“As far as I know,” Pansy said. “There’s a box of it in the back.”
“Then get me the box, and the formula for that, until he feels safe enough to get back in touch,” Patrick said. “It’ll do for now. Please, Pansy. It’s her life at risk, too, and she can’t run.”
She considered and finally nodded. “Stay here. I’ll be back in five.”
Pansy climbed back in the SUV and headed toward the warehouse building at high speed, leaving the two of them bathed in the cold, white lights. Bryn shivered. If her two assailants wanted her dead, it’d be as easy as pie to take a shot out of the dark right now. She and McCallister, both gone in a second.
But they didn’t want me dead, she thought, and it came as a bit of a shock somehow. She really hadn’t thought about that at all until this moment. They came with knives and stun guns as backup, but they started with bare hands. Didn’t they know she was Revived and that bullets wouldn’t do permanent damage anyway? Or was there some reason they didn’t want to do anything fatal, even then?
No, the only logical answer was that they didn’t know she was Revived. They just knew she’d handled the thumb drive, and they needed to know what she’d found. But they needed her alive to ask the questions.
They didn’t need McCallister, though. And if they were a containment crew, they’d rather him dead than a witness. That made her chest tighten up until she felt she couldn’t breathe. Come on, Pansy. Hurry. The longer they were exposed, the greater the danger to Patrick.
The black SUV came roaring back almost on cue, and Pansy must have pressed a control on the way, because the gate suddenly activated and rattled back before her arrival. She braked, parked, and came out of the truck carrying a good-sized brown box, which she handed over to Bryn; it weighed about fifteen pounds, maybe twenty, and Bryn carried it to the backseat of Patrick’s car.
“Here,” Pansy said, and handed McCallister a thumb drive—the silver one, Bryn thought, from Graydon. Then she handed him a second one, bright red. “The red one has the Protocol-blocking formula on it. The silver one is the one Bryn brought us. We don’t want anything to do with it. We’ve already wiped all the encrypted and decrypted files from our own system. We’re keeping nothing.”
“Pansy,” he said. “Don’t let him run away from us. Not all the way. She needs him.”
“I’ll try,” she said, and leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek. She hugged Bryn. “Stay safe.”
“You too,” Bryn said. “Both of you.”
The gate banged shut between them, and then Pansy was gone, heading back for the warehouse where Manny would be breaking down the lab, packing it up, feverishly heading for a safe place far, far away.
It might be the last time she saw either of them, Bryn thought. And she’d brought it on herself, by involving them in the Graydon murders.
Patrick touched her shoulder. “Let’s go,” he said.
As they drove away, the security lights around the building clicked off, shrouding it all in darkness, and Bryn thought, Good-bye.
She hadn’t really been prepared to feel so…lost.
Mr. French was standing guard at the front door as Bryn came in, and he gave a happy bark and rushed for her ankles, sniffing with great interest to see where she’d been. Whatever he smelled, it made him growl softly, then sneeze, then sit back on his haunches and pant happily, looking at her with the unmistakable expectation that it was time to pay attention to him.
Maybe that was just what she needed. She crouched down to give him a loving scratch on the head and neck, and said, “Stupid dog.” He slurped her hand, and she felt the pressure inside subside just a little. There was something about his furry, unquestioning, adoring love that made her feel less…alien.
She looked up and found that Patrick was watching her. He looked concerned, but there was something unguarded about his smile. “Do you want dinner?” he asked.
“Why, are you cooking?” That was a joke. Patrick, for all his many talents, was definitely not a chef.
“If you want to take a risk on my ability to heat up an MRE…”
“Not that hungry. But you want to talk about my friends in the ski masks, anyway.”
“I think it’s a conversation that can’t wait,” he agreed. “I’m going to lock up these thumb drives. You said you had one with unencrypted data?”
Bryn had put her purse down to pet Mr. French, and now she reached in left-handed, rooted around, and pulled out the drive. She handed it to him. “It’s video surveillance. You should know what’s on it before you watch.”
“Did you know?” he asked, and searched her face for the answer. “Then I’ll watch it cold. Maybe I’ll see something new. Fresh eyes.”
She almost warned him not to watch it before eating, but then the idea of watching it after dinner probably wasn’t so great, either, so she held her tongue. Patrick was a big boy. He’d seen worse, almost certainly, and he didn’t have her…emotional resonance to contend with.
He hesitated, though, and finally said, “See you after I take a look. Will you be upstairs?”
“I need to change,” she said. “And check on Annie. Patrick—thanks. Thanks for coming to get me. I needed—I needed you.” She stood up, and suddenly the space between them seemed to contract without either of them moving. It was the look in his eyes, and the sudden boil of emotion inside her.
And then Patrick took a step forward, touching-close, and murmured, “Did you? Really?”
She only had to lean forward a little to touch her lips to his and say, “Still do.” It wasn’t a kiss; it was friction, her mouth moving against his. She expected him to lean in, press them close, but he didn’t; it was on the trembling edge of happening, but he just held her there, suspended, not making a move. Her nerves woke up on fire, and she wondered if he knew just how incredibly sensual this felt.
She felt his mouth move. A smile. A wicked one.
“It’s like braille,” he said, “but with lips. I think I like it.”
Mr. French interrupted them with a bark, and if dogs could frown, he did. Clearly, he was concerned with losing her attention, and Bryn stepped back. “I need to change,” she said. “I’ll…see you soon.”
Patrick nodded and watched her go.
Mr. French bounded up the steps before her; her dog, Bryn thought, had learned the house faster than she had. It was a little disconcerting, actually. He ran straight to her room and inside, then back out. He dashed instead into Annie’s room, next door, and as Bryn walked in, she found him sitting comfortably next to Liam’s feet. Liam was still sitting in the armchair, still reading…but he wasn’t the one Bryn focused on.
Because her sister was awake.
Bryn stopped dead in her tracks, feeling a rush of exalted relief that was quickly stopped by a more logical dread…until Annie turned her head and looked her way with a tired, faint smile. “Hey,” she said. Her voice sounded rusty and rough. “Thought I’d never see you again, sis.”
Bryn rushed forward and stopped a foot short of the bed as Liam cleared his throat. “Carefully,” he said. “She’s better, but I felt it necessary to keep her restrained for now until we verify her Protocols are turned off.”
“He means,” Annie said, “until he’s sure I’m not going to go after you and your man with a butcher knife.” Her eyes filled up with sudden tears, and she pulled in a gasp. “Oh God, I’m so sorry, Bryn. I would never have done that—never—but I just couldn’t stop it.”
“I know,” Bryn said, and put a hand on her sister’s cheek. She felt warm, soft, alive. “It wasn’t your fault, none of it. It never was. And we’re fine. The important thing is to make sure you’re fine.”
“I think I am,” Annie said, but she looked deeply uncertain. “Maybe you should keep these things on for a while longer. I mean, I didn’t know. I didn’t feel that I was going to do anything, but I heard your friend leave the hall and it was like I couldn’t stop myself. I got up, got the knife, and just—I was a passenger, Bryn. I couldn’t stop.” She started breathing harder, and Bryn took her hand and held it. Annie squeezed hard. “I hate this—I hate it. I just want it to go away. You know? All of it. I want to go home and I want to go back to my stupid bar job and…I want to see Mom!” That last came out as a wail, and Bryn felt her heart break, again. Annie’s tears were overflowing now, running down into her tangled hair. She yanked against the restraints a little, but more in frustration than any desire to get free, Bryn thought. “Can I see her? Can you ask her to come, at least? To take care of me?”
No, Bryn thought, appalled. The last thing she wanted was more of her family involved in this…horror that had taken her sister. And her. “Maybe,” she lied. “Calm down, Annie. What Liam’s been giving you is making it better. You’re in control now. You’re back to being you.”
“Yeah?” Her sister’s mouth set in a bitter little line, very not the Annie Bryn remembered. “The loser sib who couldn’t figure out how to balance a checkbook? Not much of an upgrade from crazy woman with a knife, is it?”
“I know, self-pity isn’t my most attractive look, right? But Jesus Christ, Bryn, I was murdered! And they…they…” Annie’s gaze wandered, and Bryn saw the horror of the last few months come rushing back. “…did things to me.”
Liam was still in his chair, and Bryn sent him a quick look. He said, very quietly, “Shall I go downstairs? Perhaps fix a small meal for us all?”
“Thank you,” she said. “I think she needs something in her stomach, and I’m—” Starving, she realized with a jolt of surprise. “—ready for dinner, too. Liam—thanks for staying with her. Keeping her safe.”