running scared-Page 50

One single thought and the luceria would fall from her neck. She’d be free, but he would die. He’d placed his life in her hands. His trust.

There was only one way she could repay him, and it was going to kill them both.

Lexi wished she’d figured out the truth sooner. She wished she’d known him years ago, that they’d had more time together before now.

She wished she could have loved him longer.

“Are you willing to die for your people?” she asked him.

“Yes,” he said without hesitation.

“So am I. It’s the only way.”

Zach’s eyes widened slightly in understanding, then closed in grief. Final. Absolute. He gave her a nearly imperceptible nod—permission to follow through with her plan.

Someone new came into the motor home, but Lexi didn’t turn away from Zach to see who it was.

“They’re ready,” she heard Jake say behind her.

“Enough of this,” roared Hector. “Get your ass outside. People are waiting.”

Lexi ripped her gaze away from Zach and stared up at Hector. “You’re going to give me time to say good-bye,” she told him.

“No, I’m not.”

“What can it hurt, Pa?” said Jake. “There’s nothing she can do to stop this. Give her a minute with the man she’s dying to save.”

Lexi looked at him then, startled by the unexpected support. Jake’s left eye was swelling shut, and a dark bruise was forming on his cheek. So that was the sound she’d heard over the phone. Hector had hit him when he’d found Jake telling her to evacuate the buildings.

Hector crossed his arms over his heavy chest. “One minute. And I’m not leaving. Say what you’ve got to say with an audience or not at all.”

Lexi nodded and rushed forward, kneeling on the ground next to Zach. While she was down there, she pulled the kitchen knife from her shoe, her movement hidden by the voluminous folds of the Windbreaker.

She reached around him, hugging him hard, and slid the knife between the ropes. She didn’t have time to be careful, and she worried that she might have cut him, but that was all she could do. It wasn’t much of a chance, but it was something.

Zach’s eyes glowed with emotion as he looked at her. Warmth flowed into her through their link, comforting her. “I love you,” he said. “Death isn’t going to change that.”

The tears she’d been holding back since the men had grabbed her outside the walls of Dabyr broke free and slid down her cheek, hitting the navy Windbreaker with a soft patter. “I love you, too,” she told him, meaning it more than she was able to express in the few brief seconds they had left together.

More than anything, Lexi wished that barrier between them wasn’t there, so he could feel her love for him the way she could his. She wanted to bathe him in it, make sure he knew her words were genuine.

“I can take off the luceria. If it will be easier on you that way.” She wasn’t sure how long he’d live after she’d taken it off, but it might give him a few more days, hours even. She didn’t want to rob him of any of them.

“No. I don’t want you to be alone. I’ll be there with you to the very end.”

When she died. He hadn’t said it, but they both knew that was what he’d meant.

Even though he couldn’t feel her through the thing, she could feel him. She could feel his love, his comfort. “I don’t want to be alone, either.”

“We’re meant to be together,” he whispered, his tone fervent. “I still believe that. I’ll find you. Somehow, I’ll find you.”

Lexi believed him. He was too powerful a man to let something as paltry as death stand in his way. “I’ll be waiting,” she said; then she kissed him.

His mouth was warm and soft, so gentle against hers that she wondered how she could have ever thought he’d meant her harm. She squeezed every bit of her love for him into that kiss, telling him what words couldn’t.

“That’s enough,” said Hector. “It’s time to go.”

Chapter 24

Hector led Lexi to the center of a caravan, mostly of pickup trucks with Texas plates. The size of the gathering of Defenders left her stunned. She’d never seen so many of them together in one place.

“They’re all here for the show,” said Hector as he led her by the arm to the group of waiting people. “We’ll be able to see the fireworks from that hilltop over there. Gonna be quite a spectacle.”

“You’re wrong about these people, Hector. They mean you no harm.” Though Lexi sure did. She was going to blow his ass to hell. “You’re going to be sorry you were too thick-skulled to listen to reason.”

“That’s the brainwashing talking. Don’t worry. You won’t have to suffer much longer.”

No. She wouldn’t. Still, she had a few more moments to help him see the truth. Unless a bunch of white knights rode in, that was the only thing that had even a chance of saving her. “There are human children in there. Did Jake tell you that?”

“He did. It doesn’t matter. They’re all under the Sentinels’ spell. Nothing I can do for them but put them out of their misery.”

“I thought you tried to help people escape their pull. That’s what you were going to do with Helen.”

Hector shrugged. “I told you what you wanted to hear to get you to do the right thing. Do you think that if I’d told you your friend was a lost cause you would have cooperated?”

“So, you were using me from the start.”

He let out an ugly bark of laughter. “Hell, girl. I started using you before you were born. Your mom was the suggestible sort. She believed everything I told her. Even wrote it down.”

So that was where all Mom’s journal entries had come from. No wonder they sounded so crazy. Hector was crazy. Whatever noble goal he’d had, assuming there had ever been one, it had been lost along the way.

“Mom trusted you,” said Lexi. Anger and resentment burned bright inside her, but she kept it hidden.

“They always do. Too bad Jake doesn’t have the knack for making people trust him the way I do. Isn’t that right, Jake?”

Beside her, Jake said nothing. He kept his battered face down, staring at the ground. His body was tense and she could feel his anger seething just below the surface.

“At least Jake listens,” said Lexi.

“He’s just easily swayed, like his mama. My boy is a pure disappointment,” Hector told Lexi as if his son wasn’t standing right there.

Jake flinched; then he stopped walking altogether and fell back.

Hector didn’t even spare him a glance. What kind of father hurt his son like that and didn’t care?

Lexi realized then she was wasting her breath trying to make him see the truth. Even if she lived to be a hundred, there wasn’t enough time left to make Hector Morrow change his mind.

He was going to die ignorant, and there was nothing Lexi could do to change that.

So, rather than waste the last seconds of her life trying, Lexi shut her mouth and focused on Zach. She could feel his presence, hovering inside her, holding her close even though he was yards away. She could also feel his determination to free himself. She wasn’t sure if he’d found the knife she’d left behind, or even if he’d been able to use it, but he hadn’t given up yet.

Maybe if he got free in time. . . . No. There were too many of them, all armed. Even Zach wasn’t capable of taking down over a hundred armed Texans.

The weight of the explosives strapped to her chest seemed to close in on her. Reality had left her numb, accepting. She wasn’t fighting her fate the way Zach was. The only way to stop Hector and his men from trying to hurt the people of Dabyr was to kill them.

Lexi snaked one arm inside the huge Windbreaker. All she had to do was flip open one of those magnets and it would all be over. No more threat. No more Defenders.

At least Helen would be safe. Dabyr would be safe.

Lexi figured it was the least she could do after her willingness to blow the place up.

Hector pulled her to a halt inside a ring of vehicles parked in a clearing. He raised his voice so it carried out over the crowd. Lexi didn’t listen to his words. She was too busy counting, tallying up the number of lives she was going to end today. One hundred twelve.

She wondered if these men were as ruthless as Hector. If they lived, would they take up where he’d left off? Would they be scared away and go back to their families to live nice, quiet lives? And what about the Defenders who weren’t present today? How would they react to what she was going to do? Would their zeal to defeat the Sentinels increase because they’d suffered so many losses? Or would there even be enough of them left to pick up the pieces and carry on in Hector’s stead?

Suddenly Lexi felt the burden of her decision weigh down on her. It was one thing to think about blowing these men up. It was another to look into their eyes and then do it. These men had wives, children. People loved them. How could she end their lives without knowing anything about them other than that they fell under Hector’s spell the same way her mom had?

I’m here. It was Zach, comforting her. Had he felt her indecision? Her guilt?

Lexi reached out for him, wanting to hold him in her mind the way he did her. Comfort him. The barrier rippled against her touch, but didn’t break. She pushed harder, but the thing seemed to strengthen more the harder she pushed.

I won’t leave you, honey. There was love in his words. So much it made her eyes sting with tears.

Lexi closed her eyes and let his love swell up inside her, filling her up with warmth and light. Zach was with her and she was no longer afraid. She knew exactly what she had to do.

I love you, she told him, and this time, she felt her message go through. She’d done it! She felt Zach’s surprise, his elation that she’d been able to reach him.

The men surrounding her cheered as if they knew what had happened. Hector lifted his fist in victory. “Today, our enemy falls!” he shouted. More cheers erupted.

“It’s time,” Hector told Lexi. “One of the men will drive you back to the wall and get you hooked up with a camera so I know when to push the button. And so I know you’re not trying any funny stuff. Go on in like a good girl and I’ll let your man live.”

It was a lie, but Lexi let it go. She had bigger concerns than Hector Morrow’s last few lies.

I’m coming, honey. Hang on.

No! she tried to tell him, but she wasn’t sure her message had gone through. It was too dangerous. These men would shoot him down.

Hector pulled a device out of his pocket. A remote trigger to detonate the bomb. The black plastic gleamed under the bright morning sun. A green LED blinked cheerfully, indicating everything was working fine.

For a moment, she was trapped by that flashing light, wishing her job was already done. Her whole body trembled with anxiety, especially her fingers, firmly grasping a pair of magnetic disks.

“May I speak?” she asked him. “If I’m going to die, I’m allowed some last words, right?”