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Unremarkable anything bu.., p.9

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2), page 9


Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2)

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  “Does everyone have their buddies?” Heads nodded. “Good.” Christian strode toward Natasha. She drew herself up when he stopped inches from her. “You’re going with me.”

  “I’d rather stay here and face my chances with whoever is out there.”

  “I bet you would. Which is why you’re going with me.” He smiled. “We’re going to have such a good time.”

  “I doubt that.”

  He grabbed her bound wrists and yanked, Natasha stumbling behind him to remain upright. They cut through the open space behind the house and headed for the forest. She kept falling back and Christian finally had enough.

  He backtracked to her. “You need to keep up.”

  “Untie me,” she gasped out.

  “I don’t think so.”

  “I can run faster if my hands aren’t tied up. It’s logical.”

  “You’ll run. That’s logical.”

  “So what if I do? You’ll have one less UDK to worry about. I won’t run. If I go to them, I die for sure. With you, maybe I die. It’s a slight advantage.”

  Christian snorted before he could stop himself. Reaching down, he pulled a dagger from his boot and with one smooth upward motion, sliced the rope free from her hands. Natasha rubbed her wrists, shaking out her hands.

  “I have to do one more thing with this knife.” He moved for her.

  “What are you doing?” Her voice turned high as she went strangely still. Only her eyes, large and shining in the dark, moved as they followed his hand.

  “You have something I need,” he said, grabbing her jaw and turning her head. “Hold still.”

  Her pulse thrummed against the palm of his hand, but she didn’t move, either too frightened to, which he doubted, or resigned to whatever was about to befall her, which was probably right. Christian touched the soft skin under her left ear, feeling around until he found a nodule.

  “You’re being tracked. This might sting.”

  She tensed as the knife cut into her flesh, a small grunt leaving her as he detached the metal from her tissue.

  He ripped off the right sleeve of his tee shirt and pressed it to her neck. “Keep pressure on it. It might need stitches, but should be okay if you don’t jostle it too much and can manage to get the bleeding to stop. We have to be fast, but try to take it easy, as much as you can anyway.”

  When it was evident she wasn’t following him, Christian turned around. “Now what?”

  Holding a portion of his shirt against her neck, her eyes big in her pale face, Natasha said, “I don’t understand. Why—” She took a deep breath. “How did you know? Why would I have a tracking device in me? When did I get one? And your eyes…what happened to your eyes? I never noticed it before, but…”

  “What about my eyes?”

  “They don’t glow anymore. They used to glow. At the facility. What happened to them? None of your eyes glow.” She was silent for a moment as she digested that bit of information.

  Natasha finally straightened, her lips thinning as her backbone returned. “What is going on?”

  “Good question. And one day, I hope I know. Come on. Even with the GPS out of your system, they already know we’re here.” He chucked the device into the darkness and began to walk. “And I knew you had a tracking device on you because you were the only addition to the group and suddenly we had visitors.”

  Leaves crackled under his boots, and as he walked, he realized his footsteps were the only ones he was aware of. Christian paused, shaking his head as he turned. “Really, Becwar?”

  “Christian.” The voice was urgent, choked.

  He looked to the left, his body stiffening. Natasha was standing near a tree, held in place by a hand fisted in her short hair. Her expression was fierce, her jaw clenched as she struggled against the arm banded across her chest, locking her immobile.

  He took a step toward her and she shook her head. “No. Just go. Leave me. Go.”

  “If you go, she dies,” the man stated calmly, his voice like sandpaper. Christian cocked his head at the familiar tone.

  The light of the moon showed a bald head and short, stout frame. Burns. Icy calm invaded his senses, freezing his veins into calculated vengeance. He and Burns had a history, one he wanted nothing more than to sever.

  “If you stay, we both die,” she said urgently, flinching when her head was jerked back by her hair.

  “I always wondered about you, with your UD background and all. Turns out I should have followed my instincts. You’re more UD than UDK. I’m going to enjoy breaking you, like I enjoyed all the others before you.

  “Do you know what happens to UDK rejects like you? They get sent to me before they go in for testing. Oh, the fun we have,” Burns murmured close to Natasha’s ear, his gaze directed at Christian.

  There was an unholy gleam in his squinty eyes as he pressed his body against hers. The look on her face was of repulsion, her body stiff. Christian’s fingers flexed, imagining them wrapped around his neck and squeezing.

  Burns was dead—he just didn’t know it yet.

  The knife was out of his boot and in his hand, soaring through the air in less time than it took to process what he was about to do. It hit its mark. A grunt left Burns and a shocked expression filtered over his scarred features before he fell to his knees face-down in the grass.

  Natasha stood rooted in place, staring at him. “I thought you didn’t know how to fight.”

  Christian knelt down and shoved Burns’ heavy body over, pulling the blade from his heart and wiping it in the dewy grass before shoving it back in his boot. “That wasn’t fighting. That was killing and it was instinctual.”

  Standing, he glanced at Natasha before heading thicker into the woods. “You’re welcome.”

  Usually stealthy, she noisily stomped after him. “What am I supposed to be thanking you for? Do you want me to thank you for taking your time? Or should I thank you for almost fileting me with a knife? Or maybe for letting Burns grope me a bit before you decided to end my torture? Just curious about what exactly I should be thanking you for. You know, so I get it right and everything.”

  Jaw clenched, Christian said in a low voice, “How about a thank you for saving your life?”

  She eyed him. “Thank you.”

  “Was that so hard?”

  “It was, yes. Thank you for asking.”

  Christian snorted, pushing a tree branch out of the way as he walked. “You could have taken him. Why didn’t you?”

  “What do you think he meant? About UDK rejects going to him? And testing?”

  He paused, slicing his eyes to her. “Do you really want to know?”

  Some of her boldness dimmed and she gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head. “No. Probably not.”

  “Way to ignore the question, by the way,” he said dryly.

  She didn’t respond.

  They walked in silence, the moon their light source. Trees swooped and bent toward them, their branches beckoning.

  “I’ve never killed anyone before,” she finally said in a low voice. “I don’t know if I could. I mean, I know I act tough, but I’m not, not really. I froze. He grabbed me and I froze. Some UDK I am.”

  Christian said nothing. Natasha had confessed a truth and those were never easy to tell, especially when they were negative. Another notch on the respect meter formed. He inhaled deeply, wishing there wasn’t anything likable about the UDK. He had never killed anyone before either. But he hadn’t frozen; he hadn’t even thought about it, before or after.

  The air smelled like damp soil and grass, the only sound other than their footsteps that of unknown animals rustling about. It was cold out, probably low fifties, and he noted the goose bumps on Natasha’s skin.

  He tugged his shirt over his head and tossed it at her. “Put this on.”

  “I don’t—”

  “How about you just do something for once without arguing about it first?” She grudgingly obliged. The shirt went to her knees, swallowing her slender
body in it.

  Her eyes went everywhere but to him and he searched his mind for something to say. He wasn’t big on conversation and the fact that he was attempting to make one was irritating. Still, he asked, “How’s your neck?”

  “I’ll live.”

  “That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?” When she didn’t answer, he paused to look at her. “You called me by my name.”

  Natasha’s gaze went to his, then to his chest and away, her skin warming the air around her. “So?”

  Her stomach growled and Christian pulled a granola bar from his pocket and offered it. She silently took it.

  “What, no sarcastic remark or argumentative comment?” he mocked.

  “I’m too hungry for that,” she grumbled, her fingers shaking as she tore at the wrapper.

  “Take your time with it or you’ll get a stomachache.”

  Natasha kept her eyes on him as she devoured the granola bar, defiance in the stance of her body. He shook his head, wondering what it was about her that made her inclined to do the opposite of what she should, or the opposite of what he told her anyway.

  The sun was on the horizon before she spoke again, swirls of pink and orange lighting the sky up. “What did it feel like, killing him?”

  The house was in view, abandoned once more. He stared at it. “Empty.”

  “What do you mean?”

  Christian looked at her, taking in her dirty face and scraggly hair, the dried blood on her neck. In spite of her worn exterior, there was fire in her, lighting Natasha up from the inside. She was judgmental, headstrong, illogical, sarcastic, rude, and unlikeable, and yet he had to respect the unbreakable quality to her. It would be a shame if that spark ever went out.

  “I mean, I felt absolutely nothing.”

  “Does that worry you?”

  “No. But I wonder if it should.”

  “He was a bad person.”

  “True. But what if it had been someone else? Maybe I’d still feel nothing. Maybe I just don’t care about anything anymore. Maybe I really am dead.”

  He averted his face, wanting to kick himself for revealing so much. The heat of her body alerted him that she was close. She stopped beside him, her arm brushing his. Christian tensed, but didn’t move away.

  “Sometimes we have to feel that way just to make it through another day. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to.”

  His eyes met hers, and in them, he saw something he didn’t want to see, didn’t think he’d ever see in Natasha’s eyes. He saw understanding. Some of the coldness inside him thawed toward her and Christian strode for the house, wanting that icy layer back. It was what kept him going, kept him able to isolate himself from everyone and everything, kept him from caring too much. If he cared, he’d forget his purpose, and if he lost that, he was worthless.

  Juli met him near the house, her eyes large and filled with sorrow. She didn’t say anything, causing dread to form and fester inside him.

  “What is it?” he demanded, moving past her and into the house.

  “We lost two,” she whispered behind him.

  Christian’s eyes scanned the inhabitants. The bedraggled appearance of the UDs couldn’t take away from the pain in their faces. It was a somber group. There was no judgment, no accusation in the gazes that met his, but even so, he felt guilty. They were there because of him. They’d chosen to fight for freedom because of him.

  “Who? What happened?” Streams of dust filtered through the windows, creating a disjointed reality of the house’s occupants.

  “Michael and Brittney. They were…” she trailed off.

  Brittney Reynolds and Michael Johansen had been in their teens yet, childhood friends from northern Illinois. Christian briefly closed his eyes, allowing himself a minute of mourning and nothing more.

  He turned around, studying his friend. “They were?”

  She shook her head, unable to continue. Juli pushed past Natasha and fled the porch, heading toward the wooded part of the countryside. Christian watched her for a moment, and then looked at Natasha.

  “They must have been decapitated.” Someone cried out. She ignored it, continuing, “We didn’t hear any gunshots last night and there are only two ways to kill a UD—bullet to the head or decapitation.”

  “Thank you for clarifying that,” he said sardonically.

  Natasha shrugged.

  Anger tightened his muscles with the need to lash out. This was his fault. He needed to make it someone else’s. He took a step toward Natasha. “You’re probably glad. One less UD to worry about, right? All we are is a contemptible race that shouldn’t exist. I’m sure that’s what you’re thinking. I’m sure you’re wishing we were all dead.”

  Her mouth opened, and then closed into a thin line. Eyes narrowed, she said, “Yep. That’s it. Thanks for doing me a favor. Maybe next time, if we’re really lucky, it will be you.”

  Christian stormed for her, growling low in his throat. His hand fisted around his shirt she wore and yanked, her slender body colliding with his harder one, pressing flush against his.

  Seconds, minutes, ticked by as their eyes remained locked together in an unspoken battle of wills. Unreadable emotions flashed through the large brown eyes set on his. Natasha’s throat worked as she swallowed, her breathing heightened, her pulse racing in her neck. Rage turned to something he didn't want to name as he became aware of all the ways her body fit to his. His eyes trailed down her face to her neck and lower.

  “I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction,” he told her in a low voice, the timbre raspier than was customary.

  Natasha’s eyes flickered down and up, but she said nothing.

  “No rude comment?”

  “I’m sorry your friends were killed,” she murmured, eyes downcast.

  “You’re lying.”

  “I’m not,” she said, lifting her gaze to his.

  Christian dropped his hand from her and moved away, disoriented by the sincerity he’d seen in her eyes. The woman did nothing but confuse him. It was best if he stayed away from her, and with that thought in mind, he strode past her and into the house, determined to double check it for wiretaps or awaiting enemies even though he knew the house and surrounding areas were clear. He’d do just about anything to get his mind off Natasha and all her conundrums.

  Returning from a two-hour run through the woods that he had hoped would center him and had failed to do so, Christian was not prepared for what greeted him as the house came into view. It was nighttime, but he was able to make out dancing, laughing forms. One lone figure was not involved in the silliness, standing on the sidelines watching instead. He stopped just behind her, his eyes locked on her instead of the activities in the distance.

  “What is this?” he demanded.

  Natasha glanced over her shoulder at him, crossing her arms. She had yet to remove his shirt. “They’re celebrating.”

  “We just lost two of ours. What is there to celebrate?”

  “You know, they could blame me,” she mused. “I had the tracking device on me. I unintentionally led the UDKs here. It’s my fault your friends died. And they could even say I knew they would come for me just so they could be okay with taking revenge for their deaths out on me. But they didn’t. That’s commendable.”

  Natasha turned sideways to face him. “I’ve never seen anything like it before, not once in the UDK world I grew up in. Life is insignificant to them. It has no meaning there. The ones I knew would just as easily of killed me as let me go. And it’s strange that these people are so accepting of me and that I feel almost like I could belong here, with them, with you, when I never felt like I ever belonged with my own kind.”

  The wind picked up, tousling her short hair around her face as she turned toward him. The moon caressed her features, highlighting the waiflike beauty of them. “They’re celebrating life. They’re celebrating the lives of Brittney and Michael.”

  “There’s no music. That’s stupid,” he said with a snort, quickly looking away from he
r penetrating gaze.

  It wasn’t stupid. It was amazing. The people around him were phenomenal, and it was a shame—it was worse than a shame—that they were treated and depicted as though they were mistakes, monsters, and abominations. They were better than any other people he’d even known, and they were most likely going to die, and for what? So some power hungry society could feel better about themselves, so they could feel normal, in control.

  It was even stupider to care about them because most of them would probably die, and yet he did. So maybe they weren’t stupid, but he was. And when he looked at Natasha, his chest squeezed; for all the slights she’d endured, from him and others, and for her feeling of inadequacy that was far from true. Maybe that made him stupidest of all—letting himself care for her, and he feared he did.

  “It’s not stupid,” she snapped, giving his shoulder a hard shove.

  Christian impulsively grabbed her hand and tugged her to him.

  “Quit grabbing at me all the time! You’re such a brute!” Natasha slapped at him, her palm meeting the chiseled flesh of his pectorals. “What are you doing?”

  “I’m trying to dance with you, if you’d ever hold still.”

  Natasha went motionless. “You said it was stupid.”

  He shrugged. “Maybe I want to celebrate life too.”

  A slow smile, sweet and rare, curved her lips. Natasha laughed softly; a tinkling sound of joy, and Christian finally thought maybe he understood what all the others already seemed to know—you never knew what was going to happen from one moment to the next, so embrace the moments you got. He did. He took Natasha in his arms and twirled her around, down the small hill and toward the other dancers, tension falling away as he lived in the moment; as he celebrated life.

  The apartment was ravaged.

  Grim, sickened by the upheaval that was once his fiancée’s apartment, Isaac wove his way through upturned furniture, scattered papers, and a floor full of clothing. Gun cocked and ready, each corner and crevice he checked was empty. Talley was gone. Honor was gone. And there were smears of blood on the beige carpet.

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