“But it wasn’t,” I said.
“It wasn’t. I walk in, and I’m met with no kid, just four guys armed to the teeth. I managed to fight my way out, but got this souvenir as a parting gift.” He gestured to his wound. “I don’t think they were there to kill me, though. In true Liam Stewart luck, I caught a ricochet. Actually, I don’t even think they were there for me at all. I heard one of them say Ruby’s name.”
“God,” I said. Each little detail was slowly weaving together.
“I drove like hell as far as I could, trying to message Ruby. She’d left a few days before me, and I hadn’t heard anything—” He seemed to catch himself. His eyes darted toward me. “I was losing consciousness, but I knew I was at least heading toward Kansas. I sent Sam my location and pulled off into a ditch to destroy the phone, in case those guys had followed me. I feel rotten knowing everyone’s been worried sick this whole time.”
I didn’t want to deepen his guilt by confirming it.
“Sam and Lucas somehow managed to find me, and brought me back here. They patched me up with the help of a sympathetic neighbor, then headed out to look for Ruby. I’ve been stuck on the farm ever since. Sam and Lucas took the only car. At one point, I even thought about riding Snowflake, but she really does bite when she’s nervous, which seems to be with all people of the male persuasion.”
“Don’t blame her,” Priyanka muttered.
“Then everything happened to you, and they started tearing you down like you had even a shred of ill will in you.” The bitterness in Liam’s tone was so unfamiliar to me. “Dammit—what the hell is going on? Do you know?”
I looked to Roman, wondering where to start. “I think we’re finally putting this together. Do you know anything about Blue Star?”
“Son of a bitch,” Liam said, running his hands back through his hair.
“You do know about Blue Star, then,” Priyanka said. “Because that just about covers it.”
Max finally jerked awake. I handed him a glass of water from the coffee table.
“Do you have any juice?” he asked, still sounding drunk with sleep.
Roman answered my questioning look. “He needs to get his blood sugar levels up to do a reading. Way up.”
“A reading?” Liam asked.
“Differently different Max has a way of locating Ruby,” Priyanka explained, standing and heading toward the kitchen. Liam’s expression lit up, until she added, “But he needs a little more R-and-R, otherwise the reading won’t be as accurate, or it might melt his brain.”
Liam leaned back in his seat, frowning. I caught him stealing a few glances at Max, even as I brought us back to the topic at hand.
“I’m guessing you also know that Ruby was visiting with Clancy,” I said.
Liam’s lips tightened into a hard line. “Yes. His mother asked that she come by twice a year to make sure that his memory loss wasn’t fading. I knew something was going on, that he was remembering his old life. There was no other reason why he started to wave all that information beneath her nose.”
Priyanka, Roman, and I all sat forward.
“Go on,” Priyanka said.
“You know how Lillian got their financial accounts unfrozen?” Liam asked. “Before he vanished, Gray got reacquainted with his paternal side and left some prime blackmail material with them. Seems like junior learned most of his tricks from his father. Even though Lillian kept it hidden, Clancy somehow managed to find it and started sharing pieces of it with Ruby. I could see what he was trying to do by dangling little bits of awful in front of her to see what she responded to.”
“Damn,” I said.
He nodded. “Even though he never gave her a reason to suspect it, I had a feeling he knew that she was the one who had repressed his memory. She started going back more frequently, trying to get information out of him. He told her about some server that was down and only needed to be switched back on. I fought her on it. She told me she agreed, that it was bait and she’d give Lillian a warning and stop going.”
So that was what they had been fighting about.
“Now he’s vanished,” Liam said bitterly. “They’re keeping it off the news, but Vida said he was ‘abducted’ as he was being driven to classes one morning. Clearly it was an inside job. I’m guessing by the looks on your faces that you might have already known that, though.”
“Yeah,” I said, letting out a breath. “A little.”
“Do you…?” He fought to keep his voice steady. “Can you tell me what you know? Because I’ve got this fear, and I’m not sure I can go another minute without knowing if I’m right.”
“Of course,” I began. But the words were drowned out by the crunch of wheels on dirt and loose rocks.
“That can’t be Vida—it’s too soon,” Liam said, struggling to push himself up. I helped steady him, letting him use my shoulder as a crutch. Before either of us could make it to the door, Roman was already at the window again, nudging the curtain back.
Liam glanced down at me, mouthing, Where did you find this kid?
I bristled. We were lucky one of us was at least trying to stay on guard. I was not going to entertain mocking Roman for being ready to do the necessary thing—the thing that inwardly ate away at him.
Liam looked between us, and my face warmed under his close scrutiny.
“Don’t,” I warned, just as he raised a brow and said, “Reaaally?”
For a second, under all the strain and scruff, Liam actually looked like his old self.
“It’s safe,” Roman said, stepping back and holding the curtain aside for us to see for ourselves.
I only needed one look at the dark figure that stepped out of the car and cast an anxious look up at the front of the house. I slipped out from under Liam’s arm and ran for the door, throwing it open hard enough to startle Chubs.
“Good God!” he said, clutching at his chest as I flew toward him. “As if I haven’t spent the last few days in enough terror for you, you’re the one who almost does me in—”
I all but tackled him. “Are you okay? Where have you been?”
“Where have I been?” he said, hugging me so hard that he lifted me off my feet.
“They said you disappeared on the news—I thought they took you in for questioning, or you were being punished because of me—”
“It didn’t even come to that,” he promised, finally setting me back down. His hands landed on my shoulders, giving them a reassuring squeeze. I reached up to straighten the glasses I’d knocked askew on his nose. “Cate smuggled me out of the city in her trunk before they announced the dissolution of the Psi Council. A good thing, too. After what happened last night, they would have put all of us in a hole and left us there.”
Horror flooded through me. “You mean what happened at Moore’s facility?”
“His facility—?” Chubs shook his head. “I hadn’t even heard about that. No, someone tried to blow up Joseph Moore’s motorcade through Chicago, and then someone else succeeded in killing a UN envoy that was headed there to investigate.”
I released a heavy breath, closing my eyes. “Let me take a wild guess about who they pinned it on….”
He gripped my hand.
“Someone at the FBI falsely leaked to the independent media that it was the Psion Ring,” he said. “The other Council members are trying to regroup with a few former Children’s League members to try to come up with a plan, but when I finally got a hold of Lucas, he said to just come straight here. Now I see why.”
My heart gave an anxious thump as the front door creaked open.
“Well, I don’t think I was the only reason,” I said, stepping to the side.
Liam limped forward to the edge of the porch, gripping the railing. He struggled to guard his expression, even as his jaw worked back and forth. Chubs straightened, smoothing his hands down his neat sweater and slacks.
I took another step back, worried that I might have to knock both of their heads together.
then Chubs turned his palms up at his sides and lifted his arms out in front of him.
“Come on,” he said softly, “don’t fight the twirl.”
A small smile worked its way over Liam’s lips. “Only if you promise not to drop me this time.”
“Only if you promise we can stop talking in stupid euphemisms,” Chubs said, “and you let me look at whatever horrific injury you managed to give yourself.”
“All right, all right,” Liam said. “Come on in. I’ll let you fuss over me for a few minutes.”