Scarlet Page 37


The thought of being held by these monsters for nearly three long weeks curdled her stomach.

He guided her up a staircase to the first balcony and continued to the second. Closed doors led back into the theater, to the higher tiers of seats, but the soldier bypassed them and moved to another hallway. Finally he stopped before a closed door, grasped the handle, and shoved it open.

They had reached one of the private balconies that overlooked the stage, holding only four red velvet chairs in two rows.

Her grandma was sitting alone in the front row, her thick gray braid dangling over the back of the seat. The tears Scarlet had been fighting for so long came at her in a rush.

“Grand-mère!”

Her grandma started, but Scarlet was already barreling toward her. She collapsed to her knees in the space between the chairs and the railing and draped herself over her grandma’s lap, crying into her jeans. The same dirt-covered jeans she always gardened in. The familiar aroma of dirt and hay peeled up from the fabric, making Scarlet cry harder.

“Scarlet! What are you doing here?” her grandma asked, settling her hands down on Scarlet’s back. She sounded stern and angry, but not unkind. “Stop that. You’re making a fool of yourself.” She pulled Scarlet off her lap. “There, there, calm down. What are you doing here?”

Scarlet sat back on her heels and stared bleary-eyed into her grandma’s face. Bloodshot eyes belied her exhaustion, no matter how her jaw was set. She was on the verge of crying too, but hadn’t yet succumbed to the tears. Scarlet took her hands, squeezing them. Her grandmother’s hands were soft, as if three weeks away from the farm had rubbed away years of calluses.

“I came for you,” she said. “After Dad told me what happened, what they were doing to you, I had to come find you. Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” She rubbed her thumbs over Scarlet’s knuckles. “But I don’t like seeing you here. You shouldn’t have come. These men—they—you shouldn’t be here. It’s dangerous.”

“I’m going to get us both out of here. I promise. Stars, I missed you so much.” Sobbing, she pressed her forehead to their entwined fingers, ignoring the hot tears that dripped off her jaw. “I found you, Grand-mère. I found you.”

Slipping one hand out of Scarlet’s grip, her grandma brushed a cluster of messy curls off Scarlet’s brow. “I knew you would. I knew you would come. Here, sit down next to me.”

Stifling the tears, Scarlet pulled herself off her grandma’s lap. A tray sat on the seat beside her grandma, holding a cup of tea, half a baguette, and a small bowl of red grapes that seemed untouched. Her grandma took the tray and held it out to the soldier in the doorway. His lips curled, but he took the tray and left, letting the door shut behind him. Scarlet’s heart expanded—she did not hear a lock being put on the door. They were alone.

“Sit here, Scarlet. I’ve missed you so much—but I’m so angry with you. You shouldn’t have come. It’s too dangerous … but now that you’re here. Oh, darling, you’re exhausted.”

“Grand-mère, don’t they monitor you? Aren’t they afraid you’ll escape?”

The old woman’s face softened and she pet the empty seat. “Of course they monitor me. We are never truly alone here.”

Scarlet considered the wall that separated them from the next private balcony, covered in flaking red wallpaper. Perhaps someone was there now, listening to them. Or the group of soldiers she’d seen down in the first-floor audience—if their senses were nearly as attuned as Wolf’s, they could probably hear them even from down there. Ignoring the urge to scream obscenities across the void, she lifted herself into the chair and reached for her grandma’s hands again, holding them tight. Soft as they may have become, they were also deathly cold.

“You’re sure you’re all right? They haven’t hurt you?”

Her grandma smiled, wearily. “They haven’t hurt me. Not yet. Although I don’t know what they have planned, and I don’t trust them a hair, not after what they did to Luc. And they’ve mentioned you. I was terrified that they would go after you too, darling. I wish you hadn’t come. I should have been more prepared for this. I should have known this would happen.”

“But what do they want?”

Her grandma dragged her attention down to the dark stage. “They want information that I can’t give them, though I would in a heartbeat if I could. I would have weeks ago. Anything to come home to you. Anything to keep you safe.”

“Information about what?”

Her grandma took in a slow breath. “They want to know about Princess Selene.”

Scarlet’s pulse skipped. “Is it true, then? Do you really know something about her?”

Her grandma’s eyebrows jumped upward. “Have they told you why, then? Why they suspect me?”

She nodded, feeling guilty for knowing the secret her grandma had so long harbored. “They told me about Logan Tanner. How they think he brought Selene to Earth, and how he may have sought out your help. They told me they think he’s my … my grandfather.”

The wrinkles on her grandma’s forehead deepened and she cast a concerned look at the wall behind Scarlet, toward the other balcony, before drawing her attention back. “Scarlet. My love.” Her expression was gentle, but she didn’t continue.

Scarlet gulped, wondering if, after all these years, her grandma couldn’t stand to dig up the past. The romance that had been so brief, but had been clinging to her for so long.

Did she even know that Logan Tanner was dead?

“Grand-mère, I remember the man that came to the house. The man from the Eastern Commonwealth.”

Her grandma tilted her head up, patient.

“I thought he was coming to take me away, but he wasn’t, was he? You two were talking about the princess.”

“Very good, Scarlet, dear.”

“Why don’t you just tell them his name? You must remember what it was, and then they could go to him. Won’t he know where the princess is?”

“They no longer want to know about the princess.”

She bit down on her lip. Frustration welled up inside her. She was shaking. “Then why don’t they let us go?”

Her grandma squeezed Scarlet’s fingers. Years of pulling weeds and chopping vegetables had made them strong, despite their age. “They can’t control me, Scarlet.”

She scrutinized her grandma’s lined face. “What do you mean?”

“They’re Lunar. The thaumaturge—he has the Lunar gift. But it doesn’t work on me. That’s why they’re keeping me here. They want to know why.”

Scarlet grasped for figments in her mind. All those bits and pieces she’d learned about Lunars—impossible ever to tell which were true and which were exaggerated tales. It was believed that their queen ruled through mind control, and that her thaumaturges were almost as strong as she was. That they could manipulate people’s thoughts and emotions. That they could even control people’s bodies if they chose, like puppets on strings.

Scarlet gulped. “Are there a lot of people who can’t be … controlled?”

“Very few. Some Lunars are born that way. They call them shells. But they’ve never known of an Earthen who could resist before. I’m the first.”

“How? Is it genetic?” She hesitated. “Can I be controlled?”

“Oh yes, dear. Whatever makes me like this, you do not have it. They’ll use that against us, mark my words. I imagine they’ll want to experiment on us both as they attempt to find out where this abnormality comes from. Whether or not they should be worried about other Earthens being able to resist them as well.” In the darkness, her grandmother’s jaw hardened. “It must not be hereditary. Your father was weak also.”

Scarlet was lost in warm brown eyes that had always been soothing, and yet struck her as harsh now in the darkness of the theater. Something gnawed at the back of her thoughts. The faintest suspicion.

Her father was weak. Weak for women. Weak for booze. A weak father, a weak man.

But her grandmother had never suggested she could think the same of Scarlet. You’ll be fine, she always said, after a skinned knee, after a broken arm, after her first youthful heartbreak. You’ll be fine because you’re strong, like me.

Heart thumping, Scarlet lowered her gaze to their intertwined fingers. Her grandmother’s very wrinkled, very frail, very soft hands.

Her chest constricted.

Lunars could manipulate people’s thoughts and emotions. Manipulate the way they experienced the very world around them.

Gulping, Scarlet pulled away. Her grandma’s fingers clenched in a brief effort to restrict her, but then let go.

Scarlet staggered out of her seat and backed against the rail, staring at her grandmother. The familiar unkempt hair in its always crooked braid. The familiar eyes, growing colder as they peered up at her. Growing wider.

She blinked rapidly against the hallucination, and her grandmother’s hands grew larger.

Repulsion ripped through Scarlet. She gripped the railing to hold herself steady.

“Who are you?”

The door at the back of the balcony opened, but instead of her guard, Scarlet saw the thaumaturge’s silhouette in the hallway. “Very well, Omega. We have learned as much as we can from her.”

Scarlet faced her grandmother again. A startled cry was wrenched out of her.

Her grandmother was gone, replaced by Wolf’s brother. Omega Ran Kesley sat staring up at her, perfectly at ease. He wore the same shirt she’d seen him in last, wrinkled and flecked with dried mud. “Hello, dear. How nice to see you again.”

Scarlet glared up at the thaumaturge. She could make out the whites of his eyes, the draping of his fancy tunic. “Where is she?”

“She is alive, for now, and unfortunately remains a mystery.” He squinted at Scarlet. “Her mind remains impenetrable, but whatever her secret is, she has not passed it on to her son or her grandchild. I would think if it was a mental trick she were using, she would have at least tried to teach it to you, if not to that pathetic drunkard. And yet, if it is genetic, could it be a random trait? Or is there a shell in your ancestry?” He touched a finger to his lips, analyzing Scarlet like a frog he was about to dissect. “Perhaps you won’t be entirely useless, though. I wonder how lubricated the old lady’s tongue would become if she were to watch as you hammered needles into your own flesh.”

Fury clawed up her throat and Scarlet hurled herself at him with a ragged cry, nails scratching at his face.

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