There are too many people. My hope for being able to find Payton grows dimmer and dimmer. Cadmar is easily visible on the other side of the street, pushing people out of his way. It might actually be funny if it weren’t for the seriousness of this situation. We’ve been at this for hours, shoving through multitudes of people, looking on tops of buildings, trying to find her. Cadmar’s presence is a must, no matter how dangerous it is that he might be spotted, since he knows Payton’s habits when on a mission.
Her plane was supposed to land sometime this morning and she was supposed to be shadowing her target until the afternoon, which is when she’ll execute her mission. We thought it would be easy to find her once we located her target, but either she’s very good at blending in with this crowd or they have her doing something entirely out of her nature to complete this mission. We thought she might even spot us, since we aren’t being very discreet, but she could be so focused on this horrid task that she doesn’t see anything else.
I remove my hat to wipe the sweat beading on my brow before calling Cadmar on my cell. “Our time is almost up, Cadmar,” I say right when he picks up. “Where the hell is she?”
“Her target is in my sights,” he replies. “Get on my side and we’ll stick close to the target. She’ll be showing up in the next fifteen no matter what. This is where she’s supposed to take the target out.”
“Okay,” I agree before we hang up.
The crowd parts enough for me to get to the next crosswalk and haul ass across. When I get to Cadmar, we stay close to the target, my heart racing with every second that passes. The crowd thickens, causing the woman’s five guards to close in around her.
“How the hell would she pull this off?” I ask Cadmar, whose gaze is glued to the woman.
He only shakes his head. “Only five more minutes,” he says, right before his phone beeps. The only person it could be is Kadence, who’s back in California, keeping an eye on the facility.
“Yeah?” he answers. “What?” he yells a second later, coming to a halt in the middle of the onslaught of bodies, earning a few yelled expletives. “Fuck. Goddammit.” Another pause, while everything in me shrivels and dies. “We’ll be back tonight. Stay put. Don’t go anywhere.” He pauses. “No! Do not risk it. Stay at the motel until we get there.” He sighs. “Yeah. Bye.” He disconnects and starts walking in the opposite direction of the woman.
“Cadmar!” I shout, hurrying after him, wanting nothing more than to pick a fight with a random citizen.
“She isn’t here,” he tells me when I reach his side, and even though I already figured that out, my stomach flips over and a sharp pain racks through my chest. “Kadence kept digging this morning and found a shadow file that the head of the facility created this morning. He changed the entire assignment. She’s in Japan. The target was already pronounced dead hours ago.”
“No,” I say without knowing why. As if me saying it would change anything. As if I could change the fact that my girl killed again. But why would she? Why wouldn’t she run? Why wouldn’t she use this opportunity to escape?
“Calm down, kid.” Cadmar slows, placing a hand on my shoulder. “We don’t know what she’s been through, what they’ve done to her or held over her to get her to do this. But we both know she wouldn’t have done it willingly.”
I have to focus, keep my head on, but everything he just said makes it even harder. They could have tortured her to the point that she doesn’t even know who she is anymore. They could have done a number of things to her that she can never heal from. Two months is a long time.
Will I be able to stick with her? To help her through this if we’re able to get her out?
“We’ll get her out,” Cadmar says, as if reading my thoughts. “But right now we need to get to the airport.”
Upon arrival, we go through the long process of getting through security. Since our old pilot buddy was busy, we ended up flying commercial, which seemed complicated, but we were able to get on a plane to New York without any issues this morning.
Back on the plane, we say nothing to each other, but there’s talk about fear of some virus or illness that has already taken seventy-five people out around the world. They just dropped dead without any earlier signs of illness. Seventy-five people. She obviously didn’t do all of them by herself, but the information Cadmar protected so thoroughly is now in their hands.
While people ask the flight attendants questions, I watch Cadmar. He shows no emotion, which I know to mean he’s feeling far more than usual right now. With my level of fury, of loathing, I wish I knew how to hide my feelings. As of right now, I could easily kill someone. And when I get my hands on the monsters in that facility, I’ll do just that.
Because of the time difference, we arrive back in LA in the early evening. Kadence is sitting on her bed, pulling on her braid when we walk through the door. “Tell me exactly what happened,” Cadmar demands, approaching her.
“It doesn’t make any sense, Cadmar,” she answers, standing from the bed. “It was all there, as if it were planted, but not for us to see—for them. It was so sudden that the shadow file popped up, but I think it had been there all along. It was all planned down to the minute she was supposed to terminate the senator.”
“Who were they?” Cadmar asks as I sit on the end of the bed, planting my face in my hands to brace for the answer.
“I had to do some digging, but….” She shakes her head. “Cadmar, it was the entire board of Elite directors, and every single one of their protégés. With the amount of people killed and who they were, the head of this facility is now the very head of the Elites. He basically made way for himself with one swift move.”
Cadmar doesn’t say anything. I glance up to see him staring at Kay, jaw twitching. What the hell could possibly be going through his mind? The monster who has Payton in that building took out his entire lineup of competition using Payton’s technique. Seventy-five people.
They keep talking, but I can’t hear them.
They’re worried about what this means for the Elites, what might happen next, what this new head might do with what Payton gave him.
But none of that fucking matters because Payton is still in that damn place.
She’s been there over two months.
Today is her eighteenth birthday.
It’s supposed to be a day of freedom, yet she’s locked in that place. I should be taking her to get another tattoo, taking her out to dinner, celebrating this day with her.
I shove away from the bed. “What the hell are we going to do?” I shout, causing them to stop and stare at me. “We just wasted almost two weeks with this plan that didn’t go anywhere. They still have her! They just forced her to kill someone, and you two are sitting here chatting about the damn Elites, who are apparently gone now.”
I grip my hair, pulling at it. The need to break something, to start throwing punches, to do anything that will get this rage, this all-consuming sorrow out, is overwhelming. My gaze meets Cadmar’s, who watches me with dead eyes, his arms crossed over his chest, that jaw still twitching. “What do we do?” I plead. I’d get down on my knees and grovel if it would get this man to act, to do whatever it takes to get her out.
He considers me for a long minute while my fists curl and uncurl at my sides. “Because he took out the directors, things will actually be harder for him now,” he tells us. “He’ll have to coordinate with every single branch of every government that the directors worked with in order to make sure they don’t just take him out and replace the Elites with people of their choosing. So we’ll move forward with the initial plan. It should have penetrated through the wall by now. It would be great if we could test it, but we’ll just have to tunnel in and hope we get through the other side.”
“And do what if we don’t get through?” Kay challenges. “We can’t just blow through. That would risk the wall caving in on us. And how do you plan to tunnel in without being detected?”
“As I said, this new head director will have a lot to take care of, which will have most of his agents running around with him. This is our best chance of getting in. We’ll take a couple days to plan it out.” Cadmar pauses, rubbing his hands over his face. “We just need to get it done. We need to get her out and be done with this.” He meets my gaze. “Get a hold of your dad about the gases and see if there’s a way to measure the saturation of the acid.”
With a nod, I move into action. Two months. Two freaking months of nothing, of hoping we’ll somehow magically get her out, of trying an actual plan and failing miserably. Now we’re doing it. We’ll either succeed or die trying.
Does she think we’ll come for her? Does she think we’ve forgotten her?
While I get the information from a long, drawn-out conversation with my dad, during which he reminds me of our bargain, Kadence does what she can to find blueprints of the facility. Cadmar makes some calls of his own, mainly to make sure Rae and Reiley are still doing okay and to let them know what we’re doing. We act, we do, and my heart races, my blood singing with the thought of getting her back, of holding her in my arms while we both piece ourselves back together.