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Bryn was caught by surprise, but she slowly nodded. So did Riley. “I was Lonnie once, too,” she said. “I walked into this. I was just—taking a job. I went in the wrong door at the wrong time. And you’re right. But I can’t forget that we got Lonnie into this—not our enemies.”

“Innocent people are going to die in this,” Joe said. “Don’t like it, but I have to accept it. Innocents are who we’re fighting for. Not ourselves, not the government, not the military, just . . . the ones who don’t even see this coming.”

It was almost as if they’d made some kind of pact, and Bryn supposed they had—a quiet, unspoken sort of promise that didn’t need handshakes or salutes. Just nods.

Joe dug in his pocket and handed over what looked like—lipstick? No, it was the same general cylindrical shape, but when he pulled the cap off, there was a round black button on it. “You get where you’re safe, you push this,” he said, and recapped the thing. “Patrick will read the coordinates and come to you. But make sure you’re someplace you can wait for him. Like I said: one use only.”

“Got it,” she said, and zipped it into a pocket on her pants. One thing she was hoping not to lose this time: her pants.

“Want to tell us where you’re heading?” Riley asked.

Bryn slowly shook her head, still watching the horizon. “No,” she said. “I don’t.”

“Probably not wrong,” Joe Fideli said. He hugged her hard, and she hugged him back, suddenly shaky inside because, although she didn’t particularly mind splitting from Riley, Joe was . . . different. And he must have known that, because he kissed her lightly on the forehead. “Want to know a secret, kid?”


“If I wasn’t already married . . .”

“Tease.” She kissed him back on the cheek, and stepped away, and got a real, and very sweet, smile from him. “Take care of yourselves.”

Riley didn’t hug. She settled for a nod, and then Bryn set out at a run, heading west.

When she looked back, they were gone.

Chapter 8

It was a risk—a big one—to hitchhike. . . . Not for the obvious personal dangers that the post-1970s generations took for granted, but because Bryn knew that she’d be exposing those drivers—innocent, like Lonnie—to the possibility of torture and death, and she didn’t intend for that to happen again. Not unless she didn’t have another option. She resorted to her old trick—jumping on the back of the cabs of random tractor trailers when they paused for the merge at the next northward freeway. Then it was just a matter of balance and endurance. It wasn’t too bad, though; the roads were mostly smooth, the wind buffeting manageable, though she had to shield her eyes to avoid drying them out. She was noticed a few times by passing cars, and as soon as she spotted the driver’s or passenger’s jaw-dropped expressions, she found a place to exit with relative safety, and catch another ride. The best she found was lying flat atop a monumental RV, big enough to qualify for a housing grant. She actually fell asleep for a while, drowsing in the hot sun, but dreams woke her. Bad, wrong dreams.

Slipping off the roof of the RV at a busy truck stop, she finally felt safe enough to activate the tracker. Pressing the button felt like a commitment, but she chased her foreboding away with a large, rare hamburger, fries, and cold drink. The food tasted unbelievably decadent. She didn’t know how long she’d have to wait, so she lingered over it, careful to keep the hat she’d bought low over her eyes to hide her face from any hidden cameras. Her hair, unwashed for a while now, looked lank and tangled from the wind, and she left it that way. Better to look like a shabby traveler, though it wouldn’t fool any facial recognition software if she was unlucky enough to be scanned. She’d bought a book from the handy racks in the general store part of the truck stop, and was immersing herself in epic fantasy when a man slid into the booth across from her.

For a split second she didn’t recognize him, and her instincts went on full alert, but then she realized it was Patrick, half-hidden under thick stubble and bruises. He looked . . . rough. It was a shock, because she’d healed up from a goddamn IED, and he was still fighting the damage he’d taken in their first serious fight. If she’d needed proof of just how different they were now, it was written in their bodies.

He saw it, too, even though he wouldn’t know about the extent of her own sufferings, and he half smiled and shook his head. “I’m okay,” he said, and leaned forward on his elbows. They had the same style of cap, she realized, only his had some sort of fish on it, and hers had a bear. It might have been a cosmic karma sort of message. She hoped not. “Funny, I’d have taken you for a spy novel kind of girl. Maybe even romance.” He raised his eyebrows, and just like that, she fell in love with him, an almost physical click, a wave of emotion that washed through her like ice water and chemical heat and a longing so deep it brought tears to her eyes. She threw out a hand toward his, and he took it, and the warmth of his skin on hers made her shudder and lower her head, afraid she might actually cry. “Hey. You all right?”

She managed to nod. She’d kept so much down, bottled up, locked away, but all it took to shatter that wall was just a single stroke of his fingers.

He was what broke her. Every time.

“We need to go,” he said. “If you’re done eating.”

“How about you?”

“I’ve got something. Come on.”

She held his hand as they exited the booth; she’d already thrown cash on the table for the meal, and the coast seemed clear as they went out the side door. The place was as busy as ever, with walking-shorts-wearing travelers coming and going, some with cranky kids in tow. Professional truckers looked weary and no-nonsense, except for a few who were chatting up the lot lizard prostitutes who always seemed to find a place to stand at a place like this.

She linked her arm with Patrick’s. “What happened?”

“I didn’t dare stay with the medics. Good people, but too easy to find. So I checked myself out once they were sure I wasn’t in any danger of keeling over, and I checked in with Manny, who wouldn’t take the call. Pansy said you, Joe, and Riley had dropped off the radar.” He turned his head toward her, and she felt his eyes intent on her. “Is Joe all right?”

“Joe’s fine. So’s Riley. We found the guy we were looking for, but it was . . . complicated.” Bryn decided this wasn’t the time, or the place, to have that conversation.

“So, we’re not done.”

“Hardly.” She leaned against a wall with him, content for just this bare second to feel his fingers twined with hers, the clean air blowing in on them. “I need to head north.”

“Heading for . . . ?”

“I’d rather not say out here. Let’s find someplace more private.” She sent him a sidelong look. “Do you have a car?”

“Nope,” he said with a strange sort of cheer. “But I can get us where you need to go.”

That, Bryn realized as he led her around the parking lot, was because he had a motorcycle. A Harley, and it wasn’t new—battered, in fact, but well maintained. He had one helmet, which he handed her, an automatic courtesy that made her laugh, and then he checked himself and sighed. “Right. Only one of us has to worry about head injuries.”

“You sure you know how to drive this beast?”

“I got it this far.” He mounted the motorcycle with total assurance, keyed the ignition, and kicked it to life. It roared like a pissed-off lion. “Hop on.”

She did, carefully. It felt like straddling an earthquake. She wrapped her arms around his waist, and he accelerated smoothly into a curve, looping around cars and trucks and pedestrians, to the access road. Once on there, he opened the throttle to a steady, bone-shaking growl, and she found she got used to the vibration, the noise, and the general buffeting the wind gave her. She didn’t like it, per se, but it was an interesting way to travel as a passenger. On the whole, she liked being in control, though.

They went only about twenty miles or so before they arrived at a cluster of tourist hotels—celebrating what local attraction, Bryn couldn’t imagine, but it didn’t matter much. They were all low to medium rent places, and mostly half-full. Patrick picked one right in the middle and parked.


“You wanted to talk,” he said. “And I don’t know about you, but I need a shower and rack time. Plus, they have a bar. I could use a drink.”

She couldn’t argue with any of that logic.

“Hat on, head down,” he told her. “These places will have surveillance.”

She gave him a thumbs-up and tugged on her ball cap; he’d already pulled his from inside his jacket and fitted it low, shading his face.

Check-in was brief and uneventful, since Patrick peeled off a startling amount to put down as a cash deposit for the night, and the clerk was only too happy to pocket an extra two hundred to keep them out of the register. That won them two plastic keycards and a warm cookie, which Bryn thought was funny, but she devoured it like a savage in the elevator. Not protein, but delicious.

The room was conveniently located next to the stairs at the end of the hall—a decent escape point, if it came to that, which Bryn devoutly hoped it would not. Inside, the room was cool and dark and still, and when Patrick found the lights, it was also unexceptional.

It didn’t matter. Bryn took off her hat, tossed it on the dresser, shed the backpack, and collapsed on the bed with an almost sexual moan of gratification. Patrick stretched himself out next to her, staring at her with such intensity that it made her feel odd. “What?” she asked him.

“You look different,” he said. “Stronger. Sharper.”

“Is that bad?”

“No,” he said. “It’s good. You need to be.” He reached out and, very gently, ran a hand over her arm. “I’m going to take a shower. We’ll talk after, yeah?”