Scarlet Page 41


“You’re an idiot. Help me carry her into the living room.”

He made no argument, and a moment later the girl was swooped up in his arms without Cinder’s help.

“Here, on the couch.” Cinder bustled ahead of him and rearranged a few faded pillows.

“I’m good like this.” Thorne shifted his arms so the girl’s head fell against his chest, her blonde curls clinging to the zipper of his leather jacket.

“Thorne. Put her down. Now.”

Muttering something to himself, he laid the girl down and meticulously arranged her shirt to cover her bared stomach and then moved down to more comfortably position her legs when Cinder grabbed him by the back of his collar and hauled him to his feet. “Let’s get out of here. She definitely recognized us. The moment she wakes up she’ll have a comm to the police.”

Thorne pulled a portscreen out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Cinder.

“What’s that?”

“Her port. I took it off her while you were busy panicking.”

Cinder snatched the portscreen away and shoved it into the side pocket of her military cargos. “Still, it won’t be long before she tells someone. And they’ll come to investigate and realize we were looking for Michelle Benoit and then they’ll be looking for Michelle Benoit and—maybe I should disable her hover before we go.”

“I think we should stay and talk to her. Maybe she’ll know where to find Michelle.”

“Stay and talk to her? And give her even more leads about how to track us? That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

“Hey, I liked my idea of bringing her along, but you already vetoed that idea, so now I’m resorting to Plan B, which is to interrogate her. And I am really looking forward to it. I used to play a game called interrogation with one of my old girlfriends where we—”

“That’s enough.” Cinder raised her hand, silencing him. “This is a bad idea. I’m leaving now. You can stay here with your girlfriend if you like.” She marched past him.

Thorne stayed on her heels. “Now that was definitely jealousy I just heard.”

A whimper stopped them both halfway to the front door and they turned to see the girl’s eyelashes fluttering open.

Cinder cursed again and tugged Thorne toward the entryway, but he didn’t budge. After a moment, he peeled himself out of her grip and meandered back into the living room. Terror flashed over her face and she sat up, pushing herself against the arm of the sofa.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said Thorne. “We’re not going to hurt you.”

“You’re those people from the netscreens. The fugitives,” she said in an endearing European accent. She gaped at Cinder. “You’re the … the…”

“Escaped Lunar cyborg fugitive?” Thorne offered.

The last bit of color drained from the girl’s face. Cinder prayed for patience.

“A-are you going to kill me?”

“No! No, no, no, of course not.” Thorne slid himself onto the other end of the sofa. “We just want to ask you a few questions.”

The girl gulped.

“What’s your name, love?”

She chewed on her lower lip, eyeing Thorne with a mixture of distrust and mild hope. “Émilie,” she breathed, barely audible.

“Émilie. A beautiful name for a beautiful girl.”

Fighting back the urge to gag, Cinder thumped her head against the door frame. It brought the girl’s attention back to her and Émilie shriveled away in fear again.

“Sorry,” said Cinder, holding out both hands. “Uh, it’s really nice to meet—”

Émilie broke into hysterical crying, her focus latched on to Cinder’s metal hand. “Please don’t kill me. I won’t tell anyone I saw you! I promise, just please don’t kill me!”

Jaw dropping, Cinder stared at the offensive limb for a second, before realizing it wasn’t her cyborg half that the girl was afraid of. It was the Lunar in her. She glanced at Thorne, who was glaring accusations at her, before throwing her arms into the air. “Fine, you take care of it,” she said, and marched out of the room.

She sat down on the stairs, where she could hear Thorne trying to calm the girl while keeping an eye on the road through the front window. She folded her elbows on top of her knees and listened to Thorne’s cooing and Émilie’s sobs and tried to rub away an oncoming headache.

Once, people had looked at her with revulsion. Now, people were terrified of her.

She wasn’t sure which was worse.

She wanted to scream to the world that it wasn’t her fault she was this way. She’d had nothing to do with it.

It surely wouldn’t have been her choice if one had been given to her.

Lunar.

Cyborg.

Fugitive.

Outlaw.

Outcast.

Cinder buried her face in her arms and urged the swirling injustices away. She would not get carried away with self-loathing. She had too many other things to worry about.

In the next room, she could hear Thorne mentioning Michelle Benoit, pleading with the girl to tell him something, anything useful, but all he got back were blubbery apologies.

Cinder sighed, wishing there were some way she could convince the girl they meant her no harm, that they were in fact the good guys.

Her body tensed.

She could convince the girl of that. Quite easily.

Guilt flooded her veins a moment later, but it didn’t quite dispel the temptation. She scanned the horizon, still seeing no sign of civilization beyond the fields.

She folded her fingers together, debating.

“You do know Michelle Benoit, don’t you?” Thorne said, his tone taking on an edge of pleading. “I mean, you are in her house. This is her house, isn’t it?”

Cinder massaged her thumbs over her temples.

She was not like Queen Levana and her thaumaturges and all the other Lunars who abused this gift—brainwashed and cajoled and controlled others for their own selfish gains.

But if controlling someone were for the greater good … and only for a short time …

“Émilie, please stop crying. It’s just a simple question, really.”

“Fine,” Cinder muttered, pushing herself off the stairs. “It’s for her own good, after all.”

Taking in a breath to dispel the guilt, she stepped back into the living room.

The girl’s gaze whipped toward her, eyes puffed. She cowered away.

Cinder forced herself to relax and let the gentle tingle slip down her nerves, thinking kind, friendly, welcoming thoughts. “We’re your friends,” she said. “We’re here to help you.”

Émilie’s eyes brightened.

“Émilie, can you tell us where Michelle Benoit is?”

A last tear slipped unnoticed down Émilie’s cheek. “I don’t know where she is. She disappeared three weeks ago. The police never found anything.”

“Do you know anything about her disappearance?”

“It happened in the middle of the day, when Scarling was out doing her deliveries. She didn’t have a hover or a ship. She didn’t seem to take any belongings with her. Her ID chip had been removed and left behind, along with her portscreen.”

It took all of Cinder’s focus to maintain the aura of friendliness and trust when disappointment started to settle in.

“But I think Scarlet may have known something.”

Cinder perked up.

“She was going to look for her. She left a couple days ago and asked me to watch the farm. It seemed she had some lead, but she didn’t tell me what it was. I’m so sorry.”

“Have you heard from Scarlet since?” asked Thorne, leaning forward.

Émilie shook her head. “Nothing. I’m worried about her, but she’s a tough girl. She’ll be all right.” Her expression brightened like a child’s. “Have I helped? I want to help.”

Cinder flinched at the girl’s eagerness. “Yes, you helped. Thank you. If you think of anything else—”

“One more question,” said Thorne, holding up a finger. “Our ship is in need of some repairs. Are there any good parts stores nearby?”

Thirty-Four

Scarlet’s sleep was restless, filled with thaumaturges and prowling wolves. When she managed to pull herself from the daze, she saw that two trays of food had been left for her. Her stomach growled upon seeing them, but she ignored it, instead rolling over and curling up on the filthy mattress. Many years ago, someone had sketched their initials on the dressing room wall and Scarlet traced her fingertips over them. Were they the work of a rising opera star in the second era or a prisoner of war?

Had they died in this room?

She leaned her forehead against the cool plaster.

The scanner beeped in the hallway and the door clanked open.

Scarlet rolled onto her back and froze.

Wolf was standing in the doorway, having to duck his head to keep from hitting the frame. His eyes pierced through the darkness but they were the only thing about him that hadn’t changed. His once messy, spiky hair had been combed off his brow, making his handsome features appear too sharp, too cruel. He’d washed the dirt from his face and now wore the same uniform she’d seen on the other soldiers: a maroon shirt and rune-decorated guards on his shoulders and forearms. A series of belts and sashes held empty holsters—she briefly wondered if Wolf preferred to fight without weaponry, or if he simply hadn’t been allowed to bring any guns into her cell.

She leaped off the bed, instantly regretting it as the world tilted beneath her and she had to brace herself against the wall. Wolf remained silent, watching, until their gazes clashed across the room—his dark and expressionless, hers growing more hateful, more angry by the second.

“Scarlet.” A hint of a struggle crossed his face.

Her revulsion tore through her and she screamed. She had no memory of crossing the room, but the crunch of her fists as they struck his jaw, his ear, his chest thundered up her arms.

He allowed her five strikes with nothing more than a grimace before stopping her. He caught her wrists mid-swing, holding them fast against his stomach.

Scarlet reeled back and aimed her heel for his kneecap, but he whipped her around so fast she lost balance and found herself facing away from him, her arms locked in his grip.

“Let go of me!” she screeched, aiming her foot for his toes, stomping and screaming and thrashing, but if she hurt him, he showed no sign of it. She craned her neck and snapped her teeth, though she had no hope of actually biting him. Instead, with a painful twist of her neck, she managed to land a gob of spit on his jaw.

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