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Unremarkable anything bu.., p.14

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2), page 14

 

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2)
 


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  “You promised! You promised,” she ended on a cracked whisper.

  The light in her faded as she lifted her head and met his gaze. They were separated at the opening of the hallway, Honor marched one way and Ryder the other. It seemed so final—that moment when their eyes connected and held, like they both knew they’d never see the other one again.

  Eyes large with sorrow, she didn’t blink, didn’t look away until she was forced to. His chest tightened painfully. Ryder let out a ragged exhalation when their gazes disengaged, every part of him taut with wrongness. No. I can’t do this. I can’t let her go again.

  “Honor!” He fought the human manacles around his biceps, frantic to get back to her. He couldn’t see her. He had to, needed, to see her. “Honor!”

  Ryder tried to twist around, swinging his head back and forth to catch a glimpse of her. Then he heard her. Desperation clung to his name as it left her lips, making him fight harder to get away.

  “Punk kid. I am waiting for the day August wipes his hands of you for good so I can beat your smart ass, and lucky for me, I think the day might be today,” an agent he didn’t recognize muttered.

  He looked over his shoulder at the man, noting his features a second before he jabbed his elbow back into his face. The man released him with a cry and Ryder slammed his heel down on the other agent’s foot, effectively disengaging his grasp. He sprinted toward Honor, reaching her just before she was shoved through a doorway. He slammed the open door into an agent’s face and pushed another so hard the back of his head bounced off the wall.

  “What are you doing?”

  Ryder grabbed her hand and tugged. “I’m rescuing you. Something I should have done the moment I saw you a few years ago. I could have saved you from all of this.”

  She was silent, allowing him to pull her along down a set of stairs.

  “I wanted to, you know.” He glanced at her. Honor briefly met his gaze. That look on her face—he wanted it gone and he didn’t know how to make it happen. “As soon as I saw you, I knew nothing would be the same for me.”

  “I doubt this is what you had in mind.”

  He flashed a grin as they passed through a doorway that led to another flight of stairs. “It’s been interesting, I will say that.”

  She hung back at the third set of stairs, shivering. “You know this is where they were taking me, right? Do you really think this is the way we should be going?”

  “Of course not. But it was the only option.”

  “Ryder. Stop.” Urgent voices and hurried footsteps could be heard above them. Honor took his hands and squeezed. “I appreciate that you want to help me, but…it’s too late.”

  “Don’t be stupid,” he responded roughly.

  Honor smiled sadly. “I just killed someone. Someone I knew. I didn’t want to—it was me or him, but I did it. I can’t go with you, wherever you intend to take me. He has my mom and sister somewhere, and I think they’re hurt, and I can’t go, not if there’s any chance I will get to see them again.” She blinked and tears waved down her face. “I’m going to stay.”

  “No. You’re not.” Ryder gripped her shoulders and leaned his head down so she couldn’t look away. “He’s lying, okay? Whatever he said about your dad, whatever he told me, it has to be a lie. And how do you even know he has your mom and sister?”

  “How do I know he doesn’t?”

  “No, Honor. I don't think you get it.” He gritted his teeth as he glared at her. “I don't care about people. I don't care what they think; I don't even care about them. Never have, not since my dad died. But you—you I care about. And I'm not leaving you here.”

  She opened her mouth and he squeezed her shoulders, holding her in place with the ferocity of his eyes. “There may be a bigger picture to you. A greater deed, a goal; you feel like you have to sacrifice yourself for the good of mankind or whatever crazy talk you tell yourself, but I don't have that problem. My goal is narrow and singular. It is to keep you safe. That's it. Nothing else matters to me. I mean it.”

  “You don't understand. There’s something…wrong with me. I feel it, inside. He did something to me while I was unconscious and I am not the same.” Her eyes pleaded with him to comprehend. “He took my blood and he put it into Scott Everson and it turned him into a monster.”

  Her voice shook. “My blood. My blood turned a normal boy into something inhuman, something terrible. That blood is inside me, running through my veins. I can’t go with you. It wouldn’t be safe for you. Or anyone else.”

  “I don’t care, not about any of that. I’m not leaving without you.” Ryder glanced up, the sounds of approaching agents getting louder and closer. “We need to get moving.” He wrapped his fingers around her wrist and unceremoniously yanked her after him, playing tug-of-war with her as they went down more and more steps, purposely ignoring all words that left her mouth.

  One sentence pulled him up short: “You always surprise me.”

  “It’s all part of my master plan, so you don’t get bored with me.”

  Something close to a snort left her and his lips lifted and lowered in a quick grin.

  The stairs ended and they were in a cool chamber with cells on either side of them. The lights were dim and the scent of bleach was heavy. Murmurs and whimpers traveled through the air, chilling Ryder. At the end of the long, narrow hallway was a door. He strode for it, not even glancing to see who or what was in the cells. He didn’t want to know. He only wanted to save Honor, especially since she was incapable of saving herself. She could. But she always chose someone else over herself, always. Someone needed to choose her—and that was Ryder.

  “We have to help them. Look at them. We have to help them, Ryder!” she cried, trying to tug her hand out of his grasp.

  He dropped her wrist as he spun around, glaring at her, refusing to even glance in any direction that would pull his gaze from her. “No. You’re all that matters to me. Understand? I am flawed, selfish, and arrogant. I am not that good. I am not noble and I don't always do the right thing like Nealon. But I'm here and he isn't. Do you get it now? I’m here.” He paused, taking a steadying breath. “This is me, Honor.” He slammed a fist against his chest and held it there. “This is me. Accept me. Please accept me. Let me be enough.”

  Ryder's breathing was ragged, his heart racing in his chest like it had never raced before, but he was being completely honest, for once. For once he was showing his true self. If they were going to die, she had to know. Honor had to know the truth about him and what he felt for her.

  Her breath left her in a surprised gasp and he quickly turned back to the door, not wanting to hear or see what was next to come. Honor had a gift when it came to verbally slaying all his good intentions. He'd rather have her silence than her rejection.

  Hands pulled at him and twisted him around; Honor's cool palms sliding over the stubble of his jaw to cup his face. He was too surprised to react, silently watching her to see what she would do next. A kiss; soft, fleeting, pressed to his lips. It was only a few seconds in length, but it was monumental in depth and meaning.

  She moved away, staring at him with furrowed brows; like maybe she really was, finally, seeing the real him, for the first time; like maybe she wasn't too disappointed by what she was seeing either. A grin stole over his lips and he let it, turning away to focus on getting them out of the building.

  “I had all sorts of plans,” he said, reaching for the doorknob. “One was to pretend I didn’t care about you, to get promoted fast and secure my place in the UDK organization.” His hand twisted. “So I could get enough power, have enough influence, to go up against August and beat him, dispose of him, finish him.”

  The door swung open.

  “But the thing about power is…it’s fleeting. And it doesn’t give you anything, not really. It’s like a hunger you can never sate.” He looked over his shoulder and met her grief-stricken eyes. “I’m done pretending. I can’t do it anymore. Because all of that—it doesn’t mean anything
and it wouldn’t have given me you. You are what I want.”

  “That’s…you’re completely messed up. You know that, right?” When she said it, her eyes were soft and sad, not judgmental and icy like her tone implied they would be.

  “Ah, there’s the Honor I know,” he said with a smirk, stepping into the dark room.

  He felt the wall to the right and flipped the lights on. The smile fell from his lips at the same time Honor grabbed his arm and dug her fingers into the flesh of his bicep.

  “Took you long enough. And why do they always go down when they should be going up, and up when they should be going down? You were being shepherded, but I guess you didn’t know that. You always were a little too arrogant for your own good, like your father. Looks like this time it caught up to you. It always catches up to you—arrogance.” August smiled. “I always know what you’re going to do…before you do it. I know you. You would be wise to remember that, Ryder.”

  He pointed to the wall behind him. “Elevators. They do wonders.” He tilted his head as he stepped toward them. “I knew if I told you all the bad things Honor’s father supposedly did, you would become obsessed. I knew you’d want vengeance. I knew once you saw her you’d be intrigued by her. I knew all sorts of things.”

  The distance shrank between the pair and August.

  “Like I knew you’d fall for her. I knew you’d betray me.”

  Ryder’s stomach twisted, nausea rising in him. He had his arms lifted protectively with Honor behind him, slowly walking them backward. Her fingers were knotted into the fabric of his shirt, and though she was silent, he felt her fear and loathing for the man stealthily approaching them. It was like a taint on his feelings for her, knowing August had orchestrated it all, and yet, it didn’t change them. It changed nothing.

  “Do you want to know what else I know? And this is the best part out of all of it. I know you would die for her.” A hint of sorrow touched his smile, just enough to add a glimpse of humanity to him. “And now, because of all the ways you betrayed me, as I knew you would, you will.” His eyes went to Honor. “Kill him.”

  He felt her balk behind him, heard her cry of, “No!”

  Closing his eyes, inhaling and exhaling slowly, deeply, Ryder turned to face her. He smiled at her, trying to show her without words that it was okay, that he cherished her, that he didn’t blame her, and that one day, somehow, he would see her again.

  Tears trickled from her eyes and down her cheeks as she stared at him. “No! I won’t do it!”

  “Look at you, crying over me. Who would have thought the day would ever come? It makes me think maybe you even care a little for me,” he said softly, brushing the tears from her face.

  “I won’t do it.” Honor shook her head, grabbing for him. “I won’t do it!” she shouted at August.

  Ryder gripped her hands within his to still them, leaning toward her. “You have to. He won’t stop until you do. You know that, right? He’ll keep killing and torturing and hurting others until you give in. He wants me dead and he’s too much of a coward to do it himself. He wants you broken. He’s trying to destroy all the good in you. Don’t let him win. If I had to choose how to die, I would rather it were by you than him any day. I’ll think of it as revenge for me shooting you.” Half of his mouth lifted.

  The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. “Ah, right on time. Come here, Cassie.” The satisfaction in his voice didn’t bode well for anyone other than August.

  Honor’s eyes widened and flew up. “No,” she mouthed, all the shadows she fought creeping up on her and darkening her visage.

  Her nails dug into his arm as she slumped against him and he let them, turning to face August, his arms around a trembling Honor. It wasn’t exactly how he’d pictured their first true embrace to be, but he really couldn’t afford to be picky, what with dying at any second and all.

  An older, paler version of Honor stared at them, her clothes dirty, her frame too thin, and her eyes haunted.

  “Honor?” she whispered through cracked lips, trying to move for her daughter and being thwarted by August’s arm shooting out.

  “Pick. Lover boy or Mommy dearest. You have ten seconds. One.”

  “Mom,” she cried, reaching out to her, but unable to let go of Ryder as well.

  “Two.”

  He wouldn’t let her pick him over his mom. There was no way.

  “Go, Honor. Go to your mother. It’s okay,” he said against her head, pressing a kiss to her temple.

  She wordless shook her head, her knees buckling and only Ryder keeping her upright.

  “Three.”

  “I won’t choose,” she said in a low, shaking voice. “You’ll have to kill me.”

  August paused. “Oh no, I don’t think so. I’ll just kill both of them instead. It’ll fill in the dullness of the evening ahead. Four.”

  He dropped a blade to the floor and kicked it. It slid toward them, stopping inches from Ryder’s boots. The silvery gleam of it mocked him, told him his life was about to end.

  “Five.”

  Ryder stared down at the knife, seeing his distorted face looking back at him. Even through the reflection on the blade, he could see the resolve in his expression.

  “Six.”

  He couldn’t chance looking at Honor, but he met Cassie’s terrified gaze, saw the slight shake of her head, and he ignored it, dropping down to his knees and chucking the knife at August. He knew a moment of elation is it hit its mark, directly where the heart should be, and then he knew horror as August pulled the blade from his body and threw it back at him.

  It pierced his flesh, tearing through and gashing his throat. The pain was sharp, fierce, and burning. Something warm and thick flowed from the wound and he stared down at the steady stream of blood staining his shirt and the floor beneath his feet. Honor screamed, but it sounded faint, far away. He stared at the man he once thought of as a father figure and later learned to hate as his surroundings turned gray. His body was heavy, too heavy, and he began to fall.

  “Don’t let…him…win,” he murmured to the tear-stained face looming over his.

  He smelled blood and knew it was his. She was holding him, trying to staunch the flow of blood with her hands to his neck, though he couldn’t feel her. It was all going numb. He thought she was screaming, but he couldn’t understand her anymore. His hearing was muffled, Honor turning darker and becoming farther away as the gray turned to black. It wasn’t so bad, dying in her arms.

  “You might not have been my son, but you were still my child,” was the last sentence he heard, and even as unconscious pulled him away, Ryder was unable to make sense of those words.

  “You’re terrible at this,” Natasha said with a smirk.

  Puffy clouds and skies of blue stared back at him from where Christian lay on the hard ground, trying to breathe. A bird flittered past and another followed suit.

  “You…fight dirty,” he gasped.

  With a shrug, she offered a small hand. “Do you think any of them are going to fight fair?”

  He took her hand and stood, looming over her with a glower on his face. “You kicked me. In the throat.”

  She grinned, brushing dead leaves from her short hair. “I know. Pretty cool, huh?”

  “No. Not pretty cool—especially since we were supposed to be having weaponry training.”

  “Your leg and foot can be a weapon.” She blinked innocently at him, a streak of dirt on her high cheek adding to the false vulnerability her physique and features gave her.

  The cigarette and mint gum smell Christian used to associate with her was gone, replaced with sunshine and fresh air. Her skin was tanner, glowing, and though it was begrudging, she seemed to like being with their makeshift family. Hollows were gone from under her cheekbones and the hunted, defensive look in her eyes when they’d first met up was no longer there. The last few weeks of being a fugitive seemed to agree with Natasha Becwar. Christian would never admit it, but he sort of liked having her aroun
d.

  He cocked his head. “You know, I think you enjoy being our prisoner.”

  She scoffed and looked away, a faint reddening of her cheeks belying her reaction. “Better than being dead, I guess.”

  “Don’t sound so happy about it.” Irritated, Christian began to walk away.

  “Wait!”

  He paused when she grabbed at his tee shirt, her hand swiping against his abdomen with the motion. His stomach instinctively concaved at the touch. Lifting an eyebrow, he gazed at her. A blush, darker than before and spreading across her cheeks and neck, formed and her hand dropped away.

  “I am happy. I mean, I’m not happy, but…thank you. I really do appreciate what you did, what you’re still doing. You could have killed me and you didn’t. You could have made me go with Burns and you didn’t. I will always remember that. Although, you were kind of a prick. Well, you still are, but at least I’ve adapted to it.”

  She grinned when Christian’s eyes narrowed. “And anyway, this isn’t so bad. I mean, I get to kick UD butt on a daily basis and call it training. It’s my dream come true.”

  “You’re vicious,” he told her, a smile playing at his lips.

  “Good thing I’m on your side, right?”

  “Right.” He paused, and then blurted, “What was it like? Your life before all of this?”

  Natasha went still. “All of this has always been my life. Just different circumstances, but the same things always happen. Anyway, Dominic’s motioning me over. I better go see what he wants.”

  “Yeah. I’ve got…stuff to do.” He didn’t. He didn’t even really want to leave Natasha. Something about her intrigued him, probably more than it should. He thought maybe it was her instinct to survive no matter what—he had much the same inclination.

  A faint voice called his name, growing louder as a form became visible over the small hill.

  “Christian! Christian, come quick!” Juli sprinted across the wooded field toward him, her eyes filled with apprehension or excitement, he couldn’t tell.

 
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