These Broken Stars Page 83

“Some idiot,” I echo, with a smile. “I don’t want to sleep in that cave again. Can we just sleep out here, under the sky, the way we used to? Before all this?”

“Anything you like.” He kisses my cheek again, still gentle, still hesitant, and disentangles his arm from mine so he can stand. “I’ll get the blankets from the cave. Tomorrow we’ll start planning our life as castaways.”

“We’ve already been living a life as castaways,” I point out. “I think we’ll be fine.”

He’s merely a shadow through the starlit trees as he makes his way back toward the cave. It’s not until he’s out of sight that I let my eyes close, tipping my head against the tree at my back, imagining I can feel the gentle glow of the stars on my cheeks.

All is silent and still. The air is crisp, and as I draw in a deep breath it sears the inside of my nose, tingling and strong.

“Rest,” I murmur.

Though whether I’m talking to myself, or to our absent friends, I don’t think I’ll ever know.

“Is that what this is about?”

“This is about the truth of what happened on that planet.”

“I’ve told you the truth.”

“None of what you’ve told us has explained the anomalies in Miss LaRoux’s medical tests.”

“Sorry, I don’t do well with big words. What do you mean?”

“Major, you know to what I am referring.”

“I’m pretty sure I don’t. Sir.”



I HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO SLEEP YET, but I don’t mind. I yawn, holding Lilac a little tighter. She murmurs in her sleep—one of those stubborn little sounds that melt me—and nestles in closer.

I’ve been looking up at the stars, familiar constellations now, and naming them. I squint at what I’ve decided to call the Lyre, tracing the shape of a harp over again as I learn it. From the bright star at the base, to the next above it, and then…the next star moves. So does its neighbor. I blink again, and they slide into focus.

They’re landing lights.

“Lilac, quick, wake up.” I scramble to sit up, reaching automatically for the Gleidel, though I don’t know what use it could possibly be. I lift my other hand to shield my eyes as the huge ship eases down toward us, thrusters rising to a steady roar. She’ll be landing no more than a klick or two away.

Lilac comes awake lashing out with one arm, and I catch hold of her wrist gently. “No—no, leave us alone! We did what you wanted!” Her voice is high with fear as she gazes up, blinking, trying to understand what she’s seeing.

“No, Lilac, it’s a ship. They must have registered the explosion or the energy surge. Quick, we have to move.” The dread’s heavy in my gut. If they find us, they’ll take us on board, and who knows what her medical tests will show? “Let’s try for the cave, they might have infrared.”

She’s still sitting there, staring, mouth a little open now. “A ship?” I can barely hear her whisper.

“We can’t let them find us. Come on.” I reach down for her hand to try to tug her up.

She resists, my stupid, stubborn girl, tugging back. How did she find this strength so quickly? “Tarver, what are you talking about? You can go home after all! We need to find them, make them take us with them.”

I drop to a crouch beside her, taking a breath, trying to slow myself. “I’m talking about us not knowing what’ll happen to you if they get their hands on you. Who knows what your father’s company will find if they do tests on you? Come on, there’s food in the cave. We can hole up there until they leave.”

“Tarver, no.” There’s a hint of that old LaRoux steel in her voice, but it’s tempered now, warmer. “We’re getting on that ship. You’re going home.”

“Lilac, I’ve made my choice, we don’t have time for this conversation.”

Behind me, the landing lights are moving lower, and the whine of the engines is growing deeper. I’ve heard this a thousand times. Usually it’s a welcome sound. They’re nearly down.

“No.” She’s soft, but sure. “I’m going with you. You kept telling me you’d take me home with you, and that’s what you’re going to do.” She squeezes my hand, climbing to her feet now.

I want so badly to believe her, but the bitter twist of fear inside me says she’ll do anything to keep me safe. She’d lie to my face if she thought it would save me.

I know she would. I’d do the same for her.

She reaches up to curl a hand around the back of my neck, pulling my head down so her forehead can press against mine. “I know what you would’ve given up for me. I could never let that be for nothing.”

We stand like that for an instant, forever, and I try to reach inside myself for that trust. She waits, watching me, sure I’ll make the leap for her.

I straighten up, reaching for her hand to lead her toward the rescue ship. She sees my decision on my face and opens her mouth to speak when she’s interrupted by a new sound—in the distance, there’s undergrowth snapping, crunching, booted feet moving toward us. I realize the sound of the ship has vanished.

They’ve landed. We don’t have much time before they find us.

Lilac turns back to me, suddenly intent. “They’re going to ask questions.” Her hand tightens around mine. “We need our stories straight.”

“Too much risk in both of us lying. You tell them nothing. Be the girl they expect. Distressed, pissed off. Shout for your father, cry if you can, but don’t answer their questions. Be a princess.”

She’s shaking her head, her eyes on mine. There are flashlights in the distance, but here there are only the stars overhead to light her face. “I don’t want you to have to face them alone. You don’t know what my father’s company is capable of—”

“I won’t be alone.” I lean down to press my forehead against hers, quick and sure. “You’ll be playing your part as much as I will. Say you’re too traumatized to answer questions. I’ll have to talk, I can’t avoid a debrief, but if we contradict each other, we won’t be able to hide what’s happened here.”

“Traumatized.” She’s nervous, but there’s a hint of laughter in her voice. I drink it up. “I can do that.”

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