“I will kick you again,” I said, squinting against the brightness.

“Still not an answer.”

I scowled. “What do you think I’m doing? I’m coming with you.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.”

His eyes narrowed, and for a long moment, we stood face-to-face, both waiting for the other to back down. Neither of us did.

“Do you understand how delicate this situation is?” said Knox. “If you and your aversion to obedience say the wrong word to the wrong person—”

“Maybe if you stopped acting like I’m an untrained dog and started treating me like a person who’s as much a part of this as you are, I’d stop pulling against your invisible leash,” I said. “I have every right to be there, and you know it. If you keep acting like I’m a liability—”

“I wouldn’t if you stopped being a liability.”

“—then I’ll leave,” I finished, ignoring him. “If I can’t work with the Blackcoats, then I don’t have any reason to be here anymore.”

“Oh?” Knox arched an eyebrow. “And where would you go?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m here because you asked me to be part of this, and I agreed, because it is the right thing to do. But this—leaving me behind, treating me like I’m incapable of making a right move without you—this isn’t what I signed up for. If you don’t let me go to that meeting, then I’ll disappear. I don’t care how many Shields you have searching for me. Scour the entire country. You will never find me.”

His brow furrowed, and a muscle in his jaw twitched. “I asked you to stay because I thought you’d cooperate and help us. The more time I spend chasing after you and cleaning up your messes, the less time I have to focus on the rebellion. Do you understand?”

“The more you treat me like a child, the more likely I’ll be to act like one,” I said calmly, keeping a tight rein on the anger boiling inside me. I wasn’t about to give him any reason to dismiss me. “Do you understand?”

He narrowed his eyes. “Fine. You start behaving, and I’ll start trusting you.”

“Good. Now let go of me.”

Knox released my wrist, and I rubbed it, hoping it didn’t bruise. Purple would be hard to hide against Lila’s porcelain skin.

“Come on, we’re going to be late,” he said, and he led me down the dirt tunnel, the beam of light swinging with each hurried step. “Celia and Lila are supposed to be there tonight, which means you have to watch what you say, all right?”

“Watch what I say about what?” I said, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other without stumbling.

“They still don’t know Daxton’s an impostor,” he said. “No one does.”

I blinked. “Wait—you mean you haven’t told any of the Blackcoats?”

“Of course not. One of them will inevitably leak the information to Celia, and as soon as she finds out, she’ll storm Somerset and throw our entire plan into jeopardy.”

I frowned. Celia, Lila’s mother and Daxton’s sister, was the reason so much of this had happened in the first place. After Daxton had brutally executed her husband, she’d created the Blackcoats, an underground army bent on seeing the Harts stripped of their power and the ranking system abolished for good in favor of the democracy on which America had been built. In the process, she’d used her only daughter, Lila, to captivate the crowds and ensure even more support from the higher ranks for her rebellion. Lila had been reluctant, though, and as the target on her back grew and word of her impending assassination reached their ears, she and Knox had formed a plan: fake her death and hide her underground, where Daxton would never find her. No one else, not even Celia, had known.

The only thing they hadn’t counted on was Daxton having someone else Masked to take Lila’s place—me. And as soon as they discovered what had happened, my education about the real horrors of the country had begun. They’d involved me in the Blackcoats’ plans ever since, and like hell was I giving up my chance to make a difference just because Knox said so.

But Knox had kept Celia in the dark about nearly everything. Even she hadn’t known about her daughter still being alive until she had kidnapped Greyson, Daxton’s son, in an attempt at retribution. She’d never wanted to harm him, but the Harts hadn’t known that, and in the process of rescuing him, they thought they’d killed Celia—and me, for that matter. Luckily for both of us, we’d survived.

While I had agreed to take Lila’s place on a more permanent basis, however, Celia had been forced underground. Not that I thought she minded, but Knox was right: if she found out Daxton wasn’t really Daxton after all and she—or Greyson—should have been ruling the country instead, she would have unleashed the Blackcoats on Somerset without a second thought. Or a cohesive plan in place.

“We have to tell Sampson and the others eventually,” I said. “If they know, maybe they can strategize—”

“It won’t matter,” said Knox as we reached the metal door that opened up to an abandoned alleyway. “They could try to out him, but the media is in Daxton’s pocket. Anyone who went to press with the news would be labeled a traitor and executed before sundown. No one should have to make that sacrifice for nothing.”

The cold December night made me shiver, even with Benjy’s jacket. But it wasn’t far to the bunker, and I hugged myself and toughed out the chill. “The Blackcoats don’t have contacts in the media?”

Tags: Aimee Carter The Blackcoat Rebellion Science Fiction
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