Scarlet Page 29

Her chest ached as she wondered how many secrets had been kept from her.

Wolf’s attention darted to the south, one ear cocked to the sky.

Instantly, Scarlet’s thoughts settled. She listened, but there was only a breeze in the forest, a charming chorus of crickets.

Though she heard nothing, Wolf whispered, “A train is coming.” He fixated on her again, concern etched across his brow. She could see that he believed he’d said too much, but she thirsted for more.

With a nod, she planted a hand on the ground and pushed herself to standing. “And these people think my grandmother knows something about the princess because…?”

Wolf skirted to the edge of the short cliff, peering off down the rails. “They believe Dr. Tanner asked your grandmother for assistance when he brought the princess to Earth.”

“They believe, but they can’t know that for sure.”

“Perhaps not, but that’s why they took her,” he said, testing the fallen log with his foot again. “To find out what she knew.”

“And did they ever consider that maybe she doesn’t know anything?”

“They’re convinced that she does. Or at least, they were when I left them, though I don’t know what they’ve learned since—”

“Well, why don’t they find this Dr. Tanner and ask him?”

Wolf clenched his jaw. “Because he’s dead.” Stooping, he grabbed their forgotten pack and draped it over his elbow. “He killed himself, earlier this year. In an insane asylum in the Eastern Commonwealth.”

Some of Scarlet’s anger fizzled out, replaced with pity for a man who had not existed to her minutes before. “An asylum?”

“He was a patient there. Self-admitted.”

“How? He was Lunar. Why wasn’t he captured and sent back to Luna?”

“He must have figured out how to blend in with Earthen society.”

Wolf held out his hand and Scarlet took it instinctively, starting when his hot fingers enclosed hers. After a heartbeat, his hold relaxed as he stepped out onto the tree trunk.

Scarlet angled her portscreen toward their treacherous footings and struggled to find her train of thought over the pounding in her ears. “There must be someone else he had contact with on Earth. The trail can’t end with my grandma. According to my dad, she hadn’t told them anything, after weeks of … of who knows what they’ve been doing to her. They must realize they’ve got the wrong person!”

There was a peculiar restraint when Wolf responded. “Are you sure they have?”

She glared. The Lunar heir was a myth, a conspiracy, a legend … how could her diligent, proud grandmother, living in small-town Rieux, possibly be involved?

But she couldn’t be entirely sure of anything anymore. Not if her grandmother had kept something so big from her already.

A faint hum cut through the forest’s whispers. The magnets waking up.

A squeeze of her fingers sent a shock up Scarlet’s spine.

“Scarlet,” said Wolf, “it’s in her best interest, and yours, to give them something. Please, think. If you know anything at all, we may be able to use it to our advantage.”

“About Princess Selene.”

He nodded.

“I don’t know anything.” Scarlet shrugged, helpless. “I don’t know anything.”

She felt captured beneath his stare, until, with a deep frown, he released her. His hand slipped away, hanging at his sides. “It’s all right. We’ll figure out something else.”

Scarlet knew he was wrong. It wasn’t all right. These monsters were chasing a ghost, and her grandma was caught in the middle of it, all because of some fling that had allegedly happened forty years ago … and there was nothing Scarlet could do.

She glanced down—her stomach flipped at seeing how high up they were. With the encroaching darkness, it felt like she was standing at the edge of an abyss.

“We have maybe thirty seconds,” said Wolf. “Once it’s here, we’ll need to act fast. No hesitation. Can you do that?”

Scarlet tried to wet her parched tongue, but it was as dry as the crackled bark beneath her. She tried to calm her heartbeat. Seconds were counting off in her head. Going by too fast. The magnets were growing louder. She heard the whistle of air down the tracks.

“You’re going to let me jump on my own this time?” she asked, spotting a bright glow around the nearest bend. Lights blared across the treetops, echoing endlessly through the gathered trunks. The magnets directly beneath them crackled.

“Do you want to jump on your own?” He set the bag between them.

Scarlet studied the tracks, imagining a racing train beneath them. Subtle vibrations tickled her feet. Her knees seized up.

She tossed the portscreen into the bag and stepped onto a knot that protruded from the trunk. “Turn around.”

He started to grin, but there was still a crease between his eyebrows, a lingering distraction. He let her climb onto his back, hitching her legs higher until she had a firm grip around him.

Tying her arms around Wolf’s shoulders, it occurred to Scarlet that she had every right to despise him. He’d had the chance to rescue her grandmother, but he’d run away instead. He’d lied to her and kept these enormous secrets that she had every right to know.…

But that didn’t change the fact that he was still here. Still risking his life and facing his own tormenters to help her. Still taking her to find her grandmother.

Biting her lip, she leaned forward. “I’m glad you told me everything.”

His body seemed to deflate beneath her. “I should have told you sooner.”

“Yes, you should have.” She tilted her head, temple to temple. “But I still don’t despise you.” She swept a kiss against his cheek and felt his body lock up. His heartbeat thundered against her wrist as she clasped her hands together.

The train rounded the corner, smooth as a snake. Its glossy white body rushed toward them, the vacuum creating a gust of wind that buffeted the trees to either side of the gully.

Peeling her head off Wolf’s shoulder, Scarlet glanced aside at him, noticed yet another scar, this one on his neck. Unlike the others, it was small and perfectly straight—more the work of a scalpel than a brawl.

Then Wolf was crouching and her heart jumped, tearing her attention back to the train. Wolf braced his hands on the bag. His muscles were still rigid, his pulse galloping, and she couldn’t help but contrast it with the uncanny calm he’d had when they’d jumped out of the train window before.

Then the train was beneath them, shaking the log and rattling Scarlet’s teeth.

Wolf shoved the bag off the trunk, and leaped. Digging her nails into Wolf’s shirt, Scarlet clenched her jaw against a scream.

They landed heavily on the glass-smooth roof, the levitating train barely dipping from the impact, and Scarlet felt it instantly. The wrongness. Wolf slipped, his shoulders tilting too heavy to the left, his balance rocking beneath her weight.

Scarlet cried out, the momentum of the jump sending her spinning away from him toward the ledge. She dug her fingernails into his shoulders but his shirt ripped out from beneath her and then she was falling, the world tumbling around her.

A hand gripped her wrist, her fall stopped with a painful yank on her shoulder. She screamed, thrashing her feet as the ground whipped by beneath her. Blinded by the wind-thrown hair in her face, she flailed her free hand up toward him and grasped on to his forearm, squeezing as desperately as she could with slick fingers.

She heard his grunt—bordering on a roar—and felt herself being hauled up. She beat her feet against the train’s side, struggling for any traction, before she was heaved onto the roof. Wolf rolled her away from the edge, landing on top of her. His hands hastily brushed the curls from her face, gripped her shoulders, rubbed her bruised wrist, every ounce of his frenetic energy devoted to checking that she was there. That she was all right.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I lost focus, I slipped—I’m sorry. Scarlet. Are you all right?”

Her breaths shuddered. The world slowly stopped spinning, but every nerve hummed with the rush of adrenaline, every bit of her trembling down to her core. Gaping up at Wolf, she wrapped her fingers around his, stilling them. “I’m all right,” she panted, attempting a weary smile. He didn’t return the look. His eyes were full of horror. “I may have pulled something in my shoulder, but—” She paused, noting a splotch of red on Wolf’s bandage. He’d caught her with his injured arm, reopening the wound. “You’re bleeding.”

She reached for the bandage, but he caught her hand, gripping it almost too tight. Scarlet found herself pinned beneath his gaze, intense and terrified. He was still breathing hard. She was still shaking, couldn’t stop shaking.

Her mind emptied of everything but the gusting wind and how fragile Wolf looked in that heartbeat, like one movement could break him open.

“I’m all right,” she assured him again, wrapping her free arm around his back and pulling him toward her until she could curl up beneath the shelter of his body, burying her head against his neck. She felt his gulp, then his arms were around her, crushing her against his chest.

The train angled toward the west, the forest blurring on either side of them. It seemed ages before the adrenaline drained out of Scarlet’s limbs, before she could breathe without her lungs hiccupping at the effort. Wolf’s embrace never relaxed. The sensation of his breath against her ear the only proof he was living flesh, not stone.

When finally she had stopped trembling, Scarlet peeled herself away from him. The vice of his arms reluctantly let her go and she dared to meet his gaze again.

The shocked horror had left him, replaced with heat and longing and uncertainty. And fear, so much fear, but she didn’t think it had anything to do with her nearly falling off the train.

Lips tingling, she arched her neck toward him.

But then he was pulling away from her, the space between them filling with harsh, cold wind. “We need to get down before we run into any tunnels,” he said, his voice shaky and rough.

Scarlet sat up, heat rushing to her face as she was struck with an almost irresistible yearning to crawl toward him—not to get off the train’s roof, but to be wrapped up against him again. To feel warm and safe and content, just for another moment.

She smashed the desire down into her gut. Wolf wasn’t looking at her, and she knew he was right. They weren’t safe up here.

Not trusting herself to stand, she half slid, half crawled toward the front of the car, adjusting to the subtle movements of the train. Wolf hovered by her side, not touching her, but never too far to grab her should she get too close to the ledge.

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