These Broken Stars Page 32

I try to summon some dignity, a last-ditch effort. At least I don’t have to look like I’m foolish enough to think he’s an admirer. “I know I’m not your choice of—of companions. This is as much a trial for you as for me.”

At that he laughs again, this time not bothering to do so quietly. It’s a full laugh, rich and without restraint, nothing like the genteel twitters and chuckles in society. My mouth wants to respond with a smile, even as the rest of me recoils, certain he’s making fun of me.

He gets to his feet, shaking out the blankets and making up a bed. One bed, tonight. “Miss LaRoux, before you martyr yourself, I should warn you that I’ve had to curl up with my large and hairy corporal under certain undesirable circumstances. By comparison, a beautiful girl sounds like a vacation.”

Beautiful? I’ve always been reasonably pretty—but enough money would turn even a cow into a catch. Still, aside from those first days on the Icarus, he’s never looked at me that way. He’s made it clear my status and money mean nothing to him. The opposite, in fact.

I’m grateful for the darkness, that he can’t see my face. For him to see me incapable of concealing my smile for one tiny compliment? That would be the ultimate humiliation.

I turn around, and he’s kneeling at the edge of the bed, hands braced on his thighs. He gestures for me to lie down first, barely visible through the darkening night. The first of the moons is yet to rise, and the stars overhead grow brighter by the second. The air is clear and cold and sharp.

He’s right. Neither of us will sleep if I insist on separation. Part of me recoils from the very thought, too well trained. But who would know? There are no rescue teams flying over, no sign of my father’s cavalry coming for me. I can cave, just for one night. And it is so—tempting. To be warm, that is.

I swallow and creep forward to slip beneath the blanket, making myself as small as possible. “Only while we’re on the plains and can’t have a fire.” The words come before I have a chance to stop them. He’ll think I’m disparaging his gesture. Why can’t I just accept his offer?

But he just nods, readying himself for bed, unhooking his holster to set it beside us and placing the flashlight nearby. When he lifts the edge of the blanket to lie down, it brings a rush of cold air, and I curl up more tightly.

“Sorry,” he murmurs, voice not far from my ear. “Close your eyes, you’ll be warm in a minute.”

He’s not subtle about making himself comfortable, reaching out to wrap an arm around my waist and draw me close. His body is warmer than mine, and after a moment he lifts his hand to rub my arm. I try not to shiver at his touch, at the heat of his palm on the chilled skin exposed by my idiotic dress.

Eventually he stills again, ducking his head so that his nose brushes the back of my neck, and his breath stirs my hair. Already his breathing is slowing, lengthening—I envy his ability to sleep anywhere, in any position, without hesitation. Every nerve of mine is alive, tingling, feeling every shift he makes.

I’ve never been this close to someone like him before. I close my eyes with difficulty, stifling an insane urge to turn within the circle of his arm to face him. It’s such a stupid thing to think, and guilt and anger surge in to follow the thought.

It’s not difficult to see the way he looks at me, even though he tries now to hide his impatience and annoyance. How quickly one’s delusions come crashing down—the soldiers aren’t watching us society folk, wishing they could touch us. They’re laughing at us in our bright dresses and parasols, our immaculately re-created drawing rooms and parlors. And what was funny in the sparkling world of the Icarus is simply pathetically ridiculous down here, in the kind of world they live in day to day. I’m not even close to the type of girl he’d want, just as I’ve been signaling at every opportunity that he’s the last man in the galaxy I’d want to touch.

The only difference is that I was wrong.

How long I lie there, listening to the slow beat of his heart and the frenetic dance of my own, I’m not sure. One of this planet’s moons has begun to rise beyond the trees, casting a cold blue light across the plain and edging the grass with a frosty glow. The wind has died, but over the whisper of Tarver’s breath stirring my hair, another sound breaks the quiet.

My breath condenses in the cold air as I exhale. I squeeze my eyes more tightly, as if somehow I can block out the sound of the incomprehensible voice echoing across the night if I try hard enough.

“Go away,” I whisper into the darkness, my body tensing, starting to shake. Bad enough these voices invade my thoughts—but they seem to invade my body too, destroying my control, leaving me a shivering pile of confusion and fear. Behind me, Tarver senses it and mumbles something against my skin, the arm around me tightening.

The voice continues unabated. I know Tarver doesn’t hear it, or else he’d be awake and holding his gun in an instant. I turn my face into the pack we’re using as a pillow, try to think of the music I used to listen to back on the Icarus, even cover my ears with my hands, trying to make them work despite the twitching of my muscles.

On and on it whispers, into the night, each passing moment multiplying the torment. A tear squeezes out beneath my lashes, rapidly growing frigid in the cold and tracing an icy path down my temple to join the cold sweat that’s broken out all over. This time there’s a strange taste in my mouth too, a metallic tang that doesn’t go away no matter how many times I swallow.

I’m going mad.

“Tarver.” My voice is barely more than a whisper, emerging as a tight and wobbly thing I almost don’t recognize as my own. “Do you hear that?” I don’t even know why I ask. I already know he doesn’t.

If it had been one of my friends, I would have had to shake them; with Tarver, my whisper is enough. He comes awake instantly, body going from lax and peaceful to tense and alert.

“Sorry,” he whispers back, his lips not far from my ear. “I was asleep. What was it?”

The voice is still murmuring some distance away, in the direction of the mountains that lie between us and the Icarus, as if beckoning me on. Meaning slips away as though I’ve forgotten how to comprehend language.

“I hear them now,” I whisper. I barely register the fact that my body is shaking violently. I’m too ragged to care that he sees me so low. “Please,” I add, my heart shrinking inside me, “please just tell me that you hear it too.”

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