“You said you could still be yourself,” he said. “Prove it.”
“It’s killing me, Bryn. Because I love you, and I get that you believe I’m using you as some . . . stand-in for my ex. I’m not. You’re not her, and I’ve never for one moment confused the two of you. But I have to ask it straight out—do you still feel something for me? Anything?”
His directness took her breath away for a moment, and so did the steady, calm way he studied her. “I really hated you when I found out about Jane,” she said. “Apart from everything else, even the horrible things that have happened to me, it felt like the only person I could trust stuck the knife in.”
A shadow moved over him, and she saw his face tense, ready for the blow.
“But I still do love you,” she said then, quietly. “I almost wish I didn’t. I’d rather keep you at arm’s length, because . . . because I’m afraid I’ll hurt you, like Jane. Or lose you. And that would destroy me, too.”
He looked down for a moment, and without making eye contact again, said, “Would you let me kiss you? Because I need to do that right now.”
She was afraid to—not because she thought she’d hate it, but because she was afraid that it would unleash a torrent of feelings she couldn’t control. Things that might sweep them both again. Of the two of them, it was Patrick who had a bit of darkness in him, and she couldn’t let that carry him away, either.
But she came into his arms.
His lips met hers with exquisite slowness.
The warmth came first—the feeling of his skin glowing on hers before the touch, whisper-soft and then firmer, hotter, damp and smooth and rough where his beard rubbed her chin. It was a long kiss, and it tasted like dark things to her, sweet and disturbing. And it made all of her body warm and tingle and respond, and she broke free with a gasp.
“Go,” she whispered, and sank down on the bed. “Please just leave. I’m sorry.”
He didn’t speak, and he didn’t delay for more than a few seconds; she saw him in the periphery of her vision as he moved away, walked to the door, and she heard the click of the catch as he pulled it shut behind him.
Only then did she raise her hand to her lips.
Whatever magnetism Patrick held for her, it was still there, still stronger than logic and reason. Stronger than pain and disappointment. She wanted him. Every part of her body needed him.
And she couldn’t possibly deal with that, and the complications it represented. Not now.
She undressed, wrapped herself in sheets and blankets, and surrendered herself to the darkness, for a few precious hours of restless, nightmare-driven sleep.
• • •
It was hard to tell night from day, but evidently the lights were programmed to help—at dawn, the room lights slowly increased in intensity, and Bryn woke up feeling as if she were bathed in morning sunlight. It was a nice feeling. Calm.
And then she remembered that she was essentially buried deep, deep underground, she was essentially dead, and people really were trying to destroy everyone she loved. So that good feeling passed quickly.
She still treasured the shower; common sense told her it might be the last luxury she experienced for a while, so she made the most of the hot water, foaming soap, and floral shampoo. The fluffy robe came in handy again, and then she put on the same clothes she’d worn the night before. They felt cool and comfortable against her flushed skin. She brushed her teeth and hair, and looked in the mirror for a long, silent moment.
I should look different, she thought. When someone made you a monster—more of a monster than before—you ought to stop looking like yourself. It was confusing, and probably heartbreaking for everyone around her, that her new flesh-craving self looked so . . . normal. Zombies should announce themselves with mindless ambling and snarling, at the very least. It was only decent.
A knock at the door startled her out of useless contemplation, and she opened it to find Joe Fideli standing there, fully kitted out in street clothes, with a bulky black duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He rubbed his shaved head and gave her an impartial smile. “Morning,” he said. “Time to pack up, Bryn.”
“Yeah, I figured,” she said, and shut the door behind her as she stepped out in the hall with him. “You’re already geared up?”
“I like to shop before the stores get busy,” he said. “Plus, I admit it, I wanted my pick of the good stuff. Don’t worry, I don’t wear your size.”
She gave him an eye roll and an air kiss, and he nudged her with an elbow in reply. She and Joe were comfortable together—had been almost from the start. He was just . . . a real guy. A good man. No sparks between them, but genuine comfort. “How heavy are we packing?”
“Can’t afford to get caught with anything technically illegal, so I kept it to the legal carry weapons, plus a couple of bonuses we’ll have to not show unless we mean to use them. Easiest way for our enemies to take us out is to trap us and call the cops on us. We end up in cells, easy pickings. So we do everything legal and aboveboard, until we don’t. Right?”
“Right,” she agreed. “But I actually meant, how many days of clothes did you bring?”
“I’m a guy, Bryn. It ain’t like I’m going to need a lot of variety.”
They had reached the end of the hall, and he led her down a set of metal spiral steps to the next level down. A door with a biometric lock on it was labeled ARMORY, but they bypassed that for the moment, and went into one called WARDROBE.
It was like a mini-mall. There were even signs on the walls calling out sections for men, women, and children. At the back, there was a mini–shoe store. Bryn checked the racks, and found more practical outfits for herself—shirts, pants, nothing fancy and nothing that would get her noticed in a crowd. She added a light jacket and a thick coat, because she wasn’t sure where they’d end up, and a pair of boots in addition to the athletic shoes she was already wearing. Underwear. The bras were all stretchy sports models, which were practical to cut down on the sizing choices.
She finished in fifteen minutes, and loaded everything into another duffel (suitcases and bags were in the far corner). Hers was navy blue, and once she’d packed it, she hefted it over her shoulder and nodded. “Next,” she said. Joe took her out of the wardrobe room, and to the armory.
She wasn’t surprised, by that point, that the armory was the size of a small-town gun show, ranked neatly from revolvers to semiautomatic handguns to shotguns, and all the varying types of rifles (sniper, hunting, military assault). Manny showed a little bit of a predisposition toward American made, but it was a veritable U.N. of killing power—Israeli, Russian, German, Swiss, Belgian, Chinese. Bryn whistled. “Gives new meaning to the term stockpile,” she said. “Does the ATF know about this?”
“Hell, those guys probably helped him get half this stuff. The feds love Manny,” Joe said.
Bryn picked her favorite handgun from the rack—a Glock 23, with the standard thirteen round clip. The extended clips added more rounds but jutted from the butt of the gun and threw off the weight, at least in her opinion. It was a solid weapon, favored by various US agencies, including the FBI, and it had the reputation of being one of the most reliable, even in rapid-fire situations.
Shotguns were heavy weight, but they were decisive in close quarters, and after consulting with Joe about his choices, she added a Winchester of her own, and then chose an FN PS90, the civilian version of the selective-fire P90. She’d always felt comfortable with them, and from her army experience, they were sturdy and accurate.
Ammunition took up the rest of the space in her bag, and when she hefted it, it was about as much weight as she felt comfortable carrying. “Where’s the checkout?” she asked, and Joe grinned.
“I’m guessing that the scanners in here tote it all up, and Manny will bill us later,” he said. “He’s not a giver, really.”
That was very true. Manny had, from the beginning, made it very clear that his help came with a price, and a hefty one. Bryn respected that. She also knew he’d never bargained for this much trouble, either, and she wondered if Patrick had thought about what to do if Manny ever decided to switch teams on them. He could, any time. Pansy would try to stop him, that was certain, but Manny didn’t always listen to her, especially when it came to personal security issues.
Bryn knew she’d tested the limits of his tolerance, and probably shattered them, and he was certainly not happy with the current situation. The only thing stopping him from selling them out would be the certainty that if he did, the Fountain Group would never let him live with as much as he knew about their business.
Self-interest would keep him on their side, at least.
They met Riley and Patrick upstairs again, near the elevators. Riley handed Bryn a backpack, which she found upon inspection to be full of high-protein bars, stacks of cash, and airplane-style toiletry kits. “The essentials,” Riley said. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be stuck hungry or broke in our current situation . . . and I hate not having a toothbrush.”
“Amen, sister,” Joe said, and accepted his own backpack. “Sweet. Now all we need is a deck of cards.”
“I thought you’d be more of a chess man, somehow.”
“Hard to bet on chess,” he said. “Harder to bluff. Okay, then, let’s hit it.”
“I need to say good-bye to my—” Bryn began, but before she could finish, Annalie stepped out of her room, still dressed in a fluffy robe and slippers, and hurried toward them. She breathlessly threw her arms around Bryn, and Bryn hugged her back, hard. “—sister. Hey, Annie.”
“Hey, stupid,” Annie said. “I can’t believe you’re leaving me behind.”
“I can’t believe I’m going. Crazy, huh?”
“Pretty crazy.” Annie pushed back to arm’s length, but held on to Bryn’s hands. “You be careful, okay? I mean it. Careful.”