Being Red: Chapter Fourteen

A clearing opens up before me. I jog to the center, the need for an unobstructed view of the sky growing within me. I throw back my head, fling out my arms, and spin in a circle. This is the most carefree I’ve felt in ages, at least since my parents died, maybe ever.

I grow dizzy and collapse to the ground. Lying on my back, gazing up at the stars, a grin splits my face. I could lie out here forever. Forget the world and just exist. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Work and the syndicate try to invade my thoughts, but nothing can dampen my euphoria and I force them from my mind, closing my eyes and going to a place inside my head where nothing can reach me. Here I am nothing but energy and breath. I have no other purpose than to simply be.

A presence intrudes on my solitude, pulling me from my meditative state. My body still hums with energy, and although I am not at all on edge, I grow more alert.

“What are you doing here?” I ask without bothering to look. I know it is Kellan. I can sense it somehow, without a shred of doubt.

When he doesn’t answer, I slowly open my eyes and tilt my head back to look at him. Kellan sits a few yards from me in his lupine form, ears perked. I sigh and roll to my stomach to better look at him.

“Please tell me you brought clothes this time,” I say, unwilling to settle for either silent companionship or his naked ass.

He nods once and trots off into the trees. I lay back down to wait. I should be angry at him for following me, annoyed at the very least. It’s not like I need his protection, what with the small armory we brought with us thanks to Valerie. But I’m not. I’m oddly relieved. His presence is a welcome comfort.

A few minutes later, I hear footsteps, and I sit, turning to face the sound. Kellan wears a pair of jeans slung low on his hips and nothing else, and I do my best not to stare.

“What are you doing here?” I repeat now that he has the proper anatomy to answer.

Kellan sinks to the ground beside me. “I have to keep an eye on our best asset,” he says.

I raise a brow at him, my lips in a decided frown. “Right. So you follow me to the middle of nowhere.”

Kellan laughs. “Easy, Dearg,” he says. Then he sighs, “In truth, I have a few things I’ve been meaning to discuss with you. I would appreciate it if you could hear me out.”

“You have my attention,” I grant, keeping my eyes on his face so they don’t stray to the chiseled planes of his bare chest.

“Do you know why you are so good at what you do?” Kellan asks.

“I feel like you don’t mean my years of strict training,” I say, the levity I felt only moments before beginning to dim.

“It’s because your scent does not alarm our kind,” he says.

I laugh with a single huff of breath. “So, what? I’m some kind of mutant? There’s some unique trait in my DNA?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Kellan says.

I don’t like the sound of that. It makes me feel like my joke isn’t just in jest, and I don’t find this funny at all. The bubbliness I’ve felt coursing through me instantly evaporates, gone as quickly as carbonation from a can of soda with a hole unceremoniously punctured in the side, leaving me sober and hyper-alert.

“Explain,” I say, my spine rigid.

I can tell by his face that he suspects I already know, or that I at the very least have put two and two together, even if I’m not ready to admit it. So he spells it out.

“You’re one of us.”

His words chill me. I clench and unclench my fists, but there is nothing I can do physically that will change the truth of it. Because deep down, I did know. And denying it won’t help. I’d be justified in saying I don’t believe him. We met not that long ago on what anyone would agree were not the best of terms, after all. But no matter what I allowed myself to think on the surface, I have always known; beneath all the training and my mental barriers, there are the memories I repress. And Kellan has been creating a crack in my armor, chipping away at my carefully crafted defenses as if they’re not the only thing holding me together, keeping me sane amidst the madness.

“Your scent does not stand out the way a human’s would,” he elaborates. “Even though it is not yet fully developed since you have never shifted, there is enough wolf there to plainly broadcast that you aren’t quite human.”

“I’m the perfect weapon,” I agree.

Kellan laughs, but there is no humor in it. “More than you even realize.”

My eyes go suddenly wide with realization, and I draw away from him in horror. “I was supposed to be taken that night. This was the plan all along. A wolf raised by the huntsman so that one day she would turn on him and take him down from the inside.”

“No!” Kellan says in alarm, reaching for me as if he wants to comfort me but unsure if I will accept his touch, or as if he is trying to placate me, like he has any hope of calming me at this point. His voice is strong and steady, “I swear to you that’s not what happened.”

“You want me to believe I am here by chance?” I demand, rising to stand over him, my anger at the years of abuse I’ve endured rising to the forefront.

Kellan remains seated as if to assure me he means no harm. “No, Dearg. It’s not like that at all.”

“Tell me,” I say. “Tell me what you’re keeping from me.”

Kellan sighs, rubbing one hand over his stubbled jaw. “He targeted you from the beginning,” he says. “Callahan chose you because he knew your father was the alpha of this pack.”

I laugh to keep from crying and sink to my knees in defeat. I can’t even argue because this sounds exactly like something Gregor would do. Down to the last detail. Every lie.

“He killed my parents. It wasn’t werewolves at all. It was him and his men.” I force myself to say the words, to speak what my dreams have been telling me for weeks now. What I always knew on some level was the truth.

“I’m sorry, Dearg,” says Kellan. I can tell he means for everything, not just my parents’ deaths.

I don’t even know what to say to that, so I keep silent.

“Do you remember that night?” Kellan asks.

I shake my head. My memories are a jumble, and I can’t tell what is real anymore or what my mind has made up over the years to fill in the gaps or help me cope. “Only bits and pieces,” I admit.

“My father was your father’s beta.”

“Uncle Liam?” I ask, connecting the dots. I’d always wondered why he didn’t look related.

Kellan nods. His smile is soft, and I think he is glad to have someone to remember with. “Yes. That was my father. He died that night as well, protecting his alpha.”

“You have every right to be angry.”

Understanding his perspective makes it easier to forgive Kellan for using me. He’s lost someone precious too. He’s suffered too. And he saw me as a means to an end he’s been dreaming about for years now. I don’t think I would have done it any differently. Understanding makes it easier to accept but no less hurtful.

“I was angry at first. I was for many years. But I’m not angry anymore,” says Kellan. 

The sentiment sparks something inside me. I’ve been angry as well, but I’ve been directing my anger at the wrong target for all these years. The thought makes me angrier still, but this time I am angry at the man behind this entire scheme who has been benefiting from my misdirected fury all these years, and I wonder if it will ever end.

“How?” I ask. “How do you stop the anger? It feels like it will never go away.”

“Grief will stay with you forever, but the anger doesn’t have to,” Kellan says. “I let go of my anger when I started seeking justice.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “I’ve been ‘seeking justice’ for years, and it’s never done a damn thing for me.”

“Killing indiscriminately because of a vague association isn’t going to bring anyone justice,” he says. “Least of all you.”

“Me? I’m just the means for your revenge,” I say, my tone bitter.

“Justice,” he corrects. “Justice you have the power to secure. For your parents, my father, for everyone who has been affected by Gregor Callahan. And that includes you.”

“Same thing. Whatever you call it, it’s just as likely to get me killed,” I growl, but the edge is gone.

“I think we both want to avoid that outcome.”

“Assuming your plan was for me to ultimately kill Gregor Callahan for you, I don’t see how that’s possible,” I say. “I can only simultaneously poke the bear and live in its den for so long. We’re tempting fate as it is.”

“Callahan raised you as his personal secret weapon,” says Kellan. “He was cocky enough to walk into the alpha’s home, kill him and his wife, and kidnap his daughter. The only thing keeping you from turning on him is the backstory he provided you. His pride will be his downfall.”

“You don’t know him like I do,” I say.

Gregor always has a plan, and he likes to play the long game. There is no way he doesn’t expect me to turn on him. Maybe not today, but he has to think I’ll do it at some point. Kellan has just accelerated the inevitable. If betrayal is certain, I wonder what sort of failsafe Gregor has for his secret weapon. Is it simply a bullet between the eyes, or does he have something to hold over me so that all these years of time, effort, and money are not all a waste when his best assassin lies dead on the ground? Knowing Gregor, there has to be something. And the thought sends a cold rush of adrenaline through my body that turns my gut to iron.

Kellan’s nostrils flare, and I know he smells my fear. I’m not even embarrassed. I have reason to be terrified of the man who took me from my home in the middle of the night and turned me into a killer.

“Gregor is always three steps ahead,” I say, breathing steadily to calm myself. “If I kill him, I’m not walking out of there alive. It’s a deathwish. At this point, it’s either him or me, and I don’t like those odds.”

“You’re considering it,” Kellan says. “That is all I could ever ask.”

“I wish you would have told me all of this on day one,” I say.

“Would you have even listened, let alone believed me?”

“No,” I snap, my voice rising as I continue. “And that’s the whole point! Then I wouldn’t be sitting here thinking of a hundred ways I could die when I betray the man claiming to have saved my life with the guy who I used to think was related to the people responsible for my parents’ deaths. This is all your fault. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be trying to plan a mission doomed to fail all because I can’t get a cute little girl out of my head. I’d just keep turning a blind eye to all the innocents who would die for me to continue living like I always have.”

My rage boils over and I want to scream. I rock back onto my ass and then drop to the dirt with a strangled cry. I just wanted to look at the night sky, and now this. I am torn between blaming Kellan for my being out here to stumble across him in the first place and trying to convince myself that I didn’t sneak out because I could almost feel the freedom Kellan described to me. But fresh air isn’t that spectacular or alluring in the dead of night. A single tear rolls down my temple, but I ignore it.

Kellan leans over me and wipes the wetness from my skin with his thumb.

“Don’t pretend you’re not the root of my problems,” I say icily, refusing to look at him.

“Prefer that blissful ignorance?” he asks.

“There’s no going back now, thanks to you.”

“There never was, Dearg,” Kellan says. He has that look in his eye that makes me feel like he can hear my thoughts or see into my soul. “These events were set into motion years ago. It was only a matter of time. You would have begun to question eventually. I just sped up the process.”

“I think you’re underestimating my sense of self-preservation.”

“Intelligent animals don’t live long in cages.”

Dammit. I hate that he’s right. I know myself, and I would have fought eventually, but only when there was no other option left, like a cornered dog. And just like a dog, I’ll be put down if I dare bite.

I want to hate Kellan. But I can’t. Not when I can see the reason behind his every action. Not when I ultimately agree with him. I just really, really don’t want to die, and I don’t see any way around it if I do what he wants.

I rub my fingers across my eyelids as if the slight pressure will alleviate the headache brewing in my temples and the nape of my neck.

“I need to go back to bed before I am missed,” I say, though I know I am unlikely to get any sleep after this. I just can’t bear to stay here and talk about this any more right now. I need time to process and think.

Kellan doesn’t question me, although I am certain he sees through my paltry excuse, and I am glad for it.

“We’ll think of something,” he says, and then he walks away from me without another word.

I watch his back until he disappears into the trees. Even then, I sit and watch for a while longer, just staring at the woods without blinking. Eventually, I rise. I find my way back to the cabin and creep back into my bed where I lie awake until dawn peeks between the crack in the curtains.

My thoughts are full. Of worries. Of plans. Of doubts. Of strategies. Of conjecture. Of a list of all possible unknown factors. Of anger at my powerlessness.

For in all my years as a professional killer, never have I ever been unable to take down a target or worried that I might not see the light of another sunrise.

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