Home > Third Debt (Indebted #4)(4)

Third Debt (Indebted #4)(4)
Author: Pepper Winters

Breathe. Calm down.

You’re free!

You should be happy!

To prevent myself from combusting, I glanced out the window. Our speed blurred tussock and seedlings. Acres and acres of woodland and fences. No wonder Jethro had let me run for my freedom. I would never have made it to the boundary.

Miles already separated me from the Hall, but I couldn’t stand another metre without Jethro.

Gripping the door handle, I tried to open it. “Let me out. This instant.” It remained locked and impenetrable.

A cough caught me unaware, residual liquid still in my lungs.

The policeman glanced at me, eyebrow raised. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Miss.”

“Why? Am I under arrest?”

The further we drove, the more my body hurt—I could no longer distinguish if it was from drowning or leaving Jethro in the hands of evil.

A smidgen of relief came unwanted. I was free. Despite everything, I’d gotten out alive—at the cost of another. I’m safe.

The officer smiled thinly. “You’ll be fully debriefed when we get to London. I suggest you have a rest.”

Every new distance, my diamond collar grew heavier, colder.

Every metre we travelled, my fingertip tattoos itched with spidery scratches.

It was as if the spell Hawksridge had over me tried to suck me back—gravity throttling me with diamonds and ink bursting from my skin to return to its master. As much as I despised being a prisoner of the Hawks, I’d found love with Jethro. I’d found myself, and every hill we ascended, I lost more and more of who I’d become.

My stomach churned as I remembered the gravesite with my family’s tombstones. Voices filled my head, flitting like ghosts.

You said you’d be the last.

You promised you’d end this.

I glowered at the policeman driving.

It isn’t over. Not yet.

I will go back and save him.

I will stop this!

My eyes widened, noticing the two policemen wore bulletproof vests. Why were they wearing raid gear on a simple ‘rescue’ mission? Were the Hawks seriously that crazy? Would they shoot men of the law?

The men remained silent as we coasted beneath the gatehouse and archway of the entrance to Hawksridge estate.

I craned my neck to look at the family sigil of hawks and a nest of women. “You’re making a mistake.” I pressed my hand against the window, wishing I could run back to the Hall where I’d spent the past couple of months trying to flee.

The policeman muttered, “Tell that to your brother.”

The conversation faded, leaving a stagnant taste of trust and confusion. What had V done? What did the cops think happened to me?

My stomach once again somersaulted.

You’re doing the right thing leaving.

You’re doing the only thing you can.

Jethro knew that. It was because he cared for me that he sent me away. In his mind, it was the only solution. But in mine, it was a dreadful mistake.

He’ll pay for setting me free.

And it’ll be all my fault.

Sighing, I rested my forehead on the coolness of the glass.

I ached.

I burned.

I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

I FOLLOWED HIS every footstep.

Down corridors where I’d played as a little boy, through rooms I’d investigated, and past hidey holes where I’d played hide-and-seek with my brothers and sister.

The house held so many memories. Past centuries lived in its walls with births and deaths, triumphs and tragedies. I was just a speck in history, about to be obliterated.

My heartbeat resembled an inmate on death row as we made our way through the kitchen toward the cellar. The ancient door leading beneath the Hall was hidden in the walk-in pantry. Hundreds of years ago, the cellar stored barrels of beer and freshly slaughtered meat. Now abandoned, it housed a few lonely wine racks and cases of expensive cognac resting beneath blankets of dust.

We descended the earthen steps and traded the dry warmth of the Hall for the damp chill of the catacombs.

A cool draft kissed our skin as vapours rose from exposed earth. My black jeans and t-shirt clung to my skin, growing heavy with mildew.

Cut didn’t stop.

We made our way from the food storage area to a locked metal gate. The staff weren’t permitted past this point. Secrets were stored down here. Deep, dark, dangerous secrets that only Hawks could know.

Electric lights flickered like candles as Cut unlocked the rusty mechanism and guided me onward. The screech of the hinges sounded like a skeleton dragging its bony fingers down the claustrophobic walls.

Just like the natural springs where I’d revived Nila, this warren system of circular tunnels and crudely hacked pathways was found by accident while renovating Hawksridge.

Why did previous generations toil so hard in pitch dark and dripping ice?

To build a crypt.

Weavers were buried on the chase, exposed to whipping winds and snow; my ancestors were entombed below the feet of the living, howling their laments and haunting the hallways of their old home.

It was morbid. Depressing. And I despised it down here. The stench of rotting corpses and tentacles of ghosts lurked around shadowy corners.

“Where are we—”

“Silence,” Cut hissed. His voice echoed around the cylindrical chambers.

My sluggish beat turned frantic as Cut continued onward, leaving the crypt behind and stepping foot into the one place I’d avoided all my life.

The memory came thick and fast.

“Wait up!”

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