I had no idea where that was, but he peeled away from the wall. “Do you have to go back?” I asked, not wanting him to. “You can stay here. You’ll be safe, and we’ll go get the rest of them. You don’t have to go back there.”
“But I do.” Nate straightened as he took a step, and that’s when I saw him limp.
He wasn’t limping before.
“Did he do that, too?” I jerked my chin at his leg.
“He kicked me when I went down.”
I was so going to kill Morton. “Stay,” I urged. “I can take you to the doc. She can give you something—”
“I have to go back. The younger ones. They get scared easy at night. Jamal and Nia can’t handle them all by themselves.”
“Please. Just come tonight. Okay? When it’s dark. I’ll signal you from inside the Galleria. We’ll be near the entrance.”
Realizing there was nothing I could do to stop him that wouldn’t scare him, I took a step back. “We’ll be there.”
I nodded. I might have done a lot of stupid things, but there was no way I was going back into that city by myself again and trying to wrangle up a bunch of frightened children.
Plus, someone needed to lead them out while Morton was dealt with.
“Your boyfriend?” he asked.
“He’ll be there. You’ll like him. He wears really stupid shirts.”
A tentative smile appeared, but it didn’t last. He’d seen too much, been through too much. “Tonight.”
“Tonight,” I promised.
Watching him leave was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do. A hundred different things could happen between now and when it was dark enough that the kids could make their presence known. Morton could go at Nate again, could go at any of the other kids.
My hands curled into fists.
But I knew if Nate didn’t go back there, the kids wouldn’t come to the mall. They’d scatter in a city they knew like the backs of their hands. We’d never find them.
Now I just had to convince Cekiah and everyone else that taking on more than a dozen children was the right thing to do. I could only hope that Luc had been right about Cekiah and Zouhour being more than willing to take the children in.
Spinning around, I raced back to the library and skidded into the main room. Everyone was still there. No tables had been flipped, but I hadn’t been gone all that long. Viv was there, sitting in one of the empty chairs. I must’ve just missed passing her. I knew this was a terrible moment for me to tell them about Nate and the kids, but I really didn’t have a choice.
“This is becoming—” Kat stopped mid-sentence as Daemon looked over his shoulder at me.
It’s Nate. He’s back. They’re ready.
Luc’s gaze shot to me, and with one quick nod, he stood. “The situation with Blake is important, and I’m sure all of you wish to continue arguing the same points over and over again, but Evie has something that’s also important to share.”
Figuring my thoughts were super-loud at the moment, I wasn’t at all surprised when Archer’s eyes narrowed and he leaned over to whisper in Dee’s ear.
“Please tell me it’s not yet another person whose right to live or die we’ll need to discuss?” Quinn said wearily.
I was going to skip over that part at the moment.
“Remember when I said I saw lights in the city? I wasn’t seeing the sunlight reflecting weird or anything like that,” I said, noticing that Eaton no longer looked half-asleep as Daemon tilted his head. “There are people in the city. Kids.”
That got everyone’s attention. Human and alien eyes fixed on me.
“What?” Cekiah had twisted around in her seat.
“Shortly after I saw the lights, I came home to find a kid in the house. I knew he wasn’t a part of this community, because he wasn’t at the school. He was scavenging for food. His name is Nate, and I saw him again a few times, and talked to him once more. Then he came because one of the other kids was hurt. I went with him into the city—”
“You did what?” Daemon demanded.
“Trust me, she’s already received the lecture I know you’re about to deliver,” Luc remarked.
I gave him a wince of a smile. “I know it wasn’t the brightest idea, but I did it. I needed to see how many kids there were and try to get him to trust me. You see, he didn’t want me to tell anyone, and he was worried that if I did, the kids would scatter into the city. There are over a dozen children in that city. All human. Nate might be the oldest, and he can’t be older than thirteen.”
Someone sucked in sharp breath, and there were gasps. I was hoping that was a good sign.