Vengeful (Page 14)

She sank to her knees when he was gone, bowing her head against the bars.

A memory washed over her, of that night. Of Serena’s voice in her ear, telling her not to run, of the way Sydney’s mind had gone smooth, her limbs soft under the order. Of the cold parking garage, and the gun against her head. Of the long pause, and then her sister’s order—to go. To find somewhere safe. Somewhere, which had once been some-one. Victor.

But Victor—

Some part of her had known.

Had to have known.

Sydney felt like she was going to scream. Instead, she left. Took the fire escape two stairs at a time, didn’t even care about the way her steps rattled as she crashed down floor after floor.

She hit the street and kept going.

One block, three blocks, five—Sydney didn’t know where she was going, only that she couldn’t turn around. Couldn’t look Victor in the eyes.

She drew her cell from her back pocket and dialed June. They’d been texting for almost a year, exchanging small notes, anecdotes about where they were, what they were doing, but Syd had never called.

The phone rang, and rang, and rang.

But no one answered.

Sydney’s steps slowed, the initial wave of shock settling into something heavier. She looked around. She was on a narrow street, not an alley exactly, but not a main road, either. People said cities didn’t sleep, but they did get quiet. And dark.

Turn around, said a voice in her head, but it sounded like Victor, so Sydney kept going.

Which was a mistake.

The thing about mistakes was that they weren’t always big, or obvious. Sometimes they were simple. Small. The decision to keep walking. The turn left instead of right. Those few extra steps in the wrong direction.

Sydney was trying to call June again when she saw them—two men. One wearing a black leather jacket, the other with a kerchief slung around his throat.

She stopped walking, caught between turning around, which would mean putting her back to the men up ahead, or continuing forward, which would mean passing within arm’s reach. They hadn’t noticed her, at first, or at least they’d pretended not to, but now they looked at her and smiled.

The men didn’t look dangerous, not like in the movies Syd watched with Mitch, but she knew that meant nothing—everyone who’d ever hurt her had looked safe. And the longer she stayed put, the more she felt the badness wafting off them like cheap cologne. Something she could smell and taste.

“Hey, little girl,” said one, moving toward her. “You lost?”

“No,” said Sydney. “And I’m not a little girl.”

“Different time we’re living in,” said the second. “They grow up so fast.”

Syd didn’t know how they’d gotten so close to her, so quickly, but as she shuffled backward, turned to go, a hand caught her collar. The guy in the leather jacket wrenched her back against him, one arm wrapped around her shoulders. “Aw, now, don’t be rude.”

“Get off me,” she snarled, but he was squeezing too hard, and she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. She felt something hard dig into her ribs, realized it was a gun. She twisted in his grip, trying to grab it.

“Careful,” said the other one, closing in. “She’s got spirit.”

Syd tried to kick out at the other guy but he jumped back, wagging his finger. Her fingers skimmed the gun, but she couldn’t quite get it.

The first man’s breath was hot and sour on her cheek. “Come on, now, let’s have some fun.”

Syd slammed her head back into his nose—or tried, but her head only came to his chin. Still, she hit bone, heard the crack of a tooth, and she was free, stumbling to her hands and knees as the man reeled, the gun tumbling from his waistband. Syd lunged for it, fingers closing around the grip right before one of the men grabbed her ankle and pulled.

The street bit into her elbows and scraped her shin as she twisted around and raised the gun, barrel leveled at the man’s heart. “Let go,” she snarled.

“Oh s**t,” said the man in the kerchief, but the other one sneered at her, blood spilling from his mouth.

“That’s an awfully big gun for such a little girl.”

“Let go.”

“You even know how to use it?”

“Yes.” Sydney squeezed the trigger as she said it, bracing for the recoil, the bang.

But nothing happened.

The man laughed, a short barking sound, and knocked the gun from her hands. It went skidding away.

“Little b***h,” he said, raising his boot as if she were a bug, something to crush. He brought it down hard. Or at least, he started to, but his leg seemed to lock up halfway, and then he toppled, a single horrifying sound leaking from his clenched teeth. An instant later, the second guy fell, limbs seizing, as Victor walked toward them, his collar up against the cold.

Relief washed over her, tangled with shock. “What are you doing here?”

The men on the ground writhed in muted agony, blood leaking from their noses and vessels breaking in their eyes.

Victor knelt to retrieve the discarded gun. “A little gratitude would be nice.”

She rose on shaky legs, the anger catching up. “You followed me.”

“Don’t try for the moral high ground, Sydney. You snuck out.”

“I chose to go. I’m not a captive.”

“You’re a child, and I promised to protect—”

“A promise you can’t keep is just another lie,” she snapped. She was sick of everyone lying.

Mitch had lied when he told her Victor was fine. Eli had lied when he said he wouldn’t hurt her. Serena had lied when she said she’d never leave. And Victor had been lying every day since his return.

“I don’t want you to save me,” said Sydney. “I want to save myself.”

Victor weighed the weapon in his hand. “All right,” he said, offering her the gun. “The first step is to turn the safety off.”

Sydney took the weapon, marveled at the weight in her hands. It was heavier than she expected. Lighter than she expected. Her thumb slid over the catch on the side.

“If you want,” said Victor, turning back toward the mouth of the alley, “I’ll teach you how to shoot.”

Sydney wasn’t ready for him to walk away.

“Victor,” she called, gripping the gun. “Did you do it?”

Victor slowed to a stop. Turned. “Did I do what?”

Sydney held his gaze. “Did you kill Serena?”

Victor only sighed. The question didn’t seem to take him by surprise, but he didn’t answer it either. Sydney raised the gun, training it on his chest. “Did you do it?”

“What do you think?”

Sydney’s grip tightened. “I need you to say it.”

Victor moved toward her slowly, steadily. “I warned you when we met, I wasn’t a good person.”

“Say it,” demanded Syd.

Victor came to a stop an arm’s length away, halted only by the gun against his ribs. He looked down at her. “Yes. I killed Serena.”

The words hurt, but the pain was dull. Not a knife wound, or a plunge into ice water, but the deep ache of a fear realized, a suspicion turned to truth.

“Why? Why did you do it?”

“She was unstable and unquantifiable, a danger to everyone in her path.”

The way he talked about her, about everything, as if they were just factors in an equation.

But Serena wasn’t a factor. A problem to be solved.

“She was my sister.”

“She would have killed you.”

“No,” whispered Syd.

“If I hadn’t killed her, the cops would still be under her control. Eli would never have been caught. He’d still be free.”

Sydney shivered, the gun trembling in her grip. “Why did you burn her body?”

“I couldn’t risk you bringing her back.” Victor’s hand drifted up to the gun. He wrapped his fingers loosely around the barrel, not tight enough to stop the action if she pulled the trigger, just enough to keep the weapon steady. “Is this what you want? Killing me won’t bring her back either. Will you feel safer if I’m dead? Think hard, Sydney. We all have to live with our choices.”

Sydney shuddered.

And then she let go of the gun.

Victor caught the weapon before it hit the ground. He ejected the clip, and then knelt so they were eye to eye.

“Look at me,” he said coldly, catching Sydney’s chin in his hand. “The next time you point a gun at someone, make sure you’re ready to pull the trigger.”

He straightened, set the weapon on a nearby crate, and walked away.

Sydney wrapped her arms around her ribs and sank to her knees on the pavement.

She didn’t know how long she sat there before her phone finally rang. She drew the cell from her pocket with shaking hands and answered.

“Hey, kiddo,” said June, sounding breathless. “Sorry, I was finishing a job. What’s up?”

* * *

TEN minutes later, Sydney was sitting in a diner—the kind that stayed open all night—clutching a cup of black tea.

It had been June’s idea.

The seat across from Syd was empty, but if she kept her eyes on her tea, and her ear to the cell phone, she could imagine the other girl sitting in the booth across from her. The sounds of another diner in another city—the bell of an order ready for pickup, a spoon stirring sugar in a cup—made a soft curtain of noise on the line.

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