Two Pretty Lies by K.L. Clare
I stood with my brothers at our father’s graveside, cursing at the old man while swearing to myself that it would be the last time.
Brisk air rushed in from the northeast and over the ridge, rolling across the estate and back out to the English Channel. The gust carried nuances of brine and evergreen and spring’s wildflowers.
The wildflowers. Beautiful, resilient, and unintentional.
Like her—the someone. The one I planned to die for.
Death had never scared me.
As a child, I’d watched my father beat the fear of it out of my older brothers. From within the shadows cast by their giant forms, I had witnessed the repeated fracturing and mending of their spirits as he trained them to become his soldiers of fortune.
Richard Hastings had been the son of an earl, the next man in line to inherit a title earned as spoils of another monarch’s war. After a falling-out with the peerage, he abandoned the title. Still, his connections had remained strong.
Our father had supplied counterintel to Britain’s military intelligence organization and conducted assassinations for Homeland Security. And because he was useful, the nation’s ministers protected him. They overlooked the personal crimes he committed, the hits he made to line his own pockets, and the hits made for a protection pact that was part of our family history.
But while shielding him from prosecution, each of those ministers had also kept a personal running tab. My father’s sins had accumulated like credit in their bank accounts.
On my eighteenth birthday, it had been my turn to become the next soldier in my father’s legion. I accepted my fate without resistance, vowing to train hard and kill whenever it was necessary.
Three months later, my father had lost his life on a government mission, leaving the burden of his legacy and his debts on the shoulders of my three brothers and me.
After a decade of cleaning up our father’s shit, only one debt remained for my family. But the obligation belonged to one of my brothers—to Will. I would reconcile this one myself to protect him, to protect his family, to atone for my emotional betrayal.
I dropped my gaze to the ground, where blue blossoms and ordinary woodland foliage fought for real estate.
Stepping between our younger brother, John, and me, Will gripped my shoulder. “Get in, find the information we’re looking for, Thomas, and then get out. If your investigation proves our target committed espionage against the prime minister, detain him and turn the matter over to the director general. This is not a hit.”
“I’ll handle it,” I said. “You have my word. Focus on your wife and children.”
He’d recently learned that he and his wife, Ellie, were expecting twin babies. He’d also found out that he was the father of the eight-year-old girl we’d been led to believe was our niece.
Will’s grip on my shoulder tightened. “Don’t get drawn into the governor’s politics, brother.” Then, he gestured with his chin at the monument marking our father’s grave. “Go on then. We’re expected to have our arses at the breakfast table this morning before you leave for New York.”
“Thom, if you need me, I’m not due back at university for quite a while.”
“We’ll see, John. Stay put for now.”
Words on the granite slab grabbed my attention. The line below my father’s name.
Beloved husband and father.
Empty space on the other side waited for my mother’s death to fill it.
No way, I thought. No fucking way.
Anger overwhelmed me. It moved through my blood and filled my bones.
I glanced at Ethan’s gravestone for a moment. We’d lost our oldest brother not long ago.
Eyes back to our father, I drew breath through my nose, pulling in another strong hit of evergreen and wildflowers, and stepped forward, closer to the stone.
Committing myself to the same promise that I’d once heard my brother make, I said to our father, “Listen, old man. When the time comes, my death won’t be for the sake of your legacy. It won’t be for you. I’ll die for someone I love.”