A Huge Decision
The stench of my father is still permeating my nasal membranes," said Tenner Cordoba. By now he'd moved out of his hiding spot under the dining table and onto the couch and could actually form words. But that morning's shocking one-two punch of The Librarian's betrayal followed by the surprise arrival of Troy Cordoba on their doorstep, wanting to join their team, had taken a toll. Troy as one of the good guys? It seemed like a terrible idea to Tenner.
Luckily the man hadn't caught sight of any of the forgotten five or Elena Golden and had gone with Amanthi, the abbess of the Monasterio de Piedra, to her office to wait for their decision. But Troy's scent lingered and was easily identifiable to a super-sensory person like Tenner.
"Troy is way too close for comfort with that ankle tracker he's wearing," Elena said worriedly. "I wish he'd leave the property until we decide what to do about him."
"But then he'd be completely vulnerable," said Lada, appalled. "Fuerte's guards or the police would get him. They've got to be tracking him by now."
"So what?" Tenner said. His shoulders curled inward. He drew his legs up onto the couch and gripped them around the shins, as if they could shield his heart from any more incoming damage. He eyed Lada warily. His new favorite person, the girl he almost maybe like liked, seemed extremely concerned about Troy's well-being and not at all concerned about Tenner's.
"Nobody knows we live here, though," Brix reminded them. The ten-year-old squinched up his face thoughtfully and swept his golden-brown bangs to one side, out of his eyes. "But if they get inside the monastery walls looking for Troy, they could spot us if we leave our cottage."
Cabot's brow furrowed as she researched something on her phone. Then she looked up. "Troy is here at the monastery asking for sanctuary, and Amanthi told us from the beginning that she and the other monks will protect anyone in need-it's their way." She lifted the phone and waved it. "This says the whole idea of 'sanctuary' is to offer a place of refuge for people who are in danger. And even though Troy is our enemy, he's still in danger of Fuerte harming him, and in dire need of protection. Sheltering Troy on this property would help keep him safe from the president and his goons."
"You say that as if President Fuerte plays by the rules," said Seven with a hint of bitterness in his voice. "I don't think he'd hesitate taking a bulldozer to the walls around us in order to get through and nab Troy, sanctuary or not."
"Hmph," said Cabot. "Good point." Her attention was diverted to the warm feeling that was beginning to grow behind her eyeballs-a clue that her supernatural persuasive ability was about to kick in. She wished for the hundredth time that she could call it up when she actually needed it. She tried to concentrate on stopping it, to no avail. Soon her eyes glowed green at the ceiling, convincing no one of anything.
The room went quiet as E-kat, the superstrong woman who'd defected from Fuerte's team with Lada, joined them in the living room. Elena's gaze immediately went to the new super's ankles to confirm she didn't wear a tracker tether like Troy's. E-kat's employment at the palace was voluntary, like Lada's and the other newly recruited supers'. Only the criminals who'd been rescued from prison-Troy, Martim, Greta, and Jack-were forced by Fuerte to wear them.
E-kat hadn't said much since she arrived the night before with Lada after the museum heist. The woman preferred to listen and learn instead. This group she'd joined was a complicated one, and she only knew as much about their loyalties, habits, and motivations as they'd shared in their brief conversations. E-kat absorbed what she could and held her questions for a time when things wouldn't be quite so tense. Though she was starting to wonder if that time would ever come.
Birdie turned to the strong woman. "What's your opinion of Troy?"
Tenner frowned and hoped E-kat hated the guy, but the few things they'd overheard through Lada's wire indicated otherwise.
"We're friendly," said E-kat, confirming Tenner's suspicions. "He's pretty rough around the edges, but I like him-a lot more than Martim, who is probably the person I trust the least."
"Same regarding Martim," said Seven. "He's my dad, in case you hadn't figured that out yet. And Troy is Tenner's dad." Seven was curled up in one of the overstuffed chairs, under a blanket that had camouflaged right along with him. Martim Palacio had become the most hated of all the parents, for good reason.
"Elena, Brix, and Birdie are a family," Cabot said. "And Greta and Jack Stone are my parents."
"Oh my goodness," said E-kat, surprised and bewildered. "I didn't realize that. Don't your parents know you're here fighting against them?"
"Martim knows I'm here," Seven said. "And they know Cabot was here, but they think she left. Unless maybe now they don't think she left since I didn't leave . . ."
Cabot shrugged off the sting of the mere mention of her parents. "It's complicated."
"Sounds like it." E-kat fell silent as she tried to imagine how these families ended up so broken.
"That's helpful to know about Troy, E-kat," said Lada. "I feel the same about both men." She'd put her crutches away and gotten into her wheelchair. Now she gripped the angled wheels and rolled to the group. Lada gazed thoughtfully at E-kat. "What are your opinions of Matterson, Superfly, and Caliro?" she asked.
"Why does that matter?" Birdie asked, genuinely curious. Puerco, her tiny pig, wandered over and sat on his haunches on the floor, looking at her. Birdie patted the sofa between her and Tenner and asked Puerco through her mind if he wanted to come up to snuggle. The pink-and-gray pig snorted, and Birdie scooped him up, since he wasn't a very good climber.
"I just wonder if E-kat and I think alike about all the supers," Lada said. "And . . . I don't know. Other reasons," she added mysteriously.
"Matterson is a complete and total jerk," stated E-kat, not mincing words. "Superfly is annoying but harmless, and Caliro is misunderstood and defensive, but has potential."
Lada tapped her lips thoughtfully. "That's exactly what I think. I'm glad to have confirmation from someone I trust." She glanced sideways at Tenner and cringed. "Sorry. I know you want us to hate Troy."
Tenner let out a defeated sigh. Lada and E-kat actually liked Troy? After all he'd told Lada about his terrible father, this made Tenner feel like she didn't believe him.
E-kat smiled, pleased to be trusted. "I observe a lot. Troy seems like he's trying to do the right thing."
Tenner closed his eyes. His insides began to ache in a way they hadn't since back home in the hideout when Birdie and Seven had excluded him. He hated this feeling-it was like the whole group was against him and he was alone. Like he was yelling for help, trying to get people to listen, but everyone was ignoring him, not believing that he was pointing out a gravely dangerous person to them. He'd begun to think he could count on Lada, especially after how close they'd grown. But he was wrong. It felt worse than any physical pain he'd ever experienced-worse than a jellyfish sting. Or that time he and Birdie had fought off the sharks on their way to Estero. Nobody but Puerco seemed to notice him curling up into a tighter and tighter ball on the sofa.
"The question is," Birdie said, "even if we do take Troy in, how are we going to keep Fuerte from finding us when he's got that ankle tracker?"
Tenner sat up sharply at the obvious answer. "Maybe we shouldn't take him in, then. He deserves whatever happens to him."
Birdie saw the look on Tenner's face and cringed. "I'm just laying out all the possibilities, T," she said apologetically. "Troy could be a huge asset to our team, so we have to consider him. But you get to say things, too. It's important that you feel comfortable."
"I know what to do," Cabot said, looking up.
Tenner pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and bent forward, emitting a frustrated groan. "I don't like this pressure! I never wanted to see my dad again, and now you all are thinking about inviting him in to live with us. This is a nightmare." He got up off the sofa and went to the other end of the open space, into the kitchen.
"He's not going to be living with us wearing that ankle tether, that's for sure," Seven muttered.
"Thank you, Seven," Tenner said with a huff. He was able to pick up Seven's quiet words with his superhearing. At least he was making sense.
Birdie followed Tenner to comfort him and hear him out . . . and maybe make him a consolation sandwich.
But her efforts were cut short as someone pounded on the door. Everyone startled, then froze.
Seven quickly recovered and dashed over to the window, knowing he probably wouldn't be detected. "It's Amanthi," he reported. "She's alone." He went to the door and opened it. "Hi," he said, "come on in."
"President Fuerte's security team is here," Amanthi said sharply, her eyes darting-she couldn't see Seven. "They're breaking down the gate."
"Oh no!" Seven exclaimed. "They must've tracked Troy with his GPS ankle bracelet. We've got to get him out of here."
"We can't force him out on the streets," Lada said, alarmed. "I know he's done bad things in the past, but that wouldn't be okay. They'll obliterate him."
"But Fuerte's guards will hurt me if they get in here!" said Brix, starting to panic and hop around on his bouncy feet. "I kicked the president in the face!"
"Holy coconuts!" Cabot exclaimed, standing up on the sofa to get everyone's attention, which she'd been trying to do for a while now. "Everybody calm down and listen to me! Grab everything you own and head for the mess hall. Don't leave anything behind for them to discover. We're going into the underground tunnel. Amanthi, get Troy and meet us there. Hurry!"
Copyright © 2024 by Lisa McMann. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.