Chapter 14, Together
[BY AMBER MARIGOLD]
“This is it... We’ll be caught,” I whisper.
Peering through a veil of leaves, I spot my pursuer and step back behind the spruce tree with my back pressed against the coarse bark. Don’t make a sound, I beg my companion. I can feel my heart beating in my throat.
How did it get to this point? The day started out fine... It’s been four days since we got Owen back. And other than some medication, the doctor only recommended bed rest with someone to stretch his legs for him - Nessa was eager to volunteer. Truth be told she wanted to stretch more than his legs but let’s not get into that right now.
The wedding is three days away... Everything has changed and to save myself, I fled to the forest just outside the Northern Estate. Not even Xavier can help me... He doesn’t even know that I’m being chased down and threatened.
But it’s okay... I just shouldn’t get caught. Hearing leaves break under footsteps not too far away, I try breathing as quietly as possible. I try and fail at slowing my fluttering heart. This can’t be good for my health. Calm down, Amber. Calm the hell down. You won’t get caught...
But, because bad luck syndrome is strong with me, my companion chickens out and runs away barking.
“Pollock! You traitorous coward!” I call out as I jump from my hiding spot. He runs straight back to Isabella’s - probably to Paul if I’m guessing right. I’m about to start cursing my dog again, but I make eye contact with my pursuer.
“Amberry, ye better get in the fookin’ dress,” Nessa threatens.
“Lingerie doesn’t count as a dress!” I cry out before I start sprinting towards the wall surrounding Isabella’s. I leap for the wall - grabbing hold of the top and pulling myself up. Once on my feet, I start running along the thick wall towards the east end of the estate. Nessa is quick in pursuit - her six-inch heels somehow making her run faster than humanly possible.
“Ye need to seduce the dipshit at yer honeymoon! I want wee lil’ shits running around this borin’ hoose!” Nessa calls out.
And for the millionth time today, I blush like an idiot. Every time anyone even thinks of mentioning the honeymoon, I have the sudden urge to run away. It’s like the inner gang is trying to tease me to an early death. I let that embarrassment fuel me to run faster and only when I spot something out of place next to the wall, do I bother to stop.
“Will ye finally get down from there? Ye might break yer neck and a neck brace ain’t gonna be too flattering for the honeymoon!” Nessa calls.
“What’s this?” I ask and turn to stare down at Nessa - my hand pointing at the building materials next to the wall. It’s on the side of the wall where Nessa is so she can’t miss it.
“That? Xav’s plannin’ on raisin’ the walls while yer on yer honeymoon. Things will probably get rough once the two of ye are married. We’ll probably have to fortify our warehouses too,” Nessa explains, “Now can ye get off the damned wall?”
Xavier’s raising the walls? Would that even help us from keeping the enemy away?
Feeling cheeky, I do a backflip back into Isabella’s property - leaving Nessa behind on the other side. However, just as I land, my foot slips and I plant my face into a pile of dirt. Well, shit. I quickly get up and dust myself off. Nobody needs to know that I wasn’t totally cool right now.
Not waiting for Nessa, I head back to Isabella. I pass the rose gardens but stop at a gardener tending to one of the flowers. The marigold flowers should be arriving the day before the wedding and if the roses in the garden keep blooming the way they do, it’ll be perfect in three days’ time. The gardener notices me and looks down embarrassed. She’s an older lady but I still crouch down to pat her on the shoulder and tell her she’s doing a good job. The woman visibly loses a short-lived weight on her shoulders before I get up to leave.
I head inside Isabella’s and the smell of food greets my senses without warning. I immediately rush to the kitchen, but as expected, Paul is guarding the kitchen with Pollock by his side. And to my surprise, Daniel’s the one behind the stove - for once ignoring the maids as he furiously mixes a bowl.
“Paul, you keep that glutton away from the kitchen! I need to have a menu ready for the wedding before midnight or Bagpipes will cut off my balls!” Daniel orders without even looking up.
“I just want to taste,” I say as I step towards what looks to be a shrimp entrée.
Daniel points his spoon at me like it’s a weapon and Paul proceeds to block my path. Not even Pollock is on my side on this one.
“Am I really a glutton?” I ask shocked.
“You’re the living embodiment of the sin of gluttony,” Daniel replies as he gets back to cooking.
“Well then, you’re the sin of greed,” I answer as a means to make myself feel a little better.
“Yeah, yeah, and Nessa is lust, the twins are sloth, Xav is wrath and I guess Paul can be pride. He does have this intimidating aura about him if you don’t know him,” Daniel shoots back while focussing on the mixing bowl.
“Well, now we have costume ideas for this year’s Halloween party,” I joke. If we live that long, I think to myself.
On my way to the study, I pass the grand living room that’s finally cleared of clothes now that we have everything picked. I’ll just have to figure out a way to get rid of all the lingerie that Nessa has in my room. All we need now is to decorate the place and we’re all set for a wedding.
I just hope everything goes according to plan for once...
I reach the study and Xavier is on the phone with someone. His back is turned towards me as he stares out of the giant window behind his desk. Not wanting to disturb him, I lean against the door and wait. The whiskey bottle by the coffee table near me is running low. Xavier must be pretty stressed about the wedding. It’s not just an event to symbolize our union, but rather a declaration of war on anyone standing against us. When Xavier turns and sees me, he immediately loosens his tie before ending the call.
“Are you here to tempt me, wicked girl?” Xavier asks as he steps around his desk and closes the distance between us - embracing me in his arms.
I scoff at his words. Tempt? I’m wearing jeans and a cheesy T-shirt. This guy really needs to see a doctor or something. “No, I’m here to tell you to get Nessa to stop bugging me. We already have everything sorted for the wedding, but she can’t leave me alone!” I complain.
“What’s she on about this time?” Xavier chuckles as he lets go from the embrace and stares at me with those warm emerald eyes.
I blush a little at the topic, but then remind myself that I’m an upper-gang leader. “It’s nothing too major. In fact, what’s got me annoyed is how minor of a detail it is.”
“What is it?”
“Uh, well, she keeps trying to get me to try on lingerie and stuff. I mean, it’s the wedding we need to focus on. Not the damn honeymoon,” I chuckle.
Xavier doesn’t laugh and I feel a wave of heat burn through me.
“Amberry ye better get ya fat ass over ’ere! I’m gonna fit ye if it’s the last thing I do!” Nessa shouts as she runs into the study.
I turn in horror. There she is. The Scottish witch sent to cast the curse of embarrassment upon me. Desperate for a way out, I turn back to Xavier. “Save me from her!” I beg. The evil glint in Xavier’s eye tells me I’m an idiot for running from one devil, right into the arms of another.
“Nessa, go help Marigold with her fittings,” Xavier smirks.
“But-” I start before the twins come rushing to the study.
“Xavier!” Ryan calls.
“Amber, you won’t believe it,” Bryan pants.
“What is it?” Xavier and I ask simultaneously - preparing for the worst.
“The guards at the gate just called in. Someone here to see you,” Ryan explains - his walky-talky by his side buzzing furiously.
“Who is it?” Xavier asks.
Ryan looks at his twin before Bryan nods and stares me in the eye. “It’s Blake. He escaped from Southern Sterling.”
For a moment, I think I’m dreaming or maybe I heard wrong. But when nobody starts laughing or telling me it’s a joke, I step towards the twins and reach out to clasp Bryan’s hands. “Where is he?”
“Marigold, wait,” Xavier says as he puts his hand on my shoulder. I turn to him and he frowns as if it pains him to say it. “We have to be careful about this...”
“Careful about what? Blake escaped. He’s back. I have to see him,” I express.
“And we will,” Xavier replies before looking back at the twins, “Is he being kept somewhere?”
“We handcuffed him and have guards watching him in the basement,” Ryan explains.
“Good. We’ll go down to see him right away. Was he searched?”
“Yes. He’s clean. We didn’t do an X-ray scan though.”
“Wait, what the hell is this?” I ask - interrupting Xavier’s conversation with the twins. Even Nessa has the good sense to leave the study. “Why are we treating Blake like he’s the enemy?”
Xavier pulls me to the side and motions for the twins to leave us. When we’re alone in the study, he has both hands on my shoulders and looks me in the eye cautiously. “I know how much Blake means to you, but the fact is that he’s been with the enemy. And one of the enemies happens to be his brother. You have to understand that there’s a chance Blake could betray us, Marigold,” Xavier explains.
I understand. I understand exactly what Xavier, means but, “Blake would never betray us.”
“And why not?” Xavier asks.
I’m caught off guard by the question and stumble to find a reason. “He... he’s loyal to a fault. We’re his friends. He’s stood by my side longer than anyone else. In the direst situations - even when his life hanged on the line. Even after I hurt him.”
“Don’t you think there comes a point when a person has been hurt just a little too much?” Xavier asks. “By just being together, we’re hurting him every day, Marigold. It isn’t fair. He has had nothing but pain since the day you two met. And now, his brother is back. I’ve met that guy, Marigold. Kyle Bowmen can be very persuasive. He’s an excellent leader and has an almost supernatural gift to make almost anyone want to follow him. If such a guy, a guy that can make even his enemies worship him comes face to face with his own brother? Don’t you think Blake could be convinced to switch sides, Marigold?”
I feel my lip quiver. Everything Xavier says makes sense. It makes so much sense. And the timing... It’s just too perfect. How could he have escaped three days before the wedding?
And yet... Blake has never left my side. He has never doubted me. Why should I doubt him?
“I trust him, Xav,” I whisper.
There’s a grave look in Xavier’s eye. This sort of... acceptance. He knows how strongly I feel about Blake’s loyalty. He knows there’s no way to convince me otherwise. And he seems to know it will probably get us all killed.
“Okay, Marigold. If you trust him, I trust him,” Xavier says.
I feel myself grinning from ear to ear and my eyes sting. I know I’m probably being an idiot. I know I’m causing so much trouble for Xavier, but knowing he’s here to support me regardless, brings me unbelievable joy.
Xavier puts his arm around me and we exit the study to make our way to the basement. The guards let us through and we descent into the murky hallway lined with cells. At the very end, there are four guards stationed and Xavier dismisses them with a flick of his hand before taking the keys from one of them. As soon as I can see into the cell that has Blake, I rush to the bars. Is he hurt? What did they do to him? Is he okay?
Blake turns to look at me.
His face is unmarked... His clothes are clean... And he looks... except for the dark circles around his eyes, he looks healthier than ever...
“Blake?” I whisper.
“Amber!” He beams and turns around to face me. His hands are cuffed in front of him and he’s on his knees.
Xavier goes to open the door and I smile at my friend. “I heard you escaped. How did you do that?” I ask.
“Kyle had his guard down and I took the opportunity,” Blake says. Xavier unlocks the door and goes to uncuff Blake.
“Ah yes, your brother... Did they hurt you?” I ask - scanning his body again. There really is no marks on him. But... some scars don’t need to be on your flesh.
“I’m fine, Amber,” Blake smiles sadly.
Xavier lets Blake out of the cell and we all just stand there - staring at each other. I feel... a silence. Unspoken words. I should ask Blake more. I should ask him what’s really going on, but I’m too afraid of his answer.
“The wedding is in three days... Your timing is impeccable,” I say awkwardly.
Blake smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Well, that’s just great. I want to be there for you, Amber.”
“I’m happy you’ll be able to make it. I really want us all to be together,” I say.
Blake puts his hand on my shoulder and this time his smile is more genuine. “We’ll always be together, Amber. All of us.”
Feeling relieved about having my friend back unharmed, I told Blake that Owen was upstairs and that I’ll take him to go visit. We left the basement and I grabbed some snacks on the way. Food was surely to calm down the nervous feeling that was twisting in my stomach. I trust Blake, I told myself over and over. He wouldn’t betray me.
But Blake wasn’t telling the truth.
And in three days, I’d see through his lie. We weren’t ever going to be together.