Chapter Fifty-Three

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May had been staring out the back window of Lety's SUV for the better part of an hour, watching the world around them take shape with the rising of the sun.

At Dom's insistence, she had sat in the back so she could sleep. She told him it wasn't going to happen, but relented anyway. It was a precious thought—a good idea, even—but May was miles away from sleep, and she didn't see that changing any time soon.

Instead, she glared through the tinted glass, occasionally catching a glimpse of Fargus as his dark form flashed between trees or swooped in close. Her mind churned incessantly. May tried to focus on the plan she, Dom and Lety had devised together, having spent what was left of the night doing so. But every time her mind fixated back on Em and she found herself freefalling down a rabbit hole of unknowns and worry.

Was she hurt? Was she scared?

Did she trust that May would come for her or would she try to escape on her own?

Was she even still alive?

Bile rose in May's throat every time that question percolated to the top of her turbulent thoughts. She would have to close her eyes and press her forehead to the cool window until her heart rate slowed again and her stomach stopped twisting.

Of course Em was alive. She had to be.

Taking a deep breath in, May exhaled and watched it fog up the glass. Like a child, she drew a small heart with her fingertip and tried to think of better things.

Like the fact that Em had said yes. Even if they hadn't gotten the ring on her finger, Em had said yes to May's wild and poorly timed proposal. That thought made May's heart race in a completely different way. She pretended a colossally dangerous task didn't stand before them and their future, and instead allowed herself the luxury of imagining what that future might look like. May didn't anticipate a big wedding—after all, who would they invite? But she loved the idea of Em in a dress, flowers in her hair.

Where would they live? Would they have a family? May had always wanted kids of her own. Perhaps they would adopt, give a child a second shot, like she'd been given, only better.

"Do we have that map handy?" Lety asked in a low voice.

"I dunno, let me—" Dom twisted in his seat and found May watching him. "Hey, you're supposed to be sleeping."

May stuck her tongue out at him.

"Well, seeing as you're up anyway, can you dig around for the map?"

"Which one?" May asked. From the floor she pulled the large tube of rolled maps and blueprints and eased off the rubber band that held the formidable collection together.

"Priva's map of the terrain," Lety answered, her eyes flicking up at her in the rearview mirror. "The one with all the trails and side roads and shit."

May knew the one. As she flipped gingerly through the sheets—the gashes on her fingers from where the knife had slipped when she was cutting the ropes still stung—May gave the GPS on the dash a quick glance.

"Why do you want a map? Is the GPS not working?"

"It's working fine. I just think we need to scout out some of the back roads and figure out a less obvious route."

"Back roads?" May stopped searching and sat up straight. "But that'll take longer."

Again, Lety's eyes found hers in the rearview. "Sure, but what if the obvious routes are being watched? You can't tell me that doesn't sound like something those Loyal pricks would do."

May bristled. Though her first instinct was to argue—to insist they get to Sovereign University as quickly as possible—she knew Lety was right.

"We won't be any help to Emmy if we tip them off that we're on our way," Dom reasoned. "Or worse, if we get ourselves captured."

"Ha!" Lety barked. "Those bitches won't take me alive. Dead? Maybe."

"Fine." May slid the map out of the stack and shoved it at Dom. "We'll take the back way and nobody has to die. Fair?"

Lety smiled contentedly, the generous apples of her cheeks glowing with pride. "How amenable of you, Tiny. Thank you."

May shook her head and shimmied low into her seat. She pulled up her hood, crossed her arms and tried not to think about all the awful things that could happen to Em in the time they'd lose chasing the back roads.

Maybe, she thought, I should try to sleep after all.

*

In the end, May slept through most of the day. She barely so much as stirred until the sensation of the vehicle's engine turning off jolted her awake. May sat bolt upright, pushing her hood off her head and pressing her cupped eyes to the window.

They definitely weren't at Sovereign University, unless the campus included a desolate roadside diner with a long-abandoned mini-putt course decaying in its side lot.

"What is this place?" May asked, eyeing the mini-putt ruins like they might be haunted.

"A diner," Lety answered. She unlatched her seatbelt and booted the driver's side door open. "I'm fucking starving."

May scampered out of the SUV. "Well, can you get something to go? We've already wasted enough time."

Lety turned, one of her perfect manicured eyebrows arched high on her forehead. She didn't say anything, just stared May down for a moment then continued sauntering for the diner door.

"What?" May looked to Dom, throwing her hands up. "Am I being unreasonable?"

Dom put his hands on her shoulders and steered her toward the diner. "It's okay, Maybes. We won't be long. You'll feel better after you eat something."

"I'll feel better once I know my fiancée isn't being tortured by a power-hungry cult!"

Lety, who had been holding the door open, let it swing shut behind them with a bang. She leaned over May, a finger pressed to her lips as she shushed her dramatically.

"What part of stealth mode don't you understand, Tiny?"

May rolled her eyes. "I didn't realize we were in stealth mode."

"Of course we are! Seriously, you're a terrible criminal."

"That's because I'm not a criminal."

"Not with that attitude."

"We'll take a booth if you've got one available." Dom smiled pleasantly at the young hostess who clutched a handful of laminated menus to her chest as she blinked warily between May and Lety. "Please and thank you."

Whether it was to give them privacy or to keep them out of view of the better behaved patrons, the hostess led the trio to a booth in the far corner. Dom exchanged charming small talk, while May and Lety followed along, shushing each other like a pair of obnoxious teenagers. They took their seats, May pressing herself miserably against the window on one side of the table while Dom slid in across from her. Lety sat down beside him and immediately started hitting on the hostess. May shot Dom a look as if to say, won't be long, my ass.

A waitress replaced the flustered hostess, three unsolicited but much appreciated cups of coffee in tow. After taking their orders and grinning through a few smooth pick-up lines from Lety, she breezed off, leaving the three of them alone.

While the other two sipped their coffee, May stewed in silence. With every minute that passed she could feel her anxiety creeping up like a mercury thermometer on a sweltering day. A savory smell wafted toward them, announcing the mercifully quick arrival of their order. May was absentmindedly stirring warm cream into her coffee when a tray laden with plates dropped into the middle of the table.

"I don't know who ordered what, so you'll have to fight over it."

The voice was like a kick to the gut.

May's head shot up just in time to watch Jeremy Parker slide into the seat beside her.

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