She had told me even I couldn’t know where she’d end up.
She had told me the private detective she’d hired to find me only told her.
She had told me that same PI was killed the day before in a car accident.
She had told me that car accident, which might not have been an accident, had nothing to do with me.
She had told me all that to reassure me I was still safe.
At six-thirty that morning, I’d helped her disappear, while she’d lied to me.
Cool hands touched the inside of my wrist.
I opened my eyes, lifting my head.
Jonah sat on the side of my bed, two fingers curved around my wrist while he gazed at his watch.
The rest of the night flooded back to me.
Kai had spoken the truth. He had broken me. The thought of giving up Brooke, telling him what I knew, was too much. So I went back to my training, and what happened next would give me nightmares for a long time.
It wasn’t anything physical. It was emotional. I could see Kai, see Tanner and Jonah when they came into the room, but I was lost in the back of my mind. A different force was in charge of my body, and the only thing I could think about was not giving up my assignment.
Kai stopped pushing, but it hadn’t mattered.
For an entire night I’d sat in my room in an almost catatonic state. I was awake, but could only repeat the vow I’d taken when I became a 411 Hider.
Tanner was outraged.
Jonah was concerned, taking my vitals and watching me as if I were his patient, and Kai was quiet. At first.
Then there’d been yelling, fighting, and Jonah had shouted at both of them to get out of my room.
“What time is it?” My throat burned, as if I’d been in the desert for thirty-six hours. I could only croak, that was it.
Jonah’s head whipped up from his watch. “Holy shit.” He let go of my pulse, immediately feeling my forehead with the back of his palm. “Riley? You’re back?”
I nodded, and the movement made me want to vomit. I had a lot of that going on lately. “Yeah. It’s me. I’m back.”
“You scared us, and it’s almost seven in the morning. I’ve been monitoring you all night.”
I was grateful he didn’t interrogate me then and there. He did a full assessment, checking my breathing, pulse, blood pressure. He checked my reflexes. He even pinched my skin for hydration. At the end of it, he stepped back, his stethoscope around his neck. His hands found his hips, and he frowned. “You’re fine.”
My head felt like it was splitting open. I rubbed at it, grimacing. “Could do with a painkiller for this up here, but yeah, I’m fine otherwise.” I couldn’t say the same for my mental status.
Even I was scared about what had happened to me.
I’d heard about operatives breaking down in the field, but it’d never happened to me. And I wasn’t even sure if that was the same thing. Either way, it didn’t sit right with me. I needed to be mentally strong at all times, not breaking and letting a stranger emerge in my place. Fucking weird, that’s what it was.
“I need to go to the bathroom.”
He waited to make sure I was steady on my feet. I wavered a bit as I stood, but my balance kicked in as I walked for the bathroom. I heard him gathering his bag and supplies, then the door clicking shut softly behind him a moment later.
I sagged against the door.
I did have to go to the bathroom, but I needed a moment to collect myself.
I’d scared myself.
What happened? Was that normal? Was that going to happen again?
I didn’t want to think about it, but it was pressing on me.
My hands began to shake again, and I ran them down my legs, taking deep, calming breaths to ease out the trembling. It didn’t work, but fuck it—I never wanted to be like that again. Ever.
I was finishing up in the bathroom, washing my hands, when the main door opened again.
My bathroom door shoved open and Kai stood there, glowering at me.
“Are you okay?”
He didn’t wait. He took two steps in, his hands slid into my hair, and he cupped my head. He stood close, intimately close, his eyes peering down at me. Searching. Questioning. As if my mental whatever-it-was had betrayed him.
“Are you okay?” he asked again, still gruff, but quieter. His chest rose up, jerking, and it held a second before lowering.
He wasn’t mad at me. I felt it then. He was scared for me.
That realization opened a floodgate inside of me. I crumbled before I knew it, and I closed my eyes, tears slipping down my face as I leaned into his chest.
“No.” I sobbed.
He cursed and lifted me in the air. He cradled me against his chest, walking back out to the bedroom. Sitting on the edge of my bed, he held me as if I were a child, pressed my head to his chest, and tightened his hold on me.
I tried not to completely collapse. But I did.
Kai was the enemy, or I’d thought he was. Now I didn’t know.
I didn’t know what was going on with me.
I didn’t know if I should’ve helped Brooke as much as I had.
I didn’t know anything, and I really didn’t know why I just wanted to curl up in his arms and never leave again.
“No.” I pulled back.
I could never go there, do that. Ever.
He didn’t respond, but he did let me go and stand up. His hand ran through his hair, and he tipped his head up and turned slightly to face away from me.
“What happened to you?” he asked.
I answered him truthfully. “I broke. You broke me.”
He glanced at me. “How?” His eyes were sharp.
I shrugged, sighing. “I don’t know.”
But I did. I felt it swirling inside me, and for some reason, I heard myself saying, “Protecting whoever I hide is a part of me. It’s ingrained in me. I cannot break that vow. I was that vow. My mother is a vow. Do you get that?”
His nostrils flared, but that was his only response. His head hung low.
“I didn’t hide her, but I did help her.”
He lifted his gaze, and I swear, he stopped breathing. He went so still.
I couldn’t look at him, not with what I was about to say, because this would destroy a part of me.
“It’s exactly how you said. My roommates went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep, and Brooke found me. She showed up at my door, drenched. It’d been raining that night. I gave her a ride to a train station three hours away. I hugged her, gave her papers for a new identity, and that’s it. When I said I don’t know where she is, I don’t. She mentioned meeting someone, but I watched her get on a train.”
“Where was that train going?”
“It was going to Winnipeg.”
“You drove her to Edmonton?”
I nodded. “I took back roads. The kind that wouldn’t have gas stations with security cameras.”
“She’s not in Edmonton. I had people check that place. They combed everywhere.”
He began to pace, his head down, rubbing his forehead. His shoulders bunched tight, his shirt stretching over them.
“If she got off the train, there would’ve been video footage of her somewhere,” he said, mostly to himself.
There wouldn’t have been. Not if she moved the way I told her to move, head down, new hairstyle. New clothes. A hood or scarf or a hat to cover her face as much as possible. She needed to stick to far corners, move as little as possible. Use cash. And the other piece of information, the fake passport I gave her.
“You have to tell me where you think she is.”
“That’s all I know.”
“You’re lying. I can see it on your face. I know how to read you by now, very well. Please, Riley. No agenda here. No calculation. I’m not manipulating, threatening, nothing. I’m asking as an older brother. The longer she stays away from me, the more likely an enemy will find her. If she’s with Levi, they will be found. His family probably knows by now he was turning evidence on them. They’ll be out in full force too.”
There was a nagging.
If she was with him, and he was working with the government… But no.
Or could they have?
“What?” He saw. He knew.
I shook my head. “Nothing.” I frowned. “I mean, it can’t…”
“Just…” I still couldn’t quite grasp it. “I know you have men in the FBI. Can you see if there’s actually an active investigation into the Barnes family? Not where they’re just taking what information they can get from him before deciding to open a case against them?”
His eyebrows lowered. He was deep in thought. “You think if there is, the government is hiding him.”
“Which means they’re hiding her.”
“If they’re together,” he added.
No, the pieces were falling into place.
“Why would she go to you to hide if the US government was hiding her as well?” he asked.
This was not good. So not good.
“To either further hide her tracks or because they don’t know they’re hiding her.”
Kai sank down on the bed next to me. Bending over, his elbows rested on his knees and he caught his head in his hands.
“Shit,” he breathed.
My heart tugged. I didn’t want it to, but it did.