Roar and Liv / Page 6

Page 6


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“You were dropped on your head, Roar! A hundred times! It’s the only possible explanation.” She jabs me in the ribs again. “And try eating some food once in a while. You’re nothing but bones.”

Her last comment is begging for an off-color remark but I refrain. Clearly she’s miserable. I have no other choice. It’s time to do something that goes against my nature. “Listen, Brooke. I’m going to be honest with you—”

“Why start now?” she snaps.

“That stings. Do you feel better about yourself?”

She rolls her eyes, but suddenly her lower lip is quivering. My thighs tighten up as I fight the urge to sprint for the door. All I wanted was to blend into this sea of cheerfulness. Just for an hour. Just for ten minutes.

“Brooke, I was only teasing.” I nod toward Perry. “All I was trying to say is that he’s not like the rest of us. He’s missing something that doesn’t let him . . . that isn’t . . . that makes him . . .”

I stop myself and reconsider. What I’m trying to say is that Perry’s missing something critical. Maybe it’s the ability to trust deeply. I don’t know. But the way I see it, when you’ve been hurt by someone you love like he has, why would you ever seek love out? Why would you ever risk being hurt again? It wouldn’t surprise me if he never has anything like Liv and I do.

That’s all far more than I want to tell Brooke right now—or actually ever—and I’m starting to depress myself, so I just say, “I think you should move on.”

Brooke’s mouth pulls into a sarcastic smile. It’s easy to forget that she’s pretty when she smiles that way. “Is that what you’re going to do? Move on from Liv?”

Never. I take a sip of Luster and suck the sweet liquid from my lips, giving myself a moment before I answer. “Yes.”

Brooke rolls her eyes. “You’re such a liar, Roar. Your temper smells like turnips. Or whatever it is lies smell like.”

That makes me laugh. “No. My lies smell like honeysuckle.”

Her eyebrows draw together in confusion. “Honeysuckle?”

I shrug, not bothering to explain that the word amuses me. Honey and suckle don’t seem like they should go together.

The noise of the cookhouse rises up around us as we fall silent. I know this is hard for her. She’s losing her best friend and seeing the truth of what she means to Perry—which is not enough. My gaze moves back to the high table. Liv is still talking to Talon. Perry is still eating. I understand exactly what Brooke is feeling.

The world wouldn’t be the same without them.

7

We leave the following morning in the darkness, early, before the fishermen have even stirred. Mila and Talon sleep soundly, mother and child curled together. I watch from the bedroom door as Liv bends and kisses them both, hearing the sound of her breath catch. Then Perry curse under his breath behind me. Then our footsteps as we walk out of the house.

Only Vale rises to see us off. At least that’s what I think until I notice the two figures waiting at the edge of the compound.

When I hear the pause in Perry’s stride, I know he’s seen them too.

Vale glances at him. “When I said you and Roar could escort her, you didn’t think I was only sending the two of you . . . did you?”

That’s exactly what Perry thought, you bastard. It’s what Liv and I thought too. I bite the inside of my lip, barely keeping the words back. Beside me, Liv’s eyes are distant, like she isn’t even listening to Vale.

“I need to be sure she gets there,” Vale continues, not waiting for Perry’s answer.

It’s a bald insult. He has given this task to someone else to ensure it’s carried out properly. Vale might as well have just told Perry: You are incapable.

“We’d be better off without them,” Perry says. “If it’s just the three of us, we could move faster. We’d leave lighter tracks and draw less attention.”

Vale’s smile is mild, patronizing. “I don’t remember asking for your opinion.”

Perry hoists his satchel higher on his shoulder and nods tightly. “I understand.”

One day they’ll face off fairly, no chain or oath to protect Vale. One day soon. I hope I’m there to see it.

As we draw closer to the waiting figures, I recognize them as Wylan and Collins—an Aud and a Seer. Having them with us will complicate my own plans . . . plans I still need to create. Make Liv mine is the objective. What I haven’t figured out yet is how.

Run away with her? Marry her? I need to talk to Liv and find out what she wants. The real goal, the one that’s always guided me, is to make her happy.

Collins and Wylan are half asleep and clearly irritated with this assignment. After a brief exchange with Vale, they head off, taking the vanguard, leaving me to walk with the three siblings.

The hour before dawn is the quietest part of the day. There’s no wind to rustle the grass or birdsong filling the air yet. I hear only the faint rumble of the ocean surf half a mile away. With every step I take, anxiety tugs at me, until I can’t fight it any longer and I have to glance back.

The compound looks more appealing than it ever has, now that I’m leaving. Soft light of the Aether outlines the cluster of cottages, and though it’s not an old settlement, it looks sturdy and wise. As much thinking as I’ve done over the past days, it hasn’t occurred to me that I might not come back here. And though I’m a gypsy at heart—my mother always said home is where you rest your head to sleep—I can’t deny that this place means something to me. It brought me Perry and Liv and Talon. Even Brooke.

I miss it already.

I look at Liv, aching for her. If this is how I feel, what about her?

As we approach the tree line, where the trail plunges into woodland, Vale stops and so we do as well, wordlessly, obediently, forming a little group on the road. This small action cuts through my melancholy mood, annoying me more than it should; he has trained us to be like dogs.

“Don’t be late, Olivia,” he says unceremoniously. “Or there will be consequences.”

“What the hell does that mean?” The words fly out of my mouth.

Liv speaks at the same time I do. “Consequences? How do you plan to enforce them from here, Vale?”

Ignoring me, Vale squares himself to her. “I won’t enforce them, but your new husband will.”

It takes me a moment to understand what he means. When I do, my heart clenches up like a fist inside my chest. This conversation is barreling toward my worst nightmare.

“I am going north,” Liv replies, her voice as cold as winter. “I am doing this for the Tides. I will endure the term wife, but if Sable expects me to cower in a corner and submit to orders, he will be very disappointed. I am no one’s servant, and no matter how wrong my actions, no one will ever, ever punish me.”

I listen to her say this and wonder why the pull I feel to protect her is so strong. She doesn’t need me. Liv is a force. She is fierce.

Vale shakes his head. “Calm down, Olivia. No one is punishing you. The consequences are penalties on the dowry payment. We are the ones who will suffer if you’re late arriving, as Sable will garnish the cache of food he’s agreed to pay for you. And he is well aware of who you are and how you’re to be treated. You’re my sister, Liv, and whether you choose to believe it or not, I do love you. I would never want to see you hurt.”

Vale’s declaration is surprisingly earnest, but Liv won’t have it. “If you loved me, you wouldn’t force me into this.”

“I refuse to have this conversation with you again.”

As they continue to argue, my gaze drops to the knife at Vale’s waist. I could carve him into twenty pieces before he even drew his weapon. I could end this right now—for Liv and for Perry.

Vale trails off. He turns to me. “It seems I was right to bring it.”

He’s read my temper and sensed the darkness of my thoughts. There’s no point hiding anything now. The words I’ve been holding back tumble out.

“How can you do this to her? Feeding the tribe is your responsibility—your problem to fix. Why should Liv suffer because you failed to do your duty?”

Both Liv and Perry look at me like I’ve lost my mind. Maybe I have. This definitely isn’t the plan, and no one, except Liv, speaks to Vale this way.

Vale stares at me, unblinking. I stand, ready, waiting for him to make the first move. To reach for his knife. To lunge at me.

He does none of these things. “Let me see if I have this right,” he says. “You want to discuss responsibility and duty with me?” A smile spreads over his face, real and true, like I’ve given him a gift.

“What have you ever done besides follow my brother and sister around?” he says. “What purpose do you serve, beyond being a siphon for bottle after bottle of Luster? You act as though you’re devoted to them, but you’re not. You’re devoted to yourself. You are arrogant, vain, and shallow—and that’s on your best days. You’re nothing but a pathetic source of amusement. You are a toy, Roar. And the time for playing with toys has passed.”

Something ignites in me. A feeling that locks me in time so there is no breath circling through my lungs. No heart beating in my chest.

I grab for my knife, knowing the precise angle and force I will use to stab Vale and sever his spleen in half, ensuring that his death will be festering and painful. My fingers scrape against the leather sheath at my belt, grasping, searching for the grip of my knife, and finding nothing.

Confusion slams into me. A feeling like I’ve misplaced part of my own flesh. Then the flash of steel draws my eye and I see my blade in Perry’s hand.

“What are you doing?” I yell, but my voice sounds miles away.

Perry slips my knife through his belt and lifts his hands. “It won’t solve anything, Roar.” There’s a flicker of guilt in his eyes, but he’s braced for my attack, ready to fight me.

I can’t think. Can’t make sense of what he’s done. He says it won’t solve anything, but it will. Vale is the cause of all our problems—not me. Vale needs to die.

Liv takes hold of my arm. “Let’s go, Roar. Come on. It’s time to go.” Her green eyes are furious.

I jerk out of her grip, looking from her to Perry. “I can’t believe this.” How can they act as though I’ve done something wrong?

“And here we are once more,” Vale says, making no effort to hide his amusement. “You do realize that one day they’ll grow tired of saving your sorry—”

Liv spins and slams her hands into his chest. “Stop it, Vale!”

I am past the point of stopping. I shoot past her, no other thought in my mind but to destroy Vale with my bare hands. Perry grabs my arms before I manage two steps. I twist and shove but I can’t break loose. I only manage to get myself into an armlock.

“Walk away,” Perry says behind me. “Don’t make me break your arm.”

I curse him. Pull and twist until the pain in my shoulder brings tears to my eyes. Perry meant it; he’ll break my arm if I fight him.


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