Then I chose my sister over him.
I felt guilty when I shouldn’t.
She took a deep breath. “I have to go back…”
“Go back where?” I brought the glass to my lips and forced a sip.
Her only answer was a stare.
I pictured the cabins and the snow, the fire in the fireplace, the coke down the line, the faceless guards, the blood stained on the snow under the noose. I heard the howling wind against the windows, felt the ache in my legs as I walked through several feet of snow every single day to the clearing.
“And I’m not going alone.”
Bottom of the Bottle
The fire died down in my office. The flames were absent, and only a red smolder remained. The bottle on my desk was empty, and so was my glass. It was late into the night, and work no longer required my attention because I’d been spending all my time working—and nothing else.
Gilbert entered the study, hands behind his back, his posture upright even though it was well in the evening and he should retire to bed so he could wake up early and repeat this shit all over again. “Shall I add another log, sir?”
I gave a slight nod.
He added more firewood, got the fire going again, and then approached my desk.
I pushed the empty bottle toward him, silently asking him to bring another.
He didn’t lift it off the desk. “We’re out, sir. First thing tomorrow, I’ll fetch more.”
My eyes narrowed on his face. “Don’t lie to me.”
He stilled at my accusation.
My eyes shifted back to the fire. “I have enough people lying to me as it is.”
Gilbert lingered, as if he expected different orders. “Sir, I think it’s in your best interest to take a break. You’ve been hitting that bottle pretty hard the last few days…”
My eyes shifted to him. “You’re disobeying my order.”
He didn’t flinch at the heat in my expression. “Yes. To save your life.”
It was an outlandish claim. Nothing could kill me—especially not a bottle of booze. But I let it go, too drunk to argue.
Gilbert glanced at one of the armchairs that faced my desk. “Mind if I take a seat for a moment?”
He’d never asked anything like that before. My eyes studied his face, unsure if I actually heard that or imagined it in my stupor. When I realized he was serious, I gave a nod.
He lowered himself to the chair and rested his hands on his thighs, joining me as an equal for the first time. “I want you to know I’m here…even if it’s just to listen.” He regarded me with a concerned expression, a subtle eagerness, an innate affection that was almost familial.
I straightened at my desk and rested my arms on the surface. My forearm slid the empty bottle and glass to the side, a subtle rim of amber around the ridges at the bottom of the scotch bottle. “My brother betrayed me. My woman betrayed me. Are you next?”
He held my gaze without blinking. “Never.”
“You say that now…” I shifted my gaze to the fire and watched it brighten the room once more. “But anything can change…once your interests change.”
“My only interest is to serve you, sir. That will never change.”
I kept my eyes on the fire and ignored him. “Goodnight, Gilbert.” It was harder to sleep now than before, even with the booze in my system.
He dropped his chin for a moment but didn’t rise from the chair. After a moment, he regarded me once more. “Broken bones heal. Scar tissue repairs itself. Physical pain can be masked with pills. But a broken heart…doesn’t heal, doesn’t repair itself, and can’t be masked with pills. Sometimes, time is all that works. But even then, not always.”
I turned my gaze back to him.
“I’m sorry that you have to go through this, sir. Truly.”
With Knives and Fire
Our horse was tied to a branch.
It was dark with the exception of our light, and we made our way down the snow-covered path, seeing the torches gleaming in the darkness of the camp.
My heart had never pounded this hard.
I’d never been so terrified.
It was unlikely that we would save the girls and escape with no repercussions. Raven could be killed, and I wasn’t certain that Fender would give me any protection, not after the way I’d left.
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