CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me (8 page)

BOOK: CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me
12.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Some nights she walked around the settlement after dinner, keeping to shadows. As Dandy had suggested, she would stop here and there and eavesdrop on a fireside conversation. Dandelion was right. The old ones told horrific stories about life in captivity. After hearing some of the memories told in graphic detail, she was surprised that Free and Serene were able to treat her with such warmth and kindness.

One night, when Charming was walking with her, she asked, “Did your parents know each other before?” He looked over at her like he was waiting for more. “Before, um, coming here?”

“Yeah.” Charming smiled. “Carnal was born when we were still,” he paused and winced with the phrase that finished that thought, “in captivity.”

“But…”

“Just ask what you want to know, Rosie.”

“Dandy told me breeding was forced.”

“Well,” Charming hesitated, “that’s true. But sometimes people were paired with a partner who was
right
for them. When we came here, my father claimed my mother. He loved her. She felt the same about him. He would have formed a family unit with her regardless, but he knew Carnal was his.”

“How?”

Charming smirked. “Smell.”

“Oh.”

He laughed. “Now I have a question for you.”

“Shoot.”

“Why are
you
here?” Blunt. Abrupt. To the point. He must have seen that she was taken aback. “Not that I don’t want you here. I do. I just… was wondering?”

Rosie looked straight ahead. “I had a boyfriend. We had a disagreement. I needed a break. He was leaving anyway.”

She glanced at Charming, whose eyebrows were raised as high as they would go. “Some guy left
you
!”

Rosie laughed, feeling a blush coming on. Charming sounded so incredulous, it made her feel like she’d just received the highest compliment ever.

“It was work,” she said. “I forced him to choose between the job and me. He chose the job.”

It was Charming’s turn to say, “Oh.” After a few more steps, Charming slanted his gaze toward Rosie. “I’ll bet he’s sorry. No job would be worth giving up a prize like you.”

Rosie smiled. “Wow. That was
charming
.”

“Got to live up to our names. Just like you did a minute ago when you blushed.”

“Did not.”

“Did.”

He laughed. “Whatever.”

“So what do you do during the day?”

“Train.”

“I need more.”

“Next year I’ll go on active duty. I’ll patrol like Carnal does.” Then in a quieter tone, he added, “Like Crave did.”

When they were almost back to the door of the house they shared, Rosie said, “Dandy told me he was…”

“Taken prisoner.” He finished the sentence for her. “Yeah. Don’t mention it in front of my mom and pop.”

“No. I won’t.” Rosie stepped onto the porch. “Where do you train?”

He waved toward the south. “Just beyond the south wall. Come tomorrow when you’re done at work. I’ll show you around.”

Rosie smiled, glad that they could end the walk on a more pleasant note. “I will.”

 

As promised, the next day Rosie looked around the Commons and saw that everything was in its place and spotless so that Scar wouldn’t have cause for complaint when he came in to take over the night shift. She deposited her apron in the laundry bin and set off for the south wall.

She unlatched the narrow gate and walked through. The first thing she saw on the other side was a large Exiled male, probably in his forties. He was craggy, but attractive, like every single one of the Exiled hybrids.

A quick calculation in her head told Rosie the man would have been in his mid-teens during the exodus to Newland, probably too young to have experienced some of the atrocities she’d heard about.

“Where you headed, human?” He seemed more amused than annoyed.

She had to angle her head back to make eye contact. “Charming invited me.”

The guy hooted. “A
guest
of Charming’s? Well, in that case…”

“Track!” Rosie followed the direction of the commanding voice and saw that Free was standing off to the side of the field where young people, boys and girls, were going through maneuvers. “Let her pass,” he ordered.

Rosie gave ‘Track’ a look as she stepped past him. He was unfazed and responded with a wink and a smile that made her feel more uncomfortable than any encounter with Exiled up to that point. Track’s leering interest was more disturbing than Scar’s outright hostility.

She walked away from the gate, staying close to the wall so that she could observe, but stay out of the way. By her count, the ratio of boys to girls was about seven to one. The girls were dressed in the same clothes as the boys, but gender differences were conspicuous. If she’d been asked to name the most remarkable thing about the event, it would have been seeing the Exiled in action. Their strength and grace was both astounding and beautiful to watch.

Compared to young athletic humans, they could jump twice as high, run three times as fast, and, apparently, take a lot of punishment and laugh it off. Charming jogged over to where she was spectating, clearly glad to see her.

“You came.” He grinned.

“Said I would.”

“Come on. I’ll introduce you to my friends.”

It didn’t escape Rosie’s notice that Charming was showing her off, sometimes introducing her with a postscript that she was staying at his house. At one point she noticed Free watching them. It could have been her imagination, but she thought he looked concerned. She hoped the Extant didn’t think she had a romantic interest in Charming, that he knew Charming’s friendly easygoing ways had been her support while she was making an adjustment to the Exiled and Newland society. She really didn’t want to be seen as a potential ‘older woman’ threat.

On that note, she decided that, perhaps, she should see less of Charming. The last thing she wanted was to be a problem of any kind. The whole point of a break was to lie low and regroup emotionally.

 

 

“I’m not coming in tomorrow,” Dandy announced. “Going down to the market at Farsuitwail.”

Rosie wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do with that information. “You mean I’ll be doing
our
jobs? Alone. With no one to talk to?”

Dandy cocked both her head
and
her hip. “You do what you do every day. Just not with me.”

“Oh.” Rosie frowned for half a second, then smiled. “So I’ll be the boss.”

Dandy snorted. “You wish.”

It was the friendliest Dandy had been to date and it made Rosie smile like she’d scored a coup.

 

The next morning she was in the kitchen before Serene and Free had left, which meant early.

“You’re up early,” Serene said.

“I’m on my own at the Commons today.” She realized she sounded a little excited and sort of proud about that.

“Oh? Dandelion’s not feeling well?” Serene asked.

Free stopped what he was doing and looked over, interested in Rosie’s response.

Instead of answering, Rosie was sidetracked and asked Serene, “You call her Dandelion?”

“Yes. I know her mother.”

Serene and Free both continued to look expectant, like they were waiting.

“Oh. No. She’s not sick. She’s going to Farsomething.”

“Farsuitwail.”

“Yeah.” Rosie smiled. “So I’m in charge. Until Scar comes in. Of course.” Serene and Free exchanged a look that Rosie couldn’t decipher. “I know how to do the work,” she said defensively.


Of course,” said Serene. “No question about that.”

Rosie grabbed a popover, stuffed jam inside with a spoon, and said, “Gotta go.”

She was out the door and opening up the Commons within five minutes. There was only one thing that would be done differently than when Dandy had the helm. There would be no nasty kitties on or around the bar.

 

Everything went like clockwork. Many of the diners had begun to acknowledge her. Some even called her by name. Even the kitchen staff was friendlier than usual and she began to wonder if Dandy really needed to go to market or if it was a ploy to get the community past the cold shoulder stage. It was hard to tell with Dandy because she was the least evocative person Rosie had ever encountered. Effusion would have been as alien to her as the dragons of Emboldt.

By late afternoon everything was in order. The floors were swept and mopped. The table tops were clean. The bar was polished to a shine so perfect she could see herself in it. The glasses were spotless and stacked. The mugs were neatly shelved. Four green logs were banked on the fire pit so that there would be embers to start the evening fire.

Looking around, she was satisfied that Dandy would be pleased. At least she’d have no cause for complaint. Rosie was moving toward the galley hallway to put her apron in the bin and end her shift, when the door burst open. She turned when she heard the frantic sounds of alarmed voices, gruff male voices. Though there were perhaps only seven or eight Exiled who rushed inside, their energy filled the space to capacity. One of them, whom she couldn’t see, was screaming something and it was a sound that sent a chill through her system.

She heard Free give an order to someone near the door. Just as Charming nudged inside, Free said, “Nobody else comes in!”

By the look of them, Rosie surmised that she was looking at a clutch of active warriors. She moved back behind the bar and stood still, hoping to not be noticed, because whatever was going on was very bad.

Over the screams, she heard one of them tell Free, “They killed his crew. Cauterized the wounds so he wouldn’t bleed out. Left him like that to send a message. By the gods, Free. These creatures. They’re
not
like us! Blaze was a good male.”

When the huddle parted, Rosie jerked her hand to her mouth to stifle a scream. One of the young males, who she knew must have been beautiful beyond compare, was being held upright in a chair. All four of his limbs had been cut away at the body. It was grotesque beyond the worst nightmare imaginable.

He was shaking his head violently from side to side. In between screams and ragged breaths, she heard what he was saying. “Kill me.” He repeated it over and over. “Kill me. Don’t leave me like this.”

The man he was addressing looked up. In the middle of the horror, her mind processed instantly that he had the same tawny hair and yellow-green eyes as his mother and brother, combined with his father’s intensity.

It was hard to make sense of what was going on through the chaos, but something told her that the imposing figure, with anguish written all over his beautiful face, must be Carnal, the infamous older brother. He was covered in a mixture of desert dirt and blood, but underneath that was an undeniable magnetism.

While he was trying to sort between his emotions and the right thing to do, his gaze found Rosie and remained there. The starkness of the grief in his eyes made her want to plunder every promise and use her talents to ease his pain. If he’d continued to look at her like that, she would have. But his attention was wrenched back by the pleading screams coming from what remained of his friend.

During the few seconds before he tore his eyes away, he’d seemed to be searching for an answer. For a reprieve maybe. Or for someone else to take the responsibility. She watched the emotions change the expressions on his face. First resignation, then determination.

Carnal put his forearm around the neck of the screaming man from behind, then whispered into his ear as he applied pressure.

Rosie read his lips. He said, “Because I love you,” before swiftly wrenching the neck he held locked in his arm so that it separated from the spinal cord. It only took a glance for Rosie to read the depth of his devastation before he turned and walked out.

BOOK: CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me
12.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
Crónica de una muerte anunciada by Gabriel García Márquez
The Living Years by Mike Rutherford
Barcode: Cavern of Youth by Ross, Kashif
Orient Express by John Dos Passos
Sea of Suspicion by Toni Anderson