Scarlet Page 48


Scarlet hid behind her arms but couldn’t bring herself to look away. Blood gurgled up, coating Wolf’s chin and neck, dribbling down onto the mosaic floor.

Ran shook and jerked, but the struggle was quick to drain out of him. A moment later, Wolf released him, letting the dead body slump onto the ground.

Reaching around the column, Scarlet grasped the stair railing and hauled herself up the flight. Running, half limping up the steps.

The lobby was still deserted. Her feet splashed through the puddle in the center of the room as she ran for the doors. Doors that would lead to the street. To freedom.

Then she heard Wolf, chasing her.

She shoved through the exit. The cool evening air engulfed her as she pounded down the stairs to the empty street, already scanning the open square for help.

She saw no one.

No one.

The door slammed open behind her before it had time to close and she stumbled blindly across the street. In the distance, she saw a woman running into a nearby alley. Hope flashed and Scarlet urged her feet to move faster, to fly. She suddenly felt like she could take off and soar over the concrete. If she could just reach the woman, just use her port to call for help—

And then another figure appeared. Another man, his gait abnormally fast. He sped into the alley and a moment later the woman’s terrified scream screeched across the square, and was cut short.

A howl erupted from the same dark alley.

In the distance, another howl rose up to greet it, and another, and another, filling the twilight with bloodthirsty cries.

Terror and hopelessness choked Scarlet all at once and she fell, silt and concrete digging into her palms. Gasping, drenched with sweat, she rolled onto her back. Wolf had stopped running, but he still came for her. Prowling toward her with measured, patient steps.

He was panting almost as hard as she was.

Somewhere off in the city, another chorus of howling started.

Wolf did not join them.

His attention was all for Scarlet, cold and sharp and hungry. The pain was clear. The fury was clearer.

She scrambled away on her burning palms.

Wolf paused as he reached the center of the intersection. He was silhouetted by the moonlight, eyes gold and green and black and seething.

She saw him drag his tongue across his fangs. Watched as he curled and uncurled his fingers. His jaw worked as if to take in a bigger gulp of air.

She could see his fight. His struggle. As clearly as she could see the animal—the wolf—in him. As clearly as she could still see the man.

“Wolf.” Her tongue was parched. She tried to wet her dry lips and tasted blood. “What have they done to you?”

“You.” The word was spat out at her, full of hatred. “What have you done to me?”

He took another stumbling step toward her and she scooted away, pushing at the ground with the heels of her shoes, but it was useless. In the blink of an eye he had crouched down over her, knocking her onto her elbows without even having to touch her. His hands hit the ground on either side of her head.

Scarlet gaped up at eyes that now seemed to glow in the dark. His mouth was ruby red, the front of his shirt black from the gore. She could smell blood on him, on his clothes, his hair, his skin.

If it was this pungent to her, she couldn’t imagine how it must overwhelm him.

He growled and lowered his nose to her neck.

Sniffing.

“I know you don’t want to hurt me, Wolf.”

His nose bumped against her jaw. His breath caressed her collarbone.

“You helped me. You rescued me.”

A steaming tear escaped down her cheek.

The tips of his hair, wild and messy again, brushed against her lips. “Things have changed.”

Her heart fluttered like a firefly with a missing wing. Her pulse pounded through her veins, expecting the clamp of jaws on her throat at any moment. But something was holding him back. He could have killed her already, but he hadn’t.

She gulped. “You protected me from Ran—it wasn’t so you could kill me now.”

“You don’t know the thoughts going through my head.”

“I know you’re different from them.” She attached her gaze to the enormous moon over the skyline. Reminded herself that this was not a monster. This was Wolf, the man who had held her so tenderly on the train. The man who had given her the ID chip to help her escape. “You said you never wanted to scare me. Well, you’re scaring me.”

A growl vibrated against her. Scarlet shivered, but forced her body not to shrink away. Instead, she gulped and brought her hands up to his face. Stroking her thumbs over his cheeks, she placed a kiss against Wolf’s temple.

His body tensed and she was able to angle his head back just far enough that she could see his eyes. His lips curled into a snarl, but she held his gaze.

“Stop this, Wolf. You’re not one of them anymore.”

His brow twitched, but his resentment seemed to fade. His expression held pain and desperation and mute anger—but not for her. “He’s in my head,” he said, his voice a rumbling growl. “Scarlet. I can’t—”

He looked away, face scrunching.

Scarlet traced her fingers along his face. The same jaw, the same cheekbones, the same scars, all splattered with blood. She brushed her fingers through his wild hair. “Just stay with me. Protect me, like you said you would.”

Something whooshed by her ear and thudded into Wolf’s neck.

Wolf went rigid. He looked up, eyes wide and already brightening with bloodlust, but then they grew bleary. With a strangled gurgle in his throat, the strength left him and he collapsed on top of her.

Forty-One

“Wolf! Wolf!” Craning her neck, Scarlet saw a man and a woman sprinting toward her, the moonlight glinting off the woman’s gun. Scarlet’s terror was short-lived; they weren’t crazed Lunars. She returned her attention to Wolf, searching out the dart imbedded in his neck. “Wolf!” she yelled again, prying the dart out of his flesh and dropping it to the ground.

“Are you all right?” the woman yelled as she got closer. Scarlet ignored her until her own name cut through her panic. “Scarlet? Scarlet Benoit?”

She glanced up again as the woman slowed—but no, not a woman. A girl, with messy hair and fine, vaguely familiar features. Scarlet frowned, sure she’d seen the girl before.

The man caught up, gasping for air.

“Who are you?” she asked, locking her arms around Wolf as the two stooped to pull him away from her. “What did you do to him?”

“Come on,” said the man, grabbing Wolf. He tried to pry Wolf away but she held tight. “We have to get out of here.”

“Stop it! Don’t touch him! Wolf!”

She gripped the sides of Wolf’s face and tilted him back. If it hadn’t been for his fangs and the blood on his jaw, he would have looked peaceful.

“What did you do to him?”

“Scarlet, where’s your grandmother? Is she with you?” said the girl.

This brought Scarlet’s scattered attention back to her. “My grandmother?”

The girl knelt beside her. “Michelle Benoit? Do you know where she is?” The girl’s words tripped over themselves in her rush to speak.

Scarlet blinked. Her memory shifted. She did know this girl. Light bounced off the girl’s fingers and Scarlet realized what she had seen before wasn’t a gun. It was her hand.

“Linh Cinder,” she whispered.

“Don’t worry,” said the man. “We’re the good guys.”

“Scarlet,” said Cinder, grasping Wolf by the shoulder to leverage some of the weight away from her. “I know how it looked on the netscreens, but I swear we’re not here to hurt you. I just need to know where your grandmother is. Is she in danger?”

Scarlet gulped. This was Princess Selene. This was the girl they’d been searching for, the girl her grandmother had been questioned over.

The girl her grandmother had given everything to protect.

Together, she and the man heaved Wolf away, dropping him onto the concrete.

“Please,” said Cinder. “Your grandmother?”

“She’s in the opera house,” Scarlet said. “She’s dead.”

The girl gaped at her, with pity or disappointment—Scarlet couldn’t tell which. Sitting up, she flattened her palm against Wolf’s chest, relieved to feel it rise beneath her touch. “They were looking for you.”

Surprise quickly stole away the girl’s sympathy.

“Come on,” said the man from behind her, stooping and hooking his elbow beneath Scarlet’s armpit. “Time to go.”

“No! I’m not leaving him!” She scrambled out of his hold and crawled toward Wolf’s unconscious body, tying her arms around his head. The strangers gawked at her like she was mad. “He’s not like the rest.”

“He’s exactly like the rest!” said the man. “He was trying to eat you!”

“He saved my life!”

The strangers exchanged disbelieving glances, and the girl gave a baffled shrug.

“Fine,” the man said. “You take the helm.”

He pulled Scarlet off Wolf while the girl grabbed Wolf’s wrist and hoisted him up over her shoulder, grunting with the effort.

The man skirted behind and grabbed Wolf’s legs. “Holy spades,” he muttered, already breathless. “What are these guys made of?”

Cinder started moving toward the opera house at a pace only barely slower than a jaunt. Scarlet ducked in between them, supporting Wolf’s abdomen as well as she could as they awkwardly stumbled across the square.

Past the woman, the gleaming form of a military cargo ship poked out from the next street.

A howl nearly startled Scarlet into dropping Wolf’s body. She could not imagine feeling more vulnerable, her arms wrapped around Wolf’s torso, leaving her stomach and chest exposed, moving at this snail’s pace, sweating, exhausted, in pain. Blood oozing down her side.

“You better have those tranquilizers ready,” the man said.

“Can only … put in … one at a time…”

The man cursed beneath his breath, then gasped. “Cinder! Ten o’—”

There was a snap and a dart lodged itself into a man’s chest on the sidewalk in front of the theater. He had crumpled to the ground before Scarlet even realized he was there.

“Let’s pick it up,” the man behind her said. “How many more of those do you have?”

“Just three,” the girl panted.

“Gonna have to restock.”

“Right. I’ll just … head down … to the convenience store, and—” She didn’t finish, the strain too much.

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