He gestured toward the blanket. “If you’re not going to use the bloody thing, then I’m going to take it back.” She looked up, her eyes widened in surprise. “Well, what’s it to be?”
Kiarra caressed the blanket like it was a long-lost treasure, but made no move to cover herself. Jaxton, never one to back down from a threat, reached out with his hand to snatch it back. That kicked her into action, and she pulled the blanket tight around her body.
Kiarra stopped shivering and a part of him relaxed at the fact, but he didn’t think too hard about why her well-being mattered. “Right. Now that you’re no longer in danger of catching pneumonia, let’s get down to business.” He took a step toward Kiarra and she huddled deeper into the blanket before squeezing her eyes closed.
Oh, hell no. He was having none of that. Jaxton crossed the space between them and took her chin in his hand. She flinched and he forced his voice to remain level yet gentle. “Look at me.”
The second rule of Kiarra’s training? Push.
When she didn’t react, he squeezed her chin gently and Kiarra finally opened her eyes, but he couldn’t read her expression. “What do you think I’m going to do to you, Kiarra?” He raised her chin another inch. Her breathing was fast now, tickling his wrist. “And be honest. I can tell if you lie to me.”
He held her gaze, glad that she didn’t look away. She tugged the blanket closer around her body and mumbled something, but he couldn’t make it out.
“Say it louder.”
“And what do you think is a good punishment?” She mumbled again, so he tapped the soft skin under her chin. “Never mumble. Yours words are meant to be heard.”
She searched his eyes, but said nothing. He tapped her chin again and she finally spoke up. “Whatever you think is best.”
Jaxton let go of her chin and crouched down so that he was eye level with her. “Take a look around you. Does this look like the AMT?”
“Exactly. No one’s going to beat you, starve you, or whatever the hell else they do inside the Cascade F-block.” He leaned in closer and the smell of sweet grass filled his nose. Despite his proximity, she didn’t flinch. “As long as you don’t betray me or my men, no harm will befall you. Do you understand?”
They stared eye to eye, but her scent was starting to surround him. He wondered if her hair smelled just as good.
Where the hell did that come from? This was a mentally scarred first-born, put into his charge. He could not view her as anything other than a recruit.
Luckily she nodded, interrupting his thoughts. “Yes,” she said clearly, without mumbling.
Jaxton stood up and took a few steps back to clear his head. “Good. Make sure that you don’t forget it.”
When Jaxton finally put some distance between them, Kiarra let out the breath she’d been holding. She’d managed not to flinch beyond his first touch, but it’d taken everything she’d had not to fidget under his direct gaze.
She still couldn’t wrap her head around his actions. She’d openly stood up to him, at one point even attacking him when she’d rushed to help the other rescued AMT prisoner, but he hadn’t issued any punishment. Not even a mild one, such as withholding food for the next twenty-four hours.
No, instead of a punishment, he’d given her a blanket.
Jaxton took another step back, garnering her attention. “Now, why don’t you tell me about the experiment wing inside the Cascade F-block?”
Kiarra rested her chin on her knees. It was only natural that Jaxton would ask about the experiments, but talking about them might bright back the memories she’d fought so hard to forget.
But she was willing to try if it meant she could get more information, especially since Neena had been less than helpful.
She looked up at Jaxton and said, “Only if you tell me about DEFEND first.” He kept quiet and she waited for him to strike her for speaking up, but he said nothing, so she added, “Neena mostly talked about what the letters stood for, but not the organization itself.”
He stared her down a few more seconds and Kiarra wondered if she’d made a mistake. But luckily his lilting voice filled her ears before she could panic. “Neena rarely makes sense and only tells you what she wants to tell you, never a word more.” He moved to lean against the dresser. “In a show of good faith, I’ll give you the overview. But don’t fuck with me, Kiarra. If you don’t hold up your end this time, don’t expect me to ever exchange information again.”
His honesty was refreshing, but his tone only reinforced the idea of staying on his good side. “Tell me about DEFEND.”
Jaxton uncrossed his arms and placed his hands on either side of his hips. “DEFEND is a first-born activist group, started a little over ten years ago by two escaped first-borns. Its goal is to gain enough public support to dismantle all of the AMT compounds and set the first-borns free.”
This might be her only shot at information, so she forced herself to say, “But the AMT compounds still exist. First-borns aren’t running around on the street, enjoying their freedom. What has DEFEND accomplished in the last ten years? Anything?”
Jaxton leaned forward. “I think you’ve forgotten that we agreed to an information exchange. It’s your turn, pet.”