Chapter One (unedited)
It’d been three days since I lost Henry and the kids to the other side of the portal. Three days that I’ve wandered the grounds of Finn’s childhood home. The Artair Keep. It was beautiful there. Grassy knolls and never-ending skies. Freya’s coop of females littered the keep, tending to daily duties like cooking and cleaning, and chopping wood. They relied on no man to keep the place running and I admired them for it.
Still…my heart ached for my family.
At least I knew they were safe and sound at home. Mom was there. And the kids had Henry. I just worried for him, for the man I loved. He had no one. I was his world as he was mine and now he was stuck three hundred years in the future without me. Without any way of knowing whether or not I was safe. I tried not to think of the lengths he’d go to in order to get back to me and could only hope that he wouldn’t try. The kids needed him.
But I knew better. Knew my pirate king would tear this earth apart in search of a way back to me. Because that’s exactly what I had done. So many years ago. When the magic of time sent me back to the future, injured and heartbroken with life growing inside of me. I did everything to get back to him and nearly killed us all in the process. I couldn’t let Henry do that. So, I was left with no choice but to get back to him before he did something stupid.
I just hoped the witches had good news for me.
I leaned against the fence made of strong and shaven logs as I watched Lottie hanging laundry out on a line in the distance. It killed me to watch her grieve so silently. Losing her baby had changed her but losing the man she loved had turned her so inward that she almost seemed robotic at times. As stubborn as she was beautiful, she had no idea how to properly process her emotions and, try as I might, she wouldn’t let me in. Instead, she lost herself in work. Keeping her hands busy so her mind didn’t have to be.
Or perhaps she was refusing to let in the dread that loomed over us all about tonight. Gus’ funeral. It’d been a rather rough three days. I’d spent some time with the witches at first, trying to find a way back, to find a loophole. While Lottie locked herself in her room and grieved. She wasn’t ready to put him to rest, so we prepared his body and secured it away in one of the outbuildings until she was ready. But three days was long enough to leave a corpse. It was time to face it, whether she wanted to or not.
So, tonight we bury a friend, and tomorrow I meet with the witches again, to find a loophole that would allow my soulless self to travel to the future. I just prayed they found something. Otherwise, my only other option was to take Benjamin up on his offer to bring me down South to meet with someone named David Jones, a soul dealer. My rational mind fought it, but part of me knew who he really was. The mythical being, the legend of the sea. Davey Jones. I mean, who else could it possibly be?
“Are ye always this much of a deep thinker?” Freya asked as she appeared by my side and leaned over the fence. Her fiery locks blew softly about her freckled face. “Ye seem lost, Dianna.”
I guffawed and turned over, resting my back against the fence so I could gaze out over the moors beyond the keep. “Aren’t I?”
Freya sighed. “I suppose ye are, in a way.”
“In many ways,” I corrected. She was silent as I gnawed at the inside of my cheek. “Serves me right for messing with time, I guess. The sirens had warned me, more than once.”
“The Keepers will help ye,” she assured me.
I shook my head and closed my eyes. “God, I hope so.”
“If nae,” she said with certainty, “I can have a ship readied in two days. To take ye wherever ye need to go.”
I tipped my head to look her square in the face. “I know. And I appreciate it, but I’m not sure Henry could stand to wait while I sail to the Caribbean on a fool’s errand.”
I cringed inwardly. While Ben had offered me a solution, I just didn’t believe in it. He’d known this David Jones over a hundred years ago. Myth or not, how could I be sure we’d find him now? What if we sailed all the way down South only to meet a dead end? I couldn’t afford to waste that much time.
I just shrugged it off. “No matter. All I can do right now is focused on one moment at a time.” I tipped my chin toward Lottie in the distance.
Freya hummed in agreement. “Aye, the funeral. Poor Charlotte, my heart breaks for her. So much loss for one person to endure.”
I thought of my own loss then. A much different beast than my friends’, but a painful weight, nonetheless. Losing my mother, my father, Aunt Mary, Gus, even old man Pleeman who’d given his life to save mine. Lives and souls and hearts all breaking in my hands, at my touch. It was all too much to bear at times. I didn’t want that for my friend. I wished I could take that burden for her.
I pushed off of the fence and sucked in a deep breath. “She’s stronger than you think. She just needs…time.” And I headed back toward the main house to wait for the sun to go down.
The fire was hypnotic. Hot and blaring with the rage it held within the flames. The heap of burning wood held up a bed of perfect logs that held Gus’ body as it became engulfed in dances of orange and yellow. After Finn had said a few words, the five of us stood evenly spaced around the pyre, encased in our own silences under the midnight sky. It was a clear night, the stars shining down on us like twinkling eyes. Watching our pain, witnessing Lottie’s agony she kept welled up inside. She stood alone in her corner, uninviting, unwanting of our condolences. She just stared unblinking at the flames.
“That’s a sight I hope to never see again,” Benjamin whispered as he sidled up next to me.
I crossed my arms tightly across my chest. “What? The sight of our friend’s body reducing to ash or the sight of our other friend keeping herself together by threads?”
He heaved a long sigh. “Neither I guess.”
“God, just look at her,” I whispered and motioned toward Lottie. She was a shell. Disjointed, cut-off, blankly staring at her beloved going up in flames as if she refused to let the pain reach her heart. I knew exactly how she felt. It was the only way I was keeping myself together after losing Henry and the kids through the portal. “I’m worried she’s going to spiral after I leave, and I won’t be here to help her.”
“So, you think the witches will have a solution for you tomorrow?” I tried to ignore the hint of reluctance in his tone. He didn’t want me to go, I knew that. But neither of us would dare admit it.
I just tilted my head to the side and gave him a warm look. “I-I have to get back to my kids, Ben.”
He let his gaze fall to the ground as he nodded slowly. “I know.” The words were barely a whisper in the night breeze.
I loosened my arms from the tight cross they held over my chest and gripped his arm, causing his muscles to tense under his shirt at my touch. Benjamin stared down at me from his towering height, his brown hair blanketing the sides of his solemn face. “If I could stay, I would. But my whole life is on the other side of that portal.”
He just nodded and his jaw gave a slight tremble as he turned his attention on Lottie. He cocked his head toward where she stood alone. “You best go over. She won’t ask, you know that, but she needs you.”
I gave his arm a reassuring squeeze and he placed a firm, calloused hand over mine. The reflection of the flames burned in those deep brown eyes as they peered down at me with a sort of longing that was hard to ignore. But I had to. Benjamin was my friend, and someone had to maintain the line that he made no secret of his yearning to cross.
I crossed the cool, damp grass and stood next to Lottie. She didn’t even so much as blink to acknowledge my presence, but she didn’t send me away, either. So, I remained and rubbed warmth into my arms where the fire didn’t touch. I was fixated on her eyes, gazing unblinkingly at the body on the pyre. Her husband. She seemed like a doll, so still and perfectly beautiful. Every inch of her face flawless under a mess of blonde waves that hung like a curtain around it. But, underneath it all was a woman writhing in agony. I could feel her pain like a wave that pulsed outward from her body.
“What was it all for?” she croaked quietly, her lips the only thing that moved.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She gave a tight shrug. “What the hell was the point of any of it?” Wetness pooled in her blue eyes. “Of him loving me, or me loving him?” She wiped at the single tear that broke free and streamed down her cheek. “It’s always life or death. Or loss.” Lottie sniffled then and finally set her pained gaze on me. “You lose Henry and the kids–”
“They’re not lost,” I quickly amended. Surprised at the little dose of panic that punched me in the gut. “I-I didn’t lose them, they’re safe at home.”
I’m the one who’s lost, I thought to myself.
Lottie turned back to the fire. “Gus is gone. And…I loved him more than anything in this world.”
I didn’t have the right words for my friend. Nothing I could say would ease her pain or help with the grief. She had to move through the motions on her own, find herself again. However long that took. So, I continued to just stand with her, to let her know I was there. She wasn’t alone.
But Lottie gave a long sigh as she tightened her jacket around her torso and turned away from the fire. She placed a hand on my shoulder and struggled to look me in the eye. “It’s only a matter of time before you leave me, too.”
I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out as I watched my friend disappear toward the main house. The pyre behind me raged on, heating my back and soaking into my skin beneath my clothes. The burning logs shifted and what was left of Gus’ body sunk deeper into the flames. And in that moment, I realized…I couldn’t leave. Not yet. Not when my family was perfectly safe at home and my friend was here, suffering so greatly. Lottie needed me. I could afford to wait a few more days.
I just prayed Henry didn’t do something stupid in the meantime.
Continue Dianna’s tragic journey in the sixth and final book of the Dark Tides series on April 1st! Be sure to preorder your copy now and be the first to read!