Ebony Fight (The Guard Duet Book 2) (14 page)

BOOK: Ebony Fight (The Guard Duet Book 2)
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TWENTY-TWO

After two days Becca felt like her house was filled to the brim with people and their noises, and decided she needed to get out. Even if only for a while. She’d promised Arthur to check on him anyway, and the quiet of the bayou was exactly what the doctor would prescribe.

Knowing that Quinn and Sli would be in the capable hands of Linda and Abby, Becca hummed cheerfully as she climbed into her put-put and headed out onto the water. The morning sun trickled through the lush greenery and Becca lifted her face to let the warm rays play on her skin. Birds were chirping along, and the maze of trees felt like a secret garden. It was such a beautiful day and she hoped with all her heart to see Stone’s face before nightfall. It would be the icing on her cake.

She missed him.

It was quite incredible that the man she’d thought as cold as his namesake had turned out to be her rock, her tower of strength and anchor to life. She’d felt more alive the last few weeks than ever before in her life. He was so different, and yet she sensed that deep within there was a yearning for peace that both of them shared. He’d learned to smile, and Becca had no trouble admitting that she would like to believe she triggered some of them. They were still rare, but all the more precious to her for it.

A lot had changed. She’d healed Dave without giving too much of herself, and had to thank her brother for it. He was growing up quickly now, and even though Stone and Quinn didn’t have much time to train yet, she could already see the changes in him. A reliable male figure had been missing from his life, and to her it seemed that Stone actually enjoyed filling out that position. It probably gave him a different sort of satisfaction than fighting as an Ebony ever could. Becca knew only too well that the years would rush by in a flash, and soon Quinn would drop the remnants of his childhood like a costume outgrown, and stand before her as a man. She was already utterly proud of him.

Images, like snippets of a dream, flickered in her mind. Of Quinn at his high school graduation, of him choosing a college…and Becca found herself smiling like a girl at the hope that Stone would be there to share those moments with her. Laughing, she chastised herself. It seemed her mind was running away with her whenever Stone was involved.

Since Becca didn’t have to weave any confusion spells this time, it took her only twenty minutes to reach her destination instead of the forty she’d needed with Stone around. A branch hung low and then parted like a curtain to reveal Arthur’s crooked little home. A smile tugged at her lips, but disappeared as cold shivers ran down her spine.

There was no one on the jetty.

She tried to calm herself with logic. Maybe Arthur just hadn’t set up yet. He was probably still busy donning that funny fishing outfit of his. With practiced movements, Becca moved her put-put closer to the side of the jetty until she could moor it and jump out.

It was too quiet.

No birds, no music or humming, only the water lapping softly at the shore.

Fear gripped her heart. Dropping logic and pretenses, Becca ran to the house and threw the door open without bothering to knock.

“Arthur?”

The kitchen was empty.

Her heart beat in her throat. “Arthur?”

She stopped short in the doorway to the living room. Relief and love flooded her. There he was, sleeping in his armchair in front of the fireplace. His head had lolled forward, his chin resting on his chest. His blanket was a tangle around his knees, and a book lay open on the old wooden floor. It must have slipped out of his hands when sleep had taken over. Tilting her head, she smiled softly and tip-toed closer. She picked up the book and put it on the table next to him before crouching to pull up the blanket.

It was then she noticed the mark on his neck.

A thin black bruise marring his skin. It looked almost like a cut.

Her mind refused to comprehend.

Becca reached out with a trembling hand. She had to know. Brushing away his hair, she cried out when she saw his blood-shot eyes staring without sight. She fell back on the hard floor, scrambled away from him.

It couldn’t be.

Her body shook, uncontrollably, as her thoughts staggered, stopped and then fell all over each other.

Arthur was dead.

How?

He couldn’t be dead.

Was the killer still here?

Her heart felt like a butterfly caught in a net, beating way too fast as shock took a firm hold of her body, trapping it.

“Arthur…” Tears streamed down her cheeks, unnoticed until she clamped a hand over her mouth.

This couldn’t be.

But his eyes were dead.

Her stomach churned. Becca hurried to get herself off the floor and onto her shaky legs. She’d barely made it out the door when her body rebelled.

Becca had no recollection of how she’d made it out of the oracle’s cabin and back home. The only thing she did remember was feeling lost, so lost, while the sun glared down on her as if mocking her earlier hopes and dreams. She made it to her jetty and then broke down, a heap of flesh on the old wood.

Why?

Why Arthur? After all this time.

His wicked smile flashed in her mind’s eye. He’d worn that grin the first time they’d met. When he came knocking at her door right after they’d moved in and said he would help her with her cause. At the time she’d thought he’d meant the fact that she was trying for a better life for Quinn, but after Lillian and Raz showed up she’d known her journey wasn’t over yet.

She remembered the tiny nick on his neck, the bit of tissue paper stuck to it as he stood there in jeans and an old button-down, admitting with a boyish blush that he hadn’t shaved for female company in years.

Shaking like a leaf, the tears came unhindered, the sobs shaking her body.

That was how Stone found her.

“Becca?” His voice was but a whisper in her head.

Alarm crept into his voice, “Becca! What happened? Are you hurt?”

The next instant he was right there at her side, picking her up and into his arms. She could only stare at his worried face. Was she imagining it, or was he real? Her hand reached out to touch him and felt the rough stubble on his cheek.

Real.

No words came, except one, “Arthur.”

“What? What are you talking about? What’s wrong with Arthur?”

It brought her back to the place she never wanted to visit again, but she knew she had to tell him. He was her rock after all. Maybe he could find out who had done this. He was her only hope.

“Arthur…” her voice broke. “I wanted to visit him and…” She swallowed, fought passed the tears in her throat. “He’s dead.” Now that the gate had been opened, the words came in a rush. “It looked like he was sleeping, in his chair. The fireplace was still warm. He looked so peaceful…but then I saw the bruising.” Her own hand went to her neck. Stone’s gaze followed the movement before his face fell with understanding. “Just a thin, dark line. Amazing that that could mark the end. So thin…so…” Shock swamped her in an ice-cold wave. “…so professional.”

Her eyes found his and she dove into a spiral of confusion.

No, it couldn’t be, her heart cried out. She knew the man in front of her. But her mind insisted on the facts. The fact that he was the only one who knew where Arthur lived.

Every Ebony was trained to be a killer, and she knew that some of them became hired assassins.

 

VI

WHAT THE HELL?

“For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart.

It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.”

- Judy Garland

 

 

 

TWENTY-THREE

Her face was an open book. Stone could see her inner turmoil as clear as day. Darkness and light fought within her, doubt and trust.

“You knew where he lived!” Before he even had a chance to answer, his head snapped to the side. His cheek stung from her slap.

“How could you?” she shouted. “He liked you.”

Desperate panic and grief fueling her, she pushed him away with all her might. Stone landed on his ass. Although the suspicion in her eyes hurt, he could understand it. She had no reason to believe in him - until he gave her one.

When she scrambled to get away from him, he grabbed for her arms. Stone didn’t know how she could make her face so expressive and could only hope she would see the truth in his eyes. “I didn’t do it.” His gaze boring into hers, he swore, “Please believe me, Becca. I didn’t do it.”

Silence stretched as their stares locked and hearts fought.

It felt like an eternity, and for once in his life Stone didn’t know what to do. There was a plan for every situation, a way out, a sequence of actions - but not this time. It left him stranded and feeling utterly helpless. He could feel her pulse hammering under her skin where he held her wrists. “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I…”

“You didn’t do it.”

It wasn’t a question, nor a plea.

Stunned that she actually believed him, he wondered whether grief was clouding her senses. Surely she must have…however, her eyes, even if brimmed with tears, were clear. There was love and hope in their depth, not the slightest trace of damnation.

“I believe you.” Her voice was hoarse with emotion. It was raw faith. In him.

Amazed at this unexpected gift, Stone tucked it away in his heart. It was her place anyway. “You do?”

“But who did? No one knew where he lived.”

“He was out of the bayou. Someone could have followed him back in.”

Her face fell, realizing the probability of his words. Guilt shadowed her eyes and filled her tears.

Stone shook her. “No, you will not blame yourself. Arthur knew what he was doing. He chose to come here. Maybe he knew what it would entail, maybe not. But
you
definitely had nothing to do with it. So stop it!”

She nodded.

Stone sighed, drawing her attention. “There’s something I need to tell you, too.”

“I’m not sure I can handle anymore.”

He hadn’t imagined having to tell her under these circumstances, but knew they didn’t have any time to lose. Still, he looked at the trail of dried tears on her cheeks, only small signs of her deep grief. His voice was gentle when he asked, “Actually, we don’t have to do this now.”

“Time won’t change anything. Arthur won’t come back. But honesty might just make it easier to bear.” She snorted without any humor, “Or at least I hope so.”

Stone nodded, wishing he could relieve her pain somehow. He couldn’t believe that Arthur was dead. He’d come to like the old man, had known that Becca would be safe with him around, that Hell had not lost an oracle but a guardian angel.

Shouldn’t the man have known? Unexpected anger at the oracle surfaced, but he decided it was better to keep his question for later.

Moving to sit closer next to her on the jetty, Stone looked out at the calm bayou, rays of light dancing on the water like fairies. A stark contrast to the dark sorrow both of them felt inside. Stone wondered where to begin his story, and admitted that he was afraid she would change her mind about him. After clearing his throat, he decided to simply trust in her as she had trusted him.

“I’d just come back from a bad fight at one of the holes when Andras, one of the marquis, summoned me. It turned out that my demon lord had recommended me to him. I still think it was a kind of punishment from her. She would be the kind to delight in the fact that I wouldn’t be able to say no to whatever it was the guy wanted.”

Becca inclined her head, a knowing look in her eyes. Yes, she knew how Hell worked.

“He told me about a witch who seemed to be quite busy spreading rumors, and he wanted me to keep an eye on her. Assess what kind of damage she could cause.”

“Seriously? Heh. Nice.”

Stone chuckled. “To be honest, when he told me the little they knew about you, I thought you were pretty stupid.”

Her jaw dropped with indignation. “What? Why?”

“You’d managed to get away, so why make waves instead of enjoying it? It didn’t make any sense to me.” He shrugged, an odd feeling creeping up on him. He felt…vulnerable. “After seeing you at the club, ballsy and so…full of life, my opinion changed pretty quickly. You were still a puzzle to me, but an interesting one. I told myself that I was just doing my job, watching you, learning…but that wasn’t true. I started to question myself. Right from the start. Did I jump into the fray at the strip club just because of my mission, or because I wanted to save a boy? Why did I decide to go and train him? To earn your trust, or simply because I wanted to spend more time with him? A boy that was treated like rubbish in Hell, but has so much potential.”

Becca looked at him as if he’d fallen on his head. “Of course, your mission wasn’t the only motivation. How could you have known that Quinn meant anything to me? You saved him because you
wanted
to. Because you care more about people than you want to admit.”

That was true. Stone was surprised at the relief he felt, being understood was a freedom that felt foreign to him. “I told myself lots of things to ignore the truth.”

Her voice was a whisper, “And what is the truth?”

He sighed, searching for words - and for the first time in his life even for courage - before he looked straight at her. “You blow me away. You’re a polka-dotted breath of fresh air. Nothing scares you, nothing ever really bothers you. You take on life the way it is and still try to make it better.”

That wide smile of hers rivaled a bloom in winter. “You love me.”

That stopped him short.

Two realizations hit him at once. First, he’d been babbling. Babbling! Second, she was right. “I do.”

It was her turn to look away, but not before he saw the same kind of vulnerability he’d felt just a moment ago creep into her eyes. Biting her lip, she gazed out over the water, and then he felt her warm hand curl around his. The feel of her touch made him smile like a fool. She laughed when she finally had the guts to face him again.

Shaking her head, her laughter died abruptly and her voice was soft when she asked, “Is it bad to feel this happy after what happened to Arthur?”

Stone shook his head, solemnly. “I don’t think so. He’d want you to be happy.”

“He’d also want me to find his killer.”

“And we’ll do exactly that. But there’s more to tell you.”

She turned her body and sat cross-legged facing him, their joined hands in her lap. “I’m glad you’re telling me all of this, but your past won’t change how I feel about you now. It shaped you to become the man you are, the one I love. That’s all I need to know.”

He touched her cheek. “Thank you. I don’t know what I did to deserve you. But…there’s seriously more you need to hear. There’s a reason why I left. Andras summoned me the night when Abby and the others showed up.”

“When you went to meet with a friend?” Her face fell, worry taking away the bit of pink that had come back into her cheeks. “You went back to Hell that night?”

“I couldn’t risk him coming here,” he explained, hoping she would understand.

“What did he want?”

“He wants me to kill you. Which I won’t.”

“Thanks. How kind of you.”

Stone rolled his eyes at her, but knew it was her way of coping, of gathering her strength. “Luckily, he wants me to make it look like the other side did it, which gives us time. Not a lot, but hopefully enough.”

“To do what?”

“To come up with a plan.”

Taking a deep breath, she nodded sharply before wiping her cheeks with the back of her hands. He could see her tug away the grief, not ignoring it but using it as her mind raced. This strength, he thought, with which she took on everything that was thrown her way…it floored him.

“Well then, let’s round up the troops.”

 

BOOK: Ebony Fight (The Guard Duet Book 2)
12.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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