Home > Collateral (Blood & Roses #6)

Collateral (Blood & Roses #6)
Callie Hart

There are so many ways in which the human body reacts to stress. Elevated heart rate. Insomnia. Panic attacks. Trouble swallowing. Chest pains. Dizziness. The list is absolutely endless. I think I experience each and every item on that list as Zeth and I drive across state lines back into Washington.

A smart person would be heading in the other direction. A smart person would be hightailing it straight through the whole damn state to freaking Canada and changing their names, buying a small hardware store in the back of beyond, and hoping to all things holy that no Mexican or English gangsters find their way up there. Not us, though. Oh, no. That would be far too sensible. No, we’re on our way to meet with a certain DEA agent—a woman personally responsible for screwing up my residency at St Peter’s and also for shooting my sister. I have absolutely no desire to ever see Agent Lowell again, but it doesn’t look like I have much choice, seeing as my sister’s surprise husband is burning along behind us on the loudest motorcycle ever invented. I swear, there has never been a motorcycle louder than this one. My teeth have been vibrating together for the past sixty miles. The situation’s not helped by the four other bikers following a hundred feet behind him, apparently keeping an eye on things. We’re driving Rebel’s Humvee, and Michael’s passed out cold on the back seat, oblivious to the throaty roaring of the bikes at our rear.

Zeth’s been relatively silent since we set off at dawn, and I haven’t felt much like coaxing him into conversation, though now we’re drawing closer to our destination I can sense he wants to say something. He reaches over and places his hand on top of my thigh, stilling my jittering knee. I hadn’t even realized I’d been bouncing it. “You know what you have to do when we get there, right?” he says.

His hair has grown since he brought Lacey into the ER all those weeks ago. I somehow can’t picture him doing such administrative things as visiting a barber to get a trim. He seems too…alien for that. Like for some reason, something so very human and necessary shouldn’t really affect him.

His aviators shield his deep brown eyes, but I know the kind of look he’ll be wearing: Concern. Displeasure. Irritation. He’s been switching between those outward displays of emotion ever since Rebel decided I needed to go and meet Agent Lowell on my own. Not Zeth’s idea of a smart plan, apparently, but then again, neither is either he or Rebel turning up to the meeting and getting their asses arrested right off the bat.

That’s left me solely in charge of negotiations with the Drug Enforcement Agency, and I’m hardly relaxed about the prospect. Hence the bouncing knee. “Yeah, I know what I need to do,” I confirm. “Don’t back down. Don’t give her any information that will lead her to you. Don’t stay too long. Make sure I’m not being followed when I leave—”

“They’re definitely going to be following you when you leave. You just have to make sure you lose them before you get on the Metro.” Zeth grips hold of the steering wheel so hard his knuckles blanch. He goes back to staring out of the windshield, his jaw clenching and unclenching. “You shouldn’t be doing this,” he growls under his breath.

He’s worried about me. He hasn’t said the words, but I know this confusing man more and more each day, and I know he’s sweating this decision. And he’s sweating it hard—to let me do as Rebel asks so my sister will be safe. I shouldn’t be doing this for her anymore. I should have washed my hands of her long ago. But while I doubt I’ll be speaking to Alexis any time soon, I still don’t want Lowell to get her hands on her. She’s my sister. She may not act like it, but that means something to me. Besides, part of Rebel’s bargaining system is that he’ll also help us find Lacey if we help him with Lowell, and so far we need all the help we can get on that front.

Lacey.

We’re still reeling from that one. I just can’t wrap my head around it—how she could have gone with Charlie after everything he’s put Zeth through. After he tried to run me off the road. After he killed that poor woman in the gas station, for no good reason other than to cause a scene.

Zeth won’t even say his sister’s name.

I know how he feels.

Despite that, I can’t help feeling nauseous. Is Lace okay? Is she freaking out? Is she coping, given it’s been forty-eight hours since Charlie took her to see the Duchess, the catatonic woman has no doubt died by now? She must have. Oliver didn’t think she had long left at all, and Lacey believed the woman was her birth mother. That will be playing havoc with her head.

“Sloane? Are you listening? Which line are you going to catch?” Zeth’s gravel-filled voice interrupts my thoughts, demanding I concentrate.

“The 458. I get off at the university and change over. I meet you guys at Fresco’s, and then we get the hell out of there.”

Zeth grunts, chewing on his bottom lip. I’ve never seen him do that before. His shoulder muscles are so tense they’re even giving me a headache. “And what are you going to tell her?” he asks. “What are you going to tell Lowell?”

I play the script out in my head, making sure I’ve got it all memorized. Not hard, really, when Rebel wants me to tell the truth. “I don’t know where my sister is. Rebel, on the other hand, is waiting at an undisclosed location for her guarantee she’s going to do as we ask, at which point he will hand himself over into her custody. I get the paperwork, including a decree from a county court judge clearing you, Michael and me of any and all charges against us, and then I tell her where he is.”

Zeth exhales down his nose, nodding sharply. “Fucking stupid idea,” he says under his breath. I think it’s a fucking stupid idea, too, but then again we’re bang out of options. “Just make sure you get through this, all right?” Zeth tells me under his breath.

I raise an eyebrow at him, feeling slightly victorious. “Why? Are you worried?” I tease him, even though I shouldn’t. He gives me a flat look out of the corner of his eye.

“Am I worried?” He laughs softly, and it’s not a humorous laugh; it’s a pained one. “I’m fucking shitting myself, Sloane. There’s no reason why this bitch won’t just arrest you and use you as leverage. She’s smart. She knows if she has you, she’ll have a huge bargaining chip.”

“Yes, but it’s not like you’re stupid. You wouldn’t just go charging down there on a rescue mission. You wouldn’t just hand yourself over if she did that. It would be pointless, her just arresting me.” Silence falls over the car, and my heartbeat thrums in my ears. Zeth clenches his jaw again and a sick sensation washes over me. “Zeth? You wouldn’t do that,” I say.

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