A deeply emotional new romance is coming next week from one of my favourite authors—Riley Hart—and I have a sneak peek for you.
Seventeen years old
“He’s fighting, doesn’t socialize, and scares the other children. Quite frankly, he frightens the adults too,” the woman said to my caseworker. I didn’t like this woman. She was on the mountain when they stole me from my home. She’d watched as they’d restrained me, told me to calm down or they would have to sedate me. I’d made my wrists bleed fighting against the restraints before she had instructed them to put the needle in my arm, making me pass out.
I growled thinking about it, looking up through my hair at another woman, who sat at her desk. She shifted uncomfortably under my stare.
“If they’re scared, how do you think he feels?” my caseworker asked. They were inside a room talking, with me outside of it in a chair, as if I couldn’t hear them. “He wasn’t raised with any other children, didn’t attend school, and spent his first sixteen years living on a mountain, secluded from anyone other than the same seventy-five-ish people. He was raised to believe life outside of The Enlightened was wrong and dangerous, that people would attack him for his beliefs. Then his dad kills his mom and tries to do the same to him, and he’s thrust into a world he doesn’t understand. If anyone is scared, it’s him. He’s a child.”
Chosen—my father—had been right telling us the outside world wouldn’t understand us. People did tell me everything I knew was wrong, and now they were talking about being afraid of me and where to take me, all without my consent.
“He’s seventeen,” the first woman responded. “He should know better.”
My heart sped up, hands fisting tighter and tighter. It smelled weird here, like perfumes and cleaners but somehow dirty too. It made my nose burn, but that was nothing compared to how I always felt trapped here, like I was in a cage and would never be able to break free.
“Please don’t do this. It’s the third home he’s been at. I just need to find someplace to keep him until he’s of age.”
“And then what? Where will he go then?” When there was nothing but silence, the woman continued. “He attacked another boy. He bit his foster dad when he tried to pull Crow off him, and when we asked him why, he wouldn’t tell us.”
“That’s because he doesn’t speak.”
I didn’t understand why she was trying so hard. I was nothing to her, but every time I got kicked out of somewhere, she tried to help. It’s a trap. She’s trying to get close to you so she can use you. She’s trying to get close to you so you trust her, and once you do, she’ll take what she wants, Chosen’s voice said softly in my head. I tried to shake it free. Didn’t want to hear him after what he did to my mom, but his voice was always there. People on the outside never helped because it was the right thing to do. They were hateful and selfish.
“He can speak, but he chooses not to. He can also write, but he won’t do that either. All we need is for him to communicate with us. If it was self-defense, then that’s one thing, but the only person who’s talking says Crow attacked him unprovoked. He tore up the room he was staying in. That’s not the first time this happened. They don’t want him in their home anymore. We have no choice but to honor their wishes. We’re lucky they’re not pressing charges.”
Sharp pain stung my palms, but it didn’t keep me from squeezing my fists tighter. The boy wouldn’t leave me alone, kept bugging me about where I’d come from and calling me names and asking if I was crazy like Chosen had been. He’d spit in my food and peed in my shoes and had tried to cut my hair. But there was no point in telling them that. I didn’t want their help, didn’t want to stay in that house in the busy city where it felt like the walls were closing in on me.
The woman sitting at her desk continued to type on her computer, and every once in a while, her eyes would glance up as if she wasn’t watching me in her periphery the whole time. The click, click, click echoed through my head and made my skin crawl. She was waiting for me to react, waiting to see what the feral boy who didn’t speak would do next.
Didn’t they understand I just didn’t want to be here? That it was too big, everything and everyone so close that it felt like it was suffocating me? I just wanted to go home. I wanted to be on my mountain. That was where I belonged.
The sounds from the office turned to mumbling, like they were speaking softer so I wouldn’t hear them. I didn’t want to hear them either, didn’t want to hear anyone. Just wanted to be alone.
The caseworker, the only one who seemed to care—inexplicably—came out of the office and knelt in front of me. She went to place her hand on my arm, but when I growled, she pulled it back sharply. “Crow, can you tell me what happened? Or write it down? I know you’re able. You can communicate if you want to. If they did or said something to make you react the way you did, I need to know.”
They won’t leave me alone. No one will leave me alone. They ask a million questions and call me names. Say my family was crazy and everyone would be better off if Chosen had killed me too.
I locked the words inside me, dead-bolted my lips shut. No matter what I said, I would be wrong. I was broken to them, as Chosen said I would be.
But then, he’d also killed my mother, had tried to do the same to me.
I turned my head.
She sighed, and I felt like I was letting her down. I shouldn’t care. She wasn’t one of us, she wasn’t Enlightened, but still, I felt a heaviness in my chest.
She told me she was taking me to a special group home. She tried to make it sound like some kind of vacation, but I knew the truth. They were going to try to lock me up. Chosen had said that would happen. That they would lock us all up to keep us from being enlightened, and for sharing the truth with others.
I followed her but didn’t speak.
Got into the car quietly.
I hadn’t spoken a word since they’d taken me from the only home I had ever known, and I didn’t plan to start now. Not here. Maybe not ever again.
I just needed to be around my people. My family. Maybe they could make me understand why my father—why Chosen—had done it. He had to have a reason. Maybe I wasn’t Enlightened enough, wasn’t good enough. Maybe my mother hadn’t been either.
The traffic in the city was loud. Horns blared. Cars zoomed around each other. It made me dizzy. Made my head throb and my breathing come out too fast.
How did people live like this? It was too much. Too everything. It felt like my seams were coming undone, and at any moment, everything inside me would burst out.
We stopped at a red light, and she kept talking to me, on and on and on until I couldn’t take it anymore. My hands fumbled with the handle, but I managed to open the door, unclick the seat belt, and then I ran. A car swerved so it didn’t hit me.
I got lost in the crowd.
I just needed to find the mountain and get home.