We’re given coordinates to go to, pictures of who we’re looking for, and directions on where to take them. We pass along files and packets with their fake passports or ID or whatever else they need for the leg of our trip. That’s all.
In the ten years since I’d been operational, only once did my team have to fight an abuser.
But I knew there were times it happened.
I was proud of this part of my life. I was proud of 411’s mission, of what we stood for, and now the Network was being threatened. The Bennett family couldn’t know about us. I’m certain they were the ones we hid people from sometimes.
My heart raced. My palms were sweaty.
My vision blurred.
I was panicking, like earlier, but this was on steroids. I couldn’t breathe. The room was spinning.
I was feverish. I was cold.
I was falling.
The ground rushed up at me until arms caught me instead. I looked up, and though the room still rushed around me, I saw a firm jaw and corded neck muscles.
Tanner had come back for me…
He carried me out of the room, through a hallway, and up a flight of stairs.
Tanner was taking me to his room…until no. We went back through that same set of doors I’d entered earlier. Black and gold swirled around me as I tried to see where we were. We went into a back bedroom, and he laid me down on that shaggy sheepskin blanket. Recognizing the glass balcony doors behind him, my teeth started clattering.
Tanner hadn’t come for me. Kai had.
As if hearing my thoughts, he looked down. Those dark and almost soulless eyes stared right into mine. He didn’t blink. Nothing showed. No irritation. No concern. Not even surprise.
I grew warmer by the second, and began shivering.
He felt my forehead, pushing my hair out of the way. His eyebrows pulled together. Confusion showed for a second before he turned and said something to someone behind us. His voice droned in my head, vibrating in a deep baritone. It sounded like I was underwater and he was above, talking to someone on a boat near us. There was a buzzing sound, like an engine.
I wondered again what was going on… And then there was nothing.
I woke in a bed with the softest sheets I’d ever felt, and drool. So much drool.
It took a second for me to catch up, but once I did, I bolted upright with a gasp.
It was pitch-black outside.
Glass doors. The same modern bedroom with an entire apartment just beyond the doorway and the soft glow of a light on in the other room.
I was in Kai Bennett’s room, in his bed.
Could I close my eyes, go back to sleep, and wake up in Oz? Was that an option? I’d take it in a second if so.
The sound of a page turning came from the next room. Then I heard a chair push back.
Soft footsteps came until he stood in the doorway.
The light was on behind him, casting him in full shadow, so I couldn’t see any details except his very trim and toned silhouette.
Why’d someone so evil have to be that good looking?
“Why’d you take me?” I shifted to a sitting position, pulling the sheets around me and noting that I was in a different shirt and wore boxer briefs over my underwear. He’d changed my clothes.
That was low on the list of problems, but… “Where are my clothes?”
He let out a soft and tired-sounding sigh. “You stumbled going into your room and hit your head. My brother didn’t notice the blood trickling down your back, but my guards did. They alerted me.” He nodded. “Your clothes were bloody. They had to be changed.”
Now that he mentioned it, my head was pounding.
I touched the back of my head and hissed, feeling a large bruise. The fact that I hadn’t noticed that spoke volumes. I was too consumed by everything else.
And speaking of that, on to my second question. “What do you know about 411?”
He answered without hesitation, crossing his arms over his chest and propping one shoulder against the doorframe. “I know they helped hide you and your mother. I know they’re relatively new, but they’re effective. They have heavy funders backing them, and I know they set up one man for murder, who is now in prison. I know your employers might mean well right now, but they are dangerous.”
I blinked a few times, taking that in.
I winced on the inside when he mentioned the frame job. That had been an operative who went rogue, but no one fought to defend the guy.
I scowled. “He tried to murder his wife.”
“But he didn’t.”
I snorted. “You’re sticking up for the one slightly innocent monster? You?”
Watch your tone, Riley. You forget who you’re talking to.
I could hear my mother’s voice admonishing me, and I bit my lip as soon as the words were out. It was too late, though. I waited, watching to see if this infamous murdering monster would come toward me now.
He didn’t move, just murmured, “You are not a good enough fighter to speak like that to me.”
That same shiver went up my back. There was a deadly warning in there too.
I swallowed over a lump. “I’m sorry.”
But was I? Was I really?
He had murdered. Cord. His father. Brooke?
I frowned. “You’re looking for Brooke? That’s why you kidnapped me?”
“Among other reasons, yes.” He lifted his head again, straightening from the doorframe and taking a step toward me. Just one step—enough to be imposing, slightly intimidating, but still giving me space to breathe so I didn’t scare away.
He was so measured, so calculating.
“My sister contacted you the day before yesterday. I want to know where she is.”
All the oxygen left the room, and my head started spinning again. “You think—what? No.”
“Yes.” His voice was hard now. Gone was the subtlety. “Brooke asked me to keep tabs on you. She cares about you. You work for a network that specializes in helping people disappear, and I know she was desperate. She went to you; I know this much.”
He took another step toward me.
I sat up straighter, rolling to my knees and then to my heels, ready to spring if I needed to.
He squatted next to the bed so he was level with me, and now I could see him. He’d shifted out of the shadows, and I saw how fierce his eyes were. They blazed with anger and determination.
His perfect lips barely moved as he grated out, “You will tell me where she is.”
I swallowed again. The lump in my throat had doubled in size.
He wasn’t going to take no, but I had to try. “Before I saw your sister on the news, I hadn’t really heard much from her since you drove her away from Hillcrest. I swear to you that’s the truth.”
His eyes narrowed. “I know you know where she is, but don’t worry. If you won’t tell me, I know others who will.” He stood abruptly and went back to the main room.
I scrambled out of bed and padded after him.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I don’t think anyone could’ve been.
I thought he had been reading a book, maybe looking over files for his business. I’d been sleeping in his bed, and he was waiting with a glass of wine beside a fire. Something cozy like that.
I was so wrong.
As I got to the doorway, I saw them, and someone started screaming.
It was me. I knew it was me, but I didn’t hear it that way. I heard someone else scream from far away, even though I was the only one who had her mouth hanging open, the only one who started vomiting right there on the floor.
I fell down, not feeling a thing, as I couldn’t bear the scene in front of me.
He had four Hiders there.
I recognized them by the way they were dressed: all in black and all with the same pin we wore to signal who we were. It was the one thing survivors were told to look for, a penguin. As my senses came back to me, I knew these were the four Hiders dispatched to rescue me.
Their hands were bound behind them, and they lay on the floor, their feet crossed over each other, bound around the ankles. Rags had been stuffed in their mouths, and all of them looked bloodied and bruised.
That sick feeling slammed back into my chest again, and I bent over, emptying the little that remained in my stomach.
I wretched in a corner, and no one made a move.
There were three guards standing behind the four Hiders. Kai stood off to the side. They all waited for me to finish. No one had a look of disgust or irritation—just patience, and that sent my stomach hurling once again.
“Are you done?” Kai asked a few seconds after my last round.
I didn’t trust what I would say, so I didn’t look at him. I didn’t respond.
That same softness as before. Damn him. I felt him pulling, chiding me for not paying attention, and feeling that power I hated come over me, I looked at him. I couldn’t refuse. My body reacted without my permission.
His eyes were hooded. He gestured to my co-workers. “You know where my sister is. I know this. You know this. Perhaps even these four know, so I will give you an option. You tell me where she is, and I will let your friends go.” His head tilted to the side. “I will let them live, if you tell me right now where she is.”
He was delusional.
He was mad.
He was cruel.
“I’m not fucking lying!” I spat. “I don’t know where she is!”
Let these people live. Let them go. Let them be free.