Chapter Twenty-Six

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Riley lay on a dirt floor, her hands twisted and bound behind her back. Her ankles and knees were roped together, and a filthy gag was stuffed in her mouth. Her red hair looked like blood in the darkness, shocking against her pale face.

She wasn't moving.

"Riley?" I whispered, real terror gripping my heart.

She couldn't be dead. We couldn't have fought this hard to save her only to fail now. I reached out and touched her shoulder.

Riley's eyes cracked open. She tried to shuffle away from us but there was nowhere to go.

I crouched down, making my voice as soft as I could. "Riley, it's me. It's Kiara."

She blinked, and the wild, terrified look faded from her eyes, replaced by wary recognition. I pulled the gag from her mouth and she sucked in a shuddering breath.

"K-girl?" she whispered, and burst into tears.

Behind me, Luke called back to the others. "She's here. We found her."

I barely had time to cut Riley's bonds before Ethan shouldered me aside, scooping her into his arms and carrying her out of her tiny prison. Riley clung to his shirtfront, sobs shaking her body. Ethan's face was a blank mask, but tears rolled down his cheeks and dripped onto Riley's head.

Sudden exhaustion rolled over me. I sagged and then Luke was there, sliding his arm around my waist, holding me steady. I wrapped my hand around his wrist, feeling the comforting throb of his pulse. He kissed the top of my head.

"She's safe, Kiara," he murmured.

But she nearly hadn't been.

Fitting everyone back in the car wasn't easy. In the end, I had to sit on Luke's lap so there was room for Ethan to cradle Riley without her getting squashed between us. The whole way home, he never stopped stroking her hair and her face, and murmuring soothing nonsense into her ear.

Seeing the way he looked at her, I remembered what Ethan had said about realising that he wasn't in love with me. He looked at Riley not as if she was the most important thing in the world, but as if she was the only thing in the world. She was the sun at the centre of his universe, the same as Luke was for me and I was for him.

Ethan loved her.

Maybe even he didn't fully realise it yet, or maybe he was resisting admitting it because they hadn't been together for long, but I knew love when I saw it.

I looked down at Luke, slightly lower than me now I was sitting on his lap. He smiled, his eyes burning with that same beautiful, protective light that I'd seen in Ethan's. He kissed me and, though it was just a chaste peck on the lips, there was still something so softly intimate about it that it made my soul ache.

We couldn't risk driving the car back to the clan's house, not when the police could already be on the search for it. There was a chance the owners hadn't even reported it missing yet, but we couldn't take that risk. We abandoned the car in a quiet street opposite the college, and went the rest of the way on foot. Clara strode ahead of us, checking that the coast was clear every time we turned a corner or crossed a road. The fewer people who saw us, the less attention we'd attract, and that was exactly how we wanted it.

Finally the clan's house came into view, and tears of relief pricked my eyes. We were home. I wasn't stupid enough to think this thing was over – Leon was still a problem, and I didn't know how to even begin tackling Rachel – but just for now, we were home and we were safe.

Ethan whisked Riley straight off to his room to take care of her. Beyond some abrasions from the ropes, and bruising on her arm where Leon had grabbed her, she wasn't physically hurt. But an ordeal like that damaged people in ways other than physical.

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