Red sighed when she looked around the kitchen. She’d rather be anywhere except here. The curtains caught her attention in a pattern of white lace and yellow blocks along with pictures of food. The unaware would think this place, this kitchen was harmless. Red was not unaware.

“Juliette, are you helping your mother or sitting there looking like a queen? We help in this family, young lady.”

“I’m helping dad.” She jumped up mumbling under her breath as she cut up vegetables for her mother. When she asked them to call her Red, she was almost placed on punishment. She wanted to laugh she was twenty-five, a grown-ass woman and her father still thought she could be punished. The only reason she came back was her mother.

Her mom reached out and patted her hand. “Your dad just has a lot on his mind. Don’t let him get to you.”

Red nodded. Her dad always had a lot on his mind. That had been her mother’s excuse since she was young. She opened her mouth wanting to plead with her mother to leave, but she knew it was useless. If her father overheard her, he would take it out on her mother.

“Juliette, when are you coming home? It’s time for you to stop running around and acting like a man.”

“I’m not acting like a man, dad. I’m doing my job.” It was two weeks before thanksgiving. Her family had nothing to be thankful for. “A woman’s place is in the kitchen. You should be married with several children by now. For shame.”

Yes, dad, it was a shame that she left this house and its religion far behind her. She wanted a career. Maybe one day if she met the right person, she’d get married and have a child or two.

“You know you’re the only one that can give your mother grandchildren. Are you really so selfish that you would deny her that?” Her father’s eyes were taking on the sheen of a zealot.

She moved away from her mother, in case, he decided to hit first and ask questions later.

“Mom knows I’m not ready for children.”

“Mom knows I’m not ready for children,” her father mocked her.

Red lowered her eyes not wanting to challenge her father. Instead, she looked at the cheery yellow walls. Every time she looked at them, she saw them covered in blood. Her moms and her own.

She still remembered the whispers from adults and children. Her mother had brought it on herself and Juliette for trying to leave a man of the cloth. For shame, was whispered for years as she went to school or town to get groceries for her mom. Each year her mom became a ghostly replica of who she used to be when Red was a child.

Her dad raised his hand when another voice interrupted him.

“I’d rather you not discipline my fiancé. I’ll take care of that.”

“If you took care of it, she’d be home with a couple of babies to occupy her time, not running around the country like she was a heathen female who didn’t understand the laws of the lord.” Her dad gave a loud hmpf before he looked back at her mom.

Her mom’s head was down as she worked on cooking dinner.

Matthew (such a good strong biblical name) looked at her. The smile he gave her father was replaced with a frown when he looked her way. This was the man her father asked, no demanded, she married. Her response was when hell froze over and Jesus split the clouds to call the saints home, then she would consider it. Until then hell no, and if that meant burning in hell, so be it.

To say her father wasn’t happy was an understatement. The broken rib said it all.

“I agree with you Mark it is time for Juliette to stay at home and submit.”

Juliette, how she hated that name. There was no way she could stay here and submit not even for her mother. There was no doubt she’d be dead in less than three months if she tried to marry that man.

“Juliette and I will be talking about that after dinner.”

“Good, seeing my only daughter run around like she thinks she’s as good as a man is beginning to bother me. I should have known better than to let her continue school after the sixth grade. All that learning puts strange thoughts in their heads.”

Her dad walked out and Matthew followed him. She sat down next to her mother.

“Listen to me Red.” Her eyes went wide to hear her mom call her that nickname. “I tried to free you a long time ago. I failed. When you leave this time, don’t come back for anyone especially me. I don’t know what they are planning, but I know it involves you.”

“Mom—”

“No, you can’t save me. No one can. I don’t think I would be able to function if I left here after so many years of being told what to do. You can save yourself and that’s all that matters to me now. Promise me, baby girl, you won’t let your father use me against you. I’d rather die first.”

“I promise, mom.” She looked up to see blood dripping down the walls, red just like her name. “Mom?”

“It’s alright.” Her hard-callused hand went to Red’s cheek. “I’m ready for it to be over.”

After dinner she found herself walking with Peter in the garden. Her escape route had been cut off. With no other option, she went for a walk.

“I’ve been waiting for you a long time Juliette. It’s time for us to get married, have children, serve God the way he intended.”

“I’ve told you more than once that I have no intention of marrying you.” The backhand took her by surprise. She didn’t know why. Matthew was just as abusive as her father.

“I’m done indulging you. I need children and you obviously need dick. If you were getting it your fat slovenly ass wouldn’t talk back.”

“Obviously, your dick is as useless as your brain.”

He balled up his fist, and she went to protect herself. “Hit me, please. I want you too.”

Where they lived, it was against the law for a woman to hit a man. If there was one mark on Peter, they would put her in jail. She would be convicted, no doubt about that. It was the only thing that saved him a good ass whooping.

He punched her, knocking her down to the ground. When he started tearing at her clothes, she started fighting back. Fuck the law.

“Hell, yeah, fight. I like it rough.” He beat her, hitting her in the chest and the stomach until she could barely block his attacks anymore. When she grew weak, he stripped her and stole the only thing she held onto in case they demanded she be checked by a doctor. When he was done, he walked away whistling.

“When my seed catches bring your sorry ass back here and if you suck dick good enough, I’ll marry you. If not, well the whole town will know you’re a slut.”

Jokes on him. She’d been on birth control since she left this place. Not knowing how long her strength was going to last she rolled to her knees and started to crawl toward her car. Her mom was right. She was never coming back.

She placed the hover on automatic trusting it to know what to do. She curled up in the seat wondering where to go. Her apartment was being sublet while she worked with the porcoyan. Maybe she could go to that little town close to the porcoyan compound. That was her last thought.

 

***

 

“Damn it Red, what happened to you?” Norquay was prowling the edges of the compound that belonged to his people. Technically he was outside the lines of their property. But he was restless. He was too old to be restless, but by no means was he the oldest among their ragtag group. All day, he had been rubbing his chest as if it ached almost like his heart was breaking. Now Red was before him in the car they gave her. She looked broken. He would never know unless his byema retreated.

“I can’t help her unless we have opposable thumbs. Retreat, you big hunk of byema.” His byema was massive. The change swept over him unexpectedly. He went from being comfortable on all fours to standing on two legs. He clothed himself with a thought, before opening the door to check on Red.

It was a tie to what he saw first, her nakedness or the bruising blooming along her body like dark flowers leading to a grave. Her breathing was shallow, and she didn’t respond when he called her name. A gentle touch on an unbruised part of her body elicited no response. Touching her felt wrong, but he didn’t have much of a choice. He took the shirt he was wearing off, placing it over her body, then moved her to the passenger seat of the car.

Common sense told him to take her to the queen, but he couldn’t. There was a need that started with the ache in his heart and was captured by an unknown flurry of emotions mixed with mental images he couldn’t hope to weed his way through. He pushed them all to the side calling Rial.

“Rial, I need you at my place, stat. I don’t care what you bring. Bring everything you have that travels and meet me there. Keep this between you and me until I know what we’re dealing with.”

That male needed an abraza. He laughed, but it wasn’t a joke. They all needed an abraza. Watching the king, and now Jaydel walk around with happy blissful smiles on their faces wasn’t helping the rest of them. The young ones had hope, and that was important. But he and the ones older than him gave up that hope long before their planet was destroyed. There was a pain that echoed through his heart, through the heart of the brethren that there would be no mates for them.

He pushed what couldn’t change to the side to focus on Red. She was young and lost. He had seen it in her eyes when she thought no one was looking at her. It was the pained expression she got when her friends talked about relationships. He’d watched silent tears when the queen was crowned. At first, he thought it had been jealousy or envy. Her words to herself proved it wasn’t. She had been scared for Jade, their queen, fearing that Lyrek, their king, would abuse her.

Anyone who knew Jade knew she would, as she told him more than once, cut a fool. Anyone who knew Lyrek, knew he thought Jade walked on water. There would be no abuse there. If Lyrek hurt Jade, he’d lay down and submit to being cut.

None of that gave him answers about who hurt Red. He parked her hover out back before going around to the passenger door to get her out. When he rearranged her body, her legs opened, and the smell of dried blood and other body fluids hit his sensitive nose.

“Please no,” he closed his eyes while he sent up that prayer.

“Norquay,” Rial’s hand was the raft in the middle of the storm he needed to find his control.

“Someone raped her, Rial. There’s blood, dried seed, and bruising between her legs. Then there is the bruising on her body. How? Why?” He trembled, but the reasons why weren’t apparent.

“We need to get her inside and get her healed before we can answer any of those questions.”

Norquay nodded his agreement before he picked her up. He held her close refusing to allow anyone else to touch her. Soon he’d have to let her go. Beauties like Red didn’t exist for him any longer. That was a thought for another day. Now he carried her possessively like she was the most beautiful treasure this world had to offer. A small part of him, a part he never acknowledged, whispered that the earth had nothing better than the battered and bruised woman in his arms who seemed to cling to him.

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