She moved inside, and I was able to see her better—hair pulled into a low ponytail, dressed all in black, even her runners. Brooke always smelled of perfume, but today she smelled of nothing. Not even soap.
She pulled her backpack off and opened the front pocket. Dumping passports, phones, and money, she pointed at it. “Kai is leaving for Milwaukee, and whether Levi is going too or if he’s being shipped in a different vehicle, I don’t care. I just know my man is with him, and whatever move he’s making with the man I love, I’m going to be there.”
She looked at me. “You can make people disappear. It’s your turn to disappear, and you’re taking me with you.”
“But…” I was already looking through everything she’d dumped on the bed.
We had different IDs. Plenty of cash. I stopped counting after I saw ten rolls of hundreds. I picked up one of the phones. “Burners?”
“You got it.” She folded her arms over her chest, raising her chin.
My mind raced, but I wanted to go.
Something sparked inside of me.
This. This was right.
This was what I did.
“Your brother has people in the Network. We can’t call them.”
“Already on it.” She pulled out her phone and showed me a screen of text messages.
I recognized an alias Blade had used one time. Just once. It’d been him, Carol, and me, and we’d snuck out to a nightclub and didn’t want the Network to know. He was a goddamn genius.
I felt myself smiling.
She looked up and made a praying motion. “Thank God.” A quick squeal, and she was on her phone. “Okay, your friend is two miles from here to pick us up. We need to trek two miles through the woods in an hour.”
“Why an hour?”
I was off, running to the closet to change. There was no time for modesty. Brooke was about to see me naked, and I tore through the clothes, throwing them into the room.
“You have a bag for me too?” I called.
“Put those in there.”
I felt my heart in my throat. The clock had started ticking the second Brooke entered the room. I was wasting time, and we needed all the time we could get.
I pulled on a shirt. “You work out?”
I held back a groan. She sounded hesitant. “What do you do for conditioning?”
“I swim. Sometimes.” She snorted. “Hardly ever.”
Fuck. If it was just me, I’d run there in under twenty minutes, give or take a few because of the foreign terrain.
Which reminded me, “Why an hour, Brooke?”
“Because that’s all the time we have before the next shift of guards switches at the security cameras.”
I wasn’t going to ask.
I had to know. “What happened to the other guards?”
“I might’ve drugged ’em.”
I paused, one second, then yanked on my pants. Socks. Shoes. I had an extra set of clothes in the bag now.
“And I gave one an entire bottle of laxatives.”
“What?!” I popped my head out.
She cringed, standing with both bags over her shoulder. “I’m pretty sure he’ll have to go to the hospital.” She brightened up. “But bonus! That might help us.”
I glared. “No, it won’t. Protocol will be to check on both of us before they dispatch a team to the hospital. We have less than an hour now.”
“How long do you think?”
I led the way to the back patio. I paused before opening the door. “It depends on when someone finds him or he finally calls for help.”
“Oh.” She cringed.
She dug inside her bag and pulled out a radio. “I figured we could use it to listen to them.”
Oh. My—I grabbed her face and kissed her on the cheek. “Sweet Jesus, you’re brilliant.”
She shrugged. “Just tried to think what you’d do. You helped me the first time, so I thought we could help each other this time.”
I took a breath. I didn’t think the door was alarmed. I had stepped outside the other day and nothing happened. Then again, Kai had been with me, but it was now or never. Outside was our best shot. We’d run into guards inside.
“Wait.” Brooke pulled out her phone and showed me a map. “This is where we’re supposed to meet your friend.”
“Okay.” I showed her as much as I could. “There’s a small window outside here where I never saw a guard walking. We’ll have to go north, then swing to the right.”
“I’m ready.” She gave me a nod, letting out a breath. Her bottom lip trembled, but we weren’t running for our lives here. We weren’t running for freedom, not really. We were running to follow Kai to Milwaukee. There was irony in there somewhere, and I was sure I’d laugh about it someday. Just not right now.
I opened that door, and we headed out.
It’s a peaceful feeling.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but it is.
Running in the woods, with just the person beside you, knowing time is running out, knowing the day is coming, knowing you have one goal: to get where you need to be before they find you.
It calmed me in a way I hadn’t felt in so long.
The part of my soul that needed to know my purpose, to understand the why or why not, the part of me that reared up if I wasn’t following my morals, that part was quiet. That part was content, because it was right to run free. It was right to go to Milwaukee. It was right to confront the man who’d been the first monster in my life.
There was no longer any confusion in my head or heart.
But Brooke’s breathing was already uneven behind me.
She’d let me take the lead, and I was using the age-old way to find our path: following the North Star. Once we’d cleared where I last saw guards standing before, we turned so it was on our left side.
Using the map Brooke had showed me, I’d memorized the myriad of roads near the house. There was one main paved one that went alongside the lake. It wound all around it, but Blade wouldn’t be waiting for us on that road. He would pick a gravel one, and not the second-or third-best gravel road. He’d pick the fourth one, one that looked like little more than a long driveway, and he’d park just on the other side of a hill. So he’d see the oncoming lights from a car, but they wouldn’t see him.
This was part of being a Hider that we rarely utilized, but we had training for it.
I enjoyed this part more than the others in my unit. I took to the outdoors better than they did, though even I didn’t know why. It rarely mattered. We usually drove from motel to motel. At some points, we’d have to meet someone. They would lead us through a hotel, or a restaurant, or a school to the back, where we’d get in another vehicle. That was how we’d travel once we got the person who needed saving. Going through was rarely a straight shot. They liked to have us use two or three different routes, in case someone tried to track us.
There were a lot of rich and powerful abusers out there. They had access to main road security footage, to dirty cops, to almost anyone who would take a few extra bucks for a peek at their camera systems. Which made relying on trusted allies and assets already certified through the Network so important.
My mind continued to turn as we ran.
If Brooke had notified Blade, and he was already here, that meant she had known about Kai’s travel plans days ago. It would’ve taken that long to get Blade here and for him to have a cover story in place to hide his whereabouts from the Network.
I was banking on the fact that he’d have a plan ready. We didn’t have the Network’s allies and assets, which meant we’d have to keep to back roads as much as possible—as off the grid as we could be, using the least visible roads, which meant it’d take us so much longer than Kai to get to Milwaukee.
I bent my head forward. One foot after one foot. Keep going. That’s what I had to do.
“Agh!” A twig snapped, and Brooke cried out.
I whirled, grabbing her arm before she crashed into a tree.
“Oh, shit shit shit! Oh no.” She moaned, grabbing for her ankle. “I think I broke my ankle.”
Our hour was slipping away. I could see it shortening before my eyes.
She knelt down, wrapping her hands around her leg, as if to prevent the pain from spreading. “Riley! It hurts so much.” Tears streamed down her face, and she gasped for breath.
By my calculations, we had a little over a mile, more likely a mile and a quarter yet to go. I looked around, but even if we’d had rope for me to build her a crutch, we wouldn’t make it. They would find us.
“Can you make it?”
She looked up, her face pale and getting whiter by the second. She shook her head. Her eyes were dazed, half panicked. “I think I broke my ankle! For real.” Her voice hitched on a sob, pain laced with a twinge of hysteria.
I’m sure this was scary for her. But broken ankles could be fixed. Being in the woods, I’m sure that didn’t help, but those guards wouldn’t hurt her.
I didn’t want to think of it. It felt wrong, but…
“You should go.” She said it for me.