Desert Fire

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I don’t want to tremble, don’t want to be scared of whatever the hell is happening, but the perfume invading my nostrils, burning them, is far too familiar and it does make me tremble; it does make me scared as shit. I’m certain I will always be afraid of this woman. No matter how tough I think I am, I will always shudder in fear when she’s around.

She broke me.

“Put the gun down, Kadence,” Scarlet drawls, pushing the barrel harder into my temple, making me whimper, dammit. My still-bruised face tingles as if it remembers the sound of her voice.

I’m tough, I’m tough. She won’t kill me.

Wanna bet?

Shut up brain, just SHUT UP!

Kay stands firm, not giving in, but inching closer to us. “Let her go,” she bites out, totally keeping cool. How the hell does she do that?

I’m so weak, so ashamed. My legs almost give out from fear. I may piss myself. How freaking humiliating. You will not piss yourself, goddammit!

Scarlet yanks on my hair again, causing another yelp to burst from my lips. I should be fighting her, trying to get away, but I’m paralyzed by terror. Besides, she wouldn’t hesitate to shoot me in the back if I struggled free from her grip.

“We both know you won’t shoot me,” she tells Kay. “Put down the gun before I’m forced to shoot her.” A shiver racks through me at the cool lifelessness of her tone. I’m certain if I could see her face it would be an emotionless mask; the face of my nightmares.

I want to cry, to beg for her to let me go, but neither will help anything. Kay’s gaze bores into mine as if she’s gauging something…something…I don’t know what! How scared I am? On a scale from one to ten, that’d be an eighty! I beg with my eyes for her to do something, but she frowns, her shoulders slumping before she slowly bends to the ground to put the gun down. Noooooo! Now the bitch has won.

But Cadmar, Cadmar will come!

“Good girl,” Scarlet praises, her voice rumbling against my back, her perfume choking me.

Everything about her makes vomit claw at my throat. Maybe if I do puke, she’ll be so grossed out, she’ll let go. As if her fingers read my mind, they clutch harder, pulling a few strands out, and I clench my jaw to keep from yelling out again.

“Now, where’s your sister?” she asks Kadence, whose fists curl at her sides.

I want to shake my head, but it’s impossible. “She isn’t with us,” Kay tells her, which makes her snarl, in turn, and I flinch away from her.

After a long pause and a deep breath, she composes the anger, which was radiating off her and into me. “Come over here and lead the way up the stairs, so we can have a little chat with your father.”

Scarlet turns, pulling me with her so we’re pressed against the wall, making room for Kay to pass us. She moseys toward us, so freaking slow, watching Scarlet the entire time. My dumb lip quivers when she turns us to follow Kadence. I should be relieved we’re about to see Cadmar, but I’m not. We should have listened, should have stayed at the Jeep. How did Scarlet even find us? Where did she come from? I can’t ponder the answers, because my brain is overloaded with horror.

When Kay gets to the door, us right behind her, and opens it, Cadmar is there, his hand outstretched as if he was about to open it himself. Jerking back, he takes in the scene before him with calculating eyes. They shift from Kadence, to me, pausing on me with a scorching fury, which burns me to my toes, before landing on Scarlet.

I was expecting him to charge her or pull a gun out and blast her brains out, but he just stands there, his eyes trained on Scarlet as if looking at me is too…painful, maybe? Or maybe he’s too ashamed to look at me, too disappointed I was stupid enough to get caught. Is he not flinging a dagger at her because he’s afraid it will hit me? I don’t want it to, because it’s almost as shameful as getting captured, but my bottom lip quivers again, tears pouring down my cheeks. Damn tears! I thought I ran out of them last night.

Cadmar stays silent, his jaw twitching as if he’s waiting for Scarlet to speak. The only movement he makes is wrapping his fingers around a shocked Kadence’s wrist. She squeaks when he whips her around so she’s behind him, completely blocked from danger. Oh, how I envy her.

“Took you long enough,” Scarlet drones, but she jerks on my hair as if to gloat she’s caught me in her filthy claws. I clench my jaw tighter, until I’m certain my teeth will break, refusing to scream or whimper. I don’t know if she was hoping to taunt him to look at me, but he doesn’t spare me a glance and it actually hurts, sending a sharp pain through my chest. “Did you find what you were looking for?” she asks in a too- sweet voice.

Tilting his head, he stares at her, not betraying an ounce of emotion. “What did you do with it?” he asks, but sounds uninterested, too. This must be their game; portraying boredom to keep from betraying any emotion, seeing who will crack first.

“Where is Payton?” she shoots back, ignoring his question.

“Where are Bryn and Eva?” He does the same to her. I’m shocked to realize I completely forgot about our two other sisters, although overlooking them should be a relief. Where are they? The thought that they may be waiting to ambush us makes my stomach clench.

His question must have fazed her, because her grip loosens slightly, making me want to sigh or shiver in relief, but I hold it together…sort of. “The Elites took them in for some…extra training,” she actually answers, but…what?

Is she really so cruel she would hand her favorite girls over to the Elites? The thought of them being gone both thrills and terrifies me. They aren’t here and that’s awesome, but what would the Elites want with them? I can’t think; my head hurts, her fingers digging in again. Does she really need to keep pulling my hair? Didn’t she get her point across? Cadmar’s only response to her answer is raised eyebrows. I wish I knew what the heck was going through his head. But more than anything, I wish I would stop trembling. Dear God, the trembling!

“I answered one of yours, now you answer mine,” Scarlet growls, losing some composure. “Where. Is. She?”

“If you think that’s how I play, you must have forgotten who I am. What do you want with her?”

She clenches my hair harder, the gun stabbing my temple, making my eyes squeeze shut, a small whimper escaping me. Anger is not a good emotion for her to be feeling right now. My scalp hates it. Why isn’t he talking her down? Is he going to let her shoot me? The thought has my eyes snapping open, looking to him for comfort, but he still won’t look at me. Please look at me, please! Show me some sign of remorse or anger, anything that says you care!

“I need her,” is all Scarlet gives him and his eyebrows hitch up again.

“For?” he prompts, seeming impatient with her


“All they want is the girls, Cadmar, especially Payton.” The plea in her voice tells me her poise is completely gone, which chills me to the bone. If she’s losing control, I’m the one stuck in her grasp, literally. “If we give them the girls, they will forgive us everything. We can go back to the way it was before them.” She spits the last word; some of it lands on my cheek, making me want to throw up. My entire body vibrating in fear eggs the vomit on, allowing it to rip at my throat. She’s going to shoot me. I’m going to lose it.

“Now, you will take me to her,” she goes on when he doesn’t speak. “We will hand them all over or, so help me, I will put a bullet in her head. She’s useless to them anyway; she’s never been on an assignment and they didn’t even know she existed before I spoke with them.”

Cadmar’s mask finally waivers, his jaw tightening, hands fisting at his sides. I want to know what she means, but I can’t think straight. The walls seem to be closing in. I feel claustrophobic, trapped. I am trapped. And I’m stuck on her words about putting a bullet in my head.

“Are you going to fight me on this?” she asks when Cadmar remains silent.

“Tell me where it is,” he finally says after an eternity of me sweating from every stinking pore.

Where what is? Does he really need it so bad he’ll risk her shooting me?

Maybe he doesn’t think she would. She’s going to shoot you.

I thought I told you to shut up, brain!

My body shudders in relief when she releases my hair, but she keeps the gun touching my temple. I don’t risk moving an inch to see what she’s doing. Or maybe I couldn’t even if I tried. She holds her arm forward far enough for me to see the black flash drive in her hand. “You do as I say and you get it back.”

He nods stiffly, but I don’t know what any of this means. “You can let Reiley go now; you’ve made your point,” he tells her, but still doesn’t look my way.

Why? Why won’t he look at me?

“Like hell I will.” Her fingers find my hair again and I do yell out this time. Cadmar’s eyes finally land on mine, giving me a tortured look before he’s able to cover it. “Go get the Jeep; we’ll wait here,” she tells him.

His gaze stays on mine for a long second and I beg with my eyes. Please, please don’t leave me with her. Please! Silent tears leak from them, dripping down my cheeks. I’m such an idiot, standing here all helpless, having done the exact opposite of what I planned. I suck at life.

He doesn’t say anything, only nods again before motioning behind him for Kay to follow. I couldn’t see her this entire time with the way Cadmar’s body blocked her from view, but when they walk past us, her glistening, sorrowful eyes watch me. Streaks of tears mark her cheeks, which is astonishing.

“If you try anything, she’s dead,” Scarlet says when they’re about to pass us.

Cadmar stops in his tracks in front of us, leaning forward, giving her an unfathomable glare. “You should consider holding off on the threats, Scarlet. I am beginning to think you really don’t remember who you are dealing with.” The words come out strained, a little muscle twitching under his eye, which I’ve never seen happen before. It makes me want to curl in a ball or run as far from him as possible.

With that, he starts back down the hall, Kay on his heels after she gives me one last mournful look. I want to beg them to stay with me, but it won’t do any good. I can’t do any good right now. I’m actually not sure my voice will work even if I tried to speak. They don’t spare us another glance before the door shuts behind them. My whole body trembles in fear and anxiety, while Scarlet stays silent for an entire minute, still clutching my hair, still holding a damn gun to my head.

After an eternity of silence, she lowers the gun and releases my hair. I spin away from her with a gasp, my legs vibrating beneath me while I take in her appearance. She looks down her nose at me with one perfectly shaped, light eyebrow raised and her impeccably glossed lips pursed. Her long blonde curls hang around her, what would be, flawless face, if it weren’t for the pink, puckered scar running along her cheekbone. I’m guessing it’s from the knife fight she got in with Cadmar at Conner’s house, which Payton told me about when we got to Texas.

She’s wearing a long-sleeved, gray blouse, black jeans, which are practically painted on, and gray pumps, which should look ridiculous, but they make her look like some evil, warrior queen. I loathe this woman more than anyone on the planet, but for the first time ever, I actually wish I could be like her, at least in the sense of looking so fierce. Maybe without the hateful, psychoness, though.

“Sit,” she commands, pointing at the floor with the gun, as if I’m a freaking dog.

I want to snarl at her or maybe even gnash my teeth like the dog she thinks I am, but I can’t summon the courage. So I stand in defiance, instead. She only hitches that eyebrow up again in response to my rebellion. Balling my fists at my sides, I bare my teeth at her, as if, somehow, the action will intimidate her from touching me again, which is highly unlikely.

I hate her. I hate her. I hate her.

The words pound through me, urging me to attack her, scratch her freaking eyes out, maybe bite her; anything to cause some pain. The anger overtakes the fear, bringing relief.

“Why are you doing this?” I croak, sounding gawd-awful, but I need to know.

Her eyes become thin slits. “To get my life back,” she says as if it’s the obvious answer.

“Was it really so terrible with us?” I raise my pierced eyebrow, not believing even a psychotic bitch like her could actually be that hateful…buuut the disgusted look she makes says otherwise.

She doesn’t justify my question with an answer. Even though my body still trembles, my curious bone begs me to ask more questions. But before I can, she tilts her head then beckons me over with the gun when the sound of tires rolling toward the building breaks our silence.

“Back in front of me,” she demands, and every bone in my body wants to defy her.

But she has a gun and she hates you enough to use it!

Seriously, brain, you aren’t helping one bit.

I move in front of her, but glance over my shoulder at her. “Could you not rip my hair out this time?” I snap, but instantly regret it when a wicked smirk contorts her face. For only the second time in my life, I despise my big mouth. Whipping her free hand out, she grips my hair even harder than before. “God!” I scream out, my hands reaching up of their own accord to claw at hers.

“Don’t,” she growls, returning the barrel of the gun to my head, making me drop my hands to my sides.

Before I can whimper or complain, the door slams open, Cadmar’s hulking figure crowding the doorway. He gives me a fierce glare. What the hell did I do? Did he hear me scream just now? Did I disappoint him, yet again? It’s not my fault your bitch wife is insane! I want to scream. I want this awfulness to be over. I want to understand what the crap is happening.

They’re both insane, that’s what’s happening. You may be on to something.

“Let’s get this over with,” he snarls at Scarlet.

Shoving me forward, she moves us toward the door. Cadmar steps to the side to let us through, but she stops for a second, probably to make sure Kadence is securely in the Jeep, which she is.

“You try anything and her brain paints the window,” Scarlet warns, making a shiver wrack through my stupid body. She angles us so her back is away from Cadmar, who now has his arms crossed over his chest, his jaw twitching rapidly. “I may even take Kadence out if you piss me off enough. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, since Payton is their main concern,” she adds, sounding thoughtful while she backs us to the back door of the Jeep.

I swear a growl rumbles in his chest and I must be right, because Scarlet chuckles. He growls for Kay, but glares at me? WTH? She keeps her hand in my hair while Cadmar goes around to the driver’s side to get in. Once he’s in, she finally lets go of my hair, opening the back door so I can get in ahead of her. Whimpering my relief, I climb in, scrambling to the opposite side. I may have to sit back here with her, but I’m going to get the furthest I can from her.

Once she’s in and pointing the gun at me, yet again, Cadmar peels away from the building. I want to pull my phone out to tell Payton what’s happening, even if it gets me in trouble with Queen Bitch, but my head pounds with a serious migraine, so I curl in a ball and rest my head against the cool window.

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