Home > Shadows (Ashes Trilogy #2)(10)

Shadows (Ashes Trilogy #2)(10)
Author: Ilsa J. Bick

“Well, she did last night, which is strange, because I know she was up late. I came down for some tea a little after midnight, and Nathan was inside, with Jess. They were in the kitchen, and I kind of overheard them . . . ,” Tori fumbled. “You know, on the stairs.”

“You mean, you were eavesdropping,” Sarah said.

Tori flushed to the roots of her hair. “Well, I—”

“Oh, shut up, Sarah,” Lena said. “What did they say, Tori?”

“Nathan said that Greg brought in a boy, a Spared, and he was hurt pretty bad.”

“A boy?” That grabbed Lena’s attention. “When? From where? Last night?”

“No. Afternoon. And I think he came from around Oren, but I-I’m not sure. I didn’t get the rest because Jess must’ve heard me and she told Nathan to hush and then I . . .” Tori’s throat moved in a nervous swallow. “You know, I went back to my room.” “So you wouldn’t be caught spying,” Sarah said.

“God, would you give it a rest?” Lena snapped. To Tori: “Did you hear anything else?”

“No, but there was something else kind of weird.” Tori’s forehead crinkled in a sudden frown. “I could’ve sworn that Alex’s door was shut last night. So why is it open now?”

“Because Alex probably stayed to help Kincaid, and Jess got some clothes together for her, that’s why,” Sarah said, briskly. “There’s no mystery here, and we have things to do now. You get the fire going, Tori. I’ll see to the woodstove.” Sarah looked at Lena. “We’ll need clean cloths. Bandages, too, and whatever else you can find. The first-aid kit’s in Jess’s bathroom, linen closet, second shelf.”

Now Lena didn’t want to leave. If Chris regained consciousness and if they had found a Spared . . .

Slow down. You don’t know what this means. But Chris kept his word. He’s back early. He went to Oren, and maybe the boy he found—

“Lena.” She looked up to see Sarah studying her with narrowed eyes. “What?” Sarah demanded.

“Nothing.” She turned away before Sarah could ask anything more and pushed into the kitchen. Prancing up, tail wagging furiously, Ghost suddenly skidded to a halt five feet away.

“What is it, boy?” The Weimaraner’s body was rigid, and as Lena reached to give the pup a reassuring pat, the dog ducked away. She halted, confused. “Ghost? What—”

“Lena!” It was Sarah. “I need that kit!”

“Coming!” Brushing past the dog, Lena hurried to the connecting door, which led to a short hall and Jess’s room. The bedroom had a funky, frigid, old-lady odor of too-sweet talcum powder and musty farts. Lena’s eyes slid from bed to night table to an old-fashioned vanity. A long wool skirt and sweater were draped over a walnut rocker. Her gaze lingered on the neatly made bed.

Jess never went to sleep, but she changed, because those are the clothes she wore yesterday. Which meant Jess went riding in her nightgown? Okay, just more weirdness on top of an already bizarre morning. Turning, she headed for the bathroom, but as she passed Jess’s open closet, her gaze dropped and snagged on a wink of brass. Her first thought was that Jess had dropped an earring. But then her brain caught up with what she was seeing.

And she thought: What?


In the life she’d had before Rule, Lena often thought of blowing Crusher Karl’s head off. Her stepfather had been an avid hunter; most Amish were. The problem was that Crusher Karl hadn’t owned a handgun, and his shotgun and rifles were just too big. Worse, her stepfather kept them all in a padlocked cupboard to which he had the only key. (So when she saw her chance a year ago, she’d used the knife. Whatever worked.)

Now, in Jess’s bedroom, she stared as her mind tried to make sense of what she saw, because what lay on that floor didn’t belong and yet there it was, as round and fat and real as a dog turd.

A shotgun shell.

The shell was capped with shiny brass, and words and numbers were stenciled on the sides of the black cartridge: hd ultimate home defense 1 2 5 0 – 1 1 / 4 2 ×4. And in fancier letters, remington.

Jess had a shotgun? News to her. She threw a glance over the closet floor. Shoes—and a step stool.

Something on the closet shelf, she bet. She looked up, her gaze ticking over two neat stacks of boxes before snagging on a black tongue of quilted fabric that dangled just over the lip of the shelf.

The step stool made it easy, and she saw at once that the shotgun case was empty. An open cardboard box of cartridges squatted nearby. There were slots for the shells, and she counted ten slots in all. Only three shells remained. Add in the one on the floor, and that meant the shotgun held six rounds. That tallied. Crusher Karl always made a big show of loading: five in the magazine and one in the breech. Jess must’ve been in a hurry, too, because she’d fumbled then dropped the shell and never bothered to pick it up.

There was something else on the shelf, too, at the very back: a square, black, soft-sided case.

Lena stared at that for a long moment. She knew, instantly, what it was, and where it belonged. The pack was Alex’s and belonged in Alex’s room, on her desk where she always kept it. Lena had no idea what was inside, but she did know that the pack had no business being in Jess’s room. Like, none.

So. What. The. He—

A loud, high scream ripped the air. Gasping, Lena nearly slipped off the step stool as Tori—and yes, it was Tori—screamed again, and then Lena was scrambling down, stuffing the shotgun shell into a sweatshirt pocket, and dashing into Jess’s bathroom.

This is crazy. She snatched up an armful of towels and the brightorange first-aid kit and pounded out of Jess’s room. First Chris and now Jess—and where’s Alex? Why is her case in Jess’s room? Why would Jess need a shotgun? Heart thumping, she burst into the kitchen, then pulled up fast, her jaw dropping as she got a really good look.

Jess lolled in Nathan’s arms, her hair flowing in a gray river that brushed the floor. Blood streamed over the old woman’s face and splashed her chest in a broad red bib. She looked terrible. Hell, she looked dead.

“Oh my God, what happened?” Lena asked, aghast. “Who did this?”

Nathan’s face was granite. “Alex.”


“Alex?” Lena said. “Why?”

“I don’t have time for this,” Nathan said, and then jerked his head at John. “Give me a hand here. You, Sarah, bring me a propane heater, and let’s get this front room warmed up, fast.”

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