Rae snapped the necklace off of Lilith’s neck, raised the fang into the air. She tapped the surface with a blood-flecked nail.
Scar sidled closer, twisting his hands together. “Is that . . . ?”
“Looks like his,” Rae answered darkly. “We need Al to be sure.” She shoved the necklace into her pocket, looked down at Lilith, her lip curling into a sneer. “Who are you?”
“I . . . .” The fear-induced adrenaline left as quickly as it had come. Lilith slumped. All she could see was Dylan’s face, the gurgling of his throat. There was still blood in the grass by her feet. “My name is Lilith,” she finished, eyes dropping.
Rae bent down and grasped Lilith’s chin tightly, her skin surprisingly warm as she examined Lilith’s face. “You’re not a covened witch, nor in the Guild.” Her eyes narrowed, strands of short blond hair swinging forward. “Maybe the better question is: what are you?”
Human. The answer was on the tip of her tongue, but even through the shock Lilith knew it was the wrong answer to say. There was a bounty on her head—on any bland’s head—and she’d be playing right into their hands if she confessed to her humanity.
Rae’s hand slid down her chin, only to circle her neck. Her fingers tightened, pressing against Lilith’s jugular. “Doesn’t matter,” she purred, pulling Lilith to her feet. “You won’t be alive for much longer.”
Lilith’s neck was throbbing, her pulse beating in a wild staccato. Rae wrapped her other hand around Lilith’s neck, pulled her closer, so that there were mere inches between them. “Just tell me: where did you get the fang?”
Lilith looked past her, hoping to see Wolf, but the only faces she could see were unfamiliar, and unfriendly.
“Well?” Rae tightened her grip.
“Wolf gave it to me,” Lilith gasped.
“I know it’s a werewolf,” Rae ground out, infuriated. “What’s his name?”
Lilith blinked back tears, scrabbled at the fingers around her neck. Her chest was burning, her throat ached from the pressure.
“She’s crying,” Scar said, gloated.
Rae was unmoved, eyes frighteningly intense. “His name,” she said.
Lilith’s face burned. She managed to gasp, pull in some air, but it wasn’t enough to speak.
Lilith crumpled to the ground as Rae jumped and turning to face the newcomer. A tall man was striding towards them. He was stocky and muscular, and cut straight across the clearing as if he expected everyone to move out of his path. The smile on Scar’s face vanished. He edged away, head down, but one sharp hiss from Rae and he froze, shoulders hunched as if to ward off a blow.
The man stopped beside Rae, scrutinised Lilith with a grave expression. He had short dark hair and olive skin that gleamed in the sunlight. Lilith stayed on the ground, massaging her throat, using the raspiness of her breath as an excuse not to speak.
“She had this, Al,” Rae said, handing over the fang necklace.
He examined it.”Definitely his.” His voice was deep, rumbling from his chest. He looked at Lilith. “Where did you get this?”
“That’s what I was trying to find out,” Rae said, sullen.
Al wasn’t impressed. “By choking it out of her? And then what? You kill the only person who might have a cure.”
“Cure?” Rae scoffed. “She has no mark. That girl’s nothing but a sipid. Probably stole the fang. Might as well kill her.”
“You’d risk Silver’s life over it?” He leaned closer, into Rae’s face, his eyes gleaming. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? With Silver out of the way, there’d be no one to challenge Dev.”
“Dev is beta,” she hissed.
“And I am your alpha,” Al snapped. “For as long as you are part of this pack.” He put a hand on Rae’s shoulder, loomed over her. “Don’t think I can’t smell the blood. I know you killed the other witch. I make the decisions here, Rae, and if you’re not prepared to follow them . . . .”
The air around them heated. Scar, who had been quiet until then, whimpered. The sound snapped Al out of his mood. He took a deep breath. “Go take a walk.”
Rae’s eyes dropped. She looked away, bared her throat to Al. “Yes, alpha,” she muttered, with barely concealed dislike.
“You too, Scar,” Al said. Once they were out of sight, he ran a hand through his hair and closed his eyes, reining in his emotions. “If Dev isn’t back soon, I’m going to tear Rae into tiny pieces,” he muttered.
Lilith choked on a laugh, clamped down on the rising hysteria. Somehow she found the energy to stand. If this was it—if this werewolf would kill her—then she wanted to die standing, not cowering into the ground.
Al had the necklace in the palm of his hand. He held it out. “The fang belongs to my pack. How did you get it?”
“A werewolf gave it to me,” Lilith replied, fist clenched, steeling herself for the final blow. “I don’t know his name. He has grey fur, and a big scar across his chest.” Now that she’d begun speaking, the words wouldn’t stop. “We were separated in Tulkan. I was kidnapped, and when I got back to the hotel, the room was torn apart. I thought something had happened to him. I thought—” it took every ounce of willpower to keep her eyes on Al’s “—I thought he’d be here.”
But behind Al was only a row of unfamiliar faces. Lilith half shrugged, as if finding Wolf didn’t matter, even though she couldn’t shake the nagging insistence that, without him, she was terribly alone. “He saved my life,” she said. “I never thanked him.”
“Saved your life?” Al shook his head. “Silver was always one for heroics.”
Silver: that was Wolf’s name. Lilith tested the word in her mind, curved her tongue around its unfamiliar shape. “Is he here?”
Al was grim, resigned. “You better come with me.”
He led her away from the camp, further upstream. The river burbled even louder, the waters white with froth. Lilith kneeled by the bank, rinsed the taste of acid from her mouth, washed the grime from her hands and face. The water was cold and clear but she didn’t dare swallow a drop; the risks of drinking unfiltered water, exposed to the dust and dirt and countless other contaminants, were too high to be ignored.
When she was done, Al cut a path through the trees, away from the river. The fading roar of the water was replaced by another sound: a weak and pitiful growling. A grey shape was just visible through the trees
“Wolf,” Lilith said, softly, her pace quickening.
Al held out an arm. “Not too close,” he warned, holding her back, slowing their approach.
Wolf was growling. His lips were pulled away from his teeth, head angled towards the ground, his black-tipped tail a straight, horizontal line. He hadn’t noticed them yet, his legs trembling as he struggled to stand. He straightened his legs inch by inch, until finally he stood tall, muscles straining, every breath forced. Then his legs buckled and he collapsed.
“Wolf!” Lilith cried, dodging Al’s grasp. She ran forward, stopped just short of touching him, all too aware of his size and his weight and his muscles. “Wolf?”
His eyes slid open. He stiffened when he saw her, inhaling deeply, then his entire body relaxed. His eyes closed, his breathing deepened.
Lilith reached out, fear warring with the impulse to ensure Wolf was okay. She’d forgotten how big he was, and his mouth, parted in sleep, only highlighted the sharpness of his fangs. She summoned her courage, let her fingertips brush against the fur of his neck, then froze as Wolf began shrinking before her, his body rippling, returning to human form. Lilith caught an eyeful of skin before she looked away, embarrassed.
“Give me your cloak,” Al said, amused.
She handed it over without looking, kept her face turned away until she was sure Wolf was decently covered. When she turned around, Al was scooping Wolf into his arms as if he weighed nothing more than a feather. Al led the way back to camp, his steps slow and careful. Lilith followed without question, unable to tear her eyes from the curve of Wolf’s throat and the straight line of his cheekbones.
When they re-entered the clearing, a woman with curly, ginger hair immediately approached them. “How is he?” she said, touching Wolf’s face with easy familiarity. Lilith stiffened, suspicious.
“Let me put him down first, Amber,” Al chuckled, lowering Wolf to the ground.
The woman lifted the cloak, glanced down his body as Lilith bristled with anger. “Not a scratch,” she said. “I’m impressed.”
“He could hardly disobey,” Al retorted.
Lilith forced the words out. “Don’t you have clothes for him?”
Al shrugged. “Serves him right.” He beckoned for Lilith to follow. “He’ll be fine with Amber. You and me need to talk.”
She complied reluctantly, shooting Amber a venomous look that the woman didn’t even notice. She was checking Wolf’s pulse and temperature, running her hands along his body in an entirely unnecessary manner.
“He just needs rest,” Al said, steering Lilith away.
She forced herself not to look back. “What happened to him?”
“He was adamant about finding someone.” Al shot her a shrewd glance. “And I ordered him to stay.”
“He ignored you?” Lilith guessed, hopeful.
“He can’t ignore my orders, but he did his best to fight them. Ripped right through his clothes like a cub.” Al smiled. “Never seen him so flustered. Didn’t do him any good, though.”
“I knew it,” Lilith said, triumphant. “He wouldn’t have just left me. It didn’t make sense.”
Al’s smile vanished. He stopped walking, pointing to the ground where a blanket was spread out. No cushions, though there was a small pile of luggage nearby. “Sit.”
Lilith sank onto one edge of the blanket awkwardly. He sat down opposite her, hands on his knees, brown eyes thoughtful.
“Whatever you did to Silver, it is impressive magic,” he said. “But you cannot risk the wrath of a pack without consequence.” He leaned forward, unsmiling. “Now, to business: what are your terms for his release?”