Kat followed them, doing her best to keep her pistol hidden.
In the distance, sirens echoed.
Kat and Amy ran down the entry road and out the gates, chased by more blasts and deep-throated explosions. Debris rained down around them; smoke rolled thickly now, making it hard to see.
They fled farther down the street, trying to break clear, to get some distance away from the conflagration. At last, they reached a clear section of road. They both panted, hands on knees.
Sirens grew louder, converging all around as emergency crews responded from throughout Charleston.
Kat straightened and pointed toward the blue lights flashing through the smoke. “You should—”
The crack of a pistol echoed.
Amy fell back, sitting down on the road. She reached a palm to her chest as blood bloomed through her gown.
Kat twisted and dropped to a knee, swinging up her weapon.
An SUV sat on the side of the road, a back window open.
She fired wildly at the dark car.
Lisa dropped low in the backseat as the windshield cracked and shattered. She was pinned between two burly guards. In the front, the driver and Dr. Paul Cranston crouched.
“Christ!” the shooter next to her said. “She’s got a gun.”
Lisa covered her head.
After nabbing her off the streets of downtown Charleston, Cranston and his men had returned to the fertility center, confident after their hunt—only to be greeted by a loud explosion as they turned into view. The concussion rattled the SUV’s windows. Smoke curled up from one of the back buildings. Flames began to spread—then more blasts as the place ripped apart.
Cranston had them retreat a block, to observe the incineration and destruction of his hard work, unable to look away.
He hissed from up front. “Take her out, goddamn it. Before she escapes. If she gets loose …”
While surveying the aftermath from a safe distance, Cranston had spotted a pair of women running out of the smoke, both shaven-headed, one in a hospital gown. He recognized them immediately. They’re from the lower lab! He’d ordered them shot, gunned down like rabid dogs. But it seemed one of the women had teeth.
The gunman next to Lisa returned to the open window, shoving out one arm, his weapon pointed. Another spat of gunfire peppered the side of the truck. The man swore but held his post.
Lisa risked a peek. She saw the woman with the pistol drag the wounded girl toward the shelter of the thicker smoke. Sirens screamed now, and the flash of emergency lights grew brighter through the haze.
Then the woman glanced over her shoulder, back toward the SUV.
It was the first time Lisa got a good look at her face. Recognition rocked through her—even with all her friend’s hair shorn away.
“Got her,” the shooter said with deadly satisfaction.
Lisa lunged and hit the man with her shoulder. His pistol fired, his aim thrown. Lisa got her head out, saw Kat unharmed—and she intended her friend to stay that way.
Her other guard yanked her roughly back.
Cranston raised enough to peer into the backseat. He fixed Lisa with a knowing gaze. She immediately read the understanding there.
“So that’s who you were working with,” Cranston said and ordered his men to secure Kat.
The gunman balled a fist in Lisa’s hair and dragged her out, using her body as a human shield.
Kat had found thin shelter behind a recycling bin.
Cranston called from up front. “Drop your weapon! Come out! Or we’ll put a bullet through the back of your friend’s head.”
“Don’t!” Lisa screamed at her friend.
The fist in her hair shook hard, ripping follicles.
She watched in despair as Kat threw her pistol out—then stepped into view.
“Go get her,” Cranston ordered the other guard. “I want some answers. But don’t hesitate to shoot her if she gives you any trouble.”
Kat must have sensed the same and came along willingly, her fingers laced on top of her head.
“What about the other one?” Cranston asked when the guard returned with Kat.
Kat and Lisa made their reunion in the middle of the backseat, trapped between the pair of armed men.
“I’m so sorry,” Lisa whispered.
Kat’s face was a hard mask of rage—but not directed at her. Kat’s hand found hers and squeezed, holding so much promise in that small gesture.
Reassurance, forgiveness, and a guarantee of revenge.
Emergency vehicles began to appear, whipping past their parked vehicle, sirens ablaze and lights blinding.
“Where now?” the driver asked, as he started the engine.
Cranston stared toward the burning wreckage of his clinic. “Out of the city … it’s a little too hot here now.” He turned from the fire and smoke. “We’ll take them for a ride in the country. To the Lodge.”
From his post in the communications nest, Painter watched the fiery footage from South Carolina. It was a live feed, shot by one of the two men he’d sent out to investigate the North Charleston Fertility Clinic.
His team had arrived on-site fifteen minutes ago. A chaos of fire crews fought the blaze. Towering arcs of water sprayed from trucks and ladders. Paramedics, along with other first-response teams, serviced burn injuries and smoke inhalation. Other victims had lacerations and bruises from flying debris and glass.
Four bodies had tarps over them.
Painter expected there would be more.
Would Kat or Lisa be among them?
When the security detail first reported in, Painter had hoped the destruction was Kat’s handiwork, but it could just as easily have been a fail-safe measure. Someone had found Kat’s bug, and the Guild was notorious for its scorched-earth policy. He’d seen it himself multiple times in the past. If anyone got too close, the Guild would burn all bridges that might lead to them—to their secrets. It didn’t matter the cost, consequences, or lives.
He turned to find Jason Carter at his shoulder—again.
“I want you to see something,” the kid said and drew him to a monitor where another analyst worked. Though the seated man was a decade older, Jason rested a hand on his shoulder like an encouraging father. “Linus and I were working on a research project for Kat before she left.”
“We’ve been working on it for about three months,” Linus added.
What’s this about?