Forged Page 7

For a second, I thought I\d dreamed it all. The training. Natalia. Connor kissing me. Sam dying. But when I tried to sit up, every muscle in my body complained, and I recalled the dark room, cowering on the floor with Sam at my side. I remembered Sam getting shot in the head. I could still feel the weight of the other boy on top of me, telling me never to go back for someone. Lesson number one.

I looked around and saw Connor was in the room with me.

’’Hey,’’ he said.

’’Where am I?’’ I asked.

Connor sat forward. ’’You\ e back at the research facility.’’

’’What happened? Who took me?’’

’’No one took you,’’ Connor said. He lowered his voice, lowered his eyes. The mask was gone again. All the light drained from his eyes when he said, ’’It was a test, Dani, and you failed.’’

My stomach swam. ’’What? What does that mean?’’

’’It was a planned kidnapping on our part. To test your dedication and your emotional response to high-stress situations.’’

Immediately, tears burned in my eyes, and the tears turned to anger, and the anger into action.

Trust no one, Natalia had said. I didn\ realize she meant her own brother.

I swung my legs out of the bed. Connor moved as if to help me, but I stood on my own two feet, goddamn it, and smacked him across the face. ’’How could you?’’

His jaw clenched, and he bit back whatever his immediate response had been. He took several long seconds to compose himself, his eyes narrowed tight with frustration.

’’I had orders,’’ he said finally.

My knees wobbled. I wavered and nearly fell on my ass, but Connor acted quickly and had me in his arms before I hit the floor. He smelled like winter air and clean laundry, and I immediately liked the feel of his hands on my body again.

I pushed him away.

’’You\ e an asshole.’’ I sat on the bed again, swung my legs in, and tucked the blanket around me. I clearly wasn\ going anywhere, not without more rest, or more carbs, or both. I needed to save my energy.

’’What kind of test results in someone getting killed?’’ My voice wavered. ’’That guy killed Sam.’’

Connor looked out the door and flicked a finger. ’’Sam\s not dead, actually.’’

I snorted. ’’He was shot. Right in front of me, I might add.’’

’’Yes, that guy died. But Sam didn\ .’’

I frowned and tried to come up with an alternate explanation and had none.

The door opened, and the boy the handsome one who had killed Sam stepped inside.

’’This,’’ Connor said, gesturing at the young man, ’’is Sam.’’

My mouth dropped open as my brain tried to process.

’’But...that other guy,’’ I began, and Connor cut me off.

’’He was a stand-in. Part of the test. His name was Ian. He was a heroin addict. We promised to supply him with all the drugs he wanted as long as he was sober when we needed him to be.’’

My mouth worked but nothing came out.

’’If you ask me,’’ he went on, ’’he was a poor actor. Not at all like the real Sam.’’

Sam the real Sam looked down at me. I thought I saw a flicker of pity, or maybe concern, cross his face, but if I had, it disappeared quickly.

’’You killed him,’’ I said, my voice barely above a squeak. ’’Just like that.’’

Sam\s jaw tightened, and he leveled me with a blank stare. ’’That kid tripped you on purpose. To leave you behind as bait. He deserves none of your sympathy. None at all.’’

The room grew tangled with the complexity of the situation and the emotions that went with it.

Had Sam or Ian or whoever he was tripped me purposefully? Or had it been an accident?

Connor was the first to break the silence. ’’How did she do, Sam?’’ He sounded genuinely interested in Sam\s assessment.

’’She\s still fueled by too much emotion and too many attachments, both of which can jeopardize an assignment.’’ He held his hands behind his back. ’’She needs to break all of that if she wants to get anywhere.’’

I could read between the lines. What he didn\ say was: We are expendable. If one of us was caught on an assignment, everyone else was to leave that person behind. That message was loud and clear.

This boy this cold, unblinking, handsome boy, who\d killed someone in front of me had been more straightforward with me than anyone else here. I didn\ like him or his attitude, but I could respect the honesty.

’’I don\ even know what this means,’’ I said after a beat. ’’What exactly am I doing here? Why do I need to learn a lesson like that?’’

’’So you can become the best weapon of all,’’ Connor answered.

With a nod to Connor, Sam left the room, and as soon as the door clicked shut, I lost control of the tears welling in my eyes. Several streaked down my face as I turned to Connor, no longer worried about showing him how fearless I could be. I wasn\ fearless. I wasn\ strong. I wasn\ strong at all.

’’I don\ want to do this,’’ I said. ’’I want to go home.’’

He reached over and pushed a lock of hair out of my face. I shrank away from his touch.

’’Dani,’’ he said quietly, ’’it\s too late for that.’’

And then he was gone.


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