Conner gasps awake. Shooting up to a sitting position on the bed, he looks around the room with wild eyes. Before saying anything, he grabs his head, groaning in pain. I’m sure he feels as crappy as I did when I woke up.
“Argh.” He continues groaning then looks up at Cadmar and me and pushes back against the headboard. “Where am I?” he chokes out, sounding worse than I did. He glances around the room again before his gaze settles back on me. The shock of the bruise on my face makes him gasp. “What happened to your face?” he demands.
Cadmar flinches at my side, but I ignore it. “You’re in my hotel room,” I say calmly, but the look he gives me tells me he’s not fooled. “Cadmar brought us back here after last night,” I explain in an uneasy tone. I have no clue what else to say, never having had such a strange conversation before.
“Oh, you mean after he tried to kill me,” he sneers at Cadmar, but it doesn’t seem to faze him. He probably would have killed Conner if he hadn’t knocked me unconscious. He looks back at me, studying my face again. “It looks like he did even worse to you. Why am I in your hotel room? Why didn’t you kill me?”
“You are here—,”Cadmar interjects before I can say anything, “—because we needed to make sure you wouldn’t tell anyone about Payton. I was going to take you back to Colorado with us, but Payton has talked me out of that, for the time being. And I didn’t kill you—yet—because I thought it might be…imprudent.”
Conner stares at Cadmar with a mixture of disbelief, anger, and fear. “You think keeping me in your hotel is going to keep me from telling anyone about all of this messed-up shit when I get out of here?” He glares at both of us. It hurts having him look at me this way, but he has every right to hate me now. I almost got him killed; the least I can expect from him is hate. “You are both psychotic.” He shakes his head.
“We may be psychotic,” Cadmar growls, danger creeping up behind the calm he’s trying to keep in place. “But I will not let you live unless you agree to keep Payton’s secret. I couldn’t care less what you tell anyone about me, but I will not have you putting Payton on the radar.”
“Cadmar,” I say before Conner can respond. His head jerks in my direction, his eyes sharp. “Could you give us a minute to talk? Only one minute?” I’m begging, I know, but I’m hoping Conner will be more comfortable talking to only me.
Again, anger flickers through his calm. He breathes in deeply then sighs. “Fine, but if you think for a second about trying to escape together, I won’t hesitate in killing you both when I find you. And I would find you; I can guarantee that.”
I flinch and begin to deliver my retort, but he turns on his heel and stalks from the room. He’s thinking of us as two stupid teenagers who want to run off together, but he should know I understand that’s unrealistic. And I’m certain he wouldn’t hesitate in killing us both if we spit in his face after he showed us mercy.
I turn back to Conner. He looks at me then turns his head, crossing his arms over his chest. The muscle works in his jaw, like Cadmar’s does whenever he’s angry about something. I guess he’s giving me the silent treatment, but we don’t have time for it. Even though Cadmar left the room, he’ll only give us a few minutes alone.
“Conner, please look at me,” I request, but he doesn’t budge. “We don’t have time for this. Cadmar will only give us a few minutes, and we have to talk.”
“You want to talk?” He snaps his gaze to me, fury in his eyes. “You want to talk about the weather?” He uses my line from the night before, but I can all but taste the venom in his words. God, I hate this.
“I know you’re angry with me,” I sigh. He looks at me with pure disdain. “And you probably hate me, but I’m trying to keep you alive. If nothing else, you need to let me do that.”
“If you wanted to keep me alive, then why did you ever talk to me?” he asks after a long pause. “Obviously, the shit going on in your screwed-up family is far beyond my comprehension. Your dad tried to kill me last night. What am I supposed to do with that?”
He’s right. I never should have talked to him because the moment I did, I put his life in danger. “I can’t take back what I’ve done or what’s happened. But I can do everything in my power to make things right. I’m so sorry I put your life in danger. You’re right, I never should have talked to you, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have something normal in my life. I’m a teenage assassin, Conner. I didn’t know what normal felt like, until I met you. Killing people, living in a constant disguise, is all my life is about and there’s nothing I can do about it for now.”
“I shouldn’t feel bad for you,” he says to himself, shaking his head again. “Your issues go beyond anything I can ever understand. I thought I had issues with my dad being what he is, but that’s nothing compared to yours.” He gives me a pained look, which rips at my heart. “I want to help you, Payton. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t make any sense that I do, but I don’t think I could, no matter how bad I want to.” He pauses for another second, looking away from me. “I meant everything I said last night, and I still mean it, even though your crazy dad tried to kill me. I would do whatever it takes to help you find a way to change your life.”
A flicker of hope courses through me, but it’s snuffed out as I remember my promise to Cadmar. “I can’t say how much that means to me, but I can’t let you help me, Conner,” I choke out, and he raises his eyebrows. “Cadmar said you’ll have to stay here with us until we leave for Colorado. As long as you promise not to tell anyone, including your dad, about all of this, he’ll let you go when we leave.” I stare deep into his green eyes, hating what I have to tell him next. “When we leave, I won’t be able to contact you ever again. I promised him we would stop seeing each other, in order to keep him from hurting you.”
He gives me a pained look, but it turns into a small grin. “We’re pretty good at being sneaky, Payton. I can promise not to tell anyone, including my dad, which isn’t too difficult, because I tell him next to nothing about what goes on in my life. And I couldn’t care less about having to stay here with you until you leave. It might actually be kind of nice, because I would rather do that than spend the rest of my time here with my dad; even if your dad is breathing down our necks the entire time.” His smirk vanishes, and he gets serious. “But I will not make any promises to stop seeing you.”
The small glimmer of hope is back. It will be a lot harder now that Cadmar knows about us, but I’m sure we can find ways to talk to each other. Right? It seems insane, completely reckless, but I’ve been great at the reckless lately. “Even after everything you know about me and everything that’s happened, you still want to talk to me?” I ask, unsure. I would love to continue being friends, especially because he’s my only friend, but it’s hard to believe he would still want that.
“Seems kind of irrational, doesn’t it?” He smirks again. “Aside from almost being killed and finding out you’re an assassin—who was supposed to kill my dad—I still think you’re pretty awesome and knowing this stuff about you makes you even more amazing, because you want to be better.”
“It seems a little too good.” I shake my head, chewing on my bottom lip.
“It shouldn’t be too difficult to understand, though. I kept things from you, too. My dad is an awful person who creates weapons of mass destruction; it’s not like my life is so simple, either. We both had our secrets and they were both terrible. So, I say we move forward from here.”
“I would be okay with that.”
“Okay, now that that’s settled.” He gets up slowly and walks over to me. With how close he is, I want so badly to wrap my arms around him, but I don’t want to do anything to scare him off. “Am I allowed to use the bathroom while I’m being held captive?”
“Of course you are,” I answer but glance at his bruised neck. “But, um, you might be a little shocked by the look of your neck.”
“It’s okay.” He shrugs. “I’ve been in plenty of fights, remember?” Then he looks at my face again and cringes. “Besides, I’m sure it doesn’t look nearly as bad as your face.”
He reaches out, gently brushing his hand over my bruise, making a shiver run through me. The warmth of his hand causes my eyes to close as I lean toward him. As I’m about to open them again, his lips lightly touch my bruised cheek. My eyes snap open to stare into his.
“If I didn’t know he could easily kill me, I would kick his ass for doing this to you.” His tone is easy, but anger rages in his eyes. He leans forward again, softly brushing our lips together before resting his forehead on mine. My eyes grow wide, and my breaths come in quick spurts. “Does it make me crazy for still wanting to be with you?”
I’m a little light-headed and dizzy, but it has nothing to do with my head injury. My chest feels like it might burst because I’m so overwhelmed. I never thought we would be able to go back to even being friends, but he still wants us to be in a relationship. I was completely content with having him as a friend and letting all of this heat go. Now my head is reeling at the idea of having all of it back.
“It makes you a little crazy,” I say in what’s supposed to be a joking tone, but it comes out all shaky.
He chuckles then presses his lips to mine again. He doesn’t shove his tongue in my mouth or anything; he lightly moves his lips over mine, making my entire body tingle. He pulls away after a few seconds, resting his forehead on mine again.
“Okay, I really need to go to the bathroom.” He smiles crookedly, making me laugh. He kisses my forehead then hurries to the bathroom.
Cadmar comes back in the room right as Conner shuts the bathroom door. He gives me a hard look then walks over to the chair he seems to favor, easing in to it. I walk to the desk, pull out the rolling chair and sit in it. We stare at each other for a long second.
“Why didn’t you tell Scarlet the truth?” I ask as he’s about to say something.
“Because I didn’t feel it was necessary.” He shrugs. “At least, I don’t feel it was necessary, yet. I can easily change my mind and if she finds out about all of this, she will kill him and his father herself. She would also lock you up for the rest of your life. I thought it wisest to avoid all the conflict for now.”
I get the warning. If I screw up, go back on my promise, he’ll tell her the truth and she’ll kill Conner. I’m back to my internal conflict, where I know what I should do and what I want to do. I probably should have learned by now that I need to avoid doing what I want to do and do what I should do. But I haven’t learned my lesson yet, apparently, because I still don’t want to give up my only friend. Call it hormones; call it whatever you like, but I’m keeping Conner.
Conner comes out of the bathroom, as I’m about to say something else. He glances at Cadmar then looks around the room. He seems nervous again, with Cadmar back in the room. Standing next to the bathroom, he leans against the wall with his arms crossed. Cadmar smirks; probably enjoying how uncomfortable Conner is around him.
“So, what now?” Conner tries to ask casually, but it comes out strained. “Do we just sit around in here for the next three days?”
“Don’t act like it’s so terrible.” Cadmar continues to smirk. “Wouldn’t you rather sit in a nice hotel room for a few days, eating room service, than go home in a body bag?”
Conner makes a choking noise and I restrain myself from snapping at Cadmar. We’re still on paper-thin ice and I don’t know what words or actions might push him over the edge. With that, Cadmar turns the TV on and goes to work on his phone.