I held my breath, worried they’d do just that.
“I don’t know.” Tanner expelled a sudden rush of air. His eyes were bleak, flicking up to mine before sliding to the window. “She just changed. She seemed happy, bubbly, and then nothing. Something happened. Whatever it was, that’s why she’s gone.”
“Because she’s scared of Ka—”
“Stop!” Tanner said sharply. He glared at Jonah, controlling his voice. “Family first, Jo.”
Jonah’s eyes clasped shut a second. He raised a hand, rubbing his forehead before letting it fall to his side again. He sighed. “Yeah. Right. Yeah. My bad.” His eyes were bleak when he glanced at me. “Sorry, Riley.”
It’d been building, and then nothing. A gate slammed down, stopping the flow.
Disappointment filled me, but I had a feeling I’d be in this car for another few hours. Another opportunity might present itself.
The stop was sudden.
We were whizzing along, and then suddenly our vehicle veered to the left, then right, and we skidded to a halt. I grabbed my armrest to keep from falling over, and after the second veer, Jonah slammed an arm over my chest, cementing me in place. The two guards were holding on themselves, but trying to watch out for Tanner and Jonah at the same time.
“What the hell?” Tanner said once we were at a complete stop, but he should’ve held his breath.
The doors flew open. The guards jumped out, guns already drawn, and they stood point for a second. Then, they put their guns back in their holsters and leaned down.
Almost speaking in unison, they said, “Mr. Bennett, please exit the vehicle.”
Jonah and Tanner shared a look, both frowning, but they got out.
I’d started to follow Jonah when the door behind me slammed shut, then locked, and the guard facing me bent down. He nodded behind me. “Not you, ma’am.”
The door behind me opened again. I turned to see Kai Bennett getting inside, taking the seat Tanner had vacated.
A guard stood outside his door, but Kai motioned to him. “I’ll be fine. Go in the front.”
The door shut.
“What’s going on?”
Kai didn’t answer, but he didn’t need to. The front doors opened. The vehicle dipped down as two men got inside, and a second later, we were moving forward again.
I twisted to look behind.
Tanner and Jonah were standing on the side of the road. One vehicle remained with them, along with four guards, but the rest were following us.
Kai sighed, taking out his phone. “Change of plans.” His dark eyes came to rest on me, and I tried not to feel the weight of them. His eyebrows dipped down momentarily before they cleared and the same impassive expression came over him.
He turned his attention to his phone. “Sit back, Riley. No matter your worries, you are fine, and you will be fine.”
This guy—I wanted to yell at him, scream at him. I wanted to rail that what he was doing wasn’t “fine” and I had plenty to “worry” about.
But I didn’t.
Because I wasn’t a complete idiot.
Then—fuck it. I guess I was. “Say that to the Hider you killed,” I spat.
I looked out the window, biting down on my tongue. I’d already messed up. I shouldn’t have said that. It was like poking a bear, or a panther. A very dangerous and deadly panther.
He was Brooke’s brother.
I tried to tell myself that, calm myself down a little bit.
Brooke’s brother. He did care for her. Or I hoped he did. He had taken her out of school because he wanted her with him, and I remembered that slight pause before he got into the SUV when I’d first seen him. He had been worried about Brooke.
He was capable of that emotion, at least.
Who was I kidding?
Why was I kidding myself? That was a better question.
His response was quiet. “I didn’t kill your Hider.”
“What?” I felt the blood draining from my face.
His eyes were still hooded, but tired. I saw the bags under them.
“We rigged it, fastened a blood bag under his hat. The gun was blank, but the force of the air was enough to puncture the bag. Your man knew ahead of time what would happen. He was to play dead or the next bullet would be real. He played dead. Your reaction sold it the best.” His lip tugged up for just a second before falling back. “Thank you for that.”
“Wha—” That made no sense. “Why would you do that?”
“As of three hours ago, we let the other Hiders go. We felt your Network needed further motivation. Your man was kept isolated like you. He’s still with us, but I’ve no doubt the others relayed that we already killed one man, and we’d have no problem killing you next.”
“Why, though? They were already looking for Brooke.” I swallowed over a knot. “Weren’t they?”
“They gave us a time and place to meet, but it was too soon. They found my sister too quickly.”
I nodded. “Because it’s not true, you mean? That’s what you’re saying.”
“Letting the other Hiders out wasn’t for your Network. It was for one person in your Network.”
My mind jumped ahead.
“For Blade.” Because…
“My information tells me he’s in love with you. If the Brooke they found is fake, he’ll find the real one.” He held up his phone. “And he says he did. He sent me new coordinates for a meeting.”
Blade was in love with me?
Sadness hit me first. Not shock.
That told me everything.
Maybe I knew, in a back part of my mind. Maybe I’d known for a while and had shoved it back there so I didn’t have to deal with it.
I looked away. I couldn’t bring myself to face this man, this monster that might look like a goddamn angel, but was most definitely a murderer. He’d lied about killing that man, this time. But there’d been others. It didn’t matter.
And he knew about Blade. He’d used Blade. He’d used someone I cared about against me, and according to his brothers, it was the same thing he was doing to his sister. Brooke still cared for me. Tanner and Jonah had said as much, and Kai was using me to find her. Against her wishes.
“Fuck you,” I gutted out. I couldn’t stop myself.
A rage built in me. It bloomed, filling my chest.
“Fuck you,” I said it again, blinking to clear my vision.
“You didn’t know about his feelings?”
My throat burned.
It wasn’t his place to make me face it, to force the time I’d have to deal with it. That wasn’t his place.
I didn’t reply. I didn’t trust myself right now.
“You don’t love him back.”
Even that statement, because it was a statement, not a question, infuriated me.
I rounded on him, my eyes blazing. “It’s not your place.”
He studied me, not reacting. I felt his gaze over every inch of my body, and he almost lazily looked back up to meet my eyes. His head tilted to the side.
“No, it’s not. But you’re forgetting your place.”
I felt slapped.
He was right.
He murdered people. I saved them.
I almost scoffed until he added softly, “I will do anything to find my sister, and love is the best motivation there is.”
I had looked away, but damn him. I lifted my eyes, against my wishes. As always, something about him drew me in, his words lured me.
Our eyes locked. I could almost hear the jail cell click in place, with me on one side and him on the other. He dangled the key in front of me, laughing, and I was helpless to stop listening to him, hopeless to find a way out.
That’s how I felt until his next words washed over me.
“I thought at first to use you to find my sister, but seeing you, I knew you would never turn against Brooke. Because of love. You love her. I don’t know if it’s as a friend, as a sister, or because she brought a moment of good into your life, but for whatever reason, I know you are loyal. I respect that, but if I can’t use you in one way, I will use you in another. There are always angles.”
He tipped his head forward, his eyes almost admonishing me. “I’m very good at my job, and there are always ways to get what I want. Finding my sister is what I want.” Right now.
He didn’t say the words, but I heard them.
There was no judgment in what he had said. He talked to me as if he were educating a student, filling me in, letting me know what to expect from him.
Maybe that’s what he was doing?
He’d told me I was a surprise to him last night.
Maybe I needed to turn off the emotions and listen to him as a Hider. My training said no emotions. I was embarrassed because in that regard, I knew he was outdoing me. He was winning. I didn’t know quite what the battle was, but I knew I was losing.
“Blade sent you new coordinates for Brooke then?”
He loved his sister. Perhaps I could turn the tables? Get him to talk.
He smiled at me, and I knew he was laughing. I saw it in his eyes.
“I’ve been doing this all my life. You’re playing catch-up, but it is fun to see.”
He sat back, turning away and pulling his phone out.
The conversation was done. He had dismissed me.
And damn him, because now all I wanted to do was to get him to talk.
Instead, I sat back and plotted.