“Touching him is the last thing you want to do. It’ll only make it worse.”
Jaxton slowly stood up, never taking his eyes off of Kiarra. “Make what worse?”
“First, tell me who he is to you.”
He bit back his first reaction, to call her out on insubordination. But then he realized that Kiarra had spent a good chunk of her life inside the AMT and might know something he didn’t.
Garrett’s screams had morphed into a mixture of mumblings and quiet outbursts, but he was still writhing on the bed in obvious pain. Jaxton would do anything to make it stop. He took a step toward Kiarra and growled, “He’s my older brother. Tell me how to help him.”
Kiarra lowered her arms and looked from Jaxton to Garrett and back again. Luckily they shared the same deep eyes, solid chin, and dark blond hair. Judging by Kiarra’s expression, she saw the resemblance. She raised her index finger into the air and said, “Give me a second.”
The woman who had fainted, fucking fainted, less than an hour ago was giving him orders in his own house. Jaxton clenched his jaw to prevent himself from saying something stupid.
He watched Kiarra bend over Garrett, hovering close to his ear, but careful never to touch him. In a quiet voice she said, “Shh, it’s okay. No one’s going to take you to the experiment wing today, or ever again.” She motioned for Jaxton to come closer. “Your brother Jaxton is here. See? He’ll protect you.”
Garrett’s murmuring stopped, but his eyes were still wild, darting around the room. Kiarra stood up and whispered to Jaxton, “Talk to him. Remind him of who he was before the AMT, but just remember not to touch him.”
Jaxton motioned for Kiarra to leave, but she shook her head and stood her ground. He didn’t want to share such a private moment in front of an audience, but yelling at Kiarra might send Garrett into a relapse, and he wasn’t about to risk it.
Jaxton crouched down next to Garrett’s bed. “You’ve missed a few pub nights and everyone’s been asking after you.” At least they had for the few first months after Garrett’s capture. “You’re their favorite tone-deaf karaoke regular. Without you, hard liquor sales have dropped. Your singing is bloody awful, but good for business.”
His brother said nothing, but some of the wildness cleared from his eyes, so Jaxton decided to keep talking. “You know how much I hate singing, but if you pull out of this, Gary, I’ll sign up for the first amateur karaoke contest you can find. This is a one-time offer, so you’d better take advantage of it, mate.”
For a second, Garrett met his gaze. Jaxton held his breath until Garrett mumbled, “Jax.”
Jaxton resisted the urge to grip his brother’s shoulder. “I’m here, Gary, and I won’t let anyone hurt you again.”
Kiarra began to hum a familiar tune he couldn’t name. Jaxton maintained eye contact with Garrett, hoping for more, but his brother didn’t say anything else. The longer Kiarra hummed, the more his older brother’s eyelids drooped. Soon he was out, his face calm and finally free of pain.
There was nothing more Jaxton could do for Garrett until he woke up again. Jaxton turned away from his brother’s sleeping face and switched his mind back into work mode.
After his brother, his top priority was to address the situation with Kiarra. Jaxton was in charge of her training and it was time she accepted that and gave him the information he needed.
He motioned toward the door with his head, took one last look at Garrett, and headed into the hallway. Marco was nowhere to be found. He’d have to deal with the young man later.
Jaxton waited for Kiarra to close the door behind her and gestured down the hall with his arm. She avoided his gaze, but took the hint, and they headed down the hall toward he
r room. He noted the goosebumps on her arms as she passed and decided he needed to find her some clothes. Not that he cared that she was cold, he told himself, just that she couldn’t fight properly wearing her baggy AMT uniform.
While Kiarra had a long way to go before she’d take orders like a soldier, he was more concerned about her mention of an experiment wing inside the Cascade AMT compound.
That was as good a place as any to start finding out about Garrett’s altered state. His brother had never been abhorrent to touch growing up.
Jaxton entered Kiarra’s room and closed the door.
Kiarra was huddled in an oversized chair, hugging her arms to her chest, staring at the floor. The bold woman who’d shouldered Jaxton aside a few minutes ago was gone. It was almost as if she were waiting for him to punish her.
Jaxton knew that the AMT compounds had strict sets of rule and regulations, recently made stricter by the current members of the AMT Oversight Committee. But reading about it and seeing a woman ready to submit to punishment for doing the right thing, without putting up any kind of fight, were two different things.
His regular training program, which stressed the importance of following orders and strict discipline, wasn’t going to work with Kiarra. Without confidence and the ability to make decisions regardless of consequences, she wouldn’t be of any use to him, let alone DEFEND.
He needed Kiarra to become the woman who’d stood up and tried to protect Garrett from a man twice her size. He was going to have to create a new regimen on the fly, one that would coax out the woman hiding behind the AMT’s conditioning.
Kiarra started to shiver in her chair, but she didn’t reach for any of the blankets on the bed next to her. Determined to show he was different than the AMT guards, and to start gaining her trust, he plucked a blanket from the nearby bed and tossed it into her lap. She blinked a second before reaching out to touch the blue material.
When she didn’t move to cover herself, Jaxton decided that the first rule of Kiarra’s training would require the Ward family specialty: bluntness.