These Broken Stars Page 56

“A bed,” is my retort. “A real one.”

“You win,” he says, downing the last of his share of the pasta and leaning back on his elbows. He’s still moving slowly, carefully. But he looks better, for all his trouble walking today. “I can’t top that.”

I hurry to finish the rest of my dinner and scoot over to where he reclines on the blanket, eager for his warmth and company. He folds his good arm around me, easy, comfortable. I don’t think the old Lilac would’ve thought he smelled very good, but I turn my head toward him anyway, cheek rubbing against the material of his T-shirt.

We’re quiet for a while, perhaps each of us imagining what might wait for us in the building Tarver saw on the horizon. His face has changed, a spark of hope where there had only been grim determination. How long has he been living with the belief that no rescue was coming? It’s obvious that ever since we reached the Icarus, he’s been aiming only for survival. Not for rescue.

Now there’s a good chance we’ll be able to signal for help. No remote outpost building would be without some method of communication.

I shift, pulling myself in more tightly. He inhales deeply, the rise and fall of his chest shifting my face where it’s pressed against him.

“How long do you think we’ve been here?”

“Counting the time I was sick?” Tarver pauses, doing a quick mental calculation. “Sixteen days, I think.”

So long? It knocks the wind out of me. Two weeks and counting. It feels like only two days and like a lifetime. “It was my birthday,” I find myself saying, in a strange voice. “I turned seventeen a few days ago.” The day you came back to me from your fever. But I can’t bring myself to say that out loud.

Tarver’s breath catches, then releases. “Happy birthday, Miss LaRoux.” I can hear the smile in his voice.

I’ve become a year older while stranded on this planet. I swallow.

Perhaps sensing the shift in my mood, Tarver lifts his bandaged hand to trail his fingertips along my arm. I suspect the movement hurts him, but if it does, he makes no complaint.

I clear my throat. “What would be the first thing you’d do when we get rescued? A real meal? Call your family?” I smile against him, plucking at his T-shirt in distaste. “Take a shower?”

“My family,” he says immediately. “Then they’ll probably hose me down and interrogate me for a few weeks. The military will, I mean. Not my parents.”

“Gosh.” Now I’m trying to banish the mental image of someone hosing Tarver down. At least I’m not thinking about my birthday anymore. “I hope nobody tries that with me.”

That earns me a laugh, my head jumping a little as Tarver’s body quakes beneath my cheek. “I doubt anyone will try any such thing with you. It’s pretty much just soldiers and criminals who get the high-pressure hose.”

Even in the realm of imagination, we’re already separated. Him, in his interrogations and debriefings—me, presumably taken somewhere for coddling and polishing. My heart twinges painfully, its beat rapid and strong against Tarver’s ribs.

It’s not that I don’t want to be rescued. I do. I want to see my father again—and more than that, I want Tarver to find his family again, keep them from losing another son. But I had begun to imagine a life here, with him and me. A hungry, cold, barely-surviving-each-week kind of life—but a life together.

Before I can stop myself, the words come tumbling out. “What about me?”

“What about you?” Tarver echoes, one shoulder moving in a shrug. “Your family will scoop you up and quiz you on whether I compromised your virtue and whisk you off to strap you into one of those extraordinary dresses, and it’ll be like this never happened.”

My mouth is dry, my tongue heavy. Why doesn’t he understand what I’m asking? If we’re to be rescued, I don’t want it to happen before we figure out whatever’s happening here between us. I may not have many more opportunities.

I take a deep breath and lift myself up on one elbow. It’s dark, but I can still make out his features through the gloom.

“You mean we’ll never see each other again.”

For a moment he just looks at me, unreadable as ever. The mirror-moon lights his face, silver on his skin, in his eyes. My heart threatens to slam its way out of my chest.

“Maybe not.” There’s a softer, less certain note in his voice.

The idea that someone will swoop down and take him away from me, off to fight some distant war in some distant system, makes me feel like my lungs are filling with water. I don’t know how to reach him, how to make him see how I feel. I don’t know what’s going on behind the brown eyes I’ve come to know so well. I don’t know what he’s thinking as he looks at me.

But suddenly I do know that I’ll never live with myself if we get rescued before I can make him understand.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I whisper.

I lean down, my hair falling forward around his face, and let my lips find his.

For an instant I feel him reach for me, and all I want is to lean against him, let him wrap me up, keep me close. All I want is for no one to take him away.

“What did you hope to gain by making for the structure?”

“Better shelter, at least. Some method of communication, at most.”

“With whom did you wish to communicate?”

“Is that a trick question?”

“All our questions are extremely serious, Major.”

“Anybody who could hear us. I had Lilac LaRoux with me. I knew her father would stage a retrieval at any cost, if he knew where we were.”

“It was on your mind that you were with Monsieur LaRoux’s daughter.”

“It could hardly escape me.”

“Just the two of you, alone.”

“I noticed that too.”



I WANT TO SURGE UP AGAINST HER, tangle my fingers through her hair, pull her down to meet me—and for a moment I find myself reaching for her, unable to resist. How long have I been wanting to touch her like this? A charge runs from her fingertips and into my skin, and all my careful self-control starts crashing down as I feel the heat of her near me. I want to lose myself in her, let this moment take me over completely.

My fingers find the edge of her shirt, and she makes a quiet sound as my hand curves against the small of her back. She shifts, and I realize it’s my bandaged hand in the same instant that a white-hot line of pain runs up my arm. A groan tears out of me as I tense, pushing her away with my good hand.

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