…. EPISODE 32…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
The car ride is pretty much a blur.
I’m vaguely aware of the van speeding, rocking back and forth. Taking curves.
Turning left, then right. And then climbing, climbing, climbing.
My forehead bounces against the cool glass of the window, but I barely notice. Outside, the rocky surface of canyon walls races by, a kaleidoscope of images— gray and beige rocks, jagged edges, lengthening shadows. Below the road, a rumbling river rushes toward the plains. Green trees, some dark pine, others bright aspen, grow in spots where it doesn’t seem possible for a tree to grow.
But then impossible is everywhere today.
The image of my mom lying in the chopper darts through my mind. Tears stream down my cheeks.
My mom is dead. Dead.
How did this happen?
How did I let it happen?
This was my mission. My mission. I’m responsible for everything that happens on it—even this. Especially this.
I know my mom wouldn’t blame me, but she doesn’t need to. I blame myself…and I always will.
I keep going over it in my head, keep trying to think of what I could have done differently. Of how I could have kept her alive.
Maybe if I’d freed her first instead of Draven, then… Then what? Draven would have been the one to get hit by the plasma gun? Draven would be the one dead right now? Thinking about that nearly sends me spiraling further into full-blown meltdown.
There’s no good way this could have ended, no good way for us all to have gotten out of there unscathed. Part of me knows I should be grateful for how things went—at least I had a few minutes with my mom. At least we had time to say good-bye…and to say I love you one more time. I got to hold her hand and hug her. That’s more than a lot of people have.
And I got to hear more of her secrets. Including the one I’m trying so damn hard not to think about.
My father is alive. Alive.
I’m not sure which impossible news is more unbelievable. That my mother is gone, or that my father is not.
My memory says that it’s a lie. That I saw my father disintegrate before my eyes. I may have only been a child, but that image is burned into my memory. I couldn’t make that up.
But Mom was completely lucid and more honest with me than she’s ever been.
Nothing makes sense.
“Mom,” I whisper, my breath fogging the tinted glass. I want my mom. Draven has been holding my hand since we left the news station, his thumb brushing lightly over my palm in an effort to comfort me the only way he can right now. He hasn’t said a word—no one has—but he’s there. I give his hand a squeeze, just a quick reassurance, as we emerge from the mouth of the canyon and into the wooded valley where our cabin hideaway is located.
As the woods surround us, I take all of those swirling emotions and push them down. Shove them deep inside where I won’t have to feel them anymore. There’s too much to do and too little time to do it. If I let myself think about my mom—if I let myself feel her loss—I won’t be able to do any of it.
And I have to get it all done.
More than ever, the mission to bring down the heroes is paramount. No one else can die because of Rex’s insanity and cruelty. Mom knew it. She even gave me some clues on how to make it happen. Make the immunity serum. Find Dr. Harwood. Find my father. I don’t know how I’m going to do any of those things, but I have to try.
I’ll have time for a complete and total breakdown later. When my work is done.
When I make it impossible for Rex to ever hurt anyone again.
“Shitburgers,” Jeremy mutters as we turn down the path that leads to the cabin.
“What?” Dante asks from behind me.
“We have company,” Nitro says from the front seat. “Big black sedan. Official looking.”
“How could Rex have gotten here so fast?” I demand as adrenaline floods through me. “We have to—”
Draven leans forward to look out the front window. “Damn it.” He jams a hand through his hair. “It’s Anton.”
“Anton?” I echo, the adrenaline dying down a little. “Your uncle?”
A.k.a. the leader of the villains. A.k.a. the bad guy bad enough to be Rex’s most wanted.
Not that it takes much to get on that list these days…
“It’s okay,” Draven says as he pulls me closer. “It’ll be fine.”
I’m not sure I agree, but the day has already been shit, so whatever.
“If it’s your uncle’s car, then who’s the girl?” Jeremy asks as he keeps driving toward the cabin.
I shift a little, so I can see who he’s pointing at through the front windshield. Whoever she is, she’s standing in front of the cabin’s main door, dressed in a serious military-looking outfit. Black boots that lace up to her knees, black cargo pants, and a black motocross jacket with hot-pink patches on the sleeves.
And a gun. A very big gun she pulls out and levels at Jeremy as we get closer to the cabin.
“Um, guys…?” he says, his voice half an octave higher than usual. Not that I blame him. It’s a very big gun, and she totally looks badass enough to use it. “Relax,” Draven tells him. “That’s V.”
Behind me, Dante groans.
“V?” I reply.
“She’s our”—Draven huffs out a breath—“bodyguard.” Nitro snorts. “More like babysitter.” “Shut up, Nitro,” Dante tells him.
“I’m sorry, would you prefer the term nanny?” “You have a nanny?” Riley demands.
Dante grips the back of my seat so hard his knuckles turn white. “I swear to God, Nitro, if I wasn’t worried you’d set me on fire again, I’d kick your ass.”
That shuts Nitro up.
“Uh, guys…” Jeremy again.
“Just park near the cabin,” Draven instructs him.
“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do that if she shoots me!” “She won’t shoot you.” Draven huffs in annoyance.
Just then a shot slams into the driver-side mirror.
Jeremy yelps and starts slowing down. “Oh, yeah? I don’t think she got that memo.”
“It was a warning shot. No big deal. Keep going.”
A second bullet blasts into the mirror, this time taking the whole thing off.
Jeremy slams on the brakes, and the van skids to a halt.
“Why’d you stop?” Draven demands.
“Are you kidding me? She’s. Got. A. Gun. And she’s using it!” “What kind of nanny carries a gun?” Riley asks.
“The kind who can kill you seventeen ways without one,” Dante answers. Another shot rings out, and this time Jeremy squeals. Actually squeals. Then starts sliding down until he’s little more than a puddle on the floor between the two front seats.
“I think she’s gone crazy in the two weeks you’ve been gone,” I comment as Draven climbs over Jeremy and into the driver’s seat. “No, she’s always been crazy,” Nitro tells me.
Draven starts the van moving again. Jeremy squeaks a little with each foot we traverse, but on the plus side, her first look at Draven seems to have calmed V’s trigger finger.
When we finally stop, I half expect Draven and Dante to tell us to wait in the van. But at this point, we’re a single unit. The whole us-versus-them thing is over and has been for a while.
We all pile out together, Draven taking my hand tightly in his, while Dante and Riley work together to get Rebel out. Jeremy and Nitro bring up the rear. “Why’s Nitro hiding in the back?” I ask Draven as we start toward the cabin. “V doesn’t like him.”
“Why not? I thought everyone liked Nitro.”
“Everyone who’s normal likes me,” Nitro pipes up at the same time Dante answers, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because he keeps setting me on fire?” “It was one time, Cole. One freaking time!”
Dante chuckles to himself as he tosses Rebel’s unconscious body over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.
V lowers her weapon as we approach the cabin. “Where the hell have you been?” she demands, her gaze shifting from Draven to Dante and back again.
“Long story,” Dante says. “One I’d say you’re not too anxious to hear since you were shooting at us. What if you hadn’t missed?”
“I never miss. If I was aiming to shoot you, you’d be shot,” V says with a glare as she crosses her arms over her chest. “And since your uncle is busy inside ripping your brother a new one, I’d say we have time for your tale of woe.”
Draven’s hand tenses in mine as his eyes shoot to the cabin door. He moves forward, dragging me along as he tries to push past her. He doesn’t get very far because her arm shoots out, blocking his path and knocking into his chest. “Let me by, V,” he warns.
“Anton doesn’t want to be disturbed,” she says. “And I want to know how you
two fools”—she nods at Draven and Dante—“got in a toe-to-toe pissing contest
with Rex Malone.”
Nitro snorts again.
V spears him with a searing glare. “Don’t think I don’t know you had something to do with this whole mess.”
“Seriously, V, let me by,” Draven repeats. She pushes him back a step. “Not until you—”
My hand is around her throat before I even have the thought to be mad, and I’m shoving her back until she’s flush against the cabin door. “Don’t. You. Touch. Him.”
There is a flash of fury in her gray eyes, right before she bursts out laughing. She turns her head to look at Draven. “Oh, I like this one.”
“Kenna,” Draven says, his hands coming to rest on my shoulders as he gently pulls me away. “It’s okay. V is going to let us inside now.” He gives her a meaningful look. “Right, V?”
She narrows her eyes, evaluating me, before she sighs with resignation. “Anton will want to see you.” She casts her gaze over our entire group. “All of you.”
I release my grip and slowly back away. Draven immediately interlaces his fingers with mine again. The message is clear. He’s not going anywhere without me and vice versa.
We walk through the door, into the middle of an argument.
A tall man with broad shoulders and dark-brown hair that falls past his collar is standing next to the small dining table. He cuts an imposing image, looming over Deacon like an inquisitor. With his hip-length black leather coat and dark-gray slacks, he looks like some kind of Mafia boss. Or hit man. This must be the infamous Anton Cole.
My first thought is that Deacon looks worse than when we left.
Deciding what to do with him during the rescue mission had been a big fight. Should we leave him alone in the cabin? With his fractured psyche and broken
body, he wasn’t up to defending himself from an aggressive squirrel, let alone a hero attack.
But we didn’t have a choice. He couldn’t come with us, obviously. And we couldn’t spare the manpower to leave someone with him. We needed all hands on deck at League HQ.
Clearly, being on his own had only made the nightmares worse. The bags under his eyes are the color of the mountains at sunset, deep purple with black smudges. His eyes, the same dark brown as Dante’s, are cloudy and shadowed. We had to shave his head to get rid of the lice and to treat the wounds that the heroes’ torture had branded into his scalp.
He looks like someone who’s been lost at sea for months.
“I’m done with the excuses,” Anton says. “You’re coming with me and that’s final.”
“No, Dad, I’m not,” Deacon replies.
His voice is so weak that it seems to take all of his energy to make his defiant statement.
“Yes, you are.” Anton leans down menacingly. “I’ve had enough of your playing around. We are getting you to safety—and to a doctor. Then I’ll come back and deal with your brother and cousin.”
“You can deal with us now,” Dante says as he hands Rebel off to Riley.
Anton whirls around.
He shoots his piercing gaze over all of us, his eyes narrowing as he sees—and obviously recognizes—the Malones. The look on his face is a mixture of rage and relief. He stomps across the cabin. Not certain where this is going, I shrink back a little, waiting to see how Draven responds.
When Anton reaches Dante and Draven, his arms snake around their shoulders as he pulls them into what looks like the fiercest hug in history.
“I thought you were… I was afraid Rex had—” Anton squeezes his eyes shut and then abruptly pushes them away. “What the hell were you thinking?” he demands of Dante.
“Nice to see you too, Uncle Anton,” Draven says in an obvious attempt to deflect his uncle’s fury from his cousin onto himself.
“And you!” Anton jabs a finger in Draven’s face. “That stunt at the mountain was the height of stupidity!”
“We did what needed to be done,” Dante says.
Draven moves to his cousin’s side. “We got Deacon back.”
Anton barks out a harsh laugh. “He wouldn’t have been missing in the first place if you idiots hadn’t gone poking around in the hero labs. I’ve warned you to stay away from Rex—”
“Someone had to,” Dante taunts. “We don’t want to spend the rest of our lives in hiding. The rest of you may be okay with being cowards, but—”
The smack of Anton’s palm hitting Dante’s cheek echoes in the tiny cabin. Father and son face off in a staring contest that would have the entire room in flames if either of them had laser vision. Then again, I don’t even know what Anton’s power is. He’s known as the Annihilator, so it has to be pretty terrifying, but it’s a carefully guarded secret. At least in the hero world.
The air begins to whirl around us. Not enough to make anything move, but enough to indicate that Dante’s power is in play.
In a heartbeat, Anton steps so close to his son that they are literally nose to nose. “Do not,” he says, his voice so calm and quiet that it’s more menacing than a shout, “raise your power at me.”
The veins in Dante’s neck stand out as he struggles to control his anger. And his power.
Something crashes into the wall next to Anton’s head. A glass pitcher shatters into a billion shards.
At first I think it was Dante, but then Nitro yells, “Shite, Draven, a little help?” We all turn to see Nitro and Riley struggling with Rebel who is awake and apparently really pissed. She follows the pitcher with a stream of objects she sends flying telekinetically around the room. Before Draven gets to her, she has Jeremy speared to the wall with a fireplace poker through the shirt, sends Nitro flying out a window, and is pummeling Dante in the back of the head with one of Jeremy’s gadgets. Repeatedly.
But the moment Draven lays a hand on her and does whatever he does with his biomanipulation power that knocks her out, all the objects she was controlling drop to the floor.
V stalks over to Jeremy and yanks the iron poker from the wall, releasing his sleeve.
“Did you kidnap Rex’s kids?” Anton demands. “Do you have a death wish?” “We didn’t kidnap them,” Dante replies.
“I’m here voluntarily,” Riley offers with a small wave. Anton nods at Rebel’s limp body. “And her?” “That’s”—Dante winces—“complicated.”
Anton shakes his head. “This is unacceptable. You”—he points at Dante—“and you”—Draven—“and you”—he spins around to point at Deacon—“are coming with me. Now.”
Deacon pushes unsteadily to his feet. “I already told you. I’m not going anywhere.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Dante clarifies.
“That was not a request!” Anton roars.
Dante stands shoulder to shoulder with his brother. “Don’t yell at him! He’s been through enough.”
“Enough?” Anton echoes with a humorless laugh. “Enough? Try believing your children are dead or—worse—in the hands of your enemy, and then talk to me about enough. We’re leaving.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Dante repeats.
Nitro steps forward to defend his friends, a pair of almost black fireballs simmering in his palms.
V places him in a choke hold.
Jeremy applauds, then stops as soon as V shoots him a warning glare. “Enough!” Draven shouts. His roar stills the entire cabin. “We just watched Dr. Swift die. Can we all just…stop?”
It’s like the air goes out of the room. Out of my lungs.
No one moves. No one breathes.
Deacon collapses back into his chair. He looks devastated, if possible even more heartbroken than before.
I can feel my heartbeat in my ears. When the tears sting at my eyes, I blink them away.
“Jeanine is dead?” Anton finally asks, his voice barely more than a whisper. “How?”
Draven wraps an arm around my shoulder and squeezes me close. “Plasma blast.” “Damn it.” His face contorts in pain. True anguish. True grief.
“Did you—” I step away from Draven and place my hand on Anton’s arm. “Did you know my mom?”
“Your mom?” He scowls for an instant before his entire face softens. “You’re Kenna.”
Before I can answer what obviously was not a question, I find myself wrapped in a tight, warm hug. The kind of hug I always imagined my dad would give.
I have the strangest urge to slip my arms around his waist and press my cheek to his chest. But I don’t know him. And I’m afraid that if I succumb to the urge, the fragile bits of motivation and willpower currently gluing me together will shatter. “Jeanine is…was one of the finest people I know,” he whispers against my hair.
“She and my Evelyn were the best of friends.” “Mom?” Dante asks.
Anton leans back. “Jeanine, Evelyn, and Lucinda were inseparable as girls.” I think we are all reeling from this revelation. My mom, Draven’s mom, and Deacon and Dante’s mom were best friends. Some crazy twist of fate must have brought us all together.
“When Lucy died,” Anton says, his words directed at me, “your mom turned her grief into determination. She decided then and there to infiltrate the League and bring the heroes down from the inside. With her power, she was the only one who could.”
Anton guides me over to the dining table, and I fall into the chair next to Deacon. It makes me feel better to hear Anton talk about her. To tell me things about a part of her I never knew. To help me understand why she did what she did. Why she lied. Why she lived a lie for so long.
“We all blamed Rex for Lucy’s death,” Anton says, resting his hands on my shoulders. “But Jeanine was always smarter and more coolheaded than the rest of us. We wanted to blow up League HQ. She knew that would only get more of us killed.”
“So she became a mole,” I whisper.
Draven drops into the seat next to me, his attention just as focused on Anton as mine. Because Anton isn’t just talking about my mother. Lucy—Lucinda—was Draven’s mom. This is about both of us. All of us.
“Over the years,” Anton continues, “she slipped us information. Warned us of impending attacks. Shared her discoveries. Kept us from being eradicated by the heroes.”
I nod as the details start to make sense in my mind. “And kept the heroes from getting the weapons that might be used against you.” “As much as she could, without raising suspicion.”
“What changed?” I ask. “How did they find out who—what—she was?” “I wish I knew.” Anton paces to the kitchen door and back again. “Her last message said she was close to finding out the truth about why Rex and his kind are so determined to wipe us out. Maybe she…”
His voice trails off as he shakes his head. He is just as lost as the rest of us.
I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse.
“What about my dad? Did you know him?” My voice is barely a whisper. “Do you know him?”
“No, I never had that—” Anton stops and spins back to face me. “What do you mean Do I know him? Is James Swift still alive?”
I nod. “My mom said so. She told me before she…”
I can’t say the words. Draven scoots his chair closer to mine and is just wrapping his arm around my shoulders when the cabin echoes with a high-pitched alarm. Anton pulls his phone from his pocket and curses when he sees the screen.
He walks to the nearest window. “Yes? How bad? Casualties?” He pounds his fist
into the wall. “I’m on my way.”
“Dad?” Deacon asks.Recommend you to download Topster Stories App for Exclusive Access To Erotic and Romantic stories (Join Group) https://t.me/topsterstories
Anton turns to face the room. “I have to go.”
“We can help,” Dante says, stepping into his father’s path.
“Yes, you can.” Anton pushes past his son. “By staying out of the way.” “Five minutes ago you wanted us to come with you,” Deacon argues. “Plans changed,” Anton replies. “Now I want you to stay put.” Draven follows Anton to the door. “It’s our fight too.” “And ours,” I say, joining Draven.
“Haven’t you done enough?” Anton roars. “Haven’t you nearly gotten yourself killed enough for one month?”
“That’s not fair,” Deacon says as he struggles back to his feet. “If you’d let us help in the first place—”
“What?” Anton throws back. “You wouldn’t have been caught and tortured by our sworn enemies?” He turns to Draven. “You wouldn’t have been put on the fast track to execution? You wouldn’t have gotten Jeanine killed?”
I jerk back.
“I had a plan, damn it,” Anton shouts.
“Yeah, well, we couldn’t afford to wait around for you to decide that the timing was right.”
Anton turns on Dante, and for a second, I think he’s going to hit him again. But he drops his hand to his side with a heavy sigh.
“I don’t have time for this.” He grabs the door handle. “Stay put and don’t try to help any more than you already have.”
“Who’s going to stop us?” Dante shouts as the door slams.
V steps in front of it. “Me.”
After that announcement, the only sound in the cabin is the roar of Anton’s engine as he goes off to deal with the fallout from the latest hero-villain skirmish. .