Haunted by her experience at The Fed, Caroline tries to create a new identity. A new present, a new future. She can’t escape the memories that dog her when she least expects it, leaving her mired in a depression that she finds difficult to escape. Caroline needs to regain her physical and mental strength if she intends on surviving the journey to find the elusive rebellion. But that’s easier said than done with the ghosts of the past constantly whispering in her ear.
The road is long and dangerous, and there are no guarantees. She and her companions have no idea what they will find when they arrive at their destination. And what they finally discover may change everything.
Part Three of a Six Part Saga. Sojourn (approximately 89,000 words) is not a standalone and must be read after the first two books in the series. Ends in a cliffhanger. For readers 18+. This book contains adult situations including explicit sex and violence.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cecilia is my pen name. I may or may not live in San Antonio, Texas. I’ve been known to apply quotes from ‘The Simpsons’ to everyday life. I live for baseball season.
She slid the key in the lock and opened the box. A set of five books lay inside, arranged in order. She stared at the binding. “Decameron de Bocace,” she read.
“Very good,” Jack said. “I was afraid you’d forgotten how to read French.”
Caroline was tempted to smack him but contained herself. She examined the books closer. “This set is exceptionally old.”
“1757, I believe. One of the more valuable 18th century editions.”
It would have been too easy for him to pick up a paperback copy from a normal bookstore. “Why French?”
“You are fluent,” he pointed out.
As if the classics weren’t challenging enough in English. “You bought me Boccaccio in a foreign language?”
“I do love how you enjoy the oldies,” Jack said.
“The Decameron is more than an oldie. It’s one of my favorite books.”
“I know.” He smirked. “I read that interview you did for Philadelphia magazine.”
“You set up that interview,” Caroline said.
“I remember. Did you tell them that you only mentioned that book so you could sound intellectual?”
She very rarely spouted off about that sort of thing but they’d asked about it and she’d answered. She’d also mentioned her favorite childhood reads and a host of dystopian tales, but Jack had clearly forgotten that part. “It’s a wonderful example of medieval literature. Hush up.”
He glanced at her nervously. “What do you think?”
Was he worried that she would be disappointed in such an incredible gift? “Do I even want to know how much you spent on this?”
“I’m not going to tell you,” he said. “Not without a little bit of prodding or a lot of sexual favors.”
She could work on that later. The book set was in near perfect condition for its age. “This is beautiful,” Caroline said.
He looked a little too proud of himself. “I thought you’d like it.”
“I want first editions of Harry Potter next,” Caroline said. “The U.K. versions.”
“Instead of telling me to stop buying you things, you’re giving me ideas?”
“Damn right.” She leaned in to kiss him, long and hard. A gift like this deserved more than a peck. “Thank you, darling.”
“Read it to me,” Jack said.
He didn’t speak French. That request made no sense. “What?”
“Read it to me,” he repeated.
Maybe she’d misheard him. She was thoroughly confused. “In French?”
He moved behind her and leaned toward her ear. “Bend over the desk and read it to me,” he whispered, taking one of the volumes and carefully turning the pages to where a bookmark marked the spot.
Caroline scanned the words, swallowing hard. She recognized the tale immediately. Rustico and Alibech in the desert. The randy monk exposing himself to the curious virgin and seducing her. Possibly one of the most salacious tales in the entire book. “You want me to read this to you?”
“Yes,” he said. “If you promise to translate it correctly and are very, very good, you might even get a reward.” He slid his hand under her skirt. “You can do that, right?”
A wide, flat box on the table next to the door. Jack expected her to open it automatically after years of them hemming and hawing and flirting and flaking. Playing their little games that ended with them in a tangle on the floor or in the bathroom or in their bed. They usually started against the wall but sometimes gravity got the best of them. This year would be different. Their passion tempered, their minds scattered.
Caroline gasped when she opened the box. Freshwater pearls. Jack had given her a different necklace every year. Whatever jewels he could think of, and as grandiose as possible. She wondered why he’d done it when so much was in flux. Whether it would even matter as time went on. All those presents, all those gestures, all those expensive purchases. Caroline wondered if they’d all someday disappear.
Such talk was silly. Nothing would happen. Life would go on as it always had. The excesses of the Santos Administration couldn’t last forever. All her worrying and all their planning wouldn’t matter and everything would return to normal. Just like Jack had said.
She stared down at the box. At the brilliant, almost perfectly shaped orbs catching the light. She knew better than to ask. They were expensive as hell. One more pretty prize to add to her collection. One more present from a man whose grand gestures grew with each passing holiday. Caroline was determined to appreciate the gift, though she had her reservations.
“You didn’t have to do this,” she whispered.
He took the box out of her hand, carefully removing the necklace. “It’s tradition.”
They didn’t have many but he made sure to observe them all. “Does any of that matter anymore?”
“It matters to me.” Jack placed the pearls around her neck and kissed her softly. “Did you know that no two pearls are alike? Each one is completely unique, like a snowflake. The ancient Romans only allowed their emperor to wear them. They were that valuable. That precious.” He kissed her again. “Like you.”
She blinked and tried to look away from him, but he tipped her chin up. He didn’t stroke her cheek, didn’t kiss her, didn’t do any of the things that he did on their Christmas nights. Her eyes were drawn to his and for the first time in months she looked at him. Really looked at him.
They’d spend their days hustling around, doing whatever they could to keep themselves occupied. There were times when Caroline would barely see him. How often did they study each other? They had very few emotions or thoughts left unsaid but Caroline very rarely made the effort to focus on him. On his features. The way his eyes crinkled when he smiled, or the sound of his laugh. The way his hair would fall into his face when he was working late at night. The way he’d stare at her when he thought she wasn’t looking.
He was starting to look his age. They both were. Stress could destroy the body in a way that nothing else could. But she didn’t care. It didn’t matter whether Jack was young or old. Whether he was healthy or not. Whether he was angry or sad, joyful or indifferent. He was hers and always would be.
The ballroom remained silent save for the ticking of a clock. Neither one of them moved. The world ceased to exist. They were alone but they were together, and that was all that mattered. They stood there, their eyes locked together, until Jack lowered his gaze. The briefest of moments passed before he took her in his arms again.
“You are my everything, Caroline. My world, my life, the reason I exist. We’re going to get through this. I promise.”
How could he say that? She could sense that things were changing, that they soon might spiral out of control and neither one of them would be able to stop spinning. She was terrified to verbalize what she was thinking but said it anyway, knowing it would upset him. Caroline hated that her declining mood might ruin Christmas.
“I’m not sure I can believe you,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t expect you to,” he said. “I can believe enough for both of us.”
“Gabe tells me you’re from around here,” he said. “Suppose I should have figured that out. But I don’t know a whole lot about you aside from what’s happened recently.”
Caroline took another gulp of her now lukewarm hot chocolate. Kudos to Gig for very subtly changing the subject. “I grew up in the northwest suburbs. Unincorporated Deerfield, so pretty much Buffalo Grove.”
“Where’d you go to school?”
Talking about the distant past was much easier than thinking about the last few years. “Stevenson.”
“Got yourself a high class education, then.”
That was one way to look at it. Her high school usually ranked as one of the best in the country. Or it had. She didn’t know what the public schools were like now. “I guess so. My parents lived in a small house in a very modest subdivision. They paid a shit ton in taxes to make sure I went to a good school.”
“Looks like it paid off.”
Caroline looked around the balcony, her expression more than a little ironic. “Yes, because my life is so wonderful now.”
“I didn’t mean that. I meant you actually did something with it.”
Forget reliving happy childhood memories. She hated talking about herself. Always had, always would. “What about you?” Caroline asked. “What’s your backstory?”
“Cicero. Crappy high school. Loyola. Sox fan.”
“You were doing so well before that last one.”
“Bleed Cubbie blue, do ya?”
“A little. It’s funny how the things that used to matter to you seem pretty insignificant as time passes.” Caroline looked toward Wrigley. South of Gig’s place, past apartment buildings, bars, and restaurants, many of which were shuttered closed. She couldn’t see the stadium but knew exactly where it was.
She and the guys had watched some NBA games during her recovery. Professional sports were an effective distraction from the nation’s woes. “Does Major League Baseball still exist?” she asked.
Gig shrugged. “I suppose. The teams from California and Texas pulled out. I hear they’re playing in their own leagues with different players. The Blue Jays withdrew out of solidarity. Canada doesn’t seem too happy with Santos right now.”
“Are they planning on doing anything?”
“Not so far as I’ve heard. But who knows? Maybe the rebellion is plotting with international forces.”
He wasn’t as plugged in as she’d assumed. Another step backwards. She hoped he knew what he was doing when it came to getting them to California. “Maybe,” she whispered.
“You miss this place,” Gig said. It wasn’t a question.
“I do,” Caroline said. “I loved Maryland and D.C., even Pennsylvania in its own way. But my heart is here. The air feels different here. My spirit feels different. Does that make sense?”
“I understand completely,” he said. “This city is my soul. It’ll be hard to leave.”
Gig looked quite unhappy at the prospect. He probably felt the same way she did. His home wasn’t his home anymore.
“It’s not like any of that matters,” she said. “Everything has been altered. I’m not safe anyplace, no matter where I think I might belong. Maybe I don’t belong anywhere.”
“Or maybe that’s why we need to get our asses to California,” he said.
A newly empowering thought. She’d almost forgotten why they’d traveled to Chicago in the first place. “When are we going to leave?”
“We’ll wait a bit, make sure we’ve got a clear path. Then we’ll motor down to Oklahoma.” He nodded toward the door. “We’ll talk about it in greater detail with the guys tomorrow.”
She wasn’t overjoyed at the idea of that journey. Bad things happened to friends who traveled by automobile. Another subject change seemed in order, one that Gig seemed to desire anyway.
“You’re a Rambler,” Caroline said.
“You know your mascots.”
“I went to Marquette. Your school sucks.”
“I see.” He laughed loudly. “I like your sense of humor.”
“Glad somebody does.”
“You’re just pissed because my school’s bigger than yours.”
“Bigger isn’t always better,” Caroline said, then grinned. “When it comes to schools, that is.”
“I’m glad you’re lightening up a little,” Gig said.
She patted his hand. “You too. I was afraid you were a giant asshole.”
He didn’t act offended by her comment. “Even with Gabe’s word I wasn’t sure whether I could trust you guys. Hard to break free of my natural suspicions. Spent too much time wearing the badge.”
“Probably. I’m glad you’re not a jerk. We need to get along in order for this to work.”
“Your friends are worried about you. Maybe we should work on that, too.”
She picked at a stray thread on her sweater. Like she wanted to talk about that with a man she’d just met. “That’s because I’m crazy.”
“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re going through a rough patch, but you’ll persevere.”
“How can you say that? You don’t even know me.”
Gig turned to look her in the eye. “I don’t,” he admitted. “But that doesn’t matter. You’ll do it because you don’t have any other fucking choice.”
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