Redemption (The Alexa Montgomery Saga) (6 page)

BOOK: Redemption (The Alexa Montgomery Saga)
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Sensing this, Nelly came forward
and pulled me into a hug. I hugged her back, but my throat felt like a log had
lodged in it. “I’ll be fine, Alexa. If anything, you should worry about anyone
who tries to come after me.”

Nelly released me then and headed
over to the door. I stood rooted to the spot, unable to think of anything to
say to stop her. “I’ll just go visit Tommy for a little while,” she said. “You
come and get me after you two…talk things out.” And then she left.

Kayden came to me then, wrapped
his strong arms around me, and I rested my head against his chest, listening to
the heart that beat there; the heart that beat there for me. The scent of him
filled my lungs and I squeezed my eyes shut. His soft Scottish accent spoke so
close to my ear. “Are you going to be okay, my Warrior?” he asked.

I pulled back and looked up at
him, wondering how it was that both Jackson and Kayden could be so willing to
give their souls for me, wondering how it was that a person could ever come to
deserve such devotion. I wanted so badly to tell him that I was not okay, that
I would
never
be okay, and that a piece of me had died when I’d had to
burn the body of the best friend I’d ever had. But I did not.

Instead, I led him to the bed
pulled his shirt over his head, revealing his solid, golden body with all its
scars and beauty. Then I took off my own clothes, which hid my own scars, and
let Kayden pull the pain from me in the way that only his touch ever could.

For that moment in time, it was
only Kayden and I and our love for each other, our bodies coming together to
wash out the world and all of its troubles. And for that moment in time I could
remember what it was that I was fighting for. I could remember what made all
the pain and suffering worth enduring.

How is one broken thing
supposed to fix another?

With love.

Yes, love. That was what I was
fighting for. That was what I was living for. And maybe, not so tragically,
that was what I would die for.

If you asked me, there are worse
ways to go.

 

 

A Royal Summons

At midnight, while the people in
the city of the Outlands were holding the funeral for his son, King William
sent his messengers out to deliver news to his people in all five of his
cities. The Royal messengers hung fliers on lampposts and store windows, and
also on the doors of all the houses. The fliers were stamped with the King’s
seal, gleaming in red ink that glared angry against the white paper.

The fliers read:

Every citizen of the Five
Cities must report to their local Council Buildings on the dates and times
listed below. Every member of every family must be accounted for. Men, women
and children. Brockens, Searchers, and Wolves. This Royal Summons applies to
all. You are to show up and pledge your allegiance to King William, Protector
of the Five Cities and Father of the Free Age. If you fail to show for your
scheduled time you will be considered a traitor to the King and will be hunted
down and executed.

Signed,

King William, Protector of the
Five Cities, Father of the Free Age

 

 

Nelly

The door opened. Tommy stood
there, pale hair ruffled, hands rubbing his eyes. Until he saw me. His hands
dropped to his sides, and then the sleep that was still on his face was gone,
and he smiled for me. A slow, sad smile. A ghost of the smirk that he usually
wore. And I gave him one back.

“Hey, Tommy.”

He stepped to the side and swept
a hand for me to enter. “Hey, Nell,” he said.

I scooted around him and into his
room, looking around, unsure what to do now that I was here. “I’m sorry I woke
you,” I said.

Tommy shook his head and took a
seat on the bed. “I’m glad you did.” He regarded me for a moment. “You want to
sit down?”

I released a slow breath and sat
down in the chair next to the nightstand. “Bad dreams?” I asked.

Tommy’s bare shoulders lifted a
fraction and fell. “Not good ones. You?”

I looked down at my hands,
suddenly aware that I had been staring at Tommy’s bare chest. “I wanted to give
Alexa and Kayden some time to themselves,” I said.

Tommy nodded. “How’s she doing?”

A small laugh bubbled up my
throat, dry and humorless. “She’s…still going, I guess.”

Another nod. “And you?”

I looked up and met Tommy’s
crystal blue eyes. “Well, I guess I’m still going, too.”

He stood from the bed now. “Here,
lay down,” he said.

I raised a brow, and now he
smirked. “You look exhausted. You should rest.”

I shook my head, but Tommy came
forward and gently pulled me to my feet. My breath caught unexpectedly. Then he
pulled me over to the bed and sat me down. “I insist,” he said.

Laying back, I tucked my feet
under the covers, suddenly feeling too exhausted to resist. Tommy pulled the
blanket up to my chin and smiled down at me. “What about you?” I asked.

He went over to a dresser that
was by the far wall and took out a t-shirt and pulled it over his head. I
sighed before I could stop myself. Then he sat down in the chair I had vacated.
“I’ll watch you,” he said.

Now
I
smirked. “That’s not
creepy.”

I bit my lip to stifle a giggle
when Tommy’s cheeks grew a little red. “Not
watch
you,” he amended.
“Watch
over
you, I mean. Like a dream catcher. I’ll keep the bad dreams
away. Swat them out of the air like flies if they try to get you.”

I stared at him for a moment, and
saw that his face grew redder still. Tommy had always been so cool and witty. I
had never heard him ramble before. It was oddly endearing. Something popped in
my head then, and I let it out of my mouth before I could lose the nerve to say
it. I scooted over in the bed and drew down the covers. “Come sleep with me?” I
asked, my voice small.

Tommy studied me, his blue eyes
searching my face for what seemed like an eternity. Now it was my face that I could
feel going pink. Then, without a word, Tommy stood and slid into the bed beside
me, all too careful not to touch my skin. He pulled the cover up over us and
rested his head facing me. “Okay?” he asked.

I breathed out slowly. “Okay.”

We seemed to lie like that for a
lifetime, just looking into each other’s eyes, before I spoke again. “Thank
you, Tommy,” I said. “For everything.”

His hand came up and brushed a
lock of hair from my forehead, cupping my cheek in his warm palm. “You’re
welcome.”

I couldn’t have stopped what
happened next even if I had known it was coming, which I didn’t. It just seemed
to pour over me like a bucket of cold rain. I brought my hands up to cover my
face before Tommy could see the tears that were rapidly forming in my eyes. But
there was nothing I could do to keep my breath from hitching as I sobbed behind
my fingers.

Faintly, I heard Tommy sigh.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he said. “Shh, Nell, it’s okay.”

I wanted to tell him that it was
not okay, and that just because everyone kept saying that it was did not make
it so. But I didn’t. It was embarrassing enough that the first time—which I
registered with some horror, that this
was
the first time—I been in the
same bed with a man that I was crying like a two-year-old denied a second piece
of cake. What I said was, “The only way for this to end is withdeath.” And this
brought on more sobs and more hitches, what seemed like a whole bottled
lifetime of them.

Tommy’s fingers wrapped around my
wrists gently and pulled my hands from my face. I shut my eyes and was too much
a coward to open them. I guessed this was the price of having held it in the
whole time. I should have known that I was not as strong as my sister, that I
could not bear the pain and just keep on trucking without breaking down. In my
entire life I had only ever seen Alexa cry a handful of times. I, on the other
hand, had cried more times than I could count.

Tommy’s voice, softer and gentler
than I had ever heard it. “Death isn’t necessarily the end.” Silence. Then, in
a whisper, “Sometimes I think that maybe it’s really the beginning.”

And then something warm and soft
pressed against my lips, hesitant and light. When I opened my eyes, Tommy’s
blue eyes were regarding me carefully, and I realized belatedly that he had
kissed me. I found that I couldn’t move, could hardly breathe, and though
fallen tears were still wet on my face, no new ones were following their
footsteps. My lips parted, but all that came out was bated breath.

Tommy tilted his head. I nodded,
not sure at all what I was agreeing to, if anything. And when his mouth met
mine once more my eyes slipped closed again, and a sense of warmth like I had
never known settled over me. My hand reached up slipped around Tommy’s neck on
its own accord, pulling him close to me. My head seemed to be spinning with
unasked questions, like how I had come to be in the position and why I was so
scared it would be taken away. These things didn’t seem to matter, though. All
that mattered right then was that the hurt was less. Still there, maybe always
would be, but less.

Tommy’s hands remained at his
sides, but his warm, hard body was pressed up against mine closely, sending
heat through the thin fabric of our shirts. Unwanted, ashamedly unwanted,
Daniel popped into my mind like a mangled jack springing out of a buried box.
I’m not sure how he sensed it, as I was sure I had given no outward indications
of my thoughts, but Tommy pulled back from me, his mouth leaving mine slowly,
with what seemed like great effort.

When I opened my eyes, I saw that
his were still closed, and a look that was almost painful had come over his
handsome face. I sighed heavily, half relieved and half disappointed that he
didn’t seem willing to take this any further.

Eyes still closed, Tommy
whispered, “Sleep now, weary soul. I’ll catch the dreams for you, I promise.”

And eventually, I did as I was
told.

And amazingly, Tommy did as he
had promised.

 

 

Lines in the sand

Most of them had never been
directly comforted with it, but they knew it well enough. It was the invisible
line in the sand that separated them; put them on one side, or the other. Some
of them were immune to it, but most were not. Some of them beat their chests at
the idea of war, happily upholding the King’s orders, no matter what they may
be. But for those on the other side of it, on the side that was always
underscored with a silent, beating fear, the fear of
what might happen next
,
the story was different entirely.

For the
vast majority
,
those who were not trained fighters, and even some that were, fear had fallen
over them like a storm in the dead of night, darkening the skies of their souls
with a dirty super cell of warring winds. And what choice did they have, but to
follow orders?

The territory known as Sun City
had been first on the list printed on the Summons. This morning they were all
to gather at the Council Building to “pledge allegiance” to the King. If they
did not, death had been promised to follow. The thing that would save a good
number of them was not their whole-hearted belief in the righteousness of their
King, but rather the magic he had been so long distributing to them through
blood and food to keep them unaware about the things that went on behind the
curtains. Many of them did not have neither the mental power nor a strong
enough desire to peer behind those curtains.

But some of them did. And they
were herded into Sun City’s Council Building that morning afraid, but so
mercifully unknowing that this was to be their last morning on this earth. It
was better that they didn’t.

Sun City was the second smallest
of the Five Cities, its residents–not counting the some four thousand of them
hidden in the slave village just beyond the city’s border—totaled only ten
thousand in all. By midday, that number would be sliced down to two-thirds. By
nightfall, just over half of them would remain.

“Examples must be made,
gentlemen,” King William had told his Warriors the night before. “War lays on
the horizon, and examples
must
be made.”

And they would.

The sun was a blessing that
morning, as it was every morning that it chose to make an appearance. The
people, scared though they were, tried to take comfort in its presence as they
followed the purple stone paths that served the city. They seemed to be
huddling together unconsciously, walking side by side, hand in hand. Perhaps
some of them still had that small survival instinct that false civility had
tried so hard to beat out of them. Perhaps as a whole they knew that whatever
happened
next
would send a chain of dreadful, if maybe necessary, events into
action, beginning with their sacrifice.

They stood on the lawn of the
Council Building in a great mass. The stone structure loomed over them, and the
mural of the silver sun painted onto its highest point seemed to leer down at
them like a dead eye. Mothers clutched their children at their sides and the
men tried their darnedest not to show their fear. But they could taste it. It
seemed to have burned their lungs and left a sour taste in their mouths.

One by one, they were led into
the building. And as the day ticked onward, it was becoming more and more
obvious that many of them were not coming back out.

Whispers began to run through the
crowd, questions about what was awaiting them on the inside of the Council
Building. Many wondered, but did not speak aloud, if it was too late to run.
But it took only a look over at the edges of the crowd, where the King’s
Warriors stood like a black, barbed fence, to know that escape was no longer an
option, if it ever was at all.

BOOK: Redemption (The Alexa Montgomery Saga)
5.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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