I spin around at the sound of the door.
I’m caught in the middle of a thought, holding my hair up with both hands in a makeshift ponytail, and suddenly acutely aware of the fact that I’m not wearing any underwear.
Warner is holding a tray.
He’s staring at me, unblinking. His gaze sweeps across my face, down my neck, my arms. Stops at my waist. I follow his eyes only to realize that my movements have lifted my shirt and exposed my stomach. And I suddenly understand why he’s staring.
The memory of his kisses along my torso; his hands exploring my back, my bare legs, the backs of my thighs, his fingers hooking around the elastic band of my underwear—
I drop my hands and my hair at the same time, the brown waves falling hard and fast around my shoulders, my back, hitting my waist. My face is on fire.
Warner is suddenly transfixed by a spot directly above my head.
“I should probably cut my hair,” I say to no one in particular, not understanding why I’ve even said it. I don’t want to cut my hair. I want to lock myself in the toilet.
He doesn’t respond. He carries the tray closer to the bed and it’s not until I spot the glasses of water and the plates of food that I realize exactly how hungry I am. I can’t remember the last time I ate anything; I’ve been surviving off the energy recharge I received when my wound was healed.
“Have a seat,” he says, not meeting my eyes. He nods to the floor before folding himself onto the carpet. I sit down across from him. He pushes the tray in front of me.
“Thank you,” I say, my eyes focused on the meal. “This looks delicious.”
There’s tossed salad and fragrant, colorful rice. Diced, seasoned potatoes and a small helping of steamed vegetables. A little cup of chocolate pudding. A bowl of fresh-cut fruit. Two glasses of water.
It’s a meal I would’ve scoffed at when I first arrived.
If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve taken advantage of every opportunity Warner had given me. I would’ve eaten the food and taken the clothes. I would’ve built up my strength and paid closer attention when he showed me around base. I would’ve been looking for escape routes and excuses to tour the compounds. And then I would’ve bolted. I would’ve found a way to survive on my own. And I never would’ve dragged Adam down with me. I never would’ve gotten myself and so many others into this mess.
If only I had eaten the stupid food.
I was a scared, broken girl, fighting back the only way I knew how. It’s no wonder I failed. I wasn’t in my right mind. I was weak and terrified and blind to the idea of possibility. I had no experience with stealth or manipulation. I hardly knew how to interact with people—could barely understand the words in my own head.
It shocks me to think how much I’ve changed in these past months. I feel like a completely different person. Sharper, somehow. Hardened, absolutely. And for the first time in my life, willing to admit that I’m angry.
I look up suddenly, feeling the weight of Warner’s gaze. He’s staring at me like he’s intrigued, fascinated. “What are you thinking about?” he asks.
I stab a piece of potato with my fork. “I’m thinking I was an idiot for ever turning down a plate of hot food.”
He raises an eyebrow at me. “I can’t say I disagree.”
I shoot him a dirty look.
“You were so broken when you got here,” he says, taking a deep breath. “I was so confused. I kept waiting for you to go insane, to jump on the table at dinner and start taking swipes at my soldiers. I was sure you were going to try and kill everyone, and instead, you were stubborn and pouty, refusing to change out of your filthy clothes and complaining about eating your vegetables.”
I go pink.
“At first,” he says, laughing, “I thought you were plotting something. I thought you were pretending to be complacent just to distract me from some greater goal. I thought your anger over such petty things was a ruse,” he says, his eyes mocking me. “I figured it had to be.”
I cross my arms. “The extravagance was disgusting. So much money is wasted on the army while other people are starving to death.”
Warner waves a hand, shaking his head. “That’s not the point. The point,” he says, “is that I hadn’t provided you with any of those things for some calculated, underhanded reason. It wasn’t some kind of a test.” He laughs. “I wasn’t trying to challenge you and your scruples. I thought I was doing you a favor. You’d come from this disgusting, miserable hole in the ground. I wanted you to have a real mattress. To be able to shower in peace. To have beautiful, fresh clothes. And you needed to eat,” he says. “You’d been starved half to death.”
I stiffen, slightly mollified. “Maybe,” I say. “But you were crazy. You were a controlling maniac. You wouldn’t even let me talk to the other soldiers.”
“Because they are animals,” he snaps, his voice unexpectedly sharp.
I look up, startled, to meet his angry, flashing green eyes.
“You, who have spent the majority of your life locked away,” he says, “have not had the opportunity to understand just how beautiful you are, or what kind of effect that can have on a person. I was worried for your safety,” he says. “You were timid and weak and living on a military base full of lonely, fully armed, thickheaded soldiers three times your size. I didn’t want them harassing you. I made a spectacle out of your display with Jenkins because I wanted them to have proof of your abilities. I needed them to see that you were a formidable opponent—one they’d do well to stay away from. I was trying to protect you.”
I can’t look away from the intensity in his eyes.
“How little you must think of me.” He shakes his head in shock. “I had no idea you hated me so much. That everything I tried to do to help you had come under such harsh scrutiny.”
“How can you be surprised? What choice did I have but to expect the worst from you? You were arrogant and crass and you treated me like a piece of property—”
“Because I had to!” He cuts me off, unrepentant. “My every move—every word—is monitored when I am not confined to my own quarters. My entire life depends on maintaining a certain type of personality.”
“What about that soldier you shot in the forehead? Seamus Fletcher?” I challenge him, angry again. Now that I’ve let it enter my life, I’m realizing anger comes a little too naturally to me. “Was that all a part of your plan, too? No wait, don’t tell me”—I hold up a hand—“that was just a simulation, right?”