“Just follow me,” she snapped.
Completely bewildered, I actually followed her “suggestion.”
Two minutes later, Chloe deactivated the security on her lab door and threw it open. “No actual penetration of our perimeter,” she said out loud. “Klein just wandered in unannounced.” It took me a moment to realize that she was talking to someone other than me. “Your position holding steady?”
“Affirmative,” came the reply. I tried to identify where exactly the speakerphone, or communicator or whatever, was, but gave up. Chloe’s lab was a mess of accessories, wires, gadgets, gizmos, and clutter. I wouldn’t even know where to begin looking.
Satisfied that Brooke and Zee were doing fine in the field, Chloe turned back to me. Rolling her eyes for no apparent reason whatsoever, she picked up a sheet of paper and handed it to me. “It’s an analysis of the chip,” she said. “It isn’t the kind that Peyton uses. Trust me—we’ve run into their tech before, and this isn’t it—it isn’t nearly state-of-the-art enough. The good folks at Peyton, Kaufman, and Gray would spit on this chip. It’s practically ancient.”
I breathed in and out, in and out, letting this information sink in and trying not to let any of my myriad of emotions fly across my face. Chloe didn’t need to see how relieved I was that Jack wasn’t a part of this. Scratch that—nobody needed to know how relieved I was that Jack wasn’t a part of this.
“Do you want to know the truth about Jack Peyton?” Chloe asked, her words coming out in a rush. “The truth is this. You’re using him, just like Brooke used him, just like I used him—and just like the two of us, you’re starting to fall for him. The difference is that Jack knew that we were using him—he just thought it was all about popularity for us, but in all of his teen boy wisdom, he’s decided that you’re different.” Chloe spat out the word.
She was putting into words everything I’d been afraid of, and everything I’d tried not to hope for. Jack wasn’t using me. Jack liked me. I was using him.
“Do you know why Brooke and Jack broke up?” Chloe asked suddenly.
“Chlo,” Brooke’s voice came over the hidden speakers.
“Because falling for your mark is the last thing you’re supposed to do,” Chloe said. “They started off using each other, and then…boom…there were real feelings involved, and Brooke’s mom pulled the plug.”
“And do you know why Jack and I broke up?” Chloe said softly.
I took a wild guess. “Because you fell for him?”
“No,” Chloe said. “Because he wasn’t over Brooke.”
“Chloe, you need to shut up. Now.”
“Don’t you have a hostile to be watching?” Chloe huffed. “Don’t make me mute you.”
It was the first time I’d ever seen Chloe issue a direct threat in Brooke’s direction, and for some reason, it made me smile. The two of them weren’t acting like part of some crazy hierarchy that I’d never really understood. They weren’t captain and cocaptain or commanding officer and second in command. They were friends who had a common ex, and Chloe wasn’t about to shut her mouth.
“He’s over Brooke now,” Chloe said. “And he’s sure as hell over me. He’s all yours, and you’re actually stupid enough to think that he’s the one playing you.”
“Chloe. Shut. Up.” Brooke was clearly on the verge of losing it.
Chloe made good on her threat and turned the communicator off. Given the broader situation, that seemed a little bit shortsighted, but I was the one who’d banged Amelia’s rules into their heads over and over again: nothing could happen until three. We could watch, and we could wait, but we couldn’t make a move.
“Is there anything else you want to know about Jack Peyton?” Chloe hissed.
“Yes.” The simplicity and unexpectedness of my answer took the wind out of Chloe’s sails. “What do you know about his uncle?”
“We’re not having this conversation,” Chloe said.
“We should have had this conversation weeks ago,” I countered. “Now, the Squad’s cover is in danger, and my cover is pretty much on the critical list. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, and I want you to tell me the truth.”
Chloe pressed her lips together, hard, but somehow, her expression looked more nervous than angry. “Jack’s uncle is one of the Big Guys,” she said finally. “So is Brooke’s mom.”
She stopped speaking then, as if she’d told me something I hadn’t already known. “And Brooke doesn’t know about Jack’s uncle,” I said, hoping that would prod her into telling me something new.
“I never told her,” Chloe said. “It happened our sophomore year, back when Jack and Brooke were going out. The two of us were in Brooke’s room, and I went downstairs to grab some cookies. There was a man there, and he and Brooke’s mom were talking. She called him Peyton. I knew it wasn’t Jack’s dad, and then I recognized his voice—how could I not?—but I didn’t really process what he was telling her.”
“And what was that?” I asked.
Chloe took a deep breath, like she couldn’t possibly have enough oxygen in her lungs to divulge this secret. “He said that history had a way of repeating itself, and that Brooke’s mom knew better than anyone how ugly these things could be. I had no idea what he was talking about.”
That made two of us.
“That was the night Brooke found out she had to break up with Jack.” Chloe shook her head, as if trying to shake off the fact that she’d mentioned any of this to me at all. “If you tell anyone I told you this, anyone, I will kill you, and I will make it look like an accident. Are we clear?”
“Crystal,” I said, unsure whether to take Chloe’s threat literally or with a grain of high school drama salt. Since I didn’t plan on mentioning this to anyone ever, it didn’t really matter.
Refusing to meet my eyes, Chloe leaned forward and flipped the communicator back on. “Sorry,” she said. “Technical malfunction.”
“Connors-Wright still hasn’t made a move,” Zee said from the other side of the feed, “and there’s no sign of Amelia. I’m uploading my footage of the park so we can divide it up and decide the most likely angle of entries for our hostiles.”