Pawn Page 32

’’She would have killed Benjy no matter what I\d decided,’’ said Knox. ’’You have to understand that. I thought you were going to go after Augusta, but when it became clear you weren\ ’’

’’You decided to give me some incentive?’’ I said, too drained to put much bite behind it. ’’If he\d died ’’

’’But I didn\ ,’’ said Benjy, holding me tighter. ’’I\m fine.’’

Knox cleared his throat. ’’I\m sorry. That\s all I wanted to say. I don\ expect you to understand, but Lila...’’

I looked away. If our positions had been reversed, if it had been Benjy bleeding to death and Lila whom Augusta threatened to kill, I would have done the same. That didn\ mean I would forgive Knox anytime soon though.

I took a deep breath. ’’Did Celia tell you ’’

’’About Daxton?’’ Knox nodded. ’’She\s having Lila moved to the bunker. We have doctors there, and once she\s healed...’’ He managed a self-deprecating smile. ’’It wasn\ exactly how I\d planned on keeping my word, but at least she\ll be free to do what she wants. So will Celia.’’

’’So they\ e really disappearing?’’ I said. My insides constricted. ’’I mean, that\s good for Lila. She\ll get to be happy. But Celia ’’

’’It\s the perfect opportunity for her to disappear and lead the Blackcoats full-time,’’ he said. ’’She hates this life, and she wants to spend more time with Lila now that she has her back. It\s for the best.’’

You\ e her now. Suddenly Celia\s words made sense. I hugged Benjy. ’’No. I\m not staying. I did my part, and Lila\s still alive. You don\ need me anymore.’’

Knox grimaced. ’’I\m sorry, Kitty. I wish you could go, too, but for now, we have a fantastic opportunity.

Everyone in Lila\s hospital room thought she was you.

Everyone thinks you\ e her. Lila doesn\ want to do this, but you ’’

’’You\ e going to make me stay.’’ It wasn\ a question, and I felt Benjy tense beside me. ’’Knox ’’

’’I promise you I promise both of you that I will fix this.’’ He crouched in front of us. ’’It kills me to do this when we\ve asked so much of you already, but we need you. The Blackcoats need you. The people need you.

Once it\s done, you have my word that you\ll be Kitty Doe again, and you\ll be free to do whatever you want on the Harts\ dime for the rest of your life.’’

I let out a shaky breath. I didn\ care about how Benjy and I would pay for our perfect life together I just wanted it to happen. I didn\ want to be Lila anymore.

But I wanted to help those people, too. Everyone who had heard me speak in New York, everyone who had been branded and oppressed, whose entire lives had been dictated by one test while others were able to coast by, receiving their marks because of the family they\d been born into and education lower ranks couldn\ afford it wasn\ fair. It wasn\ fair to the people, and it wasn\ fair to society.

I\d believed everything I\d said in my speech. I was one person, a III in a world that thought people like me were worthless. I could make a difference with this face, though. I would have a purpose. I couldn\ walk away from it now, no matter how badly I wanted to.

’’No one\s going to kill me when it\s over?’’ I said.

’’What happens if Daxton finds out? What happens if he remembers?’’

’’You\ll be safe,’’ said Knox. He set a hand on my knee, and beside me, Benjy huffed. ’’I promise no one will touch you. Not Daxton, not Celia, no one. They\ll have to kill me first.’’

’’Me, too,’’ said Benjy. I didn\ see the look he must have been giving Knox, but Knox removed his hand from my knee and straightened. ’’She\s my girlfriend, and I\ll protect her.’’

I frowned. ’’I don\ need anyone\s protection. No one else is going to die because of me, all right? I mean it.’’

I glared at Benjy. ’’Especially not you.’’

Benjy looked away, and I knew he wouldn\ listen. And when Knox shook his head, I knew he wouldn\ , either.

’’We\ll do what we have to do,’’ said Knox. ’’And I\ll do what I have to do to help you. For what it\s worth, you have my word.’’

I stared at the floor. This was the only purpose I had anymore, and I couldn\ live with myself if I walked away knowing I could have done something to help.

Just a little while longer, I told myself, and then Benjy and I would be free to live the rest of our lives in peace.

All I could do in the meantime was make sure he and Knox didn\ do anything stupid to protect me.

This time I would be Lila on my own terms. Not Daxton\s, not Celia\s. Not even Knox\s.

’’All right,’’ I said. ’’I\ll do it.’’

Benjy said nothing. This was my decision, though. He was a VI;he couldn\ understand. I\d only been a III for a day one miserable, rotten day and it had changed my entire life. No one deserved to have someone else control their future, and I wasn\ about to let my fear of Daxton dictate mine.

Knox smiled and took my hand. ’’Thank you,’’ he said.

’’For everything. You won\ regret this.’’

I wasn\ sure I believed him, but at least now I had the chance to choose my fate, and I would do whatever it took to make sure everyone else did, too.

Augusta\s funeral was held the day Daxton was well enough to leave the infirmary. It was my first public appearance with the family as Lila, and I slipped easily into the role.

No one told Daxton exactly how she had died, and he didn\ seem to care. Even though we were in public, he showed a stunning lack of emotion. And why wouldn\ he? Not only was he not her real son, but now he was free to run the entire country any way he pleased without a single person telling him what to do.

If I had anything to say about it, though, that wouldn\ last long.

The funeral was held in a cathedral with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. Spots of color appeared on the ground when the sun broke through the clouds, and it was breathtaking. Mourners filled the pews, none of them ranked below a V, and not a single one looked sincerely broken up over Augusta\s death. Plenty had crocodile tears in their eyes, but as we passed, their greedy looks and furtive smiles gave them away.

What was left of the family sat together in the front pew. Benjy was in the back with the others, leaving me to sit between Knox and Greyson, who had barely said a word to me since I\d killed Augusta.

As Daxton passed, he patted Greyson on the shoulder.

’’Such a shame, son,’’ he murmured, but even I could see the glint of malice in his eyes. As he walked away to take his place at the end of the pew, the look Greyson gave him sent a jolt down my spine.

Greyson knew he wasn\ Daxton.

I touched Greyson\s hand, but he pulled away, and a wave of guilt washed over me. ’’When did you find out?’’ I whispered.

He furrowed his brow. ’’You know?’’

I nodded. ’’I felt it when I...’’

A muscle in Greyson\s jaw twitched, and he leaned in close enough to put his lips against my ear. ’’The night my mother and brother died I stayed behind because I was working on a new project. It had nothing to do with China. My father...’’ His voice hitched. ’’He was in the car with them. Grandmother tried to pretend he had survived, but I knew.’’

Of course he knew. I\d been an idiot to think he wouldn\ have.

’’I\m sorry,’’ I said, and he looked away.

’’Don\ be. He\ll be lost without Grandmother, and it\ll only be a matter of time before it\s my turn.’’

’’That\s not what I meant,’’ I said softly, and he swallowed. As badly as I wanted his forgiveness, I knew it would be a long time before he was willing to give it. In the meantime, I\d do everything I could to make sure Greyson never had to be prime minister if he didn\ want to. If I was stuck as a Hart, then I was damn well going to make it count.

I\d spent the days before the funeral speaking into an audio recorder, and after waking up in a cold sweat when I dreamed of Augusta\s final moments again and again, I\d spent the nights doing the same. I created my own speeches, though none of them lived up to the one I\d given in New York. I talked about Celia and what had driven her to do the things she\d done;I spoke about the differences between the lives of those who weren\ in charge and the lives of those who were. I said the words that had been building up inside me, waiting for release, and even though it took days, I thought they were finally ready.

I would make an appearance in Denver later that week, Knox told me. And after listening to my latest speech, he\d agreed it would be the one I gave. It would be fitting, I thought, considering Denver was the city that would have been my home had I accepted my role as a III. At the very least, I could look out across the audience and know I meant more to them doing this than I would have cleaning sewers.

As the funeral began I squirmed on the pew, the lace of my black dress rubbing against my knees. Daxton was the one to give the eulogy, and the mourners and members of the media who filled the cathedral hung on his every word. To my disgust, he used Augusta\s eulogy as an excuse to talk about upholding her ideals. She\d wanted a world where everyone belonged, he said. Where no one wasted their lives. Where everyone had a purpose in society. Everyone was born equal and given a life where they would thrive, he claimed, but I knew that was a lie.

For now I had to be content with knowing that I would have my chance at a rebuttal later.

When it was over, we lined up at the exit to thank everyone for coming. I\d never attended a proper funeral before, so I did what everyone else did: I shook the hands of strangers, and I said how sorry I was that the woman I\d killed was gone. Knox had whispered thank you into my ear when the service ended, and Benjy had flashed me a small smile as he left the cathedral with the other VIs. But like Greyson, I wasn\ sure I would ever be able to forgive myself.

Once the line ended, we stood together in the entranceway, surrounded by guards while we waited to get into the limousine. With a tired look in his eyes, Daxton took my hands in his. He didn\ have the strength to do this, but he\d insisted.

’’As tragic as these events have been, I don\ want them to interfere with your wedding plans,’’ he said. ’’The end of the year is coming up quickly, and the country needs to move on. What better way than to see their beloved Lila happy?’’

I forced a smile. The wedding on New Year\s Eve. I\d nearly forgotten. ’’Of course.’’ I glanced at Knox standing a few feet away. He seemed to be listening to Greyson, but his head was tilted toward us. ’’Knox and I will finalize the plans.’’

’’That is wonderful to hear,’’ said Daxton, pulling me into a hug. The feel of his body against mine made my skin crawl, but I didn\ push him away. ’’I so very much hope this tragedy will bring us closer together, Lila.

Sometimes I feel I no longer know you.’’

There was something in his tone that made me shiver.

’’Things haven\ been easy lately,’’ I said. ’’You still know me, though.’’

As he pulled away, he touched the back of my neck, and his fingertips brushed against the three ridges underneath my skin.

I froze.

’’Yes,’’ he said. ’’It seems I do.’’

He remembered.

He remembered everything.

All the air left my lungs, and fear crashed through me, seizing control of my body. He knew. He knew, and I was as good as dead.

Without thinking, I stepped closer and slid my hand up his neck. He weakly pushed me away, but not before I felt the single V underneath his skin.

’’It seems I still know you, too,’’ I said, my heart pounding as we stared at each other. ’’I hear I\m not the only one, either.’’

Daxton stiffened. Whether he liked it or not, we both knew each other\s secrets, and he had two options: kill me and run the risk of being revealed as an impostor, or trust me with his secret like I trusted him with mine. I had no idea which one he\d take.

After several seconds, Knox cut through the crowd to join us. ’’Everything all right?’’ he said, and I widened my eyes innocently.

’’I\m not sure,’’ I said. ’’Is everything okay, Daxton?’’

He and Knox exchanged a look, and then an unforgiving smile curled across Daxton\s lips. ’’Everything\s fine, my dear. I\m tired, that\s all. Though it seems the car is ready for us now. Shall we?’’

Daxton offered me his arm, and I had no choice but to take it.


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