The last few things added to my solution have it ready. Cadmar took the time to look over my equations to make sure I wouldn’t burn our tiny room, along with the rest of the motel, to the ground. He’s now stationed next to an unconscious Reiley. She’s been like that since we got back two days ago, only waking for her bare bodily needs, then curling in a ball on the rickety bed and falling back into her abyss.
Cadmar only leaves her side for short spurts when he needs to tend to his own needs. His gaze is constantly alight with rage and fear, as if he wants to rip apart the entire world just to make things better for his girls. He’s the only one who can calm her down when she wakes up screaming. That first time, we had only been back for a few hours. It was the middle of the night and we all thought they had somehow found us.
It’s the worst kind of hell watching someone you care about, someone who is usually the life in the bunch, wither away. Not from some illness like I watched with my mom, but from experiencing too many horrors for such a young, innocent person. The ugliness of the world was unleashed on her, the darkness of it clashing against her light that was already dimmed by the grief of thinking she lost her dad. She’s pulled in on herself, either in self-preservation or the lack of will to live.
“Is it done?” Kadence asks over my shoulder in a hushed tone, pulling me from my thoughts.
She’s been checking on my project more than anyone. Really, she’s been the glue, the motivation, the caretaker, the nurse for all of us. When we got here, she helped Cadmar change his bandage, making sure the wound from the explosion wasn’t getting infected. He also checked her bullet wound, while finally giving me the story of what happened with Scarlet and at the database. Not only has Kay survived these past few days, but she also survived being shot. She’s barely older than Reiley, yet she’s taking everything that’s happened in stride. I always forget she was an assassin, an actual one who killed with daggers and guns. Moments like this show she’s seen far more than any seventeen-year-old ever should.
I nod, glancing over my shoulder at her. She gives the barest of approving smiles. Hell, I want to fist pump or yell atop a mountain that it’s finally done. We can finally start doing something to get Payton out. Reiley should be awake for this, should get to celebrate the measly progress. Maybe telling her would give her the motivation to get up.
I glance at Cadmar, who now has his hair gripped in his hands, slumped over in his seat with a desperate look in his eyes. The desire to talk to him about our next steps is snuffed out by the screaming. Cadmar has Reiley’s thrashing body in his arms before I can get to my feet. Kay stands next to the bed while Cadmar tries cradling Reiley, but her kicking and swinging make it impossible.
The helplessness I’m feeling, mirrored in both Kay’s and Cadmar’s eyes, is all-consuming. How do you help someone who’s been so scarred? I remember Payton having nightmares after that agent in Chile, but they were nothing compared to this. Hell, I have nightmares about that, about the agents in Texas, and about the five whose lives I took this last trip to the castle, but I can’t let them rip me apart.
Our group that’s supposed to save Payton from the same monsters that did this to Reiley is completely broken; even Cadmar appears hopeless. After seeing and hearing about what the Elites did to Reiley, I can’t imagine the horrors Payton is going through.
We have to get her out!
Reiley screams and screams, pushing me to my breaking point, forcing me to leave the room and slam the door behind me. I sit on the bumper of the Jeep in front of the room, still able to hear her screaming through the paper-thin door. It’s a wonder the cops haven’t been called. I lean my elbows on my knees, my face in my hands, on the verge of weeping when a soft hand brushes my shoulder.
I snap up to meet Kay’s serene gaze. “It’s going to be okay,” she tells me, and I balk. She shakes her head. “I know it seems hopeless, but we’re going to get through this. I, umm… I talked Cadmar into calling her mom. She was in LA anyway, looking for Reiley and me. She’s going to come get her and take her somewhere safe.”
I want to sigh in relief, but she wraps her arms around herself, looking off in the distance. A single tear rolls down her cheek, and I fight every urge I have to brush it away.
“This kind of guilt…,” she continues, swallowing twice, then flinching at another loud scream. “I know she thought my injury was her fault. It wasn’t. I don’t blame her for it. But what was done to her… that was my fault. I could’ve given them what they wanted, or I could’ve done what I did sooner so she wasn’t hurt like that. That’s the second time she has been tortured by monsters because of me. And I can’t…. I don’t… I don’t deserve her as a sister. Her fierce love, her bright light, her sassiness, that may all be gone because of me.”
My heart breaks even more than it already has, aching for this poor girl who has the weight of the world on her shoulders. I know the kind of guilt she speaks of. I’m constantly haunted by my own.
Before I can think better of it, I reach out and wrap her in a tight hug. She’s rigid for a moment, almost seeming to want to pull away, but then the screaming stops in the room and she sighs, wrapping her arms around me and resting her head on my chest. It isn’t romantic in the least bit, but a necessity. She clings so tight to me that I wonder if this girl has ever received a hug before.
A few moments of taking comfort from each other is interrupted by the motel door opening. We pull apart, turning to find Cadmar stalking toward us with murder in his eyes. He has my collar in his hands, his snarling face inches from mine within only a few strides.
“Cadmar!” Kadence protests, trying to shove between us, but he won’t give an inch.
“Did you already forget what we’re here for? Who we’re here for?” he snarls, spit flying from his mouth. The whites of his eyes are completely red, face pale, and sweat beading on his forehead. This is a man who no longer has it together, who’s lost almost everything and could quite possibly snap at any moment. “If you try to take advantage of one of my other daughters, especially given what they’ve gone through, I will hurt you in ways you can’t even imagine.”
Kadence tries shoving him again, yelling his name this time. It’s like déjà vu, so similar to that first time I met him in Chile when he found Payton with me. But I’ve grown up a lot since then. I hold in my childish retorts, giving him an even stare, even though every bone in my body eggs me on to accept the fight, to revel in it, let loose this churning anger.
“It was only a hug, Cadmar,” I tell him. “Your daughter is broken, so I hugged her. Don’t insult me by suggesting that I’ve forgotten about Payton or that I would ever screw with her sisters like that. If you’re that pissed about it, you should take a minute to hug your daughter. She’s in desperate need of love.”
Kadence gasps but Cadmar lets go of me, then holds up a hand. “I need a minute.”
He walks a few feet from us, showing us his back while taking multiple deep breaths, fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. I can imagine the amount of adrenaline pounding through him, since he was so close to beating the shit out of me. Hell, the adrenaline dump I just received could’ve made that a pretty even fight. The line we’re walking is such a fragile, thin one. Kadence stares after him, eyes wide, mouth hanging open, breathing rapidly.
He walks back over, composed by only a margin. He stands in front of Kay with a weary look in place. “I apologize for that outburst,” he tells her.
Her eyes never soften. The crack of her palm hitting his cheek ricochets through the parking lot. His head doesn’t even jerk to the side; he just stares at her, while my heart pounds in my chest.
“I deserved that,” he says after a minute of them having a stare-down. Now my mouth falls open.
She only nods in response before wrapping her arms around herself again. The action reminds me so much of Payton when she thought she could hold herself together with the simple action, the hole in my heart throbs.
“I called her mom.” He keeps his focus on Kay, never looking at me. “She’ll be here within the hour. Reiley stayed conscious for a few minutes when I got her to calm down, but I thought it was best not to mention our plan, since she’s so fragile.”
“I understand,” Kay replies. “Was Rae angry?”
“No. She blames herself for what happened.”
“Seems like there’s a lot of that going around,” I interject, receiving a small smile from Kay and a dead stare from Cadmar.
“Can you keep an eye on Reiley while I have a word with him?” Cadmar asks Kay, gesturing toward me.
“Don’t you dare act so childish again.” She jabs him in the chest.
“You have my word.” He dips his chin.
She nods before heading back to the room. He waits for the door to close before turning his angry gaze on me, clearing his throat.
“I apologize for the accusation,” he admits. “You didn’t deserve that, especially after everything you’ve done for my girls.”
“I accept your apology. And I understand.”
I get a nod in response. “After Reiley’s mom leaves with her, we can move forward with the first stage of the plan.”
Everything in me wants to shout for joy, but after watching him for the last hour, he would be no help right now. He’s a dead man walking.
“I think you could use some rest first. I could go alone tonight to get it started.”
He tilts his head, considering me. “I won’t be able to rest until I have all my girls back. Besides, I want to take a look at the location, choose the best spot. We’ll go tonight.” He doesn’t say anything else for so long I think he’s done, but he keeps his hard gaze trained on me. “I also haven’t thanked you,” he adds, glancing sideways at the parking lot, making my gut clench.
“No,” I cut in before he can go on. “Please… please don’t thank me for that.” My fists clench at my sides; the images flooding my mind have me wanting to hurl or drive them out with a power drill.
He considers me again, but nothing beyond agony moves through his eyes. “They would’ve killed the girls. You helped save their lives, kid. Those lives were your first to take—and I hope the last—but they were not in vain.”
Swallowing six times barely keeps the bile down, so I nod once to keep from vomiting on him. Those lives will forever be on my hands. The five agents I shot—in the head—their blood is on me. No amount of washing could ever get it off. I remember the haunted look in Payton’s eyes when she killed that agent with her bare hands. I understand it now.
What’s even harder to accept is the realization that I will do anything to get Payton back. Anything. I had to decide at that point if destroying myself for her freedom is something I can live with. Does my love for her run deep enough that I can somehow go on even after we get her out?
Better to block it all out than face it. Since I am willing to destroy every piece of my soul for Payton, there’s no point in dwelling on the horrifying shit.
Without another word, Cadmar nods before leading the way back to the room to wait for Reiley’s mom to show up. Reiley sits up in the bed when we enter the room, staring at the blank wall in front of her with Kadence sitting next to her.