He’d scared her, just as he intended.
Jaxton leaned close to her ear and said, “Until you can trust someone with your life, keep your guard up at all times. I’m not joking about this, Kiarra.”
She shivered, and Jaxton released her. He spun her around and took her chin in his fingers. “Do you understand me?”
Kiarra nodded, still obviously shaken by the encounter. Maybe someone had tried to restrain her in a similar manner sometime in her past. Somewhere in the course of their training session, he’d forgotten that she was a recently rescued first-born.
He released her chin. “Darius will be up shortly to draw your blood. After that, you’re free till tomorrow morning.” As she turned to leave, he said, “Good job today, Kiarra.”
She peered over her shoulder and nodded. But as she walked off, she straightened her spine and carried herself with more confidence than she’d displayed since arriving. The thought of her confidence being stripped away again, if she were captured and tossed back inside the AMT, made Jaxton want to protect her all the more.
And that scared him a little.
Kiarra turned the lock on her door and headed for the small bathroom suite attached to her room. Her arms and legs were borderline numb from her training, but she managed to shed her clothes and turn on the shower. As she stood under the hot spray of water, Kiarra closed her eyes and enjoyed how the warmth relaxed her muscles.
She’d enjoyed tackling new self-defense techniques and now had a better understanding of what the guards had used against her and the other prisoners inside the AMT. Unfortunately, Jaxton’s stunt at the end of her training session, when he’d hauled her up against him, had driven home the point that she still had a lot of work to do.
As she massaged her scalp with shampoo, Kiarra remembered the spark of heat she’d felt every time Jaxton had touched her. It wasn’t quite the same feeling as when she’d been able to gather elemental fire, but there was something familiar about the process. At least with Jaxton overseeing her training, she could see if the same thing happened tomorrow. It might just be a strange response to touch after so many years without.
She’d also caught Jaxton watching her. Part of her dismissed it as nothing more than a trainer observing his student, but another part of her remembered the last time a man had watched her so closely.
She finished her shower and dried off, but before she got dressed, Kiarra reached around and felt the raised surfaces of her scars. There were no mirrors in the AMT, except for the two-ways in the exam rooms, and she’d put off taking a look at her body, afraid of what she’d see.
After taking a deep breath, Kiarra decided she needed to conquer this small fear if she wanted to tackle her larger ones. She wiped the steam off the mirror and looked at herself.
Her breasts were high, her waist narrow. Even though her hipbones poked out a little more than she liked, her front looked like any other woman, soft and rounded where it mattered. Then Kiarra turned and peeked over her shoulders to look at her back.
The scars were ugly, crisscrossed in a random pattern over the top half of her back. She reached a hand behind and touched the raised surface, her deadened nerves barely registering the movements of her fingers. Jaxton had only seen a fraction of the damage to her back. She wondered how he would react to the full spread; a web of scars was hardly attractive.
Not that his opinion should matter. More importantly, she wouldn’t let it matter.
Jaxton might be helping her, and was probably the closest thing she had to an ally, but she needed to keep her distance and learn how to control her emotions. What he’d said at the end, about never letting down your guard until you could trust someone with your life, rang true. The only person Kiarra could trust at the moment was herself.
A knock at the door startled her. She threw on some pajama bottoms and an oversized t-shirt before crossing the floor to the door. “Who is it?”
“Darius. I’m here to draw some blood.”
Taking a deep breath, Kiarra opened the door to find a tall, smiling man with dark chocolate skin. She liked that he didn’t try to push his way into her room. Kiarra stood back and opened the door. “Let’s get it over with.”
Darius went to the oversized chair in the corner and gestured for Kiarra to take a seat. As she made her way across the room, she decided that this was a prime opportunity to work on her uneasiness around strangers. She knew nothing but the man’s name and that he worked with Jaxton, but at least his smile had been sincere when she’d opened the door.
After she settled in the chair, Darius held the tourniquet in front of Kiarra and raised an eyebrow. “Ready for the heavy-duty rubber band?”
Kiarra nodded, unused to people asking for her permission.
As she stared at Darius’s profile, a memory from her rescue flashed inside her mind. Right before she’d passed out from the tranquilizer, this man and two others had positioned their hands toward various compass directions. There was only one way to find out if the memory was true or from a dream. Kiarra shifted in her seat and asked, “You’re a first-born, aren’t you?”
Darius’s eyes darted up, but quickly focused back on tying the tourniquet tight and searching for her vein. “Yes.” He took the blood-collection needle out of his kit and held it up. “Ready for the pinch?”
Kiarra nodded absently, wanting to know why Darius, despite being a first-born, was outside the AMT. Would he get mad at her personal question?
The needle secure, Darius took out the collection tubes and secured the first one. As her blood filled the tube, she looked away. The sight only reminded her of what had been taken away.
“Shortly after my mother discovered she was pregnant,” Darius said, “my parents hightailed it to the mountains of Virginia. They went off the grid to conceal my identity and saved me from having to go into the AMT system.”
Kiarra swung her gaze around, watching Darius closely, but he was focused on his task. This time, she would ask what was on her mind. “Then how did you learn to use your elemental magic?”
Darius swapped the full tube for an empty one. “You could search the Appalachian Mountains for the rest of your life, but you might never find the person you’re looking for. The rogue Feiru Masters knew that. My parents convinced an acquaintance to set up a meeting, and one of the rogue first-born Masters took me on.”