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Authors: Marata Eros,Emily Goodwin

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BOOK: One of Many
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Chapter Five

Audrey

 

My heart races as I reach for the doorknob. Two angry voices shoot whispers back and forth. I jump at the sound of flesh hitting flesh. I don’t want to stand back here and hide, oblivious to the danger around me. The room closes in, mocking me, jeering at me as it holds me captive.

I don’t think twice. I open the door.

Father Weston stands a few feet from me, as I expected. My heart lurches when I take in the sight of Kiev, his eyes clouded with anger.

I should look away. But I can’t.

“What’s going on?” I say, my voice weak, and I force myself to blink and look down.

“Nothing, sweetheart,” Father Weston says, putting his hand on my arm, causing me to flinch.

Kiev appears to notice and smiles, his eyes narrowing. He must be as horrible as I’m led to believe, smiling and taking pleasure in my discomfort. I risk a glance back at him and realize he’s staring down his father.

Is his satisfaction with my distaste for Father Weston?

“Go back to your room and get some rest.” Father Weston’s tone is soft, caring, and doesn’t match his stance in the least. He’s tense, with one hand curled into a tight fist.

Kiev’s body language mirrors his father’s, but he relaxes the more he looks at me. I’m under a microscope—a tall, muscular, tattooed microscope—and part of me doesn’t mind.

Father Weston’s hand runs down my side, his fingers pressing into the soft flesh above my hip. I grind my jaw, mad at myself for the tears trying to fill my eyes. The want for home, for my old bed and the comfort of the small house and my parents, rips my heart apart.

My head moves up and down, yet my feet are frozen. Going back in the room means submitting to Father Weston—again. I look at him, his clothes rumpled, a smug smile on his handsome face, and see him in an entirely different way.

Darkness surrounds the light he claims to have.

The notion of doubt in the faith we’ve built our lives around causes panic to flicker inside me, and I turn, afraid that doubt is palpable, able to be seen and heard as well as felt. Not believing is a death sentence, a one-way ticket to be exiled.

Which is exactly what is rumored to have happened to Kiev.

My heart lurches with the thought of the outside world, of seeing what lies beyond the walls of The Community.

I rush through the door of the bedroom, fear of God smiting me with a lightning bolt strong enough to make my stomach churn. I take reprieve in the small bathroom, sitting on the closed toilet with my shaking hands pressed firmly against my thighs. My breath leaves in huffs, and my heart pumps blood loudly in my ears. I strain to listen to what’s being said outside the door, prepping myself for Father Weston to come back inside and finish what he started.

I can’t stay in the bathroom all night. I flush the toilet to make it seem as though I actually used it, and leave, then cross the room to get into bed. The door is still open, and Father Weston and Kiev are still in the threshold, arguing.

Kiev looks past his father and locks his gaze with mine. His hard expression softens, and for a split second, it’s as if I’m looking at the man behind the mask. Behind the tattoos and bad attitude. Behind the defiance and anger.

He feels sorry for me, because as hard as it is to tell by looking at him, our situations are as different as they are the same. He knows what it’s like to be here against my will, to battle the fear and questions and guilt.

He knows what it’s like to be trapped.

 

*

 

“Stop overanalyzing everything. You’ll drive yourself crazy looking for symptoms,” Caroline, wife number two, says to Rachel, wife number three.

They're in the kitchen making breakfast and are wearing form-fitting dresses, with their hair and makeup applied to perfection.

I stand in the entryway, feeling self-conscious in my jeans and plain T-shirt. My hair is in a braid over my shoulder, and I don’t own makeup.

Rachel sets down a wooden spoon and puts her hand over her stomach.

“I’m not getting any younger. Why is it taking so long?”

“Oh, honey,” Caroline soothes. “These things take time, especially given our arrangements.”

“It didn’t take you this long to have a baby.”

The word hits me like static shock, sending a tingle of fear down my body.
Having a baby.
Father Weston’s baby. A half sibling to those Ginny and Caroline gave birth to. In the back of my mind, I know it’s wrong. But for the last few years, it’s been drilled into my head this is the way life should be lived, the way God wants us to carry on.

And we will all be Saved because of it.

It’s not logical. It’s not rational. It makes no sense. Yet this is what we believe.

Or is it what I’m told to believe?

“Oh, Audrey,” Caroline says, taking notice of my presence. “Good morning.”

Rachel whips around, her eyes cold as she looks me up and down. “Good morning.” There is no emotion in her voice, yet I know she sees me as a threat. Whatever time Father Weston spends with me is a lost chance for her to conceive a child.

If it were up to me, she could have him all the time.

“How was your first night?” Caroline asks.

I take a tentative step into the kitchen, my stomach grumbling in response to the scent of bacon and pancakes.

“Um, okay.” Am I supposed to give details? I have a feeling Father Weston won’t want them to know he never finished what he started. He and Kiev continued to argue until I fell asleep, gratefully alone in the big bed, tucked between soft sheets and lush comforters.

There was something deliberate in the way Kiev threw insults at his father, and I can’t help wondering if he pushed buttons to up Father Weston’s temper to keep him away from me.

But why?

Was it obvious I was scared—obvious I didn’t want to be forced to have sex with Father—I mean, my
husband
? And if it was, why would Kiev want to help me? He doesn’t know me.

His defense scares me, causing me to think I could end up in his debt. Payment can be given in only one way…

“That’s good to hear,” Caroline says with a smile. “Come on in. I’ll show you the ropes. Mornings are simple around here, though you’re going to have to get up earlier to get dressed and ready. We take pride in our looks around here.”

Something jams the automatic wheels in my head, the ones that were placed there bit by bit over the years since living in The Community. Pride and vanity were eradicated. Looks didn’t matter to God. I gave up my fancy clothing. Mom threw out her makeup. It wasn’t needed.

But now I’m supposed to put on a front? I swallow, my mouth going dry.

“Okay.” I force a smile and join Caroline at the counter.

She’s a few inches shorter than me, with blond hair and vibrant blue eyes. Her frame is little, not much more than skin and bones. A blue and pink sundress hugs her body, and her small feet are nestled in low heels. Her hair comes to her shoulders, her loose curls pinned back.

She’s beautiful, reminding me of someone I saw in a magazine years ago. Part of me wants to be like her, pretty and put together. And another part says she’s not devoted enough to the cause. Yet, she’s Chosen… she has to be.

My head spins, and I blink, trying to let it go. I shouldn’t question anything. I’ve been told not to.

“We make weekly arrangements,” Caroline explains. “Chores get divided up to keep things running smoothly. You don’t have any this week. We assumed you’d be worn out.”

She laughs and gives me a wink.

I force another smile. “So… what should I do?”

“You can hang out with us. Talk, get to know one other. We’re all close.”

I nod and find myself moving toward the island counter in the large kitchen.

In the light of day, the house isn’t as scary. Like a haunted house with the lights turned on, the shadows and darkness—the unknown—get pushed away. The cabinets and counters are white, contrasting with the walnut colored wooden floor. Other than the food on the stove and the dishes Caroline is currently washing, nothing is out of place.

Anna, wife number four, walks by with a basket of laundry.

“Audrey,” she says in greeting. “Good morning.”

She’s also wearing a dress and has her hair and makeup done, but not to the extent of Caroline and Rachel. Our gazes meet, and she gives me the same smile she did last night when she was showing me to my room.

It’s a look of fear and pity. A look that says she knows exactly what’s to come. I watch her disappear down the hall to what I assume is the laundry room. I make a mental note to explore the house later, if I can.

“We eat breakfast together,” Caroline continues. “On days when we don’t have Worship, Father Weston goes about The Community.”

“And we stay here?” I blurt, unable to help it.

“Yes, stay here and tend to the house, prepare the next meal.”

“All right.” There is no Worship today. I let out a breath of relief and twist the end of my braid around my finger.

“You can set the table,” Caroline says, and I’m glad to have something to do. “We eat breakfast and lunch in here, and dinner in the formal dining room. Six places.”

“Shouldn’t there be seven?”

“No,” she and Rachel say at the same time. “He doesn’t eat with us. Ever.”

She doesn’t say his name, but she’s talking about Kiev.

“Oh, okay.” I’m disappointed. Why? I shouldn’t want to see him, to look at his attractive face and wonder if the rest of his body is covered in tattoos like his arms.

I take my time setting the table and then excuse myself to use the bathroom. I don’t know where it is on this level of the house and take advantage of the search to walk the halls. Father Weston is in his office, practicing tomorrow’s sermon.

I sneak by unnoticed, feeling as though that’s a small victory. I use the bathroom and take another walk, going through a living room with fancy white sofas and a large piano, then emerging into a gallery hall that leads to a patio in the back of the house, surrounded by a garden full of both flowers and vegetables.

I turn to go back to the kitchen when the door opens. I whirl around on my heel and am face to face with Kiev.

“Hi,” I say without thinking.

He tips his head down to look at me. “Hi.”

“I’m Audrey.”

“I’m Kiev, and you’re forbidden to talk to me.” He isn’t telling me so I’ll stop. He’s telling me to see what I say.

“I know.” My heart flutters, and my body reacts to him. I’m attracted physically, and there is something else about him, something I can’t put my finger on, that makes me gravitate to him. Something familiar.

“Why are you, then?”

If I had an answer, I’d tell him. “I don’t know.”

He smiles, and it’s a beautiful thing. “Aren’t you afraid of upsetting your husband?”

I shake my head. “I’m afraid of him finding out I’m talking to you.”

The amusement disappears from his face. “You’re afraid of him?” His voice is soft.

“Yes, I mean no. I’m not. He’s my husband.”

He raises an eyebrow and nods.

I divert my eyes, tearing them away from his face and studying the tattoos on his arms. I almost don’t notice it, since it’s hidden beneath colorful ink, but a jagged scar runs from his elbow to his wrist. He sees me looking and twists his arm, shielding the scar from sight.

“You’re Chosen,” he starts.

“I don’t feel Chosen,” I confess for the first time.

“You don’t?” The words leave Kiev’s mouth in surprise. He blinks, apparently unhappy with his lack of control.

“No, not at all.” The honesty feels good. “It feels like a mistake.”

Kiev chuckles. “All of this is a mistake.”

“You mean being Chosen?”

“I mean the whole fucking thing.”

I bite my lip and nod. So many questions run through my mind. The biggest one is
why am I so attracted to him
? It’s wrong and I know it.

“Why are you here?” I blurt without thinking, saying anything that comes to mind so he won’t turn around and leave. He might be a stranger, but his presence brings me comfort.

“Because I want to be,” he replies slowly.

“Oh, I just wondered, since Father Weston’s other kids aren’t here.”

Something dark crosses Kiev’s face. “Daddy dearest wants to keep an eye on me,” he says in a low voice and I’m not sure I heard him right. Why would Father Weston need to keep an eye on him?

“The others,” I start.

“They’re better off—” Kiev cuts himself short. “They’re busy with schooling”.

I nod. “Right, they are.” Father Weston’s youngest child is six. A little girl named Josie. Being a child of the Father is almost as good as being Chosen.

Almost.

Kiev reaches out and takes my thick braid in his fingers. I shiver and take in a sharp breath, watching his fingers run over my smooth hair.

BOOK: One of Many
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