“Of course he does.”
Devyn was absolutely stunned. That just made everything worse in his opinion. The fact that his father would still care for someone he really owed nothing to at all… “You’re an even bigger bastard than I thought. Has your real father ever done anything for you?”
He saw the shame in Paden’s eyes.
“Yeah, and you spit on the one who took care of you even though he didn’t have to. You are disgusting.”
“I may be disgusting, but right now I’m the only chance you have of getting out of this.”
Devyn gave him a dry stare. “Need I remind you that you’re the reason I’m in this mess? I was—”
“Breaking the law.”
“Prove it,” Devyn taunted. That was the one thing he shared with Merjack. When it came to electronically covering his tracks… not even his father could match his skills.
Alix moved to stand between them. “Gentlemen, can you please focus for a minute? We have a most dire situation here and while I understand your mutual distrust and anger, we have something greater to think about right now.”
Paden snorted. “You don’t know the half of it.”
“Then please enlighten us.”
He raked her with a sneer. “I don’t answer to a pathetic slave. Ever.”
Devyn slugged him hard. “You better pick a better tone for her. I don’t like that one. You will give her the respect due a human being or I will give you the beating you deserve for being a callous ass**le. Your choice.”
Paden spat blood on the floor as he cupped his swelling jaw and eyed Devyn like he could kill him. “You bastard!”
Devyn was less than intimidated. “According to what you just divulged, you’re the only bastard in this room. My mother never cheated on my dad, and I’m pretty sure neither did Alix’s.”
Paden started for him, but Alix came between them. “Please, can we focus on what’s important? Like our lives?” Then she raked her own scathing glare over Paden. “And while I might be a worthless slave, you’ve just helped me evade custody, which makes you an accessory as much as Devyn. One word, and I own you for that kindness.”
Devyn scowled at him as he realized how right Alix was. “Why did you help us?”
“Because I’m not the heartless bastard you think. I loved Syn as much as any son could. When I found out he wasn’t my father, I was just a stupid kid, and I blamed him for it. Then when I learned his family history and who he really was, I was grateful to the gods that I didn’t share his DNA. I was mortified at the thought of someone learning that a man like him had been married to my mother.” He paused to glare heatedly at Devyn. “Don’t give me that look. I notice you don’t share his name, either.”
That made him seethe and had always been a source of extreme aggravation for him. “Devyn Wade Kell. I do have his name and I’m proud to call him father. Regardless of his past or his family, he’s the greatest man I’ve ever known. And I couldn’t give two shits that my grandfather was Idirian Wade. Unlike my father, I personally don’t care who knows it. I only go by Kell because that’s the name my parents gave me as a child, since they feared ass**les like you abusing me over it before I was old enough to defend myself. Personally, like the father I love, I don’t believe in running from anything. As Uncle Digger always says, Wades don’t run. Sometimes we want to. Sometimes we ought to. But Wades don’t run.”
Paden raked him with a look of supreme disgust. “You’re no better than me.”
“I never said I was. You’re the only one in this room who seems to have an inferiority complex. Alix and I are fine with our places in the world.”
Paden looked away as the truth behind those words tore through him. Because of his mother’s hatred of his father, he’d felt unclean and unworthy the whole of his life. Like he needed to prove himself to his mother, who hated him for what his father had done.
It wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t the one she’d driven away. All he’d ever wanted from her was her love and approval.
But even on her deathbed she’d cursed him. You’re as worthless and pathetic as your father. I should have killed you as an infant. Now leave and let me die in peace. I don’t want to carry your despicable face into eternity with me.
The only person who’d ever loved him was the man he’d spurned in an effort to earn his mother’s love.
It’s me or him, and if you choose him, you’ll be spit on by the whole universe. They’ll never see you as anything more than the pathetic waste that you are. Go on and be the son of a worthless thief. Then everyone will know exactly how disgusting you are.
It was why he’d never married. He didn’t want a woman to turn on him the way his mother had turned on Syn.
But none of that mattered right now.
The slave was right. By saving them, he’d just put his own head on the chopping block, and if she opened her mouth, he’d lose everything.
Even his own freedom.
Paden let out a frustrated sigh. “I don’t know how to get us out of this now. The original plan was to have Merjack abuse his power to hang you,” he said to Devyn, “and then use your unjust incarceration to bring him down. But now you’ve blown it all to hell.”
Alix frowned. “What about my family?”
He gave a short, bitter laugh at her as if she were an idiot. “You didn’t really think Merjack would ever free any of you, did you? He’d intended to sell the lot of you as soon as he had the evidence he needed to convict Kell. Well, except for your sister. He intended to keep her for himself.”
“And you were okay with that?”
“No, I despise slavery, but I can’t fix it by myself. All I can do is make sure Merjack gets caught. At least that was the plan until you two screwed it up by not following orders. Why couldn’t you just listen to me and do what I told you to?”
Alix was aghast at his anger toward her given what he would have relegated her to. How dare he! “Well, you’ll have to forgive me if the idea of your political gain pales in comparison to me and my family spending the rest of our lives as slaves. Sorry if your promotion seems a little stupid to me.”
He curled his lip as if she disgusted him, then he turned his attention to Devyn. “How can you stand her mouthiness?”
Devyn passed a proud look to her that warmed her through and through. “I think she’s adorable and her mouth is one of the things I find most enjoyable. In more ways than one.”
Before Paden could respond, Devyn turned serious as he pressed the link deeper in his ear. “They’re starting to search the buildings. There’s still no word on Omari and the others. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a good thing.”
Paden gave him a droll stare. “I wouldn’t count on it. Not with your luck.”
Devyn cursed as he heard the next bit of news from their “friends.” News that made him sick to his stomach. “Yeah. It just turned. The League has brought in a group of assassins to help search for us.” Unlike enforcers, assassins were highly trained. Nothing escaped their attention and they took mercy on no one. They were also a jumpy crew, and the last thing he wanted was to have Omari hurt because he was resisting arrest. “I don’t see a way out of this.” He pierced his brother with a stern glower. “I have one favor to ask you.”
“And that is?”
“Get Alix and the others to Gouran.”
Paden looked at him as if he were insane. “Why Gouran?”
“My godfather is Emperor Quiakides. He’ll make sure they and you are safe from The League and Merjack.”
“What about you?”
“I’m turning myself in.”
Alix shook her head. “Are you out of your mind? You can’t do that.”
Her concern touched him, but it changed nothing. Least of all his mind. He brushed the hair back from her face as he cherished the look of worry in her dark blue eyes. “Trust me, Alix. This is the only way. By now the Ta/ia has detonated and they won’t find anything there except melted-down scraps. As Paden said, they have nothing on me except the fabricated files you gave him, which we can prove are bullshit. Gouran doesn’t recognize slavery, so you’ll be free the moment you step one foot on their soil, and Uncle Nyk isn’t about to let Sway, Omari, Nero, Vik or Manashe get hurt. All of you will be safe.”
“What about my mother and sister?”
“See what Nyk can do to free them. He’ll pull out all the stops. I promise.” He pulled her against him and held her close. “Trust me, Alix. I’ll get them out.”
She wrapped her arms around him and he savored her touch. She really did mean everything to him.
Paden rolled his eyes. “Do you know how many holes this plan has in it?”
“You have a better one?”
He stepped back and released Alix to his brother. “Then get her out of here and meet up with the others.” He paused. “By the way, I’m trusting you… brother.” He held his hand out to Paden. “Don’t let me down.”
Paden took his hand in his. “May the gods walk with you.”
“And you. Remember, you’re watching over the most important things in the world to me.”
Devyn met Alix’s terrified gaze and wanted to reassure her. “Don’t be afraid. I will get your family out of this. I promise.”
“Your promises are the only ones I’ve ever been able to count on, and it’s not just them I’m terrified for. Don’t do anything stupid, Devyn. I don’t want your life to be the price you pay for their freedom.”
Smiling, Devyn kissed her hand. He inhaled the scent of her skin before he lifted his head and claimed her lips. “I will protect you.”
She nodded even as images of him danced in her head. “Be safe.”
“You, too.” He looked at Paden. “I’ll leave first. Once they have me, get the others out of here.”
Devyn took one more look at Alix, hoping this wasn’t the last time he saw her. She was disheveled by everything they’d been through and still she was the most beautiful woman in the world to him.
His wounds were throbbing, but not even that pain could override the desire he had for her.
Part of him wanted to forget the others and run with her, but he loved Omari and his crew just as much.
This was the only way to save all of them. His life for theirs. It was a bargain, really.
His heart heavy, he turned and left the room, then headed down to where the largest group of soldiers were waiting outside the building. The moment they saw him, they swarmed.
It took every ounce of will he possessed not to fight them as they cuffed his hands behind his back. This was for the others.
Yeah, but subjugation sucked.
Just don’t let Paden betray me.
He was putting a lot of trust in someone who could easily stab him in the back and kill the ones he was trying so desperately to save.
But at this point, he had no choice.
Alix eyed Paden warily. He hadn’t been exactly friendly or trustworthy in all of this, and she still wasn’t sure Devyn’s plan was sane. Please be all right. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she’d just consigned him to death to save her family. “Were you lying to him?”
Paden gave her a hard stare. “Not about you I wasn’t.” Then he added dryly, “I know you think I’m a worthless bastard and I really don’t care.”
But she caught a tremor under his voice. One that told her something he wasn’t saying. “You love your brother.”
Paden looked away, but she caught the look of shame in his eyes as if the very idea of it embarrassed him. “My feelings for him and my father are none of your business. Now move, slave. If it comes down to you or me, I won’t be as stupid as Devyn.”
His words offended her, but she found it strange that he claimed them as family now that Devyn wasn’t here to hear it.
Before she could really delve into that, he grabbed her by the arm and hauled her from the room.
“Where are you supposed to rendezvous?” he asked her as they made their way to the rear of the building, where they had the least chance of being seen and apprehended.
“The landing bay.”
He scowled at her. “The landing bay? Are you insane? That place will be crawling with enforcers.”
“Well, that was the game plan.”
He let out a sound of supreme disgust. “Fine.”
Alix jerked her arm free. “You’re hurting me.”
“Like I care.” But he didn’t retake her arm as he led her carefully toward the bay.
Alix wasn’t too sure about this as they entered the bay through a side door. She had a bad feeling in her stomach that she couldn’t shake.
They hadn’t gone far when she understood why. Behind them, she heard a deep, scary voice.