before he came to accept the fact I was staying with them? Chubs had never been one to hide his feelings, whether it was anger or fear or suspicion. He and Liam were alike in that way, only it came to Liam by nature and Chubs by choice. I’m not sure he saw a point in pretending to be anything he wasn’t.

“Yes,” I said, taking Chubs’s arm again. I felt the muscle there strain under my fingers. “Come on, we need to talk. I’ll explain everything.”

Chubs cast his unhappy expression down at me. “Just us, then. I don’t—”

All four of us heard it at once. Car doors slamming. One, two, three.

I pulled Chubs back so we were flush against the house, motioning for Jude to come toward us and quickly. Vida circled around the nearby trees, her boots silent in the soft mulch. Her head of bright hair was the last trace of her to vanish into the rain.

I glanced up at the window Chubs had wiggled out of, my hand stretching up to touch the loose screen, then back toward the woods. We could maybe make a run for it, maybe. Try to disappear into the wildlife and lose them that way.

“Is it Barton?” Jude was whispering.

Chubs and I both shushed him. The back of Liam’s house was lined with five white-trimmed windows and one perfectly sweet little screen door, which had been nailed into place with sturdy plywood boards. A square of bricks had been lovingly placed to serve as a patio at the back entrance to the home. Now, green grass, glowing in the misty rain, had crawled up through the cracks.

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