Embers (Inferno 3) - Page 3

But he doesn’t know that I already have a plan. If I fail Cleo—if I fail him, he won’t have a chance to punish me, because I’ll set the children free before I punish myself for failing to protect them against his wrath and desires.

The children have cleaned up and are sitting at the dining room table, happily eating their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’m sitting at one end of the table, and Dad is sitting at the other. He’s engaged them in conversation about what they did outside, and even though it sounds like the interest of a doting father, I know better. It’s the inquisition of damaged man that wants to make sure that they know that the well is off limits.

Richter tells him about the bugs he found with Skylar and how she squealed “just like a girl” when he held a worm to her face. Dad laughs as Skylar yells at her brother for making her look like a “sissy” in front of her daddy.

A small smile forms on my lips. I never had siblings—none that I grew up with anyway, so to watch them go back and forth is as amusing as it can be in the situation

we find ourselves in.

“What about you, kid? What did you do out there?” he asks, turning his attention to Cleo.

She’s been quietly nibbling on her sandwich and when she realizes that Dad is speaking to her, she nervously cuts her eyes towards me before setting her sandwich down and pushing her hair out of her face. I lean over with a napkin and gently wipe away the small streak of jelly she left on her beautiful little face and kiss her gently on the cheek.

“Tell your Daddy what you did outside,” I say to her softly. Unlike Richter and Skylar, Cleo has some slight abnormalities when it comes to her ability to understand things and respond as quickly as Dad wants, but that’s to be expected considering her origins. It hurts my heart that this inbred family tree decided to stump it’s fucking branch with her, because she’s such a beautiful, caring soul. While her outside is a thing of wonder, her mind is stunted.

In a way, she’s kind of like him, only he chose to be the monster he is, and she had no say in the matter. Not that my Cleo is a monster because she’s not, she’s just different from her brother and sister and special in her own way.

“I ran around,” she says, leaning across the table, looking down at him carefully. “And then I ran some more.”

Dad looks at her for a moment before he rolls his eyes and turns his attention to me. “Have you been schooling these kids like I told you to?”

“Yes,” I reply evenly. I don’t want him to start in on her again—Cleo is so sensitive because of her inbreeding and young age, that all it takes is a disapproving look to render her a sobbing mess.

“Alright,” he says, holding up his hands, “I’m just asking.”

I nod.

He knows that when he upsets Cleo—when anything upsets her, all she wants is her momma and that takes time away from him.

And Dad sure loves being the center of my attentions, I think with a sigh as I get up from my seat and pick up Cleo. I scoot her plate down toward my chair and sit her on my lap, bouncing her gently on my knee as she resumes her nibbling.

“I love watching you with these kids,” Dad says suddenly. I glance up at him curiously, but the smile on his face tells me that it’s rare, genuine praise.

“Thank you,” I reply with a shy smile, to which he rests his elbow on the table, drops his chin into his hand, and nods.

“Momma?” Cleo says, looking up at me. “I have to potty.”

I kiss the top of her head, and tell her to put her sandwich down, before I set her onto her feet and get to mine. I hold my hand out to hers and as we begin to walk out of the room, I cast a glance over my shoulder toward Dad who’s turned his attention back to Richter and Skylar. I … I think they’ll be okay with him, especially since we won’t be gone for very long.

Besides, I would look like an overbearing and overprotective mother taking all three children to the bathroom when only one has to go and it’ll make him damn angry to know I still don’t trust him with them.

Maybe one day I will, but I doubt it very much.

Once we reach the bathroom, I step in to turn the light on for her, then go back into the hallway, leaving the door slightly ajar in case she has any problems. Cleo sees herself as a big girl and I treat her accordingly by giving her little independent moments like this.

Once she’s done, I wait a few moments for her to clean herself up and make herself decent, which I know she’s done when I hear the toilet flush.

“Momma!” she calls out.

I step back into the bathroom with a smile on my face as I turn the sink on for her and lift her up, cradling her in my arms so she can wash her hands all by herself. Just like a big girl, I think proudly.

As soon as I set her down on the bathroom floor, she gives me a toothy grin, then turns to run out of the room. I don’t allow running in the house and she knows this, but I’m a lot more relaxed with Cleo because she needs it.

I sigh and turn to walk out of the bathroom, ready to be as hot on her trail as I can be, when I see Dad standing across the hallway from me; back against the wall and arms crossed over his chest.

The way he’s watching me turns my stomach, but I won’t deny him anything and he knows that, using the knowledge to his advantage whenever the need for his “wife” takes hold of him.

He clicks his tongue, chuckling slightly as he moves toward me. I move as far back against the sink as I can and use my hands to steel myself against it.

Tags: Yolanda Olson Inferno Dark
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