Once An Eve Novel - By Anna Carey Page 0,1

beyond that we all contributed in different ways—scavenging, cooking, growing crops, hunting, repairing the crumbling houses and storefronts. I had a post in the bookshop, restoring old novels and encyclopedias, lending extra copies, and offering reading tutorials for anyone interested.

A tiny cut had appeared on Quinn’s neck. She rubbed at it, smearing blood between her fingers. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “Maeve’s always warning me about Strays.” Maeve was one of the Founding Mothers, a term given to the eight women who had first settled in Marin. She had taken me in, letting me share a bedroom with her seven-year-old daughter, Lilac. During my first days in Califia, Maeve and I had gone out every morning to explore. She’d shown me which areas were safe and how to defend myself should I come across a Stray.

“I’ve been through worse,” Quinn said, letting out a low laugh. She climbed down the side of the boat to the beach. She was shorter than most of the women in Califia, with curly black hair and tiny features crowded in the center of her heart-shaped face. She lived in a houseboat on the bay with two other women, and they spent most of their days hunting in the thick woods around the settlement, bringing back deer and wild boar.

She helped me cross the rocky beach, her dark eyes studying my face. “How are you holding up?”

I watched the waves hit the sand, the water white and relentless. “Much better. Each day it’s easier.” I tried to sound buoyant, happy, but it was only partially true. When I’d first arrived in Califia, Caleb had been by my side, his leg wounded from an encounter with the King’s troops. But he wasn’t allowed in. No men were—it was a rule. Caleb had known all along, and had brought me here not so we could be together, but because he thought it was the only place I’d be safe. I’d waited all this time to hear word of him, but he hadn’t sent a message to me through the Trail, the secret network that connected escapees and rebels. He hadn’t left word with the guards at the gate.

“You’ve only been here a few months. It takes time to forget.” Quinn rested her hand on my shoulder, leading me toward the edge of the beach, where the back wheel of her bike stuck out of the dune grass.

Those first weeks I’d been in Califia, I was hardly present. I’d sit with the women at dinner, pushing soft white fish around my plate, only half listening to the conversations going on around me. Quinn was the one who’d first drawn me out. We’d spend afternoons in a restored restaurant near the bay, drinking beer the women brewed in plastic pails. She told me about her School, about how she’d escaped by crawling out a broken window and stalking the gate, waiting for the supply trucks to make their weekly delivery. I told her about the months I’d spent on the run. The other women knew the broad strokes of my story—an encoded message detailing the murders in Sedona had already come through the radio used by the Trail. The women knew the King was after me, and they had seen the injured boy I’d helped across the bridge. But in the quiet of the restaurant I’d told Quinn everything about Caleb and Arden and Pip.

“That’s what I’m worried about,” I said. Already the past was receding, the details of what had happened growing hazier each day I was in Califia. It was getting harder to remember Pip’s laugh or the green of Caleb’s eyes.

“I know how you feel about him,” Quinn said, working at a knot in her black hair. Her caramel skin was flawless except for the small dry patch along her nose, red and peeling from the sun. “But things will get easier. You just need time.”

I stepped onto a piece of driftwood, feeling satisfied when it snapped in half. We were the lucky ones—I knew that. Every time I peered down the table at meals, I thought about all we’d escaped from, how many girls were still stuck in the Schools and how many more were under the King’s control in the City of Sand. But knowing I was safe didn’t stop the nightmares: Caleb, alone in some room, blood in a dry, black pool around his legs. The images were so vivid they woke me, my heart knocking in my chest, the sheets damp with

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