Lilith shook her head, backed away. Straight to the Guild? For a moment she even forgot the existence of the nitum, so stunned was she at the thought of never seeing Silver again.
She’d toyed with the idea before, had known that eventually they would be separated, but despite her dreams of going home, the separation had never truly felt real until now. And now . . . the thought made her chest tighten, the panic rising.
Could she truly go home as Sam had offered? What if he was wrong, and the bond didn’t fade with time and distance? What if the bond weighed down her heart forever, shackles that no other man could break? Hers would be a half-life at best. Miserable.
“I need to see Silver,” she insisted, taking another step towards Rivton.
Jake’s jaw tightened. “You can’t,” he said gently.
“You don’t understand . . . I have to . . . I . . . ” Lilith had no choice but to trust them. She reached into her pocket, pulled out the nitum. “I got it for Vera.”
Amber leapt forward, snatched the packet. She held it up to her nose, sniffing. “It can’t be . . . ” She tore one corner open and tilted the packet carefully, shaking out some of the contents. Inside were dried flower heads, dry enough to crumble at the edges and dark in colour, the purple of the underground lakes in Aspin. It reminded Lilith of the potpourri her father had somehow acquired as a grand gesture one Valentine’s Day. Her mother had thrown it away the day he’d moved out, but the scent had lingered for days.
“Dried nitum,” Amber breathed, cradling the flowers in the palm of her hand. She tipped them back into the packet with slow, focused movements, then folded over the open corner and cradled the packet to her chest. “I can’t believe it.” She looked at Jake. “I’ve got to get this to Vera!”
“I’m coming with you,” Lilith said. When Jake hesitated she turned to him. “Don’t you see? You don’t need to sell me to the Guild anymore. You’ve got what you needed.”
“That’s not up to me to decide,” he replied, but from his expression she could tell he was relenting. The cool evening breeze whispered between them as Jake and Amber considered her request.
“I’ll take her,” Amber concluded. “Will you stay here with Howl?”
She didn’t even wait for Jake to nod before she turned to Lilith, her previous anger replaced by a tentative smile. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s go to Vera.”
They weren’t far from the outskirts of the town. In minutes they’d broken through the cover of the trees, and were soon weaving their way down the narrow streets, past closed shutters and darkened windows. Their path was lit only by the dim lights at every street corner, small lamps which glowed without flame or electricity.
Magic. Lilith eyed the lamps, watched her shadow stretch out before her. The darkness lent a sinister cast to the houses; she felt them close in on her.
Amber shivered, leaned closer to Lilith as if huddling for warmth. Under her breath, she said: “Someone is following us.”
Lilith’s heart stuttered. The cloaked figure at the lake, the one that had chased her into the water . . . Fear gave way to nausea.
Amber’s elbow bumped hers. “What is it?”
“Something chased me,” she whispered back. “Near the lake, a monster. I ran into the water to escape.”
Amber gave her a sharp look. “This is no monster. It’s an ewte.”
Ri’ka. Who else could it be? But why was the ewte following her? Perhaps to make sure Lilith carried out its wishes and delivered the nitum to the werewolves, but for what gain? Her few days above ground had taught Lilith to be suspicious of everyone . . . yet, shaken by her narrow escape through the lake, she had accepted the nitum at face value, without question. What if it wasn’t nitum? What if it was poison instead?
If Vera died . . . Lilith would take the blame, and Silver would suffer too. Her heartbeat quickened.
“You know why it’s following us,” Amber said flatly.
“No. I . . . ” She swallowed. “Maybe it wants to steal from us?”
“You stink of fear,” Amber snapped. “When we get inside, you’re telling the truth.” She said nothing more, but her stride lengthened, and the tilt of her head told Lilith that she was still listening for their follower.
When they arrived back at the tavern, only Mel was there to greet them, sitting at her usual spot behind the reception desk. Lilith scanned Mel’s face, tempted to ask for Sam’s whereabouts, but she couldn’t—not with Amber listening.
Amber looked Mel up and down. “Was the buyer happy with the blood?”
Mel nodded, wary. “All clear.”
“There’s more where it came from.” Amber tapped her arm, gave Mel a significant look. “We’ve got a tail. If anyone comes in here, your discretion will be rewarded.”
“Understood,” Mel said, waving them through the side door. Lilith never got the chance to ask about Sam.
They walked up the wooden stairs in silence, their footsteps half a beat out of synch—a broken clock beating double time, hurrying towards the future. Time did seem to move faster above ground, Lilith reflected. That so much could have happened in so few days was almost impossible to believe.
Light seeped through the screened door of Silver’s room. They walked down the hallway towards it, Lilith’s stomach tightening with every step. What if Manda was still there? She didn’t know why the thought should bother her, but it did.
Fang opened the door before they could knock on it. He barred their entry, his smile polite. “You shouldn’t be in the tavern,” he began.
“We got the nitum,” Amber interrupted, holding up the packet. “Well, Lilith did.” She looked past Fang, into the room. “But before we use it, I say we get Silver to squeeze the truth out of her.”
Silence, then Silver joined Fang at the door. His chest was bare, his hair tousled. “Stay here,” he told Fang, slipping out into the hallway. To Amber and Lilith: “We’ll go into the other room.”
Lilith allowed herself to be herded into the second room—her room. She couldn’t take her eyes off of Silver. Did he know that Al had planned to separate them? Worse yet, had Silver agreed with the plan?
She sank onto the bed, her thoughts muddled. The last time she had been in here, she’d grabbed Silver’s arm and felt . . . Felt something, felt a heat unlike she’d ever experienced before. Even the lust Sam inspired was a dim glow in comparison. A part of her wondered if she’d ever feel that way again once the bond had broken, or if her future relationships would forever stand in its shadow.
Silver sat down beside her. He didn’t even have to say anything. He just looked.
Lilith was too tired to lie, too sick of having to decide what to keep secret and what to share in a world where she understood so little. So she told him everything: about her escape from the pub, the monster near the lake, Ri’ka pulling her into the water and then the ewte’s insistence that she should give the nitum to the pack. She was about to speak of Sam’s offer, but then Amber interrupted, her brow furrowed.
“Is that the ewte that was following us?”
“Maybe.” Lilith wanted to voice her suspicions but the words refused to come. What if Silver blamed her? “What is nitum, anyway?” she asked instead.
Silver took the nitum from Amber and sniffed it, then crushed some between his fingers. “An expensive herb,” he said. “No ewte would freely give something it could charge for, yet this smells pure.”
“Is it safe to use?” Amber said.
“I think so. Fang will know for sure.” He handed the pack back to her. “Go ask him. Keep hold of your emotions; Vera is sleeping.”
Amber looked at them both, then nodded and left. When the door slid shut, Silver leaned back against the wall, the sheets rustling under him. Lilith felt her cheeks warm and inched away from him. Her stomach twisted at the thought of him in bed with Manda.
“Why is it so important?” Lilith asked, to take her mind off of his nearness. “The nitum.”
“Nitum stops a werekin from changing,” he said. Silver had his eyes closed. He looked asleep. “Vera is pregnant,” he continued softly. “The baby might not be a wolf. If she changes, the baby will die—and probably take her life with it.”
“I wish you’d told me,” Lilith said, looking across the room. “I don’t think I’d have minded as much being sold to the Guild, if I’d known everything.”
The twitch of Silver’s eyebrow suggested disbelief. “Give up your chance to return home for an infected?” he said.
For the first time, the word made Lilith feel ashamed. She ducked her head, was about to reply when Silver’s hand shot out and pressed against her lips. His palm was warm, soft, and strangely reassuring.
“There’s someone downstairs,” he said tersely.
“Mel?” Or was it Sam? Lilith barely dared to breathe.
He shook his head. His steps were whisper-soft as he moved towards the door. “A friend of yours,” he said darkly. He slid open the door and disappeared down the hallway.
For a moment Lilith sat still, then she rose to her feet and followed. Silver was already out of sight. She tiptoed down the hallway, keeping to the edges of the walls. She had almost reached the end of the hallway when a door to her right opened.
Sam was stood in the doorway.
He looked at her. “Are you coming with me?”
By now Silver would already be downstairs meeting her supposed friend. Lilith looked at the stairs, then at Sam. “Not yet,” she said. “I have something I need to do first.”
“Things have changed. It’s now or never,” he replied. “If we wait any longer, we won’t be able to get you in.” He stepped back into his room, moved over to the window. A rope ladder hung from the windowsill. “Hurry, before the werewolves realise you’re gone.”
But what about the bond? What about Vera? Would the nitum work? Lilith stared into Sam’s fathomless eyes and hesitated.
“Why did you stay?” she asked slowly. “You said you were like me. Why did you give everything up for this?”
Sam was a dark silhouette against the window. “I had to know,” he finally whispered.
Lilith nodded. “I have to know, too,” she said, backing out of the room. And she slid the door shut on her only way home.