Chapter Fifty-Four

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"Oh... Hey, J." Dom did his best to sound unaffected by Jeremy's sudden appearance at their diner booth.

Already, May had snapped a butter knife off the table and was ready to sink it into Jeremy's thigh, but he caught her wrist with unnerving speed and narrowed his eyes at her.

"Save your rage. I'm here to help."

"Go fuck yourself," May hissed. She was still straining toward him with the knife. Dom leaned across the table and wrenched the utensil from her grasp. She shot him a furious look. "Did you two know about this?"

"Absolutely not," Lety said.

Dom shook his head. "No, but I'd be a bad friend if I let you stab someone with a butter knife, so I had to intervene."

In what might have been an act of good faith, Jeremy let go of May's wrist. Undeterred by her lack of weapon, she instead drove her balled fist down hard. She was aiming for his groin, but he was able to jerk away just enough that she got his leg instead.

"Ow, fuck!" he gasped, pushing her away as she reared back to come at him again. "Will you stop? I said I'm here to help you!"

"Are you fucking kidding?" May, who was trying to keep from drawing attention to them, was whisper yelling angrily. "Did you honestly think you could show up after what you did and I wouldn't murder you?"

"I completely expect you to want to murder me. I'm just hoping you'll wait until after we've got Em back to do it, okay?"

This got May's attention. She settled back in her seat, eyeing Jeremy with mistrust. "I'm supposed to believe you want to help save Em?"

Jeremy nodded. "I swear that's why I'm here. I would have met up with you sooner but you've been really hard to track." He pointed at Lety. "Smart move, taking all those back routes."

Lety gave May a vindicated look. "Told you."

"How did you find us?" Dom asked, sounding a little unnerved.

Jeremy shrugged. "I hacked Lety's GPS."

"Rude," Lety said. Clearly over the arrival of their unexpected guest, she pulled her plate off the tray and set it down in front of her. "What did you do with our waitress?"

"I paid her handsomely to fuck off and give us some privacy."

"Also rude. I was trying to get that girl's number."

May slammed her palm down on the table. Coffee sloshed out of their mugs. "Can we please focus?"

Sheepishly, Dom slid his own plate over. "The floor's yours, J."

Jeremy sighed. He twisted on his half of the bench seat and, against all better judgement, faced May head on. "I know you're angry, May. And you should be. But... the Loyals coming for Em, us leaving you behind like that—none of that was planned. I swear to you."

"Bullshit."

"I'm telling you the truth."

"Oh, really?" May leaned closer. "Then why don't you tell me what really happened?"

"When we got to the check-in meeting, our agent called me out over what happened at the prison. I tried to play dumb, like I didn't know what happened to you, but it didn't matter. They were already at the farm by the time we got to the damn meeting. Originally, they were going to grab you and use you to lure Em out." He paused and rubbed the back of his neck. He looked like a kid when he was being remorseful. "Then the call came in that Em was there too and I... I knew it was over. They held us there until they had her and we were told the only way we'd be allowed to leave alive was if we walked away from all of it once and for all. We had to take Gaten and never speak to you again. If we did, then... well, you know."
He tapped the middle of his chest.

"If that's true, then why are you here?" May demanded. "Why risk yourself or the others to help us?"

Jeremy shook his head and took a shaky breath in. For a brief moment, May thought he was going to cry.

"I can't just walk away. Not anymore. I get it—Em's not Audrey. Audrey's dead. But the stuff that was Audrey..." Jeremy's voice cracked. He looked down and took a moment to compose himself before he tried speaking again. "All of this is my fault. I'm the one who lied to Audrey in the first place. I tried to get her to run away from the Loyals with me even though we both knew it wouldn't work. It was my stupid idea to try to blow up the treaty and look what happened—she paid the price."

Again, Jeremy's voice quaked. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes and growled against his tears. May pursed her lips tightly as empathy began to crowd out her misgivings.
Finally, Jeremy gave in. He dropped his hands to his lap and let May see his tears.

"I owe her this much, May," he whispered. "I can't walk away now."

May stiffened. "But they could kill you, Jeremy."

He huffed a bitter laugh. "Don't you get it? Em—she has something to lose, something to survive for. She's got you. I've got nothing to lose except my guilt."

A tense silence followed his confession. Lety and Dom exchanged uneasy glances. Swallowing her over-stuffed mouthful, Lety cleared her throat.

"That's, uh... mighty poetic of you."

Under the table, Dom drove the toe of his boot into her ankle.

Jeremy sighed. After giving Lety a pointed and dirty look, he shifted his gaze back to May.

She hesitated. "Won't the Loyals know something's up when you're not with the others? I'm sure they're tracking you right now."

A lopsided grin crawled up Jeremy's face. He looked hurt and heartbroken, but there was still a spark of rebellion flashing behind his dark eyes.

"Give me some credit, May. I'm not about to make the same mistake twice. So, what do you say?"

His timid grin transformed into a full-blown smile.

"Are you down for one more jailbreak?"

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