Enjoy this exclusive sneak peek from Kesher #3: “Rivalry of Power”….
|“You weren’t followed, were you?”
Janice smiled dubiously at her cousin. “No, Four-Eyes. And, yes, I made sure.”
Steve frowned. “You think I’m over-reacting.”
But Janice didn’t answer. Instead, she cast a casual glance about the noisy, alley-side teahouse and gave a cough in its smoky dusk before she spoke.
“I’m just glad to see you’re all right. When Ares fell, after what Justin said he and Naethan had found, we were so worried. We saw the reports on all those who were abandoned on the surface. I thought for sure I’d lost you; I was so relieved when you finally called to let us know you’d made it out okay.”
Tears glimmered in her eyes as she said, “Oh, Steve! I’ve missed you!”
At forty-seven years of age, Janice’s olive-tone features and wavy chocolate-brown hair had retained a gentle grace that seemed to shun the years. The look of concern in her almond-brown eyes now struck Steve’s heart with shame. He kept his gaze on the murky drinking glass in front of him as he answered her.
“I wanted to call you sooner, honest. But I couldn’t risk putting you in danger…”
Janice peered at him for a moment, then spoke quietly. “You’ve changed, Steve. Your hair is a little different – longer, a little haphazard, I guess…”
After another awkward moment, she asked, “Are you still in Bristow?”
Downing a gulp of his less-than-honest drink, Steve leaned close and spoke hesitantly. “Actually, that’s why I reached out to you now, Janice. I’ve, uh… I’ve got to leave…”
Janice’s features darkened severely. “What in the universe do you mean? For the past month we all mourned your loss! Now we find out you’re okay… and, and you want to leave? Just like that?!…”
“You might say I’ve made it my business now to be…inaccessible.”
Janice grunted. “You were always so confident, Steve, especially after all we’ve been through together. What’s happened?”
Steve toyed with the nearly empty glass in his hands and resisted an answer, until Janice leaned forward and asked him pointedly, “What are you so afraid of?”
Finally, he took a breath to respond. “It seems that people have been… disappearing… a lot these days, hasn’t it?”
His grim moodiness seemed to be growing more agitated as he spoke. All the while he avoided eye-contact with his cousin. Nonetheless, Janice answered him steadily.
“We’ve been through all this before Steve — this cycle. We survive, and we rebuild, and move forward again…”
But Steve vigorously shook his head. Tears gleamed in his eyes as he said, “But this… This is my fault, Janice!”
“Oh, Steve, you can’t think that…”
“I saw the malware being uploaded to the Colony systems more than a decade ago. I knew what was happening, and I did nothing to stop it! Now innocent families, who’ve already been through hell, have become pawns in a terrible political game, and there’s nothing I can do to help them. That’s what eats at my soul day after day—… After everything, I am nothing but a minor bump in the path of some… reckless power…”
His desperate words frightened Janice, and she only wished she could realize the meaning of all he was trying to say.
“I don’t understand, Steve.”
“They don’t want you to understand. If you did understand, you’d be dead.”
“Then why aren’t you dead?”
“Because of this!”
Steve answered his cousin’s exasperation with fury when he reached down and pulled out an elaborate silver dagger. He slammed it on the table between them and watched Janice gasp when she recognized the demonic faces and symbols that twisted its hilt.
Wide-eyed, she hissed, “Where did you get that?”
“I kept it, after Rachel died. The day Ares fell, I found the courage to retrieve it from its hiding place for good. It’s a piece of her that I’ve been carrying with me ever since.”
“That is nothing you should be carrying around, and certainly nothing I’d want to remember Rachel by! That thing is evil, Steve!”
“It’s only a weapon, Janice…”
“A weapon that once belonged to David Rifadoft!”
“David Rifadoft is dead. You’re right, it once held some importance to the Agent. But without him or his silver Sombalyd, this holds no threat… except when I use it in my own defense. So I’ll continue to use it, in spite of its past.”
Janice swallowed and glared at him, disgusted by his callousness.
“All right then,” she said icily. “Just see that you keep that thing away from me.”
With that, she stood from her chair and made for the door. Abashed at his own behavior, Steve rushed to stop her. Slipping the dagger back into its sheath, he took his cousin gently by the elbow. With a cautionary glance, he led her out of the teahouse and walked down the silent alley beside her.
“Look, Janice, I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’ve been through a lot, okay? I can’t let the CB gain any leverage over you or the kids, or Aunt Cecelia and Mom and Pa… Every day, I find myself looking over my shoulder, jumping at shadows like a mad-man…”
His eyes gleamed sadly in the dusk as he looked down at her. “I’ve been charged with treason for simply standing up to the Bloc. I’ve already been forced to look those who were once my partners in the eye and defend myself against their attack. At least, fighting on behalf of Mark’s safety gives me some enduring purpose. Even so, a lot of days I feel as aimless as the wind, and I wonder if there’s a point to going forward at all…”
Here, he grit his teeth and flexed his muscles. “But, after what they did, I want them to know— I’m still here. If I have to leave a trail of bodies after me… I will not let them get off so easily…”
Janice touched a hand to his cheek. “You’re a survivor, Steve. But I fear for your heart. I’m worried it can only take so much pain before growing hard…”
At her quiet innocence, Steve gave a sigh and collapsed into her embrace.
“I can’t stay, Janice. It’s just too dangerous for everybody. Mark and I are leaving first thing in the morning. I wish I could say more…”
At his words, Janice gripped him tightly about the neck in a firm embrace and hesitated to let him go.