CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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I'm in turmoil as we ride back to camp, and not just because of the mysterious Man sitting behind me. Something is brewing in the near future. Something dark and ominous—much like the clouds gathering above, hinting at another burgeoning problem: my oversensitivity to the shifting weather.

I give full attention to the bigger problem. Ever since the night Vell forced me to drink the vile substance, she hasn't done anything else, which makes me more nervous than outward hostility. She's up to something. I need to find out what that is.

I'm useless in my current state, not to mention anything I say will be met with distrust from my enemies. I need someone who has the freedom to move about. Someone who can ask questions without stirring suspicion—someone brave enough to risk antagonizing Vell.

As much as it pains me to admit, I need Fuse.

By his own admission, he has no loyalty toward anyone. He cares only about himself. He might be willing to stand against her for his own self-preservation.

"What are you going to do about Vell?" I ask. "You know she's planning something."

"It's not my problem."

"It could become your problem."

"What do you mean?" His arm brushes against mine when he tugs on the reins. I swallow the sudden thickness in my throat. "Whatever she's up to isn't going to affect us captives alone. Otherwise she would have discussed it with you Men. Your life might be in danger."

"It could be she's merely using us."

"And you don't mind?" I ask, irritated that he didn't take the bait.

"I use others, too. It's expected human behavior. We take advantage of those around us for personal gain."

I should ignore his words and focus on my goal but his assertion that all human beings, male or female, use one another so callously upsets me. "That's not true. Maybe some people use others but not all of us are so selfish."

His low laugh resonates in my bones. "Isn't that what you were about to do? Weren't you going to pit me against Vell so you can sleep better tonight?"

"It's not the same thing," I counter, trying not to sound unnerved. "Vell is using you to hurt people. I'm trying to save my sisters."

"Either way, I have no say in this, right? I'm nothing more than a tool."

He sounds so reasonable that I almost waver in my thinking. Almost, but not quite. I can't shake the strangeness of it. This coming from the same person who took part in a mass kidnapping, dumped ale on my head, promised to murder my mother, and keeps me bound and at his mercy every single day.

"Never mind." Counting on him is a mistake. Timid might be more complacent, though I doubt he would have the courage to face Vell. And then there's Lance. But I can't be certain that he isn't involved in what's happening.

"What's your plan?"

Fuse's question draws me out of my thoughts. "What plan?"

"What do you want me to do? You do have a planned course of action, right?"

I want to tell him it doesn't concern him, but my curiosity wins. "You would talk to people—ask questions."

"That wouldn't work. The people who know something aren't willing to talk. They're being very tight-lipped about this, if word hasn't gotten out already. And questioning those who know nothing would be useless."

"Do you have a better idea?" I ask.

"If you want to know what's going on, you have to find out directly from the source."