Project Paper Doll, Book 2
Ariane Tucker has finally escaped GTX, the research facility that created her. Now that she’s on the run, Zane Bradshaw is the only person she can trust. He knows who-and what-she is and still wants to be part of her life.
But accepting Zane’s help means putting him in danger.
Dr. Jacobs, head of GTX, is not the only one hunting for Ariane. Two rival corporations have their sights set on taking down their competition. Permanently.
To protect Zane and herself, Ariane needs allies. She needs the other hybrids. The hybrids who are way more alien and a lot less human. Can Ariane win them over before they turn on her? Or will she be forced to choose sides, to decide who lives and who dies?
Until I crawled beneath the designated dumpster behind the abandoned Linens-N-Things and felt the brush of rough canvas against my fingertips, I really wasn’t sure that the emergency bag would be there, as my father had promised.
My first Christmas, I’d been six. It had also been the first time Outside matched the color and sparkle of what I’d seen on television and in my “cultural training” videos in the lab at GTX. The houses in our neighborhood had been decked out with fl ashing Santas, red-nosed reindeers, and molded plastic Nativity scenes. And through cracks in the blinds, I’d watched people carry in plastic bags full of presents, brightly colored wrapping paper tubes poking through the top.
This strange but wonderful event—so much preparation and fuss over it—called to me in the worst way. I longed to be a part of it. But our living room remained dark and undecorated, the carpeting empty of pine needles and shiny wrapped packages alike, even on Christmas Day. In our house, it was just another day. Worse, even, as my father retreated to his room and didn’t come out until the following morning. I was alone. And confused. According to lore, only “naughty” children were punished by an absence of gifts. But I’d done everything I knew to do, followed precisely the Rules my father had given me.
Much later, I understood that it was because my father’s true daughter, the original Ariane, had died, and the traditions of the holiday reminded him too much of her. My presence only further highlighted her absence, inflaming a wound that would never quite heal.
Still, it had been the first of many occasions that taught me to understand that my expectations, my hopes, were better kept in check. My father had done his best to be a parent for me (or so I’d believed until recently), but there’d been limits, ones I was usually unaware of until I bumped into them.
This time, though, unlike all those years of dark Christmases, my father had come through. This gift, an emergency bag of supplies, cash, and who knew what else, was exactly where he’d said it would be.
Feeling some measure of tension leave my body, I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and promptly choked on the cloud of dirt that rose up in response.
“You okay?” Zane asked quietly. He was pacing nearby, waiting for me. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear the scrape of his shoes on the concrete as he moved back and forth, watching for anyone approaching.
It had taken us a little more than two hours to make our way here from GTX. We’d cut through backyards and taken side streets, doubling back when necessary and keeping to the shadows. But before any of that, we’d had to fight through the overgrown forest preserve that surrounded the GTX campus. Nothing like taking a branch to the face when running full-speed. I’d ended up keeping an arm up to shield myself, and consequently the skin between my wrist and elbow felt shredded, burning as if it were on fire. Zane hadn’t fared much better, new cuts and bruises on his face and arms joining those he’d already acquired in the last few days.
I’d expected him to protest or even quit, turning around to head home. Which was, quite frankly, probably the safest place for him. But he’d soldiered on in determined silence. Well, he hadn’t said much. He had, however, crashed through the woods like a herd of drunken deer. Stealth training was not something taught in your average school system. But lucky, lucky me, I’d been enrolled in some “special” extra-curriculars during my time with my father.
Other parents taught their children how to ride bikes, fi sh, or bake cookies from the family recipe, but my father had spent countless hours passing along much of the training he’d acquired during his years in Special Forces. It had been, I guess, our thing, our shared interest. Maybe he would have taught his biological daughter, the first Ariane, the same stuff. Maybe not. All I knew was that the day I’d managed to sneak up behind him in the patch of woods near our house where we practiced, I’d never seen him more proud of me.
Until last night.
I shoved that thought away. I wouldn’t, couldn’t, think about that now. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I said to Zane. “One second.” I bit my lip, tasting sweat and unpleasant grit, and contemplated my next move.
Unfortunately, just because the bag was there didn’t mean I could actually get to it. I was already halfway under the Dumpster, trapped between the bottom of the trash receptacle and the concrete beneath it, which meant I had about zero leverage. And I was about ten seconds away from a major freak-out. Dark, confined spaces and I are not friends.
Sweating and keenly aware of the metal ceiling above my head, I strained at the shoulder and managed to grasp a corner of the fabric. But it slipped away before I could get a good-enough grip.
“Damn it,” I panted. Though the logical part of my brain knew there was plenty of air, my emotional side was panicking and sucking in oxygen at a far too rapid rate. I could feel dizziness beginning to build.
This would have been so much easier if we could have just moved the stupid Dumpster to reach the bag from the other side. But that meant the shrill squeak of wheels and the rumbling thunder of the empty receptacle moving over the pockmarked and uneven concrete. Not an option on an otherwise quiet night when GTX security was out in force looking for us.
I squirmed closer, a hiss of pain escaping against my will when a particularly sharp bit of rock from the degraded parking lot dug into the abrasions on my forearm.
Zane knelt next to me and tugged at the hem of my lab-issued tunic. “I can get it,” he whispered. “Let me.”
“What?” I asked, distracted. If I could just release what-ever was securing the bag, I wouldn’t even have to be under here. I had the ability to move objects without touching them—one of the few perks of my extraterrestrial heritage. The scientists at GTX had played God with a scrap of preserved DNA from the alien entity found at the site of the Roswell incident in 1947, isolating the stem cells and splicing them into a fertilized human egg from a (presumably) willing human donor/surrogate.
I was the result. But it wasn’t exactly ideal.
Theoretically, I could lift the whole Dumpster into the air simply by concentrating on it, but my telekinetic abilities were a little unpredictable lately, due to lack of use. So stepping under a heavy metal object that might fall on your head at any second probably wasn’t a great idea.
But if I couldn’t see what was holding the bag, I couldn’t undo it. And just yanking at it would only pull the Dumpster along.
“I can get it,” Zane repeated patiently. “My arms are longer than yours.”
“No, I can—”
He bent down, his knees suddenly visible at the edge of my vision. “You know, it’s okay to accept help every once in a while.”
Easy for him to say. I swallowed a frustrated noise. He didn’t understand. I’d spent years relying only on myself, trusting only my father (and look at how well that had turned out). I couldn’t just stop doing that. I didn’t know how. And with Zane, much as I wanted to trust him, much as he’d done nothing to make me doubt him, I could feel the other shoe—an ass-kicking combat boot with a steel toe and a thick tread—hanging above my head, waiting to stomp on me.
Still, retrieving the bag was taking far longer than I wanted. And if Zane thought he could do it faster, all the better.
“Fine,” I said, wiggling out. “Be my guest.”
I stood up and folded my arms across my chest, watching in the moonlight as Zane stretched his six-foot-four frame out on the concrete and reached under the Dumpster.
It was an ugly but appropriate bit of symmetry that the fate of my future life was tied so closely to an oversize trash can. That’s what the last ten years of my life had been—a big load of garbage. Lies told to keep me quiet and compliant.
“Got it,” Zane said after an annoyingly short amount of time. That eighteen inches of additional height made a difference, I guess. He’d barely had to stick his head beneath.
He dragged a small but full black duffel out from under the Dumpster until it lay next to him. Shiny metallic strips of duct tape, now twisted and tangled from Zane’s efforts, hung off the edges of the bag, like legs of an upside-down spider. From space.
Zane inched out and pushed himself to his feet easily, biceps temporarily straining the sleeves of his green Ashe High lacrosse team T-shirt.
“Thanks,” I said grudgingly.
“I told you. Long arms,” he said with a shrug, and dusted off his hands. “My superpower.” He gave me a tentative smile.
He was… joking. Almost like normal.
I blinked, surprised. Well, it was what had passed for normal between us before everything went to hell and he learned I wasn’t who—or what—he thought I was. A few hours ago, I wouldn’t have thought that anything resembling that state would be possible again.
Relief crashed into me, a heady sensation. “I guess they were out of Sasquatch DNA the day they made me,” I shot back. If he could joke, I could joke, right? Humor was a human coping mechanism.
I’d used it before, but never about myself to someone else. It was a strange feeling, like stripping naked and waiting to see if people would notice.
But in this case, laughing was a good thing, and I was rewarded by the bright fl ash of his grin.
“Ouch.” He rocked back on his heels, clutching at his chest, pretending to be wounded.
Then he stopped abruptly, his hands dropping to his sides. He was remembering what I’d done to Rachel Jacobs, one of his friends, the other night. I could see the images in quick fl ashes: Rachel coughing and choking at the pool party, grabbing at her chest as her heart fought against my control. I hadn’t killed her, but I’d come awfully close. And the shock and fear he’d felt at what I’d done was still close to the surface. And tied to his thoughts of me.
“Sorry,” he murmured, looking away.
I shook my head. “It’s not your fault,” I made myself say over the sudden lump in my throat. And it wasn’t. He hadn’t invented that scenario. I’d done it. For the right reasons, maybe, but it had gotten swiftly out of hand. Never mind that I hadn’t killed her or permanently injured her, even when her own grandfather, Dr. Jacobs, had later pushed me to do so.
I couldn’t—wouldn’t—hold Zane’s reactions against him.
How could anyone be expected to respond to this messed-up situation with equanimity?
So, yeah. I guess we had a ways to go yet before “normal.”
I knelt next to the bag and tugged at the zipper with shaking hands. But it was stuck.
Without a word, Zane bent down and held the canvas sides steady. And this time when I tried, the zipper slid along the track smoothly.
Before I could thank him, a tight roll of cash, bound with a rubber band, slipped out of the opening and bounced to a stop near Zane’s shoe.
A quick glimpse in the bag showed there were a half-dozen identical bundles, right at the top.
Zane gave a low whistle. “I’ve got to start checking under more trash bins.” He picked up the bundle that had rolled free, looking at it more closely. “These are hundreds, Ariane.
“Thousands,” I managed through my shock. When my adoptive father had told me he’d been adding to the emergency cash, I’d never dreamed he’d meant this much.
“It’s probably his life savings,” I said, fighting the rise of conflicting emotions: a bitter sadness and fury.
Mark Tucker had raised me as his daughter for the last decade. But he’d been working for GTX, the corporation that had created me, the whole time. I thought I’d escaped years ago. In reality, they’d just given me a bigger cage, so to speak, and put Mark in charge of monitoring my reactions to the world Outside. It had all been part of a larger plan, wrapped up in lies and deceit.
Beneath the cash, a fl ash of white caught my eye. I shifted the money carefully to one side, revealing a thin, square envelope.
My father’s bold but neat print was on the front: IF I AM NOT WITH YOU.
My stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch as I plucked the envelope out, pinching it between my fingertips. A letter from Mark? I didn’t want to read it. He’d first told me about the emergency bag a few years ago. That meant the contents of this letter would likely be an excruciating rehash of everything I’d learned in the last twenty-four hours, a detailed play-by-play of the worst betrayal I could have possibly imagined. No, thank you.
“Hey, Ariane? There are U.S. and Canadian passports in here. And one of those reloadable credit cards.” Zane held them up and squinted. “For a Talia Torv.”
He flipped to the photo page in the U.S. passport. “She looks an awful lot like you,” he said, holding it up so I could see.
It was, in fact, a picture of me. Last year’s school photo.
“Except,” he said, frowning, “Talia’s eighteen, almost nineteen.”
Of course she was. I laughed in a moment of near giddiness.
“No one will believe that,” Zane said, his handsome face troubled. “You barely look your age.”
He was right. My less-than-average height and preternatural thinness made me look younger than sixteen. My A-cup chest wasn’t doing me any favors either.
I shook my head. “It won’t matter. If the documents are good”—and knowing my father’s relentless attention to detail, they were—”no one will question them.” Which meant, I could live on my own. Eighteen was the magic number. And with all that cash…
For the first time, I felt a rush of hope, lifting the weight of despair and panic I’d been carrying around. Maybe, just maybe, this would work. Maybe I could leave Wingate and start a life, a real life somewhere.
I glanced at Zane on the other side of the bag, where he was busily cataloging the rest of its contents. And maybe I wouldn’t have to be alone. We were supposed to be heading to his mother’s house in the Chicago suburbs, assuming we could get out of town. I couldn’t stay there with him, obviously; it would be the first place GTX would look. But maybe I wouldn’t have to go too far. The idea brought an unfamiliar fl uttering warmth to my chest. I could make a home for myself, a life. And he could perhaps be a part of it. After all, he was still with me, a miracle if I’d ever seen one. He’d come for me at GTX and stuck by my side, even after everything I’d done.
“There are, uh, clothes in here,” Zane said, re-stacking the items with a haste that suggested he’d discovered something personal.
Great. My face heated. Bra? Underwear? New ones or, oh God, tattered ones I hadn’t even noticed were missing from the laundry? I didn’t even want to think about it. It was silly to be embarrassed about something like that, I guess, considering. But I was still human. At least partially.
Zane cleared his throat. “And keys. This one looks like an old car key.” He held it up, a bright orange plastic tag attached.
“Let me see.” I took the key ring for a closer inspection.
The plastic tag advertised U-Store-It. The first key was just a plain silver, but it was clearly too big to be for a house or a building. A smaller gold key hung below it on the ring. “Yeah, I think you’re right.” My father really had prepared for every contingency. Getting out of Wingate undetected would be impossible without a clean vehicle—one unassociated with me or my father.
“So, then, where’s the car?” Zane asked.
That was an excellent question. The parking lot in front of the building was completely empty. I’d checked it before sliding under the Dumpster. And there certainly weren’t any vehicles back here. An anemic patch of forest with massively overgrown weeds ran up to—and now over—the edge of the concrete behind the abandoned building. “I don’t know.” I took a closer look at the key ring. “Possibly in a storage locker.”
But at which facility? There were probably a half dozen in and around Wingate, and at least a couple of them had to be U-Store-Its. At least from what I could recall. Not that I’d ever paid that much attention. Who pays attention to storage lockers?
The trouble was, we didn’t have time to waste checking them out, especially without a car to get us there.
“Maybe there’s something in there?” He nodded at the envelope that I was clutching.
I glanced down at the letter, having almost forgotten it was in my hand. “Maybe.” But I still didn’t want to open it.
He hesitated, then asked, “Do you want me to—”
I shook my head. “No, I’ll do it.” He was right. If there was something in here about the car, we needed to know. With GTX nipping at our heels, getting a vehicle had to be our top priority. Besides, avoiding the letter was foolish, emotional—my human side holding sway over the rest of me. Because the fact was, even if the letter was years old, it might yet contain useful information mixed in among all the eviscerating details I’d learned in the last day.
I handed Zane the keys and then, steeling myself, I slipped my finger beneath the flap on the envelope and tore it open, the ripping noise sounding absurdly loud in the postmid-night air.
“Your dad is kind of a bad-ass. You know that, right?”
Zane said, repacking the bag carefully.
I didn’t respond, my attention caught by my name in my father’s painfully familiar handwriting.
I have to assume that, if you’re reading this, our situation has been compromised and I’m either dead or unable to help you. I don’t know how much I had a chance to tell you, and I’m sorry for the abruptness of what you’re about to read.
I was surprised to find tears stinging my eyes. His weariness and regret permeated the page.
First, you are not free. You never were. GTX and Dr. Jacobs have known where you were the entire time. You’ll never know how sorry I am for my role in this deception. Please know that I did it for reasons that seemed honorable at the time.
His daughter. The original Ariane. Jacobs had promised the latest experimental treatment for her cancer in exchange for my father taking on the job of looking after me. She’d died anyway, but Mark had stayed on, hoping the research they were doing with my “amazing” immune system would save other children from the same fate.
I wanted to hate my father for it. He’d loved his daughter more than he’d loved me. But then again, he wasn’t supposed to care about me at all. I was a job. And yet, this bag was full of proof that I was more than that to him. I was caught between gratitude and the bitter pinch of self-pity. It’s hard to know you’ll never be enough just because you’re not some-one else.
“You okay?” Zane asked.
“Yeah.” I wiped under my eyes. “I just—” I stopped, my attention caught by a chilling phrase that leapt out from the next paragraph.
Second, there’s a tracking chip embedded on the right side of your T4 vertebrae.
My head whirled, trying to rearrange the squiggles into other words with a different meaning. But the sentence remained.
It’s an older model, with very short range. But don’t take the risk; disable it. According to my research, demagnetizing it should work. You’ll find what you need in the bag.
“Ariane?” Zane sounded alarmed. “What’s wrong? You look—”
“Is there a magnet in there?” I asked in a strangled voice.
A tracking chip. It made a sort of sick and horrible sense—if my father had lost control over me during my years of “freedom” and I’d bolted, GTX and Dr. Jacobs would have needed a way to find me and bring me in. I hadn’t even attempted to run, though. I’d believed their ruse.
“A what?” Zane frowned up at me.
I swallowed hard, trying to keep my panic under control. “A magnet, probably a big one.” My father had never mentioned, never even hinted at such a thing, not even during our good-bye, which would have seemed like an opportune time to mention something like GTX spyware in my spine.
Had it been active this whole time? Or was it something they could turn on and off at will? Were they on their way here right now?
I felt ill.
Zane rummaged deeper in the bag, beneath the clothes.
“This?” He produced a fl at metal circle about the size my palm.
I nodded, feeling my neck creak with tension.
“What’s going on?” Zane asked warily.
“I have… there’s a tracking device,” I said.
He dropped the magnet and yanked his hands away from the bag.
“No.” I gave a harsh, humorless laugh. “Not in the bag. In me.”
His eyes widened, but he nodded. “What do we do?”
We. What had I done to deserve him? He should have been home right now, reviewing lacrosse plays and studying for chemistry.
“I can do it myself,” I said, though I wasn’t quite sure how without some significant contortions or lying on the ground, neither of which seemed like a good idea when time was of the essence.
But Zane rallied, standing up with a determined expression and the magnet in hand.
I turned away so he wouldn’t see the deeply pathetic amount of gratitude I was feeling.
“Here.” I shed my father’s jacket and reached up to the back of my neck to point to where the last cervical vertebrae jutted out slightly. “Start here and count down about four. T4 should be between my shoulder blades.”
The air shifted slightly as Zane moved closer, and I shivered.
“How do you know that?” he asked. “About T4. I wouldn’t have the faintest clue.”
I smiled tightly. “Years of studying human anatomy, remember?” He was already getting a front-row seat to my freak show, why not remind him once again that I was created to be a killer?
His fingertip lightly touched my neck at the point I’d showed him and moved down my spine, tripping over the fabric of my tunic.
“Ariane,” he began. “I’m not sure which—”
I understood his hesitation and—well, at this point, was it really a good idea to let modesty stand in my way?—grabbed the back of my shirt and yanked it up past my shoulders, exposing my skin to the night air. That would make counting vertebrae a lot easier.
Zane sucked in a breath.
“What, can you see it?” I twisted around, trying to look, cursing my years of naivete. I should have known GTX— Jacobs, specifically—would do something like this. If I’d searched myself, maybe I would have seen the chip before. A little bubble under the skin near my spine, like a malignant tumor just waiting to cause chaos later.
“They did this to you.” It was a statement, but I could hear the question in it.
I thought he was talking about the tracker, until his finger touched my shoulder blade, tracing the letters and numbers emblazoned on my skin. The GTX logo and my project designation: GTX-F-107.
I flinched, humiliation setting my face afire. This was get-ting better and better by the second. In my panic about the chip, I’d forgotten about the tattoo. Normally it was covered by a bandage, but I’d taken that off before the party a couple nights ago and never had a chance to put another one on.
Now Zane knew I was marked like cattle. I was a possession. A thing.
“Yeah. They did.” I bit the words off and waited, my shoulders tense. Any second now, I’d hear his uncomfortable laugh, echoing against the building, and the sound of his retreating footsteps. This would be the final straw, the piece that pushed him over the edge into seeing me for what I was instead of who.
But, somehow, miraculously, it wasn’t. “This is probably going to be cold,” he warned a second before applying the magnet to my back between my shoulder blades.
He was right. The sudden shock of metal against my skin made me gasp.
I started to shiver for real, then, and Zane stepped closer, looping his free arm around my shoulders in the front, a backward sort of hug, while his other hand kept the magnet pressed in place between us.
“Better?” he asked.
I could feel the rise and fall of his chest against me, the softness of his shirt on my skin, and, faintly, the solid and reassuring beat of his heart.
I wanted to cry, to turn around and bury my head against him. To cling to him, to crawl inside.
Instead, I cleared my throat and said, “Yes.”
“Is it supposed to beep or something?” Zane asked a moment later.
“I don’t know.” I looked again to the letter, now crumpled in my hand. There were only a couple paragraphs remaining.
Third, and this is the most important part: you know about Arthur Jacobs, but he is the least of your concerns. He wants you alive so you can win the trials for him. But David Laughlin (Laughlin Integrated Enterprises, Chicago, IL) and Emerson St. John (Emerson Technology, Incorporated, Rochester, NY) would rather you were dead. One less competitor for the trials they have planned.
The trials. That’s what they were calling a fight to the death between the various “products” created by the three companies vying for a lucrative government contract to make supersoldiers/assassins/spies. (“Products” was the sanitized word for beings like me, lab-created hybrids of human and alien DNA.)
So now, as if the possibility of death in a formal competitive setting weren’t enough, I apparently had to worry about plain old murder. That was new.
A full body shudder ran through me, and Zane pulled me closer against him.
They’ve had informants keeping tabs on one another’s progress for years. Your escape won’t go unnoticed for long. And once you leave the state—GTX’s “territory” as designated by the rules they established to prevent sabotage—you’ll have all of them after you. Laughlin, in particular, will not hesitate at the thought of collateral damage if it means eliminating a threat to his success.
Dizzy suddenly, I felt myself swaying. I knew where this was going even before I read my father’s final words.
Cut ties to Wingate and anyone you care about, immediately. You’ll want to protect those who’ve been kind to you, but you’re a danger to anyone in your presence. Find somewhere isolated, preferably outside the country (the U.S. government is complicit in all of this, remember). Stay there.
Be good; follow the Rules I gave you. Take care of yourself. Again, I am sorry for my role in all of this.
“Are we good?” Zane whispered near my ear, his breath tickling my cheek. “Is it off?”
It took me a second to process what he was asking about.
The chip. Was the chip deactivated?
I nodded numbly, even though I had no way of knowing if that was the case. Surely my father had not intended for me to walk around with a magnet permanently affixed to my back. And even if he had, there were now larger concerns.
With a quick exhale of relief, Zane removed the magnet and bent to tuck it inside the bag.
I tugged my tunic into place and put my jacket on, my head spinning with too many thoughts.
Cut ties to Wingate and anyone you care about, immediately. When my father had written that, he’d probably been thinking of my former friend Jenna or maybe even himself. But Zane… Oh God, he was most definitely included in that category, which meant I knew what my father would have wanted me to do.
My stomach ached. Here, at last, was the boot I’d been expecting, dropping to clobber me from a totally unanticipated angle. The selfish part of me was shrieking “No!” at the top of her lungs. I couldn’t just abandon Zane, especially not here. GTX would snap him up in a second. Not to mention, I didn’t want to leave him at all.
I blinked back tears. But logically, reasonably, his safety had to come first. If I cared so much about him, I couldn’t be a party to his death or endangerment. Which left me with what?
Take him with you, my emotional side pleaded. He’s come this far. He’ll go.
Maybe. Maybe not. Going to his mother’s was one thing; going on the run for the rest of his life? I shook my head. I couldn’t ask that of him.
Walk away now, the cooler, calmer voice in my head advised. It’s the best choice for both of you. Jacobs will find him, but Jacobs is the lesser evil compared to the others. He will want to keep Zane alive to use as incentive.
I rocked back and forth on my heels, caught on twin prongs of misery and indecision. It was impossible to know what parts of my personality came from which side. What was human? What was other? All I knew was that when it came to big choices like this one, I was torn between emotions that raged inside and the logic that tried to snuff them out—to the point where it felt like the fight between them might spill out into the physical world. Me arguing with myself, with no peace in sight.
It felt like more proof that maybe someone like me wasn’t meant to exist.
“Are you all right?” Zane asked, startling me.
I turned to see him frowning at me. Then he grimaced.
“I mean, I know you’re not, not after everything… but was the letter…” He trailed off awkwardly.
The absolute end of everything I was hoping for? “It’s fine.” I forced the lie out, hearing it thud in the space between us.
Zane squinted at me, reading something on my face that I didn’t want him to see. “Ariane—”
Tires crunched over loose pebbles on concrete on the other side of the building.
Zane stood, lifting the bag with him. “Is that GTX?” he asked, barely audible.
At this point, I had to hope so. The alternative, that Laughlin or St. John had found me already, was even worse. It was laughable—a crazy person’s hysterical cackle—that GTX had become the best of all possible options.
“Probably,” I said, adrenaline kicking into overdrive, bringing details into hyperfocus. “Only one car, though, so far, by the sound of it. A scout, checking out the situation.” Like someone who’d caught the blip of my tracking chip’s signal before we’d disabled it. Or maybe it was simply someone making a U-turn in a convenient parking lot, but I couldn’t take that chance. My luck was just not that good.
“Then I guess we better run like hell, “˜Talia,'” Zane said.
He tipped his head toward the trees and held out his free hand with a grin that hurt my heart.
I faltered, unable to move. How was I supposed to do this? How was I supposed to say good-bye to the one person in the world who knew the real me and had stuck around anyway?
“Ariane?” he asked, his smile slipping a little.
I couldn’t. Not yet.
So I did the only thing I could do—selfish and human as it was.
I took his hand, and we ran like hell.