Hidden Truths: Lost Lake Academy Book 2 - Chapter 1
“I don’t understand why we have to stay in this hotel room.” Devan, one of the two people I was closest to in the world, had a distinctly whiny edge to his voice. “I mean, she’s right here, in the same city. Surely we could just go see her for like, a minute? Make sure she’s safe?”
A knot formed in my chest at the mere mention of Camilla, but I didn’t look up from where I sat at the small, scratched table in the corner. I worked my thumbnail under the loose edge of the plastic laminate and pulled it until it snapped back into place with a satisfying thwack. I immediately dug my nail under the edge again.
“I know the Boss told us to stay hidden,” Devan went on, flopping over the edge of the bed until the tips of his auburn hair dragged against the cheap carpet. “But no one’s even looking for us in Chicago.”
“Dude, give it a rest.” This was from Micah, who was standing by the window, staring out over the dreary landscape of the parking lot, frost still clinging to cars in the weak winter sunlight. His words echoed my thoughts, but were much more tactful than whatever might have come out of my mouth. “We all want to see her. We all want to get out of this hotel room. Complaining about it isn’t going to change anything. And it’s not for forever.”
“It might as well be,” Devan grumbled, and I let the laminate loudly slap against the edge of the table again.
Micah turned from the window to glare at me. “You’re not helping either.” He ran a hand over his face, fingers bumping over the ridge of old scar tissue that bisected his face from cheek to jaw. “Fuck, we’re never going to make it through another two-and-a-half weeks of this.”
A chime sounded from the bed next to Devan, and he lunged for his phone. Barely a second later, Micah’s pocket buzzed and my own phone rattled against the tabletop. The speed with which we all grabbed at the stupid devices would have been funny if we weren’t all so pathetic. But there was only one person it could be, and even something as simple as a text from her was like drawing a breath of clean air after a year in a smog-filled room.
Camilla: I’m going to read the letter.
A collective silence fell over the room as we all drank in her words like the affection-starved lunatics we were. It had only been three days, but her absence was like a physical wound. It had taken everything I’d had to walk away from her at the airport, leaving her in her aunt’s care with three stab wounds and a bruised face. And to be here, trapped in this shitty hotel room mere miles away from where she was…well, Devan was right. It was torture. Though at least I could keep my pitiful mooning to myself.
It was only when Micah’s response lit the screen of my phone that I actually processed what she’d said. She was going to read the letter. The letter she’d been carrying around unopened for months. The one from her dead parents. The knot in my chest grew tighter. We should be there. I should be there. To make sure she’s okay.
I typed back a quick message, telling her to call if she needed us, then rolled my eyes as Devan’s string of heart emojis filled my screen. The guy was such a sap. Not that I was any better; I just kept my feelings for her shoved down deep with all the other emotions I kept locked away. There was no room for those in the logical part of my brain. Not if I was going to get us all through this alive.
When she didn’t answer again, I returned my phone to the table and blew out a breath.
“God, I miss her. We should be there for her right now,” Devan said on a sigh, and even though I’d been thinking practically the same thing myself, I couldn’t help the flash of annoyance that burst through me.
“Fuck, let it go, man,” I snarled. “We get it.”
Devan turned his irritated gaze to me, his face hanging upside-down off the edge of the bed. I could see the fire in his eyes, knew he was itching for a fight, even if only to stem the impotent boredom we were all feeling. “Fuck off, Garrett. Just because you’re a fucking cyborg who doesn’t have feelings doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t have some.”
I didn’t rise to his bait. Instead, I turned away to stare out the window, ignoring Micah’s knowing gaze on me. He was well aware that my feelings ran just as deep as his or Devan’s. But he also knew how short my fuse was. If I let my control slip, even for a second, the detonation might wipe out the neighborhood.
The corner of Micah’s mouth twitched up in a smirk, pulling my gaze to him. “How’d you like it when Naomi called you Max? That had to be a blast from the past.”
I’d told them all about my brief encounter with Camilla’s aunt when we’d met at the airport, including when she’d addressed me by my long-dead birth name.
I snorted. “How do you think I liked it, Wesley?”
Micah grimaced and Devan chortled from his spot on the bed. “Shit, does this mean I can start calling you that again?”
“Absolutely not,” Micah said firmly. “Unless you’re ready to go back to Finn.”
Devan shrugged. “Finn’s not terrible.” He made a face. “Better than that year in middle school when I went by Calvin, anyway.”
Micah groaned. “Oh yeah, I think I was Toby that year.” He gave an exaggerated shudder and we all laughed, the tension in the room ratcheting down a notch. “I think I’ll stick with Micah,” he said, glancing from Devan to me.
The names we currently bore had been ours for the longest stretch since we’d started changing them every time we’d switched schools, and I knew without asking the others that they had become permanent. We could never go back. The names we’d been given at birth had died alongside our families, eleven years ago.
Besides, these were the names she knew us by.
Micah’s gaze slipped from me to my phone where it rested silent on the tabletop, and his expression sobered as he gave voice to the question we’d all asked ourselves a million times. “What do you think is in that letter, anyway?”
The silence stretched as all three of us shifted uncomfortably. We’d had this conversation before, but it was different this time. She was reading it at that very moment. And she wasn’t just some poor girl trapped in the middle of our messy circumstances. She was part of it all at this point, and while it should have made me feel better that she wasn’t flying blind any longer, it didn’t. It only made me worry more. Maybe she thought she knew what she was up against, but she had no idea.
Micah answered his own question with another one. “Do you think her parents wrote the letter to fill her in on the Shattered Sun? Maybe it just tells her everything we already told her.”
My voice was quiet when I spoke, but I couldn’t seem to force the words out any louder. “I don’t think the letter would have been sent at all if something hadn’t gone wrong.”
“Well, obviously something went wrong,” Devan said. “They’re dead, right?”
I shook my head impatiently. “More than that. I mean, we know the fire had to have been set intentionally, right? But by who? And more specifically, how did they find her parents? How did they even know Camilla’s family existed? Her parents left Chicago when Camilla was a baby—they were hiding out even longer than we were.”
Micah turned from the window, his brows pulled together. “But they weren’t really in hiding, were they? I mean, they didn’t change their names or anything. And Naomi knew where they were. They were just trying to keep Camilla out of it.”
Devan raised himself up on his elbows, turning his head right-side-up as he chimed in. “That’s true, but then why did the guy who jumped Millie in the alley say he’d been searching for her for years?”
We were all quiet. We had no answers, and every time we picked at this puzzle it just raised more questions.
“Not to mention, Naomi obviously had to know the fire wasn’t an accident, and yet she still sent Camilla to Lost Lake,” I said.
Micah shrugged. “Maybe she really did think it was safe. I mean, she didn’t know we were there.”
Devan’s expression turned dark. “There’s no way she didn’t know Drew was there.”
“Sure, but he wouldn’t know who Camilla was. And besides,” Micah went on, “Lost Lake is supposed to be a safe zone anyway, right? It’s been that way for generations.”
I scoffed quietly at that. Lost Lake was far from safe. It was probably the worst place the three of us could be, and we all knew it. But we had no choice.
“Anyway,” Devan said, bringing us back to the original subject, “you think that letter was sent because the fire was intentional?”
I nodded. “Seems likely.”
Micah pushed off the window, crossing to perch on the edge of the other bed. “Which means there’s probably more in it than a simple introduction to the Shattered Sun.”
I nodded again. “Also likely.”
“We should be there with her,” Devan said again, and this time I didn’t contradict him.
“She’s reading it right now,” Micah said in a voice I imagined he meant to be soothing, but came out strained. “She’ll tell us when she’s done.”
All three of our gazes fell to our phones, but they lay silent and immobile. I stared hard at the lifeless screen, as if I could get it to light up through sheer force of will, as if I could telepathically communicate with her through it.
The knock at the door was loud in the silence and we were all on our feet in an instant. Devan’s hands bunched into fists and my own strayed to the sheathed knife on my belt. I’d felt naked without it at Lost Lake. Micah was already moving, crossing silently to the closet where we kept our heavier weaponry.
“Housekeeping.” The voice that called through the door was feminine and timid, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
I waved Micah away from the closet as I crossed to the door, already speaking as I undid the locks. “Thanks, but we don’t need anything.” I glanced over my shoulder at Devan. “I thought you put out the do-not-disturb—”
I barely had the door cracked open before it was yanked out of my grip and flung back against the wall. The man in front of me was huge and barrel-chested, and my knife was in my hand before I realized I’d reached for it.
I dropped into a defensive crouch, trying to block the doorway with my body, but he was already halfway past me, shoving me off balance with hands the size of dinner plates. Two other men pushed past me before I could regain my balance. I caught myself against the wall and flung my hand out, slashing upward hard. The blade met with the brief resistance of cloth and skin before both gave way. The enormous man howled, stumbling to the side, and I grunted with satisfaction before jerking the blade free.
Scuffling sounds came from the room behind me, but I didn’t have time to glance back before a fist came flying toward my head. I snarled and twisted, dodging and trying to give myself space to plunge my knife in again, but a shout came from the doorway.
“Damn it, hurry up!” It was the feminine voice that had called for housekeeping, but this time her voice was harsh and commanding. Immediately following her words a muffled cry came from deeper inside the room, followed by the solid thump of a body hitting the floor.
“Fuck!” The breathless growl was Devan’s, and I chanced a glance back only to see Micah lying prone and motionless on the floor.
My distraction cost me when a ham-sized fist smashed into the side of my jaw. White-hot pain flared through my head, black spots dancing along the edges of my vision, but I ruthlessly forced them down. I swung out blindly, my knife catching flesh again. The huge man cursed and jerked back, knocking against the wall.
“Get the other—” The lady’s screech was cut off by the deafening sound of a gunshot in the room behind me. Off balance, I swung around again, relief washing over me like a wave when I realized it was Devan holding the gun, though I could also see a line of vivid blood running down his face from his temple.
One of the two assailants in the room was crumpled on the floor next to Micah, but the other was holding a gun as well, the barrel trained on Devan.
I opened my mouth to shout, but nothing more than a wheezing breath came out before the man pulled the trigger. He didn’t even wait for Devan to fall before he swiveled, pointing the gun at me and firing.
I waited for the searing lance of pain, but it didn’t come. It was only a pinprick, a pinching sting in my arm. I looked down in confusion, only to see the end of a tranquilizer dart sticking out of my arm.
With a roar, the barrel-chested man shoved past me into the room and tackled Devan, knocking the gun from his hands. It went skittering across the carpet, coming to rest just under the side of the bed. The two men fell in a tangle of limbs, and I saw the dart protruding from Devan’s thigh.
I scrambled forward, diving after the gun, and the man wielding the tranq gun joined the fray as well. A wave of dizziness washed over me as I moved. The room tilted sideways as I flung my arm out, groping under the bed even as hands came around my ankles. They clamped tight, dragging me back. I kicked, my bare foot coming into contact with something hard, but the grip didn’t release as I strained forward, fingers scrabbling at the stained carpet.
A wave of nausea hit me and I gagged. My vision wavered as limbs flew and tangled, knees and elbows catching me in the sides as Devan and I fought with the two remaining assailants.
I have to get the gun. The refrain repeated in my head like a mantra, even as Devan’s body sagged and went limp next to me. Even as my hands turned cold and clumsy. I have to get the—there!
My fingers met with cold metal, but the strength had gone out of them. I couldn’t seem to get my hand around the grip. Couldn’t seem to kick my legs against the weight pinning me down. Couldn’t seem to get my eyes to focus.
The last thing I heard as unconsciousness swept over me was the sound of three phones forgotten around the room chiming in unison with a text message.