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Chapter 17

I was on my way to meet Captain Burns for more combat training the next morning when I passed Kieran in the hall. I suddenly wished I hadn’t sent Mack to supervise the linothorax production. If he’d been with me instead, I would have had a valid excuse to ignore Kieran. As it was, I strode past him in stony silence with no intention of even acknowledging his existence. I figured it was fair since he’d been ignoring me ever since Adele arrived at Tiernan.

Apparently, Kieran had other plans than to keep mutually pretending that the other didn’t exist because he caught my wrist and spun me around to face him. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. Do I really have to ask again?”

“I’m surprised you’re pretending to care. After all, Sam and I are just tools that you and Rolf plan to use against Sigrid.”

“I guess eavesdropping would make it easy for you to take things out of context and come up with some kind of stupid assumption like that.”

“Wow. You’re really trying to make things which I clearly heard you and Rolf saying out to somehow be my fault? That’s super logical of you.”

“Really? You want to accuse me of being illogical? You’re the one who’s reacting emotionally to a fragment of conversation with no context to go on. Did you ever stop to think maybe it wasn’t meant the way you heard it?”

“So you’re both in the habit of saying things you don’t mean when you think you’re alone, without the influence of the subjects being at hand to deter you from saying what you really think? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“I really don’t understand the emotional response you’re having to this situation. Are you angry, disappointed, hurt, or is there something else at play here, something like jealousy?”

“Jealousy? What the hell do I have to be jealous of?”

“You’re obviously jealous of Adele. You’ve been suspicious, moody, and downright irritable ever since she showed up.”

“I have a right to be suspicious, Kieran! She’s a freaking TEXTBOOK candidate to fall in the category of ‘spy for the enemy.’ Why can’t you see that? What is it about her that blinds you so completely?”

“Oh, for God’s sake! Adele aided our escape from Pallidia, Lauren! She’s the one that gave me the plans of the castle sewers. She’s the one that told me how to get you out of that dungeon. Adele is the one who distracted the rest of the QEG the night Damon tried to stop us from leaving Pallidia. She’s been helping us all along! Your suspicions are misplaced, and I absolutely believe they’re rooted in jealousy. You feel threatened by her because she’s beautiful, powerful, and of this world. You’re an outsider, and she makes you feel it down to your bones every time you look at her.”

All I could feel was pain, at first, but the ache in my chest was instantly overwhelmed by scalding shame, frustration, and outrage. Tears blurred my field of vision, and my warring emotions must have made me lose my mind for a moment because I slapped him before I had a chance to realize what I was doing. The resounding crack of my palm meeting his stubble-coated cheek echoed off the stone walls. My palm stung and the bones of my fingers ached as if I just broke them all at once.

“How dare you?” I could feel myself snapping from the inside out. I was trembling from head to foot with boiling rage, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It was like I was having an out of body experience--I had no control over what I was saying or doing anymore. My temper, the one I’d done such a good job of bottling up for so many years, was finally at the reins. “I thought that maybe Adele and Rolf were each manipulating you, and that you were just too naive to see it, but now I know better, don’t I? You’re as much a cold, cruel, calculating son-of-a-bitch as either of them ever hoped to be. I’m only going to say this once, so listen hard: you take that conniving pretty princess bitch and both of you stay the hell away from me. She’s not to be trusted, and you’re too much of a fool to see it! You’re blinded by your attraction to her. Hell, with the level of loyalty you’re showing to her, maybe it’s love. I don’t care what you call it, though. All I care about is you keeping her away from anything that could be important to the survival of everyone in this fortress, and I hope you stay the hell away from me while you’re at it. I’m done being a pawn for you or anybody else in this godforsaken world!”

I spun on my heel and charged headlong up the hallway with hot tears streaming down my cheeks. I couldn’t stop them from falling, so I just let it happen. I managed to keep from sobbing until I reached the courtyard by the armory, but when I saw Captain Burns waiting on me, I just crumbled. Anguished sobs poured out of me, one after the other, and I ran to him because he reminded me of all the things I loved about my family. The protective concern on his face just made the sobs come faster and harder as he pulled me into a soothing hug. “What in the world happened, Lauren?” He stroked my hair like my dad used to when I was a little girl and nightmares woke me.

I shook my head because I couldn’t find the right words yet. I buried my face in his shirt and cried until I no longer had the physical strength to keep crying. He stood there the whole time, and God bless him, comforted me until I was ready to talk. “Kieran’s a complete idiot,” I rasped, my voice raw from crying so hard.

“Well, we all knew that,” Burns quipped. “Can you be a little more specific, so I know what to yell at him for while I’m beating the tar out of him?”

I shook my head. “It’s crazy. Ever since I came here, he’s been so familiar. I thought, for a while, that he might be a friend of mine who disappeared 12 years ago. I was so sure he was somehow Noah, but the Noah I knew would never be as mean to me as Kieran just was.” I wiped tears off my cheeks with the backs of my hands. “He decided to remind me what an outsider I am now that he has Adele here, and implied that I’m jealous because she’s more beautiful than I am, among other things.”

Captain Burns’ lips pressed into a grim line and he shook his head. “The boy can’t think straight when the she-elf is near him. I think she uses some sort of magic to manipulate him. I haven’t been able to prove it yet, but I guarantee you it won’t stop me from speaking my mind about it when I speak to Rolf in a few moments.”

“You’re going to see Rolf? What about my training session?”

“This discussion won’t take long. You can go ahead and get started with the dagger and the training dummy, if you want. I won’t be long.”

“Sounds good,” I nodded. “See you soon.”

(To be continued.)