“Terms?” Lilith asked slowly. She fought the urge to cross her arms; defensive body language would send the wrong message.
Al stared, unblinking, all traces of warmth vanished from his expression. While his expression lacked Rae’s cold, cruel mockery, there was a glint in his eyes—a sheer force of will—that made him no less intimidating.
Sweat prickled the back of Lilith’s neck as the late morning sunshine beat against her skin. “I think you’ve made a mistake,” she said, hesitant. Now was not the time to lie, if Rae’s attitude to witches was any indication. The thought came with a flashback of Dylan, of the ragged, torn flesh on his neck. Lilith swallowed hard, looked into Al’s brown eyes and forced herself to remember: this man wasn’t human. He wasn’t a person. He was an infected, and she’d have to be careful.
“A mistake?” Al repeated flatly. He didn’t believe her—the almost parental disappointment in his eyes was tangible.
She nodded, widening her eyes. “I haven’t done anything to Silver. I mean, I can’t have done. I’m not a witch.” Lilith looked down, feigning shyness. “He . . . he saved my life. I’d never do anything to him.”
A quick peek through her lashes confirmed that, human or not, Al was susceptible to her charm. “You’re not?” He looked perplexed. “Not a renegade?”
Lilith played it safe and shook her head.
Al propped his chin on his hand, stroking his cheek with a thumb. The skin of his hand was a deep, rich brown, his fingers short and thick, blunt-tipped. “Tell me how you and Silver met,” he said.
“I was at the theatre,” Lilith began, hesitant, feeling none of the usual storytelling thrill. What was safe to say, what best left out? This man was Silver’s leader, but he was Rae’s, too; she couldn’t trust him.
Al’s eyes narrowed. “During the vampire attack?”
Lilith nodded. “Silver helped me escape.” She narrated their arrival in the city, glossing over her capture by the trackers and Bryan’s advice. Hearing the words aloud made the events seem oddly distant, as if they had occurred to a stranger. She was lucky, Lilith realised, so very lucky to be alive.
“You’re tougher than you look,” Al remarked wryly, a comment which made her muscles ache as if in protest. She tried not to let the weakness show. “I’m just curious: what was a sipid doing at the theatre?”
Her confusion was impossible to hide. Al’s lips thinned. “So you really are a bland,” he said.
Her growing confidence vanished. Bland—that was the word Sla’ik had used for human. It was too late to pretend now. Lilith nodded, tense. “What gave it away?”
“Sipid is an insult,” he said, leaning away from her, giving her room to breathe. “It means a human raised above ground. Humans who live underground are blands—” he half-shrugged —”but you already knew that.
“Your thing on your wrist was a giveaway,” Al continued. “When you didn’t react to the insult, I was sure.”
Lilith had forgotten about the phone strapped to her wrist, so accustomed was she to wearing it. She tapped the screen half-heartedly but the phone was dead, its circuitry fried by magic.
“Bury it,” Al advised. “The more you look like us, the longer you’ll survive.” He stood, helped her to her feet. “I’ll wait till Silver wakes to make a decision. Until then, you’re welcome among us.”
“Thanks.” Her voice sounded dubious even to her own ears. Rae was on the opposite side of the clearing, scowling in their direction.
Al noticed. “I am the alpha, and you have my word.” He put a hand on her shoulder, his smile was tight. “But if you try to escape, I can’t make any promises.”
“So I’m a glorified prisoner.”
He squeezed her shoulder. “For the time being.” Then he shooed her towards Silver with a nod of encouragement.
Every eye was on Lilith as she returned to Silver’s side. He was fast asleep, face turned away from her, the long line of his throat pale and delicate in the sunlight. She wanted to run her finger along his skin, marvel at its smoothness and warmth. That she could feel this much yearning for someone she barely knew was frightening, even more so when she had to forcibly remind herself that he wasn’t human.
Maybe it was the shock, some kind of hero worship. He’d saved her life; gratitude was expected. But she didn’t really know him, nor he her. So Lilith took the yearning, the strange sense of belonging, and pushed it far deep inside of her, to be buried and hopefully forgotten.
“You might as well sit down.” Amber was standing across from her, arms in the air as she pinned up her curls of red hair. She was shorter than Lilith, her rounded hips and chest feminine in a way Lilith’s lean, straight figure could never be. “He’s not going anywhere.”
Lilith sat down, fighting back annoyance as Amber settled on the other side of Silver and stroked his cheek. He was infected—she had to remember that.
“Looks so peaceful, doesn’t he?” Amber said.
Lilith nodded, but she didn’t agree. Silver’s face didn’t have the youthful relaxation of sleep: his brow was furrowed, his cheeks a touch gaunt, pale eyelashes pressed firmly together. If this was Silver at his most peaceful, she couldn’t help but pity him.
“He’ll be fine,” Amber said. “Not a scratch on him. He’s just tired.”
“I know. I was there when you checked.” He was still only covered by her cloak. Lilith’s cheeks warmed as she remembered his nakedness, the sight of him in the clearing. But that hadn’t been the first time; in the hotel he’d been naked as well, comfortable in his own skin, so self-assured Lilith couldn’t help but wonder—
“A friend of Silver’s is a friend of mine,” Amber said, running her fingers through Silver’s hair.
Lilith bristled, but said nothing. What could she do? No doubt every werewolf in the clearing was watching her.
Amber seemed oblivious to the tension. “You must be overwhelmed. It’s not every day a pack has visitors, and after what happened to that witch . . . ” Her expression was earnest, concerned, but Lilith was sickened to realise it did not contain even a trace of regret. Amber was worried about her; that Dylan had been brutally murdered seemed to escape the werewolf entirely.
“Rae killed him,” she said, daring Amber to contradict her. “An innocent man.”
Amber’s eyes flashed. “Before you feel sorry for that witch, you should know he was part of the WPL. They’ve murdered dozens of werekin.” She leaned over Silver, lowered her voice. “They raped our alpha. They deserve to die.”
“Al?” Lilith said, confused, but Amber was shaking her head.
“Vera, the female alpha. And if her baby is a half-breed—”
A flat male voice interrupted the conversation. “That’s none of her business.”
They both looked down. Silver had cracked open one eye and was looking at Amber with a sour expression.
Amber wagged a finger. “If she’s yours, Silver, then it is her business.”
“She isn’t,” he said, the corners of his mouth curling downwards.
Amber broke the awkward silence by scoffing. She touched Silver’s hand. “I’m sure you two have things to talk about,” she said, standing.
All too soon Lilith was alone with Silver. Now that he was awake, the gulf between them was impossible to ignore. This wasn’t her place, Lilith realised. She didn’t belong. The surge of homesickness made her heart ache,
She didn’t look at him, put her hand on the ground between them to push herself up. “I’ll just go now.”
Silver grabbed her wrist, held her in place as he sat up. The cloak slid down his chest to pool in his lap. Lilith could feel his warm breath against her neck, couldn’t help but shudder at the sensation.
“Look at me,” he demanded.
His sharp grey eyes were scant inches from hers. Lilith held her breath, watched his eyes darken, his head tilt towards her. Her gaze dropped to the faint smirk on his lips.
Then his amusement vanished. “What’s on your wrist?”
Lilith frowned, drew back. “My phone? You’ve seen it before—”
“Not that.” He pushed the phone out of the way, fingers digging into her hand. The cut on her wrist, the one Zachal had given her, was still raw and red around the edges of the scab. She’d need to bandage it.
Silver held the scar up. “Well?”
“You made a deal with the Snake? Are you an idiot?”
“He helped me!” She tried to tug her wrist free but it was of no use.
“You’ve paid for that help with your life,” he sneered.
Lilith’s composure snapped, the pent-up anger and fear flushing her cheeks. “You left me!” she retorted heatedly, oblivious to the stares of the other werewolves in the clearing. “You abandoned me in an infected city, at the mercy of trackers, with no way of getting home! Was I supposed to sit there in that hotel, do nothing while the trackers came looking? I was chased and shot at and mind-raped! Because of you,” she finished, limbs trembling.
Silver dropped her arm as if burned. “It’s my fault,” he said. Lilith felt a brief spasm of gloating triumph, until he added, “I shouldn’t have rescued you in the first place.”
“If you’d wanted me dead you should’ve said so ages ago,” Lilith replied, cold now, and so very furious. “I would’ve gone straight to the Guild instead of wasting my time here.”
He stilled. “The Guild?”
“Mind rape, remember?” She crossed her arms. “A telepath told me the Guild would help.”
“That explains things.”
Silver wrapped her cloak around him and stood. Then, without another word, he walked away, leaving her gaping like a child at his back.