Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostępny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacji Legimi na:
To Mom and Dad, for everything.
Book 1 - The Union
Book 2 - The Ruins
Book 3 - The Uprising
Also by T.H Hernandez
About the Author
“When you walk in purpose, you collide with destiny.”
After two weeks in the Northwestern Province, I loathe the color gray. Everything is colorless, from the clouds to the rain. Even the buildings have a sickly gray cast to them without the bright rays of the sun to liven themup.
I turn from the window with a heavy sigh and take a seat on the exam table to wait for Dr. Martinez.
My mood is as gray and gloomy as everything else up here, although I have no one to blame but myself. By now, Cyrus suspects Bryce and I have been intimate. I’m sure he’s figured out that’s what I was trying to tell him, the thing he said he didn’t need toknow.
I’ve tried talking to him a dozen times, but he refuses. He’s sullen and withdrawn the way he was in the Ruins over the summer when he found out Bryce was looking forme.
A thread of uneasiness pulls at the delicate fabric of my friendships, and I’m not sure what to do about it. Not being able to discuss it with Cyrus isn’t helping. The way he’s pulled away from me is like a knife in my gut to go along with the gunshot wound in my shoulder.
The door to my exam room opens and Dr. Martinez enters, crossing the room with a warm smile. “Good morning, Miss Taylor, how are you doing?”
“Okay, I guess. Can I get out of herenow?”
“You’re not enjoying our ‘liquid sunshine’?”
“That’s what you callit?”
He chuckles and lifts my shirt to examine where a bullet tore through my shoulder less than a month ago. He runs his hands lightly over the skin before pressing harder.
I suck in a breath and jerk away from his touch.
So far he hasn’t commented on my Uprising tattoo. No one has tattoos in the Union. They’re considered unnatural and unclean, in direct conflict with the Union way of life. But when you join the Uprising, the first thing they do is mark you as one of theirs.
“It’s healing nicely. I do good work.” Dr. Martinez moves around the table to face me, all humor fading. “I’m concerned with the level of pain you’re experiencing. I can insert another implant, but there might be more side effects.”
“Drowsiness, nausea, and brain fog are the most common, but they should fade in a few days as your system adjusts.”
For a couple of days after he inserted the first one I couldn’t think straight and fell asleep in the middle of dinner. I need a clear head if we’re going to be making plans to stop the Uprising.
“I beg to differ. You couldn’t even handle a gentle probing of the area surrounding the wound.”
“You call that gentle?”
He glances at me out of the top of his eyes before tapping something into his tablet. “The threaded bullet I dug out of you shattered your shoulder. I put it back together, but you still need time to heal. Your body is too stressed to recover properly when you’re in this muchpain.”
I roll my eyes. “Fine.”
He reaches out to shake my hand. “Amy will be in shortly to inject the implant.” His mouth tightens into a line. “I really hope I don’t see you again.”
“Same here. And thanks…for everything.”
Hot showers, beds that conform to my body, soft clothes, public transportation — there’s a shitload of stuff to love about the Union, but by far my favorite is the beach. I never tire of watching the ocean, struggling to understand it, the way it seems to go on forever. Standing here, feeling the coarse sand beneath my feet and the cool mist on exposed skin, helps me think.
Like an idiot, I figured nothing else mattered as long as Evan and I were together, but every damn thing matters. It’s not safe to stay here, and it’s not safe to return to the Ruins. Not that she’d even agree to that. Hell, I don’t know what she wants. We barely talk and I know that’s mostly on me. I can’t pretend her sleeping with that douche doesn’t piss me off. I want to punch something every time I see him, which is pretty much every fuckingday.
“Figured I’d find you here,” Rainey’s raspy voice comes from behindme.
I grit my teeth and turn to face her. “Hey.”
“It’s beautiful, isn’tit?”
“Yeah. Never thought I’d see the ocean, now I can’t seem to leave.”
She’s quiet for a few moments, staring out at the crashing waves. I’ve stared at them for plenty of hours myself, now I stare at her. She’s pretty, in a rough sort of way. The scar running from her ear to her jaw only enhances her looks. But she’s not someone you’d ever want to messwith.
“Quit staring atme.”
I turn back to the water. “Sorry.”
“Colin went with her. You know, in case you were wondering.”
“Not really.” I wasn’t, only because I chose not to think about it. But if it’d been Bryce, I’d have needed to pound something.
“Are you going to punish her forever?”
Dragging my gaze away from the surf, I glare at her. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Her eyebrows go up. “Really? You two were this sappy sweet, gag-inducing couple until her ex showed up. Now you’re always in a foul mood, and you barely talk to the girl you supposedly gave up everything to follow.”
“Fine, I don’t like the guy, never have. Why the hell is he here again?”
“We need everyone if we have any hope of doing what you’re planning. We can’t send him packing because he got naked and horizontal with yourgirl.”
If Rainey wasn’t a girl, I’d have no problem decking her, but she is, so I walk down to the water to get away fromher.
Whatever went on between Evan and the douchebag was before she joined the Uprising, but it’s more than that. It’s everything. She had no idea what she was getting herself into and no plan to get out. She nearly got herself killed.
She’s impulsive and reckless, and I don’t know if I can deal withthat.
The one thing that sucks about the beach is the sand. It gets everywhere and the salty air coats my skin with a stickyfilm.
When I get back to the room, I shower before throwing on a fresh pair of jeans. I towel off my hair with one hand and open the bathroom door with the other.
Simon glances up from packing. “Hey, we’re leaving. Rainey came by when you were in the shower. Everyone’s meeting downstairs in five minutes.”
I pull on a T-shirt and cram what little I have, the stuff Evan’s dad bought me, into my duffel bag and follow Simon.
My eyes are immediately drawn to her leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the lobby. Her head rests on a support pillar while she talks to Rainey. The tightness in her features tells me she’s still in pain. Pain inflicted by a bullet the night I tried to get her out of the Uprisingcamp.
It’s another reminder of how close I came to losing her and how dangerous her impulsiveness is. I should go home, head back out to the Ruins, so I don’t have to watch another person I lovedie.
But I can’t, not until I know she’ssafe.
Even if it killsme.
I cross the long marble floor, never taking my eyes off her until she turns toward me, her gaze connecting with mine. She stands a little straighter and lifts herhead.
Rainey’s words from the beach about forgiving her push their way into my brain. At least until the elevator dings behind me and the douchebag’s voice carries across the lobby. My shoulders tense, and I reach down to snag Evan’s bag before he can, slinging it over my shoulder, and head outside.
The cold air bites through my thin shirt, but I packed my jacket. I’m leading the way with no clue where I’m going, but it’s not like I’m going to admit that. Under the pretense of fishing out my jacket, I step to the side, letting the otherspass.
Block after block, we make our way past tall buildings, watching us through mirrored window eyes. I miss the openness of the Ruins.
Colin turns a corner and leads us down an alley to a set of stairs. We hike up two flights and exit the stairwell onto a packed platform with a glass barrier overlooking the Union on one side and a brick wall on the other. Two elevated rails run down the middle, disappearing into the distance in either direction.
Despite the abundance of sweaty bodies, the air is fresh up here, like a mixture of ocean breezes and wildflowers. The wide platform is scattered with large potted pine trees, although that scent doesn’t make it into the mix for some reason. Above the din of hundreds of voices, I can make out birds, but there aren’t any here. The Union tries too hard to seem like it’s a part of nature.
A body brushes past, bumping into me. “Sorry,” a harried girl calls over her shoulder before stopping briefly to size me up. Her lips twist up in a quick appreciative smile before she turns and rushesoff.
She’s the kind of girl I would have chased before Evan. Now…I have no clue what the hell Iwant.
“Here,” Colin says, shoving something in myhand.
I glance down at a cardboard rectangle with the number forty-seven stamped onit.
“Your boarding pass,” hesays.
I stuff it in my back pocket and head over to the windows overlooking the Union. The beach is twenty-five miles away, and I can see the darker shadow of ocean sitting beneath a cloud-covered sky. Between here and the coast, buildings and parks move down and away from me like giant steps.
Looking up at it from the sand, it seems less imposing than it does from the Ruins. Out there, the Union is nothing but a solid wall more than a hundred stories tall. You’d never guess what’s on the otherside.
The voices grow louder, and I turn to see a long white train pulling into the station, gliding along one of the rails. It’s shiny and clean, cutting a smooth path like a bird through the air, hissing as it pulls to astop.
The others step forward to queue up, and I follow as Rainey herds Evan to the back of line, about a dozen people behind me. I give a brief thought to joining them, but I’m not sure what I’d say if I did. Instead, I board behind Bryce and follow him to the back of thecar.
He takes a seat, scooting over to the window, his gaze cutting my way before shifting beyond me. I’m tempted to sit next to him just to keep Evan from sitting there, but I’d probably end up decking him in the first five minutes, so I keep going, finding another pair of empty seats.
I slide over, too, although I don’t know why, it’s not like Evan will sit with me. She tried talking to me, but I was too pissed after I saw Bryce in the hotel lobby that morning. I couldn’t even look at her without blowing up. The longer we’ve gone without talking about it, the harder it is to say anything atall.
Evan glances at Bryce, then me, before lifting her chin in that little defiant way she has and keeps going.
Simon plops down next to me, and Rainey sits with Bryce. Traitor.
“Ever been on a train before?” Simonasks.
“They’re cool. They go super-fast.”
He’s not kidding. The train pulls away from the station without so much as a jerk and quickly picks up speed. Soon shit’s flying by outside the window so fast, my stomach rolls.
“You’re gettin’ kinda green,” Simon says. “It’s weird at first, but ya gotta look farther out instead of the stuff close to us. Then it’s not sobad.”
I take in a deep breath and focus on the coastline. He’s right, it doesn’t affect me asmuch.
Sighing, I lean my head back against the seat and wonder, again, what the hell I’m even doinghere.
The soft hum of the ventilation system and low murmur of voices invade my dreams, dragging me back to consciousness. Sitting up, I try to shake the painkiller-induced grogginess enveloping me. My tongue is parched, like a sponge left in the sun too long. Something wet brushes against my cheek. My right lapel. Lovely. Apparently I drooled all over myself. This day just keeps getting better and better.
The train rolls to a stop and I nudge a still-sleeping Colin. His eyes flutter open. “Oh, hey EvTay.” He narrows his eyes, his lips pulling into a smirk as he points to the corner of my mouth. “You’ve got a little spit there.”
I wipe my jaw on my coat sleeve and stand, stretching while I wait for the passengers blocking the aisle to move. Loopiness aside, I feel better, and reach for my bag as I pass Cyrus.
He snatches it before I can get a hand on it and slings it over his shoulder, shooting a quick glance over at Bryce.
I roll my eyes. He may be mad at me, but he’s not going to let Bryce win whatever pissing match they’re engagedin.
Bryce leads the way through the terminal and out to the sidewalk where brilliant sunshine bounces off gleaming stucco buildings sporting crimson tile roofs. Gnarled limbs of wisteria wrap up trellises, draping blossoms of lavender and white. Soft petals float to the clay tiles below like snowflakes dancing around our ankles. Even though I didn’t live here long, it’s like coming home after spending so much time in the soggy northwest.
We traipse single-file through the borough like some sort of deranged parade, to the nearest commuter terminal. The plan is to head straight to the beach and check in with Jack andLisa.
When we get off the commuter train, I pull Colin aside. “Hey, I’ll meet you guys down there. I’m going to stop by Eddie’s first.”
“I don’t know, Ev, we agreed to stay together.”
“It’s a short detour. I’ll befine.”
He walks up to the others, and a heated discussion breaks out between Colin, Cyrus, and Bryce. Wild gesturing leads to stiff shoulders and a few gazes narrowed in my direction before Bryce stalks off and Colin returns to myside.
“We’re gonna walk you to Eddie’s, but Eddie has to escort you down to the beach after,” Colinsays.
I text Eddie that we’re on our way and follow my friends the two blocks to his apartment. My dad throws open the massive front door before anyone has a chance to knock. Pushing past everyone else, he wraps me in a bear hug, lifting me off the ground.
“It’s good to see you,” he says, voice choked.
Liam and Quinn rush outside as Eddie sets me down. Quinn bypasses me and jumps straight into Bryce’s arms while Liam grabs his hand. “Did you shoot any bad guys today?”
“Again with this?” I askLiam.
I catch the grim set to Cyrus’s mouth out of the corner of my eye. Yeah, so he’s never met my younger half-siblings, and it’s pretty clear Bryce has not only met them, but that they love him. I steal another glance Cyrus’s way, noting the tenseness in his jaw and shoulders, but there’s not much I can do about it. This is just another reminder that Bryce and I share a different history than the one I share withhim.
The kids have both changed so much over the past few months. Quinn is taller and her words are more sure. Liam, too, but the changes in him are more subtle.
Eager to ease some of the tension, I throw my arms wide. “What? No one cares their big sister ishome?”
They abandon Bryce to hugme.
“These are my friends,” I say, hoping that’s still true for all of them. “This is Rainey, Simon, and Cyrus. And this is my brother, Liam, and my sister, Quinn.”
Liam studies the three of them, hazel eyes narrowed, his gaze landing on Rainey’s scar. “What happened to yourface?”
People in the Union don’t usually have scars since they’re so easily fixed, although a few wear them like badges of honor, permanent reminders of a stupid prank someone dared them todo.
“It’s okay,” Rainey says. I gotta admit, I’m curious about the scar myself. “I got into a fight and fell through a window.”
“Cool,” Liam says, voice laced withawe.
Quinn is staring at Cyrus, but if he notices, he doesn’t let on. She approaches him with slow steps, as if he’s a butterfly on a flower in the park. Stopping at his feet, she stares up at him, blinking her pretty blue eyes. He grins, and it’s the first smile I’ve seen on him in weeks. How I’ve missed that smile. When he squats down to her level, she reaches out and touches his whiskers. His smile grows, making my heart stumble in my chest. I’d give anything for that expression directed atme.
A lilting voice coming from behind me draws my attention. I turn and see a stunning woman on the front porch wiping her hands on one of Eddie’s orange kitchen towels.
She makes her way to Bryce, throwing her arms around him. “Good to see you, baby brother.”
She releases Bryce and walks over to Eddie, glancing up at him with pale gray eyes. His hand slides around her waist as if it belongs there.
“Evan this is Talia. Talia, this is my daughter, Evan.”
She reaches out her light brown hand to shake mine. “It’s truly a pleasure to meet you, Evan. I’ve heard so much about you.” Her voice sounds the way honey tastes.
“How...” I say when I find my voice, then stop, realizing I’m being rude. “It’s nice to meetyou.”
“When you texted you all were on your way, I made lunch,” Talia says, ignoring my inappropriateness. “Come inside andeat.”
I know I’ve been a little sponge-brained lately, but I can’t be the only one having an existential crisis over my dad dating Bryce’s sister. CanI?
After my friends head down to the beach and Talia takes the kids to get ice cream, quiet settles over the apartment like a feather floating to the floor. Leaning against the back of the couch, I stare at my biological father, struggling to wrap my head around his new girlfriend.
“How? When?” I ask, gesturing toward the door where Talia just exited.
He scrubs a hand across his face. “I met her when we were trying to figure out what happened toyou.”
“So you decided to start dating my ex-boyfriend’s sister? Isn’t she a little young?”
He cuts his eyes to me and moves his lips as if he’s rolling a marble around in his mouth. “I don’t think my love life is really yours to judge. That said, she’s ten years older than Bryce and only seven years younger thanme.”
This is all so insane. But then what in my life isn’t thesedays?
“Well this is gonna make family holidays awkward.”
“Contrary to what you may think, I’m not trying to ruin yourlife.”
“No,” I mutter, “there’s a madman running around doing that foryou.”
“Speaking of…I’ve been in touch with Captain Jackson, and you still need to stay off the grid. You’ll all be safer if they believe you’re still out in the Ruins.”
“Yeah, we figured as much. Does he know anythingmore?”
Eddie nods. “The memo was tracked to a guy by the name of Walker.”
I think I always knew he was behind the memo, but hearing his name doesn’t help. “So can’t Max arresthim?”
“He hasn’t been able to locatehim.”
Of course not, because that would be too easy. I toy with telling Eddie about Walker’s involvement in the Uprising, but I don’t think that information will make him feel any better.
Eddie walks around to the front of the couch and sits, patting the seat next to him. “How are you feeling?”
I move to join him. “Okay. The doctor had another implant put in. It’s making it hard to think, but it helps with the pain. And then…” I pause wondering if I want to say more. Maybe it’s the drugs, but I decide to go for it. “Cyrus is pretty pissed at me. About Bryce, I mean. I didn’t tell him Bryce was in the northwest, and I think he’s figured out what went on with us, but he won’t discuss it. I wanted to explain, but he said it didn’t matter. And now…I think he might be done with me. That hurts a lot more than my shoulder, and the drugs don’t fix that.” Wow, I upchucked a load there.
Eddie sits back, his arms coming out to rest on the back cushion. “I got to know Cyrus while we were up north waiting for you to wake up. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he cares for you verymuch.”
“He won’t even talk to me though. How can I fix things?”
“I don’t know if this is something you fix like a pair of torn jeans. You need to work through it. I don’t know what all went down with you two, but I can tell you if that boy was done with you, he wouldn’t still behere.”
A small flicker of hope tickles my belly. That makes sense. This isn’t his fight with the Uprising, it’s mine. I remind myself of all the things he said to me in the hospital before Bryce showedup.
“I think…no, I know he’s mad at me, and I’d be hurt and angry, too, if I was in his shoes.” I stare at my hands twisting in my lap. “I mean, I heard about this girl he was hooking up with up there, but I didn’t have to see her. She wasn’t there every day.” With a sigh, I lift my gaze to my dad’s. “I don’t know how we can get past this. Part of me thinks there’s so much to do, maybe it doesn’t matter right now…but I need things to be right between us. I’m lost withouthim.”
Eddie shakes his head. “You’re not, honey, trust me, but I know he means a great deal to you. Recognizing your role in all of this is the first step in figuring itout.”
“So you’re not going to tell me what todo?”
He gives me a wry grin. “Even if I had the answer, this is something you need to figure out on yourown.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
His eyes widen in mock surprise. “What? You actually think I’m right about something? I should record this or no one will believeme.”
I roll myeyes.
He smiles. “You’ve grown up so much in the past year. I’ve always been proud of you, but you are becoming a responsible young woman. Someone your sister will grow up wanting to emulate.”
We’ve both come a long way over the years. He was never around when I was younger, so my stepdad, Joe, was the father I went to for advice. Once Eddie showed up ready to be a parent, I was too angry to let him step into that role. It’s taken a lot for us to get to this place in our relationship.
Somewhere over these past few years, I guess we both grewup.
Seagulls screech above the ocean roar, and the briny air slams into me like a wall. Everyone else took a transport out to the campground, but I needed the walk. Unis spend far too much time not using their bodies. What the hell do they do with all that pent-up energy?
I take a seat on a stone bench on the boardwalk and untie my shoes, slipping them off along with my socks, and toss them in mybag.
It’s much warmer here than up north thanks to the sun. Sun I thought might not exist at the coast. I hoist my duffel over my shoulder and grab Evan’s bag, making the trek across the sand to the others, gathered beside a largetent.
I peek in, because I can’t help myself, and it’s nicer on the inside than most homes in the Ruins. A huge light with dangling crystals hangs from the ceiling, casting rainbows on the white canvas walls. A polished wooden counter stretches the length of the tent, and several people with nothing better to do laugh with the guy standing behindit.
A pretty blonde next to a douchebag-looking dude stands close to Bryce. The girl eyes me and smiles, showing me a row of straight gleaming teeth. The guy tips his chin at me, only furthering my assumption of his douchy-ness.
He reaches out to shake. “Jack.”
I nod, my hands full of duffel bags, and he drops his arm back to hisside.
The girl’s smile broadens. “I’m Lisa.” I swear her words bounce.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” I say with another nod. “Both ofyou.”
Jack turns and heads toward a couple of tents, gripping Lisa’s hand in his. She keeps turning and glancing at me over her shoulder, making me wonder exactly what she’s heard aboutme.
We stop in front of a large tent. “You guys are in here,” Jacksays.
Simon pushes his way forward, going inside. “I’ll take this one,” he says, tossing his bag onto one of twocots.
I follow him in and set mine on the other and heft Evan’s bag, wondering where she’s staying.
Rainey slides up next to me and grabs the beige canvas duffel from me. “I gotit.”
Lisa yelps from outside the tent. “Evan’s on her way. I’ll go gether.”
I duck back outside just in time to see her traipsing off through loose sand, her gait like a sloppy drunk. My gaze follows her until she becomes a small dot on the boardwalk, but even from here I can make out her squeals as she greetsEvan.
With a sigh, I turn and head back into my tent to settlein.
A different atmosphere takes over as we eat dinner, one less tense than earlier. Maybe adding Jack and Lisa to the mix changed things. Or maybe it’s me avoiding Bryce. Whatever it is, it’s welcomed.
The air cools as sunset approaches, but it’s still comfortable enough to sit outside. Evan sits between Colin and Lisa, far away from the jackass across from me. I cut him a few glares, and he glares right back. Guess he doesn’t like me either.
“Hey can you pass the rolls?” Simon asks around a mouthful of salmon.
Rainey reaches in front of me to grab the rolls and shoves them over to Simon.
I bite into my first burger, and juicy, charbroiled meat hits my tongue. Damn. I might’ve just found something in the Union better than hot showers. Shit this is good. For a few minutes, I don’t think about my girlfriend sleeping with dickhead and instead focus on the best food I’ve ever eaten.
After dinner, we head over to an isolated concrete ring on the beach with a roaring fire. I drop down to the sand and lean back against a log, closing my eyes, letting the warmth of the flames lick myface.
Colin tells the others what he and Evan were up to since they parted ways. I’ve already heard all this from Evan so my attention wanders. Other fires burn up and down the beach, each with their own campers gathered around. Snapping sparks chase after the smoke climbing up into the night.
Evan’s voice draws me back to our group and the conversation at hand. “So, anyway, we joined the Uprising. I thought we could learn about their plans from within, but they don’t really tell the recruits anything.”
Her statement only reinforces her habit of doing shit without first thinking it through. Listening to Rainey fill in some details, I discover in addition to not having a plan to get out, they didn’t even know how to join up without raising suspicions. If I didn’t already know it before, now I’m sure there’s no way I can leave her on herown.
“So what about you?” Colin asks, and it takes me a second to realize he’s talking to me. “How’d you end up as our camp commander?”
I take a deep breath and launch into my story. “After parting ways at the footbridge, we hiked northeast for a week before hiring a ride. We rode for another week, walked some more, and eventually ended up at a town near the border where we could lay low for a while. Not long after we settled in, I hooked up with a group of people from the Northern Territories. They liked to drink and talk and were soon sharing stories about the Uprising.”
I skip over the part where I met Simon and decided to find Evan. “Over the summer, my brother thought joining the Uprising might be the best way to find out what they were up to. Based on what I learned from my new friends, the only way to learn anything valuable was to be a leader. Armed with a little insider information, I aced training camp. That, coupled with the fact that I had no family or other attachments and a convincing story of my hatred for the Union, I was fast tracked for leadership, making assistant commander in recordtime.”
I spend some time explaining about the Uprising, the role of the Mexican cartels, and how I was transferred to another camp when I was promoted to commander. “I definitely gained useful intel, but the things I had to do and oversee made me wonder if I could stick it out. Turns out a buddy of mine was a leader at the new camp, a guy named Mateo. He’s a hired gun without any loyalty to the Uprising, and what was going on didn’t sit right with him either.”
I lean forward, resting my forearms on my knees. “He came to me with a proposal on my first day to end the Hole, a disturbing practice of isolating children underground to force compliance. We switched from punishing recruits to rewarding desired behavior, and Mateo began replacing the sentries’ bone-drilling ammunition with blanks. Neither of us could understand the logic behind shooting scared kids who just wanted to gohome.”
“Wow,” Lisa says, turning toward me with an expression ofawe.
I’m not sure how to process that or what tosay.
Thankfully Colin saves me. “What about you?” he asks Lisa. “What’ve you two been upto?
Jack leans back and stretches his arm across the log. “We kept doing what we were doing before you left. We met with my dad every couple days, but he wasn’t coming up with much either. I was getting frustrated.”
“Someone care to fill in us latecomers?” Raineysays.
“Oh, sorry,” Lisa says. “Jack’s dad’s a detective, too. I guess I figured Bryce told you all this bynow.”
“Some, but not all. Okay, I think I got it now. Go on,” Rainey says with a wave of herhand.
“We spent months searching for any lead we could follow, even ones that led to dead ends, but there was nothing, which was weird. Nothing could be that clean without very careful planning. But then I stopped looking for a connection and instead started observing everything, and we began to see stuff.”
“What kinda stuff?” Colin asks, leaning forward to peer aroundEvan.
“We’d been trying to find Walker or anyone connected to him but kept coming up empty. So I switched it up and looked for anything that seemed off, putting aside for a moment Walker was the target.”
“Huh?” Evan says, her eyebrows drawing together.
“Let’s say you’re looking for a guy with blue shoes. You watch for blue shoes, but you see guys with shoes in every color except blue. And that’s strange because surely at least one person is going to be wearing blue shoes, right? The fact that no one’s wearing blue shoes is a sign something’s wrong. So you stop looking for blue shoes and just observe people. Before long, you realize the guy you’ve been looking for is there, but he’s not wearing blue shoes, he’s wearing a shirt that says ‘Blu Shoos,’ you know, like theband.”
“Wait, so are you looking for shoes or not?” Evan asks, and I’m with her on this, I don’t getit.
“Go back to sleep, EvTay,” Colinsays.
“No, I think I get it,” Rainey says. “So once you stopped looking for something in particular, and started generally observing, what did youfind?”
Jack smiles. “We discovered a lot, actually. Low-level government officials making little mistakes that on the surface didn’t look like much, but when added up, formed a pattern. Things like unsent requisitions, misplaced approvals for supplies, sloppy work, stuff that wouldn’t be noticed by anyone not looking forit.”
Now he has my full attention, and I lean forward, locking eyes with him. “What kinds of requisitions and approvals?”
Jack nods, probably sensing I’m putting the pieces together. “For things no one would ever connect to a movement. Dairy products, toiletries, everyday stuff. It flies under the radar because it’s so mundane.”
“But it’s moving Union money out into the Uprising where it’s needed,” I say as it all falls into place.
“Precisely,” Jack says. “And it all fits with what you and Bryce discovered backeast.”
I suppress a growl. Being reminded that Bryce was alone with her is enough to make me want to beat the shit out ofhim.
Bryce leans forward and rests his forearms on his knees. “Evan and I met with her uncle while we were there.”
My hands ball into fists. I don’t even want him to say hername.
“He mentioned similar stuff going on along with a high turnover rate among junior staff members, people he wasn’t directly involved with. Then I staked out Peter Benton’s place.”
He turns toward Rainey and explains, “The mayor of the borough back there. We’ve been watching him off and on for the past year.” He returns his attention to the fire. “I noticed a stream of people coming and going and eventually discovered they were getting forged Union credentials. After Evan left, I stuck around the Eastern Province and continued my investigation.”
My head swivels to Evan, who’s busy chewing her bottom lip. Why did she leave? She never told me and I never asked. Based on the way Bryce looks at her like a wounded puppy, my money’s on him fucking up. Not sure if I should be happy about that or pissed.
“We were scheduled to meet with her uncle the following week,” Bryce continues. “I kept the appointment and filled him in on what I knew. In the meantime, he’d been doing some digging around of his own, but he didn’t have anything concrete. We agreed to meet weekly and compare notes.”
He stands and grabs a couple pieces of wood off the pile next to the ring, and tosses them on. Sparks swarm and hover before fading. “Over several weeks, I discovered a pattern of couriers arriving and leaving Benton’s place. The same teams of couriers showed up a couple of days in a row then disappeared for a week, before returning. It didn’t take long to connect the dots that they were from the Ruins and getting credentials to bring people into the Union.”
As much as I hate the asshole, I can’t deny he’s smart.
“I noticed this guy on my one of my early stakeouts,” Bryce says, jerking a thumb toward Simon as he resumes his seat in the sand. “I cornered him outside the apartment and got him to talk tome.”
“How’d you do that?” Evanasks.
Simon shrugs. “He can be persuasive.”
Evan cuts her eyes to Bryce, who throws her a cheesy grin. Asshat.
“Simon told me he was working independently of the other couriers, and that he usually helps people from the Northern Territories but also a handful of people from the Ruins.”
With that, I push up and wander over to the other side of the fire. I stare at the flames for several minutes while theytalk.
Whatever went on between Bryce and Evan appears to be over, but I can’t seem to get past it. I can’t close my eyes without picturing them together.
There’s nothing more I need to hear tonight, and without another word, I turn and head back to mytent.
Lying in bed, tears stubbornly fall regardless of how angrily I wipe them away. No matter what Eddie said, I can’t shake the feeling Cyrus is done withme.
I push all thoughts of Cyrus aside and force myself to focus on the conversation around the fire earlier tonight. My eyelids get heavy before I can sort it all out, and soon, messy jumbled dreams that come in fits and starts take center stage.
A loud scream tears me from scenes of war and death, and I bolt up, realizing I’m the one screaming.
“Hey, you okay?” Rainey mumbles next tome.
“Yeah, sorry. Go back to sleep.”
Our tent is one of the “honeymoon” tents with a king sized bed instead of cots. I guess Colin wasn’t too hip on sharing a bed with Bryce, so Rainey and I got the fancydigs.
Sleep is no longer an option, so I roll out of bed and dress in a pair of lounge pants and a giant sweatshirt I took from Eddie’s closet. I slip outside and make my way down to the water’sedge.
The hard, cold sand beneath my feet makes me shiver, and a huge wave crashes ashore, spraying me with saltwater, sending me scurrying to the mess tent. I pull my hands inside the sleeves of the sweatshirt and wrap them around a mug of coffee, taking it to an outside table.
“Mornin’ EvTay,” Colin says a few minutes later, dropping next to me with his own coffee.
We sit in quiet contemplation until the others make a gradual migration from tent to table, surrounding us with bodies and superficial chatter. With my head still too foggy to participate, I’m content to nurse my coffee in silence from the end of the table, staring at a line of ants climbing the sea wall behindme.
“We need to talk,” Lisa announces, drawing my attention away from the parade of insects. A slight scowl mars her usually cheerful face as her gaze sweeps our group. She pushes back and dumps her tray on the conveyor belt before leading us across the sand to a fishing pier, jutting a quarter-mile into the ocean.
We climb creaky steps, joining a handful of avid fishermen, the only others crazy enough to be out here on a cold, gray morning. Clouds hang heavy in the sky, and soft waves tumble ashore in a hypnotic shush. Only the screech of the seagulls disrupts the tranquility.
I lean on the weathered railing and stare south at a scattering of surfers paddling out to catch a ride back in. As flat as the surf is, they’ll be waiting awhile.
“Have you ever done that?” Rainey asks, nodding toward the surfers.
“No. I grew up in the east. Some people surf there, but not like here. Here, it’s almost a religion.”
“Alright,” Lisa says from behind me, clapping her hands. “We need aplan.”
Rainey and I turn to face her. The others are lined up along the railing, those from the Union on my left and those from the Ruins on my right. Segregation at its finest.
“Do we even have enough information to be making any plans worth pursuing?” Iask.
Lisa shakes her head. “No, but we need a plan to move forward fromhere.”
“We need weapons,” Cyrussays.
Rainey nods. “We definitely need weapons, but we also need to find out more about the people they’re bringing in from the Ruins and the overall plan of attack. Cyrus and I only learned what was required as commanders to operate our own camps. We don’t have the big picture.”
“Cyrus knew about the drug cartels,” Lisasays.
“Only what Mateo toldme.”
“If he’s a hired gun, why can’t we hire him?” Lisaasks.
Cyrus runs a hand through his hair. “That’s actually a goodidea.”
She beams, her brown eyes shining, and he smiles back. I feel a little stab of envy that he’ll smile for her but won’t even talk tome.
“Bryce and I can head back east and get more info on who’s coming in and why,” Jack says. “I have a bad feeling about all this, like they’re trying to sneak operatives in. With the weapons smuggling we discovered, they could be building a stealtharmy.”
Rainey taps her finger on her chin. “If we get Mateo and whatever he knows about the Uprising, if Bryce and Jack get a list of everyone coming in, and we get our hands on some weapons, we might actually be able to do something.”
“Cool,” Colin says. “We have three immediate objectives and eight of us. Let’s team up and get itdone.”
“I’ll work on getting weapons,” Cyrussays.
“From where?” I ask, forgetting for a moment we’re not speaking, but thoughts of him returning to the Ruins knot my stomach.
“I think our best option is Mexico.”
Cold fear climbs through me — that’s even worse than the Ruins.
Before I can try to talk him out of it, Rainey says, “I’ll go with you. I speak fluent Spanish.” She glances at Cyrus, excitement blossoming on both of their faces.
“You’re both crazy.” Mounting panic makes my voice rise. “You can’t go down there.”
“No, they’re right,” Jack says. “Mexico is the best place to get our hands on what we need. Something small, powerful, accurate, easy to use and conceal. We need more than guns, though, we need a way to take out larger targets, depending on what wefind.”
As much as I hate the idea, I have to admit, as former Uprising commanders, Rainey and Cyrus are the best positioned to not only know what’s needed, but blend in with that guerrilla subculture.
“That just leaves finding Mateo. Colin and I can handle that,” Isay.
Cyrus pushes off the railing and closes the distance between us in a matter of seconds. The suddenness of it startles me, and I step back. It’s the biggest reaction he’s had to anything in days. My gaze rises to meet his, and I recognize the fear threaded through his eyes before he assembles the unreadable expression of his I’ve come to know and loathe.
“No.” His tone is quiet, but his clenching jaw means he’s working hard to keep it under control.
“It makes the most sense. Like you and Rainey going to Mexico. Colin and I know that Uprisingcamp.”
He reaches a hand up toward his head before dropping it to his side. “You were shot less than a month ago. Shot. You’re supposed to be taking iteasy.”
“How would you even know that? You’ve barely said two words to me in more than aweek.”
He closes his eyes, his fists balling at his sides, and lets out a slow breath. When he opens his eyes again, he stares over my shoulder, as if he can’t even stand to look at me. “You’re a deserter. Both of you. They don’t chase deserters, but if anyone recognizes you, they will shoot you, no questions asked.”
“I’ll go,” Lisasays.
“Lisa, I don’t think—” Jack starts.
“I can do this,” she says, uncharacteristically cutting him off. “I was out there with you guys looking for Evan. Plus Simon can come with me. He knows the Ruins.”
“I’m up for it,” Simonsays.
Colin scowls. “What aboutme?”
“You need to remain here with Evan,” Jack says. “No one’s left alone.”
“What?” Colin yells. “Why do I have to be stuck babysitting her? Why can’t she stay with Eddie?”
“Because,” Lisa says. “She listens toyou.”
“Hey! Stop talking about me like I’m not even here.” My gaze travels around my friends, and one by one, they glanceaway.
Anger burns through my chest and frustrated tears threaten to betray me. Before I start crying, I turn and head back across thepier.
“Nice going, Colin,” Lisa says behind me, her footsteps picking up speed as she rushes to catch up. She falls in step next to me as I hit the soft sand. “Colin shouldn’t have saidthat.”
I carve a path closer to the water. “But it’s true, isn’t it? No one wants to be stuck with me. I’m a liability.”
“Ev…” She pauses for a long while, and when she speaks again, her words are slow, as if carefully chosen. “We came close to losing you twice now. Sometimes you don’t think before you act, and it doesn’t always work out the way you want itto.”
Willow’s little body lying bleeding on the forest floor fills my mind. Shit, I wouldn’t want to be teamed with me either.
“I know he was gruff, but Cyrus meanswell.”
My head snaps up. Why is she talking about him as if she knows him and I don’t?
“He loves you,” she says softly.
I narrow my eyes. She’s crazy. He barely tolerates me, and there’s something bordering on angry hatred just below the surface. It’s my fault, though. I slept with Bryce.
“He hates me,” I mumble.
Lisa sighs. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you, Ev. Like if I cut you, I swear he’d be the one bleeding.”
“He might feel protective of me, but it doesn’t mean he’s still in love with me.” I turn to stare at the waves. The surf moves in, reaching up cold fingers to nudge my toes. My feet sink down into the sand as the water rushes out below them, making me feel as if I’m the one moving.
“We need you at a hundred percent. You’re the glue holding us together.”
My head whips around and I gape at her. “What?”
She gives me a slow smile. “You’re the common denominator in our little band of rebels. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t all be here. Well except Simon, he’s only here for Rainey.”
“That doesn’t make me glue, especially if no one wants to be stuck withme.”
“Yes, you’re stubborn, opinionated, and even a little bossy at times, but you’re brave. Remember how you jumped into a raging creek to save Bryce? You didn’t even think aboutit.”
“Right. I’m impulsive, I think we’ve establishedthat.”
“That’s not what I said. I said it doesn’t always work out the way you want. But, when you do take the time to plan first, you come up with good ideas. Bryce said you figured out how to get into your uncle’s place, and Colin told me how you planned the escape when those guys kidnapped him. So, you just need to do more planning and less blind reacting.”
Her words spin around in my head for a minute and I realize she’s right. With a sigh, I nod. “Okay.”
“Good. Now…let’s go see Eddie and get some money. We’re going to need a lot ofit.”
My eyes open and fading twinkling lights come into focus, dimly illuminating the white walls of our tent. How the hell did I get here? The snoring body next to me doesn’t sound like Rainey. I turn my head to see Colin splayed out besideme.
The last thing I remember was sitting around the bonfire listening to everyone else talk about their plans. Colin must have carried me in here after I fell asleep. The fact that he could drag me to bed without me having any recollection of it is scary as hell. Cyrus is right, I have no business going out to the Ruins.
I try to clear the static from my brain and remember what was discussed last night before I dozed off. Rainey and Cyrus were leaving early this morning. They’re renting a sailboat to head down to Mexico.
Colin lets out a ripping snore, and I fling my pillow at hishead.
“What?” he grumbles, opening one eye to look at me before closing it again.
“Oh, were you sleeping? Sorry.”
He flips me off, which only makes me laugh.
“Are you still mad atme?”
He sighs and rolls over, propping his head up on his forearms. “No. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did. I was frustrated.”
“I’m sorry, too, for being such a pain. And thanks for bringing me in here last night. Scary I slept throughit.”
“Wasn’t me. I was gonna wake your ass up and make you walk. Cyrus carriedyou.”
Cyrus carried me? That simple, yet thoughtful gesture blends with what Lisa said. Maybe he doesn’t hate me. But I hate the way things are between us right now, and I know there’s a very real chance he won’t comeback.
Suddenly, I need to see him before he leaves and dash over to the tent he shares with Simon.
Simon’s out cold, but Cyrus’s cot is empty and his duffel bag isgone.
Heart pounding, I turn and race down to the water, hoping to catch them before they sailoff.
He left without saying goodbye.
I slump down to the sand and pull my legs to my chest, wrapping my arms aroundthem.
Things are so awful between us now. He has to comeback.
I need to tell him how much I lovehim.
The unevenly paved Mexico streets are as jacked up as any out in the Ruins. Rainey and I make our way past colorful buildings with chipping paint and rusted railings surrounding precarious balconies. But at least the ground isn’t moving.
“You’re looking a little less ripe, there, Cyrus,” Rainey says with her raspy voice.
I cut my eyes to her, but don’t respond. I’ve never been as sick in my life as I was on that boat. All I want to do is get to a hotel and lie down. Aside from the sea sickness, we had an uneventful trip. No one paid any attention to us when we docked, and we’ve walked for several hours now without being accosted.
Since we’re posing as a couple, when we approach the center of town, I reach down and take Rainey’s hand. It’s even smaller than Evan’s and feels foreign resting inmine.
Rainey lifts her gaze to mine and smirks. Yeah, she’s about as thrilled with this ruse as I am. We enter the lobby of a stained green two-story hotel with crooked, worn shutters. A stone floor lists to one side as we make our way to the registration desk where a guy with a thick mustache and a bright orange button up shirt greets us. He says something in Spanish with enthusiasm, smiling so hard his cheeks nearly touch hisears.
Rainey responds, indicating me and continues on in a rapid fire conversation. She hands him a few bills and he gives her akey.
I follow her back outside, carrying our bags. One duffel is filled with a handful of clothes and toiletries and the others are stuffed with more bags to carry guns and ammo back to the Union. Money is sewn in hidden pockets in our fatigues, a knife is strapped to my ankle, and a gun sits in the waistband of my jeans.
Rainey heads down an alley only wide enough for us to fit through single-file. Behind the hotel is a staircase that wobbles with each step. Great. She stops at a door at the end of a narrow balcony with only a suspect railing to keep us from tumbling down the rocks to the beach a hundred feet below.
We enter a dark room smelling of vomit and dirty socks. A queen-sized bed is against the wall and a beat-up upholstered chair and ottoman sit in the corner.
“We’re supposed to be a couple visiting from the Northern Territories,” she says. “I couldn’t very well ask for twobeds.”
Rainey is about half my size, but there’s no way I’m letting her sleep anywhere but thebed.
“Okay, I’ll take the chair.”
She snorts. “You don’t have to do that. Your virtue is safe with me. Plus, you’re not exactly mytype.”
My head swings her way. “Wrong plumbing?”
“Ego much? Wow, just because I don’t want to get all sweaty and horizontal with you, I must not be into guys. Is it really that rare for a hetero girl not to fling herself atyou?”
I roll my eyes, not in the mood for this, but if we’re going to share a bed, might as well get this conversation over with. “No. It was the way you said it. I don’t know, forget I said anything.”
“You’re not bad to look at or anything, I just prefer my guys to be…less pathetically in love with someoneelse.”
“Point made. I’m gonna lie down until my stomach stops heaving. Join me or don’t.”
I flop on the bed and close my eyes, still feeling the gentle, and then not-so-gentle, rocking of the waves until I dozeoff.
I’m still in a funk over the way Cyrus and I left things at breakfast, and end up only picking at my food. After everyone is done eating, Colin and I pack our stuff and accompany the others to the train station.