Friday Favorite: Independence

I have a very eager-to-please personality. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remind my heroines to step up and show some backbone. This scene may never see the light of day in a published novel, but for me, it was the first time I let Sarah step up.

When darkness finally fell, Sarah found Anson on the railing again. He’d picked a new tree tonight, a thicker oak that didn’t splinter so readily. She’d hardly seen him all day, but he stilled his weapons to drop onto the porch when she appeared.

She didn’t even offer him the cup of coffee she carried, just set it on the railing beside him and stepped back. “How’s the throwing?”

He looked somewhat confounded, as if he couldn’t figure her out—and he didn’t like it. “It fares well, my lady.”

She turned and looked out at the yard, leaning on the railing, inhaling the night air. Someone down the street had a fire going. “Bet you can’t hit that sapling in the far—”

Thock. His knife dug into the trunk of the slender tree.

Another followed it, striking two inches above the first.

“—corner,” she finished dumbly. Her eyebrows lifted. “Nice,” she said, not even trying to hide the appreciation in her voice.

Anson said nothing, just leapt off the porch to jog across the lawn and retrieve his blades.

He’d thrown hard; it took him a second to wrench the knives free. She wondered again why Apollo had stuck him here, a clearly skilled warrior relegated to guarding her in the middle of suburbia.

“My lady.”

Her coffee nearly went all over the place. The voice came from behind her, and she whirled. Soren had appeared on the porch.

She was so happy to see him, she almost forgot herself and threw her arms around his neck.

But his expression wasn’t kind or encouraging. This was the Soren she’d first met—all cool obligation and devotion to duty. It was such a stark difference from their late night confidence a few days ago that she actually had to think whether that had been a dream.

She sighed and wrapped both hands around her cup. “Soren?” Then an unfamiliar tightness gripped her chest, some mix of guilt and fear. “Is Jack okay? Did something happen?”

“He is well.” His eyes shifted left as Anson returned to her side, lingering there for one unfriendly moment before returning to her. He held out a folded piece of paper. “I come with a message.”

“From Jack?”

“Yes, my lady.”

She took it. Her thumb slid across the heavy parchment, the satiny smoothness reminiscent of a wedding invitation. Her name was written on one side, and there was an honest-to-god seal on the other, though it was too dark for her to discern the tiny symbols pressed into the wax. She didn’t want to break it.

It all felt very Pride and Prejudice.

Did this have something to do with Keller and Rous? Did it mean Jack was taking her seriously? She stepped closer to the door so she could read, and slipped her fingers under the flap.

She couldn’t read it, and at first she thought she might have to take it inside. It took her a long moment to figure that the problem wasn’t the light; he’d just written the entire note in another language.

No, not the entire note. There, at the bottom, a word in English.

Checkmate.

What a bastard. She was tempted to pick up the phone and call him on it.

Then she realized that was exactly what he expected. For her to admit she needed him, that she wasn’t prepared to deal with him as an equal, that she should let him call the shots about the other side, all the while smiling and nodding and following his lead.

Sarah looked up at Soren and tried to keep any sarcasm out of her voice. “Tell him I’ll reflect on his message and compose a reply in my own time.”

She could think of two words right off.

Soren said nothing, simply gave her a nod and vanished from the porch, leaving her there with Anson.

Frustrated, she straightened her shoulders and held out the note. “Would you mind telling me what this says?”

Her guardian’s eyes flared in surprise. For a beat, he didn’t move, and she remembered she wasn’t supposed to frame things as a request. Considering the way their first few days had gone, she wondered if he was going to be a jerk and refuse, just because he could.

She wondered if Jack had counted on that.

But Anson stepped out of the darkness and took the note from her hand.

She watched his face closely as he read, but his expression didn’t flicker. “He states that in light of your recent interest in politics, your journey to the other side should occur sooner rather than later.”

They were supposed to go in less than a week! “How much sooner?”

“Tomorrow, my lady. Sundown.” He held out the note. “It is mentioned that he would find the original agenda satisfactory, should you prefer to postpone your pursuits.”

Tomorrow. She took the paper from Anson’s hand, staring down at the foreign characters. But Jack was offering her an out. He’d offered a subtle demonstration of just how far over her head she’d be, trying to play princess.

She could back away and let him lead, for now.

Then her eyes went to that last line.

“Can you take a message back?” she asked, finding her voice rough.

“Yes, my lady.”

She slid through the door to fetch a pen from the kitchen counter, then came back onto the deck. She leaned against the door to write. “Take this to Jack.”

And there, just below his word Checkmate, she carefully printed two of her own.

Bring it.

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