Authors: Jus Accardo
Tags: #Romance, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #teen, #young adult, #denazen, #Speculative Fiction, #ya, #Paranormal, #touch, #toxic, #jus accardo, #tremble
“What did they do to him, Aubrey?”
“This isn’t really the time or place—”
I grabbed the lapel of his coat and gave a good shake. He was taller than Kale—probably six foot four—and I had to throw my head back to look up at him. “
did they do to him?”
“He’s been given Domination. It’s the—”
“Working version of Supremacy.” Alex rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I know. I think she means his brain. What did they do to his
“He thinks I’m Kiernan. And he thinks Kiernan is…” I couldn’t finish, the memory of the way he’d kissed her back at the party still slowly eating a hole through my soul. “Was it the drug? Did it have a side effect?”
And please tell me it can be fixed…
Aubrey shook his head, long hair loose and blowing in the breeze. “It wasn’t Domination. A Six did it. They didn’t want to give him the drug unless they were sure he could be controlled. They went in and altered his memories—almost killed him doing it, too.”
My stomach clenched. “What?”
“You, Dez. It was you. The harder they tried to wipe you away, the more he fought the process. In the end, they couldn’t do it without killing him, so they had to swap you and Kiernan.”
In a truly screwed-up way, Aubrey’s confession made me happy. It was exactly like Alex said. If I was that deeply embedded in Kale’s subconscious, then whatever the Denazen Six had done, we could undo. Somehow, it could be fixed. “Anything else? Anything that might help?”
“The only thing I can say is Cross is worried the swap won’t stick. He has Mindy, the Six who did it, working with Kale daily. She tells him she’s trying to help recover his memory when really, she’s ensuring they don’t lose control over him.”
This was great news! “So if we keep him away from this chick, he’ll start remembering?”
Aubrey hesitated, peering around the corner of the rock. When he turned back, his expression was grim. “It’s a possibility—but
a guarantee. I’ve seen people wiped once who never revert, but Kale’s different. They’re really not sure what will happen without Mindy reinforcing the wipe. Honestly, I think they’re more worried about him going apeshit.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Alex asked. He cupped his hands to his mouth and blew out, sending a stream of smoky breath into the air.
The moon danced out from behind the clouds again—just in time to showcase Aubrey’s sad expression. “The other thing they couldn’t wipe out was all the anger he felt toward Denazen. Kale’s normally in control of it, but by stripping things away and messing around inside his head, they kicked a hornet’s nest. The guy has some serious issues. He spent most of his life at Denazen. You must know the things they did to him. He may keep it in check, but trust me, it’s there—and Cross is worried it’s a ticking time bomb.”
I remembered the way Kale looked at Samsen. There was so much rage in his eyes. So much hate. Everyone had a dark side. Thoughts and feelings they kept hidden from the ones they loved. I knew he thought he was a monster for the things he’d done during his time with Denazen, but maybe there was more to it than that. Maybe he didn’t know what to do with the anger. Feelings like that couldn’t be controlled forever. They needed to be dealt with. “I need to get him alone.”
Aubrey shook his head. “Stay away from him. He’s not the same guy you knew.”
“No,” I said. “I saw something. A spark. My Kale is still in there.”
of your Kale are in there,” he corrected. “And trust me, they’re not the parts you want back.” He stuffed both hands into the pockets of his trench coat. “Besides, they rarely let him out alone. If Kiernan isn’t glued to his side, Cross has me with him.”
“Then I need your help. Tell me where he’s going to be next. Make sure you’re the one with him.”
“This is suicide, Dez. He was dangerous before they gave him the drug. Now he’s ten times worse. Time away is no guarantee he’ll remember.”
“Maybe not, but one of the Supremacy kids might be able to help.”
Aubrey didn’t look convinced. “You’re assuming you’ll find any of them alive—and still possessing the ability to spell their own name. I’ve seen the decline. It’s not pretty. These kids turn into drooling psychos—” He paused as Alex made a face. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry.”
“I have no intention of drooling, thank you very much.” I sucked in a deep breath. “Why did you help us? I mean, I kinda get why you saved me a few months ago, but why help us tonight?”
Aubrey was silent. Just when I was sure he wouldn’t answer, he sighed. “I made Kale a promise. He may not remember it, but I do.”
Alex narrowed his eyes. It was no secret he didn’t trust Aubrey—not that I did 100 percent either—but I was willing to give him a chance. Judging by the tone in Alex’s voice, he wasn’t. “A promise? What kind of promise?”
Aubrey shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Just know that I understand how you feel, and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.” He took a step away. “So what do you plan on doing? Asking Kale to go on a nice little road trip with you? There’s no way you’ll be able to take him anywhere he doesn’t want to go.”
He was right. Kale wasn’t going to be
anywhere, but I had a plan. I fished my cell from my back pocket and handed it to Aubrey. “Then I’ll make him come to me.”
We made it back to the cabin by five a.m. I was soaked and limping from a twisted ankle. I was also numb. Ashley was gone, and although Alex tried convincing me on the ride home that it wasn’t my fault, I knew better. There were a million other ways I could have handled things. I let my anger over the situation, as well as my desire to bring Kale home, interfere with common sense.
Mom, Ginger, and Dax were sweet enough to welcome us back by waiting in the doorway, expressions full of concern and gratitude that we’d taken the initiative and gone to help Ashley.
“I know this is a redundant question with you, but what the hell were you thinking?” Mom stalked from one end of the kitchen to the other, hands stuffed into the pockets of her flannel penguin pajama pants.
“Why wouldn’t you wake anyone up?” Dax asked, glaring right at Alex. He looked like he was still half asleep. “Going alone was stupid—even for you two.”
“There was no time,” Alex seethed. “We went together. We came home together. Everything is fine.”
Shortly after the hotel burned down, he’d abandoned his apartment and moved into Dax’s complex. Some days—okay, most days—I wished he’d stayed put. Living under the same roof with someone like Alex was bad enough—but add to that the fact that he was my ex? Can you say
At least this time, he had my back.
“Alex is right. There was no time.” I whirled on Ginger. Everyone else had expressed an opinion; I wanted to make sure she got a say, too. “Your turn. Tell us how stupid we were for going to help her.”
The old woman’s lip twitched, but instead of jumping on the bandwagon, she simply stared. Not good. A Visionary, she saw people’s life path when she looked into their eyes—she probably knew for months that we’d do what we did. The catch was, by some freaky code of her own, she refused to tell anyone about the things she saw. It was selfish, in my opinion, and had resulted in the death of her daughter and imprisonment of her grandson—twice.
I held my breath, sure she was about to call me on breaking into her room and getting into the file, but to my surprise, she simply asked, “Did you find her?”
Alex frowned. He shot a quick glance my way before turning back to Ginger. “Didn’t make it in time. Aubrey said her
got her. There was
we could have done.”
“Aubrey?” Dax asked, surprised. He grabbed Mom’s hand as she passed and tugged her into the chair beside him. Thank God. She was starting to make me dizzy. I was a pacer, but when someone else did it, it drove me nuts. “Why would you believe anything he says?”
“He’s no saint—but he did save me. Twice. He helped us avoid Kale last night, too.” While I probably wouldn’t give him my home address and e-mail password, I did believe he wanted to help.
“Kale?” Mom leaned forward. Her voice rang of worry, but her eyes sparked with hope. “Kale was there, too?”
Ginger leaned back in her chair, unfazed. “And what else did Aubrey have to say?”
“He confirmed what Alex suggested earlier about a Six switching Kiernan and me in Kale’s memory. Some chick named Mindy. They’re making him see her every day so they don’t lose control of him.” If I could convince them getting Kale away from Denazen sooner rather than later would benefit us all, then I was going to do and say whatever it took. “He’s in there, Mom. I saw him. He’s messed up and confused, but he’s in there.”
The expression on her face was somewhere between regret and pity, and it took a second until I realized why. She didn’t believe we’d get him back. None of them did. Mom loved him, but she didn’t believe he’d ever come home.
“Dax and I are heading to the airport,” Mom said. Dax stood and tugged her to her feet. “One of the names on the list, Andrea Marko, lives in California. Our flight leaves in three hours. We confirmed with a contact in the area she’s alive and living on her own in an apartment in SoHo. Hopefully we can convince her to return with us.”
“We’re not going to find the others alive,” Alex said. He looked at Dax with an expression that caused my chest to tighten. “I think we should focus on finding this Penny chick and dealing with Kale. We all know how Cross works. He’s a twisted fucker. He’ll send the freak after Dez.”
“I have people following leads on Penny Mills,” Ginger said. “Until something comes of it, we continue chasing the Supremacy offspring. We won’t save them all, but we
get some. I’m not giving up on them.”
We will get some
It was the closest thing to a revelation since she’d told me the worst was yet to come and that Alex and I would pay the biggest price. I probably should have been standing around waiting for the sky to fall, but if I did that, I’d never get anything done. The sky in my world always seemed to be coming down. My biggest issue with her plan was that we were wasting time chasing down people she might already know were gone when we could be focusing on Kale.
“Since everyone is up, we might as well get started.” She fished into her pocket and pulled out two small slips of paper. Handing one each to Alex and me, she said, “Get ready and head out. These are the next two semi-local names. The last two, actually. The rest are out of state and Dax and Sue will deal with them.”
I took my slip, but Alex didn’t make a move for his. He glared at her hand like she’d asked him to cuddle a cobra. “Different names? This doesn’t seem like the brightest move.”
I gave him a sideways glance, begging him to be quiet. He’d sided with her on everything lately and he picked
to open his mouth?
“Yesterday you said no one goes alone. Today you’re changing your tune?” he continued. “What the hell?”
“You won’t be going alone. You’ll be taking Jade,” Ginger said.
“Because that’s so much better than going alone?” he quipped, snatching the paper from between her fingers. “And what about Dez?”
“I’m sure she’s touched by your concern, but she’ll be fine.” Ginger slammed her cane against the table. “Now get moving!”
Grumbling, Alex stood and stalked from the room. If I had to guess, he was off to wake up Jade. Last time, he’d dumped a gallon of ice water on her head. She, in turn, hit him with a jar of cold tomato sauce the next morning. It was a good match-up. Denazen wouldn’t dare attack them—they’d be too afraid to get in the middle of their squabbling.
When I turned back to the room, Mom glared at me. “Can I trust you—”
“To behave?” I finished for her. “Not likely.”
“Behave?” she balked. “The most I can hope for is that you exercise some amount of common sense.”
As Mom settled into her new role in my life, it had become obvious we were a lot alike. I got my strength and stubbornness from her, as well as my gleaming sarcastic wit. “I’ll be careful,” I said.
She nodded, but beside her, Dax didn’t look convinced. They left without another word, leaving Ginger and me alone.
“Who are you forcing me to take? And if you say the kid who can read minds and smells like mothballs, deal’s off.”
“You can go alone,” she said after a moment.
“I leave it up to you.”
“Well, that’s stupid. You know I’m going to choose solo—but why? You made Alex take Jade.”
She didn’t answer and I understood. Bait. She was using me as bait. “Kale is going to be there, isn’t he?”
“It’s a possibility,” she responded, expression neutral.
“And that’s code for yes—not that you’d actually tell me.”
for maybe. The chances of him being there are good. And no. If I knew for sure I wouldn’t tell you, but the truth is, I don’t know for sure.”
I wasn’t sure I bought that. “So you’re on the fritz, then?”
She looked insulted. “Most certainly not. You accuse me of knowing every little detail about your lives and keeping it a secret for my own personal gain, Deznee, but I don’t know how many times I can tell you that’s not the way it works.”
I rolled my eyes.
Here we go.
“I don’t know what cereal you’re going to wake up and eat. I have no idea what garish outfit you’ll put on or what crazy color your hair will be from day to day. I only know the key points—the defining moments in your life. The things in between are hidden from me.”
“And my going to check out this name isn’t one of them.”
“But you still think there’s a chance Kale might show up?”
“I believe it’s possible, yes.”
She hesitated, fidgeting with the handle of her cane before lifting her gaze to mine. “I knew you would go to Ashley’s last night.”
“So last night was one of those
moments?” I thought back to the woods. Nothing really stood out as epic.
“It was. But not for you.”
That’s when I understood. She hadn’t seen me there through my path—she’d seen me there through Kale’s. “So you’re using me as bait, then. Correct?”
Ginger wasn’t one to apologize for her actions or the way she viewed the world—and that was fine with me. “Essentially. Is that a problem?”
“It’s Kale. It’s no problem. And what’s the big, right? You just said this wasn’t one of those life-defining moments. That means I’m not gonna bite it, because that’s pretty defining in my opinion.” I waited for her to correct me, or at the very least, twitch, but I got nothing. “Plus, this makes you feel a little more human.”
Her brows shot up, and for the first time since we’d met, she looked genuinely pissed off. “You think I don’t want to find my grandson? That I don’t care?”
I made my way around the table and stopped for a moment in the doorway. She loved Kale in her own way, but Ginger was single-mindedly focused on ripping down Denazen. She believed that since her family was responsible for its creation, it was her job to see it destroyed. I had no delusions that all of us weren’t considered possible collateral damage.
“I know you care, Ginger—but you don’t care nearly as much as I do.”