Scarlet Page 40

“Did she die?” he asked me.


“That friend of yours. The one you never want to talk about.”

Lead settled in the pit of my stomach. “Yeah, John. She died.” I looked at him. “It were so quick. Not her dying—that weren’t quick—but the way the world slips upside down. I thought I were free, and then the worst things happened.”

He nodded. “Like, for a moment of happiness, you’ll be paying your whole life.”

His hand twisted and grabbed my hand under the table. I pulled back, surprised. “Uh—” I said quick.

“Never mind,” he said.

I looked at my drink and took the mug and went to fill it. When I came back Ellie were beside him, and I went to go sit with Rob and Lena on the other side of the table.

We were all fair full of drink a few hours after sundown, which made it all the more terrible. We didn’t hear the hoofbeats over our own laughter till it were too late, and twelve black horses came to the tavern.

Everyone jumped up and pushed forward, but the horses stopped, and we stopped too. We all went quiet, and Lena’s cold hand gripped mine. Tuck walked out, his stomach rolling along in front of him, Malcolm thundering behind.

The front man lowered his black hood, and Gisbourne were there, shaking the dark hair back from his face. I noticed with some pride the stitched-up scar on his cheek, same place as mine lay, but my gut wrenched and my heart started hammering. A hand touched my lower back, almost my waist, but I didn’t know who it were. I could see John pushed farther ahead, so it weren’t him.

“Are you Tuck?” Gisbourne asked.

“Aye,” Tuck answered.

“We’ve had a report that the Hood is here among your customers tonight.”

Tuck looked horrified. “The Hood, sir?” His eyes swept the crowd. “Search for him, my lords! Don’t let the vagrant get away!”

“Two men on these in front, two flank the back, the rest with me inside. We don’t want him running.”

The hand moved around my waist. “Scar, get out of here now,” Rob whispered.

“No.” I were trembling, but I weren’t a coward. “I’m staying here.”

“John, get her out of here,” Rob ordered, and John turned back to us, looking at me with new alarm. Rob’s arm left my waist only to have John’s arm replace it, his other arm trapping both of mine against my chest.

“Put me down, John—I’m not fooling!” I snapped, twisting violent against him.

He crouched low, dragging me so the crowd hid us.

“Hush,” John hissed. “Let me get you out quick so I can come back and help Rob. No one’s risking you to Gisbourne, all right?”

“Second you put me down, you big lout, I’m heading straight back to Rob and Much.”

“We all agreed to keep you from Gisbourne!” John growled. “Don’t you dare risk the rest of us to play the hero.”

I scowled at this logic, but I knew he weren’t wrong. “Get Lena too—she’s scared stiff.”

“I’ll do what I can, Scar, but I’m with Rob.”

I elbowed him hard. “I’ll stay to the side only as long as you’re all safe. And that includes Lena.”

He held my arms tighter and straightened as we made it to the trees. “If I get Lena out, you give me another kiss. A proper one.”

He let me go and I cracked him one ’cross the face. “You’re a dirty dealer, John!”

He laughed. “Is that a yes?”

We both jerked, hearing someone scream, “No! Don’t!”

I pushed him. “Fine, deal, go!”

I hid behind a tree, keeping my knives in hand, ready to help where I could. It weren’t Lena they were interested in. I watched as Gisbourne grabbed a boy I didn’t recognize, not much older than me, and held him high on his horse for everyone to see.

“Where’s the Hood?” he asked.

“He ain’t here,” called one man.

He slit the boy’s throat and dropped him to the ground before I had an inkling it would happen. I fell back against a tree, vomit rising in my throat.

I saw Rob push forward, ready to own up to being the Hood, but it were Malcolm who pushed him back.

“How many more do I have to kill?” Gisbourne demanded. My eyes shot to Rob; I knew if Malcolm and the others didn’t keep him back, he would step forward in the beat of a heart to take an innocent’s place.

“He’s not here!” a woman shrieked. It weren’t Lena, but it made me jump. “What must we do?”

“I don’t believe you. You all hide him and harbor him like a hero, but you must see him for what he really is: the man who brings slaughter to your people.”

He motioned for another to be brought. This one struggled, and the whole crowd began to struggle with him. Gisbourne’s men surrounded the people, kicking them into one another and pushing the group. I couldn’t see any of the lads until Gisbourne dragged another up in front of him.

It were Much.

I inched away from the tree. I saw Rob struggling against the townspeople. No one wanted him to move forward, but it would be bare breaths before Gisbourne caught sight of it, and I didn’t wait.

One hand were on Much’s chin, pulling him upward, stretching his neck for the knife in Gisbourne’s other hand. I knew it were awful close to Much’s face. I had to trust my aim.

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