Children of Eden Page 48

“You should get some sleep before we leave,” he says firmly, though I notice his breath is coming fast, too, and his pupils are huge and luminous.

I know what he means, of course, but I pretend I don’t. I don’t want to be alone.

“Good idea,” I say, and stretch myself on the bed beside him, my head nestled in the crook of his arm. I can hear his heart racing.

He doesn’t tell me to leave.

Though my body is comfortable, I’m also too tense with the strangeness of it to fall asleep right away. My mind is whirring, bouncing from the terrible truth I discovered about Eden’s hero, to the kiss, to Lark, and back again.

As I listen to the soothing sound of his steady breathing my mind clears, my body relaxes, and I fall asleep . . .



I AWAKE WITH a jolt, thinking someone’s trying to break the door down. I’m confused, first to not be in my own bed at home, then even moreso when I realize Lachlan is lying beside me. I’d thrown an arm over him in my sleep, and he peels it off to roll over my belly and spring to his feet. His gun is in his hand.

“What’s wrong?” he asks as he pulls the door open, the same words he spoke to me when I knocked. He must always be on edge, waiting for the worst.

I shrink back, suddenly aware that I’m in Lachlan’s bed in the middle of the night. Fully dressed, to be sure, but whoever is at the door is going to think . . .

“We can’t find Rowan.” It’s Flint’s voice, and he sounds angry. “She’s not in her room, not in any of the common rooms. You said she could be trusted. If she slipped out and betrays us . . .”

With an inscrutable smile on his face, Lachlan slowly pushes the door all the way open, revealing me sitting awkwardly on his bed.

“Oh,” Flint says, and looks at Lachlan with raised eyebrows.

“It’s not—” Lachlan and I both begin at the same time, but Flint interrupts.

“Get up, Rowan. I need you. Now.” He starts toward me.

“What’s this about?” Lachlan asks, and I notice that he subtly imposes himself between Flint and me. I’m indescribably touched by the instinctive protective gesture.

“We’ve captured an intruder snooping around the tunnels.”

“What do you need Rowan for?” Lachlan asks, glancing back at me.

“You’ll see.”

Baffled, I smooth my disheveled hair and follow him. Lachlan stays close at my side. Once, I think I see his hand start to reach for mine, but he seems to check himself. Still, it’s good to have him so close.

Flint leads us swiftly around the gallery and down two flights of stone steps. I stop dead when I recognize our destination: the interrogation chamber. I can feel the wet bag suffocating me, and I have to bend over, breathless, hugging myself as I try to breathe.

Lachlan has an arm around me, bends low beside me. “In through your nose, out through your mouth. Slow. Easy. You’re going to be okay.” It takes a minute, but my breathing returns to something like normal. I stand up straight and try to maintain my dignity, but it is hard when I remember the torture I received in that room.

Flint enters first, then Lachlan. He blocks my view with his shoulders, but I can see two people inside. One, a woman I met briefly beneath the camphor tree, holds something in her hand that looks like a small sock filled with sand.

The other person is tied to the chair and has a bag over their head, and my lungs convulse again, though I keep myself visibly under control. I see bare arms covered with bruises, and as I watch, the Underground woman—Flora, that was her name—cocks her arm back and hits the prisoner in the shoulder.

The prisoner groans. “Please . . .” The gasp is muffled under the soaking bag, but I know that voice, know the down of golden hair on those poor bruised arms.

“Lark!” I shout, and surge toward her. Flint grabs me roughly by the shoulders and forces me back.

Her head inside the bag turns toward me. Suddenly I see her entire body go rigid, straining tightly against her bonds. I push against Flint but he won’t let me go. Then Lark’s body starts tembling spasmodically. Her head thrashes back and forth, then after a long moment her body goes completely stiff again, then slack.

“She has seizures,” I cry out, kicking uselessly at Flint’s shins. “Let me help her!”

“Did you lead her here?” Flint growls, ignoring my struggles, and I remember that this is the man who tortured me. He’s been so pleasant ever since, his tone cordial and inspiring. Now I recall the voice of my interrogator, and I try to shrink away from him. But he holds me in an iron grip and shakes me. “Did you send her a message? Who is she? Who is she working for?”

“Let her go,” Lachlan says, and if his voice is soft, his intentions clearly are not. His fists are clenched, his jaw set, and I think he’s ready to attack the leader of the Underground. Flora looks over her shoulder, surprised, and Flint lets me go abruptly. The two men stare at each other for a long, tense moment. Then Flint takes a step back.

“You know this girl?” Flint asks, keeping a more respectful distance from me . . . and Lachlan.

“She’s my friend,” I say. Lark’s head is turned toward me now, and I want to rip the bag off her head, comfort her, but I don’t quite dare.

“I thought you said she was kept strictly in her house all her life,” Flint says to Lachlan.

“She was, until just a few days ago. I don’t know who this girl is, though.”

“She’s my brother’s best friend,” I explain. “I met her when I snuck out. She knows I’m a second child, but she’d never tell—ever! She’s an outer circle girl, and she . . . she helps people.” I really don’t know what Lark does, but I know she’s somehow involved in resisting the Center.

“What was she doing snooping outside?” Flint wants to know.

“Why don’t you ask her, instead of beating her?” I say, looking levelly at Flint. Then I slip between the two men. No one tries to stop me when I start to fumble with the cords that tie the wet canvas bag around Lark’s neck. The water has made the knots swell, though, and I can’t undo them.

“Here, let me,” Lachlan says, and whips out a folding knife with a curved blade. He slices cleanly through the ropes, and I trust him so much I never even worry how close the deadly edge is to my friend’s neck.

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