Page 21

She almost smiles.

“Oh, sure,” I say, and almost smile back. “Actually”—I pause—“I think you might be on the wrong side of the building. Do you remember which entrance you came in from?”

She stops to think. “I think we’re staying on the south side,” she says, and flashes me a full, real smile for the first time. Then falters. “Wait. I think it was the south side. I’m sorry,” she says, frowning. “I just arrived a couple of hours ago—Haider got here before me—”

“I totally understand,” I say, cutting her off with a wave. “Don’t worry—it took me a while to navigate the construction, too. Actually, you know what? Kenji knows his way around even better than I do. This is Kenji, by the way—I don’t think you guys were formally introduced tonight—”

“Yeah, hi,” she says, her smile gone in an instant. “I remember.”

Kenji is staring at her like an idiot. Eyes wide, blinking. Lips parted ever so slightly. I poke his arm and he yelps, startled, but comes back to life. “Oh, right,” he says quickly. “Hi. Hi—yeah, hi, um, sorry about dinner.”

She raises an eyebrow at him.

And for the first time in all the time I’ve known him, Kenji actually blushes. Blushes. “No, really,” he says. “I, uh, I think your—scarf—is, um, really cool.”


“What’s it made of?” he says, reaching forward to touch her head. “It looks so soft—”

She slaps his hand away, recoiling visibly even in this dim light. “What the hell? Are you serious right now?”

“What?” Kenji blinks, confused. “What’d I do?”

Nazeera laughs, her expression a mixture of confusion and vague disgust. “How are you so bad at this?”

Kenji freezes in place, his mouth agape. “I don’t, um—I just don’t know, like, what the rules are? Like, can I call you sometime or—”

I laugh suddenly, loud and awkward, and pinch Kenji in the arm.

Kenji swears out loud. Shoots me an angry look.

I plant a bright smile on my face and speak only to Nazeera. “So, yeah, um, if you want to get to the south exit,” I say quickly, “your best bet is to go back down the hall and make three lefts. You’ll see the double doors on your right—just ask one of the soldiers to take you from there.”

“Thanks,” Nazeera says, returning my smile before shooting a weird look in Kenji’s direction. He’s still massaging his injured shoulder as he waves her a weak good-bye.

It’s only after she’s gone again that I finally spin around, hiss, “What the hell is wrong with you?” and Kenji grabs my arm, goes weak in the knees, and says,

“Oh my God, J, I think I’m in love.”

I ignore him.

“No, seriously,” he says, “like, is this what that is? Because I’ve never been in love before, so I don’t know if this is love or if I just have, like, food poisoning?”

“You don’t even know her,” I say, rolling my eyes, “so I’m guessing it’s probably food poisoning.”

“You think so?”

I glance up at him, eyes narrowed, but one look is all it takes to lose my thread of anger. His expression is so weird and silly—so slap-happy—I almost feel bad for him.

I sigh, shoving him forward. He keeps stopping in place for no reason. “I don’t know. I think maybe you’re just, you know—attracted to her? God, Kenji, you gave me so much crap for acting like this over Adam and Warner and now here you are, being all hormonal—”

“Whatever. You owe me.”

I frown at him.

He shrugs, still beaming. “I mean, I know she’s probably a sociopath. And, like, would definitely murder me in my sleep. But damn she’s, wow,” he says. “She’s, like, batshit pretty. The kind of pretty that makes a man think getting murdered in his sleep might not be a bad way to go.”

“Yeah,” I say, but I say it quietly.


“I guess.”

“What do you mean, you guess? I wasn’t asking a question. That girl is objectively beautiful.”


Kenji stops, takes my shoulders in his hands. “What is your deal, J?”

“I don’t know what you’re—”

“Oh my God,” he says, stunned. “Are you jealous?”

“No,” I say, but I practically yell the word at him.

He’s laughing now. “That’s crazy. Why are you jealous?”

I shrug, mumble something.

“Wait, what’s that?” He cups his hand over his ear. “You’re worried I’m going to leave you for another woman?”

“Shut up, Kenji. I’m not jealous.”

“Aw, J.”

“I’m not. I swear. I’m not jealous. I’m just—I’m just . . .”

I’m having a hard time.

But I never have a chance to say the words. Kenji suddenly picks me up, spins me around and says, “Aw, you’re so cute when you’re jealous—”

And I kick him in the knee. Hard.

He drops me to the floor, grabs his leg, and shouts words so foul I don’t even recognize half of them. I sprint away, half guilty, half pleased, his promises to kick my ass in the morning echoing after me as I go.


I’ve joined Juliette on her morning walk today.

She seems deeply nervous now, more so than ever before, and I blame myself for not better preparing her for what she might face as supreme commander. She came back to our room last night in a panic, said something about wishing she spoke more languages, and then refused to talk about it.

I feel like she’s hiding from me.

Or maybe I’ve been hiding from her.

I’ve been so absorbed in my own head, in my own issues, that I haven’t had much of a chance to speak with her, at length, about how she’s doing lately. Yesterday was the first time she’d ever brought up her worries about being a good leader, and it makes me wonder how long these fears have been wearing away at her. How long she’s been bottling everything up. We have to find more time to talk this all through; but I worry we might both be drowning in revelations.

I’m certain I am.

My mind is still full of Castle’s nonsense. I’m fairly certain he’ll be proven misinformed, that he’s misunderstood some crucial detail. Still, I’m desperate for real answers, and I haven’t yet had a chance to go through my father’s files.

So I remain here, in this uncertain state.

I’d been hoping to find some time today, but I don’t trust Haider and Nazeera to be alone with Juliette. I gave her the space she needed when she first met Haider, but leaving her alone with them now would just be irresponsible. Our visitors are here for all the wrong reasons and likely looking for any reason to play cruel mental Olympics with her emotions. I’d be surprised if they didn’t want to terrify and confuse her. To bully her into cowardice. And I’m beginning to worry.

There’s so much Juliette doesn’t know.

I think I’ve not made enough of an effort to imagine how she must be feeling. I take too much for granted in this military life, and things that seem obvious to me are still brand-new to her. I need to remember that. I need to tell her that she has her own armory. That she has a fleet of private cars; a personal chauffeur. Several private jets and pilots at her disposal. And then I wonder, suddenly, whether she’s ever been on a plane.

I stop, suspended in thought.

Of course she hasn’t. She has no recollection of a life lived anywhere but in Sector 45. I doubt she’s ever gone for a swim, much less sailed on a ship in the middle of the ocean. She’s never lived anywhere but in books and memories.

There’s still so much she has to learn. So much to overcome. And while I sympathize deeply with her struggles, I really do not envy her in this, the enormity of the task ahead. After all, there’s a simple reason I never wanted the job of supreme commander myself—

I never wanted the responsibility.