Despite what I’d said earlier about not forcing anyone to leave, I couldn’t leave Harlow here, not with a man who had threatened to kill Lazlo. I didn’t know what I’d do if she tried to fight me on leaving.
I sent Harlow up the stairs ahead of me, and I hurried behind her with Lazlo at my heels. I didn’t check to see who was following us. I didn’t want to know.
Part of me felt guilty for leaving any of the girls here, but I didn’t really have a choice. I didn’t have time to argue and convince them, especially when most of them wouldn’t be convinced. Besides that, I couldn’t ignore the fact that Korech had kept them all alive thus far.
Moonlight shone through the kitchen window. Blue waited by the basement door at the top of the stairs, watching out for Korech or Nevaeh. I looked back to see who had come with us, and Lia had followed, along with Vega, whose dissension made more sense than Lia.
Without saying a word, we rushed through the house. It was dead silent, and if we made a sound, Korech had to hear us. I held the screen door open as everyone else ran outside, and I gently closed it behind them, making sure it didn’t slam shut.
“Get in the car,” I whispered as they darted out into cool night air. “Blue, you drive.” I had my jeans in my hand, and I pulled the car keys from the pocket and then tossed them to him. “But don’t start it yet. I gotta get Ripley.”
“You’re gonna look for Ripley now?” Lazlo asked as Blue unlocked the vehicle.
“I’m not leaving her.”
“Hurry. He’ll notice us missing soon,” Vega warned, but she didn’t look scared. I wasn’t sure if I found that comforting or creepy.
As the girls crawled into the SUV, Blue paused and exchanged a look with me. I had to look for the lion, but I didn’t want to risk the safety of everyone else. At the first sign of trouble, Blue needed to get out of here, protecting the girls, even if I wasn’t ready.
I searched around in the moonlight, lifting up my nightgown so I wouldn’t trip on it. Lazlo went with me, apparently helping in some way. Neither of us yelled for Ripley. We couldn’t, not if we wanted to get away without Korech hearing us.
“Aw, hell,” I sighed. I couldn’t see any sign of Ripley, and we didn’t have much time. “I don’t know what to do.” I turned to Lazlo, hoping he would have an idea, but he just stared at me strangely. “What?”
“Nothing,” Lazlo shrugged. “I’ve just never seen you with your hair down.” My stomach fluttered. “Also, your nightgown is almost completely see-through.”
“Oh my god.” I rolled my eyes and covered my arms over my chest. “I should’ve just let Korech kill you.”
He smirked and might’ve had a witty retort, but the porch light suddenly turned on, bathing us in bright yellow light.
The front door banged open, and we turned around in time to see Korech’s dark silhouette as he came outside. Nevaeh followed right behind him, carrying a shotgun.
Lazlo and I stood a few feet away from the SUV, and I considered diving behind it to hide. But with the porch light shining on us, they had to have seen us. We could only try talking with them, but reasoning with insanity rarely boded well.
“What’s going on?” Korech asked, his voice eerily pleasant. He moved towards us, while Nevaeh fell a few steps back.
“Nothing. We just decided to leave.” I straightened my shoulders and stood tall.
A breeze rustled my hair, and my mind raced trying to think of an escape plan. I was fairly good at fighting zombies, but even with their strength and speed, zombies weren’t the same as fighting a strong, healthy man. They didn’t have any reason or intelligence, and their bodies were much softer and more pliable the longer they’d been infected.
Physically, I was no match for Korech. Lazlo was somewhat muscular, but he was barely taller than me, and I doubt he’d ever fought in his life.
“You shouldn’t be rushing off in the middle of the night. It’s a dangerous place out there for young girls,” Korech said with a smile that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. “Especially going off with him,” he nodded towards Lazlo. “He’s going to corrupt and destroy you.”
“He’s demon possessed!” Nevaeh spouted. She raised her gun a little, but it seemed more of an involuntary reflex out of fear.
“Hey, let’s take it easy.” I stepped forward and held my hands up.
“They need to leave,” Korech nodded at Lazlo. “He is not welcome here anymore.”
“Just let us get out of here!” Lazlo shouted, pleading. “We wanna leave!”
“I can’t have you endangering any of my girls.” Korech reached behind him, taking the gun from Nevaeh.
I could dive at him to try to grab it, but he was too far away from me. He’d have it aimed at me, and if I ran straight for him, I’d be an easy shot.
I glanced over at the SUV and considered sacrificing Lia and Vega to leave. Even if that didn’t make me feel like a monster, I had a feeling that wouldn’t be good enough anymore. He might be willing to let me go, but he already had his claws in Harlow, and he knew it.
“We’re not your girls,” I said. “We don’t want to cause you any trouble. We just want to leave.”
“He has you confused.” Korech held the gun at his side, and the calm assurance he had was unnerving. “Lazlo, I suggest you release my girls back to me, and then you leave, before I make you.” He lifted the gun just slightly, letting us know exactly what he meant by make.
“I’m not holding anyone hostage,” Lazlo insisted.
I could feel Lazlo looking at me, questioning what he should do next, but I wouldn’t take my eyes off Korech. Besides, I didn’t have an answer.
Korech tired of the conversation and raised his gun, pointing it directly at Lazlo. Harlow screamed inside the SUV, but thankfully, nobody got out.
Without thinking, I moved in front of Lazlo, standing between him and the gun, even though I wasn’t sure would deter Korech from firing.
“Wait!” I shouted.
“I’m through talking.” Korech centered his aim on me.
Nevaeh inhaled sharply next to him, and that’s when something occurred to me. I could take her. She didn’t have a gun, and Korech would react to defend her. His reaction might be shooting me, but if I ran fast enough, he might miss.
I ran at Nevaeh as fast as I could, veering far to the side so Korech knew I wasn’t charging him. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his aim change, trying to keep up with me, but I only ran faster.