Stellan and I locked eyes in the late-afternoon light. All the same things passed between us that had earlier this afternoon on the boat, and in Mariam’s van in Alexandria, and in my room in Egypt. Whatever this meant, whatever we meant, however this ended up, we were on the same side now, for better or worse. “Not alone,” I said. “I’m going, too.”
A few hours later, we were on the Dauphins’ plane. I’d left lots of vials of my blood for the scientists to research the vaccine while we were gone. So someone would have the vaccine, just in case the worst happened in Russia. But I had to believe we’d be okay. We had a plan—to get Anya back, but maybe something more, too. Jack had come up with a way for us to take advantage of a terrible situation.
Stellan was wearing a path from window to window. Even when we hit turbulence on the approach to landing, he kept pacing, looking out the window, blazing as bright as the sunset outside. The flirty, half-broken boy was gone. In his place was the version of Stellan who could tear a person in two without blinking. I kept having to remind myself that he contained both those things.
When we hit a particularly rough patch of air, he looked down to find me watching him, and slowed. “I’m sorry,” he said gruffly. “I’m scaring you.”
“No,” I said. On the contrary, the glimpse of how he looked when he loosened his grip on his usual restraint—I hadn’t been able to stop watching him. He would do anything for the people he loved. Just like Lydia Saxon would. In his hands, though, I knew that power might burn hot, but it would never turn ugly.
I was right all along. Power was a knife edge: wanting it, coveting it, getting it.
Longing was a knife edge. The ache for power, for family, for love.
I heard Stellan’s voice that night at the bar in Cannes. You want to be wanted. You want control. Say it.
I had. I’d wanted it. I’d wanted him. All of it—the power, the wanting, the fact that he’d been the one who had seen that in me—it swirled together into this thing I still felt when I was around him. It was the same reason I felt so comfortable telling him things I’d never tell anyone else.
Stellan walked back and forth, back and forth. I scooted over to one side of the love seat, deliberately. He hesitated, then sat. I held out my hand. He took it.
For a second, I was back in the Dauphins’ stairwell, tangled up in him. We’d already made our plans; it would be easy to give in to that pull again right now, allow us a few minutes of respite from thinking. From feeling. Turn to him, kiss him, touch him—that’s what would make sense to do right now in this friends-with-benefits arrangement we seemed to be cultivating.
But I didn’t. I held his hand tight the rest of the flight. I kept holding on as we touched down on the tarmac. And then, together, we walked down the stairs to his hometown.
• • •
It was abandoned.
Stellan told me he’d grown up in a suburb of the city Elodie had mentioned. He hadn’t been back here in nearly a decade, and he didn’t know it had become a ghost town.
The car we were in had to drop us at the end of the street because there was too much debris to drive farther. None of the streetlights worked, but the moon was almost full and bright enough to see everything. What looked like construction materials were scattered everywhere, and bushes grew up through cracks in the street, the only spots of life in an otherwise bleak landscape. The paint on all the buildings was peeling like burned skin, most windows broken out and glass scattered over the street. We stepped over a graying pink teddy bear with little sprigs of green growing out of its eye sockets, and I felt Stellan shudder.
I gripped his hand tighter. We passed a church, spires reaching to the cloudy sky and topped with domes oxidized to green, and then we saw it. There were footsteps in the thick layer of dust. Recent ones, judging by how little dirt had settled back into them.
Stellan stopped still, staring at the footsteps’ path. “I thought that might be where she’d go.”
He set off jogging down the street. I caught up. “Where?”
“My old apartment building. And if I’m right, that means she knew where that was. Which might mean—”
Which might mean the Saxons were the ones who had set the fires that killed his and Elodie’s families, too.
The footprints in the dirt outside the apartment complex told us we were right. We turned on the flashlights on our phones.
“Whatever you do, don’t leave my side,” Stellan said. “What she wants is to capture us. You, particularly.”
“If she tries to take you, I’ll kill her.”
I stared at the foot-tall weeds growing through cracks in the asphalt and felt the weight of my gun in my hand. “I know. If she touches you, I’ll kill her.”
He glanced at me sideways. “I know.”
The front door to the complex hung heavy on its hinges, and Stellan gave it a push. It opened into a small lobby with a broken tile floor, a narrow staircase, and a bank of mailboxes covered in what looked like a decade of dust. From either side, a hallway faded into darkness. The dust on the floor was disturbed in every direction, so we couldn’t tell which way she’d gone.
We crept to the stairs, and I looked up to see them winding around and around. Down here the stairwell was nearly pitch-black, but it got lighter as they went higher. There was a wrongness to it I couldn’t place. I saw a tremor go through Stellan, but we crept up the stairs. Three flights up, I saw where the light was coming from. Off the stairway landing, the building’s front was normal and intact, but the back had been charred to nothing, letting the moonlight in.
I knew where Stellan had to be leading us. His family’s apartment. There was more left of this floor—the hallway was still here, and some of the apartments still had their doors, and even parts of walls. Many of them, though, opened straight into the night, that ghostly silver light filtering in.
P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com