Read When Night Falls Online

Authors: Airicka Phoenix

When Night Falls (2 page)

BOOK: When Night Falls
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“We should go if we want to catch the next showing.” Hunter took her hand and tugged Scarlett back towards the door.

They said good-bye to Grams and made their way back to the transporters.

“I thought you said we were—”

“And we are. I couldn’t very well tell your Grams where we were really going.”

Scarlett snorted as Hunter placed his hand on the data scanner and declared himself to the computer. “Right, because Gram hasn’t been there, done that herself.”

“Be that as it may be, I’d rather if your Grams didn’t know we were sneaking off to…”

“Watch hot, naked boys sweat?” she finished for him with an arched eyebrow.

The doors slid open and they stepped inside. Hunter waited until it had sealed shut behind them before speaking again.

“Exactly. Don’t think she’d appreciate me corrupting her sweet, innocence granddaughter. Besides,” he gave her a wicked grin, “there’s something naughty about sneaking around.”

Scarlett laughed, shaking her head. 

The twenty levels aboard the Dawn Light had once been spacious and glowed with life and parties that ran on for days. But most had been abandoned due to the chemical explosions and riots. Others were used for storage. The more important ones like the vendor strip, the harvesting levels, and the leisure center were kept open for daily use. There was also an entertainment strip on deck eight with seventy bars, pubs, restaurants, and movie theaters. But after the alcohol supply began to run dry, most only went for the dancing or to watch the same eight hundred movies. Scarlett had no favorites, but very seldom did she willingly venture into the leisure center. She got enough exercise as a novice harvester working the fields. Plus, only those with careers in peacekeeping ever went out of their way to use the facilities and only because they were required to maintain a certain number of hours working on shaping their bodies.

Their ship was broken into sectors and each sector had its own commanding leader, their mentor and their novices. Mentors were in charge of training the novices to one day take their place. Each novice graduated their training by the age of twenty and became mentors, responsible for assisting the future set of novices. There were only a few commanding leaders. They oversaw the ship and its workings. They were privy to information only the captain would be aware of. They were also the only ones with full access to every square inch of the ship.

The distinct clang of metal on metal pierced through artificially cooled air as they ascended through the crowd. Glassed walls opened into cavernous chambers lined with machines and toned bodies. But they bypassed the work stations to reach the last set of doors at the far end. Scarlett took a deep breath as they passed over the threshold.

The oval room always reminded her of
the Gladiator arena she’d seen at the Academy on the holo-projections. There was a circle of stairs that doubled as seats all the way around a large arena at the bottom where people went to pit their strengths up against monstrous machines and each other. Scarlett had never liked the feeling of sweat cooling on her body, but she certainly appreciated it when some of the boys did it.

One boy in particular.

“Let’s find a seat in front!” Hunter motioned to where a small cluster of girls sat, evidently having had the same idea. But they weren’t making it quite as obvious. They’d had the sense to bring along books and pretend like they were reading, while stealing peeks over the top and giggling. There were other small groups scattered throughout the chamber. Most of them girls, but there was the odd boy. Hunter waved at a group on the other side. The girls there waved back.

“Come here often without me?” Scarlett teased, picking her way carefully down the marble steps.

“Only when you’re working and I need a … distraction.”

Scarlett rolled her eyes, biting back a chuckle. Hunter was a shameless flirt
, which would have been fine if he wasn’t abnormally charming to boot. It was impossible to deny him anything when he flashed those adorable dimples. Scarlett had never been attracted to him in the way some of the girls at the Academy had been, but she could see what drew them to him.

He was tall and lean for an operator. It annoyed her that he never worked out, yet had the body of someone who spent hours either getting surgically altered or sweating on a workout bench. When you took that into account and added his wavy, light brown hair and dreamy green eyes and those dimples … it was a recipe for danger. And Hunter had a bad track record for breaking hearts. This
week’s obsession was Jack Wick, a tall, masculine boy with a headful of glossy black hair and eyes too blue to be real—which they probably weren’t. They could have easily been enhanced. It wasn’t unheard of. Most people from his class could once afford the body upgrades and modifications. Scarlett had always wanted to get her blue eyes lightened to green and her auburn hair darkened to black, but the credits were too high. It just wasn’t worth the cost when there were more important things to worry about, like clothes and food. Her grandmother worked too hard for her to go squandering the little they made. And Hunter barely made enough as a novice. What he did make, he used to help pay for the necessities they needed. Scarlett brought in what she could from the few hours she worked in the fields, but harvesting was one of the no-brainer careers. Just about anyone could do it with a little muscle and it was the one that everyone applied for because it was so easy. Due to the overflow of applicants, the pay was lousy and Scarlett really couldn’t do much else. She could never be a marshal or an operator. She had no upper body strength to speak of, or talent for computers. Harvesting was the only career that required only the most basic skills and that was all she had.

The metallic clang of barbells jolted her back to the present and the reason behind her presence there. She let her gaze roam the oval chamber, spotting all the different uniforms and sashes labeling most of them as novices. The majority, she noted, were vendor class, clad in their gray trousers and blazers. There were the odd operators in their navy blue uniforms and harvesters in their black outfits. Then there were the marshals. None were in their brown uniforms, because they were the ones keeping the spectators entertained in the arena. They were the ones in black sweat pants, their bodies a work of art drenched in perspiration. They put
on a good show for their guests, stretching and pulling the muscles on their arms, the roped planes of their backs, their broad chests and limber legs. Every practiced motion was fluid and somehow much slower than it should have been if they weren’t doing it to get a reaction from the crowd. The only one who seemed to actually be working out for working out purposes was the one person Scarlett couldn’t stop watching.

Rolf Gray.

The first time she’d seen him was three years ago as they stood deck, waving goodbye to their families. Her mother had forced her into a lacy white dress with a bright, red ribbon in her hair, even though Scarlett had been fourteen and not four. Scarlett had wanted to put up a fuss about it, but it seemed like such a small thing considering she wouldn’t be seeing her parents for six months.

Rolf had been standing at the railing several feet away from her, focused on a pretty brunette with brown eyes and a little girl of seven with a riot of blonde curls and enormous blue eyes. A man stood with them, but he had his back to the ship while he talked rapidly on his commu-link. Scarlett had guessed they were his family.

He hadn’t noticed her. At least, she had assumed he hadn’t until a week after when he’d cornered her in an alcove, holding her ribbon.

The thing had been snatched from her hair by a breeze the morning of the launch and she’d given up hopes of ever finding it again, yet there it was, fluttering from between his two fingers. She’d started to thank him, when he reached out and took her hand. She’d watched in stunned silence as he wound the ribbon around her wrist, all the while peering unwaveringly into her eyes. His thumb had skimmed her knuckles before he drew away. With a slow grin, he’d inclined his head and walked away without ever saying a word.

That was the one and only time she’d ever seen him smile.

But now, h
e was draped over a leather bench, no longer a boy, but a man of nineteen, hoisting a metal bar over his head while Jack stood over him, spotting him. He wore a mask of pure concentration, somehow managing to ignore the murmurs and girlish giggles surrounding the room. Scarlett wasn’t sure how he was able to do it; the low, irritating buzz would have driven her crazy.

But that wasn’t
what had her stomach in knots.

A loud crescendo of giggles
rose around her. She turned in time to watch as Rolf relinquished the bar to Jack and sat up. He snatched a towel off the ground and dabbed at his face, his neck and chest. A harmonious chorus of sighs floated through the air. Scarlett merely stiffened, torn between the panicked need to escape and the undeniable urge to melt.

She was vaguely aware of Hunter abandoning her and making his way down the steps. Her attention was fixated on the man unfolding
himself from the bench. He was still staring down as he wiped the sweat from the back of his neck and ran the towel over his hair, sweeping the dark, shiny strands back from his square face. Casually, he slung the towel around his broad shoulders, said something to his friend and then looked up, straight at Scarlett.

Every inch of skin, hair, fiber
… freckle prickled as if he’d physically caressed them. Piercing eyes the warm shade of untainted tea—a soft, golden brown with just a hint of red in the light—bore straight into her very soul from amongst shaggy black fringes, and Scarlett nearly choked on the wisp of air she’d stupidly attempted to draw in. She watched as he broke away from the pack, away from his adoring fans, and climbed the steps towards her, his movements graceful, beautiful, the riveting motions of a predator. At last, he reached her and stopped, one step below hers yet he still somehow managed to tower over her.

“How are you?”
he murmured in a voice designed for hot moments in dark corners.

His eyes burned into hers, pools of fire against a face crafted for sin. Scarlett felt herself melting in all the places his presence always stirred awake.

Miserable,
she wanted to tell him.
Lonely.

Instead, she nodded slowly.
“I’m okay.” She ran a tongue over her lips. “How are you?”

His gaze searched hers and traced the lines of her face before resting on her eyes once more. “I’m okay.”

Slowly, practically stripping her with his eyes, he took her in, everything from her black flats to her bare legs under her pleated grey skirt to where her black t-shirt was a bit too tight around the chest. He lingered there a moment before lifting his gaze to meet hers. His hands fisted around each corner of the towel draped over his shoulders, his knuckles white with his restraint.

Slowly, while she had the chance, her gaze rode over him, following the valleys and
grooves of his sweat-kissed body. Every dip and groove was a road map she wanted to follow with her fingers, her lips … her tongue. She wanted to trace a path from the lush folds of his mouth, to the hollow of his throat, all the way down the hard plates of his breasts to the deeply etched ripples of his abdomen. It was all so perfect, every toned inch of him.

“I have patrol tonight,” he said at last, reminding her just how inappropriate her thoughts were when they were surrounded by onlookers.

She was excruciatingly aware of the eyes on them. Hunter’s included. She could feel every hot jab like a knife piercing her flesh. The hatred and anger brewed with curiosity and hung as thick and bitter as the stench of sweat, moldy gym socks, and polished leather. She wondered if he felt it, too. If he cared. No. He didn’t. His focus, his entire focus, was on her.

For a moment she couldn’t remember why she was restraining herself from jumping him, why she never allowed herself to fully fall for him as she so desperately wanted. Then
a long, pale arm slipped through the crook of his and she remembered all too well as a petite figure moved to stand at his side.

“Rolf?”

Dainty like a beautiful flower,
Kiera Hash smiled up at him with eyes much too large and blue on her oval face. Her long, blonde hair was braided down her slender spine and stopped in a thick plait inches from the back of her knees. Scarlett resisted the temptation to grab a fistful of all those silky, rich strands and shake the girl like a maraca.

“Are you finished?” she asked, blinking her scary-doll eyes up at him.
“You promised to walk me back to my chambers.”

A different, stronger prickle of heat swept through the pit o
f Scarlett’s stomach. She stifled it by folding her arms across her abdomen and cupping her elbows. Her gaze dropped to the delicate hand resting small and pale against the crook of Rolf’s arm and she had to look away.

“I should get back to Hunter,” she murmured, gesturing with a random nod in her friend’s direction.

Rolf’s brown eyes flickered in the direction of her nod. Something sparked in them before they made their way back to Scarlett.

“I won’t keep you then.” He took a single step back and it felt infinite, like he’d pressed both hands against her chest and shoved. It struck her like a physical rejection, which made no sense. But then nothing about her elusive relationship with Rolf Gray made sense.

BOOK: When Night Falls
2.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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