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Authors: Lee Strauss,Elle Strauss

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BOOK: VOLITION (Perception Trilogy, book 2)
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A tall man with a heavy beard and a crooked nose came out
through the front door. He was followed by a lady in a long dress with mousy,
brown hair pulled tightly off her face. They were soon joined by a group of
similarly clothed people.

It was a strange welcoming party. I felt like we’d stepped back
in time two hundred years.

“What
are
they?” Zoe said.

“They look…Amish?”


Amish
Amish?” she said with a hitch in her voice. “As
in no tech, no gene alteration, no chip inserting, Amish?”

“Or Mormon. Or something like that. We need a place off the
grid, remember. And the guy did warn us they were different.”

“They’re not going to like me.”

I shot her a look. “We should keep your personal history to
ourselves.”

I got out first and raised my hands a little, in case someone
decided to shoot before asking questions.

The man in the front shouted gruffly. “State your business.”

“We need food and shelter for one night, sir,” I said. “Off the
grid. We can pay.”

The man tugged on his suspenders and stepped off the porch
toward us. “Are you in trouble, son?”

“Define trouble.”

“You just answered my question.” He bent down to peer through
the open car window at Zoe. “Is that your wife?”

“No, sir,” she said. “I’m not.”

I felt a flash of disappointment. The old Zoe would’ve jumped
at the chance to pose as my wife.

She got out of the car and stood by me.

“Well, then,” the man replied. “I’m hoping you’re siblings?”
His eyes pointedly scanned my darker skin and then Zoe’s pale coloring. His
expression was skeptical.

“No, sir,” I said. “We’re not.”

The man stroked his beard then shouted over his shoulder,
“Dorothy!”

The woman who’d been standing behind him on the porch picked up
the skirt of her dress and ran toward us. He motioned to Zoe. “Take this young
lady and get her proper attire.”

Zoe turned away from them and mouthed, “Seriously?”

“One night,” I mouthed back. One night.

 

 

Chapter
6

 

 

Zoe followed the woman and the other people on the porch parted
like she had a disease. She stood tall, thrusting her shoulders back, a move
I’d seen from her often as she prepared to defy authority. My lips pinched
together in a hopeful smirk. Maybe old Zoe was still in there somewhere.

“I’m Brother Finnegan Ranger,” the man said, regaining my
attention. “I’m the leader here. I’ll introduce you to the clan.”

He tapped the hood of my car. “But, first we dispose of this.”

I frowned. “Dispose?”

Finnegan Ranger chuckled. “Not destroy, son. Remove. We don’t
allow the use of electricity here.”

No electricity at all? I supposed that was necessary to staying
off the grid.

I opened the driver’s door, but Finnegan held up a hand to stop
me. “We’ll push it.”

Two other guys from the group of spectators ran over to help.
They were beardless and looked to be around my age.

“This here is my son, Simon,” Finn said, pointing to the tall,
dark-haired guy with a similar shaped but smaller nose. “And that there is
Taylor.”

The other guy was blond and blue-eyed and reminded me a little
of Jackson Pike.

Which was why I automatically mistrusted him.

The shed was located to the left of the house. It was narrow
and empty outside of a few non-power tools. It belonged to a cluster of
out-buildings, including a barn that held horses, cows and goats. Everything
was tucked into the forest. A chicken coop was nearby, and on the opposite side
of the house, Simon informed me, were the outhouses.


His
is on the right and
hers
is on the left.”

So, no electricity
and
no plumbing. Zoe was going to
love that.

We pushed the car into the shed just as the rain started
falling in sheets. I ran after Simon as he darted to a door at the back of the
house. We entered a mudroom full of coats and boots that opened up to the
kitchen.

A puddle of water formed at my feet and I worried I was about
to make a bad first impression. A girl with a long, dark braid hanging down her
back rushed toward us with towels.

“Oh, Simon, look at you,” she said, but she wasn’t looking at
Simon. She was looking at me.

“Thanks, sis,” he said.

The girl passed me a towel and her eyes rested on my bare
biceps as I mopped myself dry.

Her eyes narrowed, like my mere presence angered her. Maybe it
did.

“This is Noah,” Simon said and then to me, “My little sister,
Rebecca.”

“Noah?” she raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you’re bringing
the flood?”

Coming from California where it hardly ever rained, I was
fortunate to rarely be the butt of flood jokes.

I raised an eyebrow in return, and she folded her arms.

“That’s
younger
sister, not
little
sister,” she
added. “I’m fifteen.”

Good to know.

“No guys in the kitchen,” she continued.

I held up my hands in surrender. “I wouldn’t think about it.”

I followed Simon through the house. These people didn’t believe
in paint. The walls were bare boards, much like the flooring. Not a single
picture hung on the wall. The furniture I spotted was also made of wood and
appeared to have been made by hand.

The house smelled funny, like onions and mold. We headed down a
dark hall until we reached an opened door. “This is where the unmarried guys
sleep,” he said, guiding me in. I saw two sets of bunk beds. He pulled a cot
out from underneath one of them. “You can sleep here.”

I said good-bye to the notion of getting a good night’s sleep
if it meant sharing a small room with four other guys who probably snored.

At least there would be food. I could smell something amazing
coming from the kitchen. “When’s supper?” I asked Simon.

“Right after we milk the cows.” He laughed at my expression.
“Don’t worry. We don’t make guests work on the first day.”

I removed my pack and jacket and laid them on the cot. Simon
fished through a drawer and then tossed me a shirt. “We don’t expose our bare
arms around here.”

I put it on over top of my T-shirt. It was pocketless and
colorless, with a row of hand sown buttons down the front. I marveled. Someone
had actually made this by hand.

“Oh, to answer your question,” Simon said. “We don’t have a way
to tell time here. Supper time is whenever the chores are done and the food is
cooked.”

Simon left me to wait in the dining room. There wasn’t much to
look at. Like the rest of the house it was unadorned. A long, plain wooden
table surrounded by mismatched wooden chairs filled the space. Stout candles
burning on either end were the only light source. A locked cabinet sat in the
corner and I wondered what was inside. Religious ceremonial objects, perhaps?

Women’s voices bled through the adjoining wall to the kitchen
and I hoped Zoe was with them. I hadn’t seen her since Dorothy had taken her
away.

Finally, I heard the heavy footsteps of the men coming in from
outside. Finn led the way into the dining room where I was standing.

“Take a seat,” he said. The rest of the guys joined me, Finn,
Simon and Taylor, plus two others. They nodded but said nothing to me. Shortly
afterward, the doors from the kitchen swung open and a line of women entered,
each carrying a dish in their hands.

Zoe was among them and I almost burst out laughing when I saw
her. She had on a starchy dress that reached the floor and a stiff white bonnet
on her head that looked like an arts and crafts project. Buttons ran up to her
neck over a well concealed chest. I’d never seen her dressed so…
completely.
She shot me a warning look when I caught her eye and I bit my cheek to keep
from smirking.

The thing was, despite the get-up, she was still beautiful. I
was afraid her physical perfection was a billboard announcing “GAP here!”

Once we were all seated, Finn Ranger said to me. “Please
introduce yourselves before we bless the food.”

“I’m Noah Brody, and this is…” I glanced at Zoe who sat
opposite me. “Zoe...Morgan.” I couldn’t very well announce that they had
Senator Vanderveen’s granddaughter under their roof. Morgan was one of Zoe’s
aliases and it felt safer.

“Noah and Zoe. Neither married couple nor siblings,” Finn said.
He seemed fixated with that fact.

Finn cleared his throat and went on to introduce the table. I
noticed then that all the women sat on one side of the table and the guys on
the other, with Finn at one end and a large, black guy opposite him.

“My wife, Dorothy—Mrs. Ranger to you—and my daughter, Rebecca. The
young lady beside her is Hannah Blake, daughter of the Galloways.”

Mrs. Galloway was a plain-looking woman with graying, brown
hair. I didn’t know why her daughter had a different last name.

Ranger continued, starting with the elderly man, “Mr. Galloway,
his son Taylor Blake and my sons, Simon and Philip.” He lifted his chin toward the
sturdy guy at the end. “Ike Miller.”

Ike’s eyes narrowed when they landed on me.

“Mr. and Mrs. Galloway are the guardians of Hannah and Taylor
Blake,” Finn clarified. The girl Hannah resembled Taylor and was clearly a
sister.

I nodded at each one and noted how they nodded back, first to
me, then to Zoe. The guys’ eyes naturally lingered on Zoe, and my gut tightened
as Taylor stared at her a moment too long.

Worse yet, Zoe stared back.

Everyone bowed their heads while Finn said a blessing.
Thankfully, they closed their eyes, so they didn’t see that Zoe and I didn’t
close ours. I offered her an encouraging smile and mouthed once more, “One
day.”

After a chorus of “Amen,” Mrs. Ranger dished out bowls of
chicken and corn soup while Mrs. Galloway cut up thick slices of homemade
bread. My stomach settled a little more with each delicious bite. I hated being
hungry.

With the exception of the scraping of metal spoons along the
bottoms and sides of porcelain bowls, it was quiet around the table. I imagined
that there would be more chatting and social camaraderie, but everyone kept to
the task of eating. Though most eyes stayed on their own dishes, I was openly
looking around. I caught Rebecca sneaking several glances at Taylor while he
was busy trying to keep from getting caught looking at Zoe. I suppressed a
growl that formed in my throat.

I focused on my soup, dipping the bread and filling my mouth.
Satisfying hunger had a drug-like effect, a sloppy headiness that masqueraded
at peacefulness. I took in my motley companions chewing and slurping, my eyes
settling on Zoe and her ridiculous costume. She and I needed to get out of this
strange community as soon as possible.

When the meal looked like it was wrapping up, I decided to
speak. “Thanks again for taking us in without notice like that. It’s very kind
of you.”

Finn petted his beard. “It is our duty to help.”

“Is there a place nearby where I can get my car battery
re-charged? We don’t want to presume upon your generosity much longer.”

Finn paused as if to consider my question. “There is a charging
station in Marley, the next town down the road. You can borrow the carriage
tomorrow.”

Borrow
the carriage
? I’d never touched a horse before in
my life, or any farm animal for that matter. My eyes moved to Zoe and smirked.

“Is it possible that someone could go with us?” I asked, not
wanting to admit my incompetence.

“I’ll go,” Taylor Blake said. Of course,
he
would offer.

“Pa,” Rebecca said. “Shall I go also? We need supplies for the
kitchen.”

“Unescorted with two lads? I think not.”

“She’ll be with me,” Zoe said. “I’m going.”

Zoe said this like it was a done deal, like obtaining
permission from this group, from Finn, was unnecessary. The whole table went
quiet and the frown lines around Finn’s mouth turned into valleys.

He must’ve decided it wasn’t worth getting into a row with a
stranger because he finally said, “I suppose it’s a good opportunity for you to
get supplies, Rebecca.”

The women rose to clear the table and do the dishes. Zoe gave
me the evil eye as I watched her work. Apparently, the privilege of being a guest
for the first day didn’t apply to women. Her long sleeves barely concealed the
bandage on her right hand, between thumb and forefinger and I frowned.

When the kitchen door shut, Finn unlocked the corner cupboard
and pulled out a green, glass bottle full of something that looked suspiciously
like homemade, red wine. He poured a glass for all the guys, even for those of
us who were obviously under age.

I raised my eyebrows in question.

“We adhere to our own laws,” Ike said.

“I didn’t think Amish people drank alcohol,” I said as Finn
handed me a glass.

Finn said, “Who said we’re Amish?”

“I just thought, with the clothes and lifestyle...”

Simon slapped me on the back. “He’s just giving you a hard
time. We’re a split off a split off a split off the Amish. A certain amount of
adaptation occurred over the years. Besides,” he added with a grin, “Jesus
drank wine.”

An awkward quiet blanketed the room. I glanced up to find Finn
staring at me, with knitted brows, like he was trying to read my mind. I cleared
my throat and looked away. When I returned my gaze to Finn, his eyes were
settled on his drink.

“I saw one in Marley,” Ike said. Then he gulped his wine like
it was juice.

Philip’s eyes grew wide. “Actually? What’d it look like?”

I guessed Philip to be around sixteen, but in the low
candlelight he looked younger and frightened, like a kid hearing ghost stories
around a campfire. I hoped he planned to sip his wine slowly.

“Just like a human,” Ike said, scowling. “I had to look twice
to make sure. They dressed it in clothes like a big doll. It walked funny and
it never blinked. That’s how I knew.”

BOOK: VOLITION (Perception Trilogy, book 2)
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