These Broken Stars Page 60

The Lilac I crashed with would never have thought of that. She’d have just disappeared inside without so much as a second thought as to how I’d find her. But my girl’s changed so much since we landed.

The entrance is narrow, but I squeeze through it, splashing through the stream. The sunlight’s fading when I spot the flashlight up ahead. The narrow passageway widens out into a larger chamber, like a bubble inside the rock, and I almost miss the big step down.

I stop myself from falling just in time, grabbing at the edge of the opening. She hasn’t noticed me yet. She’s in the middle of the cave, unpacking our things and carefully laying them out. She’s gotten a fire going directly under a break in the ceiling, for the smoke to escape. Did I teach her that, or did she work it out herself? I can’t remember anymore.

She’s making up two beds, her mouth a thin, fixed line, her shoulders square and determined. She’s reaching into the same well of discipline that she found when I was sick, I suppose. The same well that pushed her back into a ship full of the dead to find me medicine.

How did I ever think she couldn’t judge the depth of her own feelings?

I climb down carefully into the cave, letting a couple of pebbles click together deliberately. She glances up as I walk over, then returns to her work, pushing a spare shirt inside the pillow she’s making.

“Do you know what I thought, the first time I saw you, when you were telling off those officers?” There’s an edge to my voice, a hesitation—I sound nervous. I’m not, though. I’ve never been so sure.

She looks up at me again, weariness etched all over her face. She lifts her chin a little as though bracing for a blow. “What did you think, Tarver?”

“I thought, that’s my kind of girl.”

Her expression doesn’t shift.

I let myself smile a little as I ease down to my knees in front of her, every tired muscle protesting the move. “And Lilac, I was right. Forget everything else. Forget everyone else. You’re exactly my kind of girl.”

“Tarver, you were right to stop me before.” Her blue eyes are dark and deep, her hair ablaze with firelight. “This can’t happen.”

Guilt is written on her features so clearly that it almost breaks my heart. Her breath catches as I reach for her arm to tug her up onto her knees, to my level. “What happened with Simon wasn’t your fault. Your father did that—not you. You’re not to blame for someone loving you.”

She swallows, her eyes meeting mine, uncertain.

I can’t stand it anymore, and before I even realize what I’m doing, I’m leaning down to kiss her. A jolt goes through me as our lips meet, and she drops the flashlight with a clatter. She hesitates for a moment, then pulls away from me. I want to lean after her, but I hold myself still, heart hammering. “But—on the plain, you acted like you didn’t even want me,” she whispers.

“If you really believed that performance, you’re crazier than I thought. I’ve wanted you from the beginning. I thought it was better to keep away, to stay focused on getting us out of here.” My voice is hoarse, now. “I was scared of having you, then losing you again. But it would be worth it a thousand times over. I was an idiot, I’m sorry.”

Her face is flushing, lips reddening, her fair skin making it easy to see. The urge to kiss her again is overpowering. This time when I lean in she doesn’t break away. I bend my head to hers and slide a hand around the small of her back to pull her in. I tease at her lower lip with my teeth and she gasps for a shaky breath.

I pull back a fraction, that tiny distance requiring a monumental effort. “You want me to stop,” I manage, barely recognizing my own voice, “you tell me.”

It takes me a moment to register her dark eyes, her parted lips, the way she leans after me. Her hand curls around the sleeve of my shirt, trembling. It’s then I realize my hands are none too steady either.

“You stop now,” she breathes, “and I’ll never forgive you.”

There’s a soft moan as our bodies come together, but I’m not even sure which one of us made the sound.

If a rescue ship landed in the clearing outside just now, I’d keep right on hiding in this cave.

“What about physical changes?”

“Excuse me?”

“Did Miss LaRoux undergo any…physical changes to her person while in your company?”

“I think she got a little stronger from all the hiking.”

“Major, to what extent did you act upon your feelings for Miss LaRoux?”


“Excuse me?”

“How am I supposed to answer that question?”

“We are attempting to discover what happened. It’s in the best interests of all concerned that you answer with the truth.”



“YOU OKAY?” he lifts his head from my neck, lips grazing my jaw.

I shiver, choosing to answer with a small murmur, content. After a moment I open my eyes to find him watching me. His hair is stuck to his forehead, visible in the half-light from the dying fire.

“Happy,” I add, just to see the line of his mouth curve upward, highlighted by the dim glow of the coals.

“Good.” He leans down to kiss me, keeping his weight off on one elbow. I tilt my chin up, discovering the way it makes him lean into the kiss harder, uttering a sound of mixed satisfaction and surprise.

When he lifts his head again, he moves his hand from my waist to trail a fingertip along the edge of my brow, down across my cheek, nudging a few stray hairs away from my face.

“You’ve got no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.” His voice is still a little hoarse, and my stomach lurches in response.

“You took your sweet time.” I try for airy and unconcerned, though I know my performance is not convincing.

He laughs, and I watch his mouth, distracted, and almost miss what he says next: “I’m pretty sure if I’d tried to kiss you while dragging you through the forest that first day, you would’ve thrown one of those ridiculous shoes at my head.”

I expect him to put up a fight when morning arrives and I suggest, a little wistfully, that we take a rest day. I don’t want to leave our bed, don’t want to find clothes, don’t want to be apart from him. The way he looks at me now is so different. Clear, unguarded, warm. I didn’t even know there’d been a wall between us, until now, seeing it gone.

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