It felt like only minutes passed when Troy squeezed my hand.
“We’re here, Roam. Where do we enter?”
I blinked in confusion, staring out the car window at my house.
My Ohio house was exactly as we’d left it. I looked around to see the grass had been cut and the landscaping attended to, thanks to the maintenance company West employed when we traveled. The floor-to-ceiling windows in the huge, elaborate lodge that West had built long ago reflected the afternoon sun.
“The hedges need trimmed,” I said, a statement so irrelevant to our situation that I followed with a breathy laugh.
Troy smiled patiently. “We will get to that.”
I rubbed my eyes with the backs of my hand, sitting up as the details of our situation came flooding back through my mind.
West is gone.
The Amortia are here.
I’m being hunted.
“The code is our anniversary,” I murmured, moving out of the passenger’s seat and to the front door. I said the numbers out-loud as I pressed them so Troy would hear me.
Once the door opened, he immediately moved to the doors, checking the locks. “Are the windows double-paned?” he asked.
“I... yes, I think so,” I answered. “They can’t just come in, can they? Don’t they have to be invited in?”
Troy shook his head. “That’s a vampire. Not the Amortia.” He moved to the windows next. “They’re sick immortals. An invitation is inconsequential.”
I waited while he moved through the house, checking every room upstairs and down. By the time he got to the kitchen, the basement was the only remaining space.
Our eyes met, and my pulse raced as I remembered the basement.
I’d forgotten that we’d kept him here, as our prisoner.
The gravity of the moment took over, and I locked my gaze in his, exhaling sharply.
“The last time you were in this house, you grabbed me by the neck and choked me. It was Thanksgiving, do you remember?” I gestured toward the stairs. “I was pregnant, and I lost the baby that night.”
Troy had the decency to look down. “I remember this house. I remember the basement. I will never forget any of the things I’ve done to you, Roam.”
“The basement.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “I never go down there. West had the basement completely finished, but I still can’t go down there.”
“You had a life in this home. I hope that the good memories outweigh the bad,” he said.
His tone was remorseful, and I looked around the house, shaking my head. “There was so much bad, Troy. I was sick for so long. I used to see you, standing behind me in the mirror... in my nightmares. You haunted me for years. West was so patient.” I hugged myself tighter. “He loved me when I couldn’t love myself. Because of what you did to me in that castle.”
Troy let go of a long breath.
Silence hung between us as he moved to the basement. “Just wait here.” He disappeared into the cellar, returning a minute later. “Clear.”
“Great.” I tried to recover from the emotional memories weighing me down. “Guns are locked in various places all over the house. I’m assuming you want one.”
“Or two.” He glanced around. “We need more news,” he said, staring at the television, then at the multiple remotes on the coffee table. “I haven’t used a television like this. Where is the antenna?”
“No, it’s Wifi. Here.” I turned the television on for him, and he stood in front of the couch, settling on a news channel. “Coverage of this virus on every channel,” he murmured. I gestured to the couch behind him.
“You can sit down,” I offered.
He turned to me, nodding once. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I replied awkwardly, swallowing hard. “I’ll be back. I need... I’ll be right back.” I shook my head and headed for the stairs.
My bedroom was adjacent to Lydia’s, and Eva and Christopher’s rooms were just beyond ours. I opened each of their rooms and turned on the light, letting their childhood memories flood me with the nostalgia of the past.
Eva’s room was filled with music, and posters of her favorite bands and musicians papered the walls. After we’d returned from Icepond from the final battle, Eva and Will had stayed in North Carolina. Her room remained empty for years, but still the remnants of the scent of her perfume from high school was faintly noticeable.
I sighed, turning off the light and moving to Christopher’s room. His video game consoles were still on his entertainment center, and his bed was neatly made from the last time I’d washed the sheets and comforter. He’d been king for so long, I couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept in his childhood room.
I knew I was dreading our bedroom.
The moment I turned on the light, West flooded over me.
West. Everywhere. In the oversized, mahogany headboard and matching dresser.
West’s deep, navy blue robe hanging on the hook just inside the bathroom.
West’s cell phone, left behind on the dresser.
I reached for the device, attempting to turn on the power. When nothing happened, I connected the charger cord, waiting for enough battery life to turn on the phone. Pressing the home button, the battery finally gave way.
A photograph of the two of us filled his screen.
I was grinning as he was kissing my cheek. Lydia had snapped the picture on the fourth of July.
Trying not to cry, I touched one of the many news apps, waiting patiently for the Wifi to catch up. When ticker after ticker about the virus popped up, I shoved his phone under my pillow and moved to our bathroom.
Somewhere between shampooing my hair and scrubbing every inch of Troy from my skin, I laughed at my naïve, humanly trust in the useless interior lock on my door.
How complacent I’d become to human devices, even despite living with Eva’s magic for so many years. West and Christopher were relatively new to their powers, but Eva had carried the burden of magic since she was only a baby. I remembered the night we moved through the fountain from the 1950s, arriving back in Cleveland without Eva.
I’d been so young.
Now, my body was young, but my mind had been through decades of life lessons and education. But back then, on that terrible night, I was only a teenager. A frightened girl in pain. The battle of emotion in my heart back then was somewhere between youthful obsession and soul-consuming love.
West had waited in the hospital for me while I coped with not only losing Eva, but losing the baby I’d carried. He braved strange looks from Morgan and my father, and tried so patiently to give me the space that I needed after such horrific circumstances.
West was always there.
He’d been there when my mother died. He stood near the edge of the woods while Morgan held my hand as they lowered my mother into the cold ground.
He’d found me when I was just a child, and he waited.
West as always there.
He never intended to love me.
I covered my flat stomach, thinking of the fate of Icepond.
Science. Magic. Conception. The child of a prophecy.
The child of the goddess and the banner.
I knew the science of it all. The chemistry of implantation. An embryo, adhering to the wall of a uterus. I would provide the child with oxygen and nutrients, and the child would grow.
Five to ten days after fertilization.
My thoughts swarmed. A soft knock at the door drew me out of my reverie.
Troy’s voice was gentle, but guarded.
He waited with the thin door between us, and I heard his feet shift on the hardwood floor.
“Are you hungry?”
I stared out the giant picture window that faced the woods, tightening my robe at my throat. “I just want to be alone.” He tried for the knob, but identified the lock.
“I don’t think that’s the best idea.”
He exhaled sharply, and his feet scuffed again.
“We should read the book again. Perhaps we’ll find more answers.”
Pinching my eyes closed, I gave a short puff of irritation. I rose to my feet, moving to the door and turning the knock. Opening only slightly, I lifted my eyes to his.
“Please help yourself to whatever you would like. I really just need to be alone.”
I closed the door without giving him a chance to respond. Moving back to the edge of the bed, I sat down, tugging my robe around me tighter. The doorknob turned, and he crossed the room to stand in front of me. I narrowed my eyes at his intrusion without invitation.
He squatted before me in front of the bed, resting his forearms on his knees and looking up at me. “Do you feel alright?”
“I didn’t say you could come in here,” I said, but I was too tired to put an edge in my tone.
“Roam.” He softened his voice even more, speaking to me in a soothing hush. “I’m just as immersed in this tangle of history as you are. Let us discuss a plan, and move forward. Then we rest.”
I sighed, staring past him, out our bedroom window. “So what do you plan on doing?” I asked. “Sit by the fire and read the book again? Study the words from cover to cover looking for answers? We already did that. There’s nothing there.”
“We should read the book again, focused on who we are. What we are. Maybe we can think of another way. We also need to talk about the virus here, and how I can protect you. How you can protect yourself.”
I remembered West teaching me self-defense moves in the basement of my house, wincing at the memory of his kiss.
My heart ached for my husband.
I looked down at my hands, watching them wring together. I hadn’t realized I’d been twisting them in my lap. “My ability to use the sword. The Kenauri- Rak.” I finally relented, giving up on my morose mood. “I was thinking about that. What I did to your soldiers. How I defended myself from you. All of that was power. Magic. I was thinking in the shower... I’ve possessed traces of magic all along.”
He nodded encouragingly. “I agree. Let’s eat and discuss.”
I relented, following him to the door.
I missed the way West would take charge and take care of me when I needed him. He didn’t spend time trying to talk me into something or convince me. Downstairs, I settled at the kitchen table while Troy poured a cup of coffee.
“There’s liquor in the cabinet over the refrigerator,” I said.
He paused, arching one brow. “Last resort.”
He cleared his throat. “We should highlight the text. Break down the events. Analyze the content.” He carried the mug of hot coffee to me, and I focused on the words splashed across the porcelain.
WORLD’S BEST MOM.
“That sounds logical,” I admitted, blowing softly on the surface of the liquid. “But first, we need to talk about the Amortia. Here, on earth.”
Troy nodded, sitting in the chair that West had claimed for himself years ago.
I bit my tongue, looking down.
“I agree. The president spoke while you were showering. He’s called a national state of emergency. FEMA is involved, and funds are being allocated to this pandemic.”
“Pandemic?” I repeated.
He nodded. “Other countries have been affected.”
I brushed my thumb over the handle of my coffee cup. I looked down at my coffee, concentrating on a single, black ground that had made its way into my mug.
“We can try the book again,” I conceded.
He kept his gaze focused on the window.
“And find the Amortia,” he added. “Before they find us.”
Copyright 2020. Accolade by Kimberly Adams, All Rights Reserved.
ACCOLADE (FIRE BALLAD THREE)
Roam and West have spent all of their lives fighting for their love.
A maddening sickness moves across the land at lightning speed, exposing humanity to a mysterious disease with horrifying symptoms. Roam is left to find the cure, and immortals are not immune the evil unleashed.
Together, Roam and Troy discover the history of Icepond and their very origin as the prophecy of their lives unravel around them.
Roam is alone with Troy and knows only two things. She must save West...