He moved closer, towering over me. “The Blackcoats need that file, Kitty.”

“And I need to get out of here before you decide I’m not worth the trouble and have me and Benjy killed,” I said. Shock flickered across his face, and his eyes widened as if he couldn’t believe I would ever think that poorly of him.

Good. Now he knew what it was like.

Knox’s expression quickly returned to a smooth mask of neutrality, and he stared at me. “You know I would never do that.”

“Do I? Because lately I’m not so sure. I’m a liability, remember?”

Silence settled over us for the better part of half a minute. Without responding, he flipped through the file, his gaze lingering on a picture of Benjy and me on his sixteenth birthday. I’d scooped a glob of green frosting from my piece of cake and wiped it onto the tip of his nose, and in retaliation, he’d kissed me, smearing some of it on my cheek. It was one of the most recent photographs in the collection.

“It’s a win-win situation for you,” I said. “Tell me what it says, and I’ll not only tell you where Daxton’s file is, but I’ll also be out of your hair permanently. You’ll never have to deal with me again.”

He sighed. “If this is because of what I said before—”

“This is because I have a right to make my own choices and know what’s going on in my own life, and I don’t trust you to tell me without incentive,” I said coolly.

“That’s not what I meant,” he said. “Why are you leaving, Kitty? You’re not only going to hurt yourself, but the rebellion, too. You’re no good to us locked in a bunker.”

“Apparently I’m no good to you anyway,” I said. “You don’t have to make this difficult, Knox. Just help me, and you’ll get your information. If you don’t want to, then I’ll have Benjy read the file to me instead, and the Blackcoats will never find Daxton’s folder without my help. I guarantee it. But one way or the other, I am leaving.”

He had no way of knowing that I had every intention of handing Daxton’s folder over to Sampson if he wouldn’t help me, but after all we’d been through, part of me desperately wanted to see a flicker of the old Knox again. The one who had believed I could be Lila when no one else would. The one who had treated me like I mattered.

His foot tapped impatiently, but at last he muttered, “Fine. All that’s in here are old report cards and progress reports from your matron.”

I exhaled. “Keep looking. There has to be something.”

Knox frowned, and his gaze shifted back to the pages inside the file. He flipped through them, reading the words I couldn’t. Page after page after page, with no flicker in his expression to give anything away. Slowly doubts began to creep into my mind. Maybe it was useless. Despite the obvious aging in several of the pictures and papers, maybe Augusta had found them after the fact and collected them inside the file.

Knox turned another page, and his foot stopped tapping. He stilled, and his eyes scanned the same document over and over. My heart leaped.

“What is it?” I said, craning my neck to try to see what he was looking at. A certificate of some sort—one with the official Hart seal on it. He pulled the file away before I could get a good look, but it wouldn’t have helped anyway. As always, the letters on the page looked like gibberish.

“Did anyone see you?” he said. The edge to his voice made me square my shoulders.

“Of course not. What does it say?”

He ignored my question. “Good. Now for the last time—where did you get this?”

“I’m not playing this game with you, Knox. What does that say?”

He slapped the folder down on the end table. “It’s the sad story of a girl who was born an Extra, got terrible grades in school, received a III after failing to complete her test, and then blew the opportunity of a lifetime to help not only herself, but the entire country just because she was too stubborn to cooperate. I don’t know how it ends, but at this point, I can virtually guarantee you that her sad life is going to be a short one if she keeps acting like this.”

“My sad life was always going to be a short one,” I said. “If you ever want Daxton’s file, you’re going to cut the bullshit and tell me what you read. Now.”

His eyes flickered to the left before locking on mine again. “A report on the operations they put you through to turn you into Lila. It took longer than I thought, that’s all. There’s nothing in there about why Augusta was watching you or why they chose you—just report cards and pictures.”

I set my jaw. He was lying. I’d never said anything about wanting to know why they’d chosen me to be Lila. I already knew the answer: our eyes were the same rare shade of blue. But with one slip of the tongue, Knox had told me there was more to it. And he had also told me I couldn’t trust him anymore.

We stood only inches apart, and he ducked his head, his lips brushing my ear. “Tell me where you got this, Kitty, before Daxton discovers it’s missing.”

“I’ll put it back,” I said.

“No, you won’t.” We both reached for the folder at the same time, but Knox, with his lightning-fast reflexes, snatched it up first. I glowered at him. “We both know you’re going to go straight to Benjy and make him read every page to you.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” I said. “If you’re telling the truth, then you don’t have anything to worry about.”


Tags: Aimee Carter The Blackcoat Rebellion Science Fiction
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