I wouldn’t just kill Knox, I decided. I would take out the Mercers, too—and Scotia, and Williams and the weedy guard, and everyone else who dared to build up their authority on the deaths of others. I would burn Elsewhere to the ground if that’s what it took to help these people. I might have still looked like Lila Hart on the outside, but it was time to be Kitty Doe on the inside. It was time to remember who I was and once again find the courage it took to face this kind of brutality day in and day out, and somehow still make it out alive.
But never, not even on the Shields’ worst days, had I ever seen anything like this on the streets of D.C. No matter how hard I tried to prepare myself for whatever tomorrow had in store for me, I knew nothing in my experience could even begin to compare. And facing that bleak unknown was more terrifying than any disgruntled guard with a gun could ever be.
Over an hour after everyone else had fallen asleep, the curtain rustled. I squinted, and cloaked by darkness, Scotia slipped out of her room, her boots silent against the stone floor.
With stealth I would have found impressive if I hadn’t hated her so much, she opened the door and exited the bunkhouse, leaving a swirl of icy air and snow in her wake. Without hesitating, I sat up and shoved my feet into my boots, remembering to grab my coat this time. I wasn’t nearly as quiet as she was, but with everyone asleep, I had no reason to care.
By the time I slipped outside, she was halfway down the block, her head bent and hands shoved into her pockets. She walked as if she knew she had nothing to worry about, not bothering to keep to the shadows or mute the crunch of snow and ice with every step she took. And why would she, when she was so favored that not even the guards dared to disturb her privacy?
I made sure to fall into the rhythm of her gait, in case she could hear my footsteps as well as I could hear hers. Unlike Scotia, I stuck to the shadows, wishing I were wearing anything but red so I could blend in easier. But we passed no guards, and Scotia never looked over her shoulder, not even when she stopped beside a metal gate that blocked the winding drive leading up to Mercer Manor.
I crouched behind the corner of a building as Scotia waited, in plain sight of anyone who happened to pass by. Mercer Manor loomed only a few hundred feet away, a stark contrast to the other buildings around it even in the darkness. Scotia tapped her foot impatiently, and half a minute later, she huffed with indignation. Whoever she was supposed to meet was late.
Another set of footsteps echoed through the quiet street, and a tall figure approached, walking down the drive. When he stepped underneath the lamp secured on top of the gate, the light illuminated his features, and I raised an eyebrow. Mercer.
“You’re late,” said Scotia, annoyed. “You know it’s freezing out here.”
“I’m sure I could figure out some way to keep you warm,” he said, sliding his arms around her waist. “How are you, my dear?”
“Your goons killed another one of my girls tonight.” Despite the anger in her tone, she looped her arms around his neck, pressing her body against his. “I’d appreciate it if you told them to leave us alone.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, darling,” said Mercer, and he nuzzled her cheek. I made a face. “If someone breaks a rule, my hands are tied.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” she said, and he chuckled.
“Yes, I suppose. But I also suspect she did something to deserve it, did she not?”
Scotia grumbled. “Williams caught her with contraband. The Hart girl opened her big mouth and tried to stop her arrest, and since Williams couldn’t take it out on her, he took it out on Chelsea instead.”
Mercer clucked his tongue disapprovingly. “She’ll settle in quickly enough.”
“In the meantime, I’m not her babysitter,” said Scotia. “Give her to someone else.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, my dear,” he said, brushing snow from her cheek with one gloved hand. “No one else could protect her the way you do. I heard what you did this afternoon.”
Scotia stamped her feet. “It was nothing. Just pulled a few girls off her. You didn’t have to kill that girl in the cage tonight. She earned her freedom.”
“My dear, no one earns their freedom here.” He tried to kiss her, but she turned her head. “Isabel, darling, don’t be like that. I had no choice, and you know it.”
“You could’ve sent her to another zone,” said Scotia, an edge to her voice that hadn’t been there before. “You didn’t have to murder her in cold blood.”
“I have my orders, as you very well know,” he said. “I had to make an example of her. I’ll have to do the same to anyone else who attacks Lila, so if you’d rather I not have any more blood on my hands, then I would suggest doing your job and watching her back.”
She muttered something I couldn’t hear, and Mercer sighed.
“If I told you I brought you a present, would that make it any better?” he said, releasing her. Instead of storming off, Scotia stayed where she was, crossing her arms.
Mercer pulled off his gloves and slid his hand into his pocket, retrieving something I couldn’t make out. I leaned forward and squinted. Light from the lamp reflected off a small silver disk that dangled from a chain, and my mouth dropped open. My necklace. Mercer was giving her my necklace.
“Here you go,” he said, and he fastened it around her neck. “Something for you to remember me on those cold, lonely nights.”