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Unremarkable anything bu.., p.8

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2), page 8

 

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2)
 


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  He was right, which just made Christian even angrier. “Don’t worry about me.”

  “I’m not. I’m worried about the rest of us.”

  The sun and fresh air called to Christian from the opening above their heads, and he turned his attention to that instead of Jax’s words. They’d almost made it. A ramshackle house tucked away deep in the woods of Iowa, surrounded by trees, was their destination. Angela Norris, one of the newer UDs to join their forces, had mentioned it, said it belonged to her family, that no one used it anymore, and was safe. He didn’t know about that, but what choice did they have?

  It took hours to reach it, most of that time spent making sure they weren’t noticed as they made their way along the outskirts of Hempshire, Iowa, ducking behind buildings, sprinting when they were in clear view of any who glanced their way. The city was large and busy enough that they most likely went through undetected. The air was thick with heat and gnats, the sun scorching as it tried to burn their unburnable flesh.

  At some point Christian realized Natasha’s breathing was ragged, that once in a while she swayed as she marched. She had to be tired, thirsty, and probably hungry. Never once did she complain, or say anything at all. Why didn’t she say anything?

  Dusk was approaching as the end of the wooded area between the house and city came to be. About two hundred yards ahead stood a gray, two-story, debilitated house with chipped paint, broken windows, and a sunken in roof.

  “Home sweet home,” Christian muttered.

  Juli glanced at him. “It’s better than the sludge and rats of the tunnels.”

  He inclined his head, but said nothing.

  The group of UD fugitives stood in a row, gazing at what was to be their makeshift home, at least temporarily. The silence was heavy with doubts. He could feel it wrapping around them in an invisible vice. There was desolation in the stance of every one of them, other than Natasha. She wasn’t smart enough to know when it was time to give up. Of course, neither was he. That house symbolized them and what their future held. All their dreams, all their hopes, everything they’d ever wanted—gone—and in its place, that rundown house. Christian straightened his shoulders, refusing to accept that as truth.

  “Who goes first?” Jax asked cheerfully, casting his eyes about.

  Christian put the palm of his hand on his back and shoved. “You.”

  Catching himself, he muttered, “Thanks a lot.”

  “We’ll go together. Check the place out. How long has it been uninhabited, Angela?”

  Angela was twenty-five years old, but looked closer to fifteen. Her diminutive height and weight plus waist-length red hair and freckles helped add to that miscalculation.

  She chewed on her lower lip as she moved closer to Christian. “I don’t know. We haven’t been to it since I was thirteen and as far as I know our family was the only one that used it, although our relatives were welcome to it.”

  “Why did your family let it go defunct?” Jax asked; his eyes locked on Angela, as they characteristically were.

  She glanced at him and away. “My mom and dad died in a car accident when I was fourteen. My older brother wasn’t interested in the upkeep and this is the result.”

  No one said much after that, because what could they say?

  Christian and Jax strode toward the structure, the others hanging back. He glanced at the older man as they walked. “We don’t know what will become of us days, even hours, from now.”

  Jax’s jaw clenched, but he said nothing.

  “It’s not a good idea to form feelings for the other UDs.”

  “Why are you telling me this?”

  “I don’t want anyone to get hurt any more than is necessary.”

  “No, you don’t want anyone messing up your plans.”

  “My plans? I thought my plans were the same as yours?”

  “So did I. Now, I’m not so sure.”

  “I have only ever been honest about my intentions, and they haven’t changed.” Almost to the house, Christian put a hand out to halt Jax’s progress. “Stop the organization. That’s it. Simple. Don’t complicate what doesn’t need to be.”

  Jax finally looked at him. In his eyes were pain, longing, and anger so intense Christian had to look away. No one should witness emotions that strong. They were private.

  “You know what I think? I think, if we don’t know what’s going to happen to us from one day to the next, then we should do what we can to make them the happiest we possibly can.” He brushed past Christian and up the unsteady porch steps.

  He shifted his jaw back and forth, watching as Jax disappeared through the doorway of the house. He was wrong. Caring about people was ignorant and stupid. In the end, they always left, whether they wanted to or not. His parents, his brother and sister; they were all gone. Even Honor, someone he hadn’t really known, but had wanted to—she was out of reach as well. That’s what happened. Why set yourself up for loss when there was already plenty of it to go around?

  “Who was that girl? Honor or whatever her name was?” Dominic asked; his movements quiet enough that the normal person wouldn’t have heard him approach. He hopped down from the side of the porch and moved to stand beside Christian.

  He straightened from the column he was leaning against, his eyes never leaving the woods in front of the house. They were taking turns keeping sentinel. He took the first four-hour shift. Dusk was gone and their part of the world was blanketed in blackness.

  “Honor Rochester. She’s a UDK.” The silence drew out until Christian glanced at him. “What is it?”

  “Where’s she from? I mean, you know her, right?”

  “Yes. I went to school with her.” That seemed like a lifetime ago. “Where are you going with this?”

  “So she’s from Wisconsin? And she was in the tunnels, running from something.” When he didn’t say anything, Dominic continued, “Remember the conversation Jax and I were having earlier? I think it was about her. Or it could be about her, only it doesn’t make sense.”

  “Where are you going with this?” he repeated.

  “The information passed on from our source was that someone escaped from a Wisconsin facility. But you said she’s a UDK. So it couldn’t have been her, right? Only, like I said, she was running from something.” Dominic shook his head. “Never mind. It couldn’t have been her. But, I mean, did you notice her eyes?”

  Impatient with his continued procrastination at stating the obvious, he snapped, “Notice what about them?”

  Dominic shifted his weight, hesitating.

  “Would you just spit whatever it is out and save me the drama?”

  “They almost looked like they glowed, just a little. But they’re blue, so…” He shrugged. “It must have been a trick of the light. No one else noticed it. I must be wrong.”

  Dominic went back into the house, leaving him alone once more. Long after he was gone, Christian stared at the same point he had during the conversation, but the tree in the distance offered no answers. Anyway, it was obvious he already had his answers. The most obvious being Honor Rochester, a UDK, was on the run. That had to mean something significant.

  What was she running from? Regret that he hadn’t been more forceful about her accompanying them swept through him. Whatever importance she had or information she might know could help him immensely. He had a feeling she was the answer to a lot of things. If they were to cross paths again, he wouldn’t let her go so easily. Maybe Dominic was wrong, but if he was right, Honor was number one on his persons of interest list.

  He’d always thought her unique, intriguing, and for a small span of time, he’d even wondered what it would be like to date someone like her. But that was pre-UD—that was before any hope of a normal, fulfilling life was snatched away and a poor excuse of an existence was given to him instead. It was laughable how naïve he’d been, all the dreams he’d had were nothing more than a distant, fading memory.

  This is your life now. Deal with it.

  At t
he end of the shift change, Christian paused just inside the door, his eyes taking in the scene. The room was dark, only the moon projecting through the dusty windows offering any kind of light. The wood floor creaked as he shifted his weight; his head lowered as he looked from one UD to the next. They were sitting in a makeshift circle in the middle of the barren room, talking. There was a kinship to the group that he’d never paid attention to before. He felt uncomfortable for witnessing it and even a little bit regretful for not being a part of it. Though he’d formed the allegiance among them, he was more the intruder than anyone else. He was the one that didn’t belong.

  Natasha sat away from them, her back to the wall, wrists bound together before her. Her head drooped, the weight of it and the draw of sleep apparently too great. Still she fought, her eyes locked with his, the intensity of the brown orbs too big for one so small. She was another one who didn’t belong, but her incompatibility was more obvious—she was the only one in the vicinity fully alive.

  “Which of your parents gave it to you?”

  The question was asked of Juli. Her eyes shifted to Christian and away. “I was adopted, so I don’t know. I was seventeen when they came for me. I was leaving work, it was dark. I don’t think anyone even knew. My parents think I ran away. After I went through the change, I couldn’t go back to them, to that life. I let them continue to think that I ran away. I haven’t contacted them since. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I don’t want them to know about this life, about any of it.”

  A UD being adopted by a normal human being with no knowledge of what they were raising—Christian hadn’t thought such a thing was possible.

  “Juli.” Words stopped, bodies stiffened, eyes turned his way. It was always that way when he drew attention to himself. “I need to speak to you.”

  “Sure.” She disentangled her limbs and met him at the door.

  He inclined his head toward outside and she followed him.

  “What is it?”

  “The UDK—”

  “Natasha.”

  He narrowed his eyes. “Yeah. Her.”

  “You can say her name, you know.” Juli crossed her arms, meeting his gaze. “We’re supposed to be better than them. We deserve to be called by our names and so do they. Right?”

  “Has she eaten or drank anything since we got here?”

  “You’re asking that now…four hours after we’ve been here? Little late, don’t you think?”

  “Has she or not?”

  “She was offered. She refused.”

  Instant fire blazed through his veins, scorching him internally as he strode into the house and right for Natasha. Her chin lifted as he loomed over her. Without thinking about what he was doing, Christian leaned down, grabbed the front of her shirt, and hauled her to her feet, her face inches from his.

  “You refused to eat or drink. Why?” he bit out.

  “This isn’t the way—” Jax started, but a look from Christian cut him off.

  “Answer me!”

  Natasha clenched her jaw, but remained silent.

  He stared down at her for a long time, wondering at the ferocity of her soul. There was a reason she was always combative, even when she didn’t have to be. “Are you hoping to die? Is that your plan?”

  “Let her go, Christian.” Juli put a hand on his tense bicep and he shook her off, his eyes never leaving the UDK’s.

  “When she answers—then I’ll let her go.” Her throat bobbed against his knuckles as she swallowed and Christian’s eyes were drawn to the pulse at her neck. It was rapidly fluttering, belying her stoic stance.

  He released her and she fell to her knees on the floor. “You need to eat. You’ll be no good to anyone dead.”

  “I’m already as good as,” she rasped, a crack in her composure finally visible.

  He cocked his head. “And why is that?”

  Eyes blazing, she spat, “Why do you think I was in the tunnels? To get some fresh air? I’m not wanted, because my mother is a UD. I had to run away from a training facility in the middle of the night. I overheard my fellow UDKs discussing how they were going to dispose of me. And I doubt I’m the first or that I’ll be the last.”

  Christian’s hands fisted, but his voice was even as he asked, “And how did you end up underground?”

  “There are channels near all the facilities, all over the United States, connecting them beneath the surface. I found one and I walked. Not hard to figure out.”

  “Your mouth is really annoying,” he ground out.

  “So is your existence.”

  He stiffened, for the first time in his life seriously thinking of hitting a girl. Instead he stormed from the house, kicking the door shut behind him. When the glass window in the door splintered and shattered, grim satisfaction swept through him, fleeting and anticlimactic.

  “Go inside. I’ll take over,” he barked at the UD standing guard.

  Lee Michaels jerked to his feet, his blond head swinging around. “You scared me.”

  “I don’t think I’d be admitting things like that to too many people,” Christian wryly told him, some of his anger fading.

  He nodded. “Yeah. You’re probably right.”

  A small grin flashed over Christian’s mouth. Lee was simple and that had to be appreciated. He was also naturally jumpy, a side effect of being on the run most of his adult years. Twenty-five years old with seven years spent outwitting and outrunning UDKs, he didn’t trust anyone or anything, not even his own shadow.

  According to Lee; who didn’t know the meaning of secrets, his father was a UDK and since the moment he transitioned into a UD, he was loathed by his dad and told he was dead to him. His dad beat him to the point where a normal human being probably wouldn’t survive, then shackled him up, drove him to the nearest facility, and kicked him out of the car, leaving him in the road to be found by UDKs.

  Lee never told anyone what happened after he was discovered, but they knew he’d been running since. The scars on his face; courtesy of his father, were jagged slants over his cheeks and forehead that hid the man’s true features from any who didn’t look too closely at him.

  “Good evening, Juli,” Lee said as he slid past Christian.

  Christian turned, catching the bright smile Juli bestowed upon Lee before he entered the house. One of his eyebrows lifted when she turned her attention to him. “What was that?”

  She avoided his eyes when she answered, “What was what?”

  “That.” He pointed a finger at the closed door.

  “The broken glass? That is the result of some idiot who can’t control his temper.”

  “Touché.”

  Juli placed her hands on the railing of the porch, it creaking as she flexed her fingers. Looking out into the forest of trees, she said, “It’s personal.”

  Christian moved to stand beside her. “What is?”

  A cool breeze picked up, playing with the tendrils of her hair, sweeping them up and out. Juli grabbed a handful of hair and held it still. “This grudge you have against Natasha. You were almost polite with Honor and that’s saying a lot for you, but with Natasha…you act like you hate her. Why?”

  “Honor helped me.” He shrugged.

  “No. It’s more than that. What is it about Natasha, specifically, that bothers you so much?”

  Christian turned so that his hips rested against a pillar, crossing his arms. “When I was turning, I was kept locked up, and every day I was there, she came down and stared at me. She wouldn’t speak; she would just look at me with this expression on her face.”

  “What kind of expression?”

  He searched his brain for the right words to describe it. “I don’t know. It was part pity, part hatred, and part fear, but also almost sympathetic. It was strange, hard to explain.”

  “That’s why you hate her?”

  “No. I hate her because she reminds me of me. She’s like me, yet she acts like she is better than me, even though deep down she knows she isn’t, whi
ch is why she tries so hard to distance herself from us. It’s a circle of self-righteous vindication. She’s trying to convince herself of something she'll never believe, because it isn’t true, no matter how much she wants it to be. She wants to think, to believe, that she is better than us, than me, but she knows she isn’t. And however hard she tries, she will never convince herself otherwise. I may be shit, but at least I don’t pretend I’m not. All she does is pretend.”

  “So you’re saying she’s messed up?”

  “To summarize.”

  “And you’re not shit. You’re fierce, strong. You’re brave.”

  Christian glanced at Juli. “All that and more,” he softly mocked.

  She opened her mouth and he tensed, straightening as his eyes searched the dark woods around them. Christian cut his hand through the air when Juli tried to speak again. He put a finger to his lips and jerked his head toward the countryside before them. Her lips thinned and she gave a brusque nod, silently tiptoeing into the house to warn the others they had company.

  The darkness sparked to life with flashlights and voices, booted feet thundering on the earth as a group of two dozen or more swarmed for the house. Christian cursed and stormed through the front door. Everyone was ready, awaiting his command.

  “We need to split up, form into groups of three or four, and decide on a meeting place. What time is it now?”

  “Almost ten,” Jax answered.

  “How did they find us?” Angela asked.

  “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter right now.” Christian’s eyes cut to Natasha and away. She was the only new one to the group. “Twelve hours from now, meet back here. They should be gone by then. If you see anything suspicious, you leave, head back into the woods. Approach from the back. Get your partners and let’s go. They’re almost to the house.”

  “Why don’t you fight?” a voice spoke up.

  Christian’s head swung toward the corner of the room and he eyed Natasha’s slim frame. “We will. When we’re ready.”

  “You’ll never be ready if you keep running,” was her scornful reply and it grated on him that she was right. Still, right then was not the time. It would be a slaughter if they attempted to fight when they were so obviously unequipped.

 
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