Jax followed her orders, and she followed him into the privacy of the small storeroom. Her hands were nearly shaking as she eased the door shut, trying not to slam it.
“As much as I appreciate your Western-clad beauty, I feel obligated to tell you that the men will talk.” Jax leaned against a table, adjusting his high bun.
“Why are the records missing?”
Jax froze. His hands slowly fell from his hair. Vhalla watched as the madman began to take over.
“What records are you asking about?”
“Don’t play coy, and don’t lie to me. Your records,” she snapped.
“I never lied to you.”
“How dare you.” The hurt was real. It was just as bad, perhaps even worse, as Jax’s original tale. “You told me I could trust you with my life, and you didn’t trust me with your truth.”
“I did not lie.” The man gripped the table, digging his nails into the wood. “Don’t chase this.”
“You did. I know you did,” she insisted.
“You drew your own conclusions, and I didn’t correct them.” Jax slapped the table and stood upright. “Now leave this be.”
“No.” Vhalla moved in front of the door. “If you are my friend, you will tell me.”
“Who said I wanted to be your friend?” Jax snapped back. “Let me leave, Lady Yarl. And don’t go chasing ghosts again.”
“I will not!” She had such precious few people in the world. The idea of losing Jax to old crimes immolated her senses. Their friendship would only be salvaged if he could trust her.
“Why don’t you just ask Aldrik?” Jax was suddenly unable to look at her.
“I want to hear it from you.” Vhalla lifted her hands, trying to calm them both. “I need to hear it from you.”
“You already heard what I had to say. I owe you nothing more.”
“You didn’t kill her, did you?” Vhalla rested her hands gently on his upper arms.
He flinched at the touch. “I did,” Jax insisted, but his resolve had fractured just enough that he continued. “But I never meant to.”
“What happened?” Vhalla prodded gently.
“Nothing that should have.”
“Was it an accident?” She tried to tilt her head to meet his eyes.
“Tell me please,” Vhalla whispered. “I want to help you.”
His shoulders began to tremble. Vhalla thought he was crying, but mad laughter echoed hauntingly into her ears. Jax wrenched himself away, throwing out his arms. “Oh, oh you siren. You wretched wench. I see now, I see now how you ensnared Aldrik.” Jax pointed his finger in her face, and Vhalla was too startled to react. “You think you can save everyone. You think you’re a damned Goddess, glowing high above the masses who cower at your feet. You think you can fix the broken and heal the wounded because you want to.”
Fire sparked around his finger, close enough that Vhalla’s nose was nearly burned.
“You want to know something? You-you misbegotten noble, you are as bad as every other who has stepped before you. You are pathetic, useless, inept. You can barely defend yourself, and you think you can defend those you love.”
Vhalla leaned against the door. She endured his insults, his raving. She held her head high and waited out the madness.
“I can help you.” Vhalla had never believed anything more than those four words in that moment.
“You can’t help! I couldn’t help!” Spit flew from his mouth, landing on her cheek. He raged on, “She could not help herself as she ran into the flames to save her father. To save that worthless sack of putrid flesh that didn’t deserve to die a clean death of fire.”
“Yes, her father, you simpleton!” Jax lunged for her, and Vhalla’s head cracked against the door hard as he shook her by the collar. “What would you have done? Tell me. Tell me! They knew, they all knew, and they didn’t stop him!” he howled. “A father is meant to protect his young, to love them. But not like that. Never like that.”
She blinked away the stars from where Jax had knocked her head. He was right, he hadn’t lied to her. He’d said he’d discovered a man with his bride-to-be, a man who had taken her multiple times. But it hadn’t been just any man. Vhalla felt sick.
“You were trying to save her.”
Jax growled and threw her to the side. He leaned against the door, his head hanging between his arms. His back heaved with his rasping breaths. “Go . . . go and never speak about this ever again.”
“Jax, it wasn’t—”
“Go!” Fire flared over his shoulders as he spun, its heat making her blink water from her eyes. “If you ever speak of this to me again, I do not care who you are, Vhalla Yarl, I do not care what clothes you wear, or what title you bear. I will kill you.”
The man had been pushed far enough. Vhalla took a deep breath and waited for the fire to disappear. It left a dark burnt spot on the ceiling.
“I’m sorry for hurting you and making you recall this.” She rested a hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye when she said it. The contact stilled him and panicked him once more. But it was a different kind of panic, something more akin to a lost child than a lunatic.