These Broken Stars Page 59

Tarver keeps true to his word, not speaking, not even moving. But I feel his eyes on me, and I know he’s listening. I swallow, suddenly uncertain. Will he understand why I’m telling him this story that no one in the galaxy knows, outside of my father and me?

“I live a life of utter privilege. I know that. I accept that.” My voice cracks a little and I lick my lips. “But nothing’s free. It comes with a price. I accept that, too. My father has expectations about where I’ll spend my time, the company I’ll keep, the connections I’ll make to advance his interests. He always says that our name was hard won, and required sacrifice and work to maintain—but that if protected, it was all I’d ever need to get anywhere in this world. But sometimes—sometimes I slip.”

I force myself to glance at him. He’s standing where he was, his face shut down, as impassive and unreadable as I’ve ever seen it. I crumble a little, despite my resolve. This isn’t just about how he sees me; that ship rocketed away long ago.

It’s about how he thinks I see him.

“In the salon, when I dropped my glove, do you really think I didn’t know who you were?” My fingers close around the handle of the screwdriver like it’s a lifeline. “You were a hero, all over the news vids. I knew who your family was, that you were a scholarship case, all of it. I knew exactly who you were. I just—forgot, for a few seconds, who I was. Because I wanted to talk to you. Because you didn’t look at me like I was Lilac LaRoux.

“So yes, I was cruel afterward. I’m cruel because it’s the fastest way to get a man to lose interest, and trust me, I’ve learned how. My father taught me well.” I swallow, making sure my tone is even. He’d be proud. “Tarver, you have to understand that everyone who approaches me—everyone—wants something. Men are after my money. Women are after my status. And men will suffer a lot for a rich girl’s attentions, but not that level of humiliation. I’ve had to learn to use it over the years. And maybe I’m cruel because it’s easy, and because it’s something…something I can be good at.”

He’s still standing there, motionless. I’ve run out of things to say, and fall silent. My hand twitches, like it wants to throw the screwdriver at him. Anything to get him to move, speak. Say something. He stands there like he’s been hit in the head with the canteen, staring at me, square-jawed and silent.

I toss the screwdriver down. “I’ll find us a place for the night.”

I can feel his eyes on me as I retrieve the pack of supplies and make my way back toward the stream.

The stream is cloudy where we crossed it earlier, so I follow it, looking for a place to refill the canteen and wash a little. A thread of an idea nags at me, but I push it away, my mind roiling.

Why, why, did I tell him? Why should he be interested in the sad saga of the poor little rich girl who had her boyfriend taken away? It’ll be a great story for him when he ships out, something to laugh about with his platoon. I can just imagine him describing how this lunatic rich girl tried to jump him because of her daddy issues. Something twists uneasily inside me. Tarver isn’t the type of person to share the story. But still, he must think me so self-involved. He’s seen dozens of his friends blown to smithereens on the front lines, and I’m crying because a boy I once knew got sent away to war.

Still, now he knows. What my father is. What I am. That I’m responsible for the death of a boy whose only crime was falling in love. Now he knows how toxic I am.

I’m so tangled in my thoughts that I almost don’t notice the cave. The entrance is narrow, barely wide enough for Tarver’s shoulders. The source of the stream must be within it, but I can’t hear any bubbling, only the light trickle of water cascading down the rock. I rummage in the pack for the flashlight, climb onto the wet rocks, and ease my shoulders through.

The stream continues back in the gloom through another, wider fissure. I stop long enough to leave a bright red T-shirt from my pack tied around an outcropping of rock, to signal in case Tarver should come looking for me. Then I slip back inside, and head deeper into the cave to see if there’s a big enough place for us to sleep.

“Was there any significant time during which you and Miss LaRoux were separated?”

“Define ‘significant.’”

“Are you able to account for her whereabouts and actions during the entirety of your stay on the planet?”

“You make it sound like we were on shore leave.”


“We were together the whole time.”

“And nothing strange happened to her in that time? She didn’t change in any way?”

“I think crash-landing on an unknown planet is pretty strange.”


“No. No notable changes.”



I PICK UP A ROCK AND CHOOSE A SPOT to slam it against the base of the metal shutters. There’s a hollow metallic thunk that tells me there’s nothing behind it, so I slam the rock home again, angling my body and finding a rhythm. My head’s spinning.

Clerical oversight, my ass. Nobody’s deployed by accident, least of all a rich man’s son. I know twenty things that would keep that from ever happening.

Unless he had a girlfriend with a father who didn’t like the idea of that connection. Unless the girl he loved was Lilac LaRoux.

Then I can see it happening.

Poor Lilac. She’s lived with this secret locked inside for three years. I’ve never heard her sound so lost—like she really believes it’s her fault that that boy was killed. What kind of father lays a burden like that on a fourteen-year-old girl? Lets her live her life thinking she’s got blood on her hands?

I wish she’d told me sooner. But what would I have done, if she’d told me back on the Icarus that it was too dangerous to pursue her? Would I have been smart enough to walk away?

I realize that I’ve been pounding the rock against the same place for at least two minutes without a result. I drop it, abandoning my futile attempt to make a dent in the shutters, and head upstream after Lilac.

What can I even say to her? All I know is that I need to go to her, electricity coursing up and down my spine.

A flash of red jumps out at me, fabric tied around an outcropping. I’m so tired, my head so full of half-formed apologies, that it takes me a moment to spot the opening of the cave.

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