Songbird(8)

By: Maya Banks


Giving up, she took a seat at the bar beside Taggert and avoided both their gazes. When Buck put a plate in front of her, she ate without tasting. She knew they watched her and also knew they were measuring every bite, so she made herself eat all of it.

When she pushed the plate away, Buck gave a grunt of satisfaction and picked it up to put it in the sink.

“So how about that walk out to the stable?” Taggert asked.

There was a challenge in his voice that made her groan inwardly. What she really wanted to do was go back to bed or even curl up on the couch and absorb the familiar smells of the Donovan house.

But she was embarrassed to tell him no, to explain that she didn’t have the energy to do much more than brush her hair. It was still damp, and if she went outside, she’d need to comb it and dry it.

She raised trembling fingers to press against her forehead.

“Are you okay?”

Taggert’s concerned voice brushed over her ears. She tried to nod, but all she managed was a clipped half motion that could either be deciphered as a yes or a no.

“The walk can wait,” he said after a pause. “You should get some more rest. When you’re feeling more up to it, I’ll take you out to see the horses.”

Relief made her weak. She put her hands on the edge of the bar to push herself off the stool, and then she made her way toward the living room. Did the closet still hold all those wonderful old afghans that Maria Donovan had made?

She stopped just outside the living room and opened the hallway closet to see a pile of blankets residing on the same shelf they’d always rested on.

She pulled one down and briefly held it to her nose, savoring the smell. Home. It smelled like home.

Carrying it into the living room, she sank onto the couch with something akin to bliss. Haphazardly, she arranged the blanket around her body and drew it up to her chin before closing her heavy lids.





Chapter Four

“You shouldn’t have caved so goddamn easy,” Greer said in disgust.

He took one last drag of his cigarette then tossed it down and ground it under his boot heel.

“That’s easy for you to say,” Taggert growled. “You weren’t looking at her. She was about to collapse. I honest to God think it took everything she had to get up, shower and eat. Besides, I’m done with being the older brother and bully in this shit. I can’t forget it was me doing all the talking when we sent her away. Like it was my decision as head of the fucking household.”

Greer held up his hand in surrender. “I understand. I just can’t stand this. I feel like we’re losing her all over again, and there’s not a damned thing we can do.”

“I know what I’m going to do,” Taggert gritted out. “I’m going to be there every step of the way. I’m never going to give her a chance to think I don’t want her—that I don’t…love her,” he ended in a nearly silent exhale.

“Work?” Greer asked.

“Fuck work. Our hands are more than capable of running the show for a while. Rand will keep things going smoothly.”

“Okay.”

“Look man, if you don’t want this—”

“Shut the fuck up,” Greer said coldly. “That’s a stupid-ass thing to say. We made a decision. We made a mistake. There’s nothing more to discuss.”

Taggert held both hands up. “All right, then stop second-guessing my decisions. You handle Emmy your way. I’ll handle her mine.”

Greer nodded. He watched as Tagg turned and stalked inside the house. Tagg might be the older brother, but he was definitely the impatient hothead of the family. Neither of them liked his judgment questioned even if they had monumentally fucked up in the past.

Greer sighed. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d locked heads, and it sure as hell wouldn’t be the last.

He walked toward the house, the need to see Emily again eating at him. He’d talk with Rand later.



***



Emily sat in the dark, her hands covered with sticky warmth. She couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.

Sean.

Where was Sean?

She knew something terrible had happened, but she couldn’t see. The dark suffocated her like some cloak of doom wrapping around her neck.

“Sean,” she whispered.

Some of the dark faded. Distant laughter sounded, raising the hairs at her nape. Slowly, she lifted her hands, staring in horror at the bright red blood dripping from her palms.

Then she looked down to see Sean lying on the ground, a gaping knife wound in his chest.

Blood. So much blood. Sean’s blood.

A scream rose from the depths of her soul, clawing a path up her throat, raw and scraping.

“Emmy. Emmy, wake up, love. Baby, shhh. You’re all right, I swear it. Come on. Open those pretty eyes for me.”

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