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Exile’s Hunter Chapter Twenty-Seven: Free Sci-fi Romance

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Mad ducked out of the antechamber when Carise was brought in, and as soon as Kenzie saw her sister, she forgot about everything else.

Carise was alive! She was here!

Kenzie launched herself at her baby sister and clamped her arms around her, tears falling down her face in rivulets as the full reality of the situation settled over her. Carise hugged her back so tightly that Kenzie had trouble breathing. She didn’t care. Air was overrated.

They were alone in the antechamber, and Kenzie made sure the door was closed. She wanted privacy. If she and her sister could stay alone in this room for the next year, it wouldn’t be enough.

The hug went on for a long time, but eventually they separated, and Kenzie ushered her sister back to a small couch that was pushed up against the wall. Now that she had time to look around the room, she realized it was more like a sitting room than an office.

There were shelves of books, a couch, two chairs, and a low table. All the comforts a busy king needed. The room was decorated in lush, warm colors, and there was a painting on one wall of a verdant scene that looked nothing like what she’d seen of Guerran. Was that Krudare?

She didn’t care. Carise was right next to her.

But now that she had her sister, words got caught in her throat. There were shadows in Carise’s eyes, evidence of horrors she’d endured at the hands of who knows how many tormentors. And Kenzie wouldn’t ask about it. Not today. Today she was just going to be happy that she had her sister safe and sound.

“You’re taller!” It was inane, but true. When she’d left Earth for her stint on EarthCol3, Carise had been an inch shorter than her. Now she was an inch taller than her, and Kenzie was pretty sure she hadn’t shrunk.

Carise smiled faintly. “It happened after Earth. Space supplements or something.”

Right. Kenzie let that drop. She didn’t want to open up old wounds. “How long have you been on Guerran?” She needed to know how far behind she was, even if she had a pretty tight timeline of this planet.

Carise relaxed a little against the couch and pulled her legs up, looping an arm around them. There were scars on that arm, and Kenzie tried not to stare. She probably failed. Did Carise want to go on a vengeance spree? Because that could easily be arranged.

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“About a month, I think.” Her voice was raspy. It hadn’t been raspy before.

Kenzie didn’t ask. Not yet. She was going to choke on all the questions she wasn’t asking. But there was one she couldn’t resist. “What’s up with Jaek?”

Carise brightened, and it was like she had her sister back. But just for a second. Her expression closed off, and she looked to the side, away from Kenzie. “He was nice. He kept me safe.”

What was that even supposed to mean? Kenzie wanted to push. She wanted Carise to account for every second since they’d last seen one another more than two years ago. But Carise looked tired, and Kenzie was so happy to have her sister back that she didn’t want to dwell on the bad stuff.

“He’s… um… big.” And though Carise was now frustratingly one inch taller than her, she was still small. She’d lost weight and was edging towards frail rather than thin.

Really, a vengeance quest was starting to sound nice.

Kenzie kept the bloodthirstiness to herself.

Carise blushed and hid her face behind her knees. “They’re all big here. How did you do this? How are you here? Am I dreaming?”

Kenzie wanted to cry. Whoever had taken her sister deserved to be banished to the deepest pit of hell. Carise was a sweet soul, and back home she’d never hurt a fly. “I’m really here,” Kenzie assured her, reaching out and clutching her hand to anchor her in the moment. “I made a lot of contact back on EarthCol3, and I called in every favor. I haven’t stopped looking since I found out you were gone. Then I got here and I found you.”

Carise didn’t need to know about the blood Kenzie had spilled, the darkness she’d endured to find Carise. That was Kenzie’s burden to bear.

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“It shouldn’t be too difficult to get passage off of Guerran,” Kenzie assured her, even as her heart broke in half at the thought of leaving Mad behind. She had to think about Carise now. That was the mission, it had always been the plan. “We’re a long way from Earth. But we can probably be home for Christmas. I think. I’m not actually sure what month it is back home. But if we missed it, we can have our own.”

“Don’t tell me you’re going to make fruitcake,” Carise moaned, her face a mass of exaggerated horror.

“I will make fruitcake and you’re going to like it. No matter how burned it is.” Kenzie had forgotten about her baking experiments back when she’d been a teenager. They hadn’t gone well, and she could taste the phantom flavor of burnt flour on her tongue. “Or we could do cookies. Ham. Mashed potatoes. Mac and cheese. Whatever you want, we’ll have.”

“What—” Carise cut herself off.

“We don’t have to do Christmas,” Kenzie was quick to say. “Right, what am I thinking. If I had found you sooner—”

“What? No!” Carise interrupted. “You crossed the galaxy to find me, that’s practically impossible. And you did it in two years!” Now it was Carise’s turn to grip Kenzie’s hands.

But Kenzie couldn’t take her absolution. “You should have never been taken in the first place. If I hadn’t abandoned you at home, you would have been safe. And when we get back, you don’t have to worry. No matter what. You’re not getting taken again.”

Carise was quiet for a moment, and then she smiled. “I would like ham. And pie.”

“Consider it done.”

They talked for an hour or more before Mad came in and let them know Carise had a room made up for the night.

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“You should sleep,” Kenzie told her as they followed a servant down the winding hallways to the room Carise had been assigned. The room was nice with a huge bed, a window overlooking the city, and a fire blazing in the fireplace.

“I’m not tired,” Carise insisted, even as she sat on the bed.

“Food then?” Kenzie wasn’t sure when she’d last eaten.

Carise nodded.

Kenzie summoned the servant back and put in the order, and in a matter of minutes, they each had a glass of wine and a plate laden with meats, cheese, and fruit. “No pie. Sorry.”

Carise sipped her wine and rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to keep apologizing for everything. It’s not your fault. I can wait for my goddamn pie.”

The outburst was a bit shocking, but Kenzie did her best to keep smiling. Of course Carise would have outbursts. She’d been through a big trauma. “Drink up,” she just said.

They ate their way through the meal, and eventually Carise yawned. It didn’t take her long before she was curled up on the bed and sleeping.

Kenzie watched her sister’s chest rise and fall in an even rhythm and didn’t stop the tears that started to stream down her face. Every emotion was mixed up inside of her: happiness, relief, sorrow, confusion. 

Her mission was over. She’d found her sister.

So what the hell was she supposed to do now?

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