Daemon moved back. “See you around, Lane.”
Tires wheeled and kicked up gravel as the Expedition pulled back onto the road, puffing out exhaust.
What the heck just happened? Better yet, why was Blake still on top of me?
Throwing my elbow back, it connected with his stomach and a grunt followed. “Get off me.”
He rolled to his feet, eyes sparkling. “You like to hit.”
I scrambled up, glaring. “You need to get out of here. Right now, we don’t need to deal with you.”
“Good point.” He backed off, his grin fading. “See you later tonight.”
“Whatever,” I muttered, turning back to where Daemon was walking up the driveway. I trotted out of the woods and over to his side. “Is everything okay?”
Daemon nodded. “Did you hear any of that?”
“Yeah, I was heading back when I saw him.” I figured if Daemon didn’t know about Blake being all Creepy McCreepsters before we raided Mount Weather, it was a good thing. “Do you believe him?”
“I don’t know.” He dropped his arm over my shoulders, steering me toward his house. “Lane has always been a decent guy, but this doesn’t sit well with me.”
I wrapped an arm around his waist and leaned into him. “Which part?”
“All of it—this whole scenario,” he said, sitting down on the step one from the top. He tugged me into his lap, keeping his arms around me. “The fact that the DOD—even Lane—knows damn well that Dawson’s back, and that they have to realize we know they lied. And they’re doing nothing.” He closed his eyes as I pressed my cheek to his. “And what we’re doing tonight—it can work, but it’s so insane. Part of me wonders if they already know we’re coming.”
Smoothing my thumb along his jaw, I pressed a kiss against his cheek, wishing there was something I could do. “Do you think we’re walking into a trap?”
“I think we’ve been inside the trap the entire time and we’re just waiting for it to spring closed.” He captured my dirty hand in his and held on.
A breath shuddered through me. “And we’re going to still do this?”
The determined set of his shoulders was answer enough. “You don’t have to.”
“Neither do you,” I reasoned softly. “But we both are.”
Daemon tilted his head back, eyes meeting mine. “That we are.”
We weren’t doing this because we had a death wish or that we were stupid, but because there were two lives at stake, probably more, that were worth as much as ours. Perhaps this whole endeavor was sacrificial, but if we didn’t go through with it, we’d lose Beth, Chris, and Dawson. Blake was an acceptable loss.
A tendril of panic seized my chest, though. I was scared—frightened out of my mind. Who wouldn’t be? But I’d gotten us to this point and now it was bigger than me, bigger than my fear.
Drawing in a shaky breath, I dipped my head and kissed his lips. “I think I’m going to spend some time with my mom before we leave.” My throat felt thick. “She should be awake soon.”
He kissed me back, his lips lingering. The touch was part yearning with a hint of desperation and acceptance. If things went badly tonight, there really hadn’t been enough time for us. Maybe there’d never be enough time, though.
Finally, he said in a rough, raw voice, “That’s a good idea, Kitten.”
When the time came to pile into Daemon’s SUV and start the drive to the Blue Ridge Mountains, the mood was strained. And for once, it really had nothing to do with Blake’s presence.
There were outbursts of laughter and curses, but everyone was on pins and needles.
Ash was getting into the passenger seat of Matthew’s vehicle. She was decked out in all black—black tights, black sneakers, and a skintight black turtleneck. She looked like a ninja. Next to her, Dee was in pink. Apparently Dee had gotten the memo about staying in the vehicle. Unless Ash planned to blend in with the seat cushions, I wasn’t sure why she was dressed that way.
Other than the fact she looked insanely hot.
On the other hand, I wore dark sweats and a black thermal that no longer fit Daemon. It must’ve been from his preteen years, because it wouldn’t even fit over his head now, and I looked like I was going to the gym.
I was a total fail next to Ash, but Daemon said something about me wearing his clothes that sent blood rushing to every part of my body and I didn’t care if I looked like a hunchback next to her.
Dawson and Blake were riding with us, the rest with Matthew. As we pulled out of the driveway, my eyes were glued to my house until it faded out of sight. The few hours I had spent with Mom had been great…really great.
The first thirty minutes of the trip wasn’t bad. Blake stayed quiet, but when he started talking, things went downhill from there. A few times I thought Daemon was going to stop the vehicle and throttle him.
I didn’t think Dawson or I would’ve stopped him.
Dawson shifted, dropping his head into his hand. “Do you ever stop talking?”
“When I’m sleeping,” Blake replied.
“And when you’re dead,” Daemon threw back. “You’ll stop talking when you’re dead.”
Blake’s lips thinned. “Point taken.”
“Good.” Daemon focused on the road. “Try shutting up for a while.”
I hid my smile as I twisted around. “What are you going to do when you see Beth?”
Awe crept across Dawson’s features, and he shook his head slowly. “Oh, man, I don’t know. Breathe—I’ll finally be able to breathe.”
Moved to tears, I gave him a watery smile. “I’m sure she’ll feel the same way.” At least, I hoped so. The last time I had seen Beth, she wasn’t all there in the head. But if I knew anything about Dawson, I knew he could handle it, because he loved her—he had my mom and dad’s kind of love.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Daemon’s lips tip up at the corners. Something deep in my chest fluttered.
Sucking in a soft breath, I focused on Blake. The side of his head was against the window as he stared out into the dark night. “What about you?”
His gaze slid to mine. For several seconds, he didn’t answer. “We’ll leave here and head west. And the first thing we’re going to do is go surfing. He really used to dig the sea.”
I turned around, staring at my hands. Sometimes it was hard to hate without feeling sorry. And I did feel sorry for his friend. I even felt sorry for Blake. “That’s…that’s good.”
None of us spoke after that, and at first, the mood was somber and heavy with memories and probably a thousand what ifs and a dozen scenarios of what tonight would be like for Dawson and Blake, but as we passed Winchester and crossed over the river and could see the darker shades of the Blue Ridge up ahead, the mood shifted.
The boys were tense, throwing off testosterone in buckets. Antsy and ready to just do this, I glanced at the time. Twenty till nine.
“How much longer?” Dawson asked.
“We’ve got time.”
The SUV slipped into a lower gear as we started up the mountain. Behind us, Matthew followed closely. He knew the directions. The access road was supposedly about a half a mile before the main entrance. Daemon had typed it into his GPS, but it pretty much spewed the request back out.
A cell phone dinged and Blake pulled out his cell. “It’s from Luc. He wants to make sure we’re on schedule.”
“We are,” Daemon answered.
His brother popped between the front seats. “Are we sure?”
Daemon rolled his eyes. “Yes. I’m sure.”
“Just checking,” Dawson grumbled, sitting back.
Now Blake was between the seats. “All right, Luc’s ready to do this. He wanted to remind us we’ve only got fifteen minutes. Anything goes wrong, we get out and try again later.”
“I don’t want to try again later,” Dawson protested. “Once we get in, we’ve got to keep going.”
Blake frowned. “I want to get them out just as badly as you, man, but we have a limited gap of time. That’s all.”
“We stick to the plan.” Daemon’s gaze met his brother’s in the window. “That’s it, Dawson. I’m not losing you again.”
“Nothing’s going to go wrong, anyway,” I interjected before it turned into a royal rumble in the car. “Everything will go as planned.”
I focused on the road. The highway was four lanes and heavy trees crowded the roads on the south and north lanes. It was a blur of shadows. I had no idea how Daemon would find this road, but he started to slow down and merged into the left lane.
Pressure settled on my chest as he turned onto a barely visible road. There were no markings—nothing signaling that there was even a road there. Two headlights followed us up the narrow opening that was more dirt and gravel than pavement. About two hundred feet in, under the pale moonlight, an old farmhouse sat to the right. Half the roof was missing. Weeds choked the front and sides.
“Creepy,” I murmured. “I bet your ghost guys would say this place is haunted.”
Daemon chuckled. “They say every place is haunted. That’s why I love them.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Dawson said as we parked and Matthew pulled in beside us.
Both cars killed the lights and engines and with no other source of light, it was black as oil. My stomach pitched. Five till nine. There was no backing out now.
Blake’s cell went off again. “He’s just making sure we’re ready.”
“God, he’s an annoying little kid,” Daemon muttered, facing where Matthew parked. “We’re getting ready to do this. Andrew?”
He slipped out, murmuring something to Dee and his sister. Then he turned, throwing up what I’d swear were gang signals. “I’m ready steady.”
“Geez,” Blake muttered.
“We stick to the plan. At no time do any of us”—Daemon directed this at his brother—“deviate from the plan. All of us are coming back tonight.”
There were murmurs of agreement. With my pulse racing into cardiac arrest territory, I opened the door.
Daemon placed his hand on my arm. “Stick close to me.”
My vocal chords seemed to have stopped working, so I nodded. Then the four of us were out of the car, breathing in the chilled mountain air. Everything was dark—with slices of moonlight cutting across the access road. I was probably standing next to a bear and had no idea.
I moved around the front of the vehicle and stood next to Daemon. Another moved beside me and I realized it was Blake.
“Time,” Daemon said.
There was a quick flash of cell phone light, and Blake said, “One minute.”
I drew in a shallow gasp, but it got stuck. I could feel my heartbeat in every part of my body. Out of the darkness, Daemon found my hand and squeezed.
We can do this, I told myself. We can do this. We will do this.
“Thirty seconds,” Blake said.