I might have escaped Larkwood, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were right behind me, that if I let my guard down for even a moment, they’d grab me again and drag me back to hell. Every sound, every person that passed, it all put me on edge.
“Here.” Knox made me jump when he caught my hand from behind and pressed something into my palm.
I glanced down to find a couple of folded twenties there. I frowned, then offered him a questioning glance.
“Don’t worry—I didn’t do anything weird to get it. I just used my powers to convince someone to hand over his wallet. Given the very nice sports car he was driving, I doubt he’ll miss it all that much.”
I let out a relieved breath. If it were Brax, I’d have worried he might have left a body behind. With Knox, a fear that he’d done something he hadn’t wanted to get the money had hit me. Hearing he hadn’t soothed my fears.
It had been nearly a week since we’d gotten out of Larkwood. The first trek through the open desert had been the worst, and we’d moved fast, pushing ourselves to our limits. Thankfully, with my hearing, I’d been able to identify helicopters and patrols before they got close. This was the second town we’d stopped at, since we hadn’t wanted to stay long in the first. We’d only remained in the first long enough to get a change of clothing.
We’d picked up some items from a thrift store, paying for it all with money Brax had—I sure didn’t ask him how he’d gotten it. It had left me in a baggy cable-knit sweater and jeans with large rips in them—far more casual than I’d been used to in my old life and yet not the clothing I’d had in my life at Larkwood.
Wade had found a pair of slacks and a long-sleeved shirt, Brax a large hoodie and jeans, and Knox wore a rather loud Hawaiian button-up short-sleeved shirt, a windbreaker and a pair of shorts that made him look like a surfer. We resembled hopeless fashion rejects, but at least we didn’t look like escaped prisoners. The long sleeves allowed us to hide our Larkwood bands as well.
I tossed food into my basket as Knox walked beside me, picking things with a good shelf life and plenty of calories. I had no idea what the future held, where we’d go, what we’d find there, which meant we needed to make the best out of what we could find when we got the chance.
I peered behind me, wondering where Brax and Wade had run off to. It was best for us not to be too close in public since a group of four brought more attention than a pair did, but I struggled not to worry when I couldn’t see them.
“They’re picking up some goods at the general store down the street,” Knox said. “I gave them some of the cash I’d gotten.”
I nodded to acknowledge the information, then reached for a pack of cookies from the shelf. They made me pause as I looked at them, the same brand that Brax and Wade had fought over in my room before.
“You sure we need those?”
I thought back to Larkwood, to the chaos we’d left behind. I remembered the way Wade had stood between me and the shades who had wanted to kill me. Next, I recalled Brax fully changed into his berserker form, blood dripping from his huge body, the way he’d taken out everything that risked me before he’d rumbled out “mine.”
We’d gone through so much, suffered so much pain to get us here. Cookies seemed a small price to pay.
Knox set his palm over mine, which made me realize my hand still hung in mid-air. He guided me back to drop the cookies into the basket while offering a kind smile. “Comfort food is important, right? In fact…” Knox pulled away and walked toward the end of the aisle for a moment. He plucked something from a shelf, then jogged back and tossed it into the basket.
I peered down to find a king-sized chocolate bar.
“You complained about the lack of chocolate before. I figured you deserved something nice, too.”
I couldn’t stop my smile, not just at the thought of tasting the candy but also at Knox’s sweetness.
Now is not the time to act all smitten.
We had bigger things to deal with than my feelings toward Knox.
“You haven’t been sleeping well,” Knox said, the words so unexpected I frowned at the change in topic.
I tucked the basket into the crook of my elbow so I could sign. “What?”
“You’ve been waking up from nightmares. Are you reliving what happened?”
I gulped but shook my head. “I’m tumbling into this endless void of darkness. It feels like I’m drowning, and no matter how I kick, I can’t reach the surface.” Even admitting the dreams that had plagued me every night made me shudder.
That took me by surprise, and I jerked to a stop.
Knox, however, kept speaking as if the topic weren’t awkward at all. “Your bond with Kit. I’m going to guess he’s trying to reach you through it, and when you resist, that’s why you get that sinking feeling.”
“He wouldn’t hurt me like that.” I might not be certain of many things, but that I knew for sure.
“No, he wouldn’t on purpose, but he might not realize it’s causing you any distress. It might be like…being blindfolded and screaming for someone, not realizing they’re right next to you. He might be reaching for you but have no idea you can feel it.”
Now that sounded like the man I know. “What should I do?”
“Talk to him.” At my look, he laughed softly. “If Kit wants to find you, he can. You need your sleep, though, and you won’t get any if this keeps up. So talk to him.” After a moment, he added quietly, “You’ll probably feel better after checking in with him anyway.”
Which was true… Leaving the way I had without a real goodbye to either Kit or Deacon hurt. The memory of Deacon’s face, the way he’d stared at me as if I’d broken his heart, was almost as bad as the nightmares.
In fact, no matter how much I wanted to ignore it, the feeling encompassed more than just the two of them. I’d left so much back at Larkwood, so many people hurting. Why was I free when they had to stay there?
Instead of dwelling on it, I told myself that I’d brave that conversation when I fell asleep that night. I’d force myself to confront that darkness and Kit.
I owed him that much, didn’t I?
“Shit.” Knox’s curse took me off guard, pulling me from my little pep talk. He wasn’t the sort to swear much, and I hadn’t done anything to earn a reaction like that as far as I knew.
I pulled back enough to peer at his face, finding his gaze not on me but up and to the left.
I turned, my blood running cold when I realized what he stared at. On the television a breaking story ran, and above the newscaster’s shoulder? Knox’s, Wade’s and Brax’s faces stared back at me.
The words that ran along the bottom edge of the screen talked about the escape from Larkwood, though they only mentioned the other three. Nowhere did they imply a fourth person had participated.
Why doesn’t it include me?
“We should get going,” Knox said, his voice low. “You check out, and I’ll head next door to grab Wade and Brax. Meet us on the side of the building.”
After I nodded, he headed out, his face down. Thankfully, the three looked different enough in regular clothing than the sweats the pictures showed. Besides, most people ignored news reports like those, assuming that such things would never touch their lives.
I paid quickly, a gesture toward the large scar at my throat when the cashier had tried to strike up a conversation. My fingers ached from the heavy bags, but just as Knox had said, I found all three men around the side of the building.
And boy did Brax look angry. Still, the expression fit rather well on his face. In fact, if he really wanted to hide who he was, the best way would have probably been to smile. No one would recognize him like that.
Brax narrowed his eyes before swiping his hand out and taking the bags from me without asking. “No idea what you’re thinking, but I don’t like that smirk.”
I shrugged rather than admitting or denying anything.
“Looks like this might be our last family outing,” Wade said.
“Why wouldn’t they include Hera, though?” Brax asked.
“It has to be a ploy.” Knox pressed his lips together for a moment. “Maybe the Warden hopes that will get us stuck, that it’ll force her to act alone so guards can look for Hera?”
Maybe…though the more I thought about it, the less that made sense. “I think she doesn’t want it known I’m at Larkwood at all. She’s keeping it secret to leverage that information, which means she can’t admit I’m not there anymore. She probably can’t even tell my parents, because if she did, they’d stop helping her.” Even saying that hurt, making a deep spot inside my chest ache, the part that still craved a family.
Wade reached for me and entwined his gloved hand with mine, his tight grip reassuring.
His touch made his point loud and clear—whether or not my parents ever accepted me, I had people. No matter how hard it had been to lose my voice, it had taught me how much a person could say without ever speaking a word.
So I squeezed back as we headed off toward the empty store we’d broken into the night before to sleep at.
Things might look bad, and they might just get worse, but I wasn’t alone.
* * * *
That horrible sinking sensation took over me again when I went to bed, made me cry out in fear. Even asleep, even locked in this dream, Knox’s words came back to me.
This was Kit’s call. Now that I knew that, I could feel it. That darkness, that cold, it was exactly like him. After almost a week outside of Larkwood, I couldn’t avoid him anymore, could I?
No matter how difficult it was, how much I wanted to avoid this, I couldn’t any longer.
So rather than trying to run from the connection, from the bond that tugged at me, I followed it. I walked through that door I’d discovered during my first dream, when I’d spoken to him after the forming of our bond.
And the moment I saw Kit, I nearly collapsed. He looked so much as he had before, the sight threatening to yank me backward, to Larkwood, to the hell of that place, but also to him.
He lifted his gaze to mine, and his black eyes widened. Any doubts I had disappeared in that moment, in the hunger there that said he wanted to consume me.
He came forward in such a rush that I backed away—not that it mattered. He slid a hand behind my neck and yanked me against him, lowering his head until he took my lips in a kiss that was nothing like the ones he’d given me before. Those had been innocent and sweet, but now I suspected he’d held himself back the other times.
He held nothing back this time. His mouth took mine, deep and aggressive, not letting me have an inch of space, and even though I didn’t feel his touch as I did in person, even though the tingle from it wasn’t quite right, it made my heart speed and my body crave so much more.
Except I couldn’t lose myself in this, not when we had important things to discuss. I set my hands on his chest and pushed away.
Not that he let me go. He broke the kiss but left his large, strong hand on the back of my neck, keeping me up against him as if afraid I’d get away again.
Staring up into his fathomless black eyes managed to blank my head, to steal all my thoughts.
“You should have told me.” His voice was dark and so similar to that terrifying one he used to command others.
I dragged my tongue over my bottom lip, missing the taste of him but glad I could at least speak with him here. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” He let out a harsh snort before yanking away from me and moving to pace. It seemed he had energy he didn’t know what to do with. Perhaps he thought doing that would keep him from grabbing me again? “What does sorry matter? You could have been killed! I knew you were planning something, but never would I have suspected anything like this. All the years at Larkwood I’ve spent, and you managed what no other shade ever could.” He paused to stare at me as if he couldn’t understand me, as if I were something different all of a sudden.
“It wasn’t me,” I said.
“No? Because it sure seems like it to me, seeing as you are not here.”
“It wasn’t just me,” I clarified. “The only reason we pulled it off was because I wasn’t alone. The Warden could anticipate any one shade, but she couldn’t keep ahead of us when we worked together. That’s why Larkwood worked so hard to pit us all against each other, but because otherwise, we’re too powerful.”
Kit took a deep breath, his chest rising then falling as he exhaled. Finally, he faced me again. “That’s what you don’t understand. Only you could have done that. Brax, Knox and Wade had been here for years, but they never managed to work together. You brought them together—you gave them reason enough to put aside their petty disagreements. I don’t think you understand just how amazing that is.”
His praise made my cheeks burn, so I turned my gaze from his, unable to hold that scrutiny. “You and Deacon didn’t get into any trouble, right?”
“No. Your trick with Deacon worked to throw suspicion off him. Larkwood is already almost back to normal. It seems as if nothing at all happened. A new bridge was put up the next day between the North Tower and the main building, and with the reinforcements, the Warden gained control again by noon. It’s strange how such a violent event can so quickly be swept away.” He shook his head, then offered me a hard look. “Are you really okay?”
I nodded, struggling with how to answer. “We’re all safe. I won’t say the escape went without trouble, but we got out uninjured.” I paused, then forced myself to go on. “You know, I would have taken you with me if I thought you’d come, right?”
He offered me a smile that lacked humor. “I wouldn’t have gone. I didn’t believe it possible to do what you did. You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks.”
But now we were at the point I couldn’t turn away from. Even if I wanted to keep things like they were, I owed him the truth. “I need to tell you something,” I said.
He furrowed his eyebrows, as if the very words were unpleasant. “That doesn’t sound good.”
And it wasn’t good. Kit believed his daughter was human, that she lived some normal, happy life somewhere, completely ignorant of the horrors of Larkwood and shades. While he missed her, no doubt, her living the happy life she wanted to no doubt eased him.
Discovering that wasn’t the case would hurt him, but he still deserved to know.
“I was taken to the North Tower,” I explained, unsure how to start the conversation. His expression pressed me to continue. “I saw what Project Corrander was. You probably saw it, too.”
“Those shade soldiers,” he responded. “A few showed up to guard the Warden until reinforcements came.”
I nodded, rubbing my hands together to try to ease the anxiety inside me. “I also met the shade who created them.”
He went still at that, a frown appearing on his features as he put it together. Leave it to Kit to figure things out so quickly. “A few shades can do that, but if you’re talking to me, I assume it’s a wendigo. To think they had one so close and I never knew…” He shook his head. “No, I suspected, I think. Sometimes, I felt a presence, but I brushed it off as nothing more than a desire to find another like myself.” He went still, and when he brought his gaze to mine, anger rested there. “I remember something before the escape, this anger that struck me, and someone trying to pull you away.”
“You said ‘mine.’”
His eyes widened. “So that wasn’t just a feeling?”
I shook my head. “It was real. The wendigo wanted to turn me into one of those soldiers, had expected to, but when they felt your bond with me, they decided not to.”
He approached more slowly than the last time, as if once again worried about frightening me after that story. He cupped my cheek in his large hand. “I’m sorry you went through that, but I’m glad our bond saved you. I don’t know what I’d do if some other wendigo broke that, if they tried to claim you, to take you from me.”
I let myself melt at his words for a moment, enjoying that connection between us before forcing myself to tell him what I needed to. “That’s not all.”
He pulled back enough to stare down at me, waiting for me to go on.
“The wendigo they’re using there is a young girl with long black hair.”
He went impossibly still but didn’t interrupt me.
“She’s lived her entire short life in the North Tower.”
“You don’t mean…” He didn’t finish the thought.
I nodded, swallowing hard once before speaking. “She said she remembered someone calling her a name once—Lilianna.”
Kit yanked away from me, his face a mixture of pain and anger. “She was so close? All this time?”
I grabbed his arm, fear overtaking me at what he might do. I didn’t want him to go charging in, to try to do anything without thinking it through.
He peered down at where I touched him. I expected him to throw off my concern, to tell me it wasn’t my business. Instead, he set his hand over mine. “Don’t worry, I’m too old to react carelessly. She has been this close her entire life, and I never realized. A little more time to plan carefully won’t change anything.” He opened his mouth as if to ask something, then closed it again.
“Do you want me to tell you about her?”
He nodded, but before I could, he pulled me against his chest, wrapping his strong arms around me. “You know this isn’t over, right? I don’t care where you go, or how far you run, I won’t just give up on you. I wasn’t kidding. You are mine.”
I let myself rest against him, nodding instead of answering.
Kit pressed a kiss to the top of my head, then released me. “Okay, tell me about my daughter.”