Freedom

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Four days later, Alex — dressed in borrowed clothes and shoes — followed Lee through another maze of semi-dark tunnels, their pace slow to make certain she didn't fatigue as quickly as she had during her previous adventure. It was decided after Rebecca learned of Alex's trek to Lee's lab that the Topsider was well enough to return to her world above. For the most part, Alex agreed, though her terms for removal raised the matron's eyebrow.

"I would like Lee to escort me."

"My daughter has risked enough for you," Rebecca snapped, and it seemed the matter was settled until a few hushed words from Em softened the older woman. "Fine. Leanna will escort you, but only to the upper tunnels. If you provide us with the location of your home, I'm sure we can deposit you close enough."

"That won't be necessary. If you can get me close to the park's West entrance, I can make it the rest of the way on foot."

"So be it." Rebecca nodded before stepping close, purposely invading Alex's personal space. "But I have a condition of my own that will be agreed upon before we proceed further. I'm sure there will be hard questions asked once you return. A woman of your status rising from the grave will pique quite a bit of interest. I trust you will remain mute about our existence."

"And if I can't?" Alex challenged, rising to meet the woman.

"It's not a matter of can, my dear. It's a matter of will. You will remain silent about our existence."

"Is this a threat?"

One side of Rebecca's lip quirked. "Threats are a coward's way of control. I'm telling you what will happen."

Alex was good at calling people's bluff; she made a living out of it. So it was more than a little chilling when she realized there was no bluff being made. "I'll find a way to keep you and your family out of any investigation that might ensue. That's the best I can do."

Satisfied, Rebecca let the matter drop, though Lee wasn't pleased to later learn about the hike Alex would have to make back to her apartment.

But I could take you so much closer! she complained, swinging down from a set of valves near the ceiling. Alex sat in her chair watching Lee attempt to clear cooking oil from her arms. Lee claimed it helped her maneuver tight spaces. Alex wasn't so sure. The tunnels literally run under most of the buildings in this city. I know the streets and their adjacent tunnels by heart!

Alex smiled wanly. If she was going to sever ties, she was going to do it the right way, even if it felt like she was spitting in Lee's face. She had enough surprises to last her a lifetime. "I appreciate that, but there are things I need to do before I head home. According to your mother, I've been gone for more than a month. No doubt, people have been looking for me. I need to go through the right channels to let them know I'm okay."

But what about the people who hurt you? What if they're looking for you, too?

"They won't be looking for me. Your mother was right. The men who attacked me had the wrong woman. More than likely, they won't show their faces again because, to them, I'm supposed to be dead. They probably aren't even in the city, knowing how thugs like that work."

Alex danced artfully around the lie, thankful for the trick of keeping a convincing face she picked up in the field. The men who attacked her anticipated she would die in the snow, yes. It was why they dumped her in such a remote area of the park. But her sudden resurrection posed a problem. Victims of assassinations weren't supposed to walk away whole and healthy. That made her a very solid target, especially when a mob family was involved.

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