The black Land Rovers roared down dark London streets. Stopping for nothing and nobody, they hurtled across the crowded metropolis, thundering through red lights, tearing over intersections.
Alone in the back seat of one of them, Allie Sheridan stared out the window without seeing anything. Her eyes were red and sore from crying.
She couldn’t stop remembering Carter alone in the dark street, fists raised. Nathaniel’s guards swarming.
He got away, she assured herself for the thousandth time. Somehow. He got away.
But in her heart she knew it wasn’t true.
It all made sense now. Jerry Cole told her to take someone she trusted to the parley. And now she knew why.
Take someone you trust so Nathaniel can take him away from you.
Take someone you trust so Nathaniel can kill him. Like he killed Jo.
Tugging hopelessly at the unyielding door handle, she stifled a sob. She couldn’t get out. Couldn’t go back to him. The doors were locked through a central system.
This car was a prison.
She’d tried fighting, begging, weeping… the men in the front seats were unmoved. They were under orders to bring her back to Cimmeria. And that’s what they were going to do.
Frustration raged inside her. She struck the door hard with her fist.
The vehicle careened around a corner with a screech of tyres, throwing her to one side.
As she scrabbled for the safety handle, the guard in the front passenger seat turned to look at her.
‘Put your seatbelt on, miss. This is dangerous.’
She glared at him balefully.
I watched my own grandmother die five hours ago, she thought of saying. And you’re telling me this is dangerous?
At the thought of Lucinda, everything that had happened that night seemed to hit her at once. The sour taste of bile filled her mouth. She lunged instinctively for the window, but that was locked, too.
‘I’m going to be sick,’ she muttered.
The guard said something to the driver. The window rolled down with a smooth, mechanical whirr.
Cool air flowed in.
Allie stuck her head out of the car, inhaling deeply. Her hair flew around her face in a tangled cloud.
Now that it was OK to vomit, though, she couldn’t seem to. Still, she stayed where she was, resting her clammy forehead on the cool metal of the window frame and taking deep, steadying breaths.
The air had that city smell of exhaust and concrete. Vaguely, she considered climbing out and jumping to freedom, but they were moving too fast for her to be certain she’d survive.
She was so tired. Her whole body ached. Her scalp burned where one of Nathaniel’s goons had pulled out a clump of hair. Blood had coagulated on her face and neck, tightening her skin unpleasantly.
In her mind she went through the evening’s catastrophic events step by step.
The plan had been simple. Meet Nathaniel for a peaceful parley on the neutral ground of Hampstead Heath. Hand over his spy, Jerry Cole. In exchange, Nathaniel would back off long enough for the Cimmeria leaders to regroup.
But then Jerry had a gun. And the night had spun out into an awful chaotic maelstrom of violence. In the midst of it, Lucinda collapsed, blood pouring from a gunshot wound.
Allie shook her head, still puzzled by what she’d seen.
Nathaniel had been in tears. Trying desperately to save her grandmother.
Until that moment she’d thought he hated Lucinda. But she’d never seen anyone more heartbroken.
She could still hear his tormented voice in her head, pleading with her grandmother. ‘Don’t leave me, Lucinda…’
Almost like he loved her.
But she had left him. She’d left all of them.
Now, all Allie knew was that she didn’t understand Nathaniel at all.
If he didn’t hate Lucinda, why was he fighting her in the first place?
What does he really want?
Letting go of the door, Allie leaned back against the tan leather seat. The guard in the front passenger seat turned to look at her.
She levelled a silent glare at him.
After a second, he shrugged and turned back around.
Next to her, the window closed.
They gained speed as they pulled on to a motorway, desolate at this hour. They were nearing the city limits. Behind them London was a canopy of light. Ahead, the English countryside lay shrouded in darkness.
Allie’s chest tightened around her heart. She was so far from Carter now. God knew what was happening to him.
A tear traced a line down her cheek; she reached up to brush it away. Her hand never reached her face.
A bone-jarring jolt threw her off balance. Before she could react, the vehicle swerved wildly, hurling her across the back seat. She slammed into the window with such force she saw stars.
She never had put that seatbelt on.
‘What’s going on?’ Her voice sounded far away; her head rang from the blow.
No one replied.
Pulling herself up, Allie saw the driver wrestling with the steering wheel. The guard was talking into a microphone, his voice low but tense.
She looked around to try and see what had happened but all she could see was darkness and headlights.
The driver swore and spun the wheel. ‘Goddammit. Where are they coming from?’
Allie was clinging to the door handle, but the sheer force of the turn threw her against the door so hard her breath hissed through her teeth from the pain.
‘What is going on?’ she demanded again, louder this time.
Without waiting for an answer, she reached over her shoulder for the seatbelt and strapped herself in, latching it with a metallic click.