Scarlet Page 27


Wolf shook his head, damp spikes of hair flopping onto his forehead. “You never were a match for me.”

“I think you’ll find me somewhat improved, Alpha.”

Wolf snorted and Scarlet sensed he didn’t believe Ran could ever be a genuine opponent. “Is this why you followed us? You saw your chance to improve your rank—to defeat me away from the pack?”

“I told you why I’m here. Jael sent for you. The assignment is canceled. When he finds out about this rebellion of yours—”

Wolf launched at Ran, knocking him onto his back. Ran’s head landed in the water and Scarlet heard a sickening crunch as it collided with the hard stones beneath the surface. She screamed and ran toward them, digging her nails into Wolf’s arm.

“No, stop! He might be able to tell us something!”

Wolf’s sharp canines were bared as he pulled a fist back and landed a punch to Ran’s face.

“WOLF! Stop it! My grandmother! He knows about—Wolf, let him go!”

When he didn’t relent, Scarlet fired a warning shot into the air. The echo filled the clearing—but Wolf was unfazed. Ran’s arms stopped flailing, slipped weakly down Wolf’s forearms, and dropped into the water.

“You’re going to kill him!” she shrieked. “Wolf! WOLF!”

As a last burst of bubbles rose up from Ran’s mouth, Scarlet stepped back, let out a breath, and pulled the trigger again.

Wolf hissed and fell onto his side. He clasped his hand over his left arm, where blood was already seeping into the cloth of his sleeve. But it wasn’t a deep wound. The bullet had barely grazed him.

He blinked up at Scarlet. “Did you just shoot me?”

“You didn’t leave me much choice.” With ringing ears, Scarlet fell to her knees and heaved Ran up by his shoulders, laying him back down at an awkward angle on the shore. He rolled onto his side, left eye already swelling shut and watered-down blood dripping down his nose and jaw. With a rattling cough, more blood and water spilled out of his mouth, puddling onto the sand.

Releasing a strangled breath, Scarlet glanced back up at Wolf. He hadn’t moved, but his expression had shed the maniacal anger for something akin to admiration.

“When you greeted me with a gun on your doorstep,” he said, “it’s nice to know you meant it.”

Scarlet scowled at him. “Honestly, Wolf. What are you thinking? He could tell us something. He could help get my grandma back!”

His half smile softened, and for a moment he looked sorry. For her. “He won’t talk.”

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

“That’s not a good enough answer!”

“Watch your gun.”

“Wha—” She dropped her gaze to the shore beside her, just in time to see Ran wrap his fingers around the gun’s handle. She grasped the barrel and snatched it away from him.

An exhausted chuckle brought more bloodied spittle to Ran’s lips. “I will kill you one day, brother. If Jael doesn’t first.”

“Stop provoking him!” Scarlet yelled. Climbing to her feet, out of Ran’s reach, she reset the safety and shoved the gun back into the waist of her jeans. “You’re not exactly in any position to be making threats right now, anyway.”

Ran said nothing. His eyes had closed, his lips left hanging open with a smear of blood on his cheek, taking in slow, rattling breaths.

Disgusted, she turned back to Wolf, watching as he peeled his hand away from his wound and stared with surprise at the blood coating his palm. He leaned over on his elbow and swished his hand around in the water to get the stain off.

With a sigh, she scrambled to her forgotten bag and pulled out a small first-aid kit. Wolf didn’t argue as she ripped open the tear in his sleeve caused by the bullet and took over the job of washing and bandaging the wound. The bullet had just grazed his bicep.

“I’m sorry I shot you,” she said, “but you were going to kill him.”

“I still might,” Wolf said, watching her hands.

She shook her head, taping off the bandage. “He’s not your real brother, is he? That’s just a gang thing, isn’t it?”

Wolf grunted. Said nothing.

“Wolf?”

“I never said we got along.”

Scarlet peered up at the wild contempt filling Wolf’s face. His green eyes were burning, staring at Ran’s prone body behind her.

“Good.”

The ferocity in her voice startled away some of his hatred and Wolf turned his attention back to her.

“You must know his weaknesses. You’ll know how best to question him.”

That sympathetic look again. “We’re trained to withstand questioning. He won’t help us.”

“But he already gave us some information.” Packing up the remains of the kit, she tossed it toward her bag. It missed the opening and slid down to the ground. “He obviously knew something when I asked about my grandma. And then this assignment that was canceled—what’s that about? Does it have something to do with her?”

Wolf shook his head, but she detected a clouding in his eyes. “He told us what he wanted us—me—to know. Or to believe. I wouldn’t put stock in any of it.”

“How can you be sure?”

His fingers started up again—clench, release, clench. “I know Ran. He would do anything to improve his standing. By tracking me down and forcing me to return—or even showing proof that he’d fought me and won—he hoped to do just that. As for the assignment I’d been a part of when I left … they wouldn’t cancel it. It was too important to them.”

“What about my grandmother?”

He shook off a troubled frown. “Right. We should keep moving.” He tested the strength in his injured arm before using it to push himself to his feet. The fire had burned down to smoldering coals and soon he had stamped them out, ignoring the duck breast that had shriveled up into a chunk of coal.

“That’s not what I meant,” said Scarlet, staying put on the shore. “Shouldn’t we at least try to question him?”

“Scarlet, listen to me. Does he know something that would help? Yes, probably. But he won’t give it to us. Unless you plan on torturing it out of him, and even then there’s nothing you could do that would frighten him more than what the pack will do if he talks. We already know where your grandmother is. Dealing with him is a waste of time.”

“What if we brought him with us and offered him as a trade?” she suggested, watching as Wolf reloaded their bag.

Wolf laughed. “A trade? For an omega?” He gestured at Ran. “He’s worth nothing.” Though his temper could be heard just beneath the surface, Scarlet was glad that the temporary insanity was gone from his eyes.

“He’ll go back to them,” she said, “and tell them you’re with me.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Slinging the pack over his shoulder, Wolf spared a final scornful look at his brother. “We’ll get there before he does.”

Twenty-Two

Night crept up fast. The forest leaned in toward them, a solid wall of shadows beneath the dim spotlight of a waning moon. They’d passed only one junction and continued wordlessly north. Seeing another set of tracks combining with theirs had given Scarlet a beat of hope—at least now there was a chance of crossing paths with a new train. But the maglev tracks remained silent. Scarlet’s portscreen light was enough to see by for a time, but she worried about killing the battery and knew they should probably stop soon.

Wolf was no longer looking back every few minutes and Scarlet suspected he’d known they were being followed all along.

Wolf stopped suddenly and Scarlet’s heart leaped, for a moment sure he’d heard wolves again. “Here. This will work.” He peered upward at a log that had fallen across the embankments on either side of them, creating a bridge over the tracks. “What do you think?”

Scarlet followed him through the waist-high brush. “I thought maybe you were kidding before. You really think you can jump onto a moving train from there?”

He nodded.

“Without breaking a leg?”

“Or anything else.”

He met her speculative look with a hint of arrogance.

She shrugged. “Anything to be out of these woods.”

The ledge was a few feet over her head, but she clambered up with little trouble, grasping onto roots and jutting rocks. She heard a hiss from below and turned to see a shot of pain cross Wolf’s face as he hauled himself up after her. She held her breath, feeling guilty, as he dusted off his hands.

“Let me see,” she said, grasping Wolf’s forearm and holding up her portscreen to shine a light on the bandage. No blood had leaked through yet. “I really am sorry about shooting you.”

“Are you?”

Her touch lingered as it reached the end of the bandage, checking that it was still securely tied. “What does that mean?”

“I suspect you would shoot me all over again if you thought it would help your grandmother.”

She blinked up at him, almost surprised to discover how close they were standing. “I would,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be sorry about it afterward.”

“I’m just glad you didn’t take my advice and shoot me in the head,” he said, his teeth showing in the portscreen’s brightness. His fingers barely fluttered across her sweater’s pocket, making her jump.

Then his fingers were gone and Wolf was squinting against the bright light of the portscreen.

“Sorry,” Scarlet stammered, angling it toward the ground.

Wolf moved around her, pressing on the fallen log with his foot. “It appears trustworthy.”

Scarlet discovered a strange irony in his choice of words. “Wolf,” she said, testing the way her voice echoed in the forest’s emptiness. He stiffened, though he didn’t turn around. “When you first told me about leaving the pack, I thought maybe it had been months, or even years, but Ran made it sound like you’d just left.”

One hand came up to ruffle his hair as he turned back toward her.

“Wolf?”

“It’s been three weeks,” he whispered. Then, “Less than three weeks.”

She sucked in a breath, held it, released it all at once. “About the time my grandmother disappeared.”

He ducked his head, unable to meet her gaze.

Scarlet shivered. “You told me that you were a nobody, barely more than an errand boy. But Ran called you an ‘alpha.’ Isn’t that a pretty high rank?”

Prev page Next page