Being Red: Chapter Six

As we leave, Emma makes me promise that I’ll come for another game night, and I’m powerless to deny her, the adoration shining in her eyes, completely foreign to me, utterly disarming.

“Don’t think I’ll be letting you two be on the same team again, Em. There’d be no hope for the rest of us,” Kellan teases before we step outside and into the chill darkness beyond the reach of the porch light.

Emma gives him a saucy grin and shouts after us, “Don’t be jealous just because you want me back!”

My traitorous cheeks pinch in a smile despite myself as a laugh catches unexpectedly in my throat, and I am glad for the darkness concealing the details of my face and the sound of the truck unlocking to give me something else on which to focus. I pull the handle to open the car door, but it snaps out of my grasp and springs back into place with a loud clack, still locked. So much for diverting attention elsewhere. Kellan leans over and unlocks the door manually, then throws it open for me from the inside. I get in, and we buckle our seatbelts in silence.

Now that we are alone again, I find I simultaneously hate and respect Kellan for introducing me to this family. I hate him because he thinks he knows me and has the audacity to try to change me, he is wasting my time with games (literally) rather than getting on with business, he can play with children and manage to make the task seem utterly masculine, he is much too attractive for his own good, he knows exactly what to say and when to say it, I can’t get a rise out of him no matter how hard I try, and worst of all, he introduced me to the Davies, the family I never had. I can feel the scowl pinch my brow as I make my mental list, but at the same time I respect Kellan because he is willing to go to any lengths to do what he thinks is right, he has complete control of his emotions and his shift is not brought on by sudden emotional changes like it is in so many others of his kind, and dammit, but Emma is the sweetest little thing I’ve ever met, and I can’t help but adore her already.

That manipulative, bastard, I think, adding “using little girls for personal gain” and “general manipulation” to the Reasons to Hate Kellan column.

List completed for now, I’m left with nothing to do but mull over the events of the evening and stew in my own thoughts as the dark road skims past. I resist the urge to cross my legs for something more to do; I won’t appear restless in such close proximity to his calm. I’m unshakable under pressure, dammit. I breathe slowly and steadily to fill the space and pass the time, noticing in the stillness of my mind and the white noise of the truck, the only sounds the hum of the engine and the whirr of the tires on the road, that there is something uniquely intimate about sitting with someone in a car at night, the dimmed lights on the dash and the yellow glow of streetlamps the sole sources of illumination.

“Your new mark is Trenton Hayes,” Kellan says, his deep voice and lilting syllables slipping through the silence.

As noted, what to say and when to say it, as if he too could feel the tension building. I don’t allow myself to think the words “between us,” but my brain goes ahead and sticks them at the end of the sentence anyway. I hurry to say something, anything to erase those words from my mind as my brain screams them at me on repeat, “What will Jordan do for work? He certainly can’t return to his job the day after he supposedly died.”

A smile ghosts over Kellan’s lips. “I didn’t realize you cared,” he mocks the discrepancy between my question and my response from earlier this evening.

I suppress a growl, but I glare at his profile anyway. “And what about Emma and Jason? Won’t they be in danger?”

Kellan doesn’t say a word, just pulls the truck over on the side of the road, cuts the engine, and then turns to study me with an intensity that makes me think he can either see into my soul or smell my lies, probably the latter given his preternatural abilities. I don’t even like thinking him capable of the former.

“Either you’re an expert actress, Dearg, or you’re not as cold and heartless as you’d have us all believe. Which is it?”

“I don’t know,” I admit.

“I think you do,” Kellan says, but he doesn’t press the subject. “Emma and Jason will be fine; we never pass on our last names to our children, they are assigned one at birth, so they are incredibly difficult to find. Leanna should also be fine; since I became alpha, a wife keeps her maiden name and marriages are not registered to ensure security.” I sense there is more to it than that, something he is not saying, but he continues, “Jordan will receive a new identity, and he will be given a job elsewhere. If necessary, the family will be relocated beyond the general relocations we assign periodically to ensure pack members’ homes remain undiscovered, but we’re lucky and there aren’t any clear pictures in your file, so it’s unlikely anyone will notice if he turns up in a new place in the city.”

“Oh,” I say blandly.

The life of a werewolf sounds difficult, even to me, but thinking it over, everything he’s told me makes sense, not to mention explains why we almost always target lone wolves and never families in our hunts. We don’t understand them or their social structure like we assumed we did, and Gregor can’t find them. Part of me is alarmingly satisfied with this new knowledge, another part angry. There are days I wish Gregor hadn’t found me when my parents were murdered in the middle of the night, for I’m certain being dead would be better than living this life, but he did, and I wish not for the first time that life wasn’t so unfair.

Again with the perfect timing, Kellan cuts off my dour thoughts, “You don’t need to worry about anything; we’ll get Hayes in position for you, and all you need to do is make sure you’re in the right place at the right time.”

“You make it sound so simple. There are a hundred things that could go wrong.”

“I never said it would be easy or that it wouldn’t involve a level of risk, but that was our deal, and at this point, I don’t fancy having to kill you, Dearg.”

“That’s so reassuring,” I shoot back at him. “It’s easy for you to tell me how to do my job; you’re not the one putting your neck on the line tomorrow if anything goes wrong and the boss finds out what we’re doing. I’ve lived through too much to have it end like that.”

I fumble with the handle on the door, ready to get out of the truck and away from wherever he is. “Where are you going?” Kellan asks, ever the perfect picture of calm.

“I need some air,” I reply, finally getting the door open and seeing that we are on a deserted road somewhere between the suburbs and the city.

Kellan is out of the truck and has me backed up against the rear passenger window in moments, hands planted firmly on either side of my head. I swear I can feel the heat of his body in the cold night air, and my pulse spikes at his nearness. I’m not sure if it’s the result of the surge of adrenaline urging me to fight for my freedom or the imposing figure he cuts standing over me as he is.

I can’t bear to look him in the eye, so I turn my head to the side and stare past the plane of his muscular arm instead. I realize my error when he speaks, the heat of his words brushing the lobe of my ear as he says, “We live each moment knowing it could be our last. Our lives are on the line every day, for just being who we are. I would gladly give mine if it meant the safety of my pack.”

I swivel my head sharply to look at him, my nose inches from his, my unrestrained curls brushing his cheeks. “You make that choice with your own free will! You expect the same selflessness from me when I’m being blackmailed to act against my better judgement as some sort of enforcer for your kind? No matter what happened tonight, they’re your pack, not mine.”

“No, of course I don’t expect that of you. What I do expect is for you to show some respect for this process. My kind is not blameless, but neither are humans; together, we can make a difference and pave a path leading to better, safer lives for everyone,” Kellan says, pulling back to give me a modicum of space. After a pause, he adds, “Will you please get back in the truck?”

A scathing “make me” is on the tip of my tongue, but he seems the literal type, so I opt not to say anything at all. I don’t fully trust myself to say the right thing at the moment anyhow. I do need to get back, though. Hayden isn’t my keeper, but he will still wonder if I’m gone too long. Hell, he’s probably wondering already. And nothing stays secret from Gregor for long; I’m betting mine is the longest kept secret in the syndicate, and I’m hoping to keep it that way. Pushing my luck this early in the game is pure insanity.

I huff an irritated sigh. “So what’s the plan? For Hayes, I mean?”

For this to work, we will need to pull off the hit tomorrow without a hitch. If anything goes wrong, we’re finished.

Kellan backs away slowly as if to ensure I’m not going to make a break for it, but as I already pointed out, he’d catch me in an instant, so I merely edge past him and hop back in the truck, closing the door and waiting for him to circle the vehicle and get in himself. Inside, Kellan restarts the engine and begins driving back to town, to the nondescript 24-7 Safeway parking lot where I left my car when he picked me up earlier.

On the way, Kellan details his plan, and I have to admit, I think it will work. We run through the details until everything is committed to memory. By the time we reach the lamplit lot, I am certain I can carry out my part of the plan as I’ve just done countless times in my mind.

“See you when I see you,” Kellan says.

I am already out of the truck, and I glare at him for good measure before slamming the door without another word. I’m all out of things to say to him for one night, and his plan in combination with my every worry tumble around in my brain, demanding the whole of my attention. I ignore him as he drives away, allowing the rumble of the truck’s engine to fade into the background.

To take my mind from my troubles, I grab an abandoned cart and make my way into the grocery store, figuring I may as well stock up on essentials. I buy the usual food, mostly protein and greens, some extra medical supplies, and because I’m experiencing a particularly violent craving, a frozen bake-it-yourself fruit tart. The dessert will likely pale in comparison to Leanna’s pie, but hey, a girl can dream.

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