GOD, things had changed so quickly after the power went out, over one year ago. The lights never came back on, the power grid completely destroyed by the Pulse—an electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear bomb set off high in the sky.
But here in a small coastal fishing town in Connecticut—a town the people had renamed Letliv—Clarissa could have a chance at a better life. Their motto of “Live and let live” sounded good to her. Like freedom.
Anything was better than the previous year in Grand Central Terminal, the main FEMA camp in New York. The camp, created to help them all, had become hell on earth—a place with fear, starvation . . . and rape. Every place in America was under martial law, with each area controlled by its own authorities from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the army, and National Guard.
With all that in place, how could the United Nations be taking over? Was that really happening?
Evan had told her the UN may have waited a year to make their move so that most of the American population would be killed off already. Ninety percent dead within a year, just for lack of electricity and running water. Unbelievable, and yet . . . it had happened.
She never would have met Evan if he hadn’t escaped his camp in Connecticut when he turned eighteen, running from the draft. That was the first Clarissa and her friends had even heard of a draft, or of the possibility of America getting taken over.
One thing Clarissa had learned about the radio—the one working radio she had access to that hadn’t been fried in the Pulse—was that she couldn’t trust the words that came out of it. Who knew what was real or true anymore?
It was the radio that said Grand Central was safe, and God knew that was a lie.
And that teenager, Evan, he’d been kidnapped—taken to Grand Central after their shootout with the soldiers. As much as it hurt to even think about, they were probably torturing him to reveal the whereabouts of Clarissa and Jenna and Barker.
The camp had become a prison. No one was allowed to escape. People who did—people like her friends Emily and Mason, or Clarissa with Jenna and Barker . . . well, Colonel Lanche clearly was afraid of them.
Afraid they’d rise up against him once they were no longer under his thumb.
Clarissa laughed softly. For once, the despicable Colonel was correct. They would rise up against him, and they would free every woman living on the Tracks at Grand Central, those women who were forced to prostitute themselves to the soldiers just to survive.
Soldiers. Clarissa grimaced at the word. Those men weren’t soldiers any more than Barker had been one. Barker was a lawyer who’d been given a gun and a bloodstained uniform when the Colonel realized he needed to replenish his troops with young men—any young men who would blindly obey his authority. But Barker was no longer blind. He’d woken up. Barker had taken Jenna and he took her, and they’d escaped.
Would the other soldiers wake up to the atrocities of the camp too? Or were the people of Letliv going to have to fight to liberate the innocent citizens imprisoned in Grand Central?
Everything was so different here, in Letliv. No martial law, no soldiers, no government or tyrannical dictators enforcing their will upon the people.
Clarissa looked at the people bustling around, trading supplies, the scent of the salty sea air carried to her on a breeze.
Clarissa could be happy living here in Letliv. Living a free life. Maybe someday she’d be able to forget about the time she spent at the mercy of those men. She’d let go.
But not until Grand Central was freed.
Clarissa looked over at the docks, watching Barker and Jenna embrace on the boat. They looked so happy together, so strong, despite everything that was happening.
“Hey,” Trent said, coming up to her.
She turned to him, thunderstruck, as always, by the man’s kind voice, and the strong lines of his handsome face. If Trent Taylor hadn’t let them into Letliv when they were fleeing down the freeway after the shootout, they never would have survived.
And it was Trent who had agreed to help them free the people of Grand Central. His sister Annie was still living there, and Clarissa knew that had to be the main reason he was willing to risk his life. But motivations aside, Trent was helping. That’s what mattered. They’d need all the help they could get.
Not many men had helped her before without . . . without wanting something in return. Something she could no longer give, because if she did she would turn into an empty, used-up shell of the person she once was. Hell, she was already halfway there.
The one man other than Barker who’d been good to her, other than Evan (who was more of a teenager than a man, in her mind), had been Roy. Her attempt at finding comfort in Roy’s arms hadn’t gone particularly well—she just wasn’t ready to sleep with a man again, not even a good one. But the Colonel’s men had taken Roy from her too.
They’d taken everything.
It was up to her to reclaim it.
Trent was still looking at her, concern on his handsome face. His dark hair and tan skin contrasted vibrantly with her own pale skin, her red hair. Standing together on the docks, Clarissa imagined they looked so different. He was so big, muscular, and tall . . . she felt small near him. And she was sick of feeling small, of knowing she could be physically overpowered.
Too many men had proven that to her.
“Are you okay?” Trent asked. His voice was soft, and she relaxed a little in his presence.
Clarissa nodded, brushing her tears away with the back of her hand. “I’m really glad we’re going back to get Annie and Evan and everyone. But it’s so dangerous. Those soldiers . . . they killed Roy. It happened so fast. One moment he was alive, the next . . .”
“I’m . . . really sorry for your loss,” Trent said.
“I guess we’ve all lost someone.”
“My wife,” Trent said. “She died shortly after the grid went down. After her insulin ran out.”
She looked up at him. “That’s where you got those flowered oven mitts.”
The night he’d made them dinner, pulling the stew out of the fire with distinctly feminine oven mitts, Clarissa had assumed he’d scavenged them the way everyone did these days. But now it seemed clear. He had lived with his wife in that same house before the Pulse. Her memory must be everywhere for him.
“Yeah,” Trent smiled.
Clarissa’s hand fluttered to her neck before she remembered—her locket, her only picture of the infant daughter she’d given up for adoption as a teenager, was gone.
Trent stood silently next to her, looking out at the people of Letliv, his handsome face so serious.
“My friends are going to live together,” she said finally. “I couldn’t help but overhear them.”
“They’re in love,” Trent said. “I could see that coming a mile away. Barker looks at her the way I used to look at my wife.”
“She loves him too. Took her long enough to realize it,” Clarissa smiled. “I shouldn’t stay with them. They should have their privacy.”
“Are you asking to bunk with me?”
She blushed, shaking her head. But Trent took her hand in his large one and turned to her, overwhelming her with his sheer size and muscularity.
“You can, if you want. You could move into my room—”
“No,” she whispered, putting her palm on his chest to stop him, stop him before he scared her. And yet, when she touched him, there was no fear. Only the warmth of his skin radiating through his shirt.
Only his heat.
“And I would sleep on the couch,” he said, smiling. “That’s what I meant. I would never . . . I wouldn’t do that to you.”
Clarissa nodded, unable to speak.
“You’ve been through a lot,” he whispered. He took a step back, and her hand dropped from his chest.
“We all have. And your sister . . . Annie’s still going through it. We need to save them.”
“We will, Clarissa.” Trent kept his distance, physically, but now all she wanted was to feel his arms wrapped around her, comforting her. “I promise.”
“Annie will be so happy to see you. She’ll like it here. Evan too.”
“Do you like it here?” he asked.
“I think,” she said softly, “that someday I just might.”
The sun was setting, and Clarissa had no idea where her friends had gone.
Probably to be alone somewhere. She couldn’t blame them. Jenna and Barker hadn’t had real privacy in a long time. And then there was that time on the road when she’d almost shot Barker when she found him on top of Jenna.
That had been a misunderstanding, clearly. Clarissa shook her head. It might be a while before she could even comprehend why someone would not just have sex with a man, but enjoy it, too. Too many nights on the Tracks had screwed up her memories of what good sex was. Consensual, loving sex.
She found Trent carrying a basket down the road along Main Street.
“Hey Trent,” she said, making her voice sound cheery, even though she was nervous. It was a trick she’d learned from years of working as a waitress. Approach with confidence and smile.
“Hey there,” he grinned. “I’ve got some fresh fish for dinner if you’d like to join me. You are crashing at my house, right?”
Alone in a house with Trent. The mere idea thrilled her and terrified her at the same time. Yes, he was safe. She could feel it in her gut. And he was Annie’s brother, which counted for a lot.
But still, he was a man.
“I won’t hurt you, Clarissa,” Trent said, frowning. “You know that, right?”
Clarissa nodded. “I didn’t mean to hesitate.”
“Probably smart to ask questions and keep your eye on your own safety in this day and age. Can’t fault you for that. It’s kept you alive this long.”
“Where are Jenna and Barker, do you know?”
“They’re borrowing my tent and camping in the apple orchard. It’s warm enough that they’ll be comfortable until they can find their own place.”
The basket slipped in his arms and Clarissa rushed up to him to help him right it before their dinner toppled to the road.
“Thanks,” he said, smiling. God, those teeth. So white.
(The better to eat you with, my dear.)
Clarissa shook her head. Trent was not a wolf, he was not a danger. At some point she’d have to learn to trust men again.
Roy had been a good man, after all.
They walked in silence up the hill to Trent’s modest home.
The living room was dark but cozy when they entered.
“I’ll get the fire going,” Trent said.
“Anything I can do to help?”
“Nah. Let me take care of you tonight.” Trent smiled, but Clarissa’s heart raced.
He’d meant it to be nice, of course, but she didn’t want to be indebted to anyone. Especially not if she was sleeping under his roof.
“I want to help. Let me clean the fish.”
Trent raised his eyebrows. “Go relax. I insist.”
He was buttering her up, trying to make her drop her defenses. For what purpose?
“I think . . .” Clarissa looked at the door behind her. “I think I’ll sleep outside tonight. I’m used to camping. No need for me to intrude on you.”
She reached for the door but Trent stopped her with a look. Not an angry look, just a look of . . . confusion.
“Am I so terrifying to you?” Trent whispered. “What did I do to scare you, Clarissa?”
The door, freedom from expectation, of the possibility of getting hurt, beckoned. But so did this man. A good man. Annie’s brother.
“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ll stay. It’s nothing you did, I’m just . . . not used to nice guys, that’s all.”
“You’re making me scared for my sister,” Trent said softly.
“Yes,” Clarissa said. “I’m scared for Annie too. I wish we could have taken her with us, but with her broken leg . . . she wouldn’t have made it.”
Trent knelt by the fireplace and struck his flint into the kindling on the bottom until it sparked. He blew on the glowing embers gently until a flame emerged from the ashes.
“How did she break her leg?”
Clarissa settled on the couch and watched him work. “A soldier pushed her onto the Tracks. Just left her there. It took three of us to get her back up, and without proper medical care, without proper nutrition . . . it’s just not healing right.”
The muscles in his back seemed to tense under his tight T-shirt as he stared into the fire, not looking at her.
“I want to kill whoever did that to Annie.”
“Maybe you’ll have your chance. When we go back to liberate her.”
Suddenly, Trent turned to face her. “Clarissa, I need to know. Did those men . . . did they . . .”
“Did they rape her?” Clarissa finished for him when the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth.
“It’s not my place to tell you those things, Trent. You’ll get to talk to her soon yourself, I know it.”
“What about you?”
Clarissa’s cheeks burned, she felt ashamed, even though she knew it wasn’t something to be ashamed about. “A lot of the men there have lost their sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Why talk about it? Why reopen fresh wounds?”
“I want to know what happened to my sister, that’s all.”
“But you asked about me.” Clarissa tucked her knees into her chest.
“I’m sorry.” Trent got up from the fire and went into the kitchen, returning with the fish and a pan. “It’s none of my business.”
“Well, it’s good to know what we’ll be walking into when we go back to Grand Central,” Clarissa said. “The women there won’t know who to trust. If we march in with guns blazing, they might cling to what they know and want to stay. Who knows? Colonel Lanche has done a great job of convincing everyone that the only safe place is in his camp.”
“Like brainwashing, huh?” Trent flipped the fish over the fire, and the scent of dinner in the air made Clarissa’s stomach rumble.
“Yeah, like brainwashing. Indoctrinating, almost. He gives speeches all the time, scares the shit out of everyone. Reminds us all how lucky we are to be among the survivors and to have him protecting us.”
“If the UN’s really taking over America, he’ll capitalize on that,” Trent said. “Use an outside threat to make the people cling to his authority even more.”
“Think people will consider the world’s peacekeepers a threat, though? Aren’t they supposed to help?”
“If by help you mean putting America under international law, yeah, they could see the globalists as a threat. Rightfully so. We would lose everything that makes America the home of the free.”
“Is it even really happening?” she wondered.
“Who knows. Maybe the President allowed the radio to be taken over just to get everyone focused. Maybe it’s a psyop.”
“I don’t know what that is,” she admitted.
Trent dropped a crispy fish onto a plate and handed it to her with a fork, keeping one for himself. “Watch out for the bones.”
He took a bite of the white, flaky fish, savoring it in his mouth before answering. “A psyop is a psychological operation—a specific kind of military operation. They do things, put messages out, stage events, that sort of thing, to influence how the enemy reacts.”
“But we’re not the enemy,” Clarissa said.
Trent laughed. “They’re not supposed to use psyops on Americans. But they probably weren’t supposed to set up a camp where the women were all systematically abused, either. So I’m not giving them the benefit of the doubt, forgive me.”
Clarissa ate her fish in silence, listening. “Maybe the speeches Colonel Lanche gave, all those public punishments at the big clock in the main terminal . . . maybe that was all a psyop too, then. To get us to obey. To be afraid.”
“Never say never. But you also have to realize . . . the United Nations, they have psyops too. If this is real, if they are invading, that explains the radio broadcasts from them trying to get our cooperation. If everyone in America is lulled into thinking that they’re just here to help, then we leave the door wide open for them. They won’t even have to kill us to take over, because we’ll be letting them in with open arms.”
She’d been so hungry her fish was already gone.
“If you’re still hungry, I’ve got apples,” Trent offered. “Let me get you one.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. Psyops. What a world.
“Trent,” she called. “What if they really are here to help? The UN?”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said. “And I hope to God I don’t see it. They’ll stay far away from Letliv if they know what’s good for them.”
Trent sounded so territorial, so protective of his town.
“Why would it be so bad, to have help come?” she asked.
“They have a long history of taking things over, forcing laws made by unelected authorities on citizens. Yeah, maybe they’d help. But help doesn’t come without a price.”
Clarissa looked at the empty plate, at the shelter he was offering her. “You’re helping me. What price will I have to pay?”
“Shit.” Trent shook his head. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
I’ll believe it when I see it.
Clarissa stood and stretched. “Thank you for dinner. Where should I sleep?”
Trent stood too. God, every time he stood near her, her body reacted. Her pulse quickened, her whole body rushing with adrenaline. It wasn’t a particularly bad feeling, just . . . a little scary. He was so much bigger than her.
She’d sleep with her gun by her side as usual tonight. Couldn’t hurt.
“You’ll sleep in my room,” Trent said, “and I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“I’ll take the couch, it’s fine,” she said.
“A girl like you, you deserve a bed,” he said simply.
“A girl like me,” she repeated.
“I’m being nice, okay? Just . . . please, just agree for once. Take what I’m offering.”
“Okay. Thank you, I mean.” Clarissa swallowed hard. “Sorry.”
Trent nodded. “You don’t have to be sorry. I get it. I’m a threat until proven otherwise.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again. He looked . . . hurt. Like he was taking it personally. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
Trent put his hands in the air, holding them up as if to show her he meant no harm. “You’re safe here. And the bedroom door . . . it locks from the inside, okay? So you can sleep tonight. And not worry.”
The living room suddenly felt too small for the two of them. He was close, not touching her, no—but the testosterone poured off of him in waves. She could feel it in the air.
Clarissa went into the bedroom and locked the door.
Trent cleared the dishes and sat back on the couch. It made sense that she’d be wary of him. The fact that he was undeniably attracted to her probably didn’t help.
As much as he tried not to look at Clarissa, whenever she was near him . . . he couldn’t help it. She was so beautiful, with that long red hair, and a fragile appearance that covered the strong woman he knew she was underneath it all.
She couldn’t have survived this long without being strong.
But what about Annie? Even though she was a grown woman now, in his mind his sister was still about, oh, twelve years old, maybe. And annoying the hell out of him by trying to tag along with him and his friends. Trent shook his head.
What was happening to Annie now? Without Clarissa around to protect her, would she be safe?
Tomorrow, they’d start getting their battle plan together. Because the sooner they could move in on Grand Central, the better.
Clarissa woke only once in the middle of the night—she sat up in the strange bed, her face flushed, her body feeling tingly and . . .
What a dream she’d woken from. God . . . it had seemed so real. Felt real, too. Flashes of the dream caught on the edge of her fuzzy memory. Trent, his shirt off, revealing his broad, muscular chest, lying beside her, stroking her, touching her . . .
Clarissa shook her head, trying to clear her mind. The pillow was cool against her heated flesh. Still, she couldn’t help but think how the man she’d just fantasized about was right outside that bedroom door.
It felt good, in the dream. Really good. Unlike anything she’d experienced on the Tracks or even after, with Roy. It didn’t make sense for her to fantasize about Trent like that, though. Yes, he was handsome. Gorgeous. But she’d been through too much to let herself get attached to a man.
So why am I here, sleeping in his house?
Clarissa shut her eyes, determined to fall back asleep. She was only staying with Trent because she loved Annie like family, so it made sense for her to want to stay with Annie’s brother.
Yeah, that was true. But it didn’t change the fact that Clarissa had just fantasized about Trent’s hands caressing her naked skin.
She couldn’t fall back asleep without some relief. Her clit felt swollen and needy. The house was silent, the door was locked. Her hand found its way and she shut her eyes, gliding her fingers fast over her bud.
Trent, Trent . . .
She came hard, but didn’t make a sound.
Grand Central Terminal
Colonel Lanche zipped his pants and let the whore from the Tracks leave his office. She scurried out without looking back.
Guess it wasn’t as good for her as it was for him.
“Sir,” Dobson, one of his men, called from the doorway. “Permission to enter, sir?”
“Come in,” Lanche said, waving his hand. “Any news on the boy?”
Evan, the eighteen-year-old runt they’d taken from the domestic terrorist group led by Private Barker and Barker’s whores, hadn’t proven to be cooperative. The kid was tougher than he looked. That wasn’t saying much, since the boy looked like a girl.
“No, sir—but there’s a . . . there’s an ambassador from the United Nations here to see you.”
Lanche’s stomach dropped inside him, and he gripped his desk. “What the fuck? Where?”
“They’ve got a truck, sir. A working truck, and this guy in a blue hat said he needed to speak to the man in charge.”
Holy fucking hell. So it was true. They were taking over.
“A blue hat,” Lanche repeated in disbelief. “Like a pale blue beret? With the UN emblem on it?”
The soldier nodded uncomfortably, shifting his weight.
“Not on my watch,” Lanche growled.
“He won’t go away, sir.”
“I can’t have him coming into the camp, it’s too dangerous. I’ll go out and meet them.”
“Sir.” Dobson took a deep breath, as if he were afraid to argue with him. “We can’t protect you if you’re out there with all their men.”
“How many men?”
“Four I could count, unless they’ve got some hidden in the truck. They say they’ve brought supplies.”
“All right. Bring him and all of his people to me. Search that truck, make sure no one’s hiding.”
Dobson nodded and left.
Lanche smoothed his hair and looked around his office—a room that had once been a storefront on a hallway off the main terminal. The broken glass where his first escapee, Emily Rosen, had thrown herself through, was covered over with plywood.
The blood spot on his carpet where she’d murdered the soldier guarding her had not been so easy to cover up.
Dobson came back with the four UN men, backed up by his soldier Scar. Scar was a good right-hand man in a crisis. Roughed that Evan kid up without thinking twice about it, just because Lanche told him to. He needed more men like Scar.
The men from the United Nations were in military uniforms, with baby blue scarves tucked neatly into the collars. A matching blue patch with that obnoxious world-with-olive-branches logo marked their right shoulders. And they each wore a jauntily placed pale blue beret. At least the berets looked less aggressive than those blue helmets they’d been known to wear. The one in front offered his hand when they walked in.
Lanche stood, not offering a hand in return. Not to these invading motherfuckers.
“How can I help you?” Lanche asked. Might as well get off on the right foot. See what they wanted.
“Very gracious of you, Colonel,” the ambassador said, with a slight foreign accent Lanche couldn’t quite place. “But we are here to help you, to offer our assistance in your time of national crisis.”
Yeah, right. Where were they a year ago, when the power first went out, before everyone started dying?
“Thank you. How many men do you have here, Ambassador?”
“We are four, on a mission to provide aid from the UN,” the man replied, and the other men nodded. “We’ve been brought in to help keep the peace. Our mission here today, however, is to deliver supplies . . . antibiotics, flashlights with batteries, and vitamins for nutrition.”
“All that, huh? And a working truck.” The truck was a goldmine. After the Pulse, most cars had simply stopped working, their electronics fried. Only the very old trucks still worked, and Lanche had already commandeered every one he could find.
“Unfortunately, we will need to take the truck back with us so that we might bring aid to other FEMA camps.”
“Are they expecting you?”
The ambassador paused, as if unsure of the meaning behind the question. “We had no way to inform you of our arrival. Please forgive the unexpected intrusion, I know you are a busy man.”
Lanche turned to Scar and Dobson. “Did you remove their weapons?”
“Yes, sir, per policy,” Scar said, and looked at Lanche with a glint in his eye. That soldier thought the way he did. Good. He’d need backup.
“We’ll take the supplies,” Lanche said. “Can we expect more?”
“Not at this time, Colonel,” the ambassador said. “We have a base of operations—”
“Where?” Lanche interuppted. “The UN building here in Manhattan is empty.”
The UN man smiled thinly. “That is, as you say, classified. Besides, the UN building is not on New York soil. Through a treaty agreement with the US government, technically the building and land are extraterritorial.”
“Fuck this.” Lanche unholstered his sidearm and shot the ambassador in the head, between the eyes.
Dobson jumped back in surprise. “Shit!”
“Shut the fuck up and kill the others,” Lanche barked.
But Dobson was frozen. Scar hefted his rifle and shot the other three men. It happened so quickly.
“Good work, Scar,” Lanche said. He’d never bothered to learn his soldier’s real name, since his nickname fit him and his ruined face so very well. “We’ll sleep safer tonight without globalist invaders in our camp.”
“Holy shit,” Dobson whispered. “They were from the UN! They were helping us.”
“Are you that stupid?” Lanche barked. “They would kill us all. Now get rid of these bodies and get some of our guys out there to unload the truck. We need those supplies.”
Scar grinned. “I knew you wouldn’t let those blue-hat fucks take over your camp.”
“Of course not. I have a responsibility to keep everyone here safe. That’s what we did here, Scar. Eliminated a threat.”
“Do you trust the safety of the medicine and vitamins, sir?” Scar asked thoughtfully. “It could be a trap. It’s not like foreigners have never tried to kill American soldiers before.”
“One way to find out. We’ve got a whole bunch of guinea pigs.” Lanche laughed. He felt high on adrenaline after killing men. It was almost better than sex.
“Bring me Annie,” Lanche ordered. “And that little bitch Evan.”
Evan sat back on the hard orange seats in the subway car he was bunking in with Annie. He was the only male on the Tracks. Other than him, it was all the young, single women.
It was a punishment, of sorts, he imagined. Evan wondered if Colonel Lanche thought some of the soldiers who took liberties with the women on the Tracks would mess with him, too.
So far, no one had. No one but Scar, and that was all talk. So far.
Terrifying talk. Threats meant to break him down, to make him compliant. That first night Scar had threatened to pay him a visit, Evan had stayed up all night—first, ready for a fight. Then, resigned to getting raped. He lost a piece of his soul that night, shaking in his chains, naked and bruised from the previous day’s beating. Waiting for that visit.
All that fear, it was for nothing. Just another way to break him down. Because morning came uneventfully, and with it, another round of interrogations.
The worst had been when they’d hurt Annie, right in front of him. That made him talk, how could it not? But he’d done his best to not spill everything he knew about Barker, Jenna, and Clarissa. About Roy. About their guns, their ammo, their mission. Their whereabouts.
He’d hold out as long as he could.
When night fell, soldiers came down to the Tracks, meeting with the women, offering them food, stale cigarettes, and homemade gin. The women took what they had to offer and paid the price, because if they didn’t . . . well, there weren’t really any other options.
With her broken leg, Annie was an easy target. But she was so miserable, so combative, that most of the soldiers didn’t bother with her. Not when they had women in other subway cars parading around naked, embracing the chance to fuck for an extra ration.
Evan couldn’t blame them. Life wasn’t easy on the Tracks. But if he were a soldier, he’d have been one like Barker. One of the good ones.
God, it seemed so long ago he was in high school, getting ready to graduate. Worrying about finals and the prom. None of that mattered now. None of it existed, now.
And he’d never see his parents or brother again. Not since he escaped the FEMA camp in Greenwich to avoid the draft. It was so fucked up.
“Get up, bitches.”
The deep voice took him by surprise. Not tonight. Don’t let tonight be the night.
It was Scar.
Annie whimpered and Evan moved instinctively in front of her, as if to protect her. Not that he could. The man was easily twice his size and armed to the teeth.
“The Colonel wants you both.”
“I’ve told him everything I know,” Evan said.
“Then maybe I should just kill you, if that’s the case,” Scar said.
“Wait—take me, I’ll talk to him,” Evan said. “But Annie’s leg is broken, just let her stay here, okay? Please don’t bring her into this.”
“Oh, you fucked her!” Scar laughed. “Nice. And here I thought you were a little fairy boy.”
Evan gritted his teeth. He hadn’t touched Annie. She’d taken care of him that night when the soldiers had beaten him so badly he could barely move. And she was a woman, anyway. Midtwenties, probably. What would she want with a kid like him?
“Let’s go, pretty boy.” Scar walked right past him, roughly pushing him aside, and grabbed Annie by the waist.
She shrieked when he tossed her over his shoulder, fireman-style.
“Leave her alone!” Evan yelled.
“No interrogation tonight, boy,” Scar said, walking out of the subway car with Annie. Evan scurried after, not willing to leave her alone in that monster’s hands. “The Colonel is going to help you.”
Evan didn’t like the sound of that.
By the time they got to Operations Control Center, or the OCC, as they called it, Annie had stopped fighting, lying limply in Scar’s arms.
He set her down in a chair, not bothering to watch out for her broken leg.
I would kill him if I could, Evan thought. A big change from the boy who’d dodged a draft because he refused to hold a gun. But some men deserved killing.
“Where’s Colonel Lanche?” Evan asked.
“Taking care of some business in his office.” Scar laughed at that, although Evan couldn’t understand the joke.
“Are you okay?” Evan asked Annie.
She nodded silently.
“Hello, son,” Colonel Lanche said amiably when he walked in.
A fresh spot of blood darkened his collar. What the fuck was going on?
“Guess what Daddy’s got for his two favorite kids.” Lanche pulled a large, industrial-looking bottle out from behind his back, as if it were Christmas morning and he was surprising them with something wonderful.
“You’re not my father,” Evan grumbled under his breath.
But he wouldn’t push it too far. He hadn’t forgotten the humiliation Lanche had put him through by making him call him Daddy just to get a drink of water after they’d interrogated him for hours. Apparently, Lanche hadn’t forgotten either.
“These are vitamins. A surprise shipment of supplies came in. Limited supplies. I’m saving the vitamins for the pregnant women and for Annie, to help mend her leg,” Lanche announced. “Can’t heal a bone without any calcium, now can we?”
Annie looked at Evan, concern lining her pretty face.
“Are those . . . are those really vitamins?” Evan asked.
“Why me?” Annie asked. “Why are you trying to help me?”
“Oh, Annie, Annie,” Colonel Lanche said, putting his arm around her thin shoulders as if they were family. “I have to take care of my people. Here. Take one.”
Lanche held a large, red pill out to her, and handed her a metal cup filled with treated water.
Annie took the pill in her hand and looked at Evan with questioning eyes.
“Let me take one,” Evan said.
If it were poison, then Annie would know not to take it. Because he wouldn’t put it past the Colonel to poison Annie to death in front of him just to get him to talk.
“Well, your growth does seem to be . . . stunted,” Lanche laughed. “You could probably use vitamins as well. Have you even gone through puberty yet?”
Evan didn’t answer, just scowled. Of course he’d gone through puberty. It wasn’t his fault he wasn’t all big and muscular like the soldiers. He’d been on starvation rations for a year now.
Evan plucked the red pill out of Annie’s hand, took the water, and swallowed the pill.
The Colonel and Scar watched him with curiosity.
“How do you feel?” Lanche asked.
“Fine. It’s a vitamin, right? How am I supposed to feel?” Evan realized Lanche probably didn’t even know himself if the pills were safe.
“Guess those UN guys really did us a solid,” Scar mused.
Fear washed over him. Had the United Nations gotten to New York? Would there be a war?
But Lanche gave Scar a look, and Scar shut up.
“Here you go, sweetheart,” Lanche said. “Take the bottle, and take one a day. You’ll be better in no time.”
“Did you . . . did you get any pain pills from the UN?” Annie asked quietly.
She didn’t talk often about the pain, but Evan knew her leg hurt her all the time. That dick soldier who’d knocked her onto the Tracks had broken the long bone in her thigh, and it hadn’t set right. Still hadn’t healed at all, well over a month later.
“We did,” the Colonel said. “Got some morphine for emergencies. I can get one of the med techs from the infirmary to give you a shot. It’ll take all your pain away, for a while at least.”
Something wasn’t right. The Colonel was never nice for no reason.
“In fact,” Lanche said, “if Evan here tells me how many guns Barker and his friends have, how much ammo, what other weapons they have . . . I’ll get that shot for you right now.”
“Don’t tell them,” Annie said, looking up at Evan from her chair. “I can live with the pain.”
“Scar, bring back one of the med techs and a proper dose of morphine for my girl here. Lanche said. “I have a feeling she’ll be needing it.”
“Please, sir,” Evan said as Scar left them alone in the OCC. “Don’t do this.”
“My patience is wearing thin. I just had to shoot four fucking globalist blue-hat invaders to get you your precious vitamins, and what thanks do I get?” The Colonel spat on the floor by Annie’s feet. “You’re still in bed with the terrorists. And Annie here seems to be your only weak spot.”
Evan didn’t know what to do, what to say that wouldn’t make the situation worse.
Scar returned with a soldier holding a large syringe and a vial of medicine.
Lanche raised his hand and put it on Annie’s shoulder. “Tell me, Evan. How many guns? I already know he stole two. So at least two. How many more?”
At least six, Evan thought. Maybe more now, now that they’d stolen guns off the bodies of the soldiers they’d killed. And the ammo. But they’d used up a lot of the ammo in the gunfight, when Roy was murdered.
Best for them not to know that. Evan didn’t want to show their hand, as it were. If Barker really was coming back to free them, and Evan was banking on the fact that they would—they’d need every element of surprise they could get.
“I can see in your eyes that you’re hiding something,” Lanche said. He shoved Annie onto the floor and she screamed as her leg buckled beneath her.
“Don’t,” Evan pleaded.
“It’s not me doing this to her,” Lanche said, and wrapped his meaty fist in the girl’s hair, pulling her back up to sit on the chair by her messy dark strands. “It’s you. You’re hurting her, Evan. But you can make it stop.”
“I don’t know anything—”
Lanche knocked Annie to the floor again, her screams echoing in the room.
“Your choice, son. Tell me now, and Annie gets a shot that makes all her pain disappear for a while. Don’t tell me, and you may as well kick her yourself.”
Tears blurred his vision. This wasn’t fair. He wished he didn’t know anything. Wished they’d killed him instead of taking him prisoner.
Wished that Annie wasn’t his weak spot.
Lanche yanked the girl up by her hair again, and Evan dropped to the floor, defeated.
“Okay, I’ll tell you.”
The room was silent except for Annie’s panting breath.
“I . . . I only saw two guns. Barker had one, and Jenna had one.” Evan looked at the floor, because if he looked at the Colonel, he’d know it was a lie.
“You can leave, soldier,” Lanche said to the med tech, and Scar pushed the soldier out of the OCC, closing the door behind him.
Annie watched the chance of relief disappear as quickly as it had come.
“I’ll have someone take you back to the Tracks,” Lanche said to Annie, ignoring her tearstained face. “And Scar, you can do whatever you’d like with Evan, since he’s a lying piece of terrorist-supporting shit.”
Scar grinned at him, and Evan closed his eyes.