Mercer made some wheezing attempts, and Pat finally eased up on the pressure to let him draw in a whooping gasp. “Can’t tell you here,” he said, and coughed. “No time. We need to get out of here and find a safe haven before her tracker starts sending a signal.” He read the frown on their faces, and shook his head. “Idiots. Of course they know about the trackers. They know about the nanites, and the frequencies they broadcast. And they’ll be listening.” He jerked his chin at Bryn. “You’ve got about two hours before that happens, at the most. It’ll start out as a weak, intermittent signal, so maybe three hours for them to get a firm lock. But she’s a beacon, and she’ll pull them straight at us.”
“Pat?” Bryn asked anxiously. “Is he right? Can they track me?”
“It’s possible,” he finally said. “And it’s possible this piece of shit is lying to make us go where he wants.”
“Listen, G.I. Jarhead, if you want to reacquaint yourself with the lovely Jane, just go ahead and—”
Patrick went utterly, completely still, and then he put his full weight on the boot on Mercer’s chest and barked, “What did you just say?”
“Pat! Pat, you’ll kill him!” Bryn blurted. From the sharp cry Mercer let out, a rib had already snapped. And Patrick clearly didn’t care. “Pat!”
Even Liam was looking alarmed and moving toward his boss with the clear intent of pulling him off—until Pat sent him a look that stopped him cold in his tracks. “Mercer,” Pat said. “I’m only going to say it one more time, and then I will stomp on your chest as many times as it takes to splinter your breastbone and get your complete fucking attention. What did you say?”
“Jane,” Mercer wheezed. He’d gone gray with pain, and a good deal of actual fear. “They have Jane working for them. She’s one of them.”
Patrick took his foot off Mercer and took two long steps back, as if he didn’t trust himself not to follow through, regardless. There was something black and totally out of control inside him, something that shocked Bryn down to the core; she’d known he was capable of violence, but this was beyond all that.
This was feral.
“Pat?” she asked. He looked up at her, then down, as if he couldn’t hold her stare. “Pat, who’s Jane?”
“My wife,” he said. “Jane was my wife.”
It kept running through Bryn’s head like white noise, and she just couldn’t comprehend it. He didn’t have a wife. He couldn’t have a wife, because he’d never, ever talked about it. And if he ever had married someone, it certainly, absolutely could not be Jane.
That was utterly impossible. He was a good man, a decent man, and Jane…Jane was everything foul in the world. A walking toxic spill.
“That’s not true,” Bryn said aloud. “Pat—that’s just not true.” She stared at him, but he’d veered away as if he didn’t dare come close to her now, either. He stalked toward the corner, boots scraping on the dusty concrete, fists clenched.
Lying on the ground, Mercer laughed, but it dissolved into painful coughing. He rolled on his side and spit up blood. “Ask him,” he said, and grinned with bloody teeth. “In case you think I’m making it up, her full name is Jane Desmond Franklin.”
“She’s dead,” Patrick flung back without turning.
“Well, I think we could all agree, there’s dead and then there’s really, sincerely dead. And Jane’s the former, not the latter. By the way, congratulations on your taste in women. You do run to type, my man. Bryn’s got that same crazy, strong energy, doesn’t she? Doesn’t give up. Just like…Jane. You know, before.”
Patrick turned and went for him, and if Liam hadn’t gotten in his way and deflected the rush, Bryn was utterly sure that Mercer would have been bleeding out his life on the concrete. She couldn’t move. She felt as if she’d been nailed in place, then frozen solid.
Liam shoved Patrick back with surprising strength and shouted, “Don’t play his game!” Patrick subsided, breathing hard, eyes fixed on Mercer’s laughing face. Liam swung around on Mercer himself. “Jane cannot be alive.”
“Ask Bryn about her.”
“Bryn—” Liam glanced at her, and his eyes widened. “Bryn?”
Something inside her had just…shut down, so her voice came out flat and mechanical as she said, “There was a woman. She said her name was Jane. She’s the one who was in charge, who took Jeff, who got me.” Who took me apart. Jane. Jane Jane Jane. Spider to my fly.
“It’s the same woman,” Mercer said. “Freddy saw her.”
“I did one better than that,” Freddy said. “Check my cell phone. Coat pocket.”
Liam knelt beside him and got the phone out. He turned it on and rose to his feet, staring at the screen in disbelief.
Patrick came to join him, took the phone out of his unresisting hand, and what was in his face as he gazed at the picture wasn’t disbelief at all. It was the face of a man gazing into his own burning and inevitable hell.
He turned off the phone and dropped it on the ground, and paced away, head down.
“She can’t be,” Bryn said. “She can’t be your wife.” In no universe did that make any sense at all. Tectonic plates shifted inside, broke open, and lava scorched her soul to ashes. “Patrick, tell me she isn’t your wife.”
Patrick didn’t speak. Didn’t even look her way. It was as if he were trapped in a black, black box somewhere far from here.
It was Liam who said, in a very shaken tone, “She was, once. They were married when both were in the military, then divorced. She was killed in action.”
“They said she was killed in action,” Mercer said. He sounded smug now, and oddly delighted. “I had her file, you know. She went from black ops to so deep undercover even you weren’t read in, Patrick. And she wanted it that way. When she came to us as part of the military program, we were explicitly told you were not to have any information. But then, the restraining order you had against her was something of a clue you might not want further contact.”
Patrick stopped walking, but he didn’t turn in their direction. His head stayed down. “Military program,” he repeated. His voice was soft, but it echoed through the concrete room. “There was no military program. It was terminated before the test subjects arrived.”
“So the records state,” Mercer said. “I only had a couple of successes out of it in any case. And I don’t really consider Jane a success. She was described to me as a diamond in the rough, and I think that was very accurate; the problem with diamonds is that they shatter if cut the wrong way. And Jane shattered. She just…enjoyed it.”
“She was insane long before that,” Liam said flatly.
Fast Freddy laughed. “You know, there’s a rule that says don’t stick your dick in crazy. Should have remembered that one, Patrick.”
Patrick made a sound that Bryn had never heard before—warning, threat, an animal fury that raised the hair on her neck and chill bumps on her arms. He turned, and there was a shine in his eyes that made even Fast Freddy’s smile vanish. “You don’t know what happened to her,” he almost whispered. “So shut your mouth before I rip your jaw off.” Whatever history there was between him and Jane was…monumental, Bryn realized. Fear, anger, loathing, a complicated kind of pity, horror, maybe even a little damaged and fragile love.
No. No, you can’t. You can’t feel anything for her. What she did to me…Jane had been the one to inflict the damage, to drink up Bryn’s pain and blood and tears, but it was Patrick who cut her now, to the core.
His feelings for Jane, about Jane, were a kind of betrayal she’d never been prepared to feel.
Patrick’s wife. Jane.
It changed everything, tainted everything. If he’d hated the woman, if he’d just purely loathed her, it might have been okay; Bryn could have learned to live with that. But it had been that little flash of compassion, of regret, that had destroyed her.
And now he looked at Bryn, and she looked at him, and she didn’t understand him at all, not at all. He was a man who’d romanced Jane. Who’d kissed Jane. Who’d dreamed of a family with Jane.
It didn’t even matter if it had ended in bitterness, divorce, anger. He’d loved her once, and that made Bryn want to die.
“We have to go,” she said. Her voice still had that eerie sound, flat and mechanical, unfeeling, as if the nanites were talking for her. “If they can track me, we can’t hide here. We need to go somewhere safe.”
Liam looked hugely relieved at that, pitifully grateful that they didn’t have to discuss Jane. “The mansion is strong, but not defensible against a genuine assault. This place, on the other hand…”
“No,” Patrick said. His voice was rough and low, but under control again. He blinked, and that animal shine left his eyes. “Can’t stay here. She came here once. She’d know its weak spots.” She meant Jane. Now that his anger had passed, he had that stricken look again, as if he was afraid he’d gone mad.
She was wondering if she’d gone mad. If all this was some dream she’d escaped into, to evade the reality of Jane and her cutting smiles. Maybe none of this was really happening. That would, in fact, be better. It’d mean that she didn’t have to live in a world where Jane Desmond Franklin had been married to the man she loved.
Patrick finally snapped out of it long enough to say, “Everyone in the van on the east side. We’ll leave Mercer’s car behind.”
“Everyone? Including these two?” Liam looked down at Freddy and Mercer, who were struggling against their bonds.
“I’m not leaving anyone for Jane. Not even them.” Patrick, to prove it, grabbed Fast Freddy under the shoulders and dead-dragged him to a door Bryn hadn’t even noticed.…It was small, inset, and he had to hunch to get through it as he shoved it open with Freddy’s shirt collar crushed in one fist.