Scarlet Page 16


Ignoring the biting gravel, Scarlet jogged around the corner. Oak leaves spun on the wind. The hangar and barn and chicken coop all stood silent in the buffeting dawn. There was no trace of her father.

“He must have been looking for something, or—” Scarlet’s heart skipped. “My ship!”

She ran, ignoring the rocky drive, the prickly weeds. She nearly plowed into the hangar’s door but managed to grasp the handle and yank it open just as a crash shook the building.

“Dad!”

But he was not inside the ship, preparing to fly off with it as she’d feared. Instead, he was standing on top of the cabinets that ran the length of the far wall, reaching into the overhead cupboards and tossing their contents onto the floor. Paint cans, extension cords, drill bits.

An entire standing toolbox had been tipped over, flooding the concrete with screws and bolts, and two metal cabinets on the back wall stood wide-open, showing an assortment of military pilot uniforms, coveralls, and a single straw gardening hat shoved into a corner.

“What are you doing?” Scarlet strode toward him, then ducked and froze as a wrench sailed by her head. When a crash didn’t follow, she glanced back to see Wolf gripping the wrench a foot from his face, blinking in surprise. Scarlet spun back. “Dad, what—”

“There’s something here!” he said, yanking open another cupboard. He snatched up a tin can and tipped it over, mesmerized as hundreds of rusted nails crashed and clanged on the floor.

“Dad, stop! There’s nothing here!” She picked her way through the mess, more aware of rusty sharp bits than she had been of the jagged rocks outside. “Stop it!”

“There is something here, Scar.” Tucking a metal barrel under one arm, her dad hopped off the counter and crouched, working the plug out from the hole in the top. Though he was also barefoot, the jumble of nails and screws didn’t appear to bother him. “She has something and they want it. It’s got to be here. Somewhere … but where…”

The air filled with the pungent fumes of engine lubricant as her dad tipped over the barrel, letting the yellowish grease gurgle and spill out over his mess.

“Dad, put it down!” She grabbed a hammer off the floor and held it overhead. “I will hit you, I swear it!”

He finally looked at her with that same haunted madness. This was not her father. This man was not vain and charming and self-indulgent, all the things she’d admired as a child and despised as a teenager. This man was broken.

The stream of oil became a light drizzle.

“Dad. Put down the barrel. Now.”

His lips trembled as his attention shifted away, focused on the small delivery ship not a body’s length away from him. “She loved flying,” he murmured. “She loved her ships.”

“Dad. Dad—!”

Standing, her dad heaved the barrel into the back window of the ship. A hairline fracture cobwebbed out on the glass.

“Not my ship!” Scarlet dropped the hammer and ran for him, stumbling her way over tools and debris.

The glass shattered with the second hit and her dad was already hauling himself through the shards.

“Stop it!” Scarlet grabbed him around the waist and dragged him out of the ship. “Leave it alone!”

He thrashed in her hold, his knee catching Scarlet in the side, and they both fell onto the floor. A canister bit into Scarlet’s thigh but all she could think about was tightening her hold on her dad, trying to lock his swinging arms to his sides. Blood was on his hands where he’d grabbed the broken glass, and a gash in his side was already turning crimson.

“Let me go, Scar. I’m going to find it. I’m going to—”

He cried out as he was lifted away from her. Instinctively, Scarlet clung, still trying to subdue him until she realized that Wolf was there, dragging her dad to his feet. She let go, panting. One hand went to rub her throbbing hip.

“Let go of me!” Craning his head, her dad snapped his teeth at the air.

Ignoring his struggles, Wolf bound his wrists with one hand and stretched the other out toward Scarlet.

No sooner had her palm sunk onto his than her dad’s screams renewed.

“He’s one of them! One of them!”

Wolf yanked Scarlet to her feet and released her, using both arms to restrain her struggling father. Scarlet almost expected to see foam at the corners of her dad’s mouth.

“The tattoo, Scar! It’s them! It’s them!”

She pushed her hair off her face. “I know, Dad. Just calm down! I can explain—”

“You can’t take me back! I’m still looking! I need more time! Please, no more. No more…” He dissolved into sobs.

Wolf’s eyebrows drew together as he peered at the back of her father’s drooped head, then he grabbed a thin chain around his neck and pulled, snapping it.

Her dad flinched and, when Wolf released him, sank heavily to the floor.

Scarlet gawked at the necklace hanging from Wolf’s fist—a small, unfamiliar charm dangling from it. She couldn’t remember her father wearing any jewelry, other than the monogamy band that he’d taken off within days of her mother figuring out the ring hadn’t served its purpose and leaving him.

“Transmitter,” Wolf said, holding the charm up so that its silver sheen blinked in the light. It was no larger than Scarlet’s pinkie nail. “They’ve been tracking him, and, I would guess, listening in on everything as well.”

Scarlet’s dad hugged his knees, rocking.

“Do you think they’re listening right now?” Scarlet asked.

“Most likely.”

A firework exploded in her rib cage and she launched forward, grabbing Wolf’s fist in both hands. “There’s nothing here!” she screamed at the charm. “We’re not hiding anything and you have the wrong woman! You’d better bring my grandmother back, and I swear on the house I was born in if you’ve hurt one hair, one wrinkle, one freckle on her body I am going to hunt every last one of you down and snap your necks like the chickens you are, do you understand me? BRING HER BACK!”

Throat hoarse, she fell back and released Wolf’s hand.

“Finished?”

Trembling with anger, Scarlet nodded.

Wolf dropped the transmitter on the floor, grabbed the hammer, and smashed it with a single, clean strike. Scarlet jumped as metal crunched against the concrete.

“Do you think they knew he would come here?” Wolf said, standing.

“They left him in our cornfield.”

Her father’s voice rose between them, dry and empty. “They told me to find it.”

“Find what?” Scarlet asked.

“I don’t know. They didn’t say. Just … that she’s hiding something. Something valuable and secret and they want it.”

“Wait … you knew?” said Scarlet. “You knew all along that you were bugged and you didn’t try to tell me? Dad, what if I’d said something or done something that made them suspect me? What if they do come after me next?”

“I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “It was the only way they would let me go. They said I could only have my freedom if I found what your grandmother was hiding. If I found some clue that would help … I had to get out of there, Scar, you don’t know what it was like—”

“I know they still have her! And I know that you’re coward enough to save your own skin and not worry about what’s happening to her, or what could happen to me.”

Scarlet held her breath, waiting for him to deny it. To give some twisted excuse like he’d always had, but he stayed perfectly still. Perfectly silent.

Her skin flushed with anger. “You’re a disgrace to her—to everything she’s ever stood for. She would risk her life to protect either one of us! She would risk her life for a stranger if it was the right thing to do. But all you care about is yourself. I can’t believe you’re her son. I can’t believe you’re my father.”

He raised his haunted eyes to her. “You’re wrong, Scarlet. She watched them torture me. Me. And still she kept her secrets.” A spark of defiance flickered over his face. “There’s something your grandmother never told us, Scar, and it’s put both of us in danger. She’s the selfish one.”

“You don’t know anything about her!”

“No, you don’t! You’ve been idolizing her since you were four years old and it’s blinded you to the truth! She’s betrayed us both, Scarlet.”

Blood pounding against her temples, Scarlet pointed out the door. “Get out. Get off my farm, and never come back. I hope I never see you again.”

He paled, the circles like bruises under his eyes. Slowly, he peeled himself off the floor. “You’re going to abandon me too? My own daughter and my own mother, both turning against me?”

“You abandoned us first.”

Scarlet realized that in the five years since last she’d seen him, she’d come to match her father’s height. They stood eye to eye; she burning up on the inside, he frowning as though he wanted to be sorry but couldn’t quite grasp the emotion.

“Good-bye, Luc.”

His jaw flexed. “They’ll come for me again, Scarlet. And it will be on your hands.”

“Don’t you dare. You’re the one who was wearing that transmitter, you’re the one who was willing to sell me out.”

He held her eyes for a long, slow count, like he was waiting for her to change her mind. Waiting for her to welcome him back to the house, back into her life. But all Scarlet could hear was the crunch of the hammer against the transmitter. She thought of the burn marks on his arm and knew he would just as soon give her over for torture, if it would have saved his own skin.

Finally, his gaze fell, and without looking at her, without looking at Wolf, her dad shuffled through the debris and out of the hangar.

Scarlet’s fists settled against her sides. She would have to wait. He would go into the house to collect his shoes. She imagined him rummaging through the kitchen for food before he went—or trying to hunt down some stray liquor bottles. She dared not run the risk of their paths crossing again before he was gone for good.

The coward. The traitor.

“I’ll help you.”

She crossed her arms, protecting her anger against the gentleness of Wolf’s voice. She scanned the chaos all around her, the mess that would take weeks to put right. “I don’t need your help.”

“I meant, I’ll help get your grandmother back.” Wolf ducked away, like he was surprised he’d made the offer.

It took a pathetically long time for her thinking to change directions, from the internal rant against her traitorous father, to the hefty meaning behind Wolf’s words. She blinked up at him and held her breath, imagining his words captured in a bubble that might blow away. “You will?”

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