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Unremarkable anything bu.., p.4

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2), page 4

 

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2)
 


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  Isaac watched her look around the small, but decent apartment, wondering if ‘alive’ was the right word. She was different. Her eyes were changed and something was off, something he couldn’t see, but felt. What did they do to her? What more would they have done to her if Talley hadn’t found out about her when he had? And that escape? It had been laughably simple.

  Blue eyes tinged with gray met his. “Is this your place?”

  He gave a brisk shake of his head. “No.”

  “Talley’s?”

  “No.”

  Honor gave him a look, stopping beside a cream-colored couch. Her fingers trailed along the back of it, her head lowered. “Whose apartment is this and why are we here?”

  “My…” It was Demi’s. Demi, the woman he’d loved. Demi, the woman turned UD; Demi, the one who tried to kill him and was killed instead.

  Isaac tried to swallow and turned his back to Honor. “It’s a friend’s.”

  “August—he has my mom and sister,” she blurted.

  He raised his head, the pain on her face too much to bear. “We’ll get them back.”

  “How? I don’t know where they are, if they’re okay, if they’re hurt. I don’t know anything,” she whispered brokenly.

  “I don’t know, but we will. I mean it.”

  “Okay.” She slowly nodded; a hint of relief in her features. “Isaac—”

  He spun around. “Nealon.”

  She looked down. “So it’s back to that, is it? Somehow, with everything that has happened between us, I’d thought maybe we’d gotten beyond the formalities.”

  “You were wrong. And what, exactly, do you think has happened between us?”

  “You…” Honor rubbed her forehead. “You saved me.”

  “When?” he bit out. Her face fell and his chest constricted. Stay in control, don’t let her see the crack in you, stay in control.

  “What happened when I was shot?”

  The crack widened and emotions he tried so hard to keep inside seeped out. “I didn’t save you. That’s what happened. They took you.”

  Remorse slammed into him, adding a roughness to his already gruff voice. “They showed up and they snatched you away, knocking me out when I tried to intervene. I’m an outlaw to the organization, a fugitive, because I tried to stop them. I tried to save you, Honor, and I failed.”

  Her chest rose as she inhaled deeply, but no words left Honor’s mouth. Her black hair was smooth around her face, stopping just below her shoulders. Her skin seemed paler, almost shimmery. Isaac studied the eighteen-year old, seeing hints of worldliness in the way she stood and in her eyes that he didn’t remember from months ago.

  She averted her face from his probing gaze.

  What don’t you want me to see?

  “Are you hungry? Thirsty?” She shook her head. “I’ll get you some clothes. You can shower and change. We’ll stay here tonight and then we have to move. It’s not safe to stay in one place too long.”

  “That’s the plan? Run? That doesn’t seem like you.”

  He paused on his way to Demi’s bedroom. “For right now, yes, that’s the plan. It’s not always about fighting. Sometimes it’s about survival. Right now that’s all I care about.”

  “Survival for who?” she whispered.

  “You.”

  Isaac entered the bedroom with the cornflower blue bedspread and buttery yellow pillows, besieged with painful memories. The weightless, carefreeness of their love, the tears, the laughter, the passion—it all slammed over him in a wave of loss. Her scent was still faintly in the room; a mix of sugar and vanilla.

  Almost two years had passed since she’d been gone and he was still unable to empty the apartment, incapable to stop paying the rent, powerless to fully let her go. A piece of her was kept alive within the walls of the residence she’d once inhabited. The picture beside the bed was proof of that—it showed a couple with brown hair and eyes, grinning at one another, in love, happy, so naïve. It had been them against the world and then it had been them against one another.

  He put the photograph in the drawer of the nightstand and slowly closed it, feeling like he was betraying her in some way, even after everything.

  Opening the closet door, he unseeingly grabbed a shirt, trying not to think about another woman wearing his fiancée’s clothes. Demi had been taller than Honor, but she had been pretty thin so her clothes should fit well enough. He got a pair of cotton shorts from the dresser and turned, stiffening.

  Honor stood in the doorway, watching him. “Whose apartment is this?”

  “Mine.” Technically, it was. He paid for it.

  She eyed the pink top and purple shorts he held. “You’re a cross-dresser in your spare time, Nealon? I didn’t see that one coming.”

  He tossed the clothes at her and she caught them, her actions fast, fluid. Honor’s hair fell to the side as she moved, exposing the left side of her neck. Nealon crossed the room in two long strides and grabbed her jaw, ignoring her protests. One hand under her arm, the other gripping her chin, he moved them toward the light, studying the small white slit less than an inch long in length below her left ear.

  “What are you doing, Nealon?” she demanded. “Let me go.”

  His nose next to her skin, Nealon inhaled slowly, jerking back when his lips accidentally grazed her neck. Eyes locked on hers, he stated, “You have no scent, you have a recent scar on your neck, fading but still there, your skin is cool to the touch, and your eyes have gray around them. When is the last time you ate or drank anything?”

  “I…what?” Honor’s voice shook, her fingers touching the side of her neck.

  “Hit me.”

  “What?”

  “This is probably the only time I’ll ever allow it, so I’d take advantage of it if I were you. Come on, you have to be pissed at me about something. Pick one.”

  Her eyes narrowed, lips thinning. Honor’s fist went back—Nealon mentally braced himself—and landed on his jaw, his head snapping around with the force of it. Pain, fiery and throbbing, erupted in his face and he closed his eyes, swearing expressively.

  “Are you okay? Did it hurt?”

  Cool fingers touched his jaw and Isaac moved away, showing her his back. “I’m fine.”

  “You’re not. I hurt you. Why did you tell me to do that?” she demanded angrily.

  “Get a knife,” he rasped.

  “What?”

  “In the kitchen, first drawer on the left. Get a knife. There’s alcohol and tweezers in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, get those too. Bandages are in there as well.”

  “I don’t understand. Are you cut?”

  Isaac swung around, glaring at her. He lightly fingered his aching jaw. “Do it.”

  Her teeth snapped together and Honor strode from the room, her movements jerky with anger. Isaac took the minutes she was away to compose himself, straining for the impassivity he had to fight to find most days. He straightened, closing his eyes. Nausea and dread swirled together in his stomach and he choked it down when it threatened to go up his throat. She was too strong, much too strong for a skinny teenage girl.

  “Here.” The items he’d requested were tossed on the bed, Honor standing beside them with her arms crossed over her chest, looking like she wanted to hit him again. That wasn’t going to happen. Ever.

  “Sit.”

  “Tell me what’s going on.” He picked up the knife and her eyes widened. “What are you going to do with that?”

  “What I should have done to begin with. Now sit.”

  “Not until you tell me what you plan on doing with that knife!” The space between them kept widening even though Isaac continued to move toward her.

  “I’m going to remove the GPS chip from your neck. Before UDKs show up here and kill us, or worse, take us prisoner.”

  “Nealon,” she said with a broken voice and he had to struggle not to comfort her in some way, his fingers tightening on the base of the knife instead. “What am I? What did they d
o to me?”

  He said in a low voice, “I don’t know. But we have to get that out, and now. Understand?”

  Eyes troubled, she swallowed, nodding.

  “Sit on the bed. Please. With your left side facing me.”

  She wordlessly sat on the edge of the bed, her hands clasped together in her lap, that blue-silver gaze never leaving his. She trusted him. His footsteps faltered, a twinge forming in his chest. What if he let her down? Again. Demi had trusted him. Isaac shoved the thought away and knelt next to her.

  “I’ll be quick, but it will hurt. You have to hold still.”

  She nodded again. “Have you done this before?”

  He hesitated, and then answered honestly. “No.”

  “Great. I feel so much better now.”

  “Honor—”

  “Just do it already.”

  Isaac sterilized the blade with alcohol, then the tender skin of her neck, the scent of it stinging, astringent. He took a deep breath, her profile to him as she waited, and reopened the freshly healed wound. A sliver of blood appeared; the line of red strangely perfect in form.

  He swallowed, looking at her tense features. She didn’t move, she didn’t appear to breathe, resigned and accepting of what had to be done. There was a slight tremble to his fingers as he gripped the tweezers and Isaac clenched his jaw and focused on the marred skin, his other hand lightly holding her chin steady. The tweezers immediately found the circular chip the size of a pencil head. Honor flinched, closing her eyes, when he tugged at it. It didn’t budge.

  Of course it won’t be easy, he thought, switching the bloodied tweezers to his left hand and picking up the knife with his right. Isaac paused, glancing at her pale face. “How are you doing?”

  “Never better,” she rasped. “Are you done yet?”

  “No.”

  “Then stop talking and get done.”

  Fighting a smile, he held the chip with the tweezers and sliced through tissue and muscle to dislodge it from her. She didn’t make a sound, her eyelids sliding shut as he pulled it out. The scent of rust hit Isaac as blood began to flow more freely from the wound. Even as he watched, the skin slowly sealed itself back up, the blood drying, turning black. He looked at the red-tinged device, setting it down on the gauze to later concentrate on.

  “Done?”

  He quickly wiped the pink line with gauze wet with alcohol, nodding. “Done.”

  When Honor turned to look at him, the gray around her blue irises was gone. Isaac frowned, gently tipping her head back and from side to side. She watched him, her face drawn. “What is it now?”

  “Your eyes are blue again.”

  “What does that mean?”

  He sighed and stood. “I wish I knew.”

  Isaac grabbed the tools and went to clean them, throwing the bloodied gauze away. He put the GPS chip in a baggie and shoved it into his back pocket. The kitchen was pale blue with white appliances and a wooden table with two chairs, the room small and spotless.

  Hot water filling up the sink, he squirted dish soap in it and watched it foam up, the scent of apples replacing the lingering metallic scent of Honor’s blood. The GPS chip needed to be opened up and studied, but he didn’t have the intellect, means, or accessories to do so. He knew someone that did though.

  He felt her behind him without looking, which was strange as there was no heat to her, but an air of coolness. “Get showered and dressed. I have to run an errand.”

  “You’re not leaving me here alone,” she said in disbelief.

  He washed the blade and tweezers in the kitchen sink, striving for a detachment he couldn’t quite grasp. Her blood was on his hands, literally. Not the first time either. He hoped it was the last.

  “Talley will be here soon. I won’t leave until he gets back.”

  “Nealon—”

  Spinning around, his fierce expression halted her words. “For once, would you just do what I tell you to without arguing with me?” Tired in every way and unable to continue to keep it masked, it showed through in his weary tone.

  “Okay.”

  Exhaling loudly, he let the water out of the sink. “Thank you.”

  The cool graze of fingers ran down his shoulder and he stiffened. “I should be the one thanking you. You always manage to save me, in some way.”

  He glanced over his shoulder at her. Honor stared back, her rose-colored lips parted, something in her eyes raising warning bells in Isaac’s head. “I am almost ten years older than you.”

  She backed away, her brows lowering. “Why are you telling me this?”

  Turning completely around, he rested his hips against the counter and crossed his arms. “Do I need to be telling you this?”

  “I don’t…no. No.”

  Isaac nodded. “Keep your hands to yourself then, Rochester, and your simpering looks too.”

  “Simpering? Simpering? I do not simper!” Honor’s jaw clenched. “And if I was, it wouldn’t be at you! I was trying to thank you. That is all. You’re old and—and rude and I would never simper at you. Just so we’re clear.”

  Biting back a grin, he said, “Oh, I think we’re clear.”

  “And stop calling me Honor. You can’t do that—you can’t keep going back and forth between my first and last name. It’s confusing. It makes me think maybe you actually like me a little bit, as a—a friend, nothing more,” she quickly added, “and then you’re snapping at me again or whatever. So let’s just keep it simple. I’m Rochester. You’re Nealon. Forever.” She drew the last word out, her eyes flashing with anger and indignation.

  Without meaning to, Isaac laughed at the look she aimed at him.

  Honor drew herself up, her features twisted in surprise. “You know how to laugh?”

  The laughter cut off. “Shut up, Rochester.”

  She tried to hide a smirk as she turned away, but he saw it. “Showering now.”

  “Finally she listens.”

  Isaac changed into a pair of jeans and a black tee shirt and boots, his eyes going to the closed bathroom door across the hall as he left the bedroom; the sound of spraying water evidence that Honor was heeding his words for once. He didn’t know what was going on with her, or what she even was anymore, but fear for her was predominant over any other thought or emotion.

  He couldn’t let them get her again—Isaac couldn’t lose the brave girl with the Snow White beauty, not another time. He’d barely survived the last six months; he wouldn’t survive it a second time. Part of him thought if he kept her safe, maybe the good deed would cross out all the bad he’d committed, even unintentional as they had been.

  Talley showed up while he paced the length of the small living room. He’d changed into his police uniform and carried a weariness Isaac knew he did as well. “Where is she?”

  “Showering. Any problems?”

  Rubbing a hand through his short brown hair, Talley shook his head. “No. They practically let us walk out of there. I think the resistance effort was more for show than anything. And why isn’t anyone looking for her? The place has been quiet, too quiet. No one’s mentioned anything, not according to my source. It is as if she was never there and she never left. I don’t like it. And the way she moved—” He got a helpless look on his face. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t natural. None of it makes sense.”

  “I agree. It’s not adding up.” He felt into his back pocket and pulled out the baggie. “This was in her neck. I’m going to have James check it out, see if he can make sense of it. Can you stay while I’m gone?”

  He took the baggie from Isaac and held it near his face, frowning as he gazed at the small, bloodied tracking device. “She had a GPS on her?” His hand lowered. “Did you notice her eyes?”

  “Of course I did,” Isaac muttered, expelling a noisy breath. “And now they’re blue again.”

  Talley’s eyebrows lifted.

  “I removed the chip and her eyes went back to blue. That tracking device isn’t just a tracking device. That’s why I wan
t James to look at it. I’m assuming it still works, so why haven’t they shown up here with their guns cocked?”

  “Maybe it only activates when it has a host.”

  “Maybe.” Isaac rubbed his eyes, wanting to slip into a coma for a couple days, or maybe years. “You’re good to wait here until I get back?”

  “Yeah, my shift isn’t for another three hours.” Talley raised his wrist to his face, a gleam of metal catching the light. “If I don’t get a text from you in an hour, we’ll move on.”

  Isaac nodded. “One hour.”

  He grabbed his pistol from the top of a shelf and the baggie, camouflaging each within his clothes. Pausing at the door, he looked over his shoulder at the one man he trusted in the mess that was their reality. Talley stared back, his face impassive. He’d learned that expression from Isaac.

  “Only one hour, Talley, I mean it. After that, you go.”

  “We’ll go,” he promised.

  Hesitating, Isaac finally left the apartment, disquiet trailing behind him.

  No one ever woke up and thought: Today is the day I’m going to die. Honor was thinking maybe they should, maybe she should have—because she was some kind of dead. Or at least, whatever she was, she wasn’t completely alive. Maybe that gunshot had killed her and she was dead and no one knew it; except for her—she knew it. Her skin was cold, not ice cold, but it certainly wasn’t warm. Her heartbeats were slow, like her heart wasn’t, or didn’t need to be, working as hard as it used to.

  An urge to laugh hysterically or go on a screaming rampage was bubbling up inside her. What was wrong with her? She sat on the toilet seat in the pink and cream bathroom and stared unseeingly at a framed photograph of a white rose. Hunger and thirst had abandoned her, along with the part of herself she knew. The new Honor was a mystery, like August had said, and also like him, she wasn’t crazy about puzzles, especially ones involving her.

  If she’d known her life was going to be so drastically altered that last day she went to school, she wouldn’t have gone. Honor would have cuddled at home with Scarlet and watched her draw her animal pictures. She would have told her mother she loved her, that no matter what, she would always love her. Spending the day with her mother and sister, simply existing—that’s what she would have done. All the things she’d previously thought trivial and had taken for granted, she would have welcomingly embraced and kept close to her heart, for as long as she was allowed.

 
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