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Ordinary anything but se.., p.16

Ordinary (Anything But Series Book 1), page 16

 

Ordinary (Anything But Series Book 1)
 


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  “Ah, come on, Honor, I say all kinds of factual stuff, most obvious the line about you wanting me.” Moron.

  “You have a problem.”

  He cocked his head, striving for a confidence he really didn’t feel. “I do? What’s that?”

  “You’re egotistical and rude and conceited. You think everyone wants you.” Her words built steam as she lashed out, “You think you’re perfect.”

  No, I don’t. I am the opposite of perfect, the opposite of all of that. “That’s a problem?”

  “Only you would think it isn’t.”

  “I’m hurt.” He coaxed his lips into a pout he really didn’t feel like displaying, but he had to keep up the act, always. Some days he didn’t even know why he was still doing it. “And here I thought we were friends. You mean all those times you smiled at me were a hoax? I kept those smiles close to my heart. You didn’t mean any of them? I am literally crying on the inside.” He flicked an imaginary tear from the corner of his eye.

  Her face went red. “I will never be your friend and I don’t smile at you.”

  Closing the distance between them until her back was flat to the wall, Ryder placed his palms on either side of her head, leaning down to place his mouth close to hers, holding her gaze. His body tensed; he wanted so badly to kiss her.

  “Oh, Honor, you so smile at me.” She didn’t, not really. That was something he longed for and never received: Honor’s smiles.

  She stared at him like he was some kind of monster. Maybe he was. Ryder wasn’t really sure at that point. He slowly backed away, letting her pass. She practically ran from the bathroom.

  “Be seeing you, Honor,” he called after her, feeling like an astronomical ass.

  “Are you there, son?”

  Ryder gripped the cell phone tight against his ear. “I’m here.”

  “They’ll be collecting her tomorrow. I want you at the facility. She knows you. Might be good for her to see a friendly face.”

  He rubbed his forehead and leaned his backside against the kitchen counter. The housekeeper had put a pan of lasagna in the oven and the garlic cheese and sauce mixture filled the air, reminding him he hadn’t had any lunch. “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”

  “Why’s that?” Superior August barked from the other end of the phone.

  “Honor doesn’t exactly like me.” He thought back to their exchange in the boys’ bathroom after school. Even when he wasn’t trying to make her mad, Ryder managed to. His mouth spewed forth offensive words without any effort on his part. Apparently it was a gift where she was concerned.

  “Nonsense. All the girls like you. She’s being coy.”

  “I think I know what that means and it’s not the same as what she’s being.”

  Superior August chuckled. “I’ll be seeing you soon, son.”

  “Goodbye, sir.” Ryder turned the phone off.

  Superior August would never be able to replace Ryder’s father, but he was a good surrogate. He’d known what to say, what to do to bring him back from the brink of self-pity and disillusionment. He’d made him train, made him learn everything he needed to know to survive, to advance, to better himself as a UDK. Ryder had Superior August to thank for showing him how to turn his grief into retribution.

  Ryder was there when they brought Honor in, watching her on a camera in a room full of laptop computers. It was used as a classroom for the newbies during the weekdays and as a surveillance room at all times. She was fighting. He’d kind of suspected she would. Respect and pride filled him as he watched her verbally scrap with Burns and Nealon.

  “They must not have told her anything,” Natasha commented. She was leaning against a desk, watching over Ryder’s shoulder.

  He straightened in the seat, his eyes trained on the screen. “Don’t do it, Honor.”

  She did it. Honor elbowed Burns, the one man she did not want as an enemy, and took off running.

  “She is so dead.”

  He tended to agree. Ryder got to his feet, grim. “Come on, we might as well see if we can help any.” He wasn’t sure exactly who he would be helping, but one of them.

  Ten minutes later Ryder found himself holding his bleeding, throbbing nose. He hated her. Any nice thoughts or feelings he’d ever had for her were gone—finished. Honor Rochester was a psychopath. He glared at her from where he crouched, the haze of fury weakening as she fought so hard, as she wouldn’t give up.

  His nose throbbed like he couldn’t believe. Warm, red blood slipped between his fingers, down his arms, staining his shirt, and Ryder couldn’t tear his eyes away from her. That ferocity in her; it was awe-inspiring. Nealon carried her away, Honor kicking and screaming and promising revenge the whole way. She was him. She was him if he’d ever let himself feel anything other than a sense of responsibility, if he’d ever let his emotions take over him and lose control.

  The days went by fast, especially with Ryder wearing himself out shifting between loathing and admiration for Honor. She didn’t know what her father had done. She didn’t know he’d taken his own father away from him. He wanted to stay away; he told himself not to care, but he couldn’t, and he did. Something inside him pushed him to push her, to prepare her. Honor had to be ready, she had to make it.

  Superior August was there every day, telling him through the phone to remember his cause, to remember his promise to his father. Ryder was getting sick of him checking up on him, watching him, making sure he never stepped out of line. He was starting to feel suffocated. Especially now, with him droning on and on about the same things he always told him. There was a prevalent thought in his head; at first easy to push aside and then hard to ignore: What do you really know about him?

  “Your father was a good man, Ryder; a brave man. He died fighting for the organization. He died protecting innocent people from a monster. Are you listening to me?”

  Ryder looked up and met Superior August’s chilly blue eyes. Maybe Natasha had been right; he was a little creepy, especially looking at him the way he was. They were in his office at the Owl Mountain UD Headquarters. It was white-walled and had a desk in it with a computer on it, two chairs around the desk. It smelled bad in the office, like decay, or something rotting. Ryder had been there numerous times in the past and he’d never realized it before. His stomach turned and he swallowed.

  “Ryder. Are you listening to me?”

  “Yes,” he said, swallowing again. Ryder was sweating in the cool room.

  “You’ve done well, befriending Honor, getting her to trust you. Good job, son.”

  He’d always felt proud when August had addressed him as such, but right then it felt wrong, like a betrayal to his father.

  “But now I’m telling you that’s over with.”

  His eyes flew to his cold face. “What do you mean?”

  “She’s in cahoots with the UD, may have even helped him escape.”

  That wasn’t possible. Ryder knew it wasn’t. “No. Honor wouldn’t. There is no way she would have, or even could have.”

  August leaned back in his chair, folded his hands over his stomach and directed his gaze at Ryder. “You don’t know that.”

  “You don’t know she did,” he argued, shooting to his feet. Ryder stared down at the man he’d looked up to for two years. He thought maybe he was finally seeing him for what he was and he didn’t like what he was seeing.

  He tilted his head. “Don’t I, Ryder?”

  His brows lowered as his confidence wavered.

  “Don’t forget I knew her father; I knew the kind of man he was. Don’t forget what he did to your father. That same blood that made Jeremy Rochester the man he was is in Honor’s veins and makes her the person she is.” He paused. “You’re going to promise me something.”

  August placed his hands on the desk and straightened. “If you see anything suspicious when the UD is found, if she seems at all to be aiding the UD, says anything or makes any kind of action to make it seem that way, you’re going to shoot her.”
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  Ryder stumbled back, unable to believe what he’d heard. “What?” he whispered.

  Superior August slowly stood; all pretense of anything good or nice or fair to him gone. His face was hard, his eyes unfeeling. “Don’t pretend you didn’t understand, Ryder. That was an order. You want to be something, to make something of yourself? You follow orders. Shoot…her. You can shoot the UD while you’re at it too. Kill two birds with one stone and all that.”

  The room spun. Ryder shook his head, sick and dizzy. “Why?”

  “That’s not for you to know. Now go. They’re waiting for you. Oh, and Ryder?” He paused by the door. Superior August smiled, showing large, white teeth. “You don’t shoot her, someone else will be shot. Someone close to you.”

  Ryder left the room in a haze of misconceptions and doubts and a strong sense of betrayal. Had he really ever known the man? He didn’t think so. Everything he had thought he’d known since his father’s death, his whole world, had been shattered and the truth now glared him in the face, showing him what a fool he’d been. He couldn’t shoot Honor, but if he didn’t, August had pretty much guaranteed someone else’s death.

  Nausea washed over him and he stopped walking to put a hand against the wall. Superior August had just told him to murder someone, maybe two people. Ryder lifted his head, stared at the white wall across from him. He hadn’t said to kill her. He’d said to shoot her. The relief he felt made his legs shake. He closed his eyes, drawing a steadying breath. The thought of even shooting her was repulsive, but if there was a way out of killing Honor, of course he would take it. Ryder would rather have her wounded than dead any day. He’d rather have her alive and capable of hating him instead of under the ground and not able to do anything.

  Nealon, Burns, and Honor were waiting for him in the dark by a tan vehicle. It was cold out, chilling Ryder—or maybe that was his conscience. The stars and moon were covered by swirling, filmy clouds. The air was fresh, cleansing. Ryder inhaled deeply, struggling for self-control. Honor frowned when she looked at him and for one second Ryder thought she somehow knew everything Superior August had said to him.

  “Are you okay?” she asked, touching his arm and quickly dropping her hand.

  I’m okay. I just have to shoot you. No worries. Ryder had a crazy urge to burst out laughing.

  “How about you worry about yourself, newbie,” he said just to piss her off. Pissed off Honor he could deal with. Affectionate, caring Honor he could not. Plus it was better for her to hate him.

  He turned from her eyes that saw too much. Nealon watched him, his face its usual expression of nothingness, but his eyes were trying to delve into Ryder’s brain. His eyes were trying to pick his mind apart and find what secrets he kept.

  He got into the SUV, thinking about how wrong he had been, thinking about how easily he’d followed August’s requests without questioning them, without allowing himself to think things through and decide on his own if they were right or wrong. What if he’d lied to him about his father? What if Honor’s father hadn’t killed his?

  Honor sat by him, the scent of her, the heat of her body, rolling over to cocoon him, causing yearning to slam into him, fast and fierce. Nealon drove and Burns was in the passenger seat. They were discussing their plan for bringing the UD in. Ryder could have told them not to bother. Her arm touched his when she leaned forward and said something to Nealon. Ryder stared at her back. He couldn’t shoot her, he couldn’t do anything to maim her or hurt her. But he had to. He closed his eyes.

  There was a good chance everything he’d thought for the last two years had been wrong. All of that resentment, anger, hatred, and blame; what if it had all been for nothing? He felt Nealon’s eyes on him in the rearview mirror. He met his gaze, his defiant. Ryder had never been able to figure the agent out. He kept to himself, did his job with fairness, but he had noticed he was extra sensitive where Honor was concerned.

  Why was he always watching him, like he thought he was going to lose it?

  The weight of the gun was heavy in his hands with consequences and obligations. His grip was tight, his hands slick with sweat. It beaded on his upper lip and forehead. His hands were shaking as Ryder leaned his back against a wall and glanced around it.

  He remembered the first time he’d seen her. He’d heard about Honor, heard the most likely mistruths August had told him about her father, about her. He had yet to see her at that point; the mysterious girl that was probably either going to turn into a UD or a UDK.

  She’d been running for track practice, past his house. Ryder never had figured out how he’d known it was her. There was a group of girls, their bodies slim and toned, all of them noteworthy, but none of them had caught his attention like she had. He’d been outside shooting hoops. He missed the shot. He never missed the shot.

  The ball dribbled back to him, but he didn’t know it because his eyes were on the slight girl with the pale skin, black as midnight hair, and fierce expression on her face. She’d glanced at him and kept going, disappearing around the corner.

  Ryder swept down the alley, close to the side of a building. He saw them, saw Honor against the wall and Christian looming over her. His stomach roiled over and over and Ryder sagged against a wall, the smell of a nearby dumpster making the nausea even worse.

  “Stay right there,” he called out as he straightened, the gun somehow steady in hands that trembled.

  Honor looked at him. There was no fear in her gaze, only strength. She turned to Christian. “Run.”

  When Christian darted to the left Ryder instinctively pulled the trigger. Honor’s eyes widened, still fixed on his. There was surprise there, but not condemnation. What he deserved was blame. Ryder welcomed it. Honor never had been agreeable. He’d shot Christian. He knew she’d never forgive him for that after she got over the shock. Ryder couldn’t have shot her, not Honor.

  Her eyelids fluttered, her face went deathly white, and when she started to fall and Nealon caught her, it finally registered in his brain. The agent looked up, his face promising swift and destroyable revenge. Ryder stumbled back, bile rising in his throat. He hadn’t shot Christian. He’d shot Honor.

  Dark liquid seeped over her stomach and the metallic scent of blood hit him. Stunned, he watched the blood blossom like a flower of death, his being frozen with disbelief. What did I do? What did I do? The gun dropped from his limp hand. When he moved for her, Nealon’s gaze told him to stay away.

  Ryder swayed and fell to his knees, his body heavy. What had he done? Tears burned his eyes as his throat closed. He covered his face with his hands and hung his head. In his pain-induced world of darkness, something shifted, something changed.

  Beyond the anguish was rage; a need for vindication. August was behind this. This was his fault. It was also his fault and Ryder hated himself for ever allowing himself to be manipulated like he had. He wouldn’t let it happen again—not ever. He let the blackness take over him, consume him, fill him with one single need. August had to be stopped. He would be the one to stop him.

  Some days he would have given just about anything to be a normal, average person, not some being with super powered eyeballs. It really wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Isaac took the call on his cell phone. Another had turned.

  Twelve years he’d been dealing with this crap, since he was sixteen and the UD virus had decided to morph him into a UDK. The odds of a UD going postal were slim, but they did happen. No more than any crazy person that had no excuse to go off on a killing spree. Isaac was thinking more and more that it was wrong to keep them locked up during the change, to monitor them for the rest of their lives.

  He was getting jaded, wondering if it was worth it, wondering what he was doing, in all honesty. Or maybe he was getting smarter. It didn’t matter what Isaac thought; it only mattered what everyone thought he thought. He’d never wanted a career in acting, but he’d gotten one anyway.

  Isaac rubbed his tired eyes and stared at the empty coffeepot on his kitchen counter.
He had been up most of the night, trying to calm down a suicidal UDK. He’d already had two pots of coffee, but it was time to make another one. He set about doing so, his movements slow and stiff. It was supposed to be his day off, but he never really got a day off. The UDK world was his life.

  He cast a bleary eye around his small kitchen with the flowery wallpaper Isaac had always meant to tear down. There was never enough time. The strong brew filled the room and Isaac poured the pot into a thermos; made sure he had his gun and keys, and locked up the small house.

  “Heard there’s two in the school that might be infected,” Burns said, cigarette between his lips.

  They stood against the UDK-issued vehicle, eyes trained on the quaint school with its brick siding, blooming greenery, and what normal people would call monsters and freaks within its walls. Isaac shifted his stance, hot in his dark suit that attracted the sun. Even the sporadic breezes were warm.

  He shoved the sunglasses that wanted to slip down his nose back up and looked at Burns. “We know for sure one is. That’s why we’re here.”

  “Yeah. That’s what I meant.” Sure he did. Burns was a small-minded man with big dreams. He wanted to be another Superior August someday. The man didn’t know what he was asking for.

  Isaac straightened. There he was. Gray aura fading in and out around his body, unnatural eyes that seemed to glow silver; it wasn’t hard for Isaac to spot him. The boy’s face was twisted in pain and he stumbled more than walked, his body hunched over. He felt that familiar empathy he always did when he saw one change. It had been explained to him once as feeling like the veins, blood; everything inside you was freezing, turning to ice, and then shattering—not exactly pleasant.

  “Here he comes,” Burns murmured, sounding excited.

  The boy saw them. In some part of his brain that wasn’t overcome with agony, it must have registered that something wasn’t right with them being there, watching him. Isaac started for him and Burns followed. He looked scared, but more than anything, he looked to be in immense pain.

 
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