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Defiance rising, p.17
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       Defiance Rising, p.17

           Amy Miles
 
SIXTEEN

  Icy water laps over my skin in waves. I shiver as I dip my shoulders beneath the frothy surface, clenching my jaw to keep my teeth from chattering. The Cascades are both numbing and invigorating this morning. I’m not sure which effect I was going for.

  “Now that is a beautiful sight.”

  I whip around, instantly covering myself with my arms. “What are you doing here?” I scream. “Get out!”

  “Aw, don’t tell me you’re a shy one. I didn’t peg you for that.” Bastien grins as he throws his leg over a rock and settles in for what appears to be an annoyingly lengthy time.

  Using one arm, I swim as quickly as I can away from the center of the pool and head straight for the rocks. Bastien seems completely unfazed by my rising fury and he grins down at me. He does however reach out to retrieve my dagger from the pile of clothes he’s perched beside.

  “Have you no decency?” I growl through chattering teeth. The water has definitely tilted dangerously toward the numb side now. If I don’t get out soon I’ll risk hypothermia, but there’s no way I’m going to give Bastien the satisfaction of seeing me naked.

  Twirling the dagger in his hand, he appears to contemplate my question. I roll my eyes and cling precariously to the slippery rock face. The current of the crashing water jostles me as I fight to remain covered. I kick my legs, battling against the churning pool.

  “I suppose this might seem a bit forward of me, but I thought you might like to know it’s time to go.”

  “Fine. Message received. Leave now!”

  He leans over the edge, peering down at me. “And miss all the fun? I think not.”

  I grind my teeth in frustration and press my skin against the icy rocks. “If you don’t leave, I’m going to lose some fingers and a handful of toes while I’m at it.”

  He cocks his head to the side. “You’d really risk life and limb just to save your pride? I’ve already seen it, ya know.”

  “Don’t remind me,” I growl, readjusting my grip on the rock.

  His smile is smooth and filled with sultry promise. “I like to remind myself quite often actually.”

  “J-j-just you wait until I get out of here…” My teeth chatter so hard I struggle to finish my words.

  Bastien grins. “Yes, well on that note I suppose I should go pack some supplies.”

  He rises from the rock and starts to walk away. Turning back, he holds my dagger in the air. “I’m sure you won’t mind if I hold onto this beauty for a bit, hmm?”

  “Don’t worry. I’ve got more where that came from.”

  With a throaty chuckle, Bastien waves and struts away. I wait until I can’t bear the pain in my toes any longer before splashing to the edge of the pool. I struggle to pull myself from the icy water and my arms shake as I flop onto the damp stone. I gasp for breath, shivering from head to toe.

  “Illyria!”

  I glance up to see Aminah racing toward me with a large cloth, mostly like a sheet from her bed. “Oh, that boy is going to be the death of you!”

  Helping me to my feet, she wraps me in the cloth and begins to rub me down. I’m not a prude, but even being seen naked by Aminah brings a flush to my cheeks.

  Aminah seems to take no notice of my lack of dress, her concern solely focused on to getting me warm. Some days I take her mothering instincts for granted, but today is not one of them.

  “Thanks,” I say through chattering teeth.

  She nods tightly, her curls bouncing about her head as she dips low to rub my legs. I close my eyes, nearly moaning with delight as warmth returns to my extremities.

  “What was he thinking?”

  I shrug. “Bastien has an odd sense of humor.”

  “He could have killed you.”

  “He was trying to prove a point.”

  Her hands pause against my calf. “And that was?”

  “That he’s more stubborn than I am.”

  Aminah rolls her eyes and finishes drying my feet. “Sounds like you two were made for each other. Both hard headed and crazy to boot!”

  I suck in a breath. “Don’t say that.”

  She rises to her feet, standing about three inches shorter than me. “What?”

  “I could never stand to be with a guy like Bastien because he’s so…”

  “Infuriating, challenging, sarcastic, dangerous, gorgeous…yes, I can see how there’s nothing to like.”

  Her smile irks me. It seems so knowing. “I don’t like him.”

  “Um-hmm.”

  “Whatever.” I hobble over to my clothes, my toes lifted high to avoid touching any more of the glacial water that puddles on the floor. “Should I ask how you knew where I was? I didn’t exactly leave a note.”

  Aminah taps her temple before lifting the sheet to give me privacy. I quickly pull on my clothes, grateful for the familiar scratchy feeling against my skin.

  “I guess for once I should be grateful that you’ve been rummaging around in my brain.”

  She shakes her head. “Not yours. His. He fascinates me.”

  I arch an eyebrow as I sink to put on my socks. I try not to think about how the bottoms are nearly worn completely through; my big toe poked through the tattered material last week. “I didn’t take you for the nosy sort, Aminah.”

  “I’m not. Well, not really. It’s just that his past is so different than ours. I’ve never even come close to seeing the City before. His thoughts seem to be consumed by it.” Aminah twirls one of her curls tightly around her finger. “He’s lonely, you know. I think that’s part of the reason he’s so defensive all the time. He’s trying to hide it, but you seem to be able to bring the best out in him.”

  “Lucky me,” I grumble, lacing up my boots.

  “It’s not a bad thing that he’s here, you know. Toren will come around.”

  “And Eamon?” I rise and twist my damp hair into a bun at the back of my head. I shove a splintered stick through it, grateful I remembered to bring it with me earlier. I’m not in the mood to deal with my hair right now.

  “Eamon’s jealous. You know that. He’s never really had to fight for your attention before.”

  “Why would he have to fight for it? We’re best friends, Aminah. We’re together every day.”

  Aminah rolls her eyes, tucking a wild curl behind her ear. “You know it’s not the same. Eamon cares about you. He can see the way Bastien watches you. And the way you watch him back.”

  “It’s nothing.” I try to shrug off her insinuations but fear there may be some merit to them.

  She gives a knowing look. “Keep telling yourself that. Won’t make it the truth.”

  I thrust my dirty clothes into a burlap sack and toss it over my shoulder. Aminah falls into step beside me. Tucking the sheet under her arm, we head back to the Temple. Although I can tell she wants to say more, she remains silent for the journey. I’m grateful for the silence. I can only imagine how my trip to the City with Bastien will fare now.

  I hold out a beat up 12-gauge shotgun to Bastien but keep it just out of his reach. “My dagger, please.”

  “Please? Wow, I didn’t think you were capable of being so polite.”

  “Fine.” I shove the shotgun into his gut and grab the dagger out of the waist of his pants. “That better?”

  “Much,” he grunts, rubbing his abs. “What’s eating you? Don’t tell me you’re still sore about that whole waterfall incident?”

  I roll my eyes scathingly at him. “Please. I’m hardly the type to hold a grudge.”

  “Right.” He grabs a half-empty box of shells and loads the gun. “Is this all the ammo you’ve got?”

  “Yep. You’re welcome to scour the woods for more if you like.” I tuck two serrated blades into my waistband and pull my shirt over to conceal them. I grab a .9mm pistol and eject the clip to reload. I barely have enough bullets for one magazine. That doesn’t instill a great deal of confidence about th
is trip.

  “You know, it would be much easier if we just started stealing the Caldonian’s laser guns.”

  I lift my head, eyes widening with surprise. “You think?”

  “Well don’t look so surprised, Princess.”

  “No, I’m not. It’s just that I’ve been trying to convince Toren of that for months now but he’s reluctant. He’s worried we won’t be able to handle them safely.”

  Bastien scoffs. “Point and shoot. How hard can it be?”

  A small smile tugs at my lips as I slam the magazine in place and chamber a round. “Aminah seems to think you are and I are alike. Perhaps she’s not that far off.”

  Bastien leans back against the wall with a definitively smug smile. “Do I hear a compliment in there somewhere, Princess?”

  “Hardly. I think she was just pointing out my faults.” I shoot him a contemptuous glance, toss my pack over my shoulder and head toward the Temple. Although I can hear him behind me in the narrow tunnel, I don’t look back.

  “Illyria, over here.” Toren calls.

  I weave my way through a mound of children, each scrambling over the next for the last handful of blackberries. My stomach growls at the sight of the sweet fruit, knowing it will be another year before I can taste them again. The thought crosses my mind to swoop in and steal a couple, but I’m already on most of the kids’ bad side. It would surely earn me the meanest person of the year award….three years running.

  Aminah seems to read my mind, without actually digging through my devious thoughts, and loops her arm through mine to steer me toward Toren.

  “Another ambush?” I eye Toren’s bowed head, deep in conversation with Eamon.

  “You know Toren means well.”

  The muffled snort behind me makes me grin. Apparently, Bastien doesn’t think so highly of Toren’s methods either.

  When Bastien and I arrive, Toren pats Eamon on the shoulder and rises to meet our gaze. “Scouts reported back some activity last night off to the east.”

  “What kind of activity?” I ask, leaning over his map. The area is one that I’m vaguely familiar with, but haven’t spent enough time exploring because it runs right up to the City.

  “They’ve been moving some heavy machinery,” Eamon answers.

  “And you want us to take a look at it?” Bastien asks from over my shoulder.

  Eamon bristles but Toren places a warning hand on his forearm. “That’s the plan. It shouldn’t be too far out of your way.” He points to a location less than a mile from where Bastien and I plan to infiltrate the City.

  “Could be dangerous,” Bastien says, crossing his arms over his chest as he turns to look at me.

  “I’m game if you are.”

  Bastien nods. “You know I’m in.”

 
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