She avoided Jaxton’s gaze and focused on tamping down the painful memories. After all these years, she’d thought herself past caring. Apparently she was wrong.
She closed her eyes and breathed in and out, using the same trick that had helped keep her sanity over the years: visualizing her future. She pictured the freedom to travel, read, and interact with others who didn’t see her as a freak or a burden. Her heart still racing, she took another inhalation and thought of returning to Mt. Rainier National Park, the possibility of friends, the ability to make her own decisions.
The hurt and panic started to fade, her good thoughts overcoming the bad. After a little more concentration, she finally pushed away the memories. She wouldn’t let Ty’s actions take away her new start; the man wasn’t worth it.
Kiarra opened her eyes. Jaxton stood on the far side of the room, his arms crossed over his chest. He said nothing, his expression unreadable.
The silence was too much for her. “I’m fine.” He raised an eyebrow and she continued, “At least I will be, if you leave me alone for the rest of the evening.”
He uncrossed his arms, the hardness of his face softening. “Are you sure you want to be alone right now?”
No. “Yes.” She didn’t trust herself around Jaxton.
He put his hands up in defeat. “I’ll send a tray up and expect you to eat all of it. I’m also going to have someone periodically knock on your door, just to check on you.” He motioned toward the alarm clock on the table next to the bed. “And set your alarm. Meet me in the front room at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.”
She nodded, hoping Jaxton would leave before she lost her resolve. Earlier she’d taken comfort from his touch, and oddly she yearned to feel it again. “You can go now.”
He gave her one last long look before leaving her room.
Without his presence, the room felt empty and cold. But it was better this way. If she spent too much more time with Jaxton, her resolve would weaken, and she might do something foolish. One man had already betrayed her in the past.
Kiarra wasn’t about to let it happen again.
Jaxton walked down the hall, his back ramrod straight, trying hard to conceal his feelings. Seeing Kiarra nearly attacked had kicked in his protective instincts. Those he could dismiss; he was responsible for her and would do his duty. But the look on Kiarra’s face when she’d pushed him away in her room, the mixture of hurt and fear, had affected him in a way he didn’t want to think about.
She may act more normal than his brother, but Kiarra had also been damaged inside the AMT—not just physically, with the scars, but emotionally as well.
The urge to kill the bastard who’d hurt her still lingered. Judging by her reaction to their proximity and his touch, he reckoned it’d been a man who’d caused her so much pain. Since she’d been imprisoned as a child, the man in question must’ve been AMT staff. If he ever found out who was responsible, he’d teach the bastard a lesson.
Jaxton halted mid-step. That was taking his duty to protect her a little too far. He had his brother’s recovery, Sinclair-related intelligence gathering and analysis, and new additions to his team to worry about. Why was he focusing so much on the feelings of one woman?
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. Kiarra was just one small part of his list of duties and responsibilities. He needed to stop neglecting the others.
Jaxton entered the room that served as their headquarters. Taka was inside, browsing some reports while monitoring the split-screen CCTV feed. The first box showed Darius and the shadow-shifter; the second, Marco sitting in a chair outside the room assigned to Cam, a tablet in his hand; the third showed the hallway containing Kiarra and Garrett’s rooms; and the fourth displayed a split-screen view of the outside perimeter, flashing every few seconds to a different view.
Jaxton leaned down and peered at the portion of the screen showing Darius, determined to distract himself from thoughts of Kiarra. “Have we learned anything about the shadow-shifter yet?”
Taka leaned back in his chair. “She got tired of Darius calling her ‘Miss Shadow’ and screamed that her name was Vanessa. Other than that, she only said that others are coming and will free her.”
“Nothing turned up when you searched her?”
“No. A pat-down found nothing, and Darius refused to strip search her. Marco started a scan through DEFEND’s image database, but nothing has shown up so far.”
Jaxton trusted Darius and would ask him later why he’d refused a strip search. “Any signs of the ‘others’ the shadow-shifter mentioned?”
“No. But I’ll keep a watch through the night.” Taka turned toward Jaxton. “Where do you plan to take Kiarra?”
“Good question. What did Aislinn tell Marco earlier?”
Taka gave a half-shrug. “Just that she sent Cam here and that you needed to catch up on your sleep.”
“Catch up on your sleep” was code for contacting Neena via the method she’d dubbed dream-speaking. “I will, but any word on when Kiarra’s blood test results will be ready?”
“It’ll take at least a few days. The person I talked with didn’t quite know how to test for dormant or nullified elemental magic.”
He’d suspected as much, but had hoped to verify Kiarra’s story sooner than that. “Right. I’m going to check in with the others and see if Darius can leave with the shifter tonight. This house has been compromised and I want to evacuate this place, but gradually, to draw away anyone watching before I leave with Kiarra.” He glanced one more time at the portion of the screen showing Kiarra and Garrett’s rooms. “After that, I’ll try to get some sleep and see what I can find out. Keep an eye on Kiarra and Garrett till I’m done.”