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Authors: Marata Eros,Emily Goodwin

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BOOK: One of Many
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Chapter One

Audrey

 

“Come on. Don’t be shy,” a woman with soft blond hair says as she beckons me inside the large white house. Her name is Anna, and she’s been a wife for almost a year. She’s five years older than me and isn’t able to meet my gaze. I would think she’s jealous, but there’s something else on her face— sadness, pity maybe?—and her disconnection acts like a warning.

I clutch my suitcase, which contains everything I own, close to my body. I don’t have much, only what's necessary. All the money we earn goes to Father Weston, and he provides exactly what we need, keeping us minimalists so we can focus on what’s important.

I nod, trying my best to ignore the sweat that’s rolling down my back and between my breasts. The wedding ceremony and festivities just ended. I’m still in the long white gown. It comes to my feet and would drag the ground if not for the silver heels I’m wearing. The gown is plain overall, with a satin corset-style bodice that is squeezing the life out of my large breasts.

Ginny, the oldest wife, who looks to be the same age as Father Weston, tried for hours to get my hair curled, but it wouldn’t hold. Finally she gave up and wove my hair up in a complex system of braids and twists. I had on makeup for the first time in years and wore a pearl necklace that belonged to my grandmother.

“Okay,” I say, my voice tight. I push my shoulders back, wishing I wasn’t as nervous as I am. I made it through the wedding ceremony, with everyone watching. Now it’s just me, Father Weston, and the other four wives.

“Thanks,” I tell her when she grabs my suitcase.

“I’ll take you to your room,” she says, her eyes still focused on the ground. She smiles like she’s supposed to, but the hospitality dies on her lips and isn’t reflected in her eyes with her hesitant, fleeting glance.

“Do I have to…” I look around the large foyer. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a house this grand, and it’s culture shock all over again. As little as the others in The Community get, Father Weston makes up for it. Tenfold. Maybe more.

“I don’t know, honey,” she says softly, clearly interpreting what I mean.

I’m thankful I don’t have to say the words, because thinking of Father Weston naked and on top of me makes my heart race, and not in a good way. My mouth goes dry, and my throat tightens at the thought. I’m Chosen, but does that mean he loves me? Will he be gentle—care if I enjoy it?

“I’ll show you around in the morning,” she says and leads me up a curved staircase. My heels click on the polished hardwood, and I grasp the railing, afraid of falling. The house is quiet and still, as if it’s holding its breath—watching me as though waiting for something to happen. Father Weston was still at the ceremony when I left, making rounds and shaking hands with others from The Community.

“You must be tired,” she continues. A dim light shines down the hall from upstairs, casting long shadows over the balcony.

“The rules are pretty simple here.” Her voice echoes off the tall ceilings. We reach the landing and go down a hall. Every door is closed, yet I feel the weight of eyes on me. Then I realize what she said.

Rules.

“What are they?”

“Nothing major,” she rushes to say, her voice flat. “Keep after yourself, clean the house, cook, and listen to Weston.”

“Do I not have to call him Father Weston anymore?”

“That’s up to him,” she says. “Sometimes he likes it.”

I nod, my heart hammering again. “Sounds simple.”

“For the most part it is,” she says and stops outside a door across from a balcony.

Another balcony. It overlooks a living room. This house is so big I could get lost. I might have to sketch out a map tomorrow.

“There’s one more rule,” she whispers when a door at the end of the hall cracks open. Soft yellow light spills out, and I catch a glimpse of a face.

It’s a face I’ve seen before. A handsome face, belonging to an equally handsome body that’s tall and muscular and covered in tattoos. It’s a face most of us avoid, or maybe more correctly, a face that avoids everyone. There’s something dark and mysterious about him, and it scares me as much as it tempts me to get closer.

Our eyes lock, and something goes through me, something that replaces the apprehension and fear of the night.

I come to a standstill, and time stops. The ticking of the clock on the wall above me sounds in time with my heart, and I can’t look away. I want to lift up his shirt and see the rest of his tattoos, feel them, run my fingers over the black lines, tracing my way along his muscular body.

He stares back, his angry eyes softening, and I can’t help wondering if he’s feeling the same thing.

“Him,” Anna harshly whispers, loud enough for the man in the doorway to hear. She takes my hand and pulls me forward into my room. “Stay away from him. Stay away from Father Weston’s son.”

Chapter Two

Kiev

 

I hear their soft whispers, like mice conferring, and smirk.

Another virgin bride for Daddy Dearest.
Fuck, what a perv.

Contrary to popular belief, polygamy isn't legal anywhere in America. Not that the law gives Father Weston pause.

He is full of justification for everything
he
does.

I hate that my mom's gone. I love that she's no longer one of the wives. Without her presence, the lifestyle I grew up in makes me sick.

I hear wife number five talking with wife number four, Anna. My lack of care is almost enough not to have me playing voyeur from the room that Weston allows me to flop in when I return to The Community.

I have my uses.

I make Father Weston appear more real. His offspring is a willing sinner, living outside. I am a blatant example that someone as pure as him can have someone as evil as me. 

I rake my fingers through my longish hair, then with a practiced twist, slap it back in a hairband that matches my black hair. A stubborn chunk falls forward, and I flick it aside, widening the door a crack.

I don't want to admit I'm curious who the new wife is. The newest wife, Anna, was Chosen a year ago and is the same age as me, twenty-four. The wives keep getting younger. I'm pretty sure dickhead dad would marry underage girls if it wouldn't get the full attention of the law.

The government is reluctant to intervene because of the umbrella of religion. Father Weston rides the fine line of breaking the law and bending it like bad yoga.

Anger radiates like imprisoned heat in my head, making my temples begin to throb. The police are pansies.

Serve and protect, my ass.

The current trend is political correctness and letting Americans do what they want because they scream and whine loudly enough. That thought process does not benefit the innocent.

Weston knows how far to press his agenda and every statute of the law to make sure he can do everything he pleases.

Maybe he's told the lies many times, and they're the truth to him now.

His reality.

He calls me his bastard son, but that's not true. I'm the only child who holds the right to his name.

My mother was the
first
wife.

And now she's missing, presumed dead.

Weston doesn't believe in medicine either. Everything is “God's will.” I'm pretty damn sure God didn't want my mom to abandon her five-year-old son.

He already had another wife before she left me, and I have an asston of younger half siblings.

All damaged with the brainwashing that only Father Weston can deliver.

How someone so talented with speaking and leading can use all that he's been given to exploit and corrupt is beyond me.

But I've also been given that gift.

I cause dissent; I was excommunicated.

Now I'm back. Only because of my threats will he allow my presence. Every moment that we share the same oxygen, he makes sure I know that the second my back is turned, that knife will plunge in.

My only question is: literally or figuratively?

Is Weston a murderer?

Short answer:
yes.

And I believe my mom was the first victim.

 

*

 

My thoughts shred and fly away like a billion pieces of paper when I see who the new wife is, standing timidly beside Anna.

Her.

I know her.

My gut bottoms out when she hesitantly comes into view.

Anna's golden-blond head is inclined to Audrey's, their deep chestnut and dark honey strands pressed together, their church-mouse words like white noise of discontent.

She hasn't noticed my presence or passive eavesdropping yet.

But Audrey Lancaster will.
She's not a typical bride.

I stare for a handful of unobserved seconds before Anna tips her head up in intuitive alarm, her soft, light brown eyes colliding with my deep gray ones.

Gotcha.

Except I don't feel smug when I hear the warning sounding as clear as a bell—Anna cautioning Audrey to stay away from me.

Suddenly, her face turns in my direction. Audrey's brows come together, her silky, touchable skin becoming a stern line between eyes like the crystalline Caribbean seas. Those eyes glitter with wetness.

The emotion I see there softens my expression quicker than anything else could.

She's gorgeous, without a bit of that bullshit girls lather on their faces, though she must have some on today. It was the big wedding day, after all.

She doesn't want this.

This sham of a marriage. This arranged exploitation.

Her expression is full of fear.

Full of longing—but for what?

I allow a small smile. Try to give the message that I don't bite. I might lick, kiss, hold, and pound—but I've never been a biter.

Not yet.

I imagine Audrey's never had anything like my brand of love.

She must be a virgin to pass the test of Chosen. Father Weston wants only the undefiled.

He wants to be the first to defile.

Anna takes Audrey's elbow, hauling her into my dad's private bedroom, her eyes raking me with disdain. I know the look. It's the same one I get from everyone in The Community. I'm definitely seen as the scourge.

No one leaves. Anyone who goes outside, once they've been assimilated into our cult, is willfully excommunicated—no exceptions.

My hand tightens on the door as Audrey appears to be swallowed by the gallery-height door. It looms above her, Anna practically tossing her in. Audrey totters on heels she's clearly never worn before.

Her eyes search for mine.

It takes everything I am not to run to her, pull her out of that yawning mouth of the doorway and escape—anywhere. As long as she's safe from my father.

I miss my opportunity. The door shuts, and her anxious face is gone. Anna knots her hands behind her back, the severe bun at her nape like a perpetual growth. Her eyes find mine, her lips pursing.

“You know you are not to speak to the Chosen, Kiev.”

“Yeah,” I say, understanding that speaking to her is the first fucking thing I'll try. I cock my head, baiting her. “Address me by my title, Anna.”

Her lips disappear in the sharpness of her mouth. “First Son,” she whispers.

“Good. You remember that, fourth wife.”

Her chin snaps up, and without another word, she whirls, her hands fisting the thick material of her floor-length skirt, and strides to the staircase.

I wait for an entire tense minute until I'm sure she's out of sight and finally release the breath I'm holding.

It's critical that the wives don't see a speck of weakness. Anything that Weston can use as leverage.

Because I know the law now too. And there's plenty of it waiting to bust Father Weston. He's blatant about his commune. He tows his four wives into town routinely. Most of the men of our small town of Tea, South Dakota are disgusted by a middle-aged man claiming four women.

A few are not. Maybe there are a few men that wish for what he has.

If Weston was a little smarter, he'd make that work to his advantage, but he's too vain to allow it. No—he'd much rather taunt the locals with the implication of all that he has.

That's made men on both sides of the fence pissed.

And zealotry has a price.

Soon it will be a price too steep for Father Weston to pay.

I stare at the closed door, willing it to remain that way, locking Weston out.

It won't. The house is a mansion—a bedroom for each wife. My mother's stands empty. As hollow as a shrine with only the echo of life.

One wife is assigned to the periodic dusting and plumping of pillows—keeping the room exactly as it's always been. As though Weston gave a shit about Madeline DeVere. He only cares about how it appears.

And right now, Audrey occupies the newest bedroom.

The solid-core heart-pine door creaks under my grip. I waver, indecision making me ill.

This wife has a chance.

Father Weston breached protocol with her. The rule of first menstruation does not apply to Audrey—it couldn't.

There's no way she hadn't already had first blood when the Lancasters joined The Community. At almost fifteen, she would have already had periods.

By his own doctrine, he can't bend that rule.

Someone did.

If not Audrey—who?

To be considered as Chosen, all women must have first menstruation
after
being a Community member.

She doesn't qualify.

Weston doesn't believe in loopholes—and neither do I.

I'm not sure what it is about this girl that makes me want to protect her—save her.

But I do.

I let go of the door and step into the hall just as Father Weston's hand touches the newel at the top of the staircase.

We face each other.

Our builds are almost the same, though at six feet two, I have him by two inches.

Ten feet separate us, but it might as well be ten miles.

“What are you doing?” he asks in his steely way.

Only for me.

He's radio-broadcaster perfect for The Community.

For me, he's one hundred percent serpent. I can almost hear the rattles on his tail shaking.

“I'm checking out the new virgin, father,” I say sarcastically.

His grin is immediate. Lascivious.

My palms dampen.

He doesn't bother hiding how much it gets his rocks off to deflower Audrey. No. He glories in her degradation.

“God told me—” he begins.

I snort. “God didn't tell you dick. It's all about fucking an innocent.”

Weston's smile fades.

“If you don't appreciate our ways, Kiev—perhaps you should cover your ears.”

What?

He reads my puzzled expression and gives an indulgent chuckle. “For the noise,” he explains softly.

Then he moves toward the door Audrey went through. A hint of his smile remains.

BOOK: One of Many
13.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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