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Unremarkable anything bu.., p.3

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2), page 3

 

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2)
 


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  “Not where it counts. Not for me.” She swallowed, her eyes unwavering from his. Juli put a hand on his bicep and he tensed. “We agreed to be with you for a reason, Christian. You gave us something, you gave me something.”

  His throat worked. “What?”

  “Hope.” Her hand fell away. “Don’t make us regret it. Be our leader, but be fair. Be fearless, but not reckless. And you don’t give up hope either. Because the only time you’ve really lost yourself or become unfixable is when you lose that.”

  Another bit of information to sidestep. “We’ll find more, Juli. We just have to search harder, in more areas. We haven’t been together that long. It takes time to build an army. And patience.”

  His words were meant to reassure, but Juli didn’t look convinced. “You heard Dominic and Jax talking?”

  Christian scowled, looking over his shoulder. Eyes weren’t on them, but ears were. “Part of it. Let’s take a walk.”

  The sound of a voice being cut off caused him to stiffen and tilt his head. He grabbed the hunting knife from the waistband of his pants, his motions fluid, well-honed. The blade was large and sharp enough to cut through bone. Christian put a finger to his lips as his eyes met Juli’s and signaled what he was going to do. Giving a sharp nod, Juli confirmed she understood. She moved to stand before the group of fugitives like a protective mama bear and Christian felt a twinge inside.

  He molded himself to the wall, his heart slowly pounding, his breaths even as he slid along it.

  “I have better training than you,” was whispered across the expanse, but on the other side of the wall.

  Christian froze and tried to duck around the corner, but not soon enough. A hand, small and pale, punched him in the throat. The struggle to breathe was immediate. Something pointy was slammed hard into his back, knocking him to his knees, and then a boot said hello to his chin. Loudly.

  “Bested by a female—a small one, and a UDK at that. Tsk tsk. What will your groupies think?” she cooed.

  Voices, frantic and angry, rose behind him, but his attention was trained on Jax and Dominic. Both were out cold or dead. There was no blood, so he ruled death out. They had to be knocked unconscious. That knowledge was so surprising he couldn’t adjust to it, though the proof was evident in their prone forms.

  His eyes slowly lifted, trailing up black stretch pants, a pink top much too big for her small frame, and landing on large brown eyes. Her jaw was tight, eyes flashing with determination. Her short, light brown hair was messier than usual, bangs hanging in her eyes. Up and down her chest heaved as she sucked air through her lungs. She smelled faintly of cigarettes and gum, like she’d had each within the last week, but not any more recent than that.

  “Natasha,” he greeted in a mild tone.

  Lips twisted with a snarl, she trained a gun on him and cocked it. “Don’t say my name like we’re friends or anything else.”

  “Christian!” Juli moved for him and Natasha turned her weapon on her.

  “Stop!” Christian lowered his voice and concentrated on keeping it even. “Juli, stop where you are. Don’t move.” His eyes never left the UDK’s face. “How did you find us?”

  “It wasn’t easy.”

  “And now that you’ve found us? Are you going to kill us?”

  Hesitation flashed across Natasha’s face, and with it, indecision. It was gone almost immediately, replaced by a coldness she had always tried too hard to produce. “I won’t have to. If I found you, the others won’t be too far behind.”

  Hands up, Christian slowly stood. “What did you do to Jax and Dominic?” Keep her talking, just keep her talking.

  Natasha snorted. “I knocked them out. You guys need better training.”

  His jaw tightened. “We have no training. All we know, all we learn, we figure out on our own. We’re the garbage, remember? We don’t exactly get the same privileges as you.”

  An indecipherable gleam entered her eyes. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “Why are you here?” he demanded.

  “Christian, you’re wasting your breath trying to talk to her. She’s toying with us, and when she’s done, she’s going to shoot us,” Juli said from behind him.

  The gun wavered.

  Christian’s eyes narrowed as he watched Natasha’s shaking arm. “Are there even bullets in it?” He took a step toward her and the gun swung to his head.

  “Stay back!”

  “I don’t think there are. What is your motive?”

  Natasha’s throat worked as she tried to swallow and Christian could smell her fear, potent and bitter. “I said, stay back.”

  “Or what? You’ll shoot?” He stopped when the barrel of the gun was touching his chest. “Go on then. Shoot.” Christian stared into her eyes. “Only you watch me while you pull the trigger.”

  “You won’t die, if I shoot you,” she whispered. “You’ll heal.”

  “So what’s stopping you then? Give it a try.”

  “You’ll only die if you’re shot in the brain.”

  The gun lifted to his forehead and he tried not to flinch. It clicked, his eyes watching hers widen in horror, and he moved. One hand grabbed the gun and twisted, the other slammed into her chest with enough force to send her into the wall a few feet away. Natasha slid to the dirty, damp ground, her head bowed as shivers swept through her. She didn’t look brave or vindictive anymore; she looked like a lost, scared little girl.

  “Next time, make sure it has bullets.” Christian put the safety on the gun before shoving it into the waistband of his pants.

  His eyes found Brett and Dylan Roth, brothers both turned UDs, a rare occurrence. The odds of two siblings having the disease were almost unheard of. “Tie her up. She’s coming with us.”

  “Tie her up? We can’t have her with us. It’s too dangerous,” Juli argued.

  “What’s the alternative?” His eyebrows lifted as he waited.

  She sighed, rubbing her face. The alternative was death. Juli knew it. Tenderhearted, there was no way she would allow that if given another option. “Can’t we just knock her out and leave her here?”

  “She can help us. We need training.”

  “She tried to kill you!”

  “She didn’t succeed.”

  Confusion marred her features. “What? You’re not serious. She’ll try again. You know she will. Look at her. She hates us.”

  “She can help us, or she can die.” He caught Natasha stiffening out of the corner of his eye. Looking around the bedraggled group, he said, “Pack up. We’re leaving.”

  On his way past Jax and Dominic, he kicked their legs and they began to awaken, blinking at him as they sat up. He glared down at them. “You two are sorry excuses for guards, you know that?”

  Jax’s shoulders slumped, but Dominic argued, “She came out of nowhere! I didn’t even know what was happening until it was too late.”

  He held up a hand. “We need training; that much is clear.” He glanced over to a trussed up Natasha. Hands bound before her, she stood straight, her eyes telling Christian how much she loathed him. “And now we have someone who can train us.”

  “I’d rather die first,” Natasha spat out.

  Rubbing his mouth, he shrugged. “That can be arranged.”

  “You’re lying.”

  “You’ll find out soon enough, Natasha; I don’t lie.”

  He didn’t smile. There was his public face—the one he had carefully honed for years—confident, arrogant, carefree, grinning Ryder. Then there was the real Ryder—the one who never smiled. You would think it would be hard to pretend everything was okay when it wasn’t, but actually, it was easy. The UDKs had a system: you began as a recruit, advanced to an officer, then an agent, and few became superiors. There were a handful of them acting as superiors at any one time throughout the United States.

  He went through the motions—running five miles every morning followed by sit-ups, push-ups, and later, weight-lifting. Then there were the
weaponry classes and the administrative lessons so he knew all about proper protocol and how to be a ‘good agent’—all the while existing as a person who wasn’t him, with the sole intent of becoming the best of something he despised.

  Ryder Delagrave was a fraud.

  The cafeteria was white, squeaky clean, and filled with UDKs of varying ranks, all talking among themselves. It smelled like garlic and onions; sunlight glared in from several windows. By his choice, Ryder sat alone—and maybe a little of it was because people viewed him as a showoff. He wasn’t, not intentionally.

  “Officer Delagrave, I need you to make a run.”

  Dumping the lunch tray of barely touched spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread, he set it on the counter and looked at Agent Elaine Medina. “I have weaponry class.”

  Short and wiry with muscle, the agent was in her mid-forties. Her wardrobe consisted of pantsuits in neutral shades and her features were blunt, more masculine than feminine. Hair brown and streaked with gray, she kept it short and slicked back. She was another Superior August wannabe in an organization full of them. So many of them wanted the power, but did they really know what that power entailed? Maybe they did, and maybe it didn’t matter.

  “Yes. And this takes precedence over class.”

  Ryder crossed his arms and stared the higher ranking official down. “Who gave the orders?”

  Her small brown eyes became even smaller. “It’s from Superior August; he personally requested you go. If you have a problem taking orders from me, you can talk to him.”

  Smoothly, calmly, he said, “Of course I don’t have a problem taking orders from you. I just know August doesn’t want me missing any classes, but if the order is from him—”

  “It is,” she bit out roughly.

  He shrugged. “Then I have no issue. What do you need me to do?”

  Agent Medina leaned closer, bringing the scent of stale cigarettes and garlic with her. Ryder fought not to recoil. “About a dozen or so UDs were spotted an hour’s drive from here, in Lodi, Wisconsin. They were keeping to the back streets, heading out of town and toward the Iowa border. They aren’t showing up on the tracking devices, so we think they’re fugitives. Don’t approach them, just observe. Watch what they do, where they go.”

  “If they aren’t showing up on the tracking devices, then how do you know they’re UDs? Why do you think they’re UDs?”

  “They all have gray eyes.”

  “Maybe they’re cousins.” He flashed his teeth.

  “You’re not funny,” she coldly informed him.

  Sighing, he said, “They all have gray eyes. So? There’s no glow to them, no silvery light?”

  “No.”

  Ryder rubbed his jaw. It didn’t make any sense; why the UDKs would observe a group of people merely on the basis of their eye color. It also didn’t make sense that they would send him to check on something like that. But if he continued to ask questions, his chance to leave might be taken away and he had to get out of the facility—needed to. Regardless, he had to ask one more.

  “Why me?”

  “Because you’re the one August trusts the most out of the officers, for whatever reason. And this isn’t something agents do, not normally.” Her thin upper lip curled and she backed away. “Report back to him what you find. He is currently out of the vicinity, but should be around later tonight.”

  She tossed a set of keys at him. “Take the white Saturn.”

  Keys clutched tightly in hand, Ryder hurried for his room. He changed into black athletic shorts and a pale blue shirt with the sleeves ripped off. Sunglasses and worn athletic shoes on, he headed from the facility, feeling like an escapee as he left the grounds he hadn’t been able to leave in roughly six months. Half a year he had been kept on the UD facility grounds.

  The invisible shackles were heavy on him and as the car sped away, his shoulders loosened up and he sat straighter in the seat. A clean linen scent and cool breeze filled the car when he turned the air conditioner on. The sky was blue and cloudless—beautiful. ‘Sail’ by Awolnation pounded from the speakers as he began the hour long journey. He thought about not returning. What would happen? If Ryder just didn’t go back, what would happen?

  Fugitive, hunted, boot camp, and dead all swam through his head, none reassuring.

  The closer the car got to the Wisconsin-Iowa border, the edgier he became. Leafy green trees, fields of corn, and endless pastures of grass bordered the road on either side of him. His eyes continually checked the rearview mirror to see if he was being followed, although he kind of figured if he was he wouldn’t know it.

  What if I just keep going? Hands gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white, Ryder’s pulse skyrocketed at the sign announcing his arrival into the state of Wisconsin. Keep going. Just keep going. And then what? He would have to run for the rest of his life, however long or short that was, and all his plans, all that carefully thought out retribution would never come to fruition.

  August would win.

  Jaw clenched, Ryder let the pain of his misguided actions engulf him, let the remorse take over, and found himself drowning in it. It was cloying, choking, absolute. He deserved it all and more. Honor. He tried to swallow—found he couldn’t. That was a life so more deserving to be lived than his. The pretty girl with all the nobility and courage no longer breathing? Impossible. Only it was true. He knew. Ryder had been the one to pull the trigger.

  The bullet aimed for Christian found the one person he wanted approval from, the girl he wanted to change for, to be better for, but was too weak to be. It wasn’t hard to figure out what she’d be thinking now if she was still alive. In his mind he saw her blue eyes, full of loathing and accusation, filled with blame, and rightly so. He hadn’t even been allowed to go the funeral, but he wouldn’t have gone anyway. He didn’t have that right.

  The car entered the town of Lodi, Wisconsin and Ryder’s eyes swept over the scenery. Buildings, browned with history and nostalgia, lined the streets. An empty park to the left showed a red merry-go-round and green swings, a light breeze gently swaying the swings. Where were the children? It was mid-afternoon on a Wednesday, but the town of one thousand and something looked barren, a fact that struck Ryder as odd. Where was everyone?

  His unease grew as the white Saturn passed by multiple businesses, none of them seemingly open. He glanced at the clock again to make sure he had the time right—it wasn’t like it was lunchtime, but even that wouldn’t explain the utter stillness of the area. Why had he been sent to Lodi? And what was going on in the town? Something wasn’t right. Ryder drove up and down each street, business and residential. No one was outside.

  Grabbing the cell phone off the seat next to him, he dialed a number each recruit was assigned to memorize in case of emergencies. A male voice answered just as a kid darted in front of the car. Ryder dropped the phone, cursing, and hit the brakes. The kid, blond-haired and dirty, froze, his gray eyes colliding with Ryder’s green ones. He wasn’t as young as he had initially thought, probably only a year or two younger than himself, but he was thin to the point of gaunt, his eyes too big in his face.

  “Hey! Wait!” Ryder shouted when the boy took off running.

  Fumbling with the seatbelt, he got it unhitched and fell out of the car, landing on his knees. Gravel found a place in his skin, but the sting was an afterthought, his attention on the boy. He sprinted after him, cutting through backyards and alleyways. The boy was surprisingly fast, especially for one looking the way he did. The distance closed between them behind a blue two-story house, Ryder tackling him to the hard earth, grass and dirt slamming into his face upon impact. The boy grunted as he hit the ground, then again when he landed on him. Ryder flipped him to his back and stared down at him.

  “Why…are you…running?” he gasped out, chest heaving and heart racing.

  “Kill me. Just kill me and get it over with,” the boy demanded, resignation and misplaced bravery etched into his features.

  F
rowning, Ryder loosened his grip on the boy’s arms. “Kill you?”

  “That’s why they sent you, right? To kill the turned ones not registered?”

  His mind tried to grasp what it was being told. He took a breath, and another. “You’re…there are UDs not being registered?” Leaning down, he focused on the boy’s pupils—gray, but no glow, and no silver hue to them. What is this? What the hell is going on? UDs were supposed to naturally have glowing eyes and a smoky aura, a thin line of gray surrounding their body, to them. Why didn’t this one?

  “I’m not saying anymore. You’re just going to have to kill me.” Clenching his jaw, he glared up at him.

  Ryder dropped his hands from the boy and moved away. “I’m not going to kill you.”

  “Great. You’re taking me in. Even better.”

  Brows knit; he looked at the strange boy who was apparently an anomaly, even to UDs. That was what he should do—he should take the boy in, give him up to the organization.

  Instead he found himself saying, “I’m not bringing you in,” and he meant it.

  He barely had time to register the boy’s surprise when the back of his head was cracked in with a blunt object.

  He’d never been able to accept her death—not once during the past six months. It never felt right. Even when he tried to tell himself she had to be, that there was no alternative; it had never rung true with him.

  It was by pure chance that he’d even known she was alive. His information source had heard something suspicious and relayed it to him. He’d known the ‘adapting positively to injections’ UD had to be her. He couldn’t explain it, not even when Talley tried telling him it couldn’t be her, but in his gut he’d known it was. She wasn’t supposed to be a UD—she didn’t have the full gray eyes, for one thing—so why was she being referred to as such?

  His guts were churning with the wrongness of it—Honor, August, the rescue. It was almost like they’d wanted her to be taken, but why? And did she know about it? What exactly was Honor Rochester and where did her loyalties lie? He no longer knew. And yet, he couldn’t have left her there, not while knowing she was alive. If there was a chance she was the Honor he remembered, then there was no other option but to take her from that hell she’d been subjected to and give her a chance at survival.

 
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