“I don’t want to be used,” Reyna said.
“That’s all life does. Chews you up and spits you out. Get used to it.”
“How about this,” Gabe said, holding a hand up. “I have somewhere I need to be. I’ll be gone two, maybe three hours, tops. Why don’t you two come with me? Then when you come back, we can talk about how you can benefit from Elle by working with them. How does that sound?”
“Did someone send you to do this?” Jodie demanded. “Because if this is a trick…”
“It’s no trick. I’m doing you a favor.”
“No one does favors for free,” Reyna told him.
“And I’m not doing it for free. It’s a deal. I help you out for a bit and you come back and try to help our rebellion. Deal?”
Reyna’s eyes swept to Jodie. She lifted one shoulder. Reyna frowned. Yeah, they probably shouldn’t be leaving the premises for a couple hours, but they would be with Gabe. He was probably lying about this not being sanctioned from the higher ups. Why would he help them out anyway? She might as well take advantage of the opportunity if she could. Another one wasn’t about to come around.
Piled into Gabe’s heavily tinted black SUV, they zipped out of an underground garage and onto the road leading into the city. Reyna drank in the sights around her. It had been so long since she had seen much of anything of interest. The sensation was like being dunked into a cold pool.
Her eyes flitted over the last large building and she nearly choked. Her hand flew to her chest as she all but craned her head out the window to get a better look.
Gabe glanced at her. “What’s up?”
“That building,” she breathed.
“Yeah? Didn’t you see it on your way in?”
Reyna shook her head, but it was Jodie who spoke. “They blindfolded us.”
“Oh yeah. Shit,” he muttered as if he’d forgotten protocol. “Well, if either of you are a Visage spy then I’m fucked.”
“What is that building?” Reyna asked.
“That’s our front. The building is home to a popular real estate company, but we live underneath it. Gives us cover to move during the day if we have to and no one looks too closely at what’s below since the place is legit.”
Reyna sat back heavily in her seat. That building was the front for Elle. She couldn’t believe it. And yet, it made perfect sense.
It was the very building that Beckham had taken Reyna to the night he’d had her take photographs of Visage from the rooftop. After they’d had a long talk about the two factions of vampires—those who thought of humans as equals and those who thought of humans as food—things had gotten pretty hot and heavy. Even then, he had been showing her this other world, trying to draw her into it, and she had never suspected.
Her heart panged at the memory. Where was he now? And how had their relationship disintegrated so completely, like sand through her fingers?
* * *
It was nearly a half hour later when Gabe finally parked the SUV in a shady parking garage with a busted entrance ramp, graffiti, and shattered lights. Reyna rolled her shoulders and hopped out of the car, looking cautiously out into the darkness. They were not in the best part of town. She was glad for her jeans and T-shirt combo, but it was actually fucking freezing and they hadn’t prepared for that.
“Hey, come here,” he said to both of them as he popped the trunk. “This is the best I can do.”
He tossed Jodie a long-sleeve flannel shirt that she held tightly around herself then passed Reyna the leather jacket he had been wearing on his way over.
“Put this on too,” he said, tugging a baseball cap low over her eyes.
He handed another one to Jodie, who looked at him like he was insane. “This is never going to fit over my hair.” She pointed at the mass of kinky curls on her head.
“Best I can do.”
Jodie muttered obscenities under her breath before trying to mash her curls down on the top to get the cap on her head.
“You’ll need these too.” He produced two dull black bracelets.
“What the fuck is that?” Jodie asked.
But Reyna knew. “ID bracelets.”
“Yeah. They’re required in the city now for basically everything. These aren’t programmed to you and there shouldn’t be any cops nearby, but it’s for appearances.”
Reyna slipped hers on and felt the weight like a shackle around her wrist. Jodie irritably added hers to her wrist. Gabe already wore his.
“What happened to curfew?” Reyna asked. There had been one for the city after the fires. The curfew and the bracelets had come together with the start of the Blood Census.
“The old mayor lifted it. Said it was only temporary, but the bracelets stayed. So, we’re straight.” Gabe nodded his head toward the stairs and they followed. “Now this place, it’s a vamp-free zone. So you should be safe, but be sure to stick close to me at all times. I can protect you if anything happens. And remember, we really don’t want you to be seen. The last thing we want is Harrington’s guys to swoop back in and try to abduct you, okay? I can protect you from a lot, but I don’t know what I’d do if that happened. So let’s not let it.”