Chapter 1 Excerpt:
Another loud snore. An opening flourish, and then the rasping song of the hangman’s sleep continued.
Oh, dear god.
Smooth as an oiled newt, she had the last of her right arm free. Emmat rolled from the bed and crouched on her hands and knees for a moment of silent, exhausted relief on the floor.
Don’t mess about, woman. Get out of here.
Shaking knees pushed her up and she grimaced as her skirts fell back into place. There would be no undoing what was done. The consequences, however, she could worry about somewhere else. Somewhere far from here.
Emmat did her best to remember the direction from which he’d thrust her into the room and rolled the soft leather of her boots from heel to toe back towards the place she imagined the door to be. Her fingertips found a wall, trailed sideways, sideways … and met the doorframe, the latch.
She remembered the metallic squeal it had made on their way in and ground her teeth, shook her head. Perhaps if she spat on it, the thing would turn—
“Death is forever, you know.”
Sudden wide eyes didn’t make the room any brighter. They hadn’t since the beginning. Her heart did its damndest to dash itself to death on the cage of her ribs.
A fleeting hope for the ramblings of a man asleep was just that: fleeting. The voice had come clear and alert, yet casual. Almost conversational, as if what Emmat was doing at the door was almost incidental.
She dropped her hand. Exhaled.
“Are you planning to murder me, as well, then?”
Even quiet, her words rippled out into the room.
“You traded yourself for your brother’s death,” he said. “You expected one night would be a fair exchange for an eternity?”
It was as if a fist had landed in her gut.
So he doesn’t intend to forget in a few days.
Emmat stood there like a fool, absorbing the darkness, the disaster.
But her hand went back to the latch. Right. Perhaps a mad chase through the countryside would make a fitting end to her stupidity.
“You can run if you like, Red Bird.”
Fists came in pairs, oh yes they did. The second one landed, winding her.
He knows. He knows who I am.
“As of this morning,” he went on. “your brother’s a dead man. At least as far as the sheriff knows. No one’ll be looking for him.”
Emmat swallowed, her eyes hot, prickling.
“Unless I tell them.”
The corners of her mouth threatened to turn. There was too much saliva in her mouth, too much heat at the tip of her nose, her cheeks. The man was relentless.
“And you’ll be a pretty prize for the law as well. Won’t you?”
Yes. Yes, she would.
How had he even known they were siblings? It must have been the hair. It was always the hair. The man had probably put that together with her brother’s last name and matched the pieces back on the hill.
He let her stand in it for a while, the door right there, latch in hand as she turned over all the implications. Leave and damn them both, her parents to mourn two instead of one. Stay and damn herself.
I hate you. I bloody hate you, do you hear?
Who it was, exactly, she hated, remained unclear.
“Come back to bed.”
Her chin tightened, wavering.
She turned from the door, stepped towards the dark call of unfortunate choices.
Damned, then. That’s what I’ll be.