Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 11

  “Refresh my memory,” Bowen snaps.

  “I want the Fec. I’ll buy him off you for eight ounces. ” There’s something about Len’s voice that makes me squirm. It has the same emotion I saw in the beast’s eyes when it looked at me—hunger. But is hunger an emotion? I wonder, shivering.

  A shoe scrapes in the dirt and there’s a long silence. Bowen finally says, “So, why d’you want him so bad? You’ve never shown interest in anyone with the mark before. ”

  “What’s your problem, Drey?” The other guy sounds offended. “I’m offering to take a Level Ten off your hands and pay you! You should be the one paying me!”

  “Yeah. I don’t buy it. What’s your real motive? Why the sudden interest in someone with the mark?”

  “I’ll give you sixteen ounces, man,” Len whispers. “That’s double what they’ll pay for him at the lab. Sixteen ounces!”

  “Sixteen ounces?” Bowen’s voice is shocked. “Where’d you get sixteen ounces?”

  “I’ve got my sources. So, what do you say?”

  “Well, crap, Len. Sixteen ounces of honey? Let me think about it,” Bowen says. “Hmmm. Thinking hard. Thinking, thinking. And the answer is … no. Get out of here. ”

  “Twenty-four ounces of honey. That is my final offer. An offer you’d be a fool to refuse,” Len says, his gravelly voice mad. “Take it or leave it. ”

  “Twenty-four ounces? I could practically retire on that and live inside the wall. No more special forces,” Bowen says, and I can hear the yearning in his voice, as loud and clear as the hunger in Len’s.

  “Please, no,” I whisper, straining to hear his answer.

  Bowen sighs. And then groans, as if facing a painful internal struggle.

  “Like I said. An offer you can’t refuse,” Len says eagerly. His tone makes me feel … dirty. I burrow deeper into my sleeping bag, shut my eyes, and pray Bowen says no.

  After a drawn-out silence, my pounding heart the only noise, Bowen says, “You wanna know the funny thing about making me an offer I can’t refuse?”

  “No. Tell me what’s funny about it. ” Len is practically panting.

  “I’m afraid I’m going to have to refuse it. ”

  My eyes pop open, and a small smile pulls painfully on my split lip. Tears fill my eyes, the first good tears that I’ve cried since waking up in my abandoned house. Thank you, Dreyden!

  “Now get out of here before my men come back and I have them escort you away,” Bowen says, voice taut.

  Len growls, an animal sound of frustration. “Let me know when you change your mind. ”

  “Won’t happen. Get. Out. Of. Here. ”

  Footsteps pound over the ground, fading to silence. Bowen exhales and swears under his breath. A light flickers. The tent flap opens, and I squeeze my eyes shut against the glare of a flashlight.

  Bowen squats beside my head and shines the light on my chin. I squint up at him. His eyes move over my face, searching for something. “Is it possible Len knows?” he whispers.

  I frown. “Knows what?” “That you’re …” His eyes travel over my sleeping bag and grow wide, as if he can see my female body through the bulky material.

  “That I’m a gir—”

  Bowen claps a hand over my mouth, gently, though, so his callused palm doesn’t hurt my split lip. He puts a finger to his lips and removes his hand.

  “You dragged me around the camp half-naked last night,” I whisper.

  Bowen shakes his head, brow furrowed. “No. He knew before that. He had to have known the first night you came into the camp. ”

  “Why does it matter? What’s the big deal about my gender?”

  Bowen smirks. “Where have you been the past few years? Seriously?”

  I open my mouth, but no answer comes out. I sigh and finally say, “I don’t remember. ”

  Bowen rubs his eyes and leans as far from me as the tent allows, setting the flashlight in his lap. “You really don’t remember? It’s not some sort of act?”

  “I remember turning thirteen. But I don’t remember any birthdays after that,” I say. “What’s wrong with being a girl?”

  He sighs and his breath stirs the air. “Well, for one thing, there are seven living men for every one living woman. Being a woman outside the wall is the worst thing you can be. Women are hunted even more than beasts. ”


  “Because they bring the highest … the gangs pay … some men are …” Bowen presses on his eyes with the balls of his hands. “So now …” His hands drop to his sides and he looks at me. “On top of me protecting the entire camp from you, it looks like I’ll be protecting you from them. ”

  Footsteps stir outside the tent and fabric rustles. Bowen sits tall.

  “Bowen? You in there, man?” a voice rumbles.

  Bowen’s eyes meet mine and he presses a finger to his lips. “Yeah, Tommy. Just keeping you guys safe from the Fec. You boys have a nice break?”

  “Sure did. Thanks, man. ”

  Bowen turns off the flashlight, and the tent goes dark. There is warm pressure on my lips, and my heart flutters before I realize what he’s doing. I obediently open my mouth, and a wafer is placed on my tongue. It tastes like hamburgers and French fries, and as it settles in my stomach, it brings a food-heavy tiredness to my entire body that makes me think of Thanksgiving Day.

  As I drift off to sleep, I believe being cuffed is worth tasting food again, even if it is in wafer form.

  Chapter 13

  Sunlight blazes against the tent’s canvas walls, making it impossible to stay asleep. Not that I was sleeping well, with my legs and arms immobile. I open my eyes and try to stretch, but pause. Bowen is still in my tent, sitting with his back against the canvas, head slumped sideways on his knees, eyes closed, remote clutched in his hand. Air whistles between his soft lips every time he exhales. There’s a faded scar on his left cheek, and a fresh scar on the side of his chin, a white slash where dark stubble doesn’t grow. Looking at him, I get a funny feeling in my stomach—an ache, like I’m hungry, but not quite.

  His dark lashes flutter against his cheeks, and I look away fast, studying the top of the tent like it holds the answers to my missing past. I count to twenty and he hasn’t made a sound, so I look back and stare right into his narrowed eyes.

  “You’ve got to keep your hair in your face,” he whispers. “No one’s going to believe you’re a boy if they get a look at your eyes. Who am I kidding? They won’t believe you’re a boy if they actually look hard enough, even if your eyes are covered. ” His words make my cheeks burn, and he clears his throat. “I’m serious. Put your hair back in your face. ”

  I glare at him. “I can’t reach my hair,” I snap, wiggling my bound fingers.

  Bowen’s eyebrows shoot up. “A bit snarky this morning, Fotard?”

  I sigh, feeling a bone-deep, weary ache in my whole body. “Can you blame me, Botard?”

  He runs his fingers over his scruffy chin and studies me. “No. I’d be pretty snarky if I smelled like you. And I bet you’re dying to brush your teeth. ”

  I run my tongue over my disgusting teeth and glower.

  He lifts his hands. “Don’t look so ornery. The smell of the tunnels isn’t easy to wash away. ” His face softens and the sides of his mouth twitch. “It’s not you that stinks. It’s your pants. They are pretty … disgusting. ”

  “I know. My clothes were clean. These pants were Arrin’s. She told me we had to trade clothes so that I looked—and smelled—like a Fec. They’re too small. ”

  “Yeah. They looked really tight when I dressed you last night. ”

  My eyes grow wide. “You what me last night?”

  Bowen’s smile deepens and he shrugs. “Someone had to dress you. I’m the only one who dares to stand within arm’s reach, let alone touch you. So I put a shirt on you. No biggie. It’s not like you were naked. ”

  If my hands weren’
t cuffed, I would pull the sleeping bag up over my burning face. Instead I squeeze my eyes shut.

  “Hey, kid,” Bowen says. I look at him from under my lashes. His face is hard again, not even the memory of a smile dancing in his green eyes. “I’m going to release your legs, but don’t try anything. Just because you seem harmless doesn’t mean I’ll hesitate to kill you if you make one wrong move. ”

  I swallow and nod. The cuffs on my legs release, and I bend my knees with a groan of relief. Bowen points the remote at me.

  “Don’t move until I get out,” he says, eyes like steel. I freeze. Once he’s crawled from the tent, I follow. Slowly, awkwardly—my wrists are still melded together, my body aches, and my legs feel like an awkward mixture of rubber and lead. I flinch against the blazing morning sun just as four pairs of booted feet surround me.

  “At ease, men,” Bowen says with a weary sigh. “In fact, why don’t you take the morning off?”

  “You don’t want an armed guard?” a deep voice asks as I try to stand. A gun jabs against my shoulder, men snicker, and I fall forward. Warm hands grab my biceps and heave me to my feet before I have a chance to crash to the ground. Bowen. But unlike yesterday, when he practically wrenched my shoulder from its socket, there’s gentleness in his touch. He holds on to me a little longer today, making sure I’ve found my balance before removing his hands.

  “I’m not going unarmed,” he says. “I’ll have my rifle, my Taser, and the electromagnetic cuffs. I’ll just go without the armed guard. ”

  There is a collective gasp from the men pointing guns at me. “But he’s a Ten,” Tommy states, swinging the barrel of his rifle toward me.

  Bowen’s wrist intercepts the rifle a split second before it would have collided with the side of my face. “Yeah. Tell me something I don’t know, Tommy. ”
Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]