His nostrils flared. “But you know where she is.”
I couldn’t touch that either. I hung my head again, closing my eyes.
I suddenly wanted all of this to go away.
I didn’t want to be in these clothes that reminded me of my past. I didn’t want to be here in this room, with him, knowing he would do anything to find his sister. I wanted to be back at my home with Blade, with Carol, with my cover job as a nurse aide who spoke in inspiring quotes.
I missed being Raven, not Riley.
“Where is she?!” Kai roared, throwing his glass across the room.
It shattered against the wall, falling to the floor, and I didn’t flinch. Not. One. Bit.
I shook my head. “I can’t help you, and you know it.”
He returned to his seat, and this time I refused to look at him.
The room was tense, the air thick and oppressing, and for a moment, I felt as if my father were with us.
I shoved that down. I would not cower. I would not be intimidated.
“Our father killed my brother,” he said softly.
What? I looked up.
He wasn’t looking at me. His gaze was trained on the table, but I knew he wasn’t seeing what was physically in front of him.
His fingers tightened around the bottle he now held in front of him.
“Anthony Bennett was a sadistic father.” He shuddered. His hand twitched, and his head shook slightly. “He was obsessed with power, and Cord was getting to the age where he was supposed to start taking over some of the responsibilities of the family. Our father didn’t want that to happen. He knew Cord was kind—weak, in his eyes—but he saw how others reacted to him. They liked him. They approved of him, and the truth is they wanted a change from our father’s rule. Anthony Bennett wouldn’t have it. He saw years into the future where Cord would’ve taken over the business. He would’ve had our father killed.” His eyes were so bleak. “That’s the way of our life. So he got rid of Cord first.”
He murdered my brother.
Brooke hadn’t been talking about her other brother. She’d meant her father.
I never thought of it, but… A father who could kill his own child? Or a mother? A flicker of rage began heating me inside.
I should’ve considered the father first. I had firsthand experience in that cruelty.
“I’m sorry. I thought—”
“I know what you thought,” he said, sounding tired. “A lot of people thought it. My father made the mistake of waiting before killing me. He didn’t see me as a threat because I was only sixteen years old.”
I knew what was coming.
A knot formed around that ball of fury inside me. It was all mixing together.
“I killed my father instead, and I paid off a family friend to be our guardian. I paid off the courts. I paid off everyone.”
He stared at me. I expected a wall to fall in place, but it didn’t. Though he wasn’t hiding himself, he wasn’t showing anything either. He was dead. That’s what I saw when I looked into his eyes. Death.
“I did it the most humane way, at least in my opinion,” he said. “I smothered him with a pillow one night, and he just stopped breathing. No one asked why we weren’t seeking vengeance. Everyone knew.”
“You had Brooke come home after that.”
He nodded, his gaze moving away from me.
I felt unpinned, as if he’d been holding me up against the wall. I sat in a chair, but my legs jerked.
The sensation of falling was strong.
“I did. I didn’t agree with sending her away. I wanted my family all together. It was time to bring some good into this house.”
Those words resonated.
He killed to bring something good into Brooke’s life, for their whole family.
He wasn’t the ruthless killer I’d thought he’d been. He did care. He did love. He did feel pain.
“I don’t care. Honestly.” His shoulders lifted, and his eyes found me again. “I want to know where my sister is. I know she came to you the day after the news broke that she was missing. I know you drove her somewhere that next morning and you returned the same day. I know it was the third day you went to a tanning spa to hide the fact that you hadn’t gone to Florida for a vacation. And the next day I had you taken.” He stood there, his hands in his pockets, and his head fell forward, but he still stared me down. “I have proof of everything. I know you acted alone. I know you didn’t tell your roommates. We have security footage of you along the way. For the rest, we were able to hack your friend’s computer. The only thing I don’t have is where you stashed my sister.”
My hands started shaking.
My stomach turned over.
I felt like I was going to throw up.
My vision blurred, and spots floated around me.
He knew almost everything.
He’d known this whole time.
“Tell me where my sister is.”
I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t betray her.
I jumped in my chair, shoving it back at the same time. It almost tipped over, but I clung to it.
Or maybe that was me almost falling out of it?
It was all rolling over and over in my stomach. It was forcing its way up my throat. I felt the pressure of it coming up, and I swallowed it back down.
I heard my trainer’s voice in my head, and as if she’d commanded me in present time, I felt the protocol happening.
My toes relaxed.
My legs stopped shaking. My knees calmed.
My thighs grew strong.
My hands rested on top of them, flat, fingers spread out. Ready.
I sat up straight.
My back was no longer against my chair.
My arms stopped trembling.
My stomach grew still.
My breathing evened out.
My shoulders squared back.
My chin rose.
My mind grew clear.
I was no longer Riley Bello.
I was 411 Operative Raven, and my mission was being threatened.
My voice came out in a monotone as I recited the phrase they’d burned into our memories: “I will uphold my vow as an agent of honor. I will never break the promise a survivor has entrusted to me. I will never take away a person’s freedom, even if it means giving up mine in their place. I am an operative of the 411 Network, and I will not break my silence.”
I was gone.
“Shit,” Kai murmured.
The door opened and another voice demanded, “What the fuck is going on in here?”
A third voice, “What did you do to her?”
“I think I broke her,” Kai answered.
Three weeks earlier
My roommates had gone to their bedrooms. I needed to go as well, but I couldn’t. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to move from the kitchen table. After they left, I got up to heat some decaf tea. It usually soothed me, but not that night. Or that morning. However you thought of it.
I jerked, instantly on alert.
Blade’s computer had a warning built in. When someone crossed the driveway, it sounded. It was harsh and loud, so it would’ve woken everyone up long ago, but looking, I saw why it hadn’t gone off.
Brooke Bennett stared back at me, and she hadn’t come down the driveway. She’d come through the woods.
Her eyes were wide and panicked. She shivered, branches in her hair, and she waved her hand frantically in a circle to me. It was covered in a shirt. She looked drenched.
Opening the door, I stepped back. “My God. Brooke?”
“Hi,” she breathed out, hurrying inside. A chunky sweater hung off of her frame. She was dressed in the same jeans from her Instagram image I’d seen on the news. She pressed her lips together, faint blue lines circling them. “Hiya, roomie.”
I didn’t think.
I grabbed her for a hug.
“Are you sure about this?”
She nodded. She had showered, changed clothes, and was watching through the window. “Yes. I have to disappear. There’s no other way. He’ll kill me if he finds me.” She swallowed, looking back. “He can’t find me.”
Something fell to the floor down the hall, either in Blade’s or Carol’s room.
Brooke gasped, whirling and freezing.
She’d just started to look normal, color moving to her cheeks, but it drained from her again, leaving her pale.
I moved closer to her, dropping my voice to a whisper. “It would be easier if they helped us.”
“No!” she hissed. “The less people who know, the better. I know I’m putting you in a bad place, but this is what you do. I’m so sorry.” Her hand found mine, still a little cold and clammy. “Please help me.”
My phone started buzzing.
Brooke glanced over from the passenger side of the truck. “Is that your roommates?”
I silenced it, then moved and pressed a pre-programmed message back before turning it off. “Yeah. They’ll just think I went to the gym. I have a few hours before telling them I decided to stay for a slow swim or an hour massage. It’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?” She was so twitchy. The panic never left her.
I nodded. “I’m sure.”
She breathed easier and nodded, her head drooping. “Good. Thank God.”
She had told me she was running from her brother.
She had told me we needed to go somewhere with a train station.