It was the strangest mental block. For the longest time, he’d been nothing but an impression; a voice that haunted us, reminding each Psi how very wrong we were. On the bus radio as they drove us through our camp’s barbed-wire gate. On the announcements they sometimes played over our many silent dinners. Pouring out of Betty’s speakers in the middle of nowhere.
“The mailbox says ‘Hathaway,’” Roman said.
“He and his mother are hiding in plain sight as John and Elizabeth Hathaway.” Cruz had given us this information years ago because she knew we’d check for ourselves anyway, but nearly everything else I knew about him could be categorized as a rumor. “She remembers their past life. He doesn’t.”
“Head injury?” Roman asked, eyes narrowing in interest.
“Ruby.” I didn’t tear my gaze away from the front of the house. Its sweet, old face was like a kindly grandmother whose gentle demeanor and endless supply of warm cookies hid her ugly, racist past.
The general public had held up Lillian as a hero to her husband’s villain, which left their son to be cast as the victim she’d fought so hard to save. In that narrative, Clancy Gray had of course received the cure procedure happily, to prove to others that it was safe, much like he’d supposedly volunteered to go to Thurmond, to prove to American families the camps’ “rehabilitation” programs worked. Most people believed the Grays were still living in seclusion outside DC, but Lillian had refused any sort of government position, claiming she just wanted to take care of her son in peace and quiet.
Considering she’d done such a bang-up job the first time, I was shocked that they’d let her.
Then again, Lillian knew things most people didn’t—and Mel used to say that if you could keep someone happy, you could usually keep them quiet. Of course, Clancy had known all those things once, too, before Ruby had taken those memories. Closed them off. Did whatever it was she actually did.
Why did you come here?
The front door opened. All three of us slumped down in our seats.
A man in sunglasses emerged, glancing up and down the street before stepping aside to let a woman pass.
Even with her pale hair dyed brunette, Lillian’s alabaster skin and regal bearing were unmistakable. She worked in one of the labs at a nearby college, from what I remembered.
“So there is a security detail,” Roman said.
“Cameras, too—above the front door and probably at the back,” Priyanka said. “Detail would have to be small to avoid anyone noticing it…one, maybe two meatheads.”
I looked between them, mildly alarmed at the comfortable pattern of their conversation.
Like you’ve never stolen anything, I thought. Or broken in anywhere.
Roman nodded. “Private security, most likely, if Ruby was able to visit without being nabbed by the government.”
“I think so, too,” I said. “They initially froze the Gray family assets, but they released them after she agreed to serve as a witness against her husband when he was tried by proxy. They can definitely afford full-time security.”
Lillian and her bodyguards piled into a black Range Rover parked on the street and took off in the opposite direction.
Priyanka cracked her knuckles for maximum effect. “Well. I can pick any lock and turn any camera blind. But there’s an easier way. It just depends on what Zu wants to do.”
“I need to try to talk to him,” I said. “To see if she actually went to see him.”
“I’m going with the two-guard theory—one for mama, one for baby boy,” Priyanka said. I had to keep from rolling my eyes; Clancy was twenty-six now. “If he’s still here, and not doing whatever it is amnesiac former First Sons do with their time, best bet is to go through a back door or window. The porch rail is tall enough that we could use it to climb up onto the roof. But we’re going to have to draw the guard’s attention away with some kind of distraction.”
She stared at Roman until he looked at her, confused. “You want me to shoot him?”
“What? No! That’s less distraction and more murder.” Priyanka shook her head, throwing a hand against her forehead dramatically. “Alas, the life of the theater calls to me again. You can probably sneak in easily through the side gate into the backyard. Just wait for my signal.”
“No idea what that means,” I said. “But are we doing this?”
Roman leaned forward, sliding one of the guns into the waistband of his jeans.
“Okay,” I said. “Guess we are.”
I moved to the sidewalk, meeting Roman there. He reached up, adjusting the lip of my baseball hat so it shaded more of my face. Before I could ask how we were going to approach the house, he looped his arm over my shoulder, pulling me closer to his side.
“Sorry,” he murmured, guiding us down off the curb. “See if you can stand it for a little while.”
“Yes,” I whispered back, glancing both ways as we crossed the street toward the house. “This is definitely the worst thing that’s happened to me in recent days.”
It was early enough in the morning that the Charleston weather hadn’t reached unbearable levels of humidity. A faint breeze smoothed over my cheeks, bringing with it the heady smell of the magnolia blossoms and nearby jasmine.
From what I could see, there was a pathway to the back of the house, blocked only by the smallest of white gates. Still, I was surprised when Roman led us over toward the house next door, giving me a blinding smile and laughing at nothing.
I laughed back, grimacing at how loud and sharp he sounded on the otherwise quiet street.
“We are pretending to have a wonderful conversation,” he told me, turning me so that my back was to the neighbor’s carefully groomed hedge. He walked me back toward it, his wide shoulders blocking my view of the street.
And the street’s view of me.
“And it is going wonderfully,” I said.
Somehow, I hadn’t realized how tall he was until he was standing close enough that I could feel his chest expand with every breath. I looked up at him, eyes tracing the sharp edge of his jaw as he turned his gaze toward the house. I wasn’t sure what to do, so my hands decided for me. They slid across his hips, fingers weaving together again behind his back.
He startled, his hands landing on my shoulders, almost as if he’d needed to catch his balance. I glanced down at his right hand, taking in the raised scars that covered the back of it.
I’d thought I was doing a good job of keeping my anxious thoughts about confronting Clancy to myself, but Roman asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Want is not really the word I’d use in this situation,” I said. A shudder passed through me, and I knew he was close enough to feel it. “The past just feels a little closer to me than it did in the car.”
Somehow, he seemed to understand what I meant. “If it gets to be too much, or if it feels like something is off, signal me—what did you use at Have
n to get their attention?”
I crossed my arms over my chest, each hand clutching the opposite shoulder.
“That works,” he said. “How about one for okay”—Roman demonstrated, pressing his right hand to his left shoulder—“and two for not?”
I drew in a breath, nodding. “All right.”
Priyanka’s hard knock on the door finally tore my gaze away from him. She took a deep breath, then began to pace, letting her shoulders slump as she ran her hands back through her thick hair. I could see her muttering something, but we were too far away to hear what it was.
Finally, the door swung open. A bald man in a dark polo and khakis stuck his head out. At the sight of him, Roman’s body tensed. Mine responded in kind.
“Oh, thank God!” I choked on a laugh at the sound of the rich southern accent Priyanka was suddenly putting on. “Sir, I’m in desperate need of your kind assistance—I’ve come to y’all in dire need, one southern lady to a southern gentleman—”
I winced. “We should probably hurry.”
“Roger that,” he said.
Roman took a small breath before stepping back and breaking the circle of my arms. He moved in front of me, keeping an eye on the porch. Priyanka had angled herself away from us and the pathway, forcing the man to keep his back to us.
Unlike the house next door, this path wasn’t paved with crushed oyster shells, but simple pavers. My heart jammed into my throat as Roman boosted me up over the small fence before jumping over it himself. I didn’t understand how someone with such a big body could move so quietly.
The narrow pathway was lined with small lanterns and hedges spotted with flowers, but I didn’t feel any cameras or other security devices hidden in them.
“Should we try to use the porch rail to find a window?” I whispered. “Is it—?”
I slammed into his back as he stopped dead at the end of the pathway. He reached behind him, for me or his gun, I wasn’t sure.
I stepped to the side, edging past him.
The pathway opened to a side yard bordered by white fencing and the same tall hedges. There was a small garden bed of flowers and vegetables that curved along one side of a round patio table. A plate of food, half-devoured, along with a basket of what looked like toasted bread, had been set out on the table. My stomach ached at the warm smell of it, the way the butter melted on its prim dish.