Mercer did as I said, setting a handgun on the desk before limping toward me. Despite his injuries, he never winced or took his eyes off me, and I didn’t dare look away.

“My brother warned me about underestimating you,” he said. “I was a fool not to listen to him.”

“A dead fool,” I said, and he chuckled.

“If you were going to kill me, you already would have, sweetheart. Which makes me wonder exactly what you plan on doing with me.”

“Holding you here until the Blackcoats arrive,” I said. “They can decide whether you live or die.”

“Lucky me.” His dark eyes glittered with amusement. “I’ve always hoped my executioner was a coward. It makes this so much easier.”

“I’m not a—” I began, but before I could finish, he lurched forward, grabbing the barrel of the gun and pushing it away from him. In my surprise, I pulled the trigger, and plaster dust exploded from the ceiling.

Mercer wrestled the weapon away from me and shoved me to the floor, and I landed hard on my back, all the air leaving my lungs. He stood above me, still holding in his organs as a maniacal smile danced across his face.

“I would say that this is going to be harder on me than it is on you, but that would be a lie,” he murmured, pointing the gun Scotia had given me straight at my head. I fumbled for the one I’d stolen from the guard, but in the scuffle, it had fallen out of my pocket and lay at Mercer’s feet. Perfect.

“You don’t have to kill me,” I said, swallowing my fear. This was the risk I’d taken, and it was worth it when it meant Benjy and Hannah and all those kids might live because of me. But it didn’t stop the terror of the unknown from infiltrating every corner of my being until I was frozen, unable to tear my stare away from his. “I’d make a good hostage. My life for yours—it’s a fair trade. The Blackcoats would take it.”

He snorted with laughter. “Are you still telling yourself that lie, sweetheart?”

“What lie?” My mouth went dry.

“The one where you really believe you’re Lila Hart.”

So he knew, then. In the few seconds of silence between us, I debated my options. I could admit it and point out that I was still valuable to the Blackcoats, or I could deny it and hope to hell it was enough to plant a seed of doubt.

Before I could say anything, however, he leaned over, and a trickle of blood from his abdomen dripped onto my shirt. “The Prime Minister told me everything. I know exactly who you are, Kitty Doe, and I know exactly what you’re worth to me. Nothing.”

“She means something to me,” said a voice, and my heart leaped. Hannah.

I craned my neck. She stood in the stretch of foyer between Mercer’s office and the cellar door, holding the guard’s rifle. Her swollen eye was purple now, but her other was wide-open and focused directly on Mercer.

He chuckled again, but there was a hint of nervousness in it. His grip shifted on the gun, and he set his finger on the trigger. “Hannah, my darling, don’t be silly. We both know you would never—”

The gunshot was so loud that for a moment, I went deaf. Above me, a tiny red hole blossomed in the middle of Mercer’s forehead, in the exact spot where he’d shot Scotia. His body went slack, and I rolled out of the way in time for him to come crashing down on the marble floor, close enough for me to feel the heat from his body.

His eyes stared at me, lifeless and empty, with his last unspoken word still on his lips. I stared back, too stunned to waste any witty remarks on a corpse.

“Come on,” said Hannah, and she was at my side in an instant, helping me to my feet. “We need to get out of here before the rebels find us.”

“No.” I stood, my legs trembling underneath me as adrenaline rushed through my system. Everything seemed brighter, and my pulse raced so fast that I thought my chest would burst. “I need to stay here. Knox and the Blackcoats—”

“They’ll kill us,” she said, and I shook my head.

“I’m one of them. They won’t hurt me.” But Hannah wouldn’t be so lucky. I glanced at the cellar door. “If they see you here—”

“I’m not going anywhere without you.” She leaned the rifle against the staircase and sat down in the center of the marble floor. “If you’re staying, so am I.”

I hesitated. The only way to guarantee her safety was to be there when the Blackcoats found her and tell them exactly what she’d done. At least this way she would have a fighting chance.

“Okay.” I tossed the remaining syringes aside and sat down beside her. “Thank you. For—” I swallowed hard and stared at the floor. I couldn’t say the words.

“He stopped meaning anything to me the minute he hurt you,” she said quietly, lacing her fingers through mine. “I’m just sorry I didn’t do it before.”

The image of Scotia and her smirk flashed through my mind, and I couldn’t help but feel the same way. “Still. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” said Hannah, and together we sat on the cold marble floor, waiting for the Blackcoats to find us.

XVII

VOICE

Fifteen minutes later, a group of soldiers flooded the entryway of Mercer Manor, guns drawn. For one terrifying moment, as the leader shoved the barrel of a high-powered assault weapon in my face, I thought they were going to shoot us.

“We’re unarmed,” I said, holding up my uninjured hand. “And we’re on your side.”


Tags: Aimee Carter The Blackcoat Rebellion Science Fiction
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