I slipped through the nearest open door, into a dark sitting room meant for guests of the Prime Minister. Squinting, I peered into the corners, and relief washed over me when I spotted a vent.

Within seconds, I climbed onto an end table and pulled myself up. I had memorized the ventilation system when I’d first moved into Somerset, and it was only two quick turns to Daxton’s private living quarters.

I stilled, listening for any signs of life. In the distance, I picked up a soft murmur, but it was too far away for me to make out. Fear prickled in the base of my spine. If Daxton had caught Knox trying to replace my file...

Crawling as quickly as I dared, I made my way from room to room, searching for the source of the conversation. His bedroom and sitting rooms were empty; the same with his multiple guest rooms. At last I came to his office, and with a sinking heart, I situated myself over the vent. Two voices rose up to meet me: Daxton’s and Knox’s.

“...don’t care,” said Daxton, his tone clipped with annoyance. “I’ve given you far more chances than you deserve.”

“I’m not asking for another chance,” said Knox. His voice cracked, and he sounded like a cornered animal. “I’m asking you to look at the facts.”

“I am,” said Daxton, “and what I see is a long list of reasons why I should stop putting up with this foolishness. The files are only the beginning. My patience is wearing thin, Lennox, and though I am a peace-loving man, there are some things not even I can tolerate.”

Silence. I held my breath, waiting for Knox to respond, but instead something shifted through the grates. Daxton stood directly below me, his hands clasped behind his back. He was fully dressed, even though it had to be well into the small hours of the morning by now.

“This is my final offer. Take it or leave it, Lennox. I am no longer interested in babysitting, and she must be detained.”

She. My blood ran cold. They weren’t talking about Knox—they were talking about me.

“And what happens if I don’t take it?” said Knox. I began to slide backward. Detained meant one of two things: it meant Elsewhere, or it meant death. And Knox had promised me months ago that he would kill me before he would let Daxton send me to be hunted by the very VIs who would have happily watched Lila burn.

“You know what happens then,” said Daxton, his voice fading. I didn’t care. I had to get back to Benjy before they found me, and we had to leave. Free or not, I had every intention of waking up the next morning as alive as I was today.

Once I’d cleared the office, I didn’t bother trying to keep quiet. I crawled as fast as I could back to the sitting room, where I dropped to the floor and raced into the hallway. I took the corners half blind and oblivious, but once I was clear of Daxton’s wing, the guards were at a minimum.

I reached my suite in record time. Bursting inside, I grabbed the duffel bag from underneath the sink and ran back into the hallway. I tried the knob to Knox’s suite, but it was locked. Swearing, I fumbled with my necklace, yanking the chain over my head. My fingers trembled, but I managed to unfold the lock pick and make quick work of it.

I nudged open the door and tugged the necklace back around my neck. Benjy had to be packed by now. If he’d stuffed his bag full of books instead of clothes—

I stopped cold. Benjy stood in the middle of the room, but he wasn’t alone. Knox stood beside him, and at first glance, it looked completely innocent. Benjy was pale and his shoulders hunched defensively, however, and his expression silently begged me to turn around and run. I opened my mouth to say something, but instead I spotted the glint of steel pressed against Benjy’s spine, and my stomach nearly turned inside out.

“Knox—what—” I began, but a cold hand settled on my shoulder, and I froze.

“Hello, my dear,” said Daxton, and my throat swelled. Shit. Shit shit shit.

“What’s going on?” I managed to force out. “Is everything okay?”

“You know it isn’t, Lila,” he said, tracing the three ridges on the back of my neck. “Tell me where you put the file.”

“What—what file?” I locked eyes with Benjy, and my heart raced. It would be okay. It had to be okay. This was not going to be the end.

“You know exactly what file I’m talking about,” said Daxton. “Guards—check her bag and search her suite.”

Half a dozen guards appeared from the fringes of the room, and while five of them marched out into the hallway, the last one ripped through my bag. Jewelry glittering with diamonds spilled from the pockets, along with the clothes I’d stuffed inside. My airway threatened to close up. That alone was worth an arrest.

“Knox, tell him it wasn’t me,” I said, but he didn’t move. “Knox.”

“He won’t lie for you,” said Daxton. “Tell me the truth, Lila.”

I searched Knox’s expression for any sign he had a plan, but instead he held my stare blankly, as much of a challenge as it was a surrender. There wasn’t a plan. This was it. We were the pawns, and Knox was making the necessary sacrifices to win the game.

Screw the game. If he wanted to play, then I’d play. “Knox stole that file, not me,” I spat. “He’s hiding the one on you, too. How do you think he got the first one? Do you really think I’d willingly hand it over to him?”

“Yes,” said Daxton smoothly, “because that is exactly what you did. Will you be honest with me, Lila, or do I have to bleed it out of you?”

Tags: Aimee Carter The Blackcoat Rebellion Science Fiction
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