Desert Fire

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Peeking out the door, I make sure Payton’s back in her room before making a mad dash for Kay’s and mine, praying to sweet baby Jesus no one hears me. It was lucky she didn’t see me bolt into the bathroom when she came down the hall. After shutting the door, I sigh in frustration, because I still have to pee. It’s not like I’ll be able to go back to sleep anyway. When I went out to go to the bathroom, I heard them talking. I would love to say I never eavesdrop or spy, but that would be a giant lie. I eavesdrop all the time, whenever I can get away with it. So it was only natural for me to sneak to the end of the hall and listen in on their conversation.

And man, oh, man, am I glad I did!

Leaning against the door, I slide to the floor, wrapping my arms around my legs. A weird excitement thrums through my veins. Cadmar willingly told Payton details of her real mom, which was epic, because he never shares information if he doesn’t have to. To think her real mom was an assassin, just like us, is mind-blowing. I wonder how Payton feels, knowing that. I’m dying to ask her about it, but I’m also dying to know about my real parents. Obviously, they aren’t the same as hers, but I’m not sure Cadmar would be willing to tell me. The small bit of information he gave her about the Elites meant little when something else so epically huge was being talked about.

Sitting here, thoughts ramble through my brain at an uncontrollable rate until I doze off.

I’m shaken awake when the sun barely peeks through the curtains. I groan, rubbing my sore neck, which hates me for sleeping against the door. Awesome. Kay stands over me with a worried look in place. Blech. I do not need a mommy right now.

“Why are you sleeping on the floor?” she interrogates, planting her fists on her hips.

“I didn’t want to wake you up after I peed,” I relent, shrugging. I get to my feet, ignoring her outstretched hand.

“I don’t mind you waking me,” she says, looking down her nose at me. “Sleeping on the floor is bad for your back.”

Oh, my God! I hate sharing a room with her. I want my own room with my own stuff, one where she can’t get all up in my business. “Thanks, Mom. I’ll take that under consideration.” I roll my eyes then change the subject in order to avoid more scolding. “Are you making breakfast this morning? I’m starving.”

Since we got here, she’s been making all our food and it’s been awesome. She drives me crazy most of the time with her ’I’m smarter than everyone’ attitude, but she’s an amazing cook. Lips pursed, she crosses her arms over her chest before shrugging with a sigh. “Of course, I am.”

We’re met by the smell of coffee in the hall, making me want to weep with joy. I love how Cadmar appears to need coffee the same amount as the rest of us. The woman I don’t want to name never let us have coffee, although she allowed a glass of wine with dinner. I hate wine now. I would rather drink water than wine, which is saying something because I hate water, too. Rounding the corner into the kitchen, Cadmar sits at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee with a frown in place. Oooh, this will be fun. He gives us a tight nod, but doesn’t say anything. The late night conversation with Payton must not have done his mood any good.

Kay pours both of us a cup of coffee before rummaging through the fridge. I dump a cup of sugar and a ton of cream into my cup—coffee of champs— then plop down in the chair across from Cadmar. “Late night?” I inquire with a smile, making his frown deepen. “What? Having a hard time sleeping in the colorless house?”

“Reiley,” Kay warns, raising her eyebrows at me while she pulls a carton of eggs from the fridge and he harrumphs.

Brushing her off, I give Cadmar a devilish smirk. “We could always redecorate the place for you. Add some pinks and greens?” I suggest, wagging my eyebrows while Kay bursts out laughing. Huh, so she does have a sense of humor and she snorts.

“Payton would love that,” she supplies, but it’s barely audible since she’s doubled over gasping for breath.

Cadmar maintains his glower, but Kay and I continue laughing while I suggest adding some pink throws to the beige couch or some purple curtains for the window in the front room. Blacks and reds are more my thing, but the way he grimaces when I recommend anything pink spurs me on.

Payton and Conner appear around the corner dressed in their running gear, ready for their morning jog. Crazies. Our first day here was the day of Conner’s fight we talked about attending, what feels like months ago, but really only a week ago. That was before our lives went to hell and the Elites started hunting us. Payton told me she felt terrible he couldn’t go, so she suggested they go running to help keep his mind off it, which seemed to help.

Conner’s a cool guy—he’s great for Payton—but he must be going mad here. He ran away from everything; left his dad and friends behind to be stuck in a house full of girls and one grumpy dad. But he doesn’t appear to mind it. They can run all they want. I’m treating this as a full-on vacation. No exercising and junk food galore.

“It’s about time you guys woke up,” I exclaim.

“It’s only seven.” Payton points at the clock, eyes sparkling with amusement.

“Running again?” Cadmar asks them with a glare.

“Is that a problem?” Payton challenges. She’s better at this than anyone I know, which makes for some great entertainment.

“Yes, just stay close.” He gives her a pointed look. “Things are quiet right now, but danger will always be on our heels.

“We will.” She waves a dismissive hand.

“I can’t believe you want to run,” I scoff. “This should be like a vacation, not a boot camp.”

“It doesn’t hurt to stay in shape.” Conner laughs, crossing his long arms over his chest. “You should come with us.”

“Blech.” I pretend gag, making Conner laugh even harder. “No exercising for me.”

“They are right,” Cadmar injects, before taking a sip of his coffee. “With all the junk you’ve eaten in the last two days, a run couldn’t hurt.”

“Nuh-uh,” I argue, whipping my head back and forth. “I refuse to run while I’m here.”

“Your loss.” Payton shrugs, before turning her gaze to Kadence. “You want to come, Kay?”

“That’s okay.” She gives them a tentative smile while messing with a plate of bacon. “I’m going to get breakfast started.”

“We won’t argue with that.” Conner gives her a wink, and her neck, face, and ears turn bright red. Ha.

Conner’s pretty damn good looking, so the blush is warranted, but I bet no guy has ever winked at her before; maybe she’s never even hung out with a guy before, besides Cadmar. When Payton and I used to sneak out to hang in Old Town with Conner, a few hotties winked at me, but I steered clear of them. The guy drama is not my thing, and if any of them knew how old I was, they would have run in the opposite direction.

“Okay, we’ll be back in a bit,” Payton announces.

“Actually, can I talk to you for a minute?” I blurt, hopping up from my chair. Cadmar and Payton’s conversation from last night has played through my head over and over. She deserves to know I heard it, but I also want to ask her the question that’s nagged at me all morning. All eyes fall on me, which makes me want to crack a joke or say some snarky remark, but I look at my feet while twisting one of my gauges back and forth, instead. “I just have a question.”

“Sure,” she agrees, but with weary eyes. “Why don’t you go stretch? I’ll be out in a minute,” she suggests to Conner after a long second of watching me. He complies, heading for the door with a puckered brow. She looks back at me while I ignore Kay and Cadmar’s probing gazes. “You want to talk in my room?”

“Yeah,” I agree, pivoting for the hallway.

She follows me, closing the door when we’re both in the room. I slump on the bed, still twisting my gauge around. She might get mad at me for listening in on such an intimate conversation, and the question I want to ask is a thousand percent selfish and a little lame. Maybe I’ll ask her for some tampons and play off a bad case of cramps. But I want her input on my idea to know if she thinks it’s a bad one. She always gives me great advice, no matter what I’m asking; she’s bound to do the same in this situation. She stands in front of me. I gaze at the white carpet, because I can’t stand watching her chew on her lip, showing how worried she is. She doesn’t need to worry about me. “Is everything okay?” she asks when I don’t say anything.

“Yeah,” I say, but keep my eyes on the floor.

“Reiley, what’s going on? I don’t think you’ve ever been this quiet in your life.”

My head jerks up when her hand lands on my shoulder, but I’m stupidly ashamed, because my eyes blur with tears. This is so lame! Why the heck am I getting all torn up about a dumb question? Stop being a stupid coward, Reiley!

“I got up to pee last night.” My traitorous voice cracks on the last word and I turn my gaze to my lap.

“You heard Cadmar and me talking?” she inquires.

I look at her, clearing my throat in hopes to keep my next words from coming out throaty. “I heard you guys, so I snuck down the hall and listened. I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help it.” I’m a snooper and totally ashamed of it. Mostly because I have to admit to it.

“Reiley, it’s okay,” she assures me, but I am not

assured. “What did you want to ask me?”

“He was telling you about your real mom, right?” I ask, twisting my gauge so much it stings a bit. She confirms with a nod. “Why?”

“Because she was following me in Chile,” she explains and my eyes try popping out of my head. What the hell? She must have known a while back and she’s telling me this just now? “Scarlet ’let it slip’ she was my mom, so I asked him to tell me the truth. Is that all you wanted to know?”


It was all. But then my parents popped in my head last night, the images of them, which I created when I was little. I never had a problem accepting the fact I was adopted. Besides Scarlet being the devil incarnate, my life wasn’t so bad. We got whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it, always had a nice place to sleep but I always wondered, always thought about the people who gave me up. “Do you think he would tell me about my parents?”

“I’m sure he would, if you asked. Just remember he’s stubborn, so you might have to work a little charm on him.”

She smiles with a relieved sigh, making me want to roll my eyes. People and their worrying get on my nerves. I swear she’s going to end up with gray hairs if she keeps it up. I was acting a little weird, sure, but I didn’t know how she would respond. Her saying he would probably tell me about my parents has hope sparking in my chest.

“Okay, I’ll ask him.” I bound off the bed, heading for the door with a hop in my step.

“You’re going to ask him right now?” she asks, her voice going up an octave while she rushes after me, which makes me want to laugh. Bringing my parents up to Cadmar right now would not go over well with the kind of mood he’s in.

“No, I’ll wait for the right time. I just wanted to talk to you about it first.” I stop at the door, glancing at her with the most serious look I can muster. “Thanks for being so awesome.” I give her my biggest smile.

“No problem.”

Back in the kitchen, Cadmar’s still seated at the table glaring at his coffee while Kay whisks something in a silver bowl.

“Everything okay?” Cadmar asks when he notices us, looking past me to Payton.

Kay spins around with the bowl in her arm, raising her eyebrows at Payton.

Um, hello! I’m right here! I want to yell.

“Of course it is,” I scoff. Cadmar tilts his head, an eyebrow shooting up while Kay slowly works whatever is in the bowl, watching us closely. “Jeez, guys, chill out,” I scold, plopping in my seat at the table. “I’m just getting my period and needed a tampon.”

Cadmar makes this awesome choking noise and Kay and Payton burst out laughing. I give Payton an amused grin and wink. That effectively shut up the questions.

“Okay, I’m going,” Payton announces, still chuckling when she turns for the entryway.

“No more than thirty minutes,” Cadmar barks, sulking again.

“Got it,” she replies before the door closes behind


Kay gets to work frying the bacon and cooking

eggs while I go on and on about my fake cramps to get a reaction from Cadmar, because it’s oh so fun. When she’s done, I cram food in my face until my stomach is big and bloated, because…mmm…I love bacon. We eat in silence while I ponder when would be the best opportunity to ask Cadmar about my parents.

Whoever they are, they can’t be looking for me or whatever, like what Payton’s experiencing, but I still want to know. Were they two dumb teenagers who got knocked up or did Cadmar know them, too? I want answers, but he won’t be forthcoming with them, especially with how surly he is this morning. Still, I’m gonna get my answers, even if I have to pry them from him with rusty pliers.

Half an hour later, Cadmar keeps shifting around in his chair, looking at the clock, until he finally moves to the couch in the living room, staring at the blank TV. Conner and Payton haven’t returned yet, but they probably stopped to make out or something. I would rather they did it outside the house anyway and Cadmar should feel the same. Kay clanks around, washing dishes and wiping the counters while I chug the last of my now-cold coffee. A few minutes of watching Cadmar stare out the back sliding door drives me nuts, so I jump up and head to the bathroom for a shower.

While I’m stripping, I avoid my reflection, because I hate looking at the damage the person I don’t want to name caused. When my adopted mother came to me to find out what Payton had done to get us in trouble with the Elites, I tried to stay strong, keeping the secret to myself as long as I could stand. But then she sent Bryn and Eva to get the answers from me. Those are two sisters I don’t ever care to see again; quite frankly, I don’t even consider them sisters anymore.

Even with them beating me, I should have been tougher; shouldn’t have broken. But I did. Now I have gross purple bruises on the side of my face and along my ribs. I want them to go away; I don’t need the reminder of what they did to me. Of how weak I was. I take a quick shower in order to be ready when Conner and Payton get back. Maybe we can pester Cadmar into doing something fun today, something which doesn’t include sitting around the house.

I’m scrambling around with wet hair dripping down my back and shoulders, barely getting my bra and underwear on, when Cadmar’s voice booms through the house and footsteps pound on the hardwood floors down the hallway. Conner and Payton must be back, but it sounds like something more is going on. It’s a lot noisier than usual. Someone pounds on the door and I crack it open, not caring about being half naked, which is okay, because it’s only Payton. Her face is bright red and she’s breathing heavily, probably from her run, but her eyes are wide with fear.

“What the hell’s going on?” I demand, my heart racing.

“They’re here,” she croaks around a deep breath. “Get something on and get out here.”

I nod with wild eyes before slamming the door. My heart pounds in my chest, my body tingling with excitement. I’m psyched. Which may seem totally insane because the Elites have found us, but this will be the first time I get to be in the middle of the action. I have no idea what ’they’re here’ means or what the current situation is, but the chance of some form of conflict escalating has adrenaline pumping through my veins at full speed. I yank on some skinny jeans and a worn-out band t-shirt before swinging the door open.

Kay, who’s still in her pajamas, but otherwise seems collected, holds a gun out to me right when I step from the bathroom. I take it eagerly. The cold metal, the weight of it, is a natural extension of my hand that spits out deadly lead. I’m a pretty great shot, if I do say so myself, but I’ve never been able to test it on a person. Payton hates the killing and whatnot, so I never talk to her about using the skills we’ve been given. It’s not as if I’m some bloodthirsty psycho; I just want to prove I’m not the big baby they think I am. I can do this. Defend my family while getting to test out my strengths. Now’s my chance to show them how much I can handle.

Payton and Conner stand to the side, muttering quietly, both with guns out, but Conner holds his away from himself, looking a little ashen. I’m about to ask if agents are already here, when Cadmar stalks toward us from the kitchen. He glances out the window in the entryway right when the glass shatters, a bullet flying toward him. Fear consumes me, freezing me to my spot while I stare at him, my mouth hanging open. Cadmar! I want to shout, but it’s stuck in my throat behind a lump of dread.

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