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Rebel heart, p.17
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       Rebel Heart, p.17

           Lizzy Ford
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  Chapter Ten

  BRADY SURVEYED THE MESS before him, admiring the ability of the bio-elimination field to destroy on touch. The fed’s facility had been armed as well as the hospital, and one of his commo guys intercepted the call for help only an hour before. Even so, Brady and his team had arrived too late.

  Nothing remained. Rather, no one remained.

  “They left everything in storage. Didn’t take a damn thing,” Dan reported from his position inside the building.

  Brady rested his laser gun on his shoulder, taking in the undisturbed minefield and pieces of bodies remaining after several of the intruders tried to cross the bio-elim field before it was disabled. The fed building smoldered before him, the scent of metal and burning plastic thick in the air.

  “No survivors out here,” he said. “Looks like they were here to kill, not loot.”

  “Some good shit back here, though.”

  “The feds always have the best shit,” Brady said.

  “You thinking what I’m thinking?” Dan asked.

  “That this was a fed-on-fed attack?”

  “No one else uses this ammunition except for us, and this wasn’t one of our ops. It’s military grade.”

  Brady walked the area between the double walls, looking for anything or anyone in a large enough piece to provide clues as to what was going on. The compound was a nuclear power plant. The reactor area, the storage and logistical areas, and the hazardous waste areas appeared untouched. Just the barracks and office areas had been attacked.

  Whoever attacked didn’t want survivors or to destroy a perfectly functional facility. Someone would be coming back to take over the facility, he assessed.

  “I hate being too near this stuff,” he muttered. “Won’t know if there’s an issue ’til you’re dead.”

  “Or your dick falls off. We’ll loot fast,” Dan promised.

  Brady pushed chunks of body parts blown out of the minefield and knelt to retrieve a thumb keypad. He didn’t understand the significance of the seemingly benign keypads. This one was similar to the other his team found, only there was no biohazard sign, and the serial was in blue. He’d spent days fighting to reach the Peak with the first one, and Lana had nearly gone off a cliff for another one.

  He’d tried hard not to think of her or their night. He’d betrayed his own sense of responsibility, not to mention his promise to Tim. God, but she was worth it! She’d proven as lively in bed as she was timid outside of it. Her heart was in everything she did, and she’d loved him back with both tenderness and passion.

  Brady forced his thoughts to his mission. He tucked the keypad into his pocket. Lana would know what it was, even if he didn’t. He rose, unsettled by the scene around him.

  His conversation with Tim returned, and he stayed the urge to call Lana as he had when he was simply the Guardian. Her voice still brought him comfort, but he’d just fucked up that relationship. The chances of them both surviving—or of Tim not finding out—were low. Not to mention lying to her had been harder than he thought. He’d wanted to admit the truth, in hopes she’d talk to him—and trust him—as she had the Guardian. Then he slept with her and walked away again. She didn’t deserve that. No normal woman would deal with what he put her through.

  As much as he hated to admit it, he still missed talking to her. He missed his friend. He contemplated the stray thought as he moved around the facility.

  “There are a few other fed facilities around here,” Dan said. “We’ve heard mayday calls from several of them.”

  “I have an idea why. There’s one between us and the hard site. Let’s take a look.”

  “What’re you thinking?” Dan asked.

  “I’m thinking someone is destroying the fed buildings in case a certain fed is hiding there.”

  “Greenie looking for Lana.”

  They loaded one of the transports with the supplies and sent it towards the hard site with a security force. He kept Dan and two others with him.

  “You need some of this?” Dan asked with a long look at him. He tossed him a bar of chocolate he’d stolen from the supplies.

  “I need a box full,” Brady said.

  Dan knew him well enough not to ask anything else, and they set off on foot.

  “I sent Elise and Benny to teach Lana some self-defense,” Brady said as they struck off in comfortable silence.

  “Benny? Christ, she’ll be in tears,” Dan said with a shake of his head.

  “She’s gotta learn,” Brady said firmly.

  The sight of her with a gun to her head the day before made his blood boil as much as the thought of her in his bed. She was helpless in his world, and the helpless didn’t normally last long.

  “Go easy on her,” Dan advised. “She’s smart but brainwashed by the feds. She’ll come around.”

  “I found another of those keypads,” Brady said, ignoring Dan’s words.

  “The ones they went loony over last time?”

  “It’s a little different. They never did say what they were.”

  “I’d say they were probably important. Lana might know.”

  Brady gave him a look.

  “All right. Maybe when she stops crying every time you look at her, you can ask her.”

  Brady hid a smile. She’d proven how willing she was to become his companion, a surprise considering she really did seem fragile in his world. Every moment he spent with her, he felt like he was getting farther and farther away from his ability to walk away without either of them getting hurt. Eventually, she’d find out who he was. Eventually, things would come to a head. But as a man who lived day-to-day, tomorrow was a concept he wasn’t always comfortable with.

  They walked parallel to an abandoned highway for a couple of hours until they reached the second fed site. They saw the smoke half an hour before they arrived and approached with caution. Brady’s scouts reported nothing, and they emerged from the cover of nearby buildings.

  This was a communications facility, heavily guarded. The tower was in pieces, the building at its base a gaping crater. They tested the bio-elim field before passing through. As with the other site, there were pieces of people but nothing else.

  “This is creepy,” Dan voiced his concerns. “Looks like systematic extermination of an enemy’s strongholds.”

  “Exactly what this is. The start to another civil war. Let’s not linger.”

  They moved on, taking circuitous routes back to the underground entrance in case they were being watched. He dropped his gear in his suite, curious not to find Lana within. Dan met him in the hall, and they went to the cafeteria together.

  “Hey, Elise,” Dan said, tapping the button behind his hear to access his personal net. “Where you guys at?”

  Brady got his food as the two talked, seating himself before he looked to Dan again.

  “They’re in the gym,” Dan said. He was trying hard not to smile.

  “Is she crying?” Brady asked.

  “Don’t think so,” Dan said. “I guess she wouldn’t play this morning at all but changed her mind this afternoon. She was afraid of Benny until Lon told her to pretend like he was you. Sounds like she lost some of that timid field mousiness.”

  “Whatever works.” He looked up to find Dan studying him closely.

  “You’re damn cranky today. Wanna spar? Maybe with Benny?” Dan asked. “He can beat this funk out of you.”

  “Maybe later,” Brady replied grudgingly. He didn’t think his abruptness any more clipped than usual, but Dan would knew the difference. “I want to look at the logs for the past few days to see if any of the scouts have reported any other fed buildings going up in flames. I need to ask Lana about the keypad we found, too.”

  He received a page over his personal net.

  B: We need to talk immediately. -T.

  His mood grew worse.

  “I may have to go to the comms site,” he said with a frown. “It’s not good when the big guy calls you. I’ll risk a quick communication fro
m here to see what the urgency is.”

  “Not a good sign,” Dan agreed. “I’ll arrange the transportation.”

  Restless, Brady returned to his suite. Lana was in the kitchenette, drinking water after her day with Elise. Her face was flushed, her eyes sparkling from the exertion. She wore sparring clothing consisting of snug pants and T-shirt that hugged her shape in all the right places. The scent of her musk and sweat made him look longer than he intended to. His resolve to keep his distance wavered as he thought about pulling her into bed with him again.

  There was something else in her eyes that made his blood pound harder. She was angry at him. The raw emotion was more of a turn-on than he expected.

  If he were smart, he would have turned around and walked out until Benny beat the fire out of his body. Instead, he sat down on the couch and pulled the keypad free from his pocket.

  “Wanna tell me what this is?” he asked, pretending he didn’t see the anger on her face.

  “I won’t know without my micro,” she replied in a clipped tone.

  He pulled her micro free from his cargo pocket and set it on the coffee table beside the keypad. She looked at him hard for a moment before crossing the room to sit on the chair across from him. She was tense, and Brady wondered what happened while he was gone.

  Lana flipped on her micro and placed the keypad on top of it. He looked past her into the kitchen to see what she’d been doing. On the kitchenette counter sat her bottle of water—and a micro. It was of fed issue, not army or PMF. Silently, he cursed the blond warrior he suspected gave it to Lana. He should’ve known better than not to warn Dan what Lana could do if she got a hold of a micro, even if it was Elise’s.

  “It’s a local energy grid controller,” Lana said. “But it’s damaged. I can’t pull the data off.” She turned off her micro and rose, striding into the bedroom. A few seconds later, he heard the shower.

  Leery of the change in her, Brady tucked the two away and crossed to the kitchen. Elise’s micro was locked out. There was no way to see what she’d been doing. Too soon, he found out. His personal net vibrated, indicating someone was trying to contact him. Brady tapped it open.

  “You paged me?” Tim asked.

  Brady froze. “No. I got a page from you, though.”

  “Well, someone … it was her, wasn’t it,” Tim said with a sigh. “I had to get her training in hacking fed systems.”

  “Yeah,” Brady agreed, eyes going to Elise’s micro. “Tim, she needs to know. I don’t like lying to her. I don’t think it’s worth trying to snow her anymore. And maybe she’ll tell you what she won’t tell me about what she’s carrying west.”

  “Unfortunately, I think you might be right. Bring her to the comms site. I’ll be waiting on this end,” Tim directed in resignation. “I’d hoped to have this conversation with her in person, if at all.”

  “Will do. Brady out.”

  Brady stared at the door to his bedroom, torn between relief and regret. He hadn’t wanted to lie to her about Guardian or Tim. At the same time, Tim was about to bring the rest of her world crashing down around her. He doubted she’d rush into the arms of the Guardian again. Brady wiped his face, preparing himself for a confrontation. He sat down in a chair, waiting.

  Lana emerged at last. She crossed her arms when she saw him and wouldn’t meet his eyes.

  “Looks like it’s time for us to talk,” he started.

  “I don’t want to talk. I understand what I need to.”

  “I don’t think you do.”

  “You and Tim are PMF. He sent you to protect me. You were my Guardian.”

  Were. The word stung, irritating him.

  “I did what I had to,” Brady replied. “I will make no apologies for that.”

  “As I said, I understand,” she said. “You lied to me and used me. Both of you.”

  “Lana,” Brady said, rising. It was all he could say. He knew this day would come. He’d done the right thing in protecting her, even if the wounded look on her face made him feel both inadequate and frustrated. “We need to go somewhere. Are you ready?”

  “Whatever you say,” she said softly.

  Brady bit back what he wanted to say and motioned towards the door. His hope that she’d trust the Guardian even if she hadn’t trusted him faded. Her silent treatment and quiet anger lasted through the long helo ride back to the secret comms center. He waved the helo away and led her to the hidden entrance.

  Tim was already on the viewer. Lana froze for a moment then started forward jerkily. Brady closed the door behind him, watching. There was an awkward pause, and he saw her reach for a chair with trembling hands. He crossed his arms, unable to quell his sudden desire to wrap his arms around her and promise her he’d find a way to make things right.

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