These Broken Stars Page 85

But eventually my tears dry up and he helps me stand. He leads me to a meeting room dominated by a long glass table, then sits me down in the first chair on the left. He drops into the chair at the head of the table and rolls it closer to me so he can take my hand in both of his.

“Tell me everything, my heart.”

Sitting here, with my father gazing at me with red-rimmed eyes, I’m finding it impossible to connect him with the lambda symbol stamped all over the hellish prison for the creatures that gave me back my life. For a moment I want nothing more than to tell him what’s happened to us, what’s happened to me, that I remember death and rebirth and everything in between.

But Tarver’s words are still ringing in my ears. Tell them nothing, he said. We lie. I can’t let him down.

So I sniff loudly and drop my head, staring at my lap as I shake my head. “I don’t know,” I stammer. “I can’t. It’s all too—I don’t remember, it’s all a blur.”

“Are you sure?” He pats my hand, soothing. His skin is cool to the touch, soft and smooth. His hands always were well kept. “Perhaps it would help to talk about it.”

I just shake my head again. The tears that were so easy to locate earlier have dried up as my conviction returns, and so I have to pretend, keeping my eyes on the fabric of the dressing gown.

My father is silent for a while. I know him well enough to see that he doesn’t believe me. But he wants to. Eventually he pats my hand again briskly and straightens. “Well, good. We’ll just put all of this behind us, then. What you need is some quiet. As long as you’re safe, that’s all I care about.”

It’s all I wanted—him to just accept me back, for all of this to go away, for my life to go back to normal. And still, I’m uneasy. There’s a tension here I haven’t felt since I was fourteen, and I learned that Simon was gone. Some part of me knows he’s only telling me what I want to hear.

My father clears his throat. “I understand the young man in the other room is partially responsible for bringing you back in one piece?”

“Tarver Merendsen,” I correct him, nodding, keeping my head down. “Entirely responsible, Daddy. He’s the reason I’m here at all.”

“Well, we’ll be sure to reward him handsomely for it.” Pause. “All of this in the papers and the HV clips about the two of you—”

“Yes?” I finally tear my eyes from my lap and look up, heart pounding. I know what’s coming. “What about it?”

“When we reach Corinth you’ll deliver a statement in which you’ll correct the media’s assumption that you’re a couple. You’ll thank him for his assistance, and wish him a safe journey back to his parents’ homeworld. And that’ll be the last of it.”

My head spins. “Father—”

“We’ll find our way through this, Lilac.” He gazes at me, his heart in his eyes. “You and me, you know that. You’re all I have. All I need. My darling girl, you have no idea what it was like to hear that you were safe.”

Guilt twists in my stomach, metallic and nauseating. “I won’t leave him.”

“Oh, Lilac.” He sounds so weary, so sad. He can’t know about the planet; it’s impossible. Some distant employee used my name for the keypad as a joke. My father is not capable of such monstrosity. “You think these things now. But in a week, two weeks—in a month, in a year, that will change. I’m only trying to protect you.”

“The way you protected me three years ago?” The words slip out before I can stop them. My father and I have never spoken about Simon.

The eyes I used to think of as twinkling, kindly—they’re steely now, paler and colder than ice. “You will come to thank me one day,” he says in a voice that quietly cuts me to the bone.

And then I know. This is the man who sent Simon to his death. This is the man who discovered the first intelligent life other than ourselves and buried it. This is the man who enslaved the first ambassadors of another universe for his own ends, who perpetrated a cover-up so huge that a ship of fifty thousand souls went down without a trace until one tiny distress signal caught the attention of a passing research vessel.

This is the man who has ruled me for seventeen years.

And what’s worse—with a rush of clarity, I realize that he’s only ever ruled me because I let him do it.

“No,” I say, standing up as the word rings in my ears. Some part of my mind points out that I have the power like this, that standing, I am taller than he is sitting, that making him look up at me gives me the upper hand. But in reality I simply can’t sit any longer; a frenetic buzzing rising in my limbs drives me to action. It’s all I can do not to pace. But pacing is a sign of weakness. I learned that from him too.

“You will leave us alone. Forever. In exchange, we will keep your secret.”

My father’s watching impassively, giving me nothing. “Forever is not a very long time for a soldier.” His voice is soft as velvet, and as dark. My heart tightens, shriveling with fear.

But Roderick LaRoux is not the only one who can threaten without threatening, bully without raising a hand. He’s taught me everything I know.

“You were all I ever needed in my life,” I say softly, watching his face. The dynamic in the air has shifted. I can feel it. And from the minute twitch on his cheek, I see that he can too. “But people uncover buried memories all the time as they recover from traumatic events. I don’t know what would happen if I began to remember what I saw on that planet.”

My father gets slowly to his feet. He’s a tall man, with suits tailored to emphasize his stature in dark, powerful colors. He places one hand on the back of his chair, watching me impassively. He says nothing, but I know what he’s thinking.

“When we get to Corinth, Tarver and I will issue a statement together explaining how we salvaged a downed escape pod to send a distress signal. We won’t mention the station. Tarver’s probably in a room somewhere right now, lying, keeping your secrets. No one will ever have to know what we’ve seen.

“But, Father—and this is the important part—I’m holding you personally responsible for his safety. Because if something ever happens to him, I’ll know it was you. If he’s transferred to the front lines, I’ll know. If he comes down with a mysterious illness, I’ll know. If so much as a hair on his head is out of place, I’ll know. And if someday someone thinks to blackmail or threaten him into leaving me, I’ll know that too.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies