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The Singer Elizabeth Hunter 2022/7/22 11:38:40

“You’re different. Something is different.”

“I’m tired, Rhys. It’s been a crowded few months. Everything in Turkey… and now I’ve had to run from the one place everyone told me I was totally safe. I’m… tired.”

She was tired. No, more. She was weary. Weary of running. Weary of struggling through a world she didn’t know anymore. Weary of having tasted happiness only to have it violently yanked away.

“Don’t give up on us yet, Ava.” His voice was so soft, his words so poignant, it was almost as if he could read her mind. “There are things you haven’t seen yet.”

“Rhys, I…” She felt her throat closing up, and her eyes started to tear.

Why was he still there? Why couldn’t they all just leave her alone? Didn’t they understand she didn’t want to be protected anymore? The grief was too much. The pain was exhausting. Her whole life… “I’m just really, really tired, Rhys. Can you let me sleep?”

She blinked away the tears and looked up in shock. “What?”

He cleared his throat. “Have you been having good dreams? No nightmares, I hope.”

“They’re fine.” Or they had been until she’d forced herself to remember she couldn’t live in a dream world anymore. “I don’t remember my dreams much, to be honest. Never have.”

Rhys’s eyes narrowed. “You’re lying. About having good dreams or about remembering them, Ava? Hmm?”

“Why are you still here?” Anger spiked through her sadness. “You can leave now.”

“Fine.” He stood, his eyes never leaving hers. “Get dressed. Get washed up. I’ll meet you downstairs. We have someplace to go.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere with you.”

He rolled his eyes before he turned. When he got to the door, Rhys called over his shoulder. “Don’t create a scene, darling. Wouldn’t you rather keep a low profile before you try to sneak off?”

Bastard scribe. He always saw too much.

Ava decidedto act like the interlude in her bedroom hadn’t even happened when she finally made her way downstairs. Rhys was at the counter, speaking with Orsala. It sounded like they were debating the interpretation of some story or myth.

“But the St. Petersburg manuscript—”

“Manuscripts?” Orsala said. “Manuscripts are always influenced by the scribe. There is no avoiding it. What you must look for is the common thread running through all the historical accounts. That is where the truth lies.”

Rhys shook his head. “I… I can’t believe you’re discounting the oldest known account of Deandra’s vision. Carbon dating has placed that manuscript within a hundred years of her life. No other existing document comes close.”

“But that is only one document. You must look at more than just the documents, Rhys. You must—”

“This sounds like an argument that can’t be won,” Ava said with a false smile. “Hey, Orsala. I see you met Rhys.”

She smiled until her eyes creased. “Such fun to debate with a knowledgeable partner. I met Rhys’s mother many years ago. She would be proud of his good mind.”

Ava saw the blush at Rhys’s neck, but she ignored it and said, “I heard we have some place to go?”

He nodded and finished the cup of coffee in front of him. “Sari and Damien are over at Max’s house. During the day, the Grigori activity seems to be slow. I thought we’d head over for lunch.”

“Sure. Why not? Orsala, you want to come?”

“I have something to speak to Lang about when he wakes, then I believe I will spend some time with Brooke and Candace.” She smiled and patted Rhys’s shoulder. “Conversation with the young is a joy to the old.”

“Okay.” She nodded toward the door. “I’m ready when you are.”

He stood and grabbed a jacket that was lying over the back of a chair. They walked to the door and Rhys grabbed her hand, bending down to speak quietly in her ear.

“I’m sorry about before. In your room. Your dreams are none of my business, Ava.”

She didn’t want to think about her dreams. Or his apology. “It’s fine.”

“No, it’s not. We all grieve in our own way. I just hope… I hope you’ll be better soon.”

Rhys smiled, and there was a knowing gleam in his eye. “I think you’ll be more than fine.”

She opened the door and walked out into the glowing white of the street. It was cold—according to Orsala—even for Oslo. It usually didn’t reach the lowest temperatures until later in the winter.

“Just lucky for me, I guess,” she muttered to herself.

“What?” Rhys closed the door, testing to make sure it was locked.

“Nothing.” She heard the complicated alarm system Lang had tried to explain to her beep in their wake before she and Rhys started walking.

“It’s at Max’s. They dropped me off earlier. We can catch a taxi up the street. It’s not far.”

They walked in silence, the air frosting their breath as Ava tucked her scarf closer around her neck. Something itched under her skin. She’d noticed it that morning in the shower. It was almost as if she could feel her mating marks moving. The skin along her spine and neck crawled with energy. It wasn’t painful, just an awareness of the marks he had left on her. The marks that would never go away. She wondered if she would feel them less and less as the years went by. Maybe, if she wasn’t around other Irin, she wouldn’t notice them as much.

Rhys walked in silence. Suspicious, she opened her mind. His inner voice was a confused jumble, but she could pick out a few words. Her knowledge of the Old Language was growing.