Page 72 of Corrupt Kingdom

I let out a small sigh.

“Do you miss her?” His voice is softer than normal. Filled with compassion, I don’t often hear that in his tone.

“Yes.” I nod. “Trent too.”

“And your father?” This time, there is no mistaking the bite to his words; he doesn’t like my dad. I’m still not sure why, though. It doesn’t make sense, but maybe as a man, he thinks my dad should have protected me from him. He’s right. He should have.

“No,” I answer truthfully.

He nods as if he understands.

“Soon,” he says, and I’m not exactly sure what that means. Will I be going home soon? Is it safe for me? He still hasn’t even explained what wasn’t safe, so I don’t understand. I give him a small smile. I don’t want to go there now. No. Now I want to have fun because I know everything will change soon.

“My mom used to hold down the top end.” I continue to walk toward the hill through the path of trees until we’re almost at the beach.

Most of the hills are too steep, but this one will be perfect. Here, the land isn’t too high, but it’s high enough to gather water.

“Come on. I won’t bite,” I joke, and his dark eyes get even darker if that is even possible.

I think that’s exactly what he wants me to do, but we have been playing by his rules today. In the rain, we will play by mine.

The wind is starting to pick up. Small raindrops fall from the sky, and my hair clings to my forehead.

Soon the storm will come, but for now, it coats the tarp as we wait.

It doesn’t take long. With each passing moment, more rain falls from the sky until the tarp has a constant stream. I’m happy it’s warmer today because if it wasn’t, the rain would feel like little needles against my skin. Luck was in my favor because I couldn’t stay inside another second.

I love the fresh air.

Even with rain, I can smell it. Spring.

Tilting my head back, I allow the water to drip down my face and off my nose, and then I look down. Cyrus is leaning over, holding my tarp, and I smile at him before I step up to where he is and slide down.

I close my eyes.

And right now, I’m not on an island.

No. Right now, I’m a little girl whose mother pushes her to be different, to be herself, and to be whoever she wants to be.

I haven’t done this since my mom became the shell, but doing it now, even with Cyrus, makes me feel closer to her.

When I’m at the bottom of the hill, I look up to see Cyrus standing there. He’s still dressed casually, but that’s not what does me in. It’s how he looks so large on the hill, more than life. Like a god.

He looked that way the first time I saw him too, but now I know the man.

He once reminded me of Hades, the god of the underworld.

He still does, but now I think Hades was misunderstood.

When I walk back up to where he was standing, I lift my hand. “You’re next.”

“No.”

“Come on, live a little.”

He stands firm, looking at the slide like it’s beneath him. I take his hand in mine. “With me. Together.”

I know he wants to say no, but I don’t let him. I grab him and pull him to the ground. I know his clothes will be muddy, but so will mine.

“Please.” I look at him through the pellets of water cascading down my cheek.

He nods, pulling me into his arms and placing me on his lap. Then he pushes off. Mud is everywhere.

Rain starts to pound down on us, and we go.

As I try to close my eyes, Cyrus tightens his arms around me, keeping me steady.

Laughter breaks against the wind, spilling out of my mouth, but as we make our descent, I realize I’m not the only one laughing, and it warms every part of me.

Before long, we are on the edge of the tarp. I’m still in his arms when he turns me to look at him.

Gone is the smile.

Gone is the laugh.

All that I see are lust, desire, and most of all need.

37

Ivy

The days have passed. The storm a distant memory. I know it’s time for Cyrus to leave once again.

I should be happy, but I’m not. The time we have spent together has actually been some of the best of my life. I don’t even know how that has happened.

How that can be true.

I should hate him. But as much as I know I should, I can’t help the way I feel, and I can’t help the simple truth: I believe him when he said he was protecting me.

But from what?

Am I ready to ask, and the better question, is he ready to tell?

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