Rose nearly threw herself out from behind the shelf to shove him away, but she realized something suddenly: the masked man and woman were gone. She hadn’t seen or heard the window open, nor had she heard the flutter of cloth or their footsteps. It was as if the masked ones had melted into the shadows.
From the shadows they come, to give you a fright.
From the shadows they come, to steal you this night….
“The scum got nothing more than what they deserved,” Cyrus Ironwood snarled as he leaned down and yanked the sword up out of her papa’s arm, only to shove it down again through his chest. Rose jumped at the sound as the tip of the blade struck bone and wood, felt the soft growl leave her throat.
“This is one bounty I’ll relish paying,” Ironwood said. “I knew it would be the only motivation needed to put this into motion. It’s only a damn shame Benjamin wasn’t with them—what are you standing there for? Start searching!”
Ten thousand pieces of gold. Rose wasn’t supposed to have seen the notice Grandpapa had brought home in a fit of rage. She wasn’t supposed to know that Ironwood had put a price on the value of their lives, but Papa didn’t—hadn’t always locked his desk drawer.
The youngest man picked up the same gilded picture frame the masked woman had, only this time from the corner of the desk. He pointed at the picture of Rose sitting primly between her mama and papa. “And her?”
Ironwood spat on her papa’s face before he took the photograph. Rose’s vision washed over with black, the temperature beneath her skin boiling until she was clawing at her soiled dress to keep herself still. His eyes swept around the room; she could make them out from where she crouched, the color as bright and burning as a lightning bolt. Then, without a word, he returned to her papa’s side, crouching down to study something—his ear?
“Boss?” the other young man queried.
“We should leave this place at once,” Ironwood said, sounding distracted by his own thoughts. “Take the bodies. We can’t risk a change if they’re discovered.”
“But what about the astro—”
Ironwood spun, throwing the picture frame at the man behind the desk, forcing him to duck. “If the bloody thing was here, it isn’t any longer. Now take the bodies. I’ll be in the car.”
He took his poisonous rage with him as he left. Rose let herself breathe for the first time, watching as one man retrieved the pink sheets from her nearby bedroom and, with the other man, went about the business of covering and wrapping first her mama, and then her papa.
The rug was carried out last, leaving nothing but scars in the wood. Rose waited until the front door shut and then counted to ten, listening for something to stir in the shadows. When nothing—and no one—did, she shoved the bookshelf forward and scrambled down the stairs, out the back door. Her eyes stung as she opened the gate, swung her leg over the bicycle that was propped against the fence, and began to pedal.
Rose felt nothing. She pedaled and pedaled and pedaled.
Her vision blurred, hot tears slipping past her lashes onto her cheeks, but it was only because it was so very cold and damp out.
Ironwood’s lorry gleamed like the shell of a beetle under the streetlights as she trailed after it, staying back at a distance. All along the way, she remembered one of the fairy tales Grandpapa had read to her, about the man transformed into a monster by his own ugly heart, and she understood it for the first time. Rose imagined her nails turning to claws, her skin to a knight’s armor, her teeth sharpening like a tiger’s.
Rose had always known it would be a matter of time before Ironwood came back to stamp out the last of her family, but she wasn’t like all of those Jacaranda or Hemlock children who had let Ironwood take them in after their own parents gave in, or were executed.
How sad for them, she thought, that they had grown up without any thorns with which to protect themselves.
One day she would take everything from Cyrus Ironwood. She would demolish his throne of hours and his crown of days. She would find him and finish what her mama and papa had started. But tonight Rose would only follow this monster through the shadows.
Because someone would need to tell Grandpapa where Ironwood had hidden the bodies.
ETTA WOKE TO THE RUMBLING call of thunder, her body wrapped in ribbons of fire.
Her mind launched into sharp awareness. The skin was burning off her bones, peeling back to expose every tender nerve and vein to pure, unflinching agony. She choked as she inhaled, her lungs too tight to bring in more than a small gasp of air. She knew she wasn’t in water—the ground was stiff and ragged beneath her—but the instinctive flare of panic, the way her body felt heavy as stone as it jerked, felt like drowning.