Priyanka and I took a hard turn as we reached the car, sliding to a stop on the other side of it. We kept low to the ground beside Roman.
“We should go,” Priyanka said. “Come on.”
“No, they’re turning into the parking lot,” he said. “We need to stay until they leave.”
I spun back just as the cars crossed onto the paved surface. They surrounded Ruby’s car in a jagged circle.
“Let me see,” I said, reaching for the binoculars.
I blinked, trying to adjust to their strength. Uniformed men and women surrounded the abandoned car, guns up. It was a strange mix of forces: UN peacekeepers, FBI, Defenders, and—
Her brown skin shone in the afternoon sunlight, but it took me a moment to recognize her with her dark hair. She’d stopped dyeing it years ago, when she’d been named as a special assistant to the interim director of the FBI. It hadn’t sat right with me the first time I’d seen her with it, and now, as she wove in and out of the uniformed officers wearing her trim, professional-looking suit, it felt like I was spying on a stranger.
I lowered the binoculars, my throat too tight to say anything.
“How could they have found the car?” Priyanka whispered. “They couldn’t have followed us….”
“Is it possible they found the Haven kids?” Roman asked. His brow creased as he raked a hand back through the waves of his hair.
I shook my head. Even in a situation that made no sense, there was one thing I was certain of: “Vida never would have let the government near them. If she showed up at Haven and found it the way we left it, she’d know to contact Liam’s stepfather, Harry. It’s possible he told her what he knew and she had to give something to the government to keep them from getting suspicious.”
Or maybe she thinks you’re guilty after all.
“I’m going to try to power this up again,” Priyanka said, holding up Ruby’s cell phone. “Let’s hope the heat didn’t get to it.”
She disappeared into the backseat, rummaging through the seat pockets for the charger, hissing out a cuss when she accidentally bumped her head against one of the handle grips.
“Vida is the smartest person I know,” I told Roman. “And probably the toughest. She can handle whatever this is.”
That was the truth, on both fronts. Chubs might have been book smart, but Vida had an innate understanding of the world. She had a vault for a mind and an uncanny ability to figure out what was important about a detail and apply it to any given situation. I had watched her do it many times in envy.
Roman nodded. “She’d have to be, to keep up with you.”
The idea of Vida keeping up with any of us was so absurd, I almost laughed. No, Vida set the ruthless pace in these kinds of situations, and we were lucky if we could keep within sight of her.
“You’d like her,” I said, trying to lighten the heavy thoughts raining through my mind. “Well, I take that back. You might be a little overwhelmed. But she’d like you once you showed her the appropriate amount of skill and deference.”
I pulled the binoculars back up. All the doors to Ruby’s car were open as they searched inside. Vida hung back, pacing with the impatience of a lion waiting for its next meal, phone pressed to her ear.
That was what I struggled with. Not the changes in my friends—we all had to change, in big and small ways—but those pieces of them I recognized, and missed.
“She’d been out looking for Ruby and Liam on her own.” It still stung to remember that both she and Chubs hadn’t told me about any of it until it was too late. “And when I spoke to her at Haven, she was with other agents in DC. Something must have happened for her to come here, searching with government agencies.”
I handed Roman the binoculars, unable to watch anymore.
“Your friend Charles might have told the government Ruby and Liam were missing because he was worried what could happen to them in the meantime,” he suggested. “They have the resources to conduct a far more thorough search. Or he or Vida might have told them in an attempt to clear Ruby and Liam’s names of any involvement with the Psion Ring or the recent bombings. Or…I don’t know. What do you think?”
That was just it. I used to know their hearts better than I knew my own. I should have been able to guess exactly why Chubs and Vida were acting the way they were. I should have known, with a thousand percent certainty, what they’d try to do and how.
But I didn’t.
“Ruby and Liam aren’t involved with the Psion Ring, right?” I asked suddenly. “Was there ever any sign of their involvement? Did their names ever come up? Any information on the secret organization I’m supposedly running right now would be useful.”
I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, but if Ruby wasn’t already involved with the Psion Ring, then they might have wanted her to be—and if she hadn’t gone voluntarily, they could have taken her. Ruby’s power would have made it difficult, but it wasn’t impossible, especially if they kept her subdued.
Or if Lana used her ability on her.
Instead of bringing the binoculars up to his eyes, Roman merely turned them over between his fingers, studying its shape. I knew his reluctance to talk about the Psion Ring was tied to wanting to protect me, but I needed to know. “I never heard either of their names tied to the organization.”
“What kind of operations do they run?” I asked. “Everything they’ve been accused of? Who were some of the people involved?”
“Everyone senior…they used code names. And the usual—small acts of disruption. Nothing like what they’re claiming on the news. I don’t think they have the resources for that.”
“Good,” I said. “They must be loving the attention they’re getting right now. Hopefully I can intervene with the truth before they take it to another level.”
His skin was splattered with dust and sweat, and with all the humidity, his wavy chestnut hair seemed even thicker. Roman swiped a sunburned cheek against his shoulder. My eyes found that small scar on his jaw again.
A hard knock against the rear window made me jump back. Priyanka stared at us through the tinted glass, one eyebrow arched. “Get in, kids, we have to combine our powerful minds into a brain trust to crack her password.”
“It’s zero-five-zero-one,” I told her as I slid into the driver’s seat.
“No it’s not,” Priyanka said, then actually tried the numbers. “Yes it is. Dammit. That wasn’t fun at all. What’s zero-five-zero-one?”
“Aww. But terrible for personal security.”
After one last look through the binoculars, Roman joined us, taking his usual place in the front passenger seat. “They’re towing her car away. The road should be clear in a few minutes.”
“Okay, there’s only one message: ‘Come home. Don’t leave it this way,’” Priyanka read. “But the actual number shows up as blocked.”
“That’s probably Liam, then,” I said, a new, sick feeling writhing in the pit of my stomach.
Don’t leave it this way? Leave what? Haven? Him?
All of us?
“Did she look up any addresses?” I asked.
Priyanka let out a soft hum. I felt Roman’s eyes on me, but couldn’t bear to see what was in them.
“Let’s see…Raleigh, Tampa, Jacksonville, Nashville,” Priyanka said, scrolling through the list of addresses. “Wait. This one keeps coming up—it’s in here at least four or five times. It’s in Charleston—Zu, do you recognize it?”
She held up the phone for me, using her thumb to point it out to me. The moment I saw the street name, my blood iced over.
Ruby, I thought. Ruby, what are you doing?
“Yeah. I recognize it,” I said. “That’s where they keep Clancy Gray.”
ON A STREET SHADED BY heavy magnolia trees that had lived to see too much history, in a little pink house with a wraparound porch and window boxes spilling with flowers, lived the s
ociopathic son of a murderous ex-president.
“I’ve got to say, the flag is a nice touch.” I nodded toward the American flag posted at the edge of the porch, an exclamation mark of bold red, white, and blue in an otherwise pastel street. “You can almost believe he didn’t try to destroy the country.”
I’d parked the car on the street a few houses down, in front of a grand old home with a for-sale sign promising AUTHENTIC SOUTHERN LIVING. We were just close enough to downtown Charleston, or at least the historic part with all the tourists, for me to feel uneasy about idling too long.
“They never did find his dad, did they?” Priyanka asked, resting her arms on the front seats as she leaned forward.
“No. He’s still a fugitive. They think he escaped the country in the chaos of the UN coalition taking control.” I shook my head. “Never thought I’d have something in common with President Gray.”
For all that the man had done to us, it was the strangest thing—I just couldn’t remember what he looked like, not unless his photo was right in front of me in the paper or on the news.