Being Red: Chapter Sixteen

Although I am sleeping more than ever, I feel like I’ve hardly slept at all. Each night is filled with the hunt, and I awaken more drained and exhausted than ever.

I am napping on the couch after a run when my phone vibrates against the coffee table, jolting me from my dream body. She had her hands around Gregor’s throat, and the transition to my corporeal body is jarring. Given the circumstances in my dream, I am instantly alert, very real adrenaline pumping through my veins.

I kick the blanket off and swing my feet onto the floor in one smooth move. I scan the room and, seeing nothing out of place, grab my phone. The caller ID displays an unknown number, and I slide my thumb across the screen to answer. It’s been a while since my team was last assigned a mission, so I have a feeling Gregor thinks it’s time we get back to work.

“Gregor,” I say, hating the way his name feels on my lips, but I am willing to bet this call isn’t spam.

“Red,” he greets me without fanfare.

“Who’s the mark?” I ask.

“Eli Tennison,” Gregor says. “I’ll email you the file.”

“I’ll brief the team.”

“Good,” he says. “Henley is cleared for field duty, so include her at your discretion.”

“Noted,” I reply.

The line goes dead.

I sigh, tuck my feet back under me, and toss my phone to the end of the couch where it lands on the blanket and I can ignore it for a few more minutes. I need to contact Kellan, but all I can see is his death. I don’t want to involve him anymore, yet there is nothing to be done for it. I wish I had Loren’s number, even though I know it wouldn’t really change anything.

The situation almost makes me laugh. When I first met them, I would have given anything for the opportunity to kill them both, and I would have celebrated if one of them had dropped dead on the spot. I certainly didn’t want Kellan’s number, let alone his beta’s. The idea disgusted me. If only I could have seen myself now.

I rest my elbows on my knees and press the palms of my hands into my eyes with enough pressure to hold back my burgeoning headache.

This will work, I tell myself.

It has to. We don’t have any other options. I’m not ready to face Gregor outside of my dreams, so we need to carry on as best we can until I am. The burden rests on my shoulders, and I can’t put it off much longer. I shouldn’t be procrastinating now, even if it feels so good to just ignore the problem at hand for a few minutes.

I stretch to retrieve my phone. I check my email and skim through the attachment Gregor sent me. The dossier on Eli Tennison is quite comprehensive, and I curse under my breath, hoping this guy is on Kellan’s approved kill list. Based on the pictures, however, I have my doubts. Eli has short honey brown hair, bright blue eyes, and a friendly smile. He looks like a sweet college kid, not that appearances mean much in this line of work. For my sake, I hope he’s the exact opposite, but something in his eyes gives me the impression he is as innocent as he looks. I am seldom wrong about these things, but I really hope this is one of those rare occasions.

Closing the last picture, I pull up a new message to Kellan and send him a brief text: Eli Tennison. With pictures.

I can’t help staring at my phone as I wait for his response. The screen lights up in a matter of minutes, but his reply feels like it took hours. I swipe as quickly as I can to open the message.

No go.

My heart sinks. Having my suspicions confirmed doesn’t make the news sit any better. I used to like being right. When did that change? I blame Kellan rather than age. It’s just one more item on my list of things I can’t stay mad at him about. No matter how much I want to.

Three dots dance below his message, and I wait for whatever he will reveal next. The dots disappear in an instant, there and then gone. I glare at the space they used to occupy. I get up and pace in the space between the TV and the coffee table.

What? I demand when nothing more is forthcoming.

The three dots are back, and I stand still in anticipation.

Call or meet?

Meeting up is risky, but we’ve managed it before. We could make it happen again. It would be nice to see him. The thought is there before I can stifle it.

Seeing the alpha, any werewolf for that matter, is not something I should want. It’s a dangerous line I should never cross. And if I am being honest with myself, one we have been dancing far too close to for quite some time now. But things are changing, and safety is not where I once thought it was.

Meet, I type out despite my reservations. Then I think better of it. I delete the word and replace it with, Call. Just let me go for a walk.

I’ll be waiting.

His words make something in my chest go tight, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Or maybe I’m just not used to anyone waiting for me for anything but an ambush. Maybe it’s nice to have someone want to interact with me just for me.

I scoff, the sound loud and lonely in my empty living room. I am definitely reading way too far into the undertones. Kellan’s message is as basic as they come, and I’m sure he doesn’t mean anything by it. I took it to this place of supposed hidden meanings all by myself.

Suddenly I feel my back pressed up against unyielding metal and glass as Kellan cages me in with his equally unyielding arms, his face inches from mine, our breath mingling until I turn away in the heat of the moment. The memory overtakes me, and my breath hitches even as I try to rid my mind of the images and sensations clamoring to be relived.

Meeting is definitely an awful idea. A call was the right choice.

I take a deep breath and round the couch. In the small entry, I unhook my jacket from the rack behind the door, stuff my arms into the sleeves, and grab my keys before sweeping out the door. The air outside is cool, and I zip my jacket up to keep out the slight chill trying to creep into my bones. When I reach the park, I dial and bring my phone to my ear. It only rings once.

“You don’t have to convince me,” I say before Kellan can say anything. “I can tell he’s a good kid just by looking at him.”

“You mean, I don’t have to arrange another game night?” he asks with a chuckle that softens the heart I keep trying to harden. His voice takes on a serious note, “Not that we have time for that.”

“No,” I agree. “We need to develop a plan quickly so I can brief my team and keep Gregor happy and off our backs, or away from our throats, a bit longer.”

My free hand drifts up towards my neck without my bidding, and I stick my clenched fist in my pocket to keep it still. 

“Chin up, Dearg,” Kellan says, and I can practically hear the grin on his face. “This one is going to be much easier than you think.”

A flash of anger courses through me. “You couldn’t have led with that?” I ask.

“You jumped in without even a ‘hello’ first. When was I to tell you?”

“You could’ve dropped a hint in your text!”

“I asked you to meet within minutes,” he says, calm as ever. I can still hear the smile in his voice. Nothing will bring his mood down today.

“Hmph,” I grumble. “Well, you didn’t have to leave me on read so long before answering.”

“Worried were you?” he asks, but he already knows this, what I’m like, as much as I hate to admit it. He continues, “When I saw Eli’s name pop up, I had to tell Loren. We’ve been waiting for an opportunity, and you just delivered it to us in a handbasket.”

I can’t really imagine the stoic alpha excited. The image of him doing a little happy dance with his phone in one hand pops into my head, but it just doesn’t fit. Maybe he’s more of a subtle clenched fist kind of celebrator like Roger Federer? That doesn’t really fit either. He probably just felt the thrill course through his body with a repressed smile. That sounds far more in character, I decide. And when he called Loren in to enlighten the more energetic Beta, Loren probably clasped his shoulder much tighter than was necessary and did enough celebrating for the both of them.

“You aren’t going to ask what this opportunity is?” he asks.

“Didn’t want to give you the satisfaction,” I drawl.

He laughs, and my theory that nothing can dampen his current mood is confirmed. “Eli’s innocent face is his greatest weapon. I’ve had him undercover for months, which is why he popped up in your file,” Kellan explains without waiting for me to ask. I wonder at his surety, but he continues before I can dwell on it. “Eli has been investigating Benjamin Dwight, a man you may better know as Dante, and his gang of criminals by masquerading as their getaway driver. He’s gained their trust and is now vying for a place among their ranks. They are responsible for theft, assault, murder, you name it. They’re mercenaries for hire to the highest bidder. They’ll do anyone’s dirty work for the right price.”

My eyes narrow in thought. I wonder if this is too good to be true, but I ultimately chalk it up to the hard work of Kellan’s pack. “I think I have to agree with you, wolf,” I admit, adding the moniker so my approval doesn’t inflate his ego further. “This is an amazing opportunity for us both. If we can deliver a whole pack of wolves, we can easily fake Eli’s death among them and impress Gregor enough to buy us some time. Plus, it sounds like local law enforcement will be happy.”

“My thoughts exactly. You catch on quick, Dearg,” says Kellan. “Glad I didn’t have to convince you.”

“Ugh,” I say in disgust with a roll of my eyes he can’t see but I make certain he hears. “Just when I thought we were finally getting along.”

I should hate him or at least keep a professional distance. It’s easier this way.

“That would be far too easy,” he says with that uncanny ability of his to respond to my inner dialog as if I am speaking my thoughts aloud.

“So what are our next steps?” I ask, ignoring his comment. “If your man is already on the inside, then can we mount a sting with his intel?”

Kellan ponders a moment. “I believe we are at a point where they trust him enough for Eli to manipulate a mission to a certain extent.”

“We will need to proceed with care,” I ponder.

“Mm,” Kellan agrees, clearly in thought as well.

“If we ask Eli to push anything too hard, they’ll suspect him, and it could put him in greater danger.”

“But if he’s not assertive enough, then they’ll see him as weak and ignore his input altogether,” Kellan adds.

“Unless we use that to our advantage,” I think out loud. “If he suggests something that sounds so unappealing to them that they would do the opposite.”

“Or we suggest something so brazen they are forced to do it to prove themselves.”

“I have an idea,” I say with a slow smile.

“Care to fill me in?”

“Eli can offer them information on the syndicate,” I begin.

“Are you mad?” Kellan demands. “You mean for them to attack one of the most secure sites in the entire city? To what? Serve as a distraction?”

“That’s not quite what I had in mind. I like it, but there’s just no way it would work. So let me explain,” I say. “I don’t mean the compound. I mean one of the syndicate’s holdings. A random mansion, if you will. A perfect, defenseless target.”

“Okay, less crazy,” he agrees.

“Does this Ben usually ride along, or is he the sort to send his hench people out to do the dirty work while he sunbathes by the pool?”

“It depends,” says Kellan. “If we make it interesting enough, he won’t want to miss out on all the fun.”

“What will it take to get him there?” I ask. “This is ultimately about taking him out to cripple his operation if I understand your intent here.”

“Nothing gets past you, Dearg,” Kellan says, and I know he’s teasing me, but this time I’m not sure what his underlying meaning could be. I just wait for him to go on. With little pause, he circles back to answer my initial question, “The possibility of a good kill.”

“And you wonder why I’ve spent almost my entire life killing your kind,” I deadpan. I’m thankful he doesn’t correct me. The notion that I am one of them has sunk in, but it’s going to take time to retrain my brain and speak of werewolves with any sense of belonging, to refer to them inclusively as our kind.

“I may not agree with what you did, but I can’t fault you,” he says, his tone soft. I believe him, and tensions within me ease. Forgiveness, even if I didn’t know I needed it, is freeing.

“Thanks,” I say. I feel oddly embarrassed, so I get back to the safe topic of our mission. “What kind of kill is exciting? Does he want a fight? Or does he like the innocent type?”

“I think you’re exactly what he wants.”

“Me? So he’s looking for a fight?” I ask, skeptical.

“You’re infamous, Dearg,” Kellan says. “I’m sure you understand the status that would go to anyone who manages to kill you.”

“You don’t think wolves have been trying that for years?” I raise an eyebrow I know Kellan cannot see. “Why would he think he has any chance of succeeding now?”

Kellan laughs, “Because we’re going to give him an opportunity that is too good to pass up.”

I try to imagine how that would go, and all scenarios end with a dead wolf, one that most certainly is not me. “Okay,” I say. It comes out more like a question.

“He just has to think you’ve let your guard down,” Kellan explains. Although I’ve used what amount to variations of this plan countless times over the years, never have I used “Red” as bait. As if in response to my narrowed eyes, Kellan continues, “Not to dredge up uncomfortable memories, but Valerie could have killed you.”

If you hadn’t saved me, I think, my mind too easily filling in what he doesn’t say.

I hate to admit it, but he’s right. If I’d had weapons on me, it would have been a different story, but Valerie found me unawares and defenseless. I’m only alive because Kellan had my back. For the first time, I wish I knew how to summon my claws and fangs. Then I could defend myself even when I seem like I am nothing but prey.

“I don’t normally broadcast my presence,” I argue weakly.

“No one will be alive to talk about it later,” Kellan says, nonchalant.

He’s not wrong. That’s the whole idea after all. If our adversary thinks they have the drop on us, then we can take them out before they know what hit them. In theory.

I sense long hours of planning in our future. But if we execute this properly, then we are buying ourselves time in the long run. I just hope we live long enough to reap the benefits. Time is no good if we’re not around to enjoy it or use it to our benefit.

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