Liam grabbed Mercer and towed him toward the same exit.
Bryn didn’t move for a moment. I could just run, she thought. I could just run and get away from all this.…
But she needed the shots, didn’t she? In the end, it always came down to that, to one more day of survival. She didn’t want to be in the same vehicle with Patrick right now; she didn’t want to know how all this shook out. She didn’t want to hear about his life with Jane.
She wanted it to not be true at all.
Liam paused in the doorway and looked back at her, and said, “You can’t stay, Bryn. Come on. Hurry.”
“Who is he, Liam? Really?” It burst out of her in a rush, and she wished she could take it back, because the fact was, she really didn’t even want to know. She already knew too much.
Liam shook his head. “Not the time. Come on. Now, Bryn—we have to clear the estate as well. Your sister’s still there.”
That got her moving, finally; the idea that she’d let anything happen to Annalie was unthinkable. She’d done enough to her sister already—and once again, she’d plunged her into something uncontrollable, and dangerous. Mr. French. She thought about her dog, too; she couldn’t leave him behind. Jane would love to find something Bryn loved, just so she could take it apart.
She took a step, and—to her surprise—stumbled. Her thigh muscles felt weak, and trembled unsteadily as she righted herself. Her arms were tingling, too. Bryn knew this feeling all too well; she felt chilled now, too, as the nanites exhausted their power and stopped their very necessary repairs to the ongoing destruction. Death couldn’t be stopped, only delayed, and she could feel it creeping through her body like shadows.
Liam knew it, too; she saw it in his face. “I’ll give you the injection in the van,” he said. “Hurry.”
She stopped and said, “No.” Even Mercer, being dragged, looked taken by surprise. “Give me a shot right now. I’m taking Mercer’s car. I’ll get Annie.”
“And go where?” Liam asked. “If the people who held you have the tracking frequencies…”
“Then I’ll lead them someplace they can’t go,” Bryn said. “Right to the gates of Pharmadene.” It was the only logical choice; if she couldn’t hide, she could make it next to impossible for Jane and her bosses to get their hands on her and Annalie. Let Patrick and Liam find their own hole to crawl in. He lied to me. He should have told me about Jane, about his wife.…
She didn’t say it, but she didn’t have to—Liam knew. He opened a pocket in his vest, took out a syringe, and crossed the room to deliver the injection.
She hardly felt it at all. Her scale of pain had widened quite a bit.
When it was done, Liam smoothed his hand gently over the injection site, a gesture of comfort, but even that made her flinch. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Be careful. I’ll tell him—something.”
“He should have told me something, too,” Bryn said. “Liam—thank you. For everything.”
Then she turned and walked away.
The one shot that Liam had given her helped her maintain, but healing was at this moment beyond her reach. Bryn drove fast and recklessly, and swore under her breath at her lack of a cell phone with which to call ahead to Annie. She’ll be all right.
She’d better be all right, or I’ll kill Jane for that, too. Over and over and over.
Upon her tire-screeching arrival, the mansion looked the same as it ever had—gates shut and locked, everything right and proper. The gardeners were finishing for the day, and rolling the plastic bins down toward the pickup point on the street; they waved to her as she drove in. All very normal.
Except her skin still looked gray and slack over her muscles, and she could feel the wrongness inside her. The big industrial refrigerator in the kitchen held the lockbox with the last of Manny’s special-formula shots; she’d grab those, inject two, and take the rest with her. And the box of inhibitors—she and Annalie would need those if they were to rely on the Pharmadene formula of Returné. The idea of being under the control of those built-in Protocols didn’t sound like something Bryn could handle. Not now.
Her self-control was like a thin, fragile crust over a vast abyss of betrayal; she tried not to think of what was going to happen when she finally broke through it and fell into that boiling cauldron of emotion. She’d loved Patrick, really loved him, and the damage he’d done to her was as great, in its own way, as Jane had managed.
Bryn parked Mercer’s sedan and ran up the front steps—or tried. Her legs felt clumsy, as if the nerves were making only partial contact with the muscles. It took three tries to fit her key into the locks on the door. She heard Mr. French barking on the other side.
As she stepped in, his glad rush toward her skidded to a stop, and he backed up a couple of tentative steps with a whine of puzzled distrust.
“Oh, sweetie,” Bryn said. “It’s okay. I’m still me.”
Mr. French took another step back, still whining. From the library doorway, one of the house’s Rottweilers—Maxine, Liam’s favorite—advanced stiff-legged and growling.
“Annie!” Bryn yelled. “Annie, get down here!”
“Bryn?” Her sister’s voice echoed faintly from somewhere upstairs. “Oh thank God, I was so worried. Patrick was going out of his mind—” She appeared at the railing on the second floor and paused, eyes going wide. “What—?”
Maxine was steadily advancing on Bryn, who stood very still, trying not to look like any more of a threat than she already did. The Rottweiler was normally very sweet, but she was in guard mode now, and Bryn no longer smelled like someone who belonged here.
She smelled like danger.
“Call her off,” Bryn said. “Hurry.”
Mr. French had backed all the way to the stairs, clearly torn by confusion—he wanted to protect her, but his instincts were all in conflict with his senses. Maxine wasn’t conflicted at all. She just wanted Bryn gone.
Annalie hurried breathlessly down the stairs. “Maxine!” She clapped her hands sharply. The Rottie didn’t even glance her way. Liam was her master, and the others were just tolerated guests. “Maxine, stop!”
She grabbed the dog by her collar just as Maxine’s growl dipped down to a truly menacing range. Maxine, surprised, tried to lunge forward, but Annalie held on and dragged her back over the slick marble floor, into the library, and blocked her way out until she could slide the door shut and trap the dog inside. Maxine wasn’t one for barking, but she did then, deep-throated and vicious sounds of alarm. The scrabble of her claws against the wood made Bryn wince. “Jesus!” Annie said, and backed away from the door, then turned to look at her. “Oh. Oh God.”
“I need shots,” Bryn said. Her throat felt horribly dry, and her voice sounded thin. This was happening much faster than she was used to, but then, she’d been through a lot; the stabilizing influence of the single shot Liam had given her was wearing off incredibly fast. “Mr. French—”
He was huddling against Annie’s leg. Her sister knelt and petted him, then picked him up. Mr. French didn’t generally like being carried, but he didn’t resist this time.
And he never stopped watching Bryn with that dark, confused, betrayed stare.
“Come on,” Annie said. “Let’s get you fixed up.” She sounded less bothered than Bryn would have thought, but then again, Annie had been through six months with Mercer and Fast Freddy. “Where were you?”
“At a nursing home.”
“So am I,” Bryn said. She followed Annie into the back kitchen, spotlessly clean as always. “I can’t believe they left you alone here.”
“Well, there wasn’t much choice, apparently. Liam said he couldn’t let Patrick run off by himself, and Joe—”
Annie pulled the lockbox from the refrigerator and put it on the table, then frowned. “I don’t know the combination.”
Bryn punched it in, opened the box, and uncapped one of the syringes before rolling up her sleeve and plunging the needle home. The burn of the nanites was especially tough this time, and she sank down into one of the dining chairs until the pain subsided enough to breathe. “What about Joe?” She uncapped a second shot and rammed that one home as well. She just managed not to convulse this time, or scream. When the pounding faded from her ears, Annie was talking.
“…kids,” she said. “I don’t know where they went, but he was definite that he’d be back once they were safe, but I haven’t seen him or heard from him. It’s been…quiet.” Annie blinked, and Bryn saw tears shining on her cheeks before she hastily wiped them off with the back of one hand. “Why is this happening to us? Is it me? Are these people after me?”
“No, not—It’s not you, Annie.” She managed to get that out, somehow, even though the agony burning through her from head to toe was so great she thought her flesh might start to smolder. Then it started to fade, thankfully. Bryn felt a rush of warmth instead, the billions of tiny machines rushing through her body, searching for all the million things to put right again. It’s going to be okay, she told herself. “Pack a bag. We have to go in about five minutes.”
“Go? Go where?”
“The place I used to work. Pharmadene.”
“But—you said that was the last place I should ever go!”
“I know. But things have changed. It’s the only place we’ll be safe. They can protect us there.”
“I don’t know, maybe—maybe you should talk to Liam. Or Patrick. Here, I can call—”
Bryn grabbed her sister’s arm and forced it down to the table, and took the phone out of her hand. “No,” she said. “No calling. No discussion. Go pack, now. In five minutes, meet me at the car.”
Annie stared at her, frowning, and pulled her arm free to rub it resentfully. “I hope you know what the hell you’re doing,” she said. “Jesus, Bryn. What’s eating you?”