But as he said it, his eyes met mine, and we both knew the truth: he would blame me instead.
The meeting dragged on for nearly an hour. They discussed plans for missions I didn’t understand, people whose names I didn’t recognize, and endless back and forth about whatever was due to go down in a few days. No one mentioned specifics; it was clear they had discussed the details at the meetings I’d missed, and I couldn’t decide whether to be offended they wouldn’t tell me now or to agree that they were making the right move not letting me know.
As badly as I wanted to be allowed in on things, Sampson and Knox were right. I didn’t know anything they didn’t. My role was to impersonate Lila and give their speeches to audiences around the country, as I’d done in the weeks after Augusta’s death. I wasn’t a soldier. I wasn’t a strategist. I wasn’t a politician. I was nothing more than the face I wore, a face that wasn’t even mine. As the minutes dragged on, I felt more and more like the little kid hanging around the group home with the big kids all over again, pretending to know what they were talking about as they sniggered into their hands and whispered behind my back. I was nothing but a hanger-on. And if there was one thing I hated, it was being useless.
After the meeting was over, Knox led me back into the dirt tunnel under Somerset without saying a word. I hadn’t tried to speak to him on the way out of the bunker, but now that we were alone without dozens of weapons pointed directly at us, the silence grew too loud to bear. It was my fault he had to risk his life now, all to find evidence we didn’t even know existed, and no matter how upset we both were with each other, I couldn’t shake the guilt that ate away at me.
“I’m sorry it turned out this way,” I said. “But they had a right to know.”
Knox said nothing. Instead he quickened his pace, and I had to all but jog to keep up.
“Knox—stop. Come on. They know how dangerous it is to tell Celia. They’ll keep it quiet.”
“If you had kept it quiet like we’d agreed, I wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place,” he snapped. They were the first words he’d said to me in an hour.
I gaped at the back of his head. “Maybe if you hadn’t been such a jerk, I wouldn’t have blurted it out. I’m more than just a III, and you know it.”
“Are you?” He stopped suddenly, and I nearly ran into him. “Because sometimes I’m not so sure, Kitty.”
I straightened to my full height, despite the blisters that had formed on my feet. “I don’t know what crawled up your ass and died, but whatever it is, stop taking it out on me. I’m sorry the raid failed, and I’m sorry for being a mess at the party, but I am not your punching bag.”
“Then what are you, Kitty?” He took a step nearer to me, swallowing up every last inch of distance between us. The heat from his body radiated to mine, and with him this close, I could barely breathe. “What the hell have you done to help? Every chance you get, you sabotage not only yourself, but me, too. Do you realize that if you fail, so do I? We’re supposed to get married in less than a month. Is this your plan? To have me killed just because you can’t keep yourself under control?”
“That won’t happen,” I said as evenly as I could. “Daxton wouldn’t hurt you to prove a point to me.”
“Oh? Why the hell do you think Celia’s husband was executed?”
I faltered. I had never heard many details about what had happened to Lila’s father, only that he had been publicly executed by firing squad in front of her and her mother. It had been why Lila had joined the Blackcoats and agreed to give her mother’s speeches, but other than that, her father and his death were mysteries to me.
“If you keep spiraling like this, then it’s only a matter of time before I can’t protect you and Benjy anymore,” said Knox. “Is that what you want?”
“I’m sorry,” I muttered. “It’s been a rough night, all right?”
“It’s always going to be a rough night, Kitty. This is nothing compared to what’s coming. So stop acting like none of us deserves your cooperation, and start proving you’re more than that III on the back of your neck.”
“How? By blindly obeying you?” The words were out before I could stop them.
He surveyed me, his dark eyes bearing into mine. Leaning in close enough for me to feel his warm breath on my lips, he whispered, “Yes. It’ll be the smartest thing you’ve done in months.”
Fury ripped through me, tearing my guilt to shreds. “If I’m so useless to you, then why don’t you marry the real Lila instead?”
“Believe me, if Lila was willing, I would have never asked you to stay in the first place,” he said shortly. “At least she knows how to play the game.”
“Then do it,” I said coldly. “Because I’m done.”
I stepped around him and stormed ahead through the tunnel. He didn’t try to stop me, and that only spurred me on. I wouldn’t stay where I wasn’t wanted. I had a life to live that had nothing to do with him or the Harts, and if he was so convinced he would be better off without me, then I wasn’t going to sacrifice myself for him any longer.
Even from a distance, his flashlight was enough to help me see where I was going, and I reached the door into Somerset in record time. I dashed up the creaky wooden staircase and scampered across the ceiling, dropping back down into Knox’s closet with a thump. I didn’t care if anyone heard me. Let them. I’d be gone before they knew it.