Scarlet Page 30


When they reached the end, Wolf swung himself down onto the platform between the cars. Scarlet peered down after him and spotted the bag at his feet. She’d all but forgotten it, but now a surprised laugh fell out of her. His aim had been perfect.

And perhaps if she hadn’t kissed his cheek right before the jump, his balance would have been too.

Her nerves fluttered at the thought, wondering if she had been the cause of his distraction.

She sat down with her legs dangling over the side. “Showoff,” she said, reaching out and letting him catch her as she jumped down. His hands were achingly gentle as he lowered her to the platform, and lingered a second too long after her feet were firmly planted, or not nearly long enough.

His expression had become haunted and confused, his brow tense. Without meeting her gaze, he grabbed the bag and disappeared into the car.

Scarlet gaped at the doorway, waiting for the gusting wind to take down her temperature, burningly aware of the memory of his hands on her waist, her shoulders, her wrists. Her head was too full of the memory, the too-recent agony of wanting to kiss him.

Slumping against the rail, she tucked her hair into the hood. She dimly tried to tell herself it was a good thing Wolf had pulled away. She was always rushing into things without thinking them through, and it always got her into trouble. This was just one more example of her emotions carrying her away, all over a guy she’d known for only … she strained to count back and realized with some shock they’d barely known each other for a day.

Only a day. Could that be right? Had that awful street fight happened just the night before? Had her father’s fit in the hangar been only that morning?

But even knowing it, her feelings didn’t change. Her skin didn’t cool. The fantasy of being tucked in his arms didn’t fade.

She’d wanted him to kiss her. She still did.

She let out a sigh and, when her legs were solid again, ducked into the car.

It was a storage car, wide-open and stacked with plastic shipping crates. A square of moonlight fell in through the open doorway. Wolf had climbed onto a stack of crates and was busy shuffling them around to make more room.

Scarlet climbed up to join him. Though the silence was painful, anything she could think to say sounded trite and artificial. Instead, she pulled a comb out of her bag and started picking the knots out of her windblown curls. Finally Wolf stopped shifting crates and sat down beside her. Legs folded. Hands gripped in his lap. Shoulders hunched. Not touching her.

Scarlet scrutinized him from the corner of her eye, tempted to close the gap between them, even just to rest her head on his shoulder. Instead, she reached out and traced a finger across the tattoo that she could make out in the dimness. He went rigid.

“Was Ran telling the truth? Do you think they’ll kill you for leaving them?”

A momentary silence had her pulse pounding in her fingertip against his arm.

“No,” he said finally. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

She trailed her finger down a long scar that had once been a gash from wrist to elbow. “I’ll stop worrying when this is all over. When we’re all safely away from them.”

His eyes flicked to hers, then down to the scar and her fingers resting on his wrist.

“What’s this scar from?” she asked. “One of the fights?”

His head shifted, almost imperceptibly. “Stupidity.”

Chewing her lip, she inched closer and grazed a fainter scar across his temple. “How about this one?”

He ducked back, forced to lift his head to pull away from her. “That was a bad one,” he said, but didn’t elaborate.

Scarlet hummed thoughtfully, then dragged her knuckle against the tiniest scar on his lip. “What about—”

His hand snatched at her, stilling her caresses. His grip was not harsh, but unforgiving all the same. “Please stop,” he said, even as his gaze fell to her lips.

Scarlet licked them instinctively, saw his eyes grow frantic. “What’s wrong?”

A heartbeat.

“Wolf?”

He didn’t release her.

Scarlet reached her other hand toward him, brushing her thumb over his knuckles.

He sucked in a quick breath.

Her fingers traveled up his arm, along the bandage and its spot of dried blood. He was taut as a bowstring, plastered against the wall. The fingers grasping her hand twitched. “They’re just … they’re what I’m used to,” he said, voice strained.

“What do you mean?”

She saw him gulp. No explanation came.

Leaning forward, she found his jawline. The pronounced cheekbones. His hair, every bit as wild and soft to the touch as it had looked. Finally, he leaned his head into her touch, gently nuzzling her fingers.

“It came from a fight,” he murmured. “Just another pointless fight. All of them.” His eyes lingered on her lips again.

She hesitated. When he still didn’t move, Scarlet leaned forward and kissed him. Softly. Just once.

Barely able to breathe around her hammering heart, Scarlet drew back enough for warm air to slip between them, and Wolf dissolved before her, a resigned sigh brushing against her mouth.

Then he was pulling her toward him and bundling her up in his arms. Scarlet gasped as Wolf buried one hand into her mess of curls and kissed her back.

BOOK

Three

“Oh, Grandmother, what terribly big teeth you have!”

Twenty-Four

“Hide.” Cinder said the word slowly. Tenderly. A breathy plea ending in the soft, careful d. “Hide. Rampion, hide. Hide, Rampion. Disappear … Fade away … You do not exist.… You cannot be seen.…”

She was sitting cross-legged on her bunk, in the dark, envisioning the ship that surrounded her. The steel walls, the churning engine, the screws and soldered seals that held everything together, the computer mainframe, the thick glass of the cockpit windows, the closed exit ramp in the cargo bay, the podship dock beneath her feet.

Then she imagined it invisible.

Swimming past radars, and the radars remaining silent.

Dissolving into blackness under the watchful eye of satellite stations.

Gracefully dancing between all the other ships that cluttered the solar system. Drawing no attention. Not existing.

Her vertebrae tingled, beginning at the top of her neck and running down to her tailbone. A warmth radiated outward, filling every muscle and every joint, seeping through her fingers and back into her knees. Recirculating.

She released the air from her lungs, let her muscles release with her breath, and started the chant again. “Hide, Rampion. Rampion, hide. Hide.”

“Is it working?”

Her eyes popped open. In the darkness, all she could see were pinpoints of stars beyond her window. They were on the side of Earth opposite from the sun, leaving the ship cloaked in shadow and the vastness of space.

Cloaked. Hiding. Invisible.

“Good question,” she said, turning her attention up toward the ceiling as had already become habit, even though she knew it was ridiculous. Iko was not some spot on the ceiling, was not even the speakers that projected her chipper voice. She was every computer wire, every chip, every system. She was everything but the steel and bolts holding the ship together.

It was a little disconcerting.

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” Cinder said. She glanced out the window. There were no ships visible through the small portal, only stars and stars and stars. In the distance, a vague purple haze, perhaps some gas left off the tail of a comet. “Do you feel any different?”

Something rumbled beneath her feet, soft as a kitten’s purr. It reminded her of the way Iko’s fan used to spin extra fast when she was processing information.

“No,” Iko said after a minute, and the thrumming died down. “Still gargantuan.”

Cinder untucked her legs, allowing blood back into her foot. “That’s what worries me. I feel like it shouldn’t be this easy. The entire Commonwealth military is after us. For all we know, they could have elicited the help of other Union militaries by this point too, not to mention Lunars and bounty hunters. How many ships have you picked up on our radars?”

“Seventy-one.”

“Right—and not one of them noticed us or got suspicious? Does that seem possible?”

“Maybe what you’re doing is working after all. Maybe you’re a natural at this Lunar thing.”

Cinder shook her head, forgetting that Iko couldn’t see her. She wanted to believe she was having an effect, but it felt wrong. Lunars had control over bioelectricity, not radio waves. She had a suspicious feeling that all this chanting and visualizing was an enormous waste of time.

Which left the question: Why hadn’t they been spotted yet?

“Cinder, how long will I have to stay like this?”

Cinder sighed. “I don’t know. Until we can install another auto-control system.”

“And until you find me a new body.”

“That too.” She rubbed her hands together. The subtle warmth that had filled up her right fingers had faded, and for once they were colder than the hard metal ones.

“I don’t like being a ship. It’s awful.” There was a distinct whine in Iko’s tone. “It makes me feel less alive than ever.”

Falling back on her cot, Cinder studied the black shadows of the bunk. She knew exactly how Iko felt—for the brief time she’d been acting as the auto-control system herself, it had seemed like her brain was being stretched in every direction. Like she’d lost touch with her physical body, had detached her brain and was hovering in a nonexistent space between the real and the digital. Pity welled up in her for Iko, who had never wanted anything but to become more human.

“It’s only temporary,” she said, pushing the hair off her forehead. “As soon as it’s safe to get back to Earth, we’ll—”

“Hey, Cinder! Are you watching the net?” Thorne crowded into the doorway, outlined by the energy-saving lights in the hallway. “What is this, nap time? Turn some lights on.”

Cinder’s muscles knotted across her shoulders. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Thorne surveyed the small, dark room. “Yeah, good one.”

Throwing her feet off the bed, Cinder sat up. “I’m trying to concentrate.”

“Well. Keep up the good work, mate. In the meantime, you should come watch this. They’re talking about us on all the channels. We’re famous.”

“No, thank you. I’d rather not see myself acting like a maniac at the most important social event of the year.” She’d only watched the footage from the ball once—of when she’d lost her foot and crashed down the stairs, landing in a heap of wrinkled silk and muddied gloves—and that one viewing had been plenty.

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