Songbird(2)

By: Maya Banks


She looked down, studying her fingers, and wondered how long it would take before she didn’t feel so flayed alive when she thought of Sean. When she couldn’t feel the knife that had ended his life.

A firm knock sounded at the door. Her head whipped up, and panic hit her like a sledgehammer. Each breath squeezed from her lungs, crushing her chest.

Stop being stupid.

No one knew she was here. She knew none of her neighbors. She was safe.

Who the hell could be at her door at five in the morning?

Renewed fear gripped her by the throat.

Maybe it was just her apartment manager. Or a neighbor.

At five in the morning?

Her gaze flickered over the four deadbolts she’d had installed. No one was getting in unless she let them.

The knock sounded again. Harder this time.

She flinched and hastily stood, her heart beating in a vicious cadence.

She didn’t have to answer. She could pretend to be asleep. Or not at home.

Hesitating, she turned away from the door only to yank back around when the knocking persisted.

Whoever it was wasn’t going away.

Damp palms wiped nervously on her pajama top. She glanced down, realizing she wasn’t dressed for company, and then she laughed—a harsh, dry sound that assaulted her ears.

She wasn’t entertaining guests. The sooner she answered the door and sent them on their way, the better.

It took everything she had to make that walk across the living room to the door. She put her palm on the surface and leaned forward to peer out the peephole.

She gasped, blinked, stepped back then surged forward again, straining to see. Her stomach plummeted.

Oh God.

Greer and Taggert Donovan stood in the hallway, their expressions grim—and determined.

How had they found her?

Stupid question.

She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead on the door. Not now. She couldn’t face them right now. Maybe never. How was she to look at them knowing how much they reminded her of Sean? Of how much she loved Sean?

Of how much she loved Greer and Taggert.

Her fingers splayed out over the wood as if she could touch them through the barrier. She turned her head so that her cheek pressed against the surface and then reached for the top lock, letting her hand rest on it without moving it.

Another knock jarred her face and then she heard Taggert’s voice, low and entreating.

“Emmy, open the door.”

She swallowed once and slowly pulled away until she was an arm’s length from the locks, her hand still on the top one. As she turned it, the click echoed harshly.

With shaking fingers, she worked down until she reached the last. She grasped the knob and turned, cracking the door and bracing her free hand on the frame.

Her gaze met and locked first with Taggert and then Greer. They filled the doorway, the entire hallway, and God, they looked just as she remembered. Stetsons, faded jeans and boots.

For the longest time she stared and they stared back. Then Greer stepped forward but halted when she retreated a step.

“Open the door, Emmy,” he said softly.

Her knees trembling, she eased the door wider until there was a gaping space, more space than she’d allowed in a year. Greer’s expression softened, his leaf green eyes filled with regret. Then he simply opened his arms.

The first step was the hardest, but suddenly she found herself in his warm embrace. She buried her face in his chest, inhaling the faint smells of tobacco and horses, two scents that seemed permanently branded on him.

She shook against him, but the tears wouldn’t come. Her eyes were so dry they hurt.

He lifted her and walked with her into the apartment. Taggert closed the door behind them, and she turned to see him fingering the locks, a scowl on his face.

“Have you cried even once, Emmy?” Greer asked quietly as he held her.

It made her sound so heartless. She hadn’t cried. Not at the hospital when they told her Sean was gone. Not at his funeral or afterward when they buried him in the family plot on Mountain Pass land. Not in the many months since. Crying made it all so…final.

She wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed. It felt so good to be back in his arms.

“I missed you,” she whispered.

“Aww Em, we missed you too,” Greer said in a low voice.

Taggert made an impatient sound, and she pulled away from Greer to stare at the oldest Donovan brother.

“Why the hell did you disappear on us, Emmy?” Taggert demanded. “You were Sean’s wife. We would have taken care of you. The MPR is your home. It’s always been your home. Long before you married Sean. Frank’s going crazy. No one’s seen you. And now we find you holed up like a prisoner in an apartment in the city. You hate the city.”

Her hand flew to her throat, her pulse pounding against her fingers.

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