Scarlet Page 46


Biting back her own tears, she traced her grandmother’s chest and ribs. The bandages were everywhere. She stroked the woman’s arms and hands—her hands were shaped more like clubs now, so covered in bandages.

“No, don’t touch them.” Her grandma tried to pull away, but her limbs only twitched uncontrollably.

As tenderly as she could, Scarlet ran her thumb over her grandma’s hands. Hot tears slipped down her cheeks. “What did they do to you?”

“Scar, you have to get out of here.” Each word a struggle until she could barely talk, barely breathe.

Scarlet knelt over her, resting her head on her grandma’s breast and stroking the sticky hair off her brow. “It’s going to be all right. I’m going to get you out of here and we’re going to go to the hospital and you’re going to be fine. You’re going to be fine.” She forced herself to sit up. “Can you walk? Have they done anything to your legs?”

“I can’t walk. I can’t move. You have to leave me here, Scarlet. You have to get out.”

“I’m not leaving you. They’ve all left, Grand-mère. We have time. We just need to figure out a way—I can carry you.” Tears dripped off Scarlet’s chin.

“Come here, my love. Come closer.” Scarlet swiped at her nose and buried her face against her grandma’s neck. Arms tried to encircle her, but served to only beat weakly against her sides. “I didn’t want to involve you in this. I’m so sorry.”

“Grand-mère.”

“Hush. Listen. I need you to do something for me. Something important.”

She shook her head. “Stop it. You’re going to be all right.”

“Listen to me, Scarlet.” Even her grandmother’s faint voice seemed to drop. “Princess Selene is alive.”

Scarlet squeezed her eyes shut. “Stop talking, please. Save your strength.”

“She went to live in the Eastern Commonwealth with a family by the name of Linh. A man named Linh Garan.”

A sad, frustrated sigh. “I know, Grand-mère. I know you kept her, and I know you gave her to a man in the Commonwealth. But it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s not your problem anymore. I’m going to get you out of here, and I’ll keep you safe.”

“No, darling, you must find her. She’ll be a teenager now … a cyborg.”

Scarlet blinked, wishing she could see her grandmother in the blackness. “A cyborg?”

“Unless she changed her name, she’s called Cinder now.”

The name struck a chord of familiarity in the back of Scarlet’s mind, but her brain was too clouded to pinpoint it. “Grand-mère, please stop talking. I have to—”

“You must find her. Logan and Garan are the only ones who know, and if the queen found me, she could find them. Someone must tell the girl who she is. Someone must find her. You must find her.”

Scarlet shook her head. “I don’t care about the stupid princess. I care about you. I’m going to protect you.”

“I can’t go with you.” Her padded hands rubbed against Scarlet’s arms. “Please, Scarlet. She could make all the difference.”

Scarlet shrank down. “She’ll just be a teenager,” she managed between her renewed sobs. “What can she do?”

She remembered then, the name. The newsfeeds flashed through her thoughts—a girl running down palace steps, falling, landing in a heap on a gravel path.

Linh Cinder.

A teenager. A cyborg. A Lunar.

She gulped. So Levana had already found the girl. Found, but lost her again.

“It doesn’t matter,” she murmured, laying her head against her grandma’s chest. “It’s not our problem. I’m going to get you out of here. We’re going to get away.”

Her mind desperately searched for a way they could escape together. Something to use as a stretcher or a wheelchair or—

But there was nothing.

Nothing that could make it up the stairs. Nothing she could carry. Nothing her grandma could endure.

Her heart broke, the pain of it pushing a wail out of her throat.

She couldn’t leave her like this. She couldn’t let them hurt her anymore.

“My sweet girl.”

She clamped her eyes shut, pushing out two more hot tears. “Grand-mère, who is Logan Tanner?”

Her grandma brushed a light kiss against Scarlet’s forehead. “He’s a good man, Scarlet. He would have loved you. I hope you’ll meet him someday. Tell him hello for me. Tell him good-bye.”

A sob cut through Scarlet’s heart. Her grandma’s shirt was soaked through with her tears.

She couldn’t bring herself to tell her that Logan Tanner was dead. Had gone crazy. Had killed himself.

Her grandfather.

“I love you, Grand-mère. You’re everything to me.”

The heavy bandaged limbs stroked her knees. “I love you too. My brave, stubborn girl.”

She sniffed, and vowed to herself that she would stay until morning. She would stay forever. She wouldn’t abandon her. If her captors came back, they would find them together—kill them together if they must.

She would never leave her again.

The vow was made, the promise determined, when she heard footsteps echoing down the corridor.

Thirty-Nine

Hunkering down over her grandmother, Scarlet turned toward the hallway. Old wires hummed overhead and pale light flooded the cell. The door still stood open, the bars casting skeletal shadows along the floor.

Her eyes adjusted slowly. She held her breath, listening, but the footsteps had stopped. Still, someone was there. Someone was coming.

Her grandmother’s bandaged hand slipped into hers and she turned back. Her gut clamped. Streaks of dried blood were on the weathered face, her hair was tangled and matted. She was little more than a wasted skeleton now, though her brown eyes were still strong, still vibrant. Still filled with more love than was kept in all the rest of the world.

“Run,” she whispered.

Scarlet shook her head. “I’m not leaving you.”

“This is not your fight. Run, Scarlet. Now.”

Footsteps again, growing closer.

Clenching her jaw, Scarlet pulled herself onto shaking legs and faced the door. Her heart was galloping, waiting as the steps grew louder.

Maybe it was Wolf.

Come to help her, to help them.

She was dizzy from the fluttering of her pulse, unable to believe that she wanted to see him again, after everything he’d done to her.

But he’d given her the chip. And he was strong, strong enough to carry her grandmother. If it was Wolf, returned for her, they’d be saved …

She saw the shadow cross the floor before the man stepped into the threshold.

It was Ran, and he was smiling.

Scarlet gulped and solidified her knees, determined not to show her fear. But there was something different about Ran now. His eyes were no longer merely ruthless—now they were hungry, peering at Scarlet like she was a treat, one he’d been looking forward to for a long time.

“Ah, little fox. And just how did you get out of your cell?”

A shudder ripped through her.

“Leave my granddaughter alone.” Her grandmother’s raspy voice had gained an ounce of strength. She stirred, trying to sit up.

Scarlet dropped beside her, squeezed her grandmother’s hand. “Grand-mère—no, don’t.”

“I remember you.” Michelle stared at Ran. “You were with the ones who came for me.”

“Grand-mère—”

Ran chuckled. “A sharp memory you have for such an ancient thing.”

“Don’t worry about him, Scarlet,” said Michelle. “He is only the omega. He must have been left behind, because he is too weak to join the battle.”

Ran snarled, baring his jutting canines, and Scarlet shrank back.

“I stayed behind,” he growled, “because I have unfinished business here.” His eyes flashed, practically glowing. There was nothing but hatred inside them—fiery and unrestrained.

Scarlet shifted so that her body better covered her grandmother.

“You are nothing,” Michelle said, her lashes dipping from exhaustion. Terror clutched at Scarlet’s heart. “Nothing but a puppet for that thaumaturge. They’ve taken away your gift and turned you all into monsters, but even with all the strength, all the senses, all the bloodlust—you remain the lowest of your peers, and you always will be.”

Scarlet’s mind whirred. Wanting the conversation to end, wanting her grandmother to stop goading him—knowing it made no difference. There was murder on Ran’s face.

A rough laugh burst out of him. His hands gripped the doorjamb to either side, entirely blocking the exit. “You’re wrong, you old hag. You know so much—you must know what becomes of a pack member who kills his alpha?” He didn’t wait for her response. “He takes his alpha’s place.” His cheeks dimpled. “And I’ve found that my brother, my alpha, has a weakness.” His words slipped off as his attention found Scarlet again.

“You are a naive young man.” Her grandmother coughed. “You are weak. You will never be more than a lowly omega. Even I can see that.”

Scarlet hissed. She could see the fury building inside Ran, feel the anger rolling off him. “Grand-mère!”

Then it became obvious, what her grandmother was trying to do.

“No! She doesn’t mean it.” She despised herself for pleading, but couldn’t care. “She’s old, she’s delirious! Just leave her—”

Fuming into the cell, Ran snatched Scarlet up by her hair and pried her away from her grandmother.

She shrieked, clawing at his forearm, but he tossed her back into the corner. “No!”

Her grandma screamed in pain as Ran lifted her by the throat. In a blink she was pinned against the wall, too weak to flail, to fight, to put up any resistance.

“LEAVE HER ALONE!” Scarlet scrambled up and jumped onto Ran’s back, locking her elbows around his neck, squeezing with all her might. When Ran didn’t even flinch, she clawed at him, aiming for his eye sockets.

Ran howled and dropped her grandmother into a heap, then flung Scarlet off his back. She collapsed against the wall, but she barely felt the impact, her attention falling on her grandmother’s limp, bandaged form.

“Grand-mère!”

Their gazes met and she could see, in an instant, that her grandmother would not be moving again. Her dry lips managed to stammer—“Ru…” But nothing followed. Her eyes lingered open, eerily empty.

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