Authors: Nancy Straight
Cameron must have realized his words hit his mark with me, so he turned his attention to Drake. “Where’s my arrow, tough guy? Use it for kindling?”
Drake stiffened. I knew he wanted to lash back at Cameron who had so many things wrong, but he didn’t. His voice was calm, as if he were able to measure exactly the right amount of contempt without starting a brawl. “A lot has happened since we asked to hide out in your place. Common sense says we were found. You can’t seriously believe we would destroy your home?”
“All I know is everything I’ve ever owned is smashed, shredded, snowed on and gone. Grandma and I went up to talk to you two, to try to make you see reason.” His voice went hard again as he pointed an accusatory finger at me, “I should have known she’d do me like she did Grandma.”
My back bristled. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t force myself to march back to the elevator. Instead I turned back toward the brother who had all but wished for lightning to strike me where I stood. “Like I did Grandma? What have you been smoking? Do you have any idea what she did to me?” I motioned between myself and Drake. “What she did to us? What she put us through?”
“I’m not here to argue about it – I’m here because Grandma wanted you to listen, and she thought you’d listen to me. I delivered her message, now hear mine: If you come within fifty feet of Grandma, I’ll end you. Both of you. She’s been through enough between Angela and Angelo; I’m not going to let you rip her apart, too.”
I felt like I was in an episode of the
. What had she said to him? He called Mom by her first name? What had Zandra done to him? Goose bumps peppered my skin. My brother had just threatened my life. He was choosing Zandra over me: the woman who had kidnapped me, put a shock collar around my neck, tried to force me to marry Gage. I was speechless. I wanted my mouth to work, but nothing would come out.
Drake’s voice was gentle when he answered Cameron, “I’m sorry.”
When I looked up at Drake I had assumed he was being sweet to me. He wasn’t. When I tried to catch his gaze, Drake’s eyes wouldn’t find mine: they were locked squarely on Cameron’s.
Cameron response was cocky. “For what? My house? My things? The arrow? Clarify for me, so I know what exactly you’re apologizing for.”
“I’m sorry you’ll never know your sister.”
Cameron scoffed, “Yeah, whatever. I think I’ll get over that.”
Drake shook his head, almost like he was arguing with himself. “She’s got heart. Cami’s like no one you’ll ever have the privilege to meet again.” His hard stare softened as a gentle smile formed on his lips. “She loves unconditionally – believe me, I know. Cami would sacrifice her life without giving it a second thought in the hope that others have a chance at being free.”
Drake’s hands went to my shoulders and slid gently down to my elbows. His touch had a way of calming me. Drake never broke eye contact with Cameron, his hard stare turning to pity as he continued. “It’s not your fault – but it doesn’t matter, siding with Zandra is the same as holding a sword to Cami’s chest.”
The enforcer who had stood a couple feet behind Cameron shifted his weight as if considering moving closer. Cameron must have caught the enforcer’s motion in his peripheral vision because he turned his head to see he was standing on his own. Before Cameron could respond, Drake held up a finger, “There’s a good chance you won’t live past tomorrow. I’m sorry for that, too. Not that your life is so close to ending, but that it will end without you ever learning how incredible your sister is.”
Cameron’s eyes widened, but before he could respond, Drake turned his back on him, reached down and took my hand in his and began walking toward the elevator. His hand pulled me to follow, but my feet were planted. I looked over my shoulder at Cameron. I couldn’t leave him like this. I had to warn him about Zandra – about what she was capable of. If he had drawn a line in the sand, he needed to know who he had pledged his allegiance to.
I didn’t want Cameron to die. Truth be told I didn’t want Zandra to die, either. I’d made my stand for the Lost Herd because I didn’t want anyone to die over something stupid. If I turned my back and followed Drake to the elevator, I knew I’d never forgive myself.
Drake grew frustrated with my delay and tugged my hand a little harder, again – my body wouldn’t follow. “No. I can’t, Drake.” I let go of his hand and ran to Cameron, throwing my arms around him like a vice grip. His hands acted as a barrier trying to push me away. I clung to Cameron as if my life depended on it – knowing full well that his might. I was close to his ear as I pleaded, “Please don’t be there tomorrow. Take a bus tour. Go whale watching. See the lions in Kruger National Park. Get lost in the city – anything. Just don’t be at the Council meeting, okay?”
Cameron reached around the back of his neck and forcibly pulled my hands apart, freeing himself from my grip. He brought both my arms in front of him, holding them out straight so I couldn’t make a move to try to embrace him again. His voice was slow and angry, “I’ll be there tomorrow, right by Grandma’s side. I don’t make idle threats. I don’t care if we shared a womb – if you show up, you’re dead.” He pushed my outstretched arms back at me the way someone would throw a snake. I stumbled backwards a couple steps, more from the surprise of his reaction than the force of his shove.
Cameron turned away from me and addressed the enforcer who remained just behind him. “C’mon Quinton. We better get back before they send in a search party.”
I was too stunned to move, or to react, or even to think.
“Not so fast, son.” My eyes clouded but I refused to let a single tear fall. Through my blurry vision I saw Will blocking Cameron and Quinton’s egress. Behind him stood Beau, Bart, and Ben. “Zandra is not your only family. She’s manipulating you.”
“Manipulating me by protecting me? Manipulating me by offering her best guard to protect me?” All eyes went to the enforcer he’d called Quinton. The enforcer’s eyes darted between Drake and my other brothers. I wondered if Quinton had shared with Cameron that he’d already gone up against us, and even with surprise on his side had lost miserably.
Will strode confidently toward Cameron. “You need answers. Unfortunately, you haven’t asked any of the right questions.”
“Really? And what questions haven’t I asked?”
“You blame your sister for all your possessions being destroyed. Ask your enforcer there,” Will’s finger pointed directly at Quinton, “what happened to your house. He was there when it happened.”
Cameron shot a doubtful look in Quinton’s direction. “What’s he talking about?”
Quinton narrowed his brow, his lips pressed together tightly, but he remained silent. Still steps away from Cameron, he made no effort to answer the question.
Cameron’s interest was piqued. “Quinton, what’s he talking about? Were you at my house when she trashed it?”
Nothing. Quinton didn’t speak one word in his own defense. Will didn’t relent. “Enforcers swear an integrity oath when they join the ranks. If he lies to you, he is unable to serve. You don’t want to believe me, fine, but make him tell you of his role. Let him tell you of Zandra’s orders.”
Cameron looked like he’d been sucker punched. His eyes narrowed further at Quinton. “Is it true? Were you at my house when Camille destroyed it?”
Instead of answering Cameron, Quinton dug in his heels, straightened his back while his voice oozed contempt for the Lost Herd who surrounded him. “I welcome your presence at the Centaur Council tomorrow. All of you. We are ready for you, and mark my words – we will send every last one of you to the pasture.” Quinton looked directly at me as if the Centaurs who surrounded him were the least of his worries. “
Ms. Chiron, I will keep him away from the meeting if you promise to stay away, too.
Surprised that he had said such spiteful words yet still asked me to stay away, I answered, “
No, this ends now.
I can be tried for treason for going against the Chairman. I beg you, you are the last Chiron Centauride – you have supporters here, but don’t force our hands. We cannot protect you at the Council Meeting. There we are beholden to the Chairman.
Ben, who couldn’t hear the exchange between Quinton and me, confidently stepped from behind our father, “Those are strong words for an enforcer whose life was spared twice by my sister. You would have been shark bait if Cami hadn’t told us to spare you and the others. Or did you forget she’s the one who freed you yesterday? She’s the reason your men are still alive.”
Irritation was thick in Quinton’s response, “We never asked for our lives to be spared. We asked for no favors. You and your herd disgust me.” Quinton spoke directly to me again, “
There are ears listening. If it looks as though I am a Lost Herd sympathizer, I could be locked up and be of no help to you.
Ben was slightly shorter than Quinton and a good bit leaner in build. Quinton’s height advantage seemed irrelevant to Ben as he was quick to ask, “Did you take her warning to the others as she instructed?”
Blush reached from one ear to the other. “I carried her message to the Chairman. We would have preferred death over being locked in the basement like animals.”
Cameron looked confused. This was my chance. If he was ever to listen and to hear me, now was my chance. “Cameron, I’m sorry about what happened to your house. Zandra’s enforcers stormed the place while Drake and I were hiding inside. They were under her orders to kill us. We escaped, but barely. There were too many, the attack was too well-rehearsed. We fled to Cancun where this enforcer,” taking the time to point at Quinton, “and eleven others found us and attacked us again.”
It was still uncomfortable to think of Will as my father, but I knew Cameron needed it to register, “Dad and our brothers were there that time. They are the reason I’m standing before you right now. We are your family.”
Cameron’s eyes darted between Will, Quinton and me. His mouth opened as if he intended to ask a question, then he abruptly closed it, pivoted on his heel and dodged all of us as he headed for the door. Quinton tried to mirror Cameron’s exit, but Ben caught him by the shirt.
Quinton’s reaction was so fast it didn’t even register in my eyes while it was happening. One moment Ben had a hold of Quinton’s shirt, the next Quinton’s right hand encircled Ben’s neck as he lifted him two inches off of the floor. Ben’s feet dangled in mid-air at first, then swung out-of-control trying to connect with Quinton’s legs a second later. I recognized Ben’s look of helplessness. I'd felt the same when Quinton held me off the ground by my neck after he’d followed me into the jungle in Cancun.
Quinton’s tone was menacing, “Not so tough now, are you? No need to wait until tomorrow. I could snap your neck with a flick of my wrist and be done with you right now.”
Drake was behind me, his arms around me with his hands firmly planted on my stomach. I felt his finger twitch. My hair flew up from the puff of air as he bulleted past me. A second later Ben was free, gasping for air, Quinton was on the floor, his eyes bulging out of their sockets, while Drake’s foot pressed against the enforcer’s neck.
“I could say the same with the flick of my heel.”
I wanted to tell Drake it was an act, that Quinton was putting on a show, but everything happened too fast. Will put his hand on Drake’s shoulder. “Not here, son. Let him go.” People standing in the lobby of the hotel were watching. You could have heard a pin drop as all chatter stopped and all eyes were on us.
Drake didn’t make eye contact with Will, nor did he verbally acknowledge his request. Drake stepped away from Quinton as if he were avoiding a giant pile of manure, reached out for my hand and led me back to the elevator. I resisted the urge to look back at Cameron or any of the others in the lobby. The excitement I’d felt at finally meeting Cameron was gone, along with any illusion that we would share a future together. Wittingly or not, he’d made up his mind about Drake and me. I still hoped that there was a shred of decency in Zandra and that she’d find a way to keep him away from the Council meeting tomorrow. Quinton said there were others who might be willing to help, too.
Drake didn’t comment on Cameron. His only words were spoken more for himself than for me, “That was Quinton’s third strike. If we see him again, he won’t walk away.”
I waited until the elevator doors closed, before I told Drake. “It was a show. He doesn’t want anything to happen to us. Quinton is someone we can trust; he’s just being careful because he doesn’t want word to get back to Zandra.”
(Camille Nash – Lost City Resort in South Africa)
When we returned to our room, I was still speechless. I walked to the window trying to process everything that had happened. Drake walked around me to the window and drew the curtains closed. He turned back to me, and for a moment, I could see the exhaustion in his eyes, “I’m going to catch a shower. Wait for me. Don’t leave the room without me, okay?”
He must have thought I had a death wish if he thought I was leaving his side after our exchange downstairs. I was too numb to give him much of an answer. “I’ll be right here.”