The Book of Ivy / Page 25

Page 25


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He smiles. “I can try.” He gathers my thick hair with both hands, making me laugh as he tries to pull it back and push it up at the same time. He finally manages to twist the band around it a few times, although it’s a long way from smooth. “There,” he says. He rests both hands on my shoulders and meets my eyes in the mirror. As I watch, his thumbs come up and run down the sides of my neck, slow and gentle.

A curl of heat unfurls inside me, starting deep in my belly and spreading outward. I feel it in my toes and fingers and the heated flesh of my cheeks.

I feel it everywhere.

“Will that work?” he asks quietly.

“Yes,” I say. I’m having a hard time finding my voice. “It’s fine.” The skin under his thumbs burns like it’s been painted with fire.

His eyes are still on mine in the mirror, like he’s waiting for something. Some signal I’m too scared to give him. Bishop lifts his hands and steps away from me. “I’ll go start dinner.”

I nod. “Okay, I’ll be right there.”

Once Bishop is gone, I walk to the bed on shaky legs and sink to sitting. I press my palms hard against my closed eyelids. I can still feel the weight of Bishop’s hands on my shoulders, the memory of his thumbs against my neck. I remind myself what his father’s done. What he is still doing. But Bishop’s touch is gentle, his intentions good. No matter how hard I look, I cannot find the blood on his hands.

Trying to find the right time to approach Victoria is an art I’m still mastering. She is not mean or spiteful, but she can be curt if she’s preoccupied or believes that her time is being wasted. It doesn’t generally bother me because Callie is the same way. Most of the time I manage to not take it personally.

We’re grabbing a quick lunch in the small courthouse cafeteria, when I think I may have an opening. I’m picking at a slightly stale turkey and cheese sandwich, while Victoria speeds her way through a chicken salad. Her selection looks better than mine.

“So,” I ask, “has David worked here long?”

Victoria shrugs. “I don’t know exactly. He’s been here as long as I have.”

I pinch off a tiny piece of turkey but don’t eat it. “Do you think it’s weird for him, having a gun and everything?”

“And everything?” Victoria asks with raised eyebrows.

“I just mean, most people aren’t comfortable with weapons, since there aren’t many around.”

Victoria takes a bite of salad and chews it before answering. “He seems pretty comfortable to me.”

I give what I hope sounds like a normal laugh and not some crazed cackle. “Yeah, I guess so.” My sandwich is hopeless, so I wad it up along with the paper it’s wrapped in. “Is that his gun or does he get it here?” I am sure she can see my heartbeat pulsing through my shirt.

“He gets it here. Work issue,” Victoria says. She is answering my questions easily enough, but her eyes are sharp on mine.

“What, do they have a stockpile hidden away somewhere?” Again with the laugh that’s not quite my own.

“Why so curious?” Victoria asks, putting down her fork. “I didn’t know you were interested in guns.”

I shake my head. “I’m not. Well, I mean, maybe I am a little. I’ve read about them in books, but I haven’t ever really seen one. You know…forbidden fruit and all that.”

My answer must make sense to Victoria because she picks her fork up again and stabs at a chunk of chicken. “You’re not the only one who feels that way. Half the men who work here are constantly begging David for a chance to hold it.” She snorts. “I could make an inappropriate joke about over-compensating, but you’re too young, so I won’t.”

I laugh, and this time it’s genuine.

“But David’s careful with his gun. As he should be. Only a select few people are trusted with them. And Ray…I don’t think you’ve met him yet?”

I shake my head.

“His job, for as long as anybody can remember, has been to keep the weapons safe and in the right hands.” Ray must have been the older man I saw in the gun room with David.

“So I’m guessing Ray and David aren’t going to be taking me out for target practice anytime soon?” I ask.

Victoria smiles. “Doubtful. The person you should be talking to, if you’re really serious, is your father-in-law.” She points at me with her fork. “Ray’s in charge of the guns, but President Lattimer’s in charge of Ray.”

“That’s a good idea,” I say, my heart rate picking up. “Maybe I’ll ask him.” I’m not sure exactly where to go from here. I can’t think of a way to get the code from David or Ray that won’t give everything away, and I have no idea where, or even if, they keep a record of it in the courthouse. But Victoria is probably right. The person who would undoubtedly have the information is my father-in-law. I think of his study and his big walnut desk. I’m sure it holds plenty of secrets.

“Ready?” Victoria asks me. She is already standing, her empty salad bowl in hand.

“Sure.” I scramble to my feet, tossing my sandwich into the trash can.

“They’re being put out this afternoon,” Victoria tells me as we leave the cafeteria. “We need to get everything ready.”

My footsteps slow. It reminds me of being a little girl when I didn’t want to go wherever my father was taking me and I dragged my feet until he was forced to pull me.

“What?” Victoria asks over her shoulder. She sounds aggravated.

I speed up. “Are we actually there when they’re put out?”

“No,” Victoria says, and I breathe a sigh of relief. I know what Mark Laird did, but I still don’t want to watch his punishment, have to listen to him beg for mercy he doesn’t deserve and definitely won’t receive.

“How many are there?”

“Three today,” Victoria says. “All men.”

“Is that typical? The number, I mean?” President Lattimer never gives us details about who is being put out. There is always gossip in the market and I’ve heard my father talking about it with neighbors, but no official accounting is ever released. Probably because while the threat of being put out serves to keep us in line, knowing actual names and numbers might cause people to question what’s happening.

“It varies,” Victoria says. We start up the stairs, turning sideways against the flow of people heading to the cafeteria. “We do this every month, and a lot of times there’s no one. The most I can remember is five at one time, but that’s unusual. That was a bad winter.” She glances at me. “Generally, all men, but not always.”

“Does President Lattimer come?”

“No.”

“Of course not,” I mutter. “That would be getting too close to the dirty work.”

Victoria stops in her tracks, and I almost slam into her back. “Watch yourself, Ivy,” she says. She doesn’t sound angry, so much as concerned. “You’re his family now, but you can still overstep your boundaries.”

My throat is instantly bone dry. I manage to give her a tiny nod. I don’t think President Lattimer would hurt me. It wouldn’t be good for public relations to punish his newly minted daughter-in-law, especially after the speech he gave me about valuing my opinion, and the way he always tries to come across as benevolent. He’s more the type to hurt other people in my stead—Callie, my father—people whose punishment would be even more painful to witness than my own, the same way he killed my mother as a way to hurt my father.


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