Deliverance Page 19

Now I really want to hear what they’re saying.

I could take this opportunity to disappear in the opposite direction. Quinn should catch up soon. I wouldn’t be alone for long. And then we could get Logan, Willow, Frankie, Adam, and anyone else who wants to join us in hunting down Ian and stopping Rowansmark from destroying anyone else.

I roll into a crouch and freeze, watching Samuel intently for any sign that he heard me. Once I’m satisfied that he’s still asleep, I stand carefully, wincing as my right arm brushes against my side and working hard not to let my smoke-scarred lungs breathe too harshly. Trying to escape three Rowansmark trackers in this condition would be difficult. I can’t run. I can’t climb a tree and leap. I’m not even sure I can stay on my feet for more than an hour.

Not that I’m averse to taking on nearly impossible tasks. Especially since I know that even if they caught me, the trackers would be committed to keeping me alive until Logan arrives in Rowansmark with the device. What’s the worst they would do to me?

I think of Ian, of the terrible desperation in his eyes, and shiver.

Taking a second to let the searing pain in my arm abate, I look around to get my bearings. The log is about twenty yards east of me. Heidi and Ian are somewhere beyond that. I could go north and put a decent amount of distance between myself and the camp before daylight and then cut east toward Lankenshire. I could pray that Quinn finds me. I could bank on the fact that the trackers want to keep me alive and won’t punish me too severely if they reach me first.

Or I could keep the promise I made to myself as Ian carried me away from the clearing where Quinn supposedly lay dying. I could be the warrior my dad raised me to be and head east to eavesdrop on the two trackers who seem awfully committed to making sure no one listens to their conversation.

In my head, I hear Logan’s voice telling me I can’t jump headfirst into things without an exit strategy. If he were here, he’d have already considered every possible combination of things that could go wrong and come up with a way to handle it. I don’t have the time or the clarity of thought to do that. Not when my head swims with exhaustion and pain crashes through me. If I get caught, I’ll do what I do best—improvise.

Besides, it’s not like they’re going to kill me.

Moving as soundlessly as possible, I skirt the campsite and edge into the trees that line the northern side of the road. Moonlight pierces the canopy of branches above me in scattered pieces. I put my left arm out, my palm in front of me to keep from walking face-first into a tree, and then slowly start moving east, sliding my boots forward with care as I search for an unobstructed path.

I haven’t gone far when my toe catches the edge of a rock, and I pitch forward. My left palm smacks into a tree trunk, and I dig my hand into the rough bark for balance. Motionless, I wait for a sign that Heidi and Ian heard me. When all stays quiet, I take a deep breath. The air is rich with the pungent smell of dogwood trees in bloom and the loamy scent of the forest floor. Releasing the tree trunk, I take a few more steps forward, and hear a whisper of sound ahead. Crouching, I slowly move another five yards through skinny tree trunks and rock-strewn dirt until the words Heidi is saying become clear.

“. . . too risky, Ian.”

“What’s the risk?” Ian sounds furious. “She deserves it. You know that.”

“Keep your voice down,” Heidi whispers. “I’m not saying you don’t have a point. But our orders are clear—”

“Our orders were to recover the device and punish the ones who stole it.”

“Which we haven’t done yet.” Heidi sounds edgy. Like she’s already explained this to Ian and isn’t happy about repeating herself.

“It’s as good as done. There’s no way Logan will fail to bring it to us. He’d never leave Rachel behind. We don’t have to worry—”

“I’m not worried. I’m just saying that I’m not walking into Rowansmark with nothing to show for our trip but your assurances that your brother will show up.”

“We don’t need Rachel anymore. He’ll show up no matter what, don’t you see that?” Ian’s voice is impatient. “We can punish her now, and—”

“What does it matter if you punish her now or punish her later? The girl is dead either way.”

“Because I can’t stand to look at her! Every time I see her, I’m reminded that if she’d returned the controller to Rowansmark instead of taking it to Logan, my dad would be alive.” Ian’s voice shakes. “I want her dead. Not tomorrow. Not whenever Logan brings the controller to Rowansmark. I want her dead now.”

A chill slides across my skin at the hatred in his voice. I understand that hatred. It boils and churns deep within me, waiting to lash out at the man whose actions ruined my life. Waiting for a chance to kill the Commander. That kind of bone-deep hatred is ravenous. The more you feed it, the hungrier it gets.

It can’t be stopped. And it certainly can’t be satisfied with slim assurances that the object of its bloodlust will pay her debt sometime in the future.

Ian is going to try to kill me the very second he thinks Samuel isn’t watching. And with my useless arm and my crippled lungs, I’m going to need a miracle to fight him off.

It was one thing to threaten to kill Ian despite my injuries when I thought I had both Samuel and Heidi firmly on the side of keeping me alive. It’s another to realize that Samuel blames me for Ian’s craziness, and that Heidi can discuss disposing of me like it matters less to her than what she might choose to eat for breakfast in the morning.

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