Authors: Romily Bernard
For Natalie RichardsâI wouldn't be here without you
Is it still kidnapping if your mom lets them take you? Because it definitely feels like kidnappingâno matter how many times Agent Hart smiles at me.
“C'mon, Wick,” he says, rebuttoning the front of his suit jacket because I won't shake his hand. “I promise you'll like where you're going.”
Doubtful. That smile snakes chills up my spine. “Bren?” I call, wincing when my voice cracks. My adoptive mom left me with Hart so we could “talk,” but I'm
done talking. “Bren?”
Bren appears in our living room doorway, my duffel bagâalready packedâin one hand. It kicks all the air right out of me.
“How long have you been planning this?” I whisper.
“It's not like that, Wick.”
like that or she'd be able to meet my eyes.
“You'll like it there,” Bren continues, her free hand going to her reddening neck. “Mr. Hart's program is specifically designed for teenagers dealing with loss. He can keep you safeâkeep you out of trouble.”
. The word hangs between us and Bren takes a deep breath. “Your therapist thinks it's for the best.”
“We've been watching you together, Wick,” Hart adds.
I flick my eyes to him, force myself to hold his gaze. The way Hart grins looks like a toothpaste ad, but I can hear the threat simmering underneath. He's daring me to challenge him.
What if I did?
What if I told Bren everything? I could tell her how it all started when Hart gave me the videos of my mother informing on my father, how the informing led to my mother's murder, how I found that murderer and made him pay.
I could tell Bren that I used to track down cheaters for money and that Detective Carson blackmailed me into working for him. I could tell her that my nightmares are so bad I'm afraid to sleep.
I could tell her I spent so much time being scared, I didn't know what it felt like to be safe until it was too late.
Hart steps closer. “We know how much you've been struggling. Your therapist thinks your PTSD stems from
what happened with your foster father.”
I stiffen. My foster father is better known as Bren's husband, or ex-husband, Todd. He raped a childhood friend of mine. It drove her to suicide; then he switched his attention to my sister.
And then to me.
I caught him before he could hurt anyone else, but the way I did it wasn't exactly legal and I attracted Detective Carson's notice. He threatened to tell Bren everything if I didn't work for him. I agreed. After the damage Todd's crimes did to Lily and Bren . . . well, how could I
have agreed? He was going to ruin what was supposed to be the rest of our lives.
I lift my chin a little higher. “Yeah, so?”
“Looking Glass,” Hart says softly, “is a very special program. We can help you get back your control, your life. It's designed specifically for teens with your computer talents. You'll be safe there. I'm asking you to trust meâjust for a little while.”
I stay still.
“We really need to get going, Mrs. Callaway,” Hart says, turning that full-watt smile on my adoptive mom. There's something plastic about him. It's the way his chestnut-colored hair doesn't move, how his shoes are shined. Hart's like a Ken doll come to life except for the bulge at the small of his back. Is that a pistol?
Hart's careful to always face Bren so she won't see it, but I do. What kind of counselor needs a gun? This isn't good,
but if I tell Bren, what happens? Will he tell her everything he knows about me? That's worse.
“I want to get Wick settled before dinner,” Hart says. “She'll need to meet the other teens, see the facilitiesâ”
“What about Lily?” Saying my little sister's name conjures tears in my eyes and I force my chin higher. “How am I supposed to say good-bye?”
Bren focuses on her feet. “I'll tell her what happened.”
She's really going to give me up. I blink; blink again because now my eyes are stinging. I know how this works. I've been through enough foster homes to understand how to leave. I knew this wouldn't last.
But I didn't know how much it would hurt. The pain is incandescent. I feel like I could walk around it, sling it across my shoulders, and carry it. Bren was supposed to be forever and I was stupid enough to believe her.
“Please, Bren. Please don't do this.” The words shoot from me before I'm even aware I'm saying them. “Please don't send me away.”
For the first time since Hart arrived, Bren looks at me. “It's for your own good, Wick. It's not just the . . .
.” Her voice drops into a whisper and she edges closer. “It's not safe for you here.”
My heart double thumps. “What are you talking about?”
Bren's eyes go past me and straight to
I step in front of Bren, block her from seeing Hart. “What aren't you telling me?”
“Show her.” Hart again. He appears at my side, those shiny shoes quiet as cat feet on the carpet. “Be honest with her, Mrs. Callaway.”
Bren does as she's told, but not before I see her wince. Was that “honest” dig supposed to hurt her? Because it did. I glare at Hart and Bren touches my arm.
“That boy you caughtâthe one who was trying to murder his fatherâhe's dead.” She passes me a police report. It's pages and pages of tiny font, but two words stand out: Jason Baines. He was a rising star in my father's drug ring and damn near killed me.
I shrug. “That's horrible, but it doesn't mean anything.”
“Good point,” Hart says. “I mean, people get shivved in jail all the time, right?”
I don't look at him. Can't. He put the slightest emphasis on “shivved” and now I know he knows about another shivvingâone I helped make happen. I'm not ashamed I helped my father kill Joe Bender. I know what Joe did to my sister and what he was going to do to me when he was released from jail.
I am, however, scared for Bren to find this out.
“It isn't just Jason who's gone,” Hart continues and there's the flutter of paper as he takes the report from Bren. “It's every single person who worked for your father. They're disappearing andâ”
“Michael,” I say.
Hart's brows twitch together. “I'm sorry?”
. I would prefer you call him Michael, not my father.”
Hart nods. “Fine. This is just the beginning. They will come for you, Wick.”
I flinch and Hart sees it. I hate that. Now he knows his words just climbed under my skin to simmer.
“âThey'?” I roll my eyes. “Could you be any more vague?”
“Stop it.” Bren thrusts herself between us and braces both hands on my shoulders. “I
, Wick. I know what you did to catch Todd was illegal and dangerous andâ” Her voices catches and she has to swallow twice. “Mr. Hart says you've attracted some attention because of it. When your father went to jail, he left a vacuum. There are others who are going to take his place and they'll want you to help them do it. Mr. Hart says that's why Detective Carson kept coming around. He says you
be a target. He's very sure you're in danger.”
That's because he's lying. I'm not a target. I'm not in danger. No one knows what I did for Michael. And I start to say so, but Bren cuts me off.
“I forgive you, Wick. I understand. When it came to Todd, it was my fault. I didn't protect you. You had to save yourself, but this time, I'm saving you.”
I nod. Honestly, when it comes to Bren, it's kind of automatic for me. I always agree because it's easier than telling her the truth. She can't even talk about the hacking I did to
catch her husband, Todd, before he attacked another girl. And if she can't say any of that, what would the rest of the truth do to her? Once you learn something about someone, you can't unlearn it. And I'm not sure I want to find out what would happen. She's giving me an opportunity here. We can cover this up, pretend it never happened. I'm good at that.
“The point is,” Hart says, rubbing one palm against his jaw, “you're prey now. You can't stay here. It's not safe for you and it's not safe for them.”
My stomach lurches sideways.
. Bren and Lily.
“If you come with me,” Hart continues, “I'll make sure they're protected.”
“So I go away forever?”
“No!” Bren tugs me closer, eyes glassy and bright. “Just for right now. Just until we decide what to do.”
“Beyond the obvious benefits of keeping you alive, I'm offering you an opportunity.” Hart takes the duffel bag from Bren and slings it onto his shoulder. “You have so much potential. Let us help you reach it.”
Chills again. They crawl all over my body. Hart's acting like a friend, but he can't be. There's no way. Hart gave me the videos of my mom, said he wanted to see what I could do with “proper motivation.”
Know what I did? In the course of six weeks, I brought down a pair of murderers, I discovered who my biological mother really was, and I saved my sister and myself.
I also helped kill someone.
Joe Bender was my father's right hand and my once-upon-a-time handler. He would've killed me, my sister, maybe even Bren, but I got to him first. I used Michael to take him down and Hart knows it.
Thing is . . . to blow Hart's cover, I'd have to destroy my own.
“Promise me you'll try, Wick.” Bren's eyes are huge and shining. Her fingers link in mine, squeeze. “Please? Just do what Mr. Hart says and then come home to us.”
I open my mouth . . . close it. Bottom line, everything started when Hart brought me those videos and now he's finishing it. If I go with him, I don't know what will be waiting for me and that's terrifying.
But telling Bren the truth? That's worse. Even if she didn't haul me straight to the police, she'd hate me. I'd trade the truth of what I did for my hope that she'll let me come home. If Bren doesn't know and I play Hart's game . . . maybe I could come back? Maybe we could be together again. I could be with my sister, my friends.
“I'll visit you soon,” Bren whispers and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. I have to fight not to lean into her. If I do, I'll fall apart. “I didn't keep you safe enough before. I'm making up for it now.”
“It wasn't your faultâ”
She leans close, touches her forehead to mine. “Letting him take you is going to kill me. That's how I know how lucky I amâbecause I'm losing so much right now.”
“Mrs. Callaway?” Hart's trying for polite and failing.
His smile is gritted. “We really need to go.”
Bren nods and follows us to the front door. She opens it, and briefly I'm blinded by sunshine. It's a beautiful day. The neighbors are out; one of them waves to Bren, but she doesn't notice.
Hart's hand goes to my shoulder. Like we're good buddies. Like this is fun and I can't feel the way his fingers tighten.
I swallow and my throat click-clicks. We're off the porch now. In the open. Panic flares in my chest. If I ran, could he catch me?
I slide him a sideways glance. Hart's considerably taller than I am. He looks fit too. If I ran, he
And if he didn't catch me, where would I go?
My entire life is tied up in the computer in my bedroomâmy viruses, my customers, my bank accounts. How freaking ironic. I've prepared and prepared for the day I'd have to disappear, and now?
My hands roll into fists.
“Promise me, Wick,” Bren whispers.
“I promâ” Hart jerks me forward, steering me down the sidewalk. There's a town car waiting at the curb and beyond the town car . . . there's a dark gray Ford headed my way.
Milo. Panic makes me stumble. Our date. We were supposed to meet and nowâoh, God.
His car coasts closer and the hum in my ears grinds into a roar. I want to scream for him to gun it. To run.
But then Hart will know there are others and he'll come for Milo too.
I force my eyes forward, focus on the house across the street, and one second . . . two seconds . . . Milo's car rolls into my line of vision. I watch him.
He pretends to watch the road.
Our eyes only meet once.
Once is enough. Milo drives on, dragging something from me as he passes. It limps behind his car and makes a left at the corner to follow him.
“Is everything okay, Wick?” Hart asks. He's watching me so closely. Did he see? Does he know? He isn't saying anything. What does that mean?
A driver in dark shades pops out of the car, takes my bag, and tosses it in the trunk.
“Nice ride,” I say as Hart opens the rear door for me, our reflections stunted in the glass. “But I thought kidnappers preferred panel vans?”
Hart laughs. It's a buttery sound like something that belongs to talk show hosts and sitcom dads. “Smile, Wick. This is going to be fun.”