Scarlet Page 33

“Wolf, you have to promise me you’ll take care of her. We don’t know what kind of condition she’ll be in. If they’ve … if she’s hurt … you’ll have to take care of her.” Her voice hitched, but there were no more tears. Her resolve was complete.

Until—“What if she’s already dead, Scarlet?”

Dread settled in her stomach at the words she’d refused to speak, for fear it could make them real. The train was still slowing and Scarlet could make out the furious noise of the city: hovers and netscreens and buzzers warning to stay off the tracks. It was the middle of the night, but in the city there was never silence.

“Do you think she is?” Her voice trembled. Her heart throbbed as she waited for him to answer. “You think they’ve killed her?”

Every moment wrapped around Scarlet’s neck, strangling her, until the only possible word from Wolf’s lips had to be yes. Yes, she was dead. Yes, she was gone. They’d murdered her. These monsters had murdered her.

Scarlet pressed her palms into the crate, trying to push through the plastic. “Say it.”

“No,” he murmured, shoulders sinking. “No, I don’t think they’ve killed her. Not yet.”

Scarlet shivered with relief. She covered her face with both hands, dizzy with the hurricane of emotions. “Thank the stars,” she whispered. “Thank you.”

His tone hardened. “Don’t thank me for telling the truth when it would have been mercy to lie to you.”

“Mercy? To tell me she’s dead? To break my heart?”

“Making you believe she was dead was the only chance I had to convince you not to go looking for her. We both know that. I should have lied.”

The hum of the tracks deepened as the train crawled into a station. Voices yelled. Machinery clanked and hissed.

“It’s not your decision to make,” she said, grabbing the portscreen and checking their location. They’d made it to Paris. “I have to go after her. But you don’t have to come with me.”

“Scarlet—”

“No, listen. I appreciate your help. How far you’ve brought me. But I can go on alone. Just tell me where to go and I’ll find it myself.”

“Maybe I won’t.”

Scarlet shoved the port into her pocket, anger burning in her cheeks. But then she met Wolf’s gaze and saw, not stubbornness, but panic. His fingers curling and uncurling, again and again.

She released her mounting resentment. Scooting toward Wolf, she cupped his face in her hands. He flinched, but didn’t pull away. “They’ll want this information, won’t they?”

His expression was stone.

“We’ll offer me as a trade. You and Grand-mère can go somewhere safe, take care of each other, and when they let me go, I’ll come find you. They can’t keep me forever.”

She smiled as warmly as she could, and waited for him to return it. When he didn’t, she rubbed her thumbs across his cheeks and kissed him. Though he instantly pulled her against him, he didn’t let the kiss linger.

“There’s no guarantee they’ll let you go. When they’re done with you, they might kill you. You’re sacrificing your life for hers.”

“It’s a chance I have to take.”

The train came to a steady stop and sank down onto the tracks.

Wolf’s eyes saddened. “I know. You’ll do what you have to do.” Peeling her hands off his shoulders, he placed a sweet kiss against her wrist, where the blood pulsed beneath her skin. “And so will I.”

Twenty-Six

The underground platform was well lit and filled with androids and hovering carts ready to unload the train’s cargo. Scarlet followed Wolf into the shadows of another freight train. They waited until an android turned away before crawling up onto the platform.

Wolf grabbed her wrist and pulled her across the platform, ducking behind a cart loaded with crates. A moment later Scarlet saw an android roll into the car she and Wolf had just abandoned, its blue light seeping back out the door.

“Be ready to run when that train leaves,” Wolf said, adjusting the bag on his shoulder. Not seconds later, the train lifted up off the tracks and began gliding back into the tunnel.

Scarlet sprang toward the tracks, only to find herself being pulled back by her hood. She let out a strangled cry and slammed back into Wolf.

“Wha—”

He placed a finger to his mouth.

Scarlet glared and ripped her hood from his grasp, but then she heard it too. The hum of an approaching train.

It was on the third track out and blew past them without any indication of slowing, vanishing into the darkness again as quickly as it had come.

Wolf grinned. “Now we can go.”

They reached the other platform without any further run-ins, spotted only by a middle-aged man who watched them curiously over his port.

Scarlet checked her own port when they reached street level. The city was quiet in the still of morning. They were at the Gare de Lyon, surrounded by avenues of shops and offices. Though Wolf tried to hide it, Scarlet could tell he was sniffing for something.

All she could smell was city. Metal and asphalt and baking bread from a closed patisserie on the corner.

Wolf headed northwest.

The street was lined with imposing second-era Beaux-Arts structures and flower boxes hanging from stone-wrapped windows. An ornate clock tower stood in the distance, its face lit up and showing two broad pointed hands and roman numerals; below it stood a digital screen that read 04:26 beside an ad for the newest model of house android.

“How far are we?” Scarlet asked.

“Not far. We can walk.”

They turned left at a traffic circle, Wolf half a step ahead of her, hunched over like he was barricading himself. Scarlet’s gaze traveled down his arm, over the bandaged wound that no longer seemed to be bothering him, to his fidgeting fingers. She wanted to reach out to him, but found it impossible. She tucked both of her hands into her hoodie’s pockets instead.

There was an abyss opening up between them, cutting through whatever they’d shared on the train. They were almost there—almost to her grandmother, almost to the Order of the Pack.

Maybe he was leading her to her death.

Maybe Wolf was marching toward his.

She tilted her chin up, refusing to frighten herself with her own morose thoughts. All that mattered now was rescuing her grandmother, and she was so close. So close.

The ancient residences drew in closer to the road as they left the busy intersection behind. There was only the occasional sign of life—a cat cleaning itself in the window of a hat shop, a man in a suit darting from a hotel into a waiting hover. They passed a netscreen that showed a commercial for a shampoo that claimed to change the color of one’s hair based on their moods.

She already yearned for the solitude of the farm. That was the only reality she knew. The farm and her grandmother and her weekly deliveries. And now, Wolf. That was the reality she wanted.

Wolf quickened his pace, but his shoulders were squeezing inward again. Locking her jaw, Scarlet reached forward and grasped his wrist.

“I can’t let you do this,” she said, angrier than she’d intended. “Just tell me where it is and I’ll go on by myself. Just tell me what to do. Give me some indication of what I’m dealing with and I’ll figure something out, but I can’t let you go with me.”

He stared down at her for a long moment and she tried to see softness in his stark green eyes, but the warmth and desperation that had been so apparent on the train were now replaced with a cold resolve. He pried his arm away.

“Do you see the man sitting in front of the closed café on the other side of the street?”

She slid her attention off him and found the man sitting at one of the outdoor tables. One ankle was propped on his knee, his elbow dangling off the back of his chair. He was staring at them, and he didn’t try to hide it. When Scarlet caught his eye, he winked.

A chill crawled over her skin.

“Pack member,” said Wolf. “We passed another at the magrail station two blocks back. And…” He craned his head. “If the stench is any indication, we’re about to cross paths with another when we turn this next corner.”

Her heart was suddenly stomping. “How did they know we were here?”

“I suspect they’ve been waiting for us. They’ve probably been tracking your ID.”

That’s what people did when they ran away and didn’t want to be found—they cut out their ID chips.

“Or yours,” she murmured. “If they do have access to an ID tracker, then maybe they’ve been following you.”

“Maybe.” His voice was nonchalant and she realized this wasn’t news to him. Had he thought this could be possible? Was that how Ran had found them?

“We might as well go find out what they want.” Wolf turned away and she had to race to keep up with him.

“But there’s only three of them. You can fight three of them, can’t you? You said you could take—” She hesitated. Wolf had told her he would win in a fight against six wolves. When had those wild animals become synonymous with these men, this Order of the Pack?

“You could still get away. There’s still a chance,” she finished.

“I said I would protect you and that’s what I’m going to do. It’s pointless to discuss this any further.”

“I don’t need your protection.”

“Yes,” he said, the word biting over the synthesized noise of a music video on a nearby billboard. “Yes, you do.”

Scarlet darted in front of him, planting her feet. He stopped just shy of plowing into her.

“No,” she said. “What I need is to know that I’m not responsible for whatever they’ll do to you. You need to stop being stupid and get out of here. At least give yourself a chance!”

He peered over her head at some place in the distance. Scarlet tensed, wondering if he’d picked up on the presence of a fourth pack member, or even more. Gulping, she glanced at the man by the café, who was stroking his ear and watching them with obvious amusement.

“What’s stupid is not that I’m going to try and protect you,” Wolf said, pulling his focus back down to her. “What’s stupid is that I almost believe it will make a difference.”

He stepped around her, shrugging off the hand that reached out to stop him. Her thoughts teetered, knowing she had a choice. She could run away with him, leave the city, and never come back. She could choose not to go in search of her grandmother after all, and maybe save his life.

But it was not really a choice. She barely knew him. Despite the ache in her heart, despite everything. She would never be able to live with herself knowing that she’d abandoned her grandmother when she was this close.

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