Silver pulled on a pair of trousers, not bothering to conceal his disgust.
“It’s all I’ve got,” Fang said, apologetic. “Jake has some spare—”
“I’m not wearing anything that’s touched the skin of that mongrel,” he snapped, buttoning the front. The trousers were pale brown, straight-legged, utilitarian. Loose and shapeless. The kind of trousers someone would wear to fade into the background. At least Fang took care of his clothes, kept them clean. Small mercies.
Silver took the black shirt Fang was offering and slipped it on. His chest was a touch too broad; he left the shirt unbuttoned.
Fang bent down to retie his bag, straightening the packs of supplies. Silver stood over him, scanning the clearing. The atmosphere was tense. Only Fang and Silver stood in the centre of the clearing, where most packs would normally congregate. Rae and Dev were off to one side with their three sidekicks, a clear perimeter around them. Jake was sprawled out on the grass on the other side, eyes closed, chin tilted towards the sun. Howl fidgeted beside him.
Fang straightened, dusted off his hands. “Silver,” he began, slowly, “the girl Al sent me to find—”
“She’s here,” he confirmed.
“And the body?”
“Ah,” Fang nodded. “You must be glad.” His smile was small and polite, non-committal.
Silver glared. “I get enough shit from the others, so either spit it out now or leave me alone.”
“I was only—” a pause as Fang considered his words “—curious about her reliability.” He stepped closer, lowering his voice. “When I picked up her scent on the way to Tulkan, she wasn’t alone.”
Silver fought back a growl. “Who was she with?”
“A ewte,” Fang said, turning Silver’s gut to stone. What was the girl planning?
“You’re certain?” A stupid question—of course he was. Fang wouldn’t have brought it up otherwise.
“Perhaps you should ask her yourself,” Fang said, glancing over Silver’s shoulder. Amber and the girl emerged through the trees, on the side of the clearing closest to Jake. The girl had cleaned up, her cheeks flushed by the cold water and cooling afternoon breeze. Her sleeves were rolled up, exposing ghost-white forearms that were pinked with sunburn. Slender and delicate, the girl was a pale wraith beside Amber’s curvy, sun-kissed figure.
Amber sat on the edge of Jake’s blanket. The girl remained standing, awkward, until Amber urged her down. Silver picked up the girl’s cloak and strolled towards them, Fang at his side.
“Jake, Howl, this is Lilith,” Amber was saying.
Ever the womaniser, Jake sat up, turning on the charm. “You look far too tasty to be a worm,” he said, his half-smile playful. He took her hand, kissed it.
She laughed. “Thanks?”
“It’s a good thing, girl.” Jake had the laidback confidence of a man who knows he is good-looking. It was an attitude that grated on Silver’s nerves, but it was impossible to ignore the effect of Jake’s dark hair and green eyes, nor the ease with which he struck up friendships. People liked Jake—to Silver this was something worthy of contempt.
The girl blushed, dropped her eyes. “The name’s Lilith.”
“Sure thing, girl.”
Silver stood over them, disapproving. Jake only smirked, giving Silver’s clothes a once-over. “Looking good,” he said.
The girl kept her eyes down. Silver tossed the cloak into her lap, eyes narrowing when she refolded the cloak and set it aside without a word.
“Girl,” he snapped, pleased when she looked up, startled. “Come here.” He led her aside, to the edge of the clearing, as far away from Rae as possible. As if on cue, Jake and Howl began play-fighting, their loud squabbling providing sufficient cover to speak in private. The girl kept her head down, eyes averted, half-hiding behind her long hair—whether out of cowardice or insolence, he wasn’t sure.
“You shouldn’t have followed me,” he said flatly, mainly because he knew it would anger her.
She finally looked at him, straight at him, eyes flashing. There it was, that anger, that pride—emotions he could understand, and manipulate. “You shouldn’t have left me in that hotel.”
“No,” he agreed, hiding a smirk at her surprise. “I should have left you in the theatre.”
Her back stiffened. “Haven’t we had this conversation before? You hate me, I get it. Can we move on?” Temper fraying, caught off-guard, the girl could not be more vulnerable to his next question.
“Why were you travelling with an ewte?”
“A—” The girl paused, crossed her arms. “How did you know?”
So it was true. Silver raised an eyebrow. “Well?”
“Well, what? You abandoned me, I needed a guide, he was there. End of story.” She was petulant, defensive. “It’s not like I was mixing with the WPL—and before you ask, Amber told me all about it.”
He sneered. “I’m sure.”
Howl shrieked—the boy was pinned onto the grass, Jake tickling his sides. Fang looked on, amused but not interfering. Rae was glaring in their direction from the other side of the clearing, pacing in tight circles.
Silver turned back to the girl. The sun was setting, the shadows lengthening. In the half-light, the girl looked more solid than she ever had before, as if she was somehow stronger in the absence of daylight.
“Al will be back soon,” he said, cutting to the chase. “Rae will call for your death.”
Her eyes darted to the edges of the clearing. Her legs tensed, ready to run, then she forced herself to relax, muscle by muscle. Good—the girl wasn’t a total idiot. Running from a pack of werewolves was tantamount to suicide.
“You have five minutes to tell me everything, and convince me to stop you from being killed.” He knew the girl had decided to lie before she even opened her mouth—her scent changed, her adrenaline rising. “Five minutes,” he repeated, eyes steady on hers, body language open. “No lies.”
The girl caught herself, hesitated. Then, slow and reluctant, she began—with the truth. When she was finished, Silver looked her over and had to admit surprise that she had survived so long alone. As much as she was an unwanted burden, it would have been his fault had she died: he had saved her life, and it was his to protect now.
“Well?” the girl said, when he remained silent. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
Silver was spared from answering: just then Al loped back into the clearing in wolf form, yipping to announce his presence. The entire pack stood, moving towards him, the invisible boundaries disappearing with Al’s return.
Silver held the girl back, looked at her pale face and wondered how such a fragile, sheltered creature could hold such fascination. Her dark eyes were wide and hopeful, trusting—and in that moment he hated her for relying on him.
“I can’t make any promises,” he said, his stomach turning as the hope in her eyes disappeared.