Broken Queen

Page 7

“No, Dandelion.”
“I want to see. I’m owed that, don’t you think? After what they did to me?”
“She has a point,” I say.
Amadeo shakes his head. “Violence like what they’ll suffer you won’t be able to forget—”
“I won’t forget the violence I already suffered. At least I can know they got what they deserved.”
“Vittoria,” Amadeo starts but stops when she slides her legs over the side of the bed and stands, wincing when she puts weight on her feet. He takes a step toward her, but she shakes her head and pushes through the pain. I have a feeling this girl would walk over hot coals to get what she wants. I’m right. She may be broken but whatever happened to her made her strong. It made her a survivor.
“I need to see it done,” she says to me, perhaps sensing an ally. She comes to stand at my side and turns to Amadeo. “I need it.”
“Our little Dandelion has a dark side, brother.” I shift my gaze to hers and inside her eyes I see the remnants of the nightmares. The shredded, broken look of them. The girl is damaged—more than we could have known—and that damage calls to me. The ugliness on the inside, so opposite the beauty on the outside. I want to uncover the layers and see that darkness. Touch the tatters of her.
I wrap a hand around the back of her neck. She startles but settles into my grip, holding my gaze for a long moment. Something passes between us, and our mutual hate is set aside, at least for the moment. We both turn to Amadeo.
“I’m with her,” I tell him. “She goes.”
He studies us both. If he refuses to take her, I’ll take her myself. But he won’t refuse. He sees what I’m seeing too. And the wounded creature inside her is as irresistible to him as it is to me.
Iride in the front with the brothers this time. Strapped into the middle of the seat, I feel them on either side of me. Something has shifted between us. Hell, maybe it’s my crazy brain. Another connection zapped.
I remember the strange image that split my mind when they held me down. A memory like the dandelions but this one is too vivid. Too terribly visceral. The one of the kitchen in the house where I picked the dandelions isn’t hidden as deeply as this one. This one is like a locked box of the strongest steel. I can’t nudge the lid open, can’t even peek inside, but after what I glimpsed last night, I’m not sure I want to.
We get to a ruin of what must have once been a large house in the outskirts of town. Soldiers stand guard near the broken-down gate that we drive through. I follow the brothers out of the SUV, wincing with each step. The bottoms of my feet are badly cut, but I swallow the pain whole.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, princess.”
It’s my father’s voice in my head. Like he’s standing right here.
That strange sequence of images comes again and stops me in my tracks. Men in a room. Me in that room. Someone laughing. A laugh I know. One I hate. And then my father’s voice as he lifts me in his arms.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, princess.”
The sun beats down hot like a desert. I look up at it, blinded by it. A bead of sweat runs down the back of my neck.
I blink as the world spins and follow the voice to see both Amadeo and Bastian stopped several paces ahead of me. I’m leaning on a tree trunk, bent double.
“What is it?” Bastian asks.
“Nothing,” I say as he approaches because I don’t know what the fuck that was. “I just… tripped.”
He tilts my chin up, clearly not buying my excuse. “What is it?”
“Getting cold feet?”
I steel myself. “No.” I tug out of his grasp and bypass him to walk toward the large barn past the ruin, where I see soldiers standing guard. Amadeo and Bastian join me within moments with their longer stride. A guard opens the barn door, and the men inside squint into the bright light. We enter, and the first thing I note is the smell of rot. I don’t know how long ago this place was in use, but something stinks. The scent is barely masked by that of blood and animals.