Oath Bound (Unbound) - By Rachel Vincent



I’ve never been very good with the word no. I have trouble saying it. I have more trouble hearing it. And accepting it...well, I find that damn near impossible. Always have. Which is why, when the guard at the gate in front of Jake Tower’s house—his estate—refused to let me in, I kind of wanted to pound his teeth into his throat, then out the back of his head.

Instead, I took a deep breath and counted to ten. “Let’s try this again.” I laid my left arm across the open window in my car door and glanced through my windshield at the huge house beyond the closed gate. The road actually ended in front of the Tower estate in a cul-de-sac of its own, so that drivers, rebuffed by the locked gate, could turn their cars around and skulk back the way they’d come, properly intimidated by a wealth and power most could never even touch.

I don’t skulk.

“Sera Brandt, to see Julia Tower,” I repeated, my voice firm with the kind of self-appointed authority only colossal loss and boundless rage can produce.

“I told you, miss.” The guard sounded exasperated this time. “Ms. Tower isn’t seeing anyone else today. She’s suffered a recent family tragedy, and—”

“She’ll see me. Just get on your little radio and tell her I’m here.”

“You don’t have an appointment, and she’s not—” My left arm shot out the open window and I grabbed the front of his black shirt. Before he could do more than grunt in surprise, I jerked him down and forward, smashing the front of his face into the top of my car.

Dazed, he backed away on wobbly legs when I let him go, blood dripping from his nose and down his chin, and before he could think clearly enough to go for his gun, I shoved my car door open, knocking him off his feet entirely. He landed flat on his back, his head inches from the guard booth, arms splayed out at his sides.

If his partner had been there, I’d have been in big trouble. But I’d waited until his partner left for the bathroom, or coffee, or a cigarette, or whatever the Tower estate guards spent their free time on, specifically to avoid that snag.

While the man on the ground moaned and held both hands to his bloody face, I unsnapped the holster exposed by his open jacket and pulled the gun out. I wasn’t sure what kind it was—I’d never shot one—but it was big, so I set it on the desk through the window of the guard booth, to keep it out of his immediate reach.

If I’d known how to get the bullets out of it, I would have taken them.

Then I pulled his radio free from the other side of his belt and pressed the button.

And that’s when I realized where I’d messed up. I’d introduced myself by the wrong name. The guard didn’t give a shit who Sera Brandt was, and Julia Tower—Lia, to those who knew her personally—certainly wouldn’t. So when I pressed the radio button and the soft hum of static was replaced with an even silence, I looked straight into the camera attached to the roof of the guard booth and gave them my real name.

“This is Sera Tower. Open the fucking gate.”

For a moment, radio silence followed my announcement while the camera whirred, zooming in on my face, and I wondered if my message would even get through to Lia, who surely had better things to do than listen in on the guards’ radio frequency.

According to the internet, both the official news sites and the often more reliable gossip pages, Lia Tower had taken over her brother Jake’s business affairs when he’d died four months before, and I could only assume she’d taken over most of his personal affairs, too. But that was truly just a guess. Until the guard refused to let me see her, I didn’t even know for sure that she still lived in his house—according to the obituary, Jake Tower also left behind a wife and two small children, who had surely inherited the property.

“Sera...Tower?” a faceless voice asked over the radio a second later. His skepticism was clear. He’d never heard of me. I’d never wanted to be heard of, until then.

I’d never even said it out loud before—my real last name. I’d never claimed my connection to the family I’d never met. The family my mother had hidden me from, for most of my life. But there was