Never Fade Page 55

“—ask her!” Vida was shouting. “She attacked me!”

Chubs dutifully aimed the flashlight where I pointed. “You need to sit down. Hey! Are you even listening to me?”

I patted around the dirt, fingers groping through the mulch, rocks, and roots. I knew the moment I had found it; the black shell was unnaturally smooth and still warm to the touch. During the fight, the screen had flipped down to the ground, stifling the glow.

“What is that?” Chubs crouched down next to me. “A phone?”

Close, but not quite.

“A Chatter?” came Jude’s startled voice. “Where did you get that?”

He was standing behind us, supporting a swaying Vida. No—he wasn’t supporting her. He had one arm across her chest to keep her from going at my throat.

Dumb, brave kid, I thought for the thousandth time. I turned my eyes back down on the screen and flicked it on.

I had interrupted her in the middle of typing a message. Good. I brought the screen up close to my eyes, squinting at the series of nonsense numbers and letters. The little black line was still blinking, waiting for her to finish up.


“You bitch,” I said, looking up. “You really thought you could play us? Turn us back over to the League? What did Alban promise you—that you could take over as team leader?”

I was half blind with rage, too angry to let her answer. I stood, throwing the device on the ground. Vida and Jude both took generous steps back. My brain was humming with need, with nothing more than the desire to pry into hers and leave it mangled and ruined. My anger added a boost to their strength and I thought, I really did, if I let them loose, the invisible hands would take her this time without me needing to grab her. I turned, ready to let them fly.

Instead, I felt a hand close over my wrist and pull me back. Chubs was on his feet now, too, his eyes fixed on the screen. I heard him click a button, and then the Chatter was hovering in front of my face, and I was reading an old, received message.


“Tell her I’m sorry?” I turned back toward Vida, who had turned away, her face a stone mask. “Who is this? Cole?”

Vida’s swollen lip slurred her speech, and when she spoke, it was so quiet I had to strain to hear her. Her reluctance proved the blossoming theory in my mind—after all, there was only one person she protected like this.

“No,” she said, “it’s Cate.”

I was ready to have it all out there, but Chubs insisted that we return to the camp and rebuild the fire with a sharp “I prefer to not take my bad news in the freezing dead of night, thank you very much.”

He steered me toward one end of the smothered fire and headed for his car. I was distantly aware of the beep of the car unlocking and the door slamming shut. When he sat back down next to me, Chubs started in on cleaning the cuts on my face and arms with a total lack of sympathy.

“Someone better start talking now,” he said, “because, trust me, you don’t want to hear what I have to say about all this. Especially at one o’clock in the morning.”

Vida sniffed, drawing her knees up to her chest. The right half of her face was cast entirely in darkness. Or covered in an enormous bruise.

I held up the Chatter to the dim firelight, turning it back and forth. “Who gave you this? Nico?”

She waited so long to answer I thought for sure she wouldn’t. All I got was a shrug. Her nails were clawing into the dirt, dragging clumps of it up into her clenched fists.

“So he and Cate are in on this, too?” I demanded. “Who else?”

Vida crossed her arms over her chest and stared out into the dark distance.

“Why keep this from us?” Jude asked. “Did she ask you to? It doesn’t make any sense, and it really doesn’t make sense that you still won’t talk about it. You got caught, and now the Op has been compromised. And what are you supposed to do when that happens?”

Accept, adapt, and act. Quickly. The words had been scrawled onto one of the walls in the training room. They might as well have been tattooed directly onto our brains.

“Fine,” she said, circling her shoulders back as if to ease the tension there. She’s angry, I realized. Vida was furious—with herself. The perfect little soldier had blown her own Op, the special one Cate had entrusted her with. She was breathing hard, sucking air up between her clenched teeth. Cate was the single most important person in her life, maybe the only one who really mattered to her. I had an idea of why she had withheld that information, but I wanted to hear her admit it.

“Cate and Cole planned this whole thing, pretty much from the second we brought his ass back to HQ,” Vida said. “They go back. She took him under her wing when he first joined, helped train him. He told her the truth about your dumbass Prince Charming and the flash drive, and you were the solution they came up with. For whatever reason, Cate stupidly trusts you to handle shit.”

“Why have Cole give me the story, then?”

“They’re watching her. Rob and the others. She knew what he was like, or at least figured it out a few months ago, but she was trying to stay close to his creepy ass to make sure he didn’t come after us. She couldn’t go to Alban or any of the advisers, because she was afraid she’d be reassigned from us if they saw her as being ‘difficult.’ Nico showed Cole, Cate, and me the video of Blake being offed and she just about went ballistic.”

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