Once again, Commander Linc Cutler POV. Enjoy!
Long day, lots of deaths on both sides of the war. Spilled blood surrounded me and there was no one to share the burden with. Physical need took a back seat to a new longing for intimacy with one woman in particular. Lieutenant Liz Grant. I was sure she was the answer to this aching desire for something, someone in my life. I’d been alone for far too long. I was probably incapable of being the type of man a woman like Liz would willingly turn to for comfort.
Good soldiering? I could do that. I’d proven myself reliable in combat from the time I turned sixteen, but a spent weapon at the end of the day didn’t ease the gnawing hole where my heart should be. A hole that had begun early in my youth, when I’d been forced to choose one parent over the other.
My eyes sank closed as I remembered a slightly happier time—one that was almost worry free, except for when our father lost his temper with Momma.
“Rise and shine, Nate.”
He grumbled, wiggling deeper under the covers. At seven and a half, my identical twin couldn’t be more different than me. He was always whistling. I was always frowning. Momma used to say my face would get stuck like that. Nate balanced me out though. He made me laugh, showed me how to have fun.
“C’mon. It’s switch day,” I said. Switch day was my attempt at doing something normal kids would do.
“It’s Wednesday,” he mumbled, his head buried beneath a pillow.
I snapped off his blankets and threw his pillow to the floor. “We’ve gotta fool them all. I’ll be you, and you’re me. Let’s see how long it takes ’em to figure it out.”
“Okay, okay already.” His hair was rumpled. His shorts hiked up on his thighs.
Even after Nate dressed in our precise Institute uniform, he managed to look lazy and uncaring with shirttails hanging down and his tie undone, one shoelace missing. I combed his hair back and off his face while raking mine forward to get just the right shaggy look. I unbuttoned the stiff collar of my shirt then went to work meticulously knotting his tie.
We were worlds apart, not just in appearances, but we never went to sleep without sharing our latest secrets. Nathaniel’s included fanciful ideas of a free future; mine were stamped by the Cutler family vision of maintenance and control. We were taught early on by Father to keep our personal hopes and dreams to a minimum, to focus on the Company we would one day run—he the politician, me the commander. Yet he continued to let his imagination run away with him.
We both held our breaths and sometimes still joined hands when Father raised his voice, and more often his fists, at Momma.
“I’ll make sure you’re safe.” I told him one evening after listening to Father rail at Momma over some misstep he accused her of committing because of her Nomad upbringing.
“Maybe I’ll come to your rescue one day.” Nathaniel had proudly puffed his skinny chest.
“I doubt it. Scrawny chicken.”
“You’re no bigger than me. Anyway”—his expression had turned serious—“we’ll save her, Linc.”
“Yeah.” But then who would protect us?
I shook off the memories that made us older and wiser than any kid should be. Satisfied Nate could pass as me, I pushed open the dining room door.
“Good morning, Lincoln and Nathaniel.” Momma placed a kiss on both our cheeks, totally taken in by our disguises. She never called us by our nicknames, Linc and Nate. Her hair toppled at a dangerous angle on her head in a strawberry-colored haze she never bothered to control.
Father walked into the dining room as soon as the expensive smell of coffee hit the air. We were one of the lucky families since Father had a highly prestigious job with the Company. Rare foods and hard-to-buy items graced our table at every meal.
Momma stiffened first. Her hand grazed her neck where new fingerprint marks marred her skin in pink half-moons. “Breakfast is coming, boys.”
“They’re not boys, Eden, they’re growing men.”
“We should let them have a childhood before they’re put to work for the Company, Sandy.”
Sandy. Lysander Cutler. The up-and-comer.
I shrank beside Nate. Her words would cost her later. A pound of flesh, Father always took it out on her.
Over breakfast, talk was sent back and forth, but there was always the fear something would trigger Father’s temper. Anything could do it: the mention of new rebellion in Alpha Territory, or eggs that weren’t perfectly poached.
Half an hour later, I inhaled deeply when the front door shut behind Father.
“Go on now, to school with you two.” Momma soaked us in her love with kisses and hugs. “I think I found a way to get ice cream for dessert tonight so long as you two stay out of trouble.”
The day droned on at the Institute. Lessons in the Purge, the Plague, good citizenship and Old History bored me to the bone. Worse, I had to be Nate, friendly, popular Nate.
At least our teachers were hoodwinked. We raced each other home, laughing over our triumph. The laughter ended as soon as we walked inside. Duty had called Father to another Territory for two weeks. He’d left that afternoon, but he made sure we’d remember him in his absence. The usually orderly apartment was turned upside down, and Momma rose from her knees by the bookshelf. She always started with Grandfather Rice’s precious books after the rages. No one ever destroyed bound books, they were too rare, but Father relished knocking to the floor that tie to her landowner heritage. She bore a reminder too, a fresh bruise on her face.
No words were said. Later after we finished our homework and repaired Father’s damage to the house, Momma ushered us into the kitchen, ignoring the staged, formal dining room.
“Dessert first.” When she winked, her eyes sparkled. The small table was set with heaping bowls of cold chocolate deliciousness. “Ice cream, as promised for my fine young boys.”
“I love you, Momma.” Nate slipped his arms around her.
I embraced her on the other side. “Me too.”
We didn’t talk about her getting out.
The apartment was bugged.
Momma watched us devour the sweet, cold treat spoon-by-spoon. She mussed our hair. “You know, you didn’t fool me this time.”
“Aw, Ma!” I groaned.
Nate ripped off his tie. “Thank god.”
She laughed, hugging us against her. “Promise me you’ll always take care of each other.”
“Yes’m.” We both agreed.
I hadn’t. I hadn’t looked out for my mom or my brother. I remembered the day I’d earned my stars and he’d been barred from the family. It was years after Momma escaped, when we were supposed to think she was dead. Nathaniel stared past me, through me. From that point on, our ties were cut clean through.
Now, two Territories and a Revolution separated me from him. And I had no idea how to repair all the damage I’d done.
DON’T TELL SERIES:
In His Command, #1 In the dystopian future, two men discover attraction isn’t just dangerous. It’s deadly.
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On Her Watch, #2 War is raging in the InterNations Territories, and within Lieutenant Liz Grant’s heart.
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In His Sights, standalone novella Can two enemies overcome the battles within and the war without to find love? Or will the Revolution destroy their chance at happiness?
Coming in 2015, the series finale: Under His Guard
Don’t miss the brand new short–’Blondie’ POV–In His Heart here on mywebsite or at my Facebook page.