Never Fade Page 93

“And my money?” Joe was saying. “I wanna know how I’m getting reimbursed by Gray. He sure as shit didn’t do anything when the river took everything I owned!”

“Your name goes into the skip-tracer system. They find you. I’m just transport. Hold her there, will you?”

The fog ripped back from my brain. A foot came down on my wrist, pinning me.

“No!” I choked out, eyes searching the tent fronts for a sympathetic face, an indecisive one—anyone who wasn’t Rob Meadows.

They watched. All of them, every single person in that tent city. Their anxiety pawed at the air and stirred in my mind. But their silence—that was deafening.

Opening my eyes again would make it real, but that was the way he wanted it. His hand fisted in whatever was left of my ponytail, tightening and wrenching my head back to get a better look at me. He smiled.

“Hiya, Gem,” Rob snarled. “Been a while.”

I choked on the word no.

“Here.” Rob absently shoved a tablet toward the man. “Type in your name and social security number—reward is split sixty-forty.”

“Sixty-f-forty!” Joe sputtered. “That’s—holy God…that figure’s right?”

“How much?” someone shouted from down the way. “Don’t forget I let you borrow my gun—you owe me for last month’s rations!”

“Hold her!” Rob barked. “She needs proper restraints!”

My hands were drawn together and kept there, not by plastic but by the press of metal. I heard the chain rattle and felt him lift my head, sucked in the scent of leather.

I screamed. It was a ragged, ugly noise that shattered my throat. “No,” I begged, tossing my head, twisting my neck to get away. Rob’s knees dropped onto my chest, and my next breath came out as a sob.

“Oh yeah, you remember this, don’t you?”

“No!” I sobbed. “Please—”

In the end, all of that training came to nothing. I could shift and cry and try to scream, but my ribs felt like they were caving in. The whole world was collapsing, crushing, and dissolving the faces of everyone who stood there watching. Rob snapped on a pair of thick rubber gloves before shoving the muzzle over my mouth and tightening the strap behind my head, and I was a little girl again. I was the monster of the story.

My breath was hot, steaming. Joe passed the tablet to Rob and took several steps back. He looked at the white-haired woman to his right and said, “God, if I’d known…I wouldn’t have touched the thing at all.”

Rob bent and tried to haul me out of the mud by the chain that connected the handcuffs to the muzzle. I got no farther than my knees; the rest of my body still hadn’t solidified under me. With an ear-scorching curse and a grunt of disgust, he picked me up and carried me under one arm, letting my feet drag and bounce along the ground. I reared back, trying to knock my head against the knots of muscles in his arm, but he only chuckled.

“I don’t always get the world,” he said. “But sometimes it treats me right. That look on your face when you saw me—I tell you, that was something else.”

I twisted as he dragged me up into the back of his old red Jeep.

“I knew if I watched the skip-tracer network, you’d screw up eventually. I’d get to ask you myself about the real reason you dodged out of the Op—what Cole and Cate have to do with it. I wanted to be the one to pick you up, to drive you straight back to that little camp of yours and watch them drag you in.”

I screamed into the leather, kicking at the back of the seat.

“You and me?” he said, pulling a long strip of plastic from the backpack he was wearing to bind my feet. I tried to kick, which earned me another laugh. “We’re gonna have such a fun trip back to West Virginia. I won’t even ask for the reward.”

The door slammed shut on my face, finally blocking me from the cluster of adults that stood in a single line in front of their homes, watching. The car rocked as he opened the driver’s door and sat down.

“You wanna know why I killed those kids, bitch?” he called back. “They weren’t fighters. None of you are, but you’re the ones with all the power in the League these days. You get to overrun us, decide the Ops, turn Alban into a worthless pile of cooing shit. But you don’t understand; none of you does. You don’t get what this world has to be if we’re going to survive this. Even these skip tracers, they just don’t understand that you’re worth a lot more to this country dead than alive.”

Rob was speeding despite the Jeep’s shuddering protests, blasting ZZ goddamn Top as loud as the stereo would go. He shouted back that he was tired of hearing me snivel and sob. What a coincidence. I was pretty damn tired of “La Grange” and the smell of exhaust.

I tried everything I could think of to get the muzzle off. The strap around the back of my head wouldn’t budge. He’d tightened it to the point of pain and, from the sound of it, had used a smaller plastic cable tie to reinforce it. I grunted, shifting to try to get to my boot.

Something pulled at my lower back, and there was a feeling like a tear. I bit my lip, ignoring the warm flush of liquid soaking into my jeans.

Michael. I’d forgotten about him getting the jump on me. No wonder it felt like I’d been dragged under a truck. I’d seen the blade—it had been small, about the size of the one on my Swiss Army knife. I needed to push through the pain—keep riding the adrenaline to keep from passing out again.

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