Aria crossed her arms. A lamp flickered by the bedside, lighting the chilly, cramped room. “He’s not here. As you can clearly see. ”
“Just give him a message for me—”
“I’m not telling him anything for you. ”
Liv smirked. “Exactly who are you?”
“A friend of Roar’s and Perry’s. ” Aria bit the inside of her lip as soon as the words left her mouth. Friend felt like such a weak way to describe herself. She was much more than that—to both of them.
A smile spread across Liv’s face. “Ahh … you’re a friend of Perry’s. I should’ve guessed. You look like someone my brother would be friends with. ”
“Time for you to leave. ”
Liv gave a small laugh, making no move to go. “Does that surprise you? You can’t really think you’re the only girl who’s fallen for him. ”
Aria felt her face heat with anger. “I know I’m the only girl he’s rendered to. ”
Liv went perfectly still. Then she stepped close, her eyes boring into Aria. The welt from earlier disappeared against the redness of her cheeks. “I will kill you if you hurt him,” she said, her voice calm, unemotional. It wasn’t a threat. It was information. A consequence.
“I was thinking that same thing earlier. ”
“You don’t know anything,” Liv said. “Tell Roar he has to leave. Right away. Before the wedding. He can’t stay here. ”
“How can you act like he’s an inconvenience?” Aria spat, thinking of all the nights she’d spent talking with Roar about Liv. Hearing how wonderful she was. This girl was horrible. Selfish. Rude. “You ran off! You left him! He’s been looking for you for a year. ”
Liv waved a hand, gesturing around the room. “Do you think I chose this? Do you think I want to be here? My brother sold me! Vale took away everything I wanted. ” She glanced at the door, staring at it like she was deciding something, and then stepped closer. “You want to know what I’ve done for the past year? I worked every day at forgetting Roar. I shut out every smile, every kiss, every stupid, perfect thing he ever said to make me laugh. I buried all of it. It took me a year to stop thinking about him. A year to stop missing him enough to come here and face Sable.
“Roar is ruining everything by being here,” Liv continued. “I’m not strong enough. How can I forget him when he’s right in front of me? How can I marry
Sable if all I’m thinking about is Roar?”
Tears brimmed in Liv’s eyes, and she breathed raggedly. Aria didn’t want to feel sympathy for her. Not when she’d hurt Roar as much as she had. “He’s here to bring you back, Liv. There has to be a way you can come back to the Tides. ”
“Go back?” Liv said with a thin laugh. “Perry can’t repay the dowry. And I can’t run away from this any longer. I know what it’s like out there. I know the Tides need help, and Sable can give it. He’ll keep helping if we marry. How can I walk away from that? How can I leave if it means my family could starve—or die?”
Aria shook her head. She didn’t know. She let out a breath and sat on the bed as a sudden wave of exhaustion swept over her. Aether flashed through the small window, making the room flicker softly with blue light.
Liv’s problem felt uncomfortably familiar. Aria had been so focused on finding the Still Blue for Hess and on getting Talon back that she hadn’t let herself think about what would happen afterward. Would there ever be a way she and Perry could be together? The Tides had rejected her, and Reverie wasn’t even an option. Everyone, and everything, was against them.
Aria pushed away the thoughts. Worrying wouldn’t help anything. She looked up at Liv. “What about Sable?” She rubbed her wrist, feeling the echo of his grip.
Liv shrugged. “He’s not terrible. . . . I know … it’s not much of a way to think of the man I’m marrying, but it’s better than I’d hoped. I thought I’d hate him, and I don’t. ”
She bit her bottom lip, hesitating, like she was deciding whether to say anything more. Then she came to the bed, sitting beside Aria. “When I got here earlier this spring, he was going to let me leave. He told me I could go whenever I wanted, but that since I’d finally arrived, we might as well get to know each other. I didn’t feel as trapped after he said that. It helped me feel less like a thing that was being passed around. ”
Aria wondered if Sable had said that on purpose. Scires were known for manipulating people. But shouldn’t Liv have seen that?
“I don’t fawn over him,” Liv continued, “and he likes that. I think he sees me as a challenge. ” She fiddled with the green rope around her waist. “And he’s attracted to me. The scent he gives off when I enter a room … it’s not something you can fake. ”
Aria stared at the door, listening to footsteps outside fade. “Do you feel the same way about him?” she asked when it was quiet again.
“No … not the same. ” Liv tied the ends of her belt into an elaborate knot as she thought. “When he kisses me, he makes me nervous, but I think it’s because it feels different. ” She met Aria’s eyes. “I’ve never kissed anyone other than Roar, and that’s—”
She shut her eyes, wincing. “This is what I can’t have. I can’t sit here and remember how it feels to kiss Roar when I’m marrying someone else in days. He has to leave. It’s too hard for me like this, and I can’t stand to see him hurting. ” She shook her head. “I hate that he makes me feel weak. ”
Aria sat back against the iron headboard, remembering Perry on their last night together, bruised and beaten after a fight that had happened because of her. The next day, he lost part of his tribe. She didn’t feel weak because of him. She felt too powerful, like every choice she made had the potential to hurt him, and that was the last thing she wanted.
“Roar will move on,” Liv said quietly. Her eyes had softened, and Aria knew she’d read her temper. “He’ll forget about me. ”