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Stitched(Rylee Adamson #8.5)(18) by Shannon Mayer

“Where will you go, after it’s done? After Orion is defeated and the world is safe? You can’t go back to your life in Bismarck.”

He said it with such surety, I wondered how he knew. “I don’t know. I have to stop Orion first, I have to have a baby and make sure she’s safe, I have a whole damn book of prophecy to read and memorize so I can do that first thing.” I shrugged, and then rubbed a hand over my bare arm. “Day by day, step by step. I can’t do more than that.”

“Surprisingly wise, for a Tracker, that is,” Faris said.

I twisted in my seat to glare at him. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

He smiled at me, and I thought he was actually giving me a true smile, maybe for the first time in the months I’d known him. His mouth relaxed and there was no effort to charm me.

“You’re growing up, Rylee. When I first met you, impetuous wouldn’t come close to how you were. You leapt as you saw fit, without looking, without thinking. And it was sheer luck most times that you didn’t get killed. Your instincts and heart led you true, but the game that’s afoot now, it needs more than heart and instinct. It needs a hero who thinks, who sees what’s coming and makes changes to her own actions so the best possible outcome can happen.” He rubbed the stump of his arm. “I should know, I didn’t think when I went into the castle, it’s been so long since anyone has truly presented me with danger that I never even paused to consider what could happen.”

“But you didn’t know what was going to be there, none of us did,” I pointed out.

He snorted. “I knew it would be a situation, the castle was no longer a place of safe passage, yet I walked in as if I owned it. And I paid the price.”

We were quiet for a minute. Peta laid her head on my lap and I put a hand on her, once more grateful for her presence. I looked at Faris massaging what was left of his arm. “Does it hurt?”

He stopped rubbing the stump. “No. Not like you mean.”

“Then how?”

“It hurt my ego more than anything,” he said ruefully. “Maybe I needed to be humbled.”

I burst out laughing. “Maybe?”

He gave me a smile, a twist of his lips. “I’ve lived a long time. It’s hard to be humble when you’ve defied the odds.”

I tipped my head to one side. “What odds?”

He blew out a breath. “Well, it’s not like I don’t have the time to tell you. Would you like to hear the story of how I came to be a vampire? And why I told you when we first met, that I wasn’t what you thought?”

I’d thought he was a vampire, which he was. “You aren’t a bloodsucker?”

“That’s not all I am.” He stood, and strode to a trunk set against the wall. Flicking it open, he pulled a blanket out and tossed it to me. “You have goose bumps on your arms.”

I caught the blanket and wrapped it around my shoulders. I wasn’t really cold, but a good ghost story always needed a blanket around the person who was being told. And I had a feeling this was going to be a whopper of a ghost story.

Faris stood in the middle of the room, his one hand on his hip as his eyes grew distant, fading to a time long before I was born.

The year 1710 was the year I was born, near Salem, Massachusetts, but it was only twelve years into my life that I began to understand things were not always as they seemed.

I’d bolted into our house, after riding my pony all day through the fields outside the city, tracking mud and horse dung along with me. Our cook, Mrs. Watson, took a swat at me that I managed to avoid with ease.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Watson. Your beauty stole my senses, rendering me a fool, which is why I forgot to remove the dung from my boots.” At twelve I was already shockingly handsome and knew a smile and charming word went a long way to getting me out of trouble with the women.

“Ah, get yourself gone, boy.” She put a sweet tart into my hand as I gave her a courtly bow. “Go on, go see your mama. She’s not well.”

Kicking off my boots, I ran in my stocking feet through the house, up the spiraled stairway and into my mother’s room. She lay on the bed, her fine blond hair spread out on the pale blue pillowcases stacked up behind her.

“Faris, my love, come sit with me.” Her voice was so soft, and I forgot I was a young man, crawling into bed with her like the child I truly still was. I laid my head on her shoulder and she stroked my hair. “Do you think you will love your brother or sister, when they come?”

“Of course, because he will be my brother.”

She laughed softly. “So sure you are that it is a boy? What if it is a little sister?”

“Then I will protect her, like I protect you.” My voice was fierce and yet, I clung to her. The juxtaposition was not lost on me now, but looking back, I loved my mother with a strength that knew no bounds. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever known. Her eyes, blue like mine, filled with love and belief when she looked at me. I knew I could never let her down.

She was my world, and anything she did I would defend to my grave.

I fell asleep against her, my sweet tart forgotten.

A hand shaking my shoulder woke me hours later. “Come, boy, it’s time to eat.”

My father stirred me, and I slid from the bed and my mother’s arms to follow him to the dining room. We ate in near silence and yet, I tried to be the man I wanted to be. My father was tall and lean, his dark brown hair swept back into a ponytail. All the women thought he was dashing, that he was the rogue of the town, with my mother finally taming him. All I saw was the hero I wanted to be as I grew. My mother was the fine princess, my father the dashing knight. They could do no wrong, and they loved me.

But of course, that was not the real world, but I faced it a few days later.

The screaming is what woke me from a dead sleep. I shot out of my bed, running before I knew what had happened, only that my mother was in pain. I burst into her room to see the physician hovering over her shoulder, shaking his head as she writhed in an agony I couldn’t understand. Sweat slicked her normally golden hair into a dull tarnished copper. My father stood beside her, gripping her fingers tightly. “Beloved, we can only save one of you.”

“The baby,” she whispered, her eyes flicking open, and seeing me. I can only imagine the look on my face, for she started to cry. “Faris, love, come hold me a minute.”