“Step aside,” I say.

“We can’t, patriarch. Direct orders from the president,” one of them replies.

I scowl at him. “Direct orders?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We’ll see about that.”

I turn around, but one of them clears his throat. “You won’t find him in his room. He’s already inside the dining room.”

I frown and stare them down for a few seconds. That bastard. Trying to keep me away from breakfast too? What kind of game is he playing? It’s as if he’s only doing this to make me feel inferior, and it’s working.

I ball my fists. “Fine. I’ll speak with him later.”

I march back up the stairs and go to Natalie’s room, but that too is blocked by guards.

“Don’t tell me … I can’t enter my wife’s room either?”

The guard shrugs, and says, “Sorry, patriarch.”

“President’s orders …” I hiss, and the guy confirms my suspicion by nodding.

This is the first time he’s actively tried to block me from doing day-to-day things, and it doesn’t feel good at all.

“If you see him, tell him he can’t keep me away from her forever. She’s my wife, and she’s carrying my baby. I’m not going anywhere.” I tap the guard’s chest as if it will add more value to my words even though he’s just the messenger.

I know it’s useless because even if they do manage to tell him, he won’t listen. But at least I’ve made my stance known.

All I can do now is go back into my room and wait.

Wait and pray … that he’ll listen to her.

And that she’ll save me from being hanged.

Natalie

When someone finally knocks on my door, I’m practically jumping to get out. I’m still a prisoner here, and anything is better than being stuck in this room like a caged animal.

Agatha enters, and says, “The president would like to see you now.”

I take a quick glance at myself in the mirror. I grabbed a dress from the closet and put it on. Is it ridiculous to look nice for these people? Yes. Am I a lunatic for obeying their rules? Yes. But it all has a purpose. I have a role to play … and that’s one of a loving daughter and wife. A faithful servant of God. A woman who will gain the trust of her father so she can change the course of this community for the better … and stab him in the back later.

That’s what I’ve decided.

It’s my time to play the game Noah intended me to play.

So I smile at Agatha, and ask, “Am I presentable?”

She nods. “You look good, matriarch.” She steps forward and grabs my hand, pressing a kiss on top. “Very good.”

I feel unease as she releases me. Is this what they always do to matriarchs?

“Follow me, please,” she says, and she walks outside.

I traipse behind her, past the guards, whom I’m almost tempted to flip the finger at, but that probably won’t help me in the long run, so I don’t.

Instead, I throw them a single glance, one that speaks volumes and says all the words I’m forbidden from speaking out loud to the men.

We walk downstairs and go straight into the hallway behind it. There are giant doors in the back that open once we arrive. My jaw practically drops when the hall I walk into beyond that could host hundreds of people. It’s like a big auditorium, but instead of people getting lectures, there are loads of empty seats lined next to a yellow rug that stretches all the way to a big door at the end. On the other end of the rug, near the wall, is a bigger seat that has hand-carved embellishments and resembles a throne. And on top of it … sits President Lawrence.

My father.

I swallow down the lump in my throat as Agatha steps aside and beckons me to go inside.

One step. Two steps. My knees begin to quiver, so I straighten my back. My fingers start to tremble, so I turn them into fists and continue my pace.

Showing weakness in front of this man is like showing your wounds to a wolf; he’d bite your head off.

His face doesn’t look any less menacing as I step forward onto the rug. I stand before him with my hands firmly by my side and my head held high. The number of times I’ve seen him and talked to him can be counted on one hand, and never one on one like this. When his eyes home in on mine, I stop breathing for a few seconds.

“So …” He clears his throat. The pause seems to last ages, and it makes the sweat pool in the small of my back. “I heard you paid your mother a visit.”

I swallow. He sees and hears everything. His staff are loyal to him, not the other patriarchs, so lying is of no use to me. Instead of trying to weave my way through this mess, I’m going to come clean. Maybe a fresh start would convince him of my usefulness.


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