Scarlet Page 21


“But you’re not in the gang anymore. You don’t have to fight anymore.”

“What else would I do?” he said, with a humorless laugh. “It’s all I know, all I’m good at. Until yesterday, I didn’t even know what a tomato was.”

Scarlet smothered the start of a grin. His frustration was almost endearing. “And now you do,” she said. “Who knows? Tomorrow you might learn about broccoli. By next week, you could know the difference between summer squash and zucchini.”

Wolf glared at her.

“I mean it. You’re not a dog who can’t be taught new tricks. You can learn to be good at something other than fighting. We’ll find something else you can do.”

Wolf ruffled his hair with a fist, making it even messier than usual. “That isn’t why I’m telling you this,” he said, his tone calmer now, but still discouraged. “It won’t even matter once we get to Paris, but it seemed important for you to know that I don’t enjoy it. I hate losing control like that. I’ve always hated it.”

The fight flashed through Scarlet’s memories. How Wolf had released the other fighter so quickly. How he’d hurled himself off the stage as if trying to outrun himself.

She gulped. “Were you ever the … the omega?”

A flash of insult passed over his face. “Of course not.”

Scarlet quirked an eyebrow, and Wolf seemed to recognize the arrogance in his tone a moment too late. Evidently, the craving for status hadn’t left him yet.

“No,” he said, softer now. “I made sure that I was never the omega.” Standing, he marched again to the window and peered out at rolling vineyard hills.

Scarlet pursed her lips, feeling something akin to guilt. It was easy to forget the risk Wolf was taking when all she could think of was getting her grandma back. Sure, Wolf may have gotten out of the gang, but now he was going right back to them.

“Thank you for agreeing to help me,” she said after a long silence. “No one else was exactly lining up to help.”

He shrugged stiffly, and when it was clear he wasn’t going to respond, Scarlet sighed and started clicking the channels again. She stopped on a newsfeed.

SEARCH CONTINUES FOR ESCAPED LUNAR FUGITIVE LINH CINDER.

She jerked upward. “Escaped?”

Wolf turned and read the ticker before frowning at her. “You hadn’t heard?”

“No. When?”

“A day or two ago.”

Scarlet cupped her chin, entranced by the unfolding news. “I had no idea. How is that possible?”

The screen started to replay the footage from the ball.

“They say someone helped her. A government employee.” Wolf pressed a hand against the windowsill. “It makes one wonder what they would do in such a situation. If a Lunar needed help and you had the ability to help them, even though it would put you and your family at risk, would you do it?”

Scarlet frowned, barely listening. “I wouldn’t risk my family for anyone.”

Wolf dropped his gaze to the cheap carpet. “Your family? Or your grandmother?”

Rage came to her like a spiggot turned to full, remembering her father. How he’d come to her farm wearing that transmitter. How he’d torn her hangar apart.

“Grand-mère’s the only family I have left.” Rubbing her clammy palms on her pants, Scarlet stood. “I could use an espresso.”

She hesitated, not sure what she wanted his response to be when she asked, “Do you want to come to the dining car with me?”

His gaze slipped past her shoulder, to the door, looking torn.

Scarlet met his indecision with a smile, both teasing and friendly. Perhaps a little flirtatious. “It has been almost a full two hours since you ate. You must be famished.”

Something flickered across Wolf’s face, something bordering on panic. “No, thank you,” he said quickly. “I’ll stay here.”

“Oh.” The brief rush of her pulse slipped away. “All right. I’ll be back soon.”

As she was shutting the door behind her, she saw Wolf push his hand roughly through his hair with a relieved sigh—like he’d narrowly avoided a trap.

Seventeen

The train’s corridor was buzzing with activity. Making her way to the dining car, Scarlet passed servant androids delivering boxed lunches, a woman in a stiff business suit talking sternly at her port, a waddling toddler curiously opening every door he passed.

Scarlet dodged them all, through half a dozen identical cars, past the myriad passengers who were on their way to normal jobs, normal vacations, normal shopping trips, perhaps even going back to normal homes. Her emotions gradually started to fall away from her—her irritation with the media for demonizing a sixteen-year-old girl, only to discover that girl had escaped from prison and was still on the loose. Her sympathy for Wolf’s violent childhood, followed by the unexpected rejection when he chose not to come with her. The fluctuating terror over her grandmother and what could be happening to her now, while the train careened too slowly through the countryside, tempered only by the knowledge that at least she was on her way. At least she was getting closer.

Her mind still spinning like a kaleidoscope, she was glad to find the dining car relatively empty. A bored-looking bartender stood inside a circular bar, watching a netscreen talk show that Scarlet had never liked. Two women were drinking mimosas at a small table. A young man was sitting with his legs up in a booth, tapping furiously on his port. Four androids loitered beside the wall, waiting to make deliveries out to the private cars.

Scarlet sat down at the bar, setting her port beside a glass of green olives.

“What will you have?” asked the bartender, still focused on the interview between the host and a washed-up action star.

“Espresso, one sugar, please.”

She settled her chin on her palm as he punched her order into the dispenser. Sliding her finger across the portscreen, she typed,

THE ORDER OF THE PACK

A listing of music bands and netgroups spilled down the page, all calling themselves wolf packs and secret societies.

LOYAL SOLDIER TO THE ORDER OF THE PACK

Zero hits.

THE WOLVES

She knew as soon as she’d entered it that the term was far too broad. She quickly amended it to THE WOLVES GANG.

Then, when 20,400 hits blinked back up at her, she added PARIS.

One music band who had toured in Paris two summers ago.

WOLF STREET GANG. WOLF VIGILANTES. SADISTIC KIDNAPPERS PARADING AS RIGHTEOUS LUPINE WANNABES.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Frustrated, she tucked her hair into her hood. Her espresso had appeared in front of her without her notice and she brought the small cup to her mouth, blowing away the steam before taking a sip.

Surely if this Order of the Pack had been around long enough to recruit 962 members, there must be some record of them. Crimes, trials, murders, general mayhem against society. She strained to think of another search term, wishing she would have questioned Wolf more.

“That’s quite the specific search.”

She swiveled her head toward the man seated two stools away, who she hadn’t heard sit down. He was giving her a teasing, droopy-eyed smile that hinted at a dimple in one cheek. He struck her as vaguely familiar, which startled her until she realized she’d only seen him an hour ago on the station’s platform at Toulouse.

“I’m looking for something very specific,” she said.

“I should say. ‘Righteous Lupine Wannabes’—I can’t even begin to imagine what that entails.”

The bartender frowned at them. “What’ll you have?”

The stranger swiveled his gaze. “Chocolate milk, please.”

Scarlet chuckled as the bartender, unimpressed, took down an empty glass. “Would not have been my first guess.”

“No? What would you have guessed?”

She scrutinized him. He couldn’t have been much older than she was and, though not classically handsome, with that much confidence he undoubtedly had never had much trouble with women. His build was stocky but muscular, his hair combed neatly back. There was a keenness in the way he carried himself, a certainty that bordered on arrogance. “Cognac,” she said. “It was always my father’s favorite.”

“I’m afraid I’ve never tried it.” The dimple deepened as a tall glass of frothing chocolate milk was set in front of him.

Scarlet clicked off her port and picked up her espresso. The scent seemed suddenly too strong, too bitter. “That actually looks pretty good.”

“Surprisingly high in protein,” he said, taking a drink.

Scarlet took another sip from her cup and found that her taste buds disapproved. She set it back down on the saucer. “If you were a gentleman, you would offer to buy me one as well.”

“If you were a lady, you would have waited for me to make the offer.”

Scarlet smirked, but the man was already beckoning to the bartender and ordering a second chocolate milk.

“I’m Ran, by the way.”

“Scarlet.”

“Like your hair?”

“Oh, wow, I’d never heard that one before.”

The bartender set the new drink on the bar, then turned away and upped the volume on the screen.

“And where are you traveling to, Mademoiselle Scarlet?”

Paris.

The word clunked into her head, filling up her thoughts with its weight. Her attention danced to the netscreen on the wall, checking the time, calculating their distance, their arrival.

“Paris.” She took a long drink. It wasn’t fresh like the milk she was used to, but the thick sweetness was a rare treat. “I’m going to visit my grandmother.”

“That so? I’m heading to Paris too.”

Scarlet nodded vaguely, suddenly wanting the conversation to be over. Sipping at the thick beverage, it occurred to her that she’d gotten it through manipulation, subconscious as it may have been. She wasn’t interested in this man, had no curiosity about why he was going to Paris or if she would ever see him again after this moment. She had only needed to prove that she could garner his interest, and now she was annoyed that she’d captured it so easily.

It was just like something her father would do, and that realization turned her stomach. Made her want to shove the chocolate milk away.

“Are you traveling alone?”

She tilted her head toward him and smiled apologetically. “No. In fact, I should be getting back to him.” She emphasized him more than was necessary, but he didn’t flinch.

“Of course,” he said.

They finished their drinks at the same time and Scarlet swished her wrist over the scanner on the bar before the stranger could object, paying for her own.

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