Terror ambushed Rowe. Mention of the game, Ransom, evoked another time. Her suite and its inhabitants disappeared.
Rowe was walking through an outdoor hallway of a grand chateau. Gray strolled ahead of her. Brass sconces blazed bright in the dark hour. Their dancing shadows flickered across the granite walls. Rowe peered around the atrium. She took advantage of their rare solitude and grasped his hand. Gray glanced back with a wistful smile. “Jace has eyes everywhere, Rowena.” He released her hand. Rowe scowled. “I don’t care about Jace’s rules”, she hissed at the back of his head.
Gray spun around. He pulled Rowe into a hidden alcove. “You can’t say stuff like that”, Gray cautioned. “He doesn’t scare me”, Rowe challenged. Gray shook his head. “Then I have something to learn from you.” She considered him. He answered her unspoken question. “I am not afraid for myself but for you. Jace is volatile. He maintains ridiculous guidelines, especially when it comes to you.” He motioned between them. “There’s no telling what he would do if he found out about us.” Rowe stroked his cheek. “Don’t worry about me.” Gray marched abruptly out of the alcove.
He entered the adjoining courtyard. Rowe caught up to him. “Don’t be angry”, she pleaded. He wheeled around to face her. “It’s easy for you to say ‘don’t worry’. You have only seen a glimpse of the monster running this” he motioned around him. “Whatever this establishment is”, he concluded.
Tittering sounded to their left.
Dahlia and London stood among the fern fronds. Neither appeared surprised to see Rowe and Gray alone. Dahlia eyed them with a mischievous grin. Whereas, London stood aloof, appearing bored with the situation. Dahlia gestured between Rowe and Gray. “Jace won’t be happy about this.” Rowe’s heart skipped a beat. “What do you want?” she asked in a strained effort of composure. Unlike her sister, Dahlia was spiteful. She would use anything against Rowe. Dahlia narrowed her eyes. “You don’t deny it”, she asked. Rowe did not respond. She waited in patience. London cleared her throat. “Jace is ready for you Rowe. He is waiting in the dining hall”, she informed. Rowe gave a curt nod. Dahlia remained unmoving. London took Dahlia by the elbow. She guided her older sister away. Dahlia glanced back. She winked at Gray, before entering the atrium.
Gray walked a few steps forward. Rowe approached him. His taut expression, fixed on the entrance where Dahlia and London entered. She took his hand. He did not seem to notice. Gray looked around the courtyard. “I have never liked this place. It is suffocating. The rules and games, violence and deception; I have stayed too long.” A light drizzle began. “What do you mean? You won’t leave me?” Rowe asked her voice cracking. She could not imagine life without him.
“We need to leave now; take Elle and run.” Rowe shook her head. He had suggested this before. She knew he would never understand her reason for staying. Gray breathed a sigh of exasperation. “What is holding you back? Or should I say who?” Rowe widened her eyes in disbelief. “Do you really love me?” Gray’s question hurt. “Of course I do. I just cannot leave now. You won’t understand.” His eyes flashed. “Try me”, Gray challenged. “Jace has protected Elle and me.” Gray turned to walk away. Rowe tightened her grip on his hand. “I do not agree with his methods. However, I cannot desert him. Especially since Jace has promised this will be the last game.”
The sprinkling progressed into rainfall. Both stood indifferent to the increasing downpour. “How can you be so naive? Jace has never proven true to his word” Gray objected. “Rowena, you are blind to the hold he has on you.” Rain fell hard, soaking their clothes through. “Jace does not have a hold on me! I could leave right now” she defended. “But you won’t”, he answered in a resigned tone.
Both stared at each other. Neither spoke. Gray’s accusations and Rowe’s defense hung in the air. He threw his hands up in surrender. Gray pulled Rowe into an embrace. The kiss resembled a bittersweet exchange. It possessed a farewell quality, drawing them closer. Rowe melted. The soft contour of their lips fused together. Rowe’s anger towards Gray’s accusations disappeared. She felt safe in his arms. “I love you Rowena”, he whispered into her hair.
“Jace is tired of waiting”, a gravelly voice said. They broke apart. Gavin stood to their right. He leaned against the foyer entrance. Gray set Rowe down.”She’s coming” he replied through gritted teeth. “Well, I am not leaving without her.” Rowe turned toward Gavin. Gray caught her hand. “Please don’t do this.” Rowe shook off his grip. She did not trust her voice to respond.
She joined Gavin’s side. They walked through the foyer. Gray followed. Gavin wrapped his arm around Rowe. “Are you going to choose me as your Favor?” He leaned into kiss her. Without warning, Gavin jolted forward. Due to his arm still around Rowe, she followed suit. They staggered to gain their balance. “Oh, didn’t see you there Gavin”, Gray apologized. He walked beside Gavin. Gray’s smirk attested to the fact that his shove was no accident. Rowe beamed at him. To her surprise, Gavin did not retaliate. He dropped his arm from her shoulder.
They arrived at the dining hall.
A whisper echoed across the corridor. “Rowe, wait.” Elle ran toward them. She hugged Rowe. “I can’t lose you”, Elle murmured. Rowe closed her eyes. Her frail sister was so helpless and young. At seventeen, Elle experienced more atrocities than any other might encounter in a lifetime. Rowe broke free of her grasp. “I promise you that won’t happen. Gray will protect me.” Gavin scoffed. “Not if Jace has anything to say about that.” Rowe glared at him. Elle puckered her brow. Rowe knelt before her sister. “Go wait in the planting fields”, Rowe advised. “Gray will come get you when this is over. Pick some of my favorite roses. I will see you in a little while.” Elle nodded. “I love you Rowe.” She walked away.
She’ll do” Gavin said. His leer sent a shiver up Rowe’s spine. “Stay away from her Gavin”, she warned. He gave her a sardonic smile. “Oh, she’s no rival to you Rowena”, he quipped. Gavin winked at Gray. He entered the dining hall without another word. Rowe looked at Gray in alarm. He put a finger to her lips. “I will make sure he stays away from Elle.” She felt relieved. “Thank you. After tonight, this will be all over. Jace promised.” They entered the dining hall together.
Jace stood before the fireplace. His back enveloped in an amber glow. “I have chosen your Favor”, Jace stated. Rowe and Gray glanced at each other. “I don’t understand” Rowe said. Jace faced her. He approached Rowe. “It is my game. Thus, it is my rules and wager.” Rowe blanched. “Gray will be your Favor. Since you are in love with him”, he stated. This startled Rowe. Jace approached her. “Don’t be surprised Rowena. All secrets come out.” His cold expression caught Rowe off guard. She had expected a different response. “You don’t know what you are saying. Rowe only loves you”, Gray declared. Jace gave him a withering look. “Enough lies from the both of you. My wager is simply this. Once I find Gray, I will end his life, Rowena. And you will watch.”
Shouting broke her reverie. Rowe looked around in surprise. Gavin was restraining Aspen. The latter looked deranged. His face contorted with rage. “How dare you suggest Ransom? The game you ended my Elle with”, Aspen demanded. He glared at Jace. He stood before Aspen. A deep line formed on Jace’s forehead.
London cautioned, “Aspen don’t be a fool.” Aspen dismissed her warning with an impatient flick of his hand.
“Why did you kill Elle? You knew I loved her”, Aspen wailed. “Elle didn’t have to be involved. I trusted you!” He spit in Jace’s face.
Jace dabbed his face with a handkerchief. “Aspen, you have been a thorn in my side far too long. Since the day you met Elle, you have grown soft. I knew it had to be ended.” Jace shoved his son to the floor. Aspen cowered at his feet.
“I choose Gray as my Favor”, Rowe stated. Jace faced her. He grimaced. “I thought you would. Dahlia will be mine.” He directed his attention to the group. “Aspen and London will be Sneaks”, Jace explained. “The boundaries are this building, including the roof. As you know, the Sneaks will Ransom the Favors.” He handed out talkies to Aspen and London. “Whoever finds their opponent’s Favor first will shout Ransom over the talkie. Once we all arrive, the winner will do whatever they wish with the opponent’s Favor. The game will end and the winner’s wager will be honored.”
He focused on Rowe. “You will not escape again, just because you dislike the outcome. I will not be so forgiving this time”, Jace growled. “Gavin will accompany you”, he stated. Jace motioned to Gavin. He stood beside Rowe. “And I will end your life if you go back on my wager”, she threatened. “Watch yourself Rowena. Don’t forget who you are dealing with”, Jace snarled. “I am well aware of the evil I am fighting against”, Rowe retorted. Jace pursed his lips. “I look forward to having you back in my life for good.”
Jace left the suite.
Aspen and Dahlia followed.
Gray rushed over to Rowe. He searched her eyes. Saying nothing, he placed his hand on her cheek. Rowe cupped her hand over his hand. “I will be alright”, she promised. He kissed her. Gray and London left the room.
Gavin approached Rowe. “Alone at last”, he purred. Gavin extended his arms out to Rowe. London’s chirp, signaling the start, sounded over the talkie in Gavin’s hand. Rowe slapped his wrist. “I need to win this game Gavin.” He chuckled. “Have it your way. I can be patient.” Rowe squared her shoulders. She marched out of the room. Gavin trailed after her.
Copyright © 2014 SarahHardy. All Rights Reserved.