My sinus infection has me on an emotional roller coaster this week, so I thought I’d send you all on another with an unedited draft excerpt from my current work-in-progress: Decay’s Hope, the second book in a series about a group of teens who, by trying to assert their independence, destroy a centuries’ old way of life.
With a huge sigh, Hannah gave in and started climbing the stairs to Julian’s tower. What was she going to say to him when she saw him? What could she say? That she hated him for choosing William over her? For being a freak and liking boys? For not being her rescuer? She had piled many of her hopes onto Julian. It wasn’t his fault that he unknowingly failed her, but still she couldn’t help blame him. To distract herself as she climbed, she checked the results of Julian’s work with the walls and marveled at the workmanship. She hadn’t been by the tower since Julian had finished and she understood why he was working on the main gates. If he could do this to them and fool the Matriarchs into thinking he did it without magic, it would be the first step in making the whole Citadel livable again. Not that she wanted to be around for that, of course.
Far too soon, she reached the top of the stairs where she loitered, building up the courage. No, it wasn’t courage. She was trying to calm down a burning rage inside her chest. He had no right to ruin her life so. Feeling stronger, she raised her hand and rapped on it hard, making sure she use the side of her hand rather than her knuckles. Robin opened the door while she was still knocking and she almost punched him in the face accidentally. He didn’t so much as a twitch an eyebrow. Impressive.
“So, you’re doing it,” he said in a low voice.
He smiled. “Whatever necessary,” he repeated at her breasts.
“Eyes up,” she snapped, not in the mood to flirt. “Is he here?”
Robin bowed and swung the door open. She didn’t see Julian, but the lump of blankets on the bed was large enough to be hiding a body.
“Would you like to be alone?”
Robin nodded and slipped out without announcing her. She stopped into the room with extreme care. If it had been anyone else other than Julian, she would have suspected his absorption and looked for traps, but Julian would never kill her, so she ventured inside.
“Mmrphhh,” came back at her from the direction of the bed. Why did boys have to sulk in their beds so much? William used to do that all the time.
“Julian? It’s Hannah.”
The bedclothes heaved and a rumple-headed Julian emerged, bare from the waist up. Hannah’s heart leapt into her throat. She couldn’t have this conversation if he was looking like this. Julian half-naked, half-asleep in a messy bed was enough to make her want to give up her vow to not have children. She turned her back on him.
“Please, could you make yourself more presentable?”
“Wha? Oh, right.”
She heard shuffling sounds behind her then at his signal she turned around. He had moved to the settee on the far wall and was wearing a flowing summery shirt of definite foreign fashion. Much better, although how he wasn’t cold in the loose shirt, she had no idea.
“Will you sit?” he asked, all formal and unsure of himself.
Hannah almost smiled. She was always at her best when others were unsure of themselves.
“No, thank you. I want to know what’s going on.”
“So do I,” he countered. “We were best friends and then suddenly you hear a few rumors and wham, you abandon me when I most need a friend.”
“It’s only a friend you need though, isn’t it? At least from me.” She gave him the opportunity to tell her his secrets.
“What are you talking about?” Of course, he didn’t. Why would he, especially after she’d attacked him so clearly?
Hannah crossed to the window and stared out at the city below. If she could do magic, would she be able to jump down there and run away without anyone knowing where she had gone?
“Why haven’t you started teaching me magic yet?”
“Is that what it’s about? You want to know magic? I don’t know what else to do! Plus we’re get into huge trouble if we were caught, like instant death worthy trouble.”
“Would you teach him magic if he asked you?”
Hannah glared unwilling to say William’s name. Julian knew exactly who she meant but he was playing dumb. The way his face went red also told her that he was already teaching William magic. How dare they! No, she pulled back on the anger. She was here to apologize and clear the air. But how could she forgive him when he was lying to her? But then again she hadn’t told him the truth yet either.
“I saw what happened up on the wall, Julian,” she said. “Everything.”
The room fell silent until Julian relented.
“I didn’t kiss him, honestly. I attacked him.”
“Don’t lie, Julian. I was there.”
He crumbled on the settee.
“I hate this. At home, I wouldn’t have to hide it.”
“Julian, you know you’ve fallen in love with a monster, don’t you? Remember, I grew up with him. I know what he’s done.”
“But what if it’s only because he didn’t know any better? Everyone here in this crazy house is twisted. Yes, even you. The only time I’ve seen you express emotions for a death was with Victor. Every morning people accept the latest deaths without pausing in their conversations except to wonder how it happened and who did it.” He stood and crossed the floor to stand in front of her. His skin was flushed and he obviously believed what he was saying. “What if, in a different situation, he was a different person? What if I could take him away?”
That was the confirmation Hannah needed. Julian had never had any plans to take her with him, just William in some love-dazed hope that the assassin would stop killing for pleasure.
“What about me?” she asked in a small voice. She flinched inside because she recognized what she was doing. She was manipulating Julian to get what she wanted. It was what she did. Boys killed and girls manipulated. It was what she had to do to survive. Whatever necessary. “What would I be like out of this place?”
“A Queen someday. You would have princes fighting over you for your hand in marriage. Or whatever you want to be. My parents chose to be traders instead of staying at the Hirkanian courts. Outside of the Citadel, you could be whatever you want. Come with us, when we go.”
“A happy little family?”
“Well, no. As three friends, escaping their horrible lives.”
Julian was delusional on several fronts. First he thought that William wasn’t a monster, he also believed that he could convince William and her to get along, and last but not least, he assumed that they would be able to get out of here. But he wasn’t going anywhere and that was the worse part. He still thought he was going home.
“You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
“Why would I want to tell anyone that my ex-husband is in love with another boy?”
“Do you hate me?” Tears welled in his eyes.
He really was a sweet boy. So open with his emotions. She couldn’t hate him. Pity him, yes. Wish that he liked her instead, of course. But hate him? No. She shook her head and opened up her arms. He swept into them and buried his face in her neck.
“I need you as a friend, Hannah. You’re too much fun to have as an enemy.”
She had no answer for him so made do with the pats on his back as he cried, releasing all the tension he was feeling.
“Julian, if we’re being honest with each other, I have something to tell you. You’re not going to like it, but you have to know.”
She had come up here with a plan to reconcile without caring, to go through the motions in order to get one step closer to her goals, but she hadn’t counted on the fact that under her anger, she actually liked Julian. He was fun, rebellious and, along with Winnifred and Andrea, made living with the rest of the Family bearable.
“I think you should sit down.” She led him back to the sofa. “Know how you’ve never gotten any letters from home?”
“Because they get blocked here. The Matriarchs have cut me off from my family.” He sniffled, self-pity threatening to bring more tears.
“You’ve been cut off, but not from this end exactly.”
He snapped up straight and his face went hard. She could almost see the tears on his cheeks retreat back into his eyes.
“Did your mother ever say how she got away from the Citadel?”
“My mother never told me anything about the Citadel or the Family until the day before I got sent here.”
“How did she get away from here if no one normally does?” She couldn’t come right out and say that his mother had sold him in exchange for her own freedom. She had to let him figure it out for himself. It might hurt less that way. Or at least, that’s what Hannah assumed. For her part, she could almost count the few memories she had of talking to her own mother.
“They let her go for some reason. Maybe she wasn’t important.”
“Her father and brother were both kings at some point. Her mother is a powerful Matriarch. Her children, you, were much too valuable for them to let her go.”
“What are you getting at, Hannah?”
Why was it so difficult to say? A day ago, she would have enjoyed stabbing him with this betrayal and twisting the knife into his belly. But his willingness to cry in front of her, to ask her for forgiveness softened her.
“She was offered a deal and she took it.”
“Get out.” Julian’s voice turned as cold as the Citadel’s stones in the depth of winter.
“This is you punishing me, isn’t it? I stole your husband from you. I turned down your advances. And now you try to tell me that my mother sold me back to her murderous Family so that she could be free.” He stood. “People have warned me that you make a terrible enemy, but I didn’t think you would ever do this to me. I never purposefully hurt you. I can’t choose where my heart decides to lead me. I’m sorry.”
He climbed back into bed and pulled the blankets over his head. Hannah side and moved to by his side. She ran a hand over the lump that looked like a shoulder.
“No, Julian. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been angry with you.” Whoever said the truth made everything better was an idiot. Whe’d made them ten times worse. “It’s like you said. This family twists people.”
“Get out,” he repeated, the words muffled by the layers of blanket.
Cursing herself, Julian, William and even Robin for suggesting she make up with Julian, she left, but the blame couldn’t be placed on any of them. There was only one real villain. The Family. And if she had anything to say about it, before she left she’d see it destroyed. And she would use Agnes’ offer as a means to do just that.