Dad said to find Chance, that he would help me.
I don’t get to react to finding out who the brute is as a fist comes out of nowhere, slamming hard into my face. I stagger back as pain streaks across my cheek, but before I can fall, hands grab hold of my shoulders, yanking me forward.
When I open my eyes, I’m face to face with Chance’s broad chest. My cheek’s on fire, and the second he reaches for my face, I flinch, but he takes hold of my chin and forces me to look up at him.
“You didn’t have to hit her,” he growls, his eyes focused angrily over my head on either Ethan or Aaron.
“The bruise should show by the time we get to the tracks. She won’t look so innocent anymore,” Aaron replies nonchalantly, then he grabs hold of the back of my shirt and rips a piece of fabric off. “There. That should do it.”
Only then does shock vibrate through me. I can’t believe Aaron hit me and tore my shirt. No one has ever hit me, and I don’t know how to process it.
Emotions fill my chest, everything from raw fear to absolute hopelessness. My chin starts to tremble, my throat tightening with the urge to cry.
I glance up at Chance, and by the impatient expression on his face, it’s clear he’s waiting for me to burst out in tears.
Don’t, Jai. You have to show him you’re stronger than you look so he won’t kill you.
I bite back the tears and lift my chin while squaring my shoulders.
Chance clenches his jaw, then lets go of me while muttering, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. You better do everything I say, or I’m leaving you behind,” he snaps at me.
I don’t miss the change in his threat. I’ve been upgraded from being shot to being left behind – that’s a good thing. Right?
Chance throws the bag with all our supplies over his shoulder, then shoves at Ethan’s back. “It’s good having you by my side again, brother.”
“I told you we’d make it. Mom sends her love.”
Ethan smiles at Chance, and Aaron falls in next to them.
Loneliness wraps around me, making me feel like an outcast. My only purpose is to stay alive and find Mom.
I walk a few paces behind Aaron, Ethan, and Chance.
Suddenly Chance stops and waves an arm in my direction.
“Since when do the emissaries send out teenagers?” he snaps. “The deviants are going to have a field day with her.”
My eyebrow shoots up, and I know I should keep quiet, but I’m tired of being treated like a child. “I’m not a teenager.” I meant to snap, but let’s face it, I don’t have enough courage for that. “I’ll be twenty in a month. I would’ve started working.” I swallow the rest of my rant before I say something that will get me killed.
Where did that come from? Have you lost your mind?
Chance walks closer to me until I shrink back into the darkness. Lifting an arm, he reaches for me, and when his fingers wrap firmly around the back of my neck, my soul all but ups and leaves my body with terror.
He yanks me closer, making me stumble forward until I slam against his chest. Feeling the heat of his breath on my face, I swallow hard on my fear.
Don’t kill me. Please. I can do better.
With a clenched jaw and murder in his eyes, his voice rumbles from his chest, “Shut the fuck up, little girl.” He exhales a harsh breath, the air warming my chilled cheeks. “That’s all you need to fucking do.” Then, looking grimmer than ever, he continues, “They’re expecting Ethan and Aaron, not you. I’ve paid my dues to get in. I’d like to keep my brother from paying the same dues, understand?”
Nodding, I swallow a dusty lump of air down.
“Just do what I say, and you might just make it.”
My thoughts get stuck on the single word. I don’t like the sound of it. I’d like to hear a firm will.
Jesus fucking Christ.
I can’t believe Ethan brought a girl. Women are the rarest thing on this planet. There’s probably one to every thousand men.
Christ, the rebels are going to take one look at her, then shred her to fucking pieces. They’ll pass her around and fuck her raw until she bleeds to death.
She’s not going to make it.
Unable to stop myself, I stare at the girl. Jai Matthias. The daughter of the engineer who’s been helping us. He’s supplied us with DNA and seeds so we can grow crops and farm animals. He’s our inside man.
We only have two women in our ward. Valen, who’s more badass than most men and taken by Jarek, and Raze, who almost didn’t survive the rebels. When she made it to the ward, most of her teeth were knocked out, and she was on the verge of death from being used by the rebels.