Deliverance Page 72


The man comes closer to me, and I grimace. He smells like vinegar, sharp and sour. “If he tries to run past my boys, he’ll be killed for his trouble. Weapon.” He holds his hand out, and I reluctantly give up my sword.

“Inside.” The man gestures toward the narrow doorway. When the Commander doesn’t start walking fast enough, the man shoves him forward. Instantly, the Commander pivots, wedges his forearm beneath the man’s throat, and crushes him against the wall.

“Touch me again and the next meal your boys eat will be you.”

I hurry forward as the red-eyed man draws his sword and a pair of men from across the street start toward us.

“Let’s go inside,” I say roughly, though I don’t touch the Commander. We may be temporarily on the same side, but I recognize the look on his face, and I don’t want to be the one he kills.

The Commander steps back, straightens his tunic, and moves into the house as if he owns it.

“Told you I needed my sword,” I say to the doorman as I push past him and follow the Commander.

The man slams the door and gestures toward a set of narrow stairs. His faded blue eyes regard the Commander with contempt.

“Go on up. And try to put your hands on Rufus, old man. He knows how to make you wish he’d kill you.”

The Commander gives the man a withering stare.

“Let’s go.” I start up the stairs, my footsteps echoing hollowly on the warped wood.

When we reach the upper story, I notice three important things—Rufus looks like he could take Frankie in a fight, we’re surrounded by men with machetes, crossbows, and knives, and Willow, Jodi, and Nola are tied to a hook in the far wall. I meet their eyes and work hard not to show the wild relief that rushes through me.

They look unharmed, which is more than I can say for the highwayman closest to Willow. His eye is swelling, and a cut splits the skin of his left cheek. He glares at Willow, and she smirks at him before looking back at me.

I don’t give any sign that I recognize them. If Rufus discovers what they mean to me, their price will be more than I can afford. Looking away from them, I take my time sizing up Rufus as I wrap my hand around the Commander’s upper arm and walk him to the middle of the room.

“I’m here to trade,” I say.

“You got nothing I want.” Rufus’s voice is quiet for such a large man.

“I’ve got the thing every single person in the Wasteland wants.”

Rufus raises a brow. “Is that so? And what would that be?”

“I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors out of Rowansmark.” I push the Commander a little closer to Rufus. “The bounty they’ve placed on Jared Adams’s head for stealing something very, very valuable.”

“I’ve heard.” Rufus leaves his chair and walks closer to us. “Are you trying to tell me this old man is Jared Adams, Baalboden’s top courier? Because I ran into Jared once a long time ago, and I could swear he was my age. Red hair. No scar.” He flicks a hand toward the Commander’s face and begins circling us like a predator.

He gives me a look that dares me to lie to him. Dares me to make it easy for him to dismiss me, or worse, kill me. I scramble for a backup plan, and pray the Commander has the good sense to play along. If my next words don’t convince Rufus, we’re doomed. I can’t call the tanniyn and rescue the girls while we’re still inside this building. The entire thing would collapse the moment one of the beasts tunneled up through the floor.

“No, I’m not claiming this is Jared Adams. This is someone better. This is Commander Jason Chase.”

Rufus stops circling us while beside me, the Commander clenches his fists and gives me a look of pure rage.

Rufus whistles. “I see. Is that true?” He looks at the Commander. “Are you Jason Chase, leader of Baalboden?”

The Commander draws himself up ramrod straight. “I am. And if you think I’m going to be traded off to you like some horse on an auction block, you can think again.”

“I can see how that would be upsetting to you,” Rufus says, and the light in his eyes tells me the negotiation has begun. “So tell me, what’s it worth to you for me to kill the boy and set you free instead?”

Panic races through me, and I rush to speak before the Commander can decide that letting Rufus kill me would solve all of his problems. “He can’t offer you anything.”

Rufus grins. “He’s the leader of Baalboden, mate. He can offer me the world.”

“Baalboden is gone,” I say. “Destroyed by the tanniyn.”

The Commander divides his time between glaring at me and looking at Rufus as if he’d like to disembowel him. Slowly.

“So then what do I need with an old man who has no power, no money, and no one who would pay to take him off my hands?”

“Rowansmark will pay. The bounty that was on Jared’s head is because the Commander had him take a piece of tech from Rowansmark. They want it back, and they want the Commander with it. James Rowan will pay you twenty times what you’ve earned in your entire life.”

Rufus considers me in silence for a moment. “So why don’t you just take him to Rowansmark yourself?”

I clear my throat and make a show of looking uncomfortable. “I’m not exactly welcome there.”

Rufus scratches his chin, looks at a few of the men gathered inside the room, and says, “I’ll give you a horse, your choice of five weapons from my cache, and the use of one of these fine ladies for the night.” He jerks his head toward the girls, and I have to swallow against the tide of fury that wants to explode out of me.

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