Discovering Zhara: Sweet Lies & KissesJessica Sorensen
Table of Contents
You Can Always Eat My Cereal if You Really Want to
Questionable Next Door Neighbors
Acting Natural is Complicated
Proof and an Invite
About the Author
Also by Jessica Sorensen
Discovering Zhara: Sweet Lies & Kisses
(Bad Boy Rebels, #6)
2. You Can Always Eat My Cereal if You Really Want to
3. Questionable Next Door Neighbors
4. Acting Natural is Complicated
5. Proof and an Invite
6. Sweet Kisses
7. Distracting Kisses
8. Dirty Lies
About the Author
Also by Jessica Sorensen
Discovering Zhara: Sweet Lies & Kisses
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Copyright © 2017 by Jessica Sorensen
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There’ve been a couple of times in my life where I felt like I was about to watch someone break apart. Once was with my sister and the other time was with Jackson. Both times I wanted to help, but couldn’t figure out what to do. So, I ended up silently watching them crumble into pieces. I still hate myself a little bit for not doing anything to help them.
The problem is, when a person’s life is falling apart, it’s nearly impossible to stop it. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t told Zhara that she might have been a test patient for the Drug Tunnel Experiment Facilities, which is really, really fucking bad. Not only because that’d mean her entire life was a lie, but her body and mind could suffer from long-term effects from the drugs that were injected into her system. Plus, from what I’ve found out, Riverson is determined to collect all of his old test subjects that were rescued from his facilities. What’s left of the test subjects anyway, since most of them died from the torture they were put through during the experiments. And the handful that survived are in psychiatric facilities.
“Fucking shit, this is bad,” I mutter as I sort through my weapons hidden in a secret compartment in my closet, preparing to take Zhara to the training pit.
We were supposed to leave an hour ago, but as we were walking out, Xavier had shown up with a bunch of files my real boss had sent over for us to sort through. So, I’d told Zhara to get something to eat while Xavier and I hurried and looked through the files. When we were close to being finished, I decided that I should arm myself in case we run into another ambushing incident.
“Which part?” Xavier questions as he sorts through the last of the files scattered across my bed. “The fact that Zhara might have been a test subject, which means we have no idea if she’s stable. Or that her family might have once worked for an organization and that her mom had a connection to Axel?” He glances up from the file he’s reading, irritation flashing in his eyes. “Or is it that you brought her into our group, which already has too many problems as it is, and now we’re going to have to deal with her baggage, along with protecting her from Riverson, who FYI is a fucking whack job.” His gaze lowers to the file, the muscle in his jaw ticking. “I know you have this need to help everyone ever since your sister…” He clears his throat. “But anyway, I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to take on Zhara’s problems. We already have too much shit to deal with, with the case and now Axel threatening us. Plus, Jackson is losing his damn mind.” He presses his fingers to the brim of his nose and shakes his head. “I swear to God, if he doesn’t stop checking in on Zhara, I’m going to cut off his phone service.”
“He’s been calling you?” I grab one of my smaller, lighter guns, along with some ammo.
Xavier nods. “About every hour to make sure she’s okay. I tried to explain that she’s awake and seems perfectly fine—and eating my cereal, I might add—but apparently that’s not good enough for him.”
“You’re upset because Zhara’s eating your cereal? Seriously, man?”
He scowls at me. “It’s my cereal. And she didn’t even ask.”
I shake my head. Xavier and I have been friends for a while and if I’m ever in trouble, he’s got my back. But it takes him a while to warm up to people. Once he does, though, he’d take a bullet for you. Which is why I need him to warm up to Zhara, or else this undercover plan is going to go to shit before it even starts. Plus, I’m worried about Zhara being in danger and I need all of my team on board protecting her and keeping an eye on her at all times. While Wilder, Jackson, Ridge, and Jett seem okay with that—and so do I—Xavier isn’t quite there yet. Sure, if someone tried to harm Zhara while Xavier was around, he’d jump in to protect her—he’s not a complete dickhead. But I need him to want to protect her all the time, because I fully plan on starting my own side project to figure out Zhara’s past, what’s going on with her family, why a member of the organization moved into her neighborhood, and why the hell Riverson is after her.
Yeah, there’s a lot of why’s on my list and I didn’t even mention the crap going on with Alexis, Zhara’s twin sister. Thank God, West and his team have taken on solving that mystery and protecting Alexis. I just hope Alexis will accept the help. The last update I heard—which was from a few hours ago—she was currently still passed out from being drugged by someone from Hacker Hearts Anonymous, aka one of the most recognized hacker groups. I’m supposed to be taking Zhara to see her after we get done at the training pit. I haven’t told her yet that Alexis was drugged, and fear she might break apart when I do—she’s been under way too much stress lately.
“First it’s the cereal. Then the next thing I know she’ll be taking over my car and trying to move into my apartment,” Xavier continues bitching about Zhara as he shuffles through papers.
“Would you chill the fuck out? I told Zhara she could eat whatever she wanted. It’s not her fault she likes your shitty cereal.” I tuck a gun into my holster that’s strapped around my shoulders, and then slip a second gun into my ankle holster. “She doesn’t even know it’s yours. And if she did, she’d probably feel bad for eating it without asking first, because that’s the kind of person she is.” I slip on a jacket to hide my gun, then seal the secret compartment back up, and step out of the closet. “Now, quit bitching, put the files away, and lets go.”
Xavier’s brows knit. “Why? Where am I going?”
“We’re going to take Zhara to the training pit.” I head for the door.
“Why the hell do I have to go?” he gripes. “I’ve already got too much shit to do.”
“Because you need to give Zhara a chance and this is the perfect time to do it,” I tell him. “You’re going to end up causing tension in the group if you continue to treat her like shit, and that’ll
lead to a disaster, like it did with West, Steel, and Ellis.”
“That wasn’t my fault.”
“I’m not saying it was your fault. I’m just using the incident to prove my point.”
I grab the doorknob. “That, if you don’t learn to get over your issues with Zhara—which I still haven’t figured out why you have issues with her at all—then the group is going to fall apart, like it did then.” I start to pull the door open, but pause. “Whether you like her or not, the rest of the team likes her.”
He shakes his head, his jaw clenching, and I worry he’s going to continue being a pain in the ass. But then he blows out an exasperated breath.
“Fine, I’ll give her a chance,” he says with a scowl.
I roll my eyes. “You act like it’s so painful to do it, which is stupid. And you’re going to feel stupid when you realize how sweet she is.” I cross my fingers this will all work out.
Zhara’s safety depends on it.
“Perhaps,” he says with a shrug. “But perhaps she’s exactly like I think she is. You’ve been wrong about people before… So have I.”
We both grow silent as the past momentarily waves over us. He’s right. I’ve misjudged people in the past and my bad judgment toward a certain person has led to Xavier turning into the cold, cautious person that he is now. He’ll never admit that person broke him, though.
Xavier clears his throat loudly, cutting through the silence. “Completely off the subject but have you told people about the party you’re having? Or we’re having, I guess. But no one needs to know the rest of us are involved. It’ll help us stay undercover better.”
“I’ve told a few people.” I release the doorknob and turn to face him, crossing my arms. “But I’m still working on the guest list. I need to make sure that every suspicious person in the apartment complex shows up.” Even though we caught the Rogue, I have a suspicion he wasn’t working alone, and a few others could be living in my apartment complex. I’m not positive why so many are around, other than maybe they’re planning a rebellion and want to ambush my team to get information. Like the one that broke in that was looking for the passcode to The Vault. “And I need to find a way to get Zhara’s neighbor to come as well. I’m not sure if he’s in on this, but I want to scope him out and get a better vibe on him. Inviting him to a party seems like the best way to do that without breaking in and putting bugs in his house. But if the party fails, that’s my next plan.”
“Have you been able to find out what organization his mark is from?” Xavier piles the files into a stack at the foot of my bed.
I shake my head. “Boss wouldn’t give me access to the book.”
A crease forms between his brows. “That’s odd. He usually does if you have a good reason.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Did he give you a reason why he said no?”
“He just said that they raised the security level and that right now, getting access to anything is nearly impossible.”
Xavier collects the stack of files and sets them down on the dresser. “What was the reason behind the sudden security change?”
“He wouldn’t tell me.” I fiddle with my eyebrow piercing, contemplating a list of reasons why the organization would up security suddenly. “Maybe it has to do with the increase in Rogues, though.”
“But the organization said there wasn’t an increase,” Xavier reminds me. “In fact, at the last meeting, they said Rogues were declining.”
“They may have said that, but considering we caught one last night and I’m pretty sure there are more living in these apartments…” I shake my head, hating to say it, but knowing I have to. “I’m starting to worry that the organization is lying to us about stuff.”
“You might be right.” An uneven exhale eases from Xavier’s lips. “So, how do we get to the truth?”
“We start with throwing a party and trying to figure out who the Rogues are. Then we do whatever it takes to get the truth out of them. I want to find out what they’re after and who they’re seeking revenge on. I also want to find out why the Rogue last night wanted access to The Vault. And why he said all that shit to Jett about the organization lying to us.”
“You really don’t think he was telling the truth, right? Rogues lie all the time.”
I dither. “I doubt he was, but I need to make sure. And I want to find out how he knew about Zhara.”
Xavier drums his fingers on the sides of his legs, considering something. “It just seems like a lot, though… Between the case, Axel threatening us, the Rogue situation, and figuring out what the hell is going on with Zhara and her family… I’m not sure if we can handle it.”
“Of course we can. We’ve handled worse.” Sadly, it’s true. Together and separate, we’ve had to deal with a lot of shit over the years. That’s why I’m confident we can handle what lies ahead of us.
We have to. Not just for Zhara, but the town of Honeyton, who’s being controlled by drug lords, whether the people who live here realize it or not. Plus, with all the extra Rogues running around… I tense, knowing how reckless Rogues can be.
Yeah, we definitely need to get the situation under control, before someone gets hurt.
I start to walk out of the room, but pause as my phone buzzes from inside my pocket. I fish it out and open the message from Ridge.
Ridge: I managed to access the Shadow Files and found the list of test subjects that were rescued when the Drug Tunnel Experiment Facilities were raided.
Me: Was Zhara’s name on there?
Ridge: No. But there’s a couple of girls that would be around her age right now. The look pretty young in the photos, though, so I can’t tell for sure if any of them are Zhara. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m wondering if her real name isn’t listed in the files.
Me: Can you send me the photos? I’m going to stop by Zhara’s house today and there’s some photos hanging on the wall in the foyer. Maybe I can see if any of them match.
“Who is it?” Xavier asks, stepping up beside me.
“It’s Ridge,” I answer as another message pings through.
Ridge: Give me about an hour and I’ll text them to you. Just make sure to run a delete scan on your phone afterward so there won’t be a trail leading back to us.
Me: You know I always do.
Ridge: Yeah, I know, but I want to be extra careful. The Shadow Files are in the Locked Section and I could get kicked out of the organization for hacking into them.
Me: I promise I’ll delete all traces of the photos as soon as I’m done with them.
Ridge: Okay. But are you sure it wouldn’t be easier just to show Zhara the photos and see if she recognizes any of them?
Me: That might be easier in theory, but then I’ll have to explain to her that she might be a test subject from the facility. And until I know for sure, I don’t want to put her through that.
Ridge: But aren’t we kind of lying to her?
Me: You know as well as I do that sometimes we have to tell lies in order to protect people.
Ridge: Okay, but I think I need to tell you about something else I found in the files. It’s a list of side effects the subjects experienced after they were removed from the facilities. Constant low body temperature is one, along with rarely bruising and hardly getting sick. Those are just a few, but Zhara definitely has a constant low body temperature. And she told me she’s been that way for a while.
I force down the lump crammed in my throat and glance up at Xavier, who’s been reading the messages too. His worried expression probably mirrors mine.
“Shit, this is bad,” I tell him. “I was hoping Ridge would give me better news than this. But with everything he just told me…”
He nods, understanding where my thoughts are going. That I’m fairly sure Zhara was a test subject in the facility.
But the real questions are, how did she get there and why on earth can she function normally when almost all the other test subjects either died
or went crazy?
You Can Always Eat My Cereal if You Really Want to
I’m sitting in front of the television with a bowl of cereal on my lap, still wearing the black t-shirt that belongs to Benton and the cut off shorts I wore the night before, when Axel injected me with devil’s poison. I feel exhausted, confused, and worried. Worried about myself, the guys, who, except for Benton and Xavier, are out on missions. But most of all I’m worried about Alexis.
Benton said she was okay, that West and two other guys from the organization are keeping an eye on her. I still can’t believe she’s been dragged into this world and has hackers after her. Although, ever since my parents passed away, Alexis has been awfully secretive about where she goes when she leaves the house. Could she have known about this world the entire time? Did she do something to piss these Hackers off?
I frown, knowing the answer could be yes.
But that’s not the only thing that took me off guard about the situation. I can’t believe West is involved in the organization. Alexis has been friends with West for years. I’ve known West for years.
This is so weird.
How did I not know this?
My mind continues to linger in holy-heck-how-did-I-not-see-this-coming world when the door to Benton’s bedroom swings open and Benton strolls out.
He greets me with a smile. “Hey. You about ready to go?”
I absentmindedly stir the cereal. “To the training pit?”
Benton nods, moving to the side as Xavier exits the bedroom. They’ve been in the room for about ten minutes, preparing to go to the training pit and going through files, whatever that means. Nothing appears different from when they first went into the bedroom. Benton is still wearing the same jeans and black t-shirt he had on, but he does have on a hooded jacket now. Since the temperature is at least eighty something degrees outside, I’m betting he has a gun hidden underneath the jacket.