Deliverance Page 76

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“He’s coming,” Nola says.

I turn to see the Commander climbing the bluff.

“Now that he knows how to use the device, he might use it against us,” Nola says.

“We have his necklace to counteract the signal. It’s buried there.” I point.

“I can get it.” Nola moves toward the tree, but I stop her with a hand on her arm.

“Let Jodi get it.” I pull Nola to the side while Jodi digs up the necklace, and the Commander slowly climbs the bluff.

“What is it?” Nola asks, fear edging into her voice. “What’s wrong?”

I look at her wide, dark eyes and wish I didn’t have to be the one to do this. “During the attack, those who were guarding the camp were killed.” She starts shaking her head. “I’m so sorry, Nola. Your father . . . Drake is gone.”

She sways forward, and I catch her before she can crumple to the ground. Sobs tear through her, and I let her cry against me while Jodi runs to us and wraps her arms around her friend.

“He died a hero. I know that doesn’t make it easier to bear, but it’s the truth. He was a good man, and I’ll miss him. I’m sorry,” I say, though I know from experience how inadequate those words are. “I’m sorry” doesn’t bring anyone back. It doesn’t close the awful hole that opens up inside of you when someone you love dies. It doesn’t really help, but it’s all I have to offer.

Nola turns to Jodi as the Commander reaches the summit and starts toward us. When he spots Nola crying, he scowls. I head him off before he can demand that we leave for Chelmingford before Nola is ready to ride.

“Give her a few minutes,” I say. “She just learned that her father is dead.”

He turns away from me and looks out at what’s left of the highwaymen’s city. “She can have five minutes. Then we’re leaving. If we ride hard, we can be at Chelmingford in two days.”

His eyes follow me as I move to Nola’s side again, and the expression in them makes the hair on the back of my neck rise. In his mind, I’m a dead man walking.

I smile grimly. If adding two transmitters to the device caused this much out-of-control destruction, imagine what will happen when I wire five of them to Melkin’s staff and drive it into the ground beside the Commander. He’ll rely on the device to control them. But the staff’s signal will be too powerful. Too overwhelming.

There’s no way the Commander will come out of that alive.

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

RACHEL

The sun is melting over the ramparts of Rowansmark’s wall as Samuel and Ian lead me outside to the garden. I spent the last night sleeping on a cot in a room no bigger than my back porch while a pair of soldiers stood guard outside my door. I tried to escape through the room’s one window, but it seemed to be welded shut. Night turned into morning, and I expected someone to come for me, but instead, I spent the day locked in the room until finally, just before sunset, Samuel and Ian came for me.

Now I walk through the garden, where roses in sunset hues of red, orange, and gold line a stone path that circles a fountain with a moss-covered statue of a woman whose plump arms are raised gracefully above her head, as if she was captured in stone mid-dance. Beyond the fountain, the path cuts through wispy purple rhododendron bushes and azaleas bursting with pink flowers and then leads to a square of dirt, where James Rowan waits beside a thick wooden post, a brown leather whip in his hand. The air is clogged with moisture and heat, and my hair clings to the back of my neck as sweat beads along my skin. Ian’s hand digs into my right forearm, sending shooting pains through my wound, but I hold my head high and refuse to flinch.

If these men think they’re going to cut me down to size like James Rowan’s precious pecan tree, they’re wrong.

I’ve survived the Commander, the loss of almost everyone I love, physical injury, and kidnapping. I’ve walked through my own personal hell and come out the other side. I am my father’s daughter, and I will survive this. For Logan. For my dad. But most of all, for myself. I came to Rowansmark with a mission, and I’m not finished yet.

“Tie her to the whipping post,” Rowan says in that soft, regretful voice of his. Like he cares deeply about me, and hates to be the one to point out the error of my ways.

I glare at him and silently swear that I’m going to be his last mistake.

Ian shoves me against the wooden post, grabs the rope that is tethered to the post by a thick iron ring, and says, “Hold your hands up.”

“Why should I make it easy for you to hurt me again?” I’m proud that my voice doesn’t betray the way my knees shake or the way icy frissons of fear skate up my spine, threatening to make my teeth chatter.

How many lashes will Rowan give me? Or will he hand the whip to Ian and let the boy who killed his father do his best to kill me too?

I tell myself it doesn’t matter as Ian yanks my arms over my head and pins my wrists together so that Samuel can wrap the rope around them like he’s securing a boat to its dock. I can take whatever they give me. I can breathe through the pain—scream through it if I have to.

“How many lashes?” Ian asks in the same cold, empty voice he’s been using since his confrontation with Samuel on the boat.

“Oh, I think fifteen should do it.” Rowan steps around the post until he’s standing eye to eye with me. I’d like to spit in his face, but my mouth is as dry as the wood I’m pressed against. “Ten to teach her not to take things that aren’t hers and five extra to remind her that she should be respectful to those in charge.”

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