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Authors: Marata Eros,Emily Goodwin

One of Many (10 page)

BOOK: One of Many
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Great timing.

“Why does my age matter?” She shifts a nervous glance at him then tosses one my way that says,
What do I say?

I shoot back a sharp one of my own
. Nothing.

Langley's emphasis on “marry” tells me exactly what he thinks of The Community.

In that, we agree.

I shift my weight, my fingertips biting into my biceps. “Yeah, well, she's over eighteen... you can go now. Case closed.”

Get out, get out.

He shifts all his attention my way. He stares at me so long I can count the emerald flakes in his mostly brown irises.

But I've had attention I wanted to die from being the recipient of. His stern look—his attempt at intimidation—doesn't move me.

We're having a staring match, and I don't notice Audrey stands beside me until her small hand touches my tense arm.

“Kiev,” she pleads, “he's just doing his job.”

Langley's observant gaze moves between us. Noting where her hand lies, then noting my protective stance as I shift in front of her.

“That's right, Mrs. Weston. I'm doing my job. Serving and protecting.”

Jackass.

His warning is as clear as the blue in Audrey's eyes. I'd stake my life that he's sniffing around for more than an anonymous tip and a hunch.

Langley plucks a business card from his breast pocket, replacing his small notepad and pen as he does.

He slides the glossy rectangle across the kitchen table, narrowly missing the caffeine stain.

“If you ever need anything, Mrs. Weston, you can phone me here—direct.” He taps a local non-emergency cell number with a finger and draws back.

Audrey makes no move to take it.

He turns, securing his hat like a cowboy from long ago, and walks toward the door.

We follow him, Audrey gripping my forearm and me dragging her along because I'm that unwilling to let this cop out of my sight until he's out the door.

Langley has his hand on the old bronze entrance knob and turns at the last instant.

“I'll be seeing you again,” he says to Audrey.

But his eyes are for me, and my sense of vague unease grows.

Sounds like a promise.

 

Chapter Eleven

Audrey

 

“What did he say to you?” Anna grabs my arm and pulls me close, her voice a harsh whisper.

“Kiev?”

“No, the cop.”

“Oh, right.” My heart slows down. “He said someone gave a tip that I was underage.” Laws. Legalities. It’s coming back to me in flashes. None of this is right.

“Who would do such a thing?”

I shake my head. “Someone who doesn’t know me very well, I’d guess. Because I’m not underage.”

Anna nods, biting her lip before walking away. Kiev is still hanging around the entryway, no doubt watching the cops leave. I want to turn and go to him, question him, and finally get some answers.

“Kiev?” I softly call, turning to go back to the front door. My breath hitches when I see him, taking the time to slowly run my gaze up and down his body. He just finished working out. I can tell not only by what he is wearing but also by the sweat dripping down each ripped muscle, by the thick veins that cover his body. I want to run my fingers over each one, feel him against me.

There is no use denying my attraction.

“Do we have to tell Father Weston about this?”

Amusement shows on Kiev’s handsome face. “As much as I’d love to see the bastard squirm, I’d keep my mouth shut.” His eyes move to a point behind me. “Unless wife number four decides to talk, I think keeping this from dear old dad is a good idea.”

Something gleams in Kiev’s eyes. He’s a hard one to read, projecting only what he wants to be seen, but I’m starting to get to know him, starting to be able to pick up on the subtle hints of what he’s feeling. The truth is on his face only for a fugacious moment, but it’s there.

And that something in his eyes scares me as much as it excites me.

“Okay,” I whisper.

“Run along, Little Bride,” he says, his eyes narrowing. I shiver and remember him standing in the hallway, wet after a shower and no towel. “You don’t want to be seen talking to me.”

I nod and walk away, feeling his gaze on me. It’s been years since I wore anything formfitting, and this tight white dress leaves me feeling exposed.

But I kind of like it, knowing that it’s Kiev who is watching me walk away. I join Anna in the kitchen, expecting her to say something about the police officer, but she doesn’t. We go about our chores for the day in silence.

Father Weston arrives back at the house in time for dinner. After the wives are finished eating and cleaning, he calls me into his office. My heart skips a beat, and I look around for Anna. Maybe she told him about the police. I know it’s not my fault the law arrived, but I fear I will get in trouble for this.

I don’t want to be punished.

“Take a seat, my dear wife,” Father Weston says and shuts the office door behind us. I swallow my beating heart and sit on the edge of a leather armchair that faces his desk.

“The Lord has spoken to me,” he begins, putting his hand on the chair as he stands behind me. Unease grows inside me.
Please don’t be The Reckoning.
“It’s time for you to fulfill the duties of being Chosen.”

He walks around with a broad smile.

I stare at him, seeing a small resemblance to Kiev. The similarities aren’t great, and I’m thankful for that. I force a smile back at him, widening my blue eyes to mirror his excitement.

“Tonight.” He leans in, his warm breath on my neck. “We welcome new members home.”

 

*

 

I sit on a white couch, my hands clasped around a glass of lemonade, the liquid warmed from my body heat. Regardless, I bring it to my lips and take a sip, soothing my dry throat.

The family in front of me sits on the edge of their seats, hanging on every word Father Weston gives them.

I scan the interior of the house, and it feels weird to be somewhere I can only deem as normal. The house I live in now might be decorated and fashioned with everything it needs to look beautiful and grand, but there are no TVs, no computers or phones. Nothing to clue us in to the outside world. Nothing to keep us connected.

No way to call for help.

The family in question is a young couple with two kids, twin girls turning three in one week. The girls sit on the floor, playing with a Golden Retriever named Benny. He’s been the family dog for six years and puts up with both toddlers petting, pulling, and sitting on him. And he’s going to an animal shelter tomorrow.

Dumped off, forgotten, unwanted.

Because pets aren’t allowed in The Community. 

“The house was appraised for over two hundred thousand,” the husband tells Father Weston.

I was introduced, but I don’t want to remember their names. I don’t want to know anything about this innocent family that’s been bespelled by Father Weston’s lies. It wasn’t that long ago the roles were reversed, and it was my family sitting there, listening to everything Father Weston had to offer.

Rachel was at his side, dressed to the nines in white. I remember thinking she looked like an angel, she was so beautiful. Now I’m filling in for her, sealing the deal on how great everything is.

Great enough to sell the house, the car, all the possessions.

Great enough to rob the children of a normal childhood—of a worthy education. Great enough to give up the family dog after six years of loyalty.

Great enough to give up everything.

Because how do they get out of it? How do they start over again when they have nothing, have nowhere to live, have no money to buy food or pay for electricity, water, medication?

Once a family’s in The Community, it’s damn hard to get out.

I keep quiet, speaking only when asked a question. Father Weston’s hand is on my thigh, squeezing it when he talks. And he’s talking as if he knows me, as if there is actually love between us.

I want to throw up.

This social call goes on for another hour. All the while, Father Weston tells the couple how lucky they are to be saved since the end is near.

When I was fourteen and listening to Father Weston speak of the end of the world, I imagined it going down in flames, the smell of charred flesh strong around me as pieces of crisp skin floated through the air along with the ashes.

But hearing him talk now about the end of days, it hits me how elusive it all is. Why is the world ending? How is it going to end? And most importantly, how will we survive the end of the world? My mind flashes to the zombie movies I used to watch—and love. The Community is self- sufficient, but it has no defense against an army of the undead.

I shudder when the air kicks on, and Father Weston slips his arm around my waist. I can’t help but wrinkle my nose in disgust. The wife notices and looks away. Fuck. I need to take a lesson for Kiev and learn how to hide what I’m feeling.

Father Weston is alive with chatter on the way home, telling me how great it is to carry out the Lord’s work.

I smile and nod along, watching the dark scenery pass us by, realizing for the first time how far out in the middle of nowhere The Community is.

Maybe we
would
survive a zombie apocalypse.

The house is dark when we get home, and even quieter. Father Weston locks the door behind us.

“You looked stunning tonight, my wife.” He takes my hand and pulls me in for a kiss. It takes everything I have not to stiffen and push him away. I conjure up the image of Kiev and pretend it’s his lips I’m kissing.

“Get some rest,” Father Weston tells me and breaks away. “You’ll need it.”

I ascend the stairs and make my way to my room.

Rachel slips out of her room as soon as I open my door. She must have been watching for the car to return. I step inside my room, waiting for her to go downstairs, then turn and hurry across the hall.

“Kiev,” I whisper and softly rap on his door. “Kiev, it’s Audrey.”

Still no answer. I put my hand on the doorknob and slowly twist. It’s unlocked.

“Kiev,” I call again, leaning into the cracked open door. Pale light spills across his room as I open the door another few inches. “Kiev, are you in here?” I stop short, the sight of the room startling.

Unlike the rest of the house, it’s bare bones in its furnishings. No bed. No nightstands. Only a mattress on the floor, and workout equipment. Moonlight spills in, illuminating Kiev’s sleeping face. He’s naked, with the blankets twisted around his torso, covering one leg and hiding his cock.

Should I go in?
I don’t know what that would do to Kiev, though I’m certain it would end with something physical, one way or the other. Warmth rushes down my center, and I bite my lip, thinking about Kiev’s fingers working against me.

The floor creaks from downstairs. My heart skips a beat in fear, and I turn and run, leaving Kiev’s door open. I make it back to my room and into the shower before someone notices.

It takes hours before I fall asleep, and when I do, I have nightmares about being trapped inside this house while everything around me burns and I am forced to watch. I wake up early and can’t fall back asleep. Since it’s my turn to make breakfast, I go downstairs now.

Kiev’s door is closed.

I pause outside it, listening, but hear nothing.

Hanging on the inside of the pantry door is a menu that Father Weston makes himself. Today I’m supposed to make omelets, sausage, and a fruit salad. I pull out the ingredients and find we are low on eggs. I set a carton of strawberries on the cool granite counter top and go out the back door.

A bit of a chill is in the late June air, but the sun shines down full force.

I cross the patio, eyeing the small chicken coop at the end of the yard. The grand house is situated on a little over an acre, and the grass is neatly manicured and green. Flowers are planted along the white fence, which lines the perimeter of the property.

The effect is more than pretty. It looks like something I saw a time or two before in one of those magazines featuring farmhouses, magazines my mother used to dreamily flip through, hoping one day we could live somewhere open and free.

This place is anything but.

I run my eyes along the fence, noticing for the first time sunlight gleaming off a small silver wire. I walk past the chicken coop and outstretch my hand. I can feel the electricity on my skin before I make contact with the wire.

“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you.”

Kiev’s voice behind me makes me jump. I snatch my hand back and whirl around.

“That wire is amped up, enough to fuck you up.”

I swallow. “Why is the fence electrified?”

Kiev’s eyebrows rise. “Isn’t it obvious? To keep my father’s precious wives within arm’s reach. God forbid any of his whores have any sense.”

“I’m not a whore,” I spit out. “And I like to think I have sense.”

He licks his lips and strides over. “You do.”

“What are you doing out here?” I ask and take a step away from him, going back to the chicken coop for eggs. “Are you following me?”

“Don’t flatter yourself, sweetheart.” Dressed in athletic shorts, Kiev was obviously going for a run and spotted me in the yard. “I think the better question is what are you doing out here? And don’t tell me you were innocently gathering eggs. You’re a good twenty feet from the eggs.”

I turn, looking over the fence at the rolling hills that surround The Community. “I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.”

“See what?”

“How fucked up all this is.”

“You were young,” he says softly. “And it’s easy to buy the lies.”

I look at him, our gazes locking. That unspoken understanding is back, and the softer side of Kiev comes out, making him seem more like a human being and not like the asshole he’s rumored to be.

I take a deep breath of fresh air and open the gate to get in with the chickens. “What’s your story?”

“My story?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t have one.”

“Bullshit,” I say, and he smiles at my retort. “You left and came back. Why would you come back if you were out of here?” My question says more than I intend it to, and Kiev takes advantage of that.

“Do you really want to leave, Audrey?”

“Yes.”

“And you want me to help you leave?”

I close my eyes in a long blink, feeling the sun on my cheeks. “Not only me. I want my parents to come with.”

He crosses his arms. “You do realize that’s easier said than done, right?”

“Yes.” I sigh. “It hit me yesterday when—when… you know. My parents didn’t have much at the time, but they gave it all up. And not just possessions. My mom had a job. She had friends.
I
had friends…”

“You do have sense,” Kiev says in a low rumble.

I pick up two eggs. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“It
is
a bad thing,” he whispers, and I don’t think I’m supposed to hear him. “It’s a dangerous thing, Little Bride. Weston banks on your blind loyalty. You don’t want to know what happens when someone questions him.”

BOOK: One of Many
10.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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