She touched his cheek, feeling the warmth of his skin under her chilled fingers. “That’s exactly how I feel. I can’t lose you, either.”
His eyes drifted shut. “Please. We can’t do this. You can’t do this to yourself.”
She knew he was talking about their relationship, but she chose to purposefully misunderstand him. “I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do. I need you to be safe.”
Before she wasted any more time, she wheeled him out the door, toward the tunnel entrance.
If anything happened to Torr, she wasn’t sure she’d survive. She’d already lost so much in the Synestryn attack on her family. She couldn’t lose him, too.
When Zach came to, he was lying on his side, trussed up tight with ropes digging into his skin hard enough to cut off his circulation. He looked around, trying to figure out where he was, but the cramped confines of the dark space gave him no clue. All the windows were covered, and his prison was on the move. He could feel the vibrations beneath him, hear the hum of tires on the road.
Beside him, Neal was bound, his bloody head leaving a dark wet spot beneath him. His chest moved as he breathed, but not much. Not nearly enough for a man his size.
Little light filtered into the small space, but it was enough to tell Zach that it was daylight outside. At least all the blood they’d spilled wouldn’t be drawing Synestryn out to play.
His head pounded and his muscles were stiff from all the convulsing, but other than that, he could hardly feel a thing. His arms and legs were asleep from loss of circulation. As he shifted, he realized he was on a soft surface, like a mattress. He pushed himself up and looked around enough to figure out he was in the back of a motor home, lying on a bed. The door to the main cabin was cracked open about a foot, and through it, he could see several blurry forms moving about.
Blurry? Great. He must have been hit harder than he thought.
The motor home slowed to a stop. He heard steps, felt the thing shift as new weight was added. Several people got in, closed the door behind them. They started moving again, heading down the road.
“Where’s Zach?” It was Lexi’s voice, clear and demanding.
Zach’s heart leapt, reveling in the sweet sound of her voice. Then his foggy brain realized what her being here meant.
Lexi had been taken by these assholes, too.
The air in Zach’s lungs froze solid, keeping him from breathing. He reached for his sword, but not only did his hand not move; he was sure they’d stripped the weapon from him before bringing him here.
Still every protective instinct he possessed rose up on its hind legs and howled. Zach tried to scream a warning, but all that came out was a muffled sound of defeat. They’d taped his mouth shut, gagging him and his groggy noggin hadn’t even realized it until now. Not a good sign all was well upstairs.
Zach struggled to move, forcing his numb body to comply. He needed to get to her. Protect her. Save her.
“He’s in the back,” said a man.
“I’m going to see him.” Her voice was firm, but wavered with fear.
“Fine,” said the man. “But be quick. We’ve got a show to put on. Folks are waiting.”
A second later, Lexi’s face came into sight, close enough that she was no longer a blur. Her chocolate brown eyes glowed with tears of concern she didn’t let fall. Her fingers trembled as they feathered over his face. When she drew them back, they were smeared with his blood.
“You could have killed him,” accused Lexi, turning to the man standing behind her. He was tall, thick with both fat and muscle. He had an air of authority about him so heavy that the other men in the motor home stood several feet back so they didn’t have to stand under that weight.
Maybe they were afraid of him.
“Them boys are tough,” said the man. “Gotta hit ’em good and hard to take ’em down. Those stun guns worked like a charm. We’ll definitely be adding those to our arsenal.”
Lexi peeled the edge of the tape away from Zach’s mouth. It stung, but he welcomed the pain. It meant he was still alive. There was still a fighting chance.
“You okay?” she asked him in a strained voice, like she was barely holding herself together.
As soon as his mouth was free, he said, “Get out of here.”
She gave him a sad, watery smile. “Not without you.”
“Enough of a reunion,” said the big man behind her. “We’ve got things to discuss.”
Lexi turned, exasperation vibrating along her slender back. “I’m not brainwashed, Hector. You’ve got it all wrong.”
“Just let her go,” said Zach. “You’ve got me and Neal. You don’t need her, too.”
Hector pushed Lexi aside and leaned down over Zach. Hatred glowed in his eyes, making them bulge. “That’s where you’re wrong, boy. Lexi’s part of the bigger plan. And you . . . Well, the girl’s taken a liking to you, which makes you downright useful.”
Useful. Oh shit. He was leverage.
He had to get out of these ropes, but he couldn’t feel his fingers to work the knots loose. “Just go, Lexi,” pleaded Zach.
Hector gave him a cold smile. “She will. Don’t worry. We just need to get her rigged up first.”
A sick sense of dread pooled in Zach’s stomach. Rigged up. That didn’t sound good at all.
When Hector reached across the small space into the minuscule closet and pulled out a vest covered in wires and blocks of military-grade explosives, Zach knew just how bad it was.
That vest was way too small for any of the men present to wear. It was Lexi’s size.
Lexi stared at the vest, and fear fell down on her like an avalanche, leaving her freezing and suffocating. She locked her knees to stay standing, but the edges of her vision faded out to gray.
“That’s for me, isn’t it?” she asked Hector.
“Custom-made by my own hands,” he said. “Boys.”
Two men behind her grabbed her arms. She’d been too shocked to even think about fighting until now. But now that they had her locked in their hard grips, her survival instincts kicked in and she fought back, lashing out with her feet and fists. She landed several blows, but the men holding her were strong, corn- fed men who were used to a few hard knocks.
They worked for Hector, after all.
“Stop your fussin’ and strap in,” said Hector as he started sliding her arms through the holes with quite a bit of help from the men holding her. “We got a schedule to keep.”
Zach let out a bellow of pure rage and thrashed around until he hit the floor. His body was trussed up tight, coiled with thin, strong rope. There was no way he was getting out of that without help.
Lexi was frantic, dying to do anything to stop this from happening. She knew the power to do so was there, right at her throat, hovering in the luceria, and she reached for it, straining against the barrier that separated them.
Zach’s eyes fell shut and his body stilled, like he’d felt her trying. His eyes locked onto hers, and he gave her a single nod.
Had it worked? Lexi didn’t feel any power, no flow of energy like Helen had described. She pushed again, but the barrier was still in place, locking her out.
Defeat deadened her body, making her go slack inside the two men’s grips. She still couldn’t reach him. He was there, willing and ready to share with her everything she needed to save him, Neal and herself, but she couldn’t touch it.
“It’s time,” said Hector. “Before the Sentinels figure out you’re all missing.” He grabbed a Windbreaker and put it on her as if she were two years old. And like a two-year-old, she wanted to fight him every step of the way. Only the fact that she was wearing a weapon kept her from doing so.
“I won’t do it,” whispered Lexi. “Whatever it is you want, I won’t do it.”
“Yes, you will. You’re going to march your ass right back into that compound and stand in the middle like a good girl until I trigger the detonator.”
“Like hell I will,” said Lexi.
“You will, or we’re going to start removing pieces of lover boy here, one at a time. It’s your life or his.”
“Go, Lexi,” said Zach. “You can take that fucking thing off once you’re out of here.”
Hector grinned. “You don’t think I already thought of that?” He pointed a pudgy finger at a series of metal disks running down the front of the vest attached to wires that wrapped all the way around. “Magnetic connectors. Break the circuit and the thing goes boom. The only way our girl is coming out of this vest is in little pieces.”
Oh God. Her stomach heaved and she had to swallow to keep from puking all over the wires. Who knew if that would set the thing off?
Hector must have seen her skin go green, because he zipped up the Windbreaker, protecting the device from sight and gastrointestinal mishap.
Zach growled in defeat and wriggled toward Hector. Hector kicked him in the ribs hard with the tip of his boot, making Zach suck in a pained breath.
Lexi flinched and a cry of anguish escaped her lips, betraying her feelings for Zach to Hector.
Your life or his.
No. They were both going to die, and Lexi knew it. They were tied together. If she died, so did he. And even if that weren’t true, there was no way Hector would spare Zach once Lexi had done what he wanted. His hatred was too strong. His need to avenge a daughter dead more than twenty years had burned all mercy from him.
“This won’t bring Mindy back,” said Lexi. “There are human girls in there just like her. You want me to kill them, too?”
Hector’s face darkened to a deep, livid purple. “Don’t you dare talk about her,” he warned. “You’re not good enough to even speak her name. You’re one of them now.”
“There is no us and them. We’re all the same. We all want the same thing—to destroy the Synestryn so they can never hurt anyone again.”
“We’re not the same. We’re better than you are. This is our planet. Ours!”
Hector’s men started to back away, their faces going white with fear. Lexi knew as well as they did what would happen next. Hector would start lashing out at whoever and whatever was nearby.
Lexi stood her ground, keeping her chin high.
“Don’t do this, Lexi.” Zach’s voice was strained, and she could feel his fear for her beating at that barrier between them. He was screaming at her to run, but if she did, Hector would be left behind to try again.
Her only chance to stop him was to take him down right here, right now. He’d given her the weapon—strapped it to her body—all she had to do now was find the courage to use it.
Lexi looked at Zach. His hair was matted with blood. More blood had leaked into his eyes—those beautiful leopard green eyes that had always intrigued her so much, even when they frightened her. Eyes that pleaded with her now to run. Save herself.
In that moment, she knew the truth. There was no more question of brainwashing, no more slivers of doubt to get in her way. He hadn’t tricked her or coerced her as Hector was doing now.
Zach had been nothing but honest with her from the start. He’d hidden nothing, not even his need for her, not even the power she held over him.