“They'll uncouple easily enough," Omar said dryly.
"You're wrong" Rafe met the man's one-eyed gaze head on.
My heart slowed. What was he doing?
Omar snorted. "You'll forget her in a week."
"Not a chance. I've loved her since I was ten, long before we even met"...
"So if you try to take her from me," Rafe went on lightly, though his eyes had a dangerous gleam, "I will stick a steel knife in your happily ever after and gouge out its guts”
“I'll take off my clothes," I said before I could think about how that would play out. "And you guys check for bite marks"...
"Don't," Everson said hoarsely and I froze. "It won't be enough. Even without a bite mark, you could still be infected. Chorda's blood or saliva could have gotten in one of your cuts. We're going to have to wait it out."
"He's right." Rafe cast a sidelong look at Everson. "But you could have mentioned it after she took her off her shirt"
"It crossed my mind," Everson admitted.”
“Want to know what else he said?" Rafe put his lips near my ear. "That with the right guy, you'd turn wild"
I shoved him hard. He was laughing before he even hit the ground. I shot to my feet and glared at him. "You're disgusting”
“He swept his hand, indicating me from head to toe. "It's like you just broke your seal and slipped out of your plastic wrap".
"Why does everything you say sound obscene?"
"You look like a doll that's never been played with. That's all I'm saying. I can't help it if you have a dirty mind”
“Remember what I said when I led to Omar and the queen?" I bobbed my head, unable to look away from his jewel-like eyed, shining in the darkness...so much like Chorda's. "That was the lie. Good-bye, Lane," he said and then crept into the darkness.”
“Breathe, rabbit. I'll only hurt you if you do something stupid."
I cleared my throat "Define stupid".
When his lips pulled back, I flinched, only to realize that I'd amused him.
"Have you been locked in a tower your whole life?”
“Safe and happy don't always go together.”
“He shouldn't be the one to go; I'd used up the water. "Can't we get it in the morning?"
"It'll take me ten minutes." He shoved the couch aside enough to crack open the door. "Then I'll check the garage for a jack." He paused in the doorway. "Unless you want to go skinny-dipping. I'd risk being out at night for that”
“What've you got to barter?"
I pulled off my father's bag and peered inside. "A flashlight, matches-"
"How about a sleeping bag?" he interrupted.
I slumped. Of course something like a sleeping bag would be valuable in his world. "No".
"Perfect. Share mine tonight and I'll take you to Moline in the morning. Deal?”
“Promise me, Lane,” Rafe pleaded, letting me hear the depth of his anguish.
“Okay. I will,” I said, hating the promise even as I made it. “But only if I hear about a feral infected tiger, which I won't because I'll be on the other side of the wall.”
A smile touched Rafe's lips, genuine this time. “You'll be back. A fierce girl like you belongs on the wild side.”
“The king who stepped into the ballroom wearing a green velvet robe and bejeweled crown was none other that the tiger-man who'd prowled through my nightmares and nearly every waking moment for the past two days. Chorda.”
“I'm sorry I dragged you into this.”
He leaned back against the low wall and folded his arms. “I wouldn't have missed it for the world.”
“You're trapped in the Chicago compound,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but I'm with the girl who's going to end the quarantine.”
“What?” I stared at him.
He cut me a sly look. “The girl in Mack's stories always does.”
“I'm not that girl.”
“No,” he agreed. “You're better. For one thing, you're real. And two, you fill out that dress better than a ten-year-old could.”
“Just promise me something . . . .” He looked down at my hand fisted in his and pushed his fingers into it, compelling me to entwine my fingers with his, a move that was perfectly him. He'd pushed himself into my heart much the same way. “Promise,” he went on, “that if you hear about a grupped-up tiger gone feral, you'll hire a hunter to put me down.”
“No,” I gasped. “You'll have years before that happens and by then, Dr. Solis will have found a cure.”
“I won't go,” I whispered against his shoulder. “I'm not leaving you when you're sick.”
“You're not leaving me.” He peeled out of my embrace and faced the edge of the canopy. “I'm leaving you.”
“Wait,” I gasped, reaching for him. I wasn't ready to lose him to the night and the chaos of the zoo. But when Rafe glanced back at me, my hand froze. His eyes were now as luminous as a predator's.”
“I don't know, ask him.”
“I'm asking you, so, why don't you just come out and say it?”
Rafe released the door, letting it close. “What are we talking about?”
I dug my nails into my palms, letting the pain brace me for his answer. “Is he your father?”
Rafe's smile returned. “Nope. I'm not your brother, Lane. I know that's got to be a disappointment.” He paused, considering it. “Or maybe not. Now you can throw yourself at me. Just not when Mack's around okay? He's not my dad, but he is the guy who busted me out of an orphan camp when I was ten.”
“That demented animal didn't deserve a name.”
“Give yourself some credit,” he went on, “not a lot of silkies would have made it this far.”
“I stopped you from killing Chorda,” (...)
“Hey, come one,” Rafe said. “It's your first time in the Feral Zone. Of course you made mistakes.”
“Like falling for the wrong boy?” I'd said it to be funny, since he was always teasing me about Everson, but Rafe grew still.
He turned his gaze on the dark skyline. “No, you didn't. He's a stiff, but he's a good guy, he won't crawl out of your window after you fall asleep or come on to your sister.”
“I don't have a sister.”
“Missing the point.”
“As Rafe watched the hovercopter circle back, I saw that his aqua eyes had a golden sheen, like sunlight reflecting off the surface of a lake, I couldn't move, couldn't breathe. “Your eyes . . .”
“They'd shoot me on sight.” Rafe took my hand from his cheek, holding it curled in his own. “Can't blame them. I'd shoot me.”
My heart lurched. “What does that mean? Rafe?”
“Why do girls always chase after the wild ones?” Mahari asked.”
“(...) the train goes fast and is going fast when it crosses a little trestle. You catch the sober, metallic, pure, late-light, unriffled glint of the water between the little banks, under the sky, and see the cow standing in the water upstream near the single leaning willow. And all at once you feel like crying. But the train is going fast, and almost immediately whatever you feel is taken away from you, too.”
“Now I'm a scientific expert; that means I know nothing about absolutely everything.”
“Of all facial expressions, which is the worst to have aimed at you? Wouldn't you agree it's disgust?”
“...no cat out of its first fur can ever be deceived by appearances. Unlike human beings, who enjoy them.”
“And it is very much lamented,...
That you have no such mirrors as will turn
Your hidden worthiness into your eye
That you might see your shadow.”
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