Priyanka cast an anxious look my way.
“I know,” I told her. “But if they’re not here, then we’ll search the next one, and the one after that.”
“He’s going to move them,” she whispered. “Once we hit this headquarters, he’ll know. If they’re even still…”
She didn’t finish her sentence. Alive.
We had slowly worked our way through Mercer’s known warehouses and facilities, searching for any sign of Roman and Lana. Mercer wasn’t traveling with Lana now, which gave me hope that she and her brother were still together. In all the times Max had tried to go fishing for their exact location, he’d only seen darkness.
“They are,” I told her. “They’re alive, and we’re going to find them. But we’re also going to get these kids out of here, no matter what.”
She straightened. There wasn’t a flicker of doubt on her face, not one, as she said, “You’re damn right we are, and that’ll be enough.”
We’ll be enough.
The interior of the warehouse was exactly as Priyanka and Max had described it: a single hallway of rooms and Mercer’s office, which was currently locked. We’d waited, sending Max fishing for Mercer, too, every day for the last week and a half, until it was clear he’d left Blue Star’s primary headquarters here for a trip to meet up with Moore and his people.
Priyanka had wanted him here; she’d wanted to burn the building down and force him to watch, bound and gagged, in the back of a car heading for the nearest UN checkpoint. But I think we both knew that would never be enough; someone would rise to fill the void he’d left behind and assume control of his interests. If we wanted Mercer out of the game, we needed to raze the foundation of his business and uproot all the criminal dealings he kept so carefully hidden.
We were here to save the children he’d stolen, but we were also here to recover files and records of his business dealings and associates. And if what evidence we found wasn’t enough for the law, we’d subject him to our own.
Priyanka gripped the lock on his office door. Before she stepped inside, she caught my arm. “Come together, leave together?”
“Come together, leave together,” I promised. “Lisa, Jen—you’re with Priya.”
The two girls peeled off. I waved the rest of the group forward to search the other rooms for the kids. “Head back to Jacob when you finish!”
I got a round of acknowledgments from them as I ran on, rounding the corner of the hall. According to Priyanka, Mercer—the paranoid bastard—traveled with a massive security force at all times. I felt the lack of them now, as I easily took care of the one lone man who tried firing on me from behind the shelter of a nearby doorway. There was a phone on him, but not for long. His screams echoed down to me as I finally found the set of doors I’d been looking for.
The room stopped the breath in my lungs. There were hulking machines in every corner, vibrating with power, even as they idled. A small metal operating table stood directly in front of me, and, behind it, there was a hospital bed and a little black-haired girl resting on it, unmoving. Her skin was a waxy white, as if the blood had drained from her.
For a moment, I wasn’t seeing the little girl there at all. I was seeing Priyanka. Roman.
I clenched my jaw as rage spilled up through me. The monitors and devices on either side of the bed displayed her steady vitals, but I ignored them, focusing instead on the dark-skinned man in the lab coat. His back was to me as he carefully adjusted the girl’s IV drip.
At the sound of my boot squeaking against the tile, he froze.
“Step away from the girl,” I told him, keeping my gun trained on him. “And put your hands up.”
“We found the kids,” Vida said over the comm. Underscoring her voice was the sound of clattering and a scuffle. “But Roman and Lana aren’t here.”
My side crimped with a sharp pain. I released a hard breath, trying to let that bit of hope go.
“I could use a little more help,” Vida said. “Some of the kids are not coming quietly.”
“I’ll be right there,” Priyanka told her. A few others chimed in, but the voices faded under the sound of the machines whirring.
“John Wendall?” I confirmed, an ugly pulse of hate moving through my heart.
He nodded. I saw Max in that face, under the heavy wrinkles and strain.
“You’re so damn lucky I promised your son I wouldn’t kill you,” I told him, my voice shaking. That little girl…if he’d hurt her…
“Max?” he whispered. “My Max? He’s here?”
“Outside,” I told him. “You can come willingly, or I can drag you, but either way you’re going to spend the rest of your life making up for what you did here.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Willingly. The other children—”
“We already have them.” I glanced toward the girl. “Can she be transported?”
Max’s father nodded, moving to unhook the machines. The girl didn’t stir, sighing deeply in her sleep as he began to reach for her.
“Don’t touch her,” I said.
“We’re out, Zu,” Vida said.
“I’m coming back your way, are you still—?”
The door swung open behind us.
Dr. Wendall’s face changed again, almost brightening. “Priya.”
The feeling was not mutual.
“That’s right,” she snarled. “Came back to personally drag you to hell.”
Knowing she had a weapon on her, I holstered mine and picked up the young girl. Her cheek fell against my shoulder and, instinctively, she wrapped her arms around my neck.
“March, demon,” Priyanka told him. “Faster. Or do you need a cloud of sulfur to ride out of here?”
“There’s no need for hostility—” Dr. Wendall began.
She pushed him forward, keeping her gun against his back. “Oh, there is every need.”
We went out the same way we’d come in. Jacob had hung back, waiting for us, but now he took the weight of the girl off my hands and hurried up to the small freight truck that screeched to a stop on the street in front of us.
Priyanka put a hand on my shoulder, unable to hide her disappointment.
“We’ll go to the next one,” I told her. “And the next one…and the next…however long it takes to find them.”
She drew in a deep breath and nodded.
I had wanted Roman to be here so badly, but this was enough. Knowing these kids were safe and would never again fall into Mercer’s or the government’s hands, knowing that they would never see the inside of another lab…It was enough for me.
Vida jumped down from the cab, leaving Max up in the driver’s seat. With the interior light on, I had a clear line of sight to Max’s tense face as Priyanka walked his father past him, toward the cab of the truck. The gate rolled shut, cutting off the sound of the kids’ nervous chatter.
Vida glanced at the small girl as she lifted her head off Jacob’s shoulder.
“She’s the last one,” I told her.
“Did you…?” the little girl began, her voice barely a murmur.
Jacob’s feet slowed. “What was that? Do you need something?”
“The girl…with the flower,” she breathed out, fighting to open her eyes.
Priyanka’s gaze sharpened on her. “What girl, love?”
The long silence that followed was almost agonizing. My chest was too tight to take in more than a small breath.
“In the office,” she whispered. “In the dark.”
Priyanka and I turned to each other, and I saw my own hope reflected on her face.
“We checked the office,” Vida said, pulling her mask up over her face.
“We went into the office, but we didn’t search it,” I said, the words tearing out of me. “You go ahead with the kids. We’ll check it out and catch up with you later.”
Vida raised a brow, but she didn’t look surprised. “Don’t forget to send Chubs the all-clear.”
?? I said. “Drive safe.”