Home > Novak Raven (Harper's Mountains #4)(17)

Novak Raven (Harper's Mountains #4)(17)
Author: T.S. Joyce

“I need to ask you something.”

“I can’t really talk right now. Your father, he’s… I can’t talk.”

“That’s fine, then just answer my question yes or no, okay?”

Mom didn’t answer, but that was fine.

“Am I bait for the Novak Raven?”

More silence.

“Mom? You owe me this. Just tell me. Am I bait for the Novak Raven?”

“Y-yes,” Mom stuttered out. Her voice had gone all soft.

In that moment, Avery’s heart broke. She’d thought this thing with Weston, this innate instinct to be close to him, was her own doing. It was her heart latching onto a man she cared for, but it wasn’t just her in this. How much of her feelings were from manipulation from the people who were supposed to protect her? From the people who were supposed to love her?

“How long?” she whispered.

Mom’s breath was hitching, as though she was about to sob.

“Please tell me,” Avery begged, needing to know. “How long have I been the lure?”

“For always.”

Avery gasped and hung up the phone, handed it to Weston in a rush so she didn’t have to touch the damn thing anymore. This couldn’t be happening. But then, a hundred things made sense at once. Dad always taking secret meetings. Mom’s relieved smile whenever Avery had brought up Weston’s name throughout the years. The constant encouragement to rekindle a relationship with him. The council asking her questions about the Novak Raven when she was younger. So many meetings to interview her. The feeling that she didn’t belong, like she was just an object. So many times she’d been pulled from school, or from her life, for meetings with the council. She’d thought it was because of her broken raven, so they could make sure she was progressing like she was supposed to, but now that she looked back, it was so obvious. Her meetings always ended with discussions about the Novak Raven. And she’d answered because she’d trusted her people. She’d trusted them to have her best interest in mind, and honestly, it felt good to openly talk about how much she liked Weston. How much she respected him. Bond, bond, bond. She’d grown up thinking she’d bonded to him just through letters, but maybe that was just what the council had told her. Perhaps they’d convinced her she belonged to the Novak Raven. That her fate was to be with him. Maybe her feelings weren’t real at all.

Bait.

Avery fell forward on her hands and knees and retched. Weston’s hand was gentle on her back, right between her shoulder blades, but she didn’t want the comfort. Didn’t deserve it. “Don’t touch me,” she said, wincing away from him.

“Avery,” he murmured softly.

She bolted upright to escape him. “No wonder you hated me. No wonder!” Her shoulders shook with her weeping, but who cared if she embarrassed herself now? He hadn’t ever been hers to begin with…and could never be because she was nothing. She was born to betray him.

Weston stood slowly, his hands out like he was settling a wild horse. “I didn’t ever hate you. I was hurt, and I lashed out the only way I knew how.”

“By ignoring me, and that’s fine. You had every right to pretend I was invisible because that’s what I am.” Her breath hitched. “I’m nothing.”

He was to her in an instant. His arms crushed her as she struggled to escape his embrace. She fought and fought, but he was so strong—so much stronger than her.

When her muscles were fatigued and twitching and she was too weary to fight anymore… When she was completely defeated, she sagged against him and let off a long, heartbroken sound and whispered again, “I’m nothing.”

“You aren’t. I swear you aren’t, Avery. I see you.”

She clutched onto his damp shirt and squeezed her eyes tightly because it felt so damn good to hear someone say that. And not just someone, but the someone. Her someone.

“I’m in a riptide, Weston. I’ve been pulled under for so long, and I’m being thrashed by the waves and dragged down by the current, but I’m still swimming, you know? I’m watching these bubbles racing to the surface, and if I can just follow them, maybe I’ll breathe again. Maybe I’ll be okay. But it’s been too long. I can’t breathe, and it’s been too long.”

The rasp of Weston’s jaw felt good against her face as he lowered his lips to her ear. “Fuck the council, and fuck everyone who has hurt you, Ave. Someday, you’re gonna rise up from the ashes like a fucking phoenix. Everything is going to be okay. I promise.”

Like a phoenix? Her? No way. She was weak, and the mud she’d been wallowing in was too heavy on her wings. She couldn’t rise up. Not her. “My whole life has been a lie. I’m all alone with nothing.” She let off a long, shuttering breath and admitted how screwed she was. “My car broke down.”

“I’ll fix it.” His voice sounded so determined. So sure.

And dammit, here was her shot to unload all her burdens on a strong man who could shoulder them. “I don’t have any money, and I haven’t been able to afford much food.”

“I’ll feed you.”

Her eyes prickled and burned because no one had ever been this kind to her. But there was an even bigger shame, and right now, she wanted to tell him everything. “I’ve been sleeping in my car.”

“I know.” Weston eased back and cupped her cheeks, his calloused hands rough against her skin. His eyes were dark under the brim of his hat. “I saw the pillow and the blanket in your back seat. I have a place for you to stay. Somewhere dry and warm where you can be alone and safe, and no one will bother you.”

   
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