Roman’s jaw tightened, a single ripple in that calm exterior. I wondered if there was something he wanted to say, or something he didn’t trust himself not to.
“Fine,” Priyanka said, bouncing a little in her seat.
I remembered almost nothing about the drive here, or even the dreams I’d had that left my throat feeling like it had been clawed at from the inside. But I did remember one thing. One word.
It didn’t matter if they were looking for Ruby, or if they were looking for whoever Lana was—they weren’t ever stepping foot inside Haven.
Hours passed, carrying the sun in its wide arc through the sky. I moved the car several times to avoid the parking enforcement officer checking the time left on the parking meters. Eventually, I settled us at the edge of a cul-de-sac, in front of the construction fence on a house that had been torn down to its foundation.
Finally, at sunset, I put the keys back in the ignition and turned, letting my heart roar along with the engine. If I could keep it together, this weight would be off me soon. I’d be able to breathe again once all the lies and secrets were unraveled.
“Headlights,” Roman reminded me, his voice thick with sleep.
“Not this time,” I said.
It was a short drive outside the town, weaving through back roads and side streets, then looping back through them again one last time to make sure I wasn’t being followed. The car’s tank was dangerously low as I drove us away from the signs of suburbia into the sprawling dark forest.
When I was sure there was no one nearby, I briefly switched the headlights back on.
“What are we looking for?” Priyanka asked.
The length of blue tape flashed as the headlights skimmed over it, marking a hidden gate.
I slammed on the brakes. Priyanka gasped as her seat belt snapped over her chest. “That.”
I pulled the car over and left it running as I got out. “I’m going to need help.”
Roman joined me, shutting the door quietly behind him. We made our way over to what looked like a tall, overgrown blackberry bush and I carefully reached into it. The metal gate beneath it had absorbed all of the day’s heat. The latch gave way with a loud click.
Roman had a small smile on his face as we pushed the barrier out of the car’s way. I was standing close enough to feel the excitement vibrating off him. “Is this really it?”
The cleared lot started narrow at the gate, then funneled out to allow for parking. It was like an optical illusion. From the road, you wouldn’t even notice that the trees were missing in an otherwise dense forest.
“This is it.” I stepped out of the way as Priyanka climbed into the driver’s seat and navigated the car through the gate. Roman and I made quick work of shutting and re-latching it behind us.
The few cars belonging to the residents of Haven were lined up neatly on one side of the clearing, most covered in camouflaged sheets. The sight of a familiar truck made my heart jump.
Priyanka climbed out of the car with a low whistle. “Quite the setup,” she noted mildly.
I smiled. “Oh, just wait.”
“What should we bring with us?” Roman asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “Actually…maybe the flashlight.”
He nodded, dutifully going to retrieve it from the trunk. “Priya, where did you put it?”
She pivoted back toward the car, her long legs eating up the distance. “It should just be in one of the pillowcases—”
It wasn’t. I had moved it when we stopped earlier, shoving it under the backseat. I had maybe a minute before they spotted it and my makeshift distraction was over.
From what I remembered, the cameras Liam and his father had installed were motion-sensing. They had to have switched themselves on as soon as the car pulled in, but they were disguised and insulated well enough in the trees that I only found the one nearest to us by tracing the length of the hidden cable feeding power to it.
I turned my face up toward the lens, giving it a clear look at me. Then I did the only subtle thing I could think of to indicate things were not okay. I brought up my arms, resting each hand on the opposite shoulder, creating an X.
Please still be using them, I thought, as I mouthed a single word: Help.
Liam had told me he was teaching the Haven kids about the old road signs the Psi used to use, including the X surrounded by a circle that had indicated a place wasn’t safe. If the people watching, whether that was Liam, Ruby, or someone else, couldn’t tell what I was signaling, maybe it would still be enough to signal that things weren’t what they seemed—that something was very wrong.
“Found it,” Roman said, shutting the back door. He switched the flashlight on, scanning it over the ground.
“What’s wrong?” Priyanka asked, coming to stand beside me.
I let my hands drift down my arms, pretending to hug them tighter to my chest. “I just got cold for some reason. Must be the lake or something.”
It had to be seventy degrees at least, never mind the humidity. Priyanka just shrugged.
“Let’s go,” I said. “We have to walk a little ways.”
We had to buy Haven some time to figure out what was happening and what to do.
Roman kept pace with me, his head up, eyes sharp as he scanned the trees. He had the gun on him, but kept it tucked into the waistband of his jeans. I could see its outline through the close fit of his gray T-shirt. I’d debated telling him to leave it behind, but I hadn’t been able to think of a way to do it that wouldn’t have set off an alarm in his already cautious mind.
“While traipsing through the woods at night is one of my all-time favorite nightmares,” Priyanka whispered from behind us, “I would dearly love to know what I should be looking for. A house? Some kind of tunnel?”
“It’s not far,” I whispered back. “Listen for the water.”
The lake was a speck on most maps, looking especially insignificant next to the nearby Lake Lee—a fact that had not gone unnoticed or un–joked about by one Liam Stewart. But it was big and deep enough to require a boat to cross to the other side, where the trees were thicker on the ground and there was no road access to the structures hidden behind them.
I kept them going forward, meaning to swing them in a wide arc before looping back to this spot, but Roman suddenly straightened.
“I think it’s this way,” he said, nodding his head in the exact direction of the lake.
I turned before Roman could say anything else, reaching back to take the flashlight from him. The path wasn’t as clear here; there were large rocks and a slope to contend with. I didn’t need an excuse to make my way down slowly. By the time we reached the muddy bank of the lake, my heart was beating like we’d run all the way here from Nebraska.
I knelt down, motioning for the others to do the same. I angled the flashlight toward the opposite shore and switched it on, off, on, off, on, off….
“What are you doing?” Roman asked.
“It’s a signal,” I lied, “to let them know we’re friendly. They have a security protocol.”
And this was absolutely not part of it.
Here we are, I thought. Come and get us.
“Ooh,” Priyanka whispered, shifting her weight from foot to foot. “This feels very sneaky.”
“Yup,” I agreed.
“I think I see someone,” Roman said, squinting at the other side of the lake. Sure enough, a moment later, there was a faint splash as something entered the dark water.
A boat, and the single person rowing it, took shape out of the night. The oars pulled through the water with ease. I rose to my feet, gripping the flashlight hard enough to feel a spark from the batteries snap back at me. Flannel…light hair…
It wasn’t Liam.
As the boat neared us, the rower turned to judge the remaining distance. I actually recognized her. It was Lisa—one of the first teens that they’d gone to retrieve three years ago. She was eighteen li
ke me, and, at this point, was probably one of the older Psi at Haven.
Not Liam. Not Ruby.
Lisa looked at me, her face brightening with recognition. With my plan in pieces, I managed to salvage one last useful bit of it.
“Who the hell are you?” I called.
She stiffened, freezing halfway out of the boat. Roman reached behind him, his hand hovering over the gun.
“I don’t know you,” I said, keeping my voice hard. And you don’t know me either. Come on, Lisa…. “Where are the Psi in charge?”
Lisa’s mouth opened. Shut. Fear flickered across her face.
Liam or Ruby should have come. Things couldn’t have changed that much, especially when it came to security.
Something’s wrong. Something else was happening here.
Priyanka stepped up behind me, her shoulders back. “Do we have a problem?”
Roman moved in close to my other side. If it were almost anyone else, I would have thought they were trying to back me up, not make sure I couldn’t slip away.