Haven Page 32

“You mean she has rules.” Gail was glaring at me now.

“Hey, don’t put me in the middle of this,” I said. “You know the deal, Gail. Winky was just reminding you how we operate. You left threatening us just the other day. Now you want to come in again, so you’re going to have to fix that. That’s all on you, not her and not me.”

I squeezed Paci a little around the middle and he got my signal exactly, spinning the horse around and walking the opposite direction. Now was a perfect time to check on the other riders and kids walking at the back while enjoying the side benefit of avoiding Gail.

“Wow,” said Paci.

“Yeah. Wow.”

“Think she’ll stay?”

“I’m not even sure if she’ll enter,” I said. “Winky’s right. She has to agree to our oath or we can’t let her in.”

“You’re much easier on people than Trip or even Kowi was.” Paci’s voice hitched a little at the mention of his brother’s name.

“How are you doing?” I asked softly, knowing the loss of his chief was bad enough, but the fact that Kowi was much more than that to Paci had to be tearing him up.

“As good as I can be. I haven’t had time to process it, I think. We have too many emergencies going on for me to focus on it.”

“When we get to Haven, we’ll have a ceremony.”

Paci nodded but said nothing. He probably didn’t want to cry in front of all these people, so I didn’t press the issue anymore.

We rode near the kids who were walking and eventually I got down to join them. I limped along for a mile or so before my sore butt allowed for a normal gait. Paci kept pace beside me.

I found myself looking up at him a lot, studying his profile. He was so strong. I never thought about it much before, but there were a lot of similarities between him and Kowi. Besides both being handsome and very muscular, they were both patient and wise beyond their years. And intense. Something about Paci was just so magnetic to me. I wasn’t sure everyone felt that way about him, but it was stupid for me to deny it wasn’t the case for me.

I was ashamed to think that it was these feelings I had about Paci that made me less tolerant of Bodo’s recent behavior. Would I be more forgiving if Paci weren’t in the picture? Would I be less sensitive to the things Bodo was saying and doing if Paci wasn’t so damn cute? I didn’t have any answers, but I did know one thing: I loved Bodo, and while it might not mean anything to him, it meant something to me. I had to figure out what was going on with him and do what I could to repair the relationship. If he didn’t want it anymore, then that was a different story, but I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I didn’t give my heart to someone and then just yank it back at the first sign of trouble. Love is supposed to be forever.

Someone shouting up ahead dragged me out of my emotional wallowing.

“Look! It’s Haven!”

I walked out to the side a little so I could see around the group in front of me. The first thing I saw was the fence that surrounded the property. The prison was far from the edge. This would be the area where the animals would graze, at least until we had something else figured out. As my eyes scanned the building, I noticed something else.

“Holy crap,” I said as I tried to decide whether my eyes were playing tricks on me.

“Is that smoke?” asked Paci.

“It looks like it,” I said, my heart leaping into my throat. “Help me up, Paci.” I reached my good arm towards him and gripped his elbow when it came down.

He took off at a gallop as soon as I was on and my arms were wrapped around him in a death grip. I ignored the painful stretching of my wound and my sore butt. I was more worried about falling from this running mountain than popping a few stitches, knowing the stitches would be a lot less painful. And my bruised private parts would heal eventually. I couldn’t bear the thought of arriving too late to help again. Please not Peter! Please let Peter and everyone else be okay!

The closer we got to the prison building, the more freaked out I became. There was one hell of a fire going on somewhere, and we couldn’t enter the property from where we were. We had to run around the perimeter to get to the front gate. I prayed we hadn’t arrived too late.

Paci urged the horse on stronger, yelling, “Get up!” as he kicked his heels into its flanks. The beast surged forward, and I had to hold onto Paci with all my strength. I kept my face plastered against his back and lost sight of what was going on ahead of us.

I felt us turning the corner and the horse slowing a bit, so I took a chance and leaned my head away from Paci’s back to see what I could. When I was finally able to focus on the source of the smoke, I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or more worried than I already was. It made no sense.

“What’s going on over there?” asked Paci as we pulled up to the gate.

“I have no idea, but I’m going to find out.” I slid to the ground as soon as we stopped. I fell on my butt but jumped up in a hurry, ignoring the bruises I’d just added to my collection.

Several people came from inside to greet me at the gate, one of them Peter with the keys. He was smiling.

“Oh my god, Bryn, you have no idea how happy I am to see you,” said Peter, a little out of breath and searching for the right key to unlock the gate.

“What the hell happened here?” I waved over at the huge bonfire that was sitting on top of the mass grave we’d just filled in before I left.

“Lots of news, lots of news.” Peter stuck the key into the lock and turned the tumblers. “Where’s everyone else? Are they okay?” He searched my face as two kids pushed the gate open for me. Before I had a chance to answer, he looked up at Paci. “Hi, Paci. Welcome back.”

“Thanks, Peter. Trip’s on his way. He’s in the swamp buggy.”

Peter’s face turned pink. “Oh, that’s nice. What about the others? Are they all here? How many did you bring? Did you get any of the supplies I put on the list?”

I gave him a secret smile. As if he cared about anything but that dope with the tattoos. I nudged him as I walked by and gave him a look.

“Shut up,” he said, falling into step beside me. He turned around and shouted over to the kids at the gate which now also included Jamal and Ronald. “Let anyone in who says the oath! Take all weapons as they enter!”

When he turned back I put my arm through his. “So, tell me all about how much you missed me and why you’ve decided pyromania is a good decision for Haven.”

“I’ll have you know that first of all, I missed you way too much. No more going anywhere without me. And second of all, we had a little skirmish here while you were gone, and we had to burn the bodies.”

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I stopped, effectively jerking him back by the elbow.

“Hey! Watch it, lady. Delicate constitution over here.”

“Bodies? You’re burning bodies? Whose bodies?” I was horrified not only by the idea but by his casualness over the whole thing.

“Yes. We had to. We can’t bury everyone who dies here. We’ll run out of space, and it’s not good for the water under the ground. And they’re canners, not our people, so don’t worry about it.”

I started walking again, but this time without hanging onto Peter’s arm. “Canners are people too, you know,” I said in a low tone.

Peter grabbed my shoulder and forced me to stop and face him. “No, Bryn, they’re not. They came here to murder us, and we killed them in self-defense. They’re not human, they’re monsters. I don’t have any pity for them and neither should you.”

I nodded. “I know that. I know. It’s just … I’m getting sick of all the killing, I guess.” My gaze dropped to the ground.

“Some bad stuff happened on the road, didn’t it?”

“Yes. Some really bad stuff.” I was trying really hard not to cry.

“Tell me.” He reached down and took my hands in his. “Go ahead and cry if you want. I won’t mock you.”

“It’s not that. It’s just that I’m afraid that if I start I won’t be able to stop.”

Peter shrugged. “So what? Everyone needs a good cry every once in a while. It’s cleansing. So tell me what happened. I’m all ears.”

“Jason and Kowi are dead.”

“Whaaat?!” Peter’s hand flew to his mouth. “You’re not joking, I know you’d never joke about that, but … that can’t be true.” He dropped his hand and took mine again, squeezing it even harder.

“It is. Canners hit there, too. They were having a friggin’ party when we arrived. But that’s not all of it. First of all, we ran into a kid with a semi full of kids on the highway. We hijacked his truck and went to his ranch and met his sister, his big herd of monster cows, and his carrier pigeon messaging system that he has set up all over the state.”

Peter crossed his arms and stared at me for a few seconds. “Did you find some peyote on your trip? Is that what I’m seeing here? Are we tripping?”

“No, I wish I was.” A commotion at the gate took my attention away for a second. All the kids were coming out of the prison to ooh and ahh over the animals that were arriving. Derek was taking things in hand and moving people back so the newcomers would have room to maneuver.

“Take the livestock around to the big yard behind the prison!” I yelled.

Derek gave me a thumbs up before turning his attention back to the arrival of our newest members.

“As you were saying?” prompted Peter.

“As I was saying, there’s this thing we need to get in on, the EWS - early warning system. They use birds to carry messages, and if we get a contact point set up here, they’ll let us hook in.”

“And what does that do for us?”

“It lets us know when canners are on the move and what they’re doing. And also about good kids and what they’re doing. It’s like networking kind of but slower than we were used to before.”

“Hmmm. Sounds very interesting. What do we need to do to get involved?”

“We need to get some of their birds and get trained in their secret code. I’m not allowed to learn it.”

“How come?” Peter sounded offended on my behalf.

I hugged him because I adored his loyalty. “Don’t be mad at them. They said there’s a target on my butt, and they can’t give the code to someone so high profile.”

He patted me on the back. “High profile? Oh, so we’re all Miss Hollywood now, is it?”

I pushed him away gently. “Shush, it’s not like that. But the canners want to kill me for biting that guy’s nuts, so I guess it’s too much of a risk for me to know secrets.”

“Ball-biter.” Peter gave me a very sneaky smile.

“What did you just call me?” I was almost whispering.

“You heard me. Ball-biter.”

I threw my arms up. “What the hell! Why is everyone calling me that!”

Peter giggled. “We had some other visitors, not just the canners.”

“Who?” I was totally mystified. “How does that have anything to do with calling me that horrible name?”

Peter turned around and stared at the front doors to the prison. “See for yourself.”

I looked over in time to see Kirsten the Amazon girl hugging Bodo very tightly to her.

Chapter Seven

MY FACE BURNED WITH SOME emotion I couldn’t quite identify. Shame? Jealousy? Anger? Whatever it was, it wasn’t pleasant, and I didn’t like feeling it or the fact that it was once again my boyfriend causing it to happen.

“She showed up just before the canners and helped us deal with them. She said she got the message they were coming for the ball-biter and decided to take you up on your invitation to visit.”

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