Deliverance Page 37

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However Melkin came to own it, I’m grateful that Connor agreed to pretend the staff was his in order to keep the Commander from questioning its existence. Now he wears it strapped to his back when he rides, and keeps it beside his bedroll while he sleeps, and I ignore it in favor of working on a way to replicate the original controller with the scant tech supplies I have left.

I snap back to reality as Orion looks away from Nola and leers at Jodi instead. “I bet you got your eye on that little piece of pretty, don’t you? She ain’t too busy with her father, and she ain’t climbing trees and pretending to track things at all hours of the day.”

Jodi, finished with laying her bedroll beside Nola’s, bends at the waist to dig some nuts and herbs out of her pack. My pulse hammers as Orion says, “Yeah, you got her trained, don’t you? You got her visiting you in the middle of the night—”

My fist connects with his jaw, and he stumbles back even as I lunge forward. I snatch the front of Orion’s tunic and shake him. His eyes blaze, and he spits in my face. Adam slams into Orion from the side, ripping him out of my grasp, and they both hit the ground hard.

Before I can react, Connor draws his sword, places his boot on Orion’s wrist, grinding it into the ground to stop him from taking another swing at Adam, and says, “You would do well to mind your tongue around the ladies in our camp.”

“Or what? You’ll flap your bedroll at me?” Orion asks as he shoves Adam off him. Adam gives me a look asking for permission to punch Orion once more, but I shake my head. The Commander and his other two guards, while content to ignore yet another fistfight between Adam and Orion, began moving toward us the second Connor pulled his sword.

Connor’s voice is cold. “Leave the ladies alone or else I will be forced to call you out on your dishonor and duel with you accordingly.”

“I don’t know what you just said, but I do know that drawing your sword against a member of the Brute Squad is asking for pain.” Orion glares at us, using his free arm to push at Connor’s boot.

“He said if you disrespect the women in our camp, he’ll run you through with his sword,” Adam says helpfully.

“Let him up.” The Commander’s voice is sharp as he stalks toward us. “And give me one reason why I shouldn’t sever your tendons and leave you for the carrion birds to feast on.”

Connor slowly removes his boot, and Orion scrambles to his feet, his face flushed red, his fists clenched.

I open my mouth to intervene on Connor’s behalf—to say something that will stop whatever violence I’m sure the Commander has planned—but Connor beats me to it.

“As an official emissary of Lankenshire, I represent the triumvirate while on this journey. These people”—he gestures toward everyone but the Commander and his three guards—“are now Lankenshire citizens, and as such are under the protection of our leaders and our laws.”

The Commander’s eyes narrow, and his scar twitches.

“However, I recognize that this man is under your jurisdiction, not mine, and therefore I humbly beg your pardon for not bringing my complaint about his behavior to you, instead of acting in the heat of the moment.” Connor manages to sound both contrite and unyielding, a skill I’m certain he learned from his mother.

“Are we talking about complaints now?” Orion’s voice is surly. “Because I have a list of my own. Starting with the fact that you don’t know the first thing about traveling without leaving a trail and ending with the fact that drawing your weapon because I looked at a girl—”

“You looked at her with dishonorable intent.” Connor raises his chin, and suddenly seems every inch a leader. “Miss Jodi, Miss Nola, and Miss Willow are under the protection of Lankenshire.”

“Appreciate it, but I can protect myself,” Willow says as she drops out of a tree to the right of us and lands softly beside Adam. “And apparently, so can you. Nice work pinning his wrist with your boot.” She smiles at Connor and then looks at Orion. “What have you done now?”

His eyes narrow as Adam’s arm wraps around Willow’s waist. “Just suggesting Logan share some of what he’s getting with the rest of us, but I see he already has. Always did wonder what Tree Girl tasted like.”

Adam lets go of Willow and jumps for Orion, but Frankie gets there first. Shoving himself between Orion and the rest of us, he looms over the guard and snarls, “I remember when you were nothing but a snot-nosed little brat always whining to your mama whenever someone didn’t let you have your way. You’re still whining, only this time, your mama isn’t here to stop me from delivering the beating you deserve.”

“You think you can beat me?” Orion sounds incredulous, which, given the size of Frankie’s arms and the fury on his face, doesn’t speak highly of Orion’s common sense.

I glance at the Commander, expecting him to intervene on Orion’s behalf, but he’s staring at his guard with a cold expression on his face.

“This isn’t Baalboden,” Frankie says. “You can’t drag me off to the dungeon if I look at you wrong. This is the Wasteland. If you push me, you’ll learn that I’m not the same man you used to know. I have a new leader. New friends. And nothing to keep me from ruining you if you bother Willow, Nola, or Jodi again.”

Willow stares at Frankie the way she often looked at Quinn—like she’d fight off an army for him because he’s family now.

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