Authors: C.L. Stockton
Shades of Truth
By C.L. Stockton
Text copyright © 2012
| C.L. Stockton | www.facebook.com/CLStockton
Cover copyright © 2012
| Christina Grenhart | www.christinagrenhart.com
It was the shattered glass that decided me.
One minute I was perfectly fine waiting it out inside the house while the mob outside shook their fists and did whatever it was mobs did, but the next second our front windows shattered, I was pushed to the ground, and a few bullets found my favorite painting of a sunset along the back wall
My eyes met those of my father, also reclining face first on the floor.
He raised his eyebrows.
I would go to Lisbon with the strange man who'd been closeted with my father for the better part of two days. The very same stranger who had apparently just shoved me onto the ground. It made me feel slightly better to see the stranger was also flat on the floor beside us.
Of course he was handsome. Strangers always are. Extremely tall (when standing), well built and attractive, he made me uneasy. Though older than I, I couldn’t tell the exact number because a golden beard slightly darker than his disheveled hair cloaked his facial features.
I turned toward the stranger and noticed his eyes were the color of sapphires. Then I realized he was indicating with said eyes that I crawl across the floor until I reached the hallway. As crawling in a gown across the floor wasn't in my plans for the day, I frowned.
A slightly louder yell from outside changed my mind.
I didn't want anything to do with those men outside. I began crawling, making a note to question my father or the stranger until someone told me what was happening. Mobs usually don't form without reasons and I was betting one of the two men in this room was responsible.
The floor was dirty, as expected, and I heard the sounds of my father and the stranger following behind. Once I gained the hall, and saw that the front door and surrounding windows were intact, I stood. From the sounds outside, I knew the door wouldn’t remain closed forever.
I turned to my father. My mouth opened to question him, but he interrupted me, eyes on the stranger.
“You can’t afford to be seen.
Take Cadrian, go out the back. Meet me in Lisbon.” He caught my eyes, and mouthed "Later" to me as he ducked into his study.
"This is not the time to bar the door and pretend no one exists!" I called.
My father had done that more and more frequently since the death of my mother a year earlier.
Sensing the stranger's amusement, I wheeled to face him.
Catching sight of my glare, his smile only intensified.
"What's so funny?'
He didn't answer, my father having returned; apparently he kept plans in his study. Grabbing my arm, he pulled me close to whisper in my ear, "Take this to Lisbon." At the same moment, he pressed a purse into my hand. Then louder, he said, "Go now!”
Still, I hesitated. Something wasn't right.
The last thing I should do is go with a stranger and leave my father alone to face the mob.
"Not without you."
"I'll meet you there." Our front door shook beneath a fist pound. Taking advantage of the split second of my attention shifting, he shoved me into Colton. "Go!"
I caught a whiff of something spicy and the impression of solid muscle as the stranger wrapped an arm around my waist to steady me, keeping it there as he hustled me toward the back of the house.
Our back door was in the kitchen and I pulled left once we reached the end of the hallway.
As soon as I opened the door, hands grabbed me, pulling me further into the kitchen.
I'd only the barest moment to panic as I looked into dark, unfamiliar eyes, before I was suddenly free and the strange man was laid out on the ground. The man I was with had a nice right.
I stared at him.
"Who are you?"
"Someone who should probably go first." His deep, cultured voice pronounced every word precisely, betraying his high education along with a Goran accent.
Gently, as though fearing I would startle if he moved too quickly, the man pulled me to the side, stepping in front of me to take the lead.
We stepped into the late afternoon sunlight just as a shout from our left caught my attention.
The mob had quickly figured out the house had other exits and a handful of men had gone around to secure the back. Luckily for us, we’d reached the door while they were still a good sixty feet away.
In the time it took me to decide the men weren’t here for a friendly chat and it might be a good idea to start running, I was already running, thanks to the hand gripping my elbow.
The stranger shoved me toward the corral, where a bay horse waited outside it, already saddled.
He must have been on his way out when the mob came.
Or he was part of it.
I stopped, or attempted to. The man was very determined we reach his horse before the mob reached us. This resulted in a half shuffle, half run to the horse. I was just as determined we not reach the horse.
“Who are you?”
I again demanded, trying to tear my arm from his grip.
“This is no time for introductions.”
The words were thrown over his shoulder, his eyes too busy assessing the progress of the men behind us. If I stopped fighting him, we’d easily reach his horse. If I didn’t, there would most likely be grabbing. I hated grabbing.
When we reached the horse, he released me and untied the reins.
He cupped his hands, suggesting I use them to mount.
arms, I glared at him.
“We don’t have time for this.
Get on the horse.”
“Tell me who you are.”
For starters. The list of questions I wanted to ask him was multiplying by the second.
So was his impatience.
“Get on the horse and I’ll tell you.”
She's getting away!" That shout behind us reminded me time was short. Either I trusted this man or I trusted the angry mob behind us.
Sighing, I stepped into his hand and was vaulted into the saddle.
I barely had time to gather myself before he pulled himself into the saddle behind me. Nudging my feet from the stirrups, he kicked the horse into a gallop, forcing me back hard into his chest. Obviously when it was time to leave, it was time to leave.
Once I had halfway situated myself, the man’s arm tightened around my waist, erasing the distance between us.
The back of my thighs rubbed against the insides of his and my back was pressed tightly into his chest. I felt his breath on my neck and his hands brushed the tops of my thighs in tandem with the horse’s strides.
A loud bang startled me, and I nearly fell from the horse as the stranger reined it sharply to the side.
Risking a glance over my shoulder, I glimpsed a group of men on horseback pounding after us. All of them held guns.
The man's words were steady, almost calm.
He swore. Knowing he wasn't as calm as I'd like wasn't doing anything for my own panic. My pulse was throbbing in both my wrists, my breath was gushing in and out as though I’d run a race and thoughts of what might happen if the men caught us clouded my mind.
What could they possibly want?
Why were they following us?
"Cadrian." From the tone of his voice, I knew it wasn't the first time he'd said my name in the last minute.
"What?" I couldn't seem to stop looking back every two seconds to see if the men were gaining on us. They were.
"Under my left arm is a holster.
Reach back and grab the gun inside it."
Almost without thinking, I put my hand inside his jacket, my fingers skimming down his ribcage along the leather strap of the holster until they found the cold handle of the gun.
Carefully, I drew it out and brought it around to my front. A pistol, it would be easy enough to fire.
"Have you ever shot a gun before?"
"Of course." My father believed I should be able to defend myself if I needed to and had started my shooting lessons as soon as I could hold a gun steady.
When you are ready, I'd like you to return fire." This was said as another bang sounded. Only the distance between us and the men saved us.
"I can't shoot those men!"
What if I killed one? I certainly wasn't going to go around shooting at people until I understood what was happening and what they wanted.
"Do you want to live?"
"If you want to live, you'd better start shooting." He'd no sooner said the words then he pulled the horse to the right as another shot sounded.
This time I heard the impact as a branch from a tree we'd just passed fell. The men chasing us were serious.
I could do this. Transferring the pistol to my right hand, I turned my body to the left so I'd have a clear shot over the man's shoulder. If he didn't do any fancy rein work and stayed steady, I might just be able to get a shot off. Aiming between the big man riding in the middle and the man next to him on a gray horse, I squeezed the trigger. When the gun recoiled, I was ready.
Too afraid to see if I'd hit anyone, I faced forward again.
Only the stranger wasn't satisfied. "Again," he told me, reining our horse to the left.
I shot three more times.
On the third, I hit one of the men in the shoulder, causing his horse to rear, and blocking three of the other riders. Only the fifth remained in pursuit. It was nearly dark though. And the forest had many paths and roads leading in different directions. If we could maintain our distance, we would be fine.
The man chasing us must have realized he was alone because with a final shot in our direction, he reined his horse to a stop.
He soon faded from sight.
We didn't stop, however.
For at least another couple of miles, we galloped onward. I kept the gun out, the weight of it rather comforting in my hands. If the stranger behind me tried anything, I would shoot him.
Why had we been followed?
What did those men want? What was going on?
Before I had even formed those questions, the stranger slowed the horse to a walk. The pace and duration of our headlong flight had lathered the animal’s neck.
I had no time to react before he dismounted and hauled me off the horse.