Never Fade Page 47

I dropped to the damp bricks on hands and knees, slowly working my way along the length of the house until the voices became louder. My nails dug into the fabric of my pants, ears straining. Two men. One woman.

When I finally turned back around to tell the boys this, Vida was already there, crouched between Chubs and Jude. When she felt my eyes on her, she glanced up and gave an impatient jerk of her chin.

“There are four altogether,” she whispered. “One woman, three men. They look like they’re PSFs.”

I covered Jude’s mouth with my hand. “Are they armed?”

She nodded. “The usual. What’s with this house? Why is it important enough that they installed motion sensors?”

“Sensors?” Chubs said.

“They stuck them under the roof overhang at all four corners of the house,” she said, clearly annoyed he didn’t immediately take her word for the gospel truth.

I shared a glance with Chubs, letting Jude pry my hand away from his face. Of course they would have installed something to monitor the house. If not for Liam, then for Cole. Interesting that Cole hadn’t bothered to feed her any of his brother’s back story. Maybe there just hadn’t been time.

The voices had quieted down, but I heard their heavy tread through the overgrown garden at the right end of the house. They’d be too close now for us to try to run out into the trees. There was no way they wouldn’t spot us.

With a sigh that shook his entire tall frame, Chubs stood and pushed the dangling flaps of the window screen aside. Resignation made his shoulders slump.

“Do you trust me?” he asked, seeing my expression.

“Of course.”

Jude made a small noise behind me, but I ignored it.

“Then tell your friends to get inside”—he nodded to the now open window—“and stand up. I’m going to have to handcuff you.”

Here was the nice thing about being shocked senseless: I didn’t have to pretend to be terrified. I stood there, feeling the sharp edges of the clear plastic ties cutting off my blood supply at the wrist. I let them disconnect every single thought in my head.

Who is this person? I thought, studying him closer now. He was wearing the hooded camo hunting jacket I had vaguely noticed before, a gray wool turtleneck, and a pair of faded jeans, battered by dust and long wear. Strapped to his hip was what looked like a small cell phone and a leather pouch. When we had traveled together before, he had kept all of his possessions in a battered leather briefcase he had found. That had suited him so much better than this weird…imitation of what he thought a hunter should look like.

It should have been reassuring to see him so prepared and well supplied, but, somehow, it only frightened me more.

Chubs’s hand was steady as he took my chin in his hand, turning it to and fro, inspecting the cuts and bruises from the night before with a disapproving look. The others watched from behind the closed window, Jude’s face so close it was almost pressed up against the glass.

“It might be better if you pretend to pass out,” he said.

The suggestion came just in time. As I hit the ground, I saw the flash of black as the PSFs rounded the corner.

Four. Vida had been right. The brown-haired woman was the tallest of the group, standing several inches above the men. One was an older guy, his hair puffing out in an ashy blond ring around his head. The other two were younger and looked enough alike to be brothers. All armed with standard-issue rifles, handcuffs, the works.

“Can I help you?” Chubs’s face was set in stone.

The soldiers didn’t know what to make of us, but they also didn’t lower their weapons. I was starting to put it together, though, long before Chubs began to speak again.

“What, so you’re here to swipe my score out from under my nose? Trying to weasel out of having to pay me?”

The older soldier cocked a beetled brow. “You’re a skip tracer?”

My thoughts exactly. If that was the ruse we were running with, we were in more trouble than I thought. On a good day, Chubs was about as threatening as a potted cactus.

“Here!” He reached into the leather pouch on his belt and thrust something at the PSF. It looked like a small booklet, about the size of a passport.

The old man stepped forward but turned to look back at the woman. “Take a walk around the perimeter. Make sure she was traveling alone.”

Chubs waved the booklet again as the three others took their walk. The old man sighed, glancing back and forth between Chubs’s face and whatever was written there.

“All right, Mr. Lister,” he said, passing it back to him. “Have you run this one through the database?”

“She’s not in it,” Chubs said. “She’s probably been coasting for quite some time. There aren’t any records of her.”

“Did you test her?” he asked. “If she’s Blue or Yellow, you’ll need—”

“She’s a Green,” Chubs interrupted. “Why? Want a demonstration?”

“We can take her,” the man offered. “Save you the trouble of transporting.”

“I told you, she’s not in the system,” Chubs said, the nasty edge to his voice more pronounced. “I know how this works. You can’t line up my payment if she isn’t registered. I have to go into the nearest station and do the paperwork if I want the bounty.”

The man snorted but didn’t try to deny it. “Was that car on the road yours?”

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