These Broken Stars Page 86

“Lilac, I’m sure I don’t know what you’re implying.” His tone is cold, but I can see something behind it—something I’ve never seen before. Uncertainty. “Why his safety should be my responsibility—”

“His safety is your responsibility the way Simon’s should have been.” For the first time the memory of Simon’s green eyes and quick laugh don’t hurt. And this time, when I look at my father, he’s silent. “If something happens to Tarver the way it happened to Simon, it’ll be the end of LaRoux Industries. The galaxy will know what you did here. And if that happens, all the power and the money in the universe won’t be enough to save you.”

My vision is blurring—not with tears, but with the effort of not blinking. I can no longer see my father’s face clearly, and so I stare past him. Just get through this. You faced a wilderness with monsters, a ship full of corpses, the emptiness of death itself. You can do this.

“And if something ever happens to Tarver Merendsen, you will lose me too. You’ll lose me forever. And you’ll have no one left.”

I finally let myself blink, and when my vision clears I can see my father standing there, quite suddenly old. His white hair seems thinner, his skin looser. I can see wrinkles around his eyes that I don’t remember being there. The hand on the chair back is for support now, not to strike a powerful stance. His mouth quivers.

I harden my heart. This, too, I learned from him. “I’ll never speak to you again. Do you understand?”

He lets out a long breath, head bowed. “Lilac…”

“Do you understand?”

“You’re free to go.”

“Excuse me?”

“The door is unlocked, Major.”

“You’re too kind.”

“Major—you realize that your story and our findings don’t add up.”

“I don’t know what else to tell you, sir. It’s what happened.”

“There’s absolutely no evidence to back you up.”

“You really think I could make something like this up?”



MY INTERROGATOR STANDS AND GESTURES to the door, which swings open as if on command.

I stare at him for a long moment, trying to process the idea that I’m free to go, my mind desperately tumbling over itself as it searches for the trick. What’s the next step, the next part of the game? My eyes are scratchy, aching, my head throbbing to a slow pulse. Hunger has faded out now in favor of a heavy nausea that sits like a weight in the pit of my stomach.

I push upright, knees protesting, muscles cramping. I walk out of the room without sparing him another glance.

Lilac’s waiting outside in a long corridor lined with broad windows. It must be night, ship’s time, because the lights are dimmed, and she’s lit largely by the light of the planet beyond the windows. She’s wrapped up in some sort of robe, but it could be a ball gown, the way she stands in it. Navy blue, the same color she was wearing the night we met. Straight and poised, skin clear and hair caught up in one of those fancy knots I’ll never understand; all that’s missing is her entourage. They must have attacked her face with some sort of treatment, because her freckles are already fading. It’s as though the past few weeks never happened.

I’ve played my part. Has she played hers? Could she play hers, after having a glimpse of her own world again? I remember what I said to her once, about returning to the real world. Best not to make promises. It’s not as simple as either of us would like it to be.

For an endless moment she simply stares at me, eyes raking over me, taking in my exhaustion. There’s no hint of the Lilac I came to know on the planet.

My heart wants to stop, and I want to let it.

She’s the one to break the silence. “Tarver, are you—”

I move toward her before I can stop myself, and halt half a pace away. “I’m fine. Are you…?”

“My father came.” She’s still gazing at me, blue eyes intent. I must look like hell. “What did you tell them? Is it over?”

I drag my eyes away from her mouth, swallowing. We’re alone in this corridor and yet I can feel the weight of the reporters waiting to photograph us, the incredulous people in Lilac’s circles, and the soldiers too, the shadow of her father over us. Is it too much for her?

Is it too much for me?

“What could I tell them?” I say lightly, trying to ignore how badly I want to reach out, close the gap between us. “I’m just a big, dumb soldier. What do I know?”

Her lips curve a little, amused, and for the first time my heart flickers with hope. There are her dimples again. I scan her face, looking for traces of the black eye she used to have, for her fading freckles, for anything to make her mine, not theirs. “What about you, Miss LaRoux?”

“Me?” She takes a deep breath, and with a jolt I realize she’s as fearful as I am. “I’m just a spoiled heiress, too traumatized to remember anything.”

And then she smiles, for real, and just like on the Icarus the first night we met, it’s all over. It’s nothing like a smile she would have given then; it’s lopsided and true, and full of anxious hope. I reach for her, on fire. For a moment I feel the curve of her mouth against mine, smiling before the hunger takes over. Then I move forward into her, and she grabs handfuls of my shirt, pulling me with her as we crash into the wall of the hallway. She’s holding me in close and my hands are at her hips, her sides, framing her face as her lips part and I kiss her, my mind spinning with all the moments I thought she was gone.

But she’s here, she’s mine. I’m hers.

My heart’s thumping when we break apart, and I lean in to rest my forehead against hers. “You want to get out of here?”

She wraps her arms around my neck, lips tugging up in a smile once more. “Think we can outrun the cameras?”

“I do have extensive training in the art of stealth and camouflage.” I find I’m smiling in return, helpless.

She opens her mouth to speak, but a blinding flash from beyond the windows interrupts her and sends her reeling backward with a cry. I turn, half blinded myself despite having my back to the windows. The light sweeps on past the ship, rippling outward from the planet in a wave. Blinking away afterimages, I’m left staring at the planet itself, struggling to understand what I’m seeing.

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