Authors: Melissa Wright
It took immeasurable strength not to respond to her words, not to allow myself to envision what they’d been going through, what had happened to her and to Brianna.
I forced myself to remain composed, voice steady. “Can you tell me what, exactly?”
“There were a few things”—she hesitated, looked away—“from my mother.”
“What about your sister, Emily? Was there anything in that bag that linked you to her?”
A sick horror crossed her face. “Why? What… do you mean they’ll go after her?”
“No. No, I told you she was safe.”
Emily was bolt upright now, her blanket gathered in her lap as if she meant to run for Brianna that very instant. To save her.
I reached across the table to stop her, but dropped my hand before it got halfway. “They can’t get to her now,” I explained. “They don’t know where she’s at.”
She relaxed a fraction. “Then why? What are you asking me?”
I sighed. “They’ll come after you. To use you against her.”
Her face went pale. “There’s a photo of us. And some paperwork. It won’t be a question.”
Her words hung between us for a long while as she waited for me to reply, to tell her everything would be okay, but I couldn’t.
“What will they do?” she finally asked.
I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter.”
Emily was suddenly standing. “How will they use me against her? What will they do?”
Once more, I resisted the impulse to reach out to her. Instead, I gave her what truth I could. “They would… use you. To draw her out.”
Emily seemed to deflate as the vehemence left her. She’d seen me strung up, no doubt seen the blade threatening me. She was smart enough to imagine what their “use” of her would entail. She’d be wrong, though. The Council—Morgan—they would do much, much worse.
But she could imagine.
“It doesn’t matter,” I repeated. “They won’t get to you. And Brianna is safe.” I gestured toward the bed. “You should get some sleep, we shouldn’t stay here too long.”
She stared at me for two full minutes before finally glancing at the bed. I had no idea what was going through her mind, but it wasn’t the need for rest. She sat again in the chair and pulled the thin, faded-blue blanket tight against her cheeks. The bottom half of her face was buried as she simply stared across the otherwise empty room toward the only door.
In hopes that she would eventually give in, I clicked the lamp off, leaving the room with only the dim light filtering through the curtains, and then spun the very uncomfortable chair in which I sat around, kicked my feet up on the bedside table, and tilted my head back against my laced fingers. I closed my eyes to the stained plaster ceiling, but I had no intention of sleeping. Emily needed to rest. We would be running again in the morning, and whether Morgan’s men found us or not, it wasn’t going to be easy.
It was more than an hour later when she spoke again, this time her words barely above a whisper.
“I know you didn’t kidnap her.”
When I didn’t reply, she went on.
“I saw her leave with you. I just… I just couldn’t believe she would go like that, that she would leave without saying anything…”
Emily was struggling, and I didn’t need her admission, but I let her go on. Because she needed it.
“I knew something was wrong,” she said, “I couldn’t get her to tell me. She was always like that, though. Always keeping things from me, so I wouldn’t get upset. Always pretending everything was fine. But she just left…”
She was questioning now, and I could give her that answer at least. “She wanted to keep you safe.”
Her low voice came tremulous now from the darkness. “From who?”
“Morgan,” I said.
She repeated the name, as if committing it to memory.
“He wants your sister.”
There was a long silence as she built up the courage to ask, “For what?”
I sighed. “You won’t believe me. It’s more of that crazy person stuff.”
She didn’t question me again, didn’t demand that I tell her, didn’t try to convince me she would believe, and I felt oddly that she’d accepted that answer. Accepted it much too easily.
And then I wondered instead if she was just imagining what crazy people did with their hostages.
“He won’t hurt her,” I said. “I promise you that. He needs her alive.”
Emily swallowed hard, but she didn’t sob.
The room fell silent again and eventually, after a very long while, her breathing became even and subdued.
I finally relaxed. It was the first time in days.
Sunrise was still hours away when the metallic tick of a key meeting the lock echoed across the room. I leapt to my feet; we had only seconds before they would see us. I reached for Emily, meaning to cover her mouth and sweep her from the chair, but she was already standing, apparently too on edge for real sleep. Her eyes were wide in the darkness and I was struck again by the resemblance to her sister.
The key turned and I grabbed Emily’s wrist. I’d secured the door, but they would see in soon enough, and I didn’t want them to know how close they’d gotten.
I slipped through the window first, perching awkwardly on the thin metal framework that surrounded it as I pulled Emily through behind me. She automatically began to climb down, but I stopped her. She glanced at my grip on her arm and then back at me questioningly. I shook my head and pointed up. It was hard to tell in the dim light of the distant street lamps, but I was pretty sure her face went pale.
I stood, releasing her arm to climb higher, and trusted that she would follow. Paint cracked beneath my fingers on the wrought iron, flaking down to the alley below. Seven flights. Eight. I looked back for Emily.
Her hands were shaking as she reached above her head for another piece of railing. She froze when the solid thud of someone shouldering into an old wood door sounded below. In our room.
“Faster,” I whispered, wincing at my shoulder as I reached again for the balustrade overhead. We had three more stories before they were to the window. And only moments after that before they realized we weren’t on the street below. If we could make it, we’d be safe.
A quiet gasp and the squeak of rubber against metal seemed to fracture the air and I pushed away from the wall to see Emily hanging by a tenuous handhold while her feet dangled beneath her. I started to shuffle back down but she regained her footing and pulled herself once more to the relative safety of the railing.
I watched her climb until she was only two flights from the roof.
The railing didn’t reach far enough, so I clung to the block where I could find dips, edges, anything to grip, but I was barely able to secure my footing. The last few feet were a credit to the soles of my shoes and sheer luck, and I knew Emily wouldn’t be able to follow on her own. As soon as I had hold of the ledge, I looked for her, and for the window below.
Emily was a flight down, still climbing.
A dark shape leaned from the window of our room.
I pulled myself up silently, and immediately hooked my foot behind a roof vent to lean back over the ledge. Emily was frantically searching the wall for her next handhold and I reached out, motioning for her to take my hand. Her expression went incredulous for one moment, and then, as if remembering why we were scaling a twelve-story building, she looked for the window below.
Her chest was heaving when she looked up at me again. I couldn’t say that I blamed her. She was eleven and half stories up, barely hanging on by less than sturdy decorative railings, and the man below us wanted to kill her. I wished I could say her name. Distract her. Something. But all I could do was offer my hand, tell her with my eyes it would be okay.
She stared at my outstretched hand, completely immobilized with fear. Her knuckles were white, and no doubt her bloodless fingers would give in soon. Her eyes moved to meet mine, and I could see the reluctant reasoning she was doing in her stare.
She would have to trust me.
Below her, the man looked up. I didn’t move my gaze from Emily’s, only held my hand steady, willing her to take it.
The man climbed onto the ledge outside our window and the old wrought iron creaked. A silent gasp registered on Emily’s face, but I couldn’t stop her from looking down.
.” My whisper was harsh, demanding, and fell upon deaf ears.
The man reached for the balustrade above his head, and began to heft himself toward us.
I repeated her name, this time above a whisper. I didn’t suppose it mattered now.
Emily looked back to me, and it was as if all the emotion I’d expected from her through our entire ordeal, all of the natural responses I’d been denied, hit her in that one moment.
“Take my hand,” I said levelly.
She swallowed hard. Her eyes stayed on me as she concentrated on uncurling her fingers from the grip she had on the railing. The metal below creaked in a way it had not with our weight as the man progressed upward. I nodded as Emily forced one finger at a time free from their fossilized positions.
When she finally reached a trembling hand for mine, my chest began to unknot. I almost had her. We would make it. All that was left was to get her within my grip, pull her to the roof, and…
The creak of metal was different this time, somehow final. It cut through my thoughts just before it erupted into more: a metallic groan and crack, then clinks, then the heavy thud of weighted flesh slamming repeatedly against rail and block and…
“No.” I tried to hold Emily’s gaze, tried to force her to stay with me instead of looking down, to reach those few extra inches and take my hand. But she didn’t.
It was poor timing to say the least. A sickening, wet thwump was followed by only the echo of clanging metal as the piece that gave landed beside the broken body on the alley floor, and then bounced a few times before settling to its own death.
“Emily,” I repeated, surprised that my tone so resembled begging, “please.”
She was panting now, a kind of noiseless, heaving panic taken over when she looked back to me. But that didn’t scare me as much as the tears.
“Take my hand,” I said. “Take my hand and it will all be okay.”
Her face twisted in disbelief, horror. How could it ever be okay?
“You’ll be safe. Just take my hand and you will be safe.”
Don’t think about the bloody bits of man below you. Don’t think about it. Take my hand.
She reached for me again, and I wondered if my sway had finally worked, if I’d finally gotten through to her. Her palm was slick with sweat, but I’d have to do with the grip I had. There was no way I could trust my other shoulder, my recently broken shoulder, to pull her up.
We stared at each other for a long moment while she convinced herself to let go with her other hand.
“I’ve got you, Emily.” I nodded. “Let go, use your feet against the building and grab hold of my arm.”
Her eyes closed in one long blink, and when she opened them, the rest of her weight pulled against our connected hands. Her other palm smacked against my forearm and clung an instant before her right sneaker slipped from its brace on the bricks. As she dangled there, the terror in her expression was suddenly gone, and determination took its place.
She found her footing again, gritted her teeth, and pushed upward as I pulled, both of us struggling to bring her to the safety of the roof. There was a fleeting moment of mindless scrabbling at the ledge, and then she was over, rushing forward as I got to my feet, and I dragged her away from the edge and into my arms out of reflex, pulling her body close to mine.
I’d like to think she shared in the instant of joy and utter relief, but after some brief, unnamed time, I suddenly realized her body had gone rigid. And that I was hugging her.
I slowly relaxed my arms and stepped back. “I… I’m sorry.” Why was I apologizing?
Emily stared blankly at me and I wanted badly for her to say something. Anything.
She went pale and leaned forward as if to heave, started toward the ledge with that intent, and then appeared to remember what was below.
She swallowed hard, and I fought the urge not to laugh in a strange surge of hysteria. She would just not be sick, then. I shook my head. My chest finally allowed me a full, deep breath, and I took it gratefully.
Given that our pursuer lay smashed at the bottom of the building, we weren’t in such a dire hurry as we had been. But I had no desire to be on the rooftop when the police showed up, if anyone had actually noticed the commotion. As soon as Emily had gathered herself enough to move, I helped her cross to the empty building three rooftops over.
There were no real gaps between the buildings, so it wasn’t as if she had to leap across, but Emily couldn’t stop glancing nervously down.
“Do you need to rest for a minute?” I asked as we approached the structure that housed the access door on the last roof.
She shook her head. “Just get me down.”