The Cage(5)

He’d tried to open the car door, only to find two men in black suits on either side. They’d dragged him out and taken his gun.

Then they’d made him an offer.

“Nice to meet you, Cora.” He looked away, wiping his mouth. “I’m going to check the barn for a phone. You should come. We’re safer if we stick together.”

She glanced behind her toward the cityscape. “Yeah, but . . . don’t get too close.”

He held up his hands in mock surrender and climbed the path. It wound them through the orchard, where a stream ran between the trees, spreading an eerie calmness through the air. He ducked a hanging apple, and his stomach lurched. How long had it been since he’d eaten? Were the food and water safe?

“So what’s your theory?” he asked.

“Theory?” She held her arms tightly across her chest.

“Where we are. How we got here.” He paused. He really should tell her about that day in the airfield. But she cast a questioning look at him, all wide blue eyes, and he lost his resolve. “I mean . . . it’s snowing fifty feet away, and here it’s seventy degrees. There’s a desert over that hill that goes on for miles. And I swear that sun hasn’t moved since I woke up hours ago. The clothes you’re wearing . . . are they yours?”

She brushed the strap of the camisole. “No.”.

“Same for me. Why would someone change our clothes? And put us in these weird locations?” He raked his nails across his scalp to help him think. “I’ve been through every possible explanation: it’s a joke. An experiment. But it’s too weird, changing our clothes. That takes time and planning. Whoever is doing this is messing with us intentionally. I just can’t figure out why.”

“I don’t care why,” Cora said. “I just want to go home.”

Her voice broke, slicing into Lucky’s chest. He stopped. “Hey. It’s okay. To be afraid, I mean.” He gave her a smile, just a tug of one corner. “I am too.”

The barn was just feet away. He started for it, but she grabbed his arm. He flinched, not expecting her touch. Her fingers were smaller than he’d imagined. So fragile. Who would do this to a girl who’d already been through so much?

“Those markings on your neck,” she said. “The black dots. What do they mean?”

Lucky blinked. He had no idea what she was talking about, but her eyes dropped to the place just below his left ear. He reached up a hand that brushed hard bumps, like grains of sand embedded in his skin.

He dropped his hand.

For years he’d worn his granddad’s watch, even back when the strap had been too big, but it had vanished when he’d woken. He felt lost without its weight.

“I don’t know.” His eyes went to her neck. “But you have them too.”


HarperCollins Publishers




CORA’S HAND FLEW TO her neck. Raised bumps, like a connect-the-dots game.

Pain throbbed through her head, and she doubled over in the sunflower patch next to the barn. She hadn’t imagined that anything could be more frightening than her first day in Bay Pines. Charlie had driven her there with the family’s lawyer, so that the press didn’t get photographs of Senator Mason checking his daughter into detention. The officers had patted her down for contraband and given her khaki clothes that smelled like they’d been washed with rat poison. They introduced her to the cinder-block dorm room she shared with a cornrowed Venezuelan, then threw her to the wild in the cafeteria. She’d been one of the youngest inmates, and the richest. They might as well have squirted a target on her back with ketchup and mayonnaise.

Now, as she felt the raised dots, she had a new bar for what qualified as “terrifying.”

“The dead girl had them too,” she said quietly.

Lucky let out a mirthless laugh. “That’s real comforting.” He tugged on the barn handle. “It’s locked. I might be able to take it off its hinges, if I can find something to use for a makeshift screwdriver.”

“I’ll look for another way in.” Cora circled the barn until she reached a large black window, six feet wide by three feet tall. The feeling of being watched felt like nails down her back. The window was in good repair, which was odd given the weathered state of the barn. She knocked on the glass. A hollow thud sounded. Something was wrong, like it lacked an echo.

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