He finally decides to look at me, but when he does his eyebrows trip, his eyes blink and freeze, his lips part in surprise. I wonder if I’ve washed off a new face for myself and I flush, hoping he’s not disgusted by what he might see. I don’t know why I care.
He drops his gaze. Takes a deep breath. “I’ll be waiting outside.”
I stare at the purple dress with Adam’s fingerprints I study the inside of the armoire for only a moment before I abandon it. I comb anxious fingers through my wet hair and steel myself.
I am no one’s property.
And I don’t care what Warner wants me to look like.
I step outside and Adam stares at me for a small second. He rubs the back of his neck and says nothing. He shakes his head. He starts walking. He doesn’t touch me and I shouldn’t notice but I do. I have no idea what to expect I have no idea what my life will be like in this new place and I’m being nailed in the stomach by every exquisite embellishment, every lavish accessory, every superfluous painting, molding, lighting, coloring of this building. I hope the whole thing catches fire.
I follow Adam down a long carpeted corridor to an elevator made entirely of glass. He swipes the same key card he used to open my door and we step inside. I didn’t even realize we’d taken an elevator to get up this many floors. I realize I must’ve made a horrible scene when I arrived and I’m almost happy.
I hope I disappoint Warner in every possible way.
The dining room is big enough to feed thousands of orphans. Instead, there are 7 banquet tables draped across the room, blue silk spilling across the tabletops, crystal vases bursting with orchids and stargazer lilies, glass bowls filled with gardenias. It’s enchanting. I wonder where they got the flowers from. They must not be real. I don’t know how they could be real. I haven’t seen real flowers in years.
Warner is positioned at the table directly in the middle, seated at the head. As soon as he sees me Adam he stands up. The entire room stands in turn.
I realize almost immediately that there is an empty seat on either side of him and I don’t intend to stop moving but I do. I take quick inventory of the attendees and can’t count any other women.
Adam brushes the small of my back with 3 fingertips and I’m startled out of my skin. I hurry forward and Warner beams at me. He pulls out the chair on his left and gestures for me to sit down. I do.
I try not to look at Adam as he sits across from me.
“You know . . . there are clothes in your armoire, my dear.” Warner sits down beside me; the room reseats itself and resumes a steady stream of chatter. He’s turned almost entirely in my direction but somehow the only presence I’m aware of is directly across from me. I focus on the empty plate 2 inches from my fingers. I drop my hands in my lap. “And you don’t have to wear those dirty tennis shoes anymore,” Warner continues, stealing another glance before pouring something into my cup. It looks like water.
I’m so thirsty I could inhale a waterfall.
I hate his smile.
Hate looks just like everybody else until it smiles. Until it spins around and lies with lips and teeth carved into the semblance of something too passive to punch.
I inhale too quickly. A stifled cough is ballooning in my throat.
His glassy green eyes glint in my direction.
“Are you not hungry?” Words dipped in sugar. His gloved hand touches my wrist and I nearly sprain it in my haste to distance myself from him.
I could eat every person in this room. “No, thank you.”
He licks his bottom lip into a smile. “Don’t confuse stupidity for bravery, love. I know you haven’t eaten anything in days.”
Something in my patience snaps. “I’d really rather die than eat your food and listen to you call me love,” I tell him.
Adam drops his fork.
Warner spares him a swift glance and when he looks my way again his eyes have hardened. He holds my gaze for a few infinitely long seconds before he pulls a gun out of his jacket pocket. He fires.
The entire room screams to a stop.
My heart is flapping wings against my throat.
I turn my head very, very slowly to follow the direction of Warner’s gun only to see he’s shot some kind of meat right through the bone. The platter of food is slightly steaming across the room, the meal heaped less than a foot away from the guests. He shot it without even looking. He could’ve killed someone.
It takes all of my energy to remain very, very still.
Warner drops the gun on my plate. The silence gives it space to clatter around the universe and back. “Choose your words very wisely, Juliette. One word from me and your life here won’t be so easy.”
Adam pushes a plate of food in front of me; the strength of his gaze is like a white-hot poker pressed against my skin. I look up and he cocks his head the tiniest millimeter. His eyes are saying Please.
I pick up my fork.
Warner doesn’t miss a thing. He clears his throat a little too loudly. He laughs with no humor as he cuts into the meat on his plate. “Do I have to get Kent to do all my work for me?”
“It seems he’s the only one you’ll listen to.” His tone is breezy but his jaw is unmistakably set. He turns to Adam. “I’m surprised you didn’t tell her to change her clothes like I asked you to.”
Adam sits up straighter. “I did, sir.”
“I like my clothes,” I tell him. I’d like to punch you in the eye, is what I don’t tell him.
Warner’s smile slides back into place. “No one asked what you like, love. Now eat. I need you to look your best when you stand beside me.”
Warner insists on accompanying me to my room.
After dinner Adam disappeared with a few of the other soldiers. He disappeared without a word or glance in my direction and I don’t have any idea what to anticipate. At least I have nothing to lose but my life.
“I don’t want you to hate me,” Warner says as we make our way toward the elevator. “I’m only your enemy if you want me to be.”
“We will always be enemies.” My voice is cracked into chips of ice. The words melt on my tongue. “I will never be what you want me to be.”
Warner sighs as he presses the button for the elevator. “I really think you’ll change your mind.” He glances at me with a small smile. A shame, really, that such striking looks should be wasted on such a miserable human being. “You and I, Juliette—together? We could be unstoppable.”
I will not look at him though I feel his gaze touching every inch of my body. “No, thank you.”
We’re in the elevator. The world is whooshing past us and the walls of glass make us a spectacle to every person on every floor. There are no secrets in this building.
He touches my elbow and I pull away. “You might reconsider,” he says softly.
“How did you figure it out?” The elevator dings open but I’m not moving. I finally turn to face him because I can’t contain my curiosity. I study his hands, so carefully sheathed in leather, his sleeves thick and crisp and long. Even his collar is high and regal. He’s dressed impeccably from head to toe and covered everywhere except his face. Even if I wanted to touch him I’m not sure I’d be able to. He’s protecting himself.
“Perhaps a conversation for tomorrow night?” He cocks a brow and offers me his arm. I pretend not to notice it as we walk off the elevator and down the hall. “Maybe you could wear something nice.”
“What’s your first name?” I ask him.
We’re standing in front of my door.
He stops. Surprised. Lifts his chin almost imperceptibly. Focuses his eyes on my face until I begin to regret my question. “You want to know my name.”
I don’t do it on purpose, but my eyes narrow just a bit. “Warner is your last name, isn’t it?”
He almost smiles. “You want to know my name.”
“I didn’t realize it was a secret.”
He steps forward. His lips twitch. His eyes fall, his lips draw in a tight breath. He drops a gloved finger down the apple of my cheek. “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” he whispers, too close to my neck.
I inch backward. Swallow hard. “You already know my name.”
He’s not looking at my eyes. “You’re right. I should rephrase that. What I meant to say was I’ll tell you mine if you show me yours.”
“What?” I’m breathing too fast too suddenly.
He begins to pull off his gloves and I begin to panic. “Show me what you can do.”
My jaw is too tight and my teeth have begun to ache. “I won’t touch you.”
“That’s all right.” He tugs off the other glove. “I don’t exactly need your help.”
“Don’t worry.” He grins. “I’m sure it won’t hurt you at all.”
“No,” I gasp. “No, I won’t—I can’t—”
“Fine,” Warner snaps. “That’s fine. You don’t want to hurt me. I’m so utterly flattered.” He almost rolls his eyes. Looks down the hall. Spots a soldier. Beckons him over. “Jenkins?”
Jenkins is swift for his size and he’s at my side in a second.
“Sir.” He bows his head an inch even though he’s clearly Warner’s senior. He can’t be more than 27; stocky, sturdy, packed with bulk. He spares me a sidelong glance. His brown eyes are warmer than I’d expect them to be.
“I’m going to need you to accompany Ms. Ferrars back downstairs. But be warned: she’s incredibly uncooperative and will try to break free from your grip.” He smiles too slowly. “No matter what she says or does, soldier, you cannot let go of her. Are we clear?”
Jenkins’ eyes widen; he blinks, his nostrils flare, his fingers flex at his sides. He takes a short breath. Nods.
Jenkins is not an idiot.
I start running.
I’m bolting down the hallway and running past a series of stunned soldiers too scared to stop me. I don’t know what I’m doing, why I think I can run, where I think I could possibly go. I’m straining to reach the elevator if only because I think it will buy me time. I don’t know what else to do.
Warner’s commands are bouncing off the walls and exploding in my eardrums. He doesn’t need to chase me. He’s getting others to do the work for him.
Soldiers are lining up before me.
I can’t breathe.
I’m spinning in a circle of my own stupidity, panicked, pained, petrified by the thought of what I’m going to do to Jenkins against my will. What he will do to me against his will. What will happen to both of us despite our best intentions.
“Seize her,” Warner says softly. Silence has stuffed itself into every corner of this building. His voice is the only sound in the room.
Jenkins steps forward.
My eyes are flooding and I squeeze them shut. I pry them open. I blink back at the crowd and spot a familiar face. Adam is staring at me, horrified.