Kadence drives in silence, keeping her eyes on the road, Cadmar following in the Jeep. I kind of wish I had ridden in the Jeep with Reiley and him and Kay had taken the car by herself, because the unconscious bodies in the back seat are making me nauseas. The three are slumped together, blood all over the place; it’s a gory mess and the scent of their dried blood is awful.
When I got into the garage, I knew there was no way I would be able to drive with my injured arm. Even if I could, I really didn’t want to be alone in the car with our hostages. I called Cadmar and he was still right down the road in the Jeep, so he brought Kay over to drive the GT-R home. I’m glad he didn’t let Reiley drive with me; she would do everything she could to make me feel better. But having her call Conner a douche and tell me how stupid he is for not coming with us would only tip me further over the edge. Kay understands, at least enough to let me be right now.
I’m exhausted and every one of my injuries is screaming at me. Even my feet are killing me again, all the little cuts reminding me they’re there. I can’t even think about moving my shoulder; it’s completely useless. My face, my knuckles, my wrists are all a constant, dull throb. But the worst pain of all—one I’ve never felt before in my entire life—is my shredded heart. I try to close my eyes and drift into the sweet abyss of sleep, but it doesn’t come. Conner’s pleading eyes will not get out of my head. I don’t understand why he had me leave without him. I wanted so bad to yell at him, to argue, but I didn’t have the strength to push and he obviously didn’t want me around anymore.
Maybe the fight with his dad made him realize how thoroughly I destroyed his life as it was. Maybe he couldn’t forgive me for ruining everything. I don’t understand his relationship with his dad, but after what he had told me in the hotel the other night, I didn’t think he would care to leave Charles behind. To come with me. I never questioned his resolve, and now I feel as if I should have. I can’t blame him; he did what he needed to do and I won’t judge him for that. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like hell to leave him. To know there’s the chance I’ll never see him again. When we leave the castle today, nobody will be able to find us; of that, I’m certain. Cadmar will do everything in his power to make sure we disappear.
I squirm in my seat, trying to get comfortable when Kay clears her throat, obviously trying to get my attention. I stay leaning back in the seat but slit my eyes open and roll them toward her. She’s watching me from the corner of her eyes with a worried look in place. It takes a lot not to roll my eyes. She doesn’t need to worry about me; nobody does. I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact I will never get the chance to live a normal life. Took me long enough.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks, her tone soft.
I stare at her for a long time before answering. “Not really,” I grit out.
She nods but keeps her eyes on me for another long second. I turn away from her, closing my eyes again. I don’t think I’ll ever want to talk about it. Not to anyone. If we leave him behind, he and his dad will be dead by the end of the week, easily. But I can’t think on it if I’m going to keep myself alive.
“He probably did what he thought was right, Payton,” Kay whispers, even though I told her I do not want to talk about it.
“I really don’t want to talk about it, Kay,” I mumble, keeping my eyes closed. “I want to get home, get these stupid bitches out of my car, get cleaned up, then get the hell out of here. I don’t care if he thought he was doing what was right. He’s going to be killed, and I won’t be able to save him. Cadmar is going to take all of us into hiding, and I won’t even be able to find out if he lived, or if he was able to get into hiding, too.” Hmm…guess I did want to talk about it.
“You can’t believe that. He seems to be very intelligent. I’m sure he and his father will get into hiding before someone else comes for them. It will be okay.”
I squeeze my eyes shut even tighter, not responding. I am not going to cry over this. No way in Hell will I shed a tear for him, after I’ve already shed so many with him breaking down all my shields. Forcing me to let him in then ripping himself out without a second thought.
She sighs but doesn’t keep going and I’m glad. It doesn’t seem like very long before she’s touching my arm. I open my eyes to see the castle looming in front of us. I can’t wait to leave this behind. She pulls the car into the garage and Cadmar parks the Jeep right next to us. Kay, Cadmar and Reiley all get out quickly, but I have a hard time moving, so I have barely opened my door when Cadmar is standing in front of me. I don’t look up at him; I keep my eyes on his stomach because I don’t want him to see how broken I am. Especially because it’s over a boy.
“Let me help you,” he grunts as I try to get myself out, ignoring his outstretched hand.
I have to comply, because everything hurts way too much to get out on my own. He takes my right hand and scoops me into his arms, making my breath rush out. I was not expecting him to pick me up. He’s so giant, he engulfs me, making me feel tiny. He looks at Kay and Reiley who are watching us with shocked eyes. “I’m going to stitch her shoulder. I’ll be back to get them out of the car. You two get your stuff—bare essentials—and get back out here. I don’t know how quickly the Elites will be here, but I don’t want to be around when they do.”
He turns, leaving the garage before they can respond. He grunts the entire way to my room as if he’s in pain, which I’m sure he is after the knife fight he and Scarlet had. When we get into my bathroom, he sets me on the large counter and starts looking through my cabinets for the first-aid kit. I don’t even have the strength to tell him where it is, so I let him take his time finding it. Once he sees it under the sink, he starts scrounging through it, looking for the stitching thread and a needle. After setting up the needle, he helps me out of my jacket. Every stinking movement hurts, but I grit my teeth through it.
“We don’t have time for lidocaine.” He gives me a sharp look. “Will you be able to hold up?”
“I’ll be fine,” I mumble. He’s done this before, so I know it will be over quick and really, I’m already in so much pain, a little more will hardly matter.
“This is mostly muscle the blade went through,” he explains as he pulls the bandage off. “It’s going to be extremely painful.”
I only nod. I’ll deal. I look away when he pulls off the blood-soaked gauze, scrunching my eyes closed as he cleans the wound again before he starts stitching. The first stitch stings, then burns, then lights my entire arm on fire. Yup, it hurts like crap, but I don’t care. I’m glad he stays silent through the twenty-two tightly threaded stitches, because I don’t want to hear what he has to say about Conner. If he says something mean, I’ll embarrass myself defending him and if he says something nice, I’ll be mad he isn’t on my side. Either way, I won’t be happy.
He sighs when he’s done, cleaning up the excess blood. “These are dissolving stitches, so we won’t have to worry about taking them out. They’re also waterproof, so I think maybe you should take a quick shower before we go. It will help you feel better.” I nod again. The thought of a shower does sound appealing. “Okay,” he says, nodding, too. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes to put a bandage on.”
“’Kay,” I say and he leaves the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
Stripping down takes a long time, because my arm still hurts like hell and I have to remove my other bandages from my feet, too. I wash quickly but enjoy the hot water as much as possible. When I get out, I put on fresh jeans and a cotton tank so it won’t be too hard to put a bandage on my shoulder. I don’t wrap my feet again because they seem to be closed enough to heal. While I’m waiting for Cadmar, I get another bag of fresh clothes and grab my laptop for the trip; the only things I really need to take with me because everything else can be replaced. I’m sitting on my bed when Cadmar comes back in. He remains silent as he puts ointment on my stitches and bandages everything.
As he wraps my shoulder up, my brain rolls through all of the events of the last two days, landing me on the whole ‘mom’ thing Scarlet brought up. I’m pretty sure she was saying the woman who followed me in Chile was my mom, which seems huge, like mind-blowingly epic. I want to know. I need to. But no matter how badly I want the story, I’m not sure I’m ready to tug on that thread; not with how much emotional turmoil I’ve experienced. I also don’t think he would want to spill his guts after such a long day. It will have to wait until we’re somewhere safe…if that’s ever going to happen.
“You ready to go?” he asks when he’s done.
Again, I only nod because I’m afraid if I try for words, I might cry and I am sooo tired of crying. I slide on my Chucks, Cadmar picks up my stuff and we head back to the garage. My heart sinks the entire way. We’re leaving now and it’s settling in, nice and deep, that I won’t see Conner again. I’m not sad just because I want my boyfriend—that’s shallow and I’m not shallow—I’m sad because I’m going to miss our friendship. Having someone to laugh with, share with, and have fun with.
When we get in the garage, something seems off. At first, I think it’s the three bodies Cadmar has tied to three separate pillars. Scarlet, Bryn and Eva are all hunched forward, still unconscious and still bloodied. I guess Cadmar came out and did that while I was in the shower. But that isn’t what’s off.
It’s Kay and Reiley; they’re charging toward us with panicked looks. “Someone’s coming!” Reiley yells in a panic. “A silver car is coming down the drive.”
I want to groan because I’m not sure I can handle any more action, but I hold it in.
“Shit,” Cadmar breathes. “Why would they be so blatant about it?”
We all move to the open garage door to see the car coming. “Get in the Jeep, girls,” Cadmar demands.
Kay and Reiley are quick to comply, but I can’t move. The sight of the silver Subaru WRX coming down our drive has me glued to my spot. Cadmar drops my stuff on the ground and pulls out a gun, pointing it directly at the driver’s side of the car. He’s an amazing shot, so I know he won’t miss.
“Cadmar, no!” I shout.
He spins around, giving me an incredulous look right as the car pulls up to the open garage door. He spins back around, pointing his gun at the driver’s side of the windshield again. It only takes him a second to see who’s behind the wheel so he sighs, lowering the gun.
My heart pounds in my chest as I watch Conner unfold his body from the car. It’s funny how he has such a small car because he’s so tall, but I don’t have it in me to laugh right now. I’m battling between launching myself at him and telling Cadmar to beat the shit out of him for me. He seems to realize the hesitation because he stands by his car for a long minute.
Cadmar stalks toward him, and I hurry to follow behind him because I really don’t want him to beat Conner to a pulp, no matter how mad I am. “What are you doing here?” Cadmar demands, crossing his arms over his chest. He’s intimidating with his chest all puffed up and a glare on his face, but Conner doesn’t seem fazed.
He steps away from his car, fists at his sides and chin held high. “I was wondering if there might be an extra seat open.” His tone is firm, never wavering even though Cadmar looks like he wants to rip his head off.
“I think you better explain yourself, kid,” Cadmar growls. I didn’t realize how pissed he was that Conner hurt me, but I love him for it.
Conner looks at me with pain and surety in his eyes, and the latter confuses me. “Can I have a minute with Payton…please?”
I almost want Cadmar to say no, because part of me is pissed and doesn’t want to hear a damn thing he has to say. But then, that traitorous side of me wants to run into his arms and kiss him, and it’s seriously overshadowing the other side. Cadmar looks back at me, as if he actually wants to know what I want. I nod tightly. I can handle this…I think. I’m so exhausted, I just want to get out of here and find a place with a bed, but I should be able to handle this without breaking down.
Cadmar keeps his arms crossed, looking between Conner and me. He ends with his steady gaze on me and nods. “Five minutes then we’re leaving.” He turns to go to the Jeep, approaching Reiley, who stands outside of it watching us. “Get in the Jeep, Reiley,” Cadmar growls.
She watches me with worried eyes. It’s almost comical to me how everyone is worried about me getting hurt by a guy, but not so much when it comes to me being in physical pain. I nod again, assuring her it’s okay. She turns and gets in the back seat, but Cadmar stays standing next to the Jeep, watching the two of us. I turn, walking toward him with my arms wrapped tightly around my middle. I would love to say I’m just pissed, but I’m mostly hurting, which seems weak.
When I’m a foot away from him, I look up into his guarded eyes. He reaches out to touch my arm, but I stand just out of reach. His hand drops to his side as if I stung him. Good. I hope it hurt. Maybe that’s spiteful, but I don’t like getting hurt this way. I never want to experience it again. I keep watching him with the coldest look I can muster and I can tell it’s affecting him, because his eyes harden.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, then rubs his hands over his face. “I know I screwed up. I should have left with you.”
I stare at him, waiting for him to elaborate, but he stays silent. I muster up the courage to ask, “Then why didn’t you? Why did you make me leave?”
“I didn’t want you to leave,” he growls. “At least, not without me. I hated the way he was talking down to you. I was afraid if you stayed and he said one more degrading thing about you, I might have beaten the shit out of him. Even though I really wanted to, I would have hated myself afterwards.”
“You could have asked me to wait in the garage or even downstairs. But you dismissed me like you didn’t care at all.”
“Of course I cared.” He rubs his hands over his face again, groaning loudly. “I was furious and I was stuck in the moment. I needed to explain you to him, and I knew I couldn’t handle watching him attack you. I wouldn’t have let him, but that would have made it all worse.”
“What did you tell him about me?” That’s all I can focus on.
“I only told him about our friendship. How we met, what you mean to me. He didn’t need to know the other stuff.”
I live out my relief in silence. Cadmar would have flipped if Conner had told Charles the truth about me. “So, you want to come with us now? What about your dad?”
“Of course I want to come with you.” He scolds me as if I should have already known…but I obviously didn’t. “I didn’t ask you to leave because I didn’t want to come with you.”
He reaches forward again, and I let him grab my arms but keep them wrapped around me. I hate how vulnerable he can make me feel. He can so easily hurt me. But I also realize he’s vulnerable, too, because he chose us over his dad. If we don’t let him come with us, he won’t have anywhere to go.
“My dad will be fine,” he adds when our noses are almost touching, his breath brushing over my face. “He got the warning and he understands he’s in danger. He wanted me to go to London with him, but I told him it’s time for me to be an adult and figure things out for myself. That pissed him off, but I wasn’t budging. I got my things and left.” He shrugs, as if it isn’t a big deal, but I see right through him.
“You’re sure you want to leave everything behind? I mean, you won’t be able to contact anyone. You’ll have to leave your friends, your home, your fighting behind. I would hate for you to resent me for that.”
“I’m in danger either way.” He shrugs again, but his fingers grip my arms. “If I stay here, someone is eventually going to find me. I would rather be with you than go into hiding with my dad or by myself. That is, if you still want me to come with you.”
I gnaw on my bottom lip for a second, looking into his eyes. “Of course I want you to come with me. I just don’t want you to hate me for taking you away from your life.”
“I could never hate you, Payton.” He lifts a hand, brushing his fingers over my uninjured cheek.
I want to lean into him and kiss him, but his eyes lift, looking right behind me where I’m guessing Cadmar is standing. I turn to see him only a few feet behind us with my bag and laptop case slung over his shoulder. “Are we done here? We need to get on the road.”
I let my arms drop and grab Conner’s hand, twining our fingers together. “He’s coming with us,” I tell him, my tone hard and chin lifted, letting him know I’m not budging.
“I figured as much,” he grunts, but his expression softens slightly. “You may as well take his car. If the Elites see it when they get here, they’ll know he’s with us. I would rather that stayed a mystery for the time being.”
“Okay,” Conner agrees. “Where are we going?”
“Texas.” Cadmar smirks as if he has some brilliant plan in mind.
We’re obviously going to his house in Texas, but that’s such a long drive; I don’t know if I can make it. “That’s a really long drive.” I try to keep the whine out of my tone.
“I’ll drive,” Conner tells me.
Cadmar nods his approval then hands my stuff to Conner. “Let’s go,” he says, turning for the Jeep.
I look over at the three unconscious bodies; the people who are still a part of my ‘family,’ even though they all tried to kill me. “Are we going to leave them like this? What if the Elites don’t let them go and they end up starving to death or something?”
Cadmar turns a questioning look on me. “Would that be so bad, after everything they’ve done to you girls?” I gnaw on my bottom lip. It seems so cruel, but I’m not sure if he’s testing me right now. He smirks, confusing me even further. “They’ll let them go; don’t worry. And they will be here soon, so we need to go.”
“Okay.” I nod.
“Follow me out,” he tells Conner, then turns to get in the Jeep.
I take one last look at my unconscious adopted mother before turning to Conner. I don’t want to feel bad for her after everything she’s done, but she looks so helpless hunched over as she is. Conner’s hand grips mine and I look up at him.
“It will be okay,” he assures me, and I believe him.
He pulls me toward his car, putting my stuff in the back seat before opening the passenger door for me. I slide into the black-leather seat and let my head fall back on the headrest. The car smells like him and it makes me want to fall asleep right away. He gets in, turning the car back on. Cadmar pulls out of the garage and Reiley waves at us with a giant smile as they pass us, obviously happy we worked things out. Kay keeps her head down in the front seat; she’s probably trying to come to terms with everything changing for us. We’ll work through it.
As Conner turns the car around and follows Cadmar down the drive, I realize I’m happy with this change: leaving the castle behind, never having to look back on it again. We may have to go into hiding and change our identities, but we’ll always be who we are underneath those fake names.
Conner holds his hand out to me and I grip it tightly, ignoring my shoulder screaming in protest. We rest our arms on the center console and he gives me a small smile, I’m able to find comfort in. We don’t have to say anything in this moment because we understand each other. He’s totally content in the journey we’re embarking on, even though we have no clue where it’s going to lead us, but I’m right there with him. The Elites may be following behind us, but I’m not scared. With the confidence he has helped me find, I will always feel strong, always be comfortable with who I am. I sit back in my seat and close my eyes, finally finding blissful sleep waiting for me.