Mom was completely silent in the carriage on the way back, staring down at her once again filthy hands. She had sent Nathaniel and Sierra back to the house in another cab before I’d gotten back, Sierra apparently still asleep and blissfully unaware of what had happened.
I cleared my throat and spoke into the thick tension. “You did really well today, Mom.”
She didn’t respond, her hands flexing where they rested atop her thighs.
“After what you did for Stone, and then Sierra…thank you.”
She glanced up at me for a split second before her eyes dropped again. “Are we talking now?”
I ignored the question. “You needn’t fear about your well being anymore. You’ve proven yourself useful to Carter and there is no way he would ever think of getting rid of you now.”
This time, when she looked up at me, it was to stare at me like I was a crazy person. “I needn’t fear? What’s wrong with you, Lizzie?”
I hesitated, unsure what she meant.
“You’ve been speaking strangely, you have this bizarre dependance on that murderous pirate, and not too long ago you were about to suggest that the girl’s son shouldn’t be buried with the rest of the family because of how he was conceived.” She shook her head, leaning forward, her brown eyes shining with that concerned look I hadn’t seen since before Dad died. “What is going on?”
I turned my gaze away from her, watching the now familiar houses as they rushed by the window. “I am not depend—"
“You are! Your entire demeanor is different and it’s starting to scare—"
“How would you even know what my demeanor’s been like in the past four years?” I snapped, glaring at her.
She flinched like what I had said was uncalled for, like I had hurt her. I clenched the fabric of my skirts as my anger flamed and it took everything in me not to lash out.
“You know what, you were right. Let’s not talk,” I said. “I had merely wanted to express my gratitude to you for saving my friends and that is all.”
She was quiet for a moment, her gaze falling back to her hands, her nails scratching at a drop of dried blood. “Despite what you may think,” Mom said very softly, “I am just trying to help you.”
“I haven’t needed your help in a long time.”
I saw her eyelids drop shut in pain again and her next words were hardly above a whisper. “What do you want from me, Lizzie?”
I couldn’t help but snort at the question.
“No, really," she said. "What do I have to do to show you how sorry I am?”
Go back in time and be an actual damn mother. “I don’t know.”
“There has to be something I can—“
“Sometimes there are no second chances, Mom.” I looked away from the window, feeling a little guilty when I saw the tears in her eyes. But that feeling was quickly replaced by my fury once more. “Sometimes you just have to suffer the consequences of your actions. Or, in your case,” I said, “your inaction.”
“You know absolutely nothing about me or what I went through every day while you were out doing...whatever it is you were doing so you wouldn't have to be home. Did you know I was bullied?” I blurted, immediately regretting the words as soon as they were out of my mouth. I wasn’t even sure why I said them, they just sort of forced their way passed my lips before I had the chance to catch them.
She raised her head to look up at me, the tears freezing on the edges of her lids. “What?”
I crossed my arms over my chest, digging my nails into my skin until it hurt. Even though there was nothing less I wanted to talk about, I couldn’t seem to stop the words from spilling out. “Every morning, when I left the house, that’s what was waiting for me. While you were out, that’s where I was. That’s what was happening to me. And you would have known that if you had even deemed to look at me after Dad passed.”
A tear fell down her cheek. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I shrugged, trying to ignore the rapid beat of my heart or the way my limbs felt shaky when I recalled my time being ridiculed and laughed at in the halls. “I guess I’d hoped you would just see it.”
“But how could I have seen—"
“I lost twenty pounds in one month, Mom.”
Her hand flew to cover her mouth, more tears falling. “Baby, I’m so sorry, I should’ve—"
“Yeah, you should’ve.” I locked my itchy dry eyes with her flooded ones. “I gave you so many chances to be my mother. You didn’t want the job. Message received.”
“You let me handle school without you, you let me grieve for Dad without you. I needed you then, but now…” I smiled slightly, knowing from the look on her face that it was a terrifying smile. “Now, I don’t need you anymore.”
She paused, taking several deep breaths as she tried to regain control of herself. “How can you be so cold to me?”
I narrowed my eyes at her. How dare she suggest I am the one at fault! After everything I’d been through all on my own, how could she even think to criticize me? My blood boiled and I felt my restrain slipping.
“Everyone needs their mother, Lizzie.”
For a moment, I thought about when I first saw her back on the ship, when William dragged her into the study. She was right; at that moment, I had felt like I did need her. I was overjoyed to have my mom with me, to see a familiar face, to know there was someone else that was sharing the same bizarre experience I was.
But looking at her now, my entire being vibrating with rage, there wasn’t an ounce of truth to what she had said, not a single part of me that wanted to so much as breathe the same air as her.
I leaned forward, putting our faces only a few inches apart in the small carriage, speaking in that slow, quiet, dangerous tone that Carter used when he wanted to make sure his words were neither missed nor thought to be insincere. “Listen to me very carefully. I. Don’t. Want. You.”
She flinched, each word landing like a punch.
“From now on, I will treat you the way you have always wanted to be treated. You are not my mother; you are simply another member of the crew. If you wish to leave, I will not stop you. But while you are here, you are merely an accomplice and nothing more.”
Mom’s lip quivered and more tears fell over her cheeks, the hand over her mouth trembling. She stared into my eyes for a moment more as if she could hardly believe I meant what I said. I saw the exact moment she realized it, when she saw the fire inside me was not a mere ember but a full blown forest fire. She squeezed eyes shut, biting her lip, and whispered, “Okay.”
“Good.” I leaned back, looking out the window again and seeing Kendon come into view. “We’re back.”
Lydia met us at the stable’s entrance, looking slightly troubled. Mom didn’t say a word as she marched past her, heading toward her patient.
Lydia gave me a questioning look, but just said, “He’s woken up.”
All thoughts of my mother flew away and I grabbed Lydia’s hand. “Is he all right?”
“He has some information about Lawrence…Where is Carter?" she asked. "And what has happened to Sierra? Neither Catherine nor Nathaniel will say a word about what is going on.”
My grip tightened reflexively around her hand and I dropped my voice to a whisper. “She…her baby didn’t survive.”
Her shoulders drooped and she took a step back, stunned. “That is awful. She must be devastated.”
“She doesn’t know yet.”
Her brows furrowed. “How—"
“My mother didn’t let her see the baby before she passed out.”
She hesitated, glancing over her shoulder into the stable where I assumed they had Sierra. “How are we going to tell her?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, where is Carter? Surely, he wouldn’t leave his sister at a time like this.”
I sighed and began walking into the stable, Lydia following. “He isn’t exactly thinking logically right now. He is afraid of what the baby's death will do to his sister's mental health.”
She nodded, picking up the skirt of her wedding dress to step over a pile of hay. “Do not think me mad for suggesting this, but perhaps James should be the one to tell her.”
My brows nearly hit my hairline. “There is no way—"
“I have spoken with Sierra on multiple occasions and despite understanding our hatred for him, she is still in love with him. She will be a wreck and, I would assume, longing to be with the man whose child she’s just lost.”
We turned the corner to the spot beside the fireplace where Stone still was. “I don’t think that would be a very good idea,” I said. “That man emotionally destroyed her, whether she thinks so or not. Seeing him at a time like this couldn’t possibly help the situation.”
Lydia nodded. “Perhaps you are right. It was just a suggestion.”
A few of the pirates were milling around Stone who was still lying on his stomach, his bare back covered in an odd green salve. I frowned. “What is that?”
“Robert’s concoction to stop an infection and to do a great many other tasks that I could not name for you.”
Mom kneeled beside him, inspecting Robert’s work calmly, waving the pirates away so she could properly do her job.
“Where is Robert?” I asked, realizing he wasn’t anywhere in the stable. “He didn’t just deliver those ingredients and leave, did he?”
“Of course not,” she said, watching as Stone grinned at something one of his crew mates said. The smile was obviously full of pain but genuine. Lydia’s own lips stretched to match his expression. “He went with Jenkins to find Stone something more comfortable to lie on than the ground, and something to shield him from the cold as well. He should return soon.”
I nodded. “Would it be all right with you if I spoke with Stone?”
Her blue eyes shot me a look of confusion. “You need not ask my permission for such a thing. He does not belong to me.”
I bit my lip to keep from smiling at her. “Right. Of course. Then you wouldn’t mind?”
This time I couldn’t help but laugh. “Sorry, sorry!” I scurried out of the way as she swatted at me and headed toward Stone.
Mom saw me out of the corner of her eye and immediately rose to her feet, backing away. “Just rest. I will go check on the girl.”
I nodded in acknowledgement as she passed me. She ducked her head and hurried out of the stable. I ignored any feelings of guilt or doubt and bent down to meet Stone’s eyes.
I lightly touched his good hand. “Stone.”
His suffering brown eyes met mine and he did his best to smile at me but it just looked more like a grimace. “Hello, little lady!”
I couldn’t help but smile at the endearment. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh, it is hardly a scratch.” He chuckled, but the noise cut off sharply like even that was too much for him to bear. He swallowed. “It could’ve been much worse.”
“But still…are you in a lot of pain?”
“I would be in a lot less pain if that woman would bring me the bloody rum I asked for.”
“The doctor said not to give it to you,” Lydia said from where she stood beside me.
He tried to crane his neck to meet her eyes, but he was in too much pain to do that. Instead, he groaned, “Please, love."
“I promise there is no ulterior motive besides my health that I want that alcohol. I am begging you.” Even though he must have been in an unbearable amount of anguish, he still managed to implement mischief into his tone, and even went so far as to jut out his lower lip in a pout.
Lydia sighed. “Fine. I will allow you five sips, but that is all.”
“Oh, bless you, love,” he breathed in relief as she went off to find a bottle. He followed her form with his eyes but spoke to me, “How has she been?”
“When you were missing, her only concern had been finding you. She would speak of nothing else.”
His eyes met mine. “She’s been too preoccupied to think about what happened to her?”
I nodded. “Yeah, you could say that.”
His body relaxed into the ground. “Then perhaps it was worth the loss of a limb.”
“Stone…” I ventured, “what happened? Where did he take you?”
“I’d rather not talk about it,” Stone said quickly, giving me his full attention. “But I will speak to the cap’n about what I overheard. Where is he? I thought he would’ve been the first one to visit me.”
He looked so hopeful to his friend. I bit my lip, not really wanting to give him any negative news about his friend or what led to his friend’s current absence.
“Carter is not—"
“Stone,” came Carter’s voice from right above my shoulder and I jumped in surprise. He knelt beside me, a smile spreading from ear to ear as he met Stone’s eyes. “It is a relief to see you awake.”
“It is a relief to be awake.”
“Are you all right? Has the physician—"
“Yes, yes, everything is brilliant, but there is something I must tell you about Lawrence.”
Carter immediately stiffened and his smile dropped. “I am listening.”
Lydia returned with a brown glass bottle and handed it to Stone who struggled to so much as lift his arm. Lydia winced in sympathy and dropped to her knees, putting the mouth of the bottle to his lips and allowing him to slowly sip from it. A river fell from the corner of his mouth and Lydia was quick to wipe it away. Stone grinned at her, this one devoid of any trace of pain. Very softly, he said, “Thank you, love.”
Lydia nodded, blushing the brightest shade of red I’d ever seen. She cleared her throat and looked up. “Right, then, so you’ve told them?”
“He was about to,” I prodded.
He took a deep breath and said, “While I was…being held, I could hear Lawrence conversing with another man about you and your siblings, about the inheritance.”
“What did he say?” Carter urged.
“He knows you are after him but…he doesn't perceive any real danger from you. He wants the inheritance.”
Carter snarled. “He is welcome to try to take it.”
“But Cap’n, you are not…” Stone shook his head. There were obviously many thoughts going through his mind all at once and he couldn’t seem to decide which one to voice first. “Where are your siblings now?”
Carter froze beside me, his mouth snapping his shut and his eyes flying wide as something clicked.
“They went back to Springriver,” Lydia offered.
“Why would they do that?” I asked.
“Nathaniel thought Sierra would be more comfortable there. I suppose, after what’s happened…”
“What happened to Sierra?” Stone asked.
“That is not important at the moment,” Carter snapped. “What are we to do?”
“Why, what’s going on?” I asked, completely bewildered.
“Must he spell it out for you, Elizabeth?” Carter ground out. “Lawrence wants the inheritance and he knows it is I who will be his most difficult opponent.”
I looked back to Stone, still not understanding.
His own brown eyes were sad. “So he plans to take out the two easiest first.”
I drew in a sharp breath, my gaze flying to Lydia’s who nodded remorsefully. “Oh, my God,” I whispered. “He’s going to kill them.”
Stone nodded. “And if they are at Springriver then they’ve just willingly walked into Lawrence’s trap.”