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He’s just hurting because he lost Ethan. It’s understandable.

Knowing I can’t sit on the floor forever, I force myself to my feet and walk to the sink. I open the faucet and splash some water over my face while I shove the heartache and confusion deep into the corner of my heart.

After patting my skin dry, I let out a sigh and leave the bathroom while doing everything in my power not to think about the kiss and how amazing it felt.

Lesson learned, Chance. Don’t ever trust anyone.

After placing my towel in the sleeping quarters, where I choose the mat in the farthest corner, I head to the dining hall to see if I can find something to eat.

Hearing voices, my hope soars when I smell food. Stepping into the hall, I see people already seated on the benches.

Valen is sitting with the guy from the showers, Jarek. Aaron and another guy are also seated at their table.

“So this is the newbie,” a girl, who’s just as short as me, says. She’s standing behind a table with a huge pot and bowls on it. A row of broken teeth is visible when she smiles. “I see the clothes fit.” I try not to stare at the scars on her face and neck. “I’m Raze, and that is our master chef, Aldric.”

I manage a nervous smile. “It’s nice to meet you.”

A guy with streaks of powder on his clothes waves from behind a stove, then Raze hands me a bowl. As I take it from her, she smacks dollops of thick stew into the bowl.

“Thank you for the clothes,” I think to say, then quickly add, “And the food.”

She grins at me. “Eat up. You look like you can use it. There’s bread on the table.” She’s by far the friendliest person I’ve met in the ward.

I smile at her and walk over to an open bench against the wall. I don’t feel like company right now. I plan on eating the food, then getting some much-needed sleep.

The moment I take a bite, two men come into the dining hall. I recognize the one from the showers, and the other is Idris.

Their eyes lock on me, but I quickly look at my bowl and shove another bite of stew into my mouth.

I hear their footsteps come closer and suppress a groan when they take a seat across from me. The atmosphere becomes so thick I don’t think I can manage another bite without standing the risk of choking.

Suddenly, Chance sits down beside me and reaches for a piece of fresh bread.

Oh great. Just when I thought this couldn’t get any more awkward.

The silence becomes unbearable while Chance breaks his chunk of bread in half and dips it into the stew. He starts to eat, clearly not bothered at all.

As hungry as I am, I can’t eat with the two men staring me down.

Ugh. I’m going to starve long before anything else manages to kill me.

Having had enough of the unbearable tension, I lift my chin and meet Idris’ eyes. His bulkier than Chance, and gives off one hell of a dangerous vibe.

The entire dining hall is quiet, as if they’re all waiting to see what Idris will do next, and it makes me even more nervous.

“Aren’t you going to introduce us, Chance?” My whole body tenses.

Did Idris forget our interaction in the bathroom when he called me pathetic?

I’m not used to this kind of tension. It’s making my stomach burn something fierce. I glance at Chance, but he doesn’t look up and takes another bite. My eyes dart back to Idris, wondering if I should introduce myself.

Just as my lips part, Chance mutters, “Jasper Matthias. Daughter of the scientist. He asked Ethan and Aaron to bring her along in exchange for his help.”

I glance at Idris again and watch as his eyebrows lift slightly.

“How old is she?” Idris asks.

Chance lets out a huff as if it annoys him to answer the questions about me. “Twenty.”

Idris taps his fingers on the wooden table, his gaze still locked on me. “She’ll have to do then.”

Chance nods stiffly, and without another word, he gets up to leave.

“Before you go,” Idris says to stop him. “You know the rules around here, Chance. Dues have to be paid.”

Chance stares for another moment, then walks away, his half-eaten food still on the table.

Idris turns his attention to me. “You better eat, Jasper Matthias. You’re going to need your strength.”

I can’t make myself nod and instead shove a spoonful of stew into my mouth. I’m hungry, but it’s still hard to swallow with them watching me.

“I’m Idris and head of this ward,” he finally decides to introduce himself to me. “Here, my word is the law. You will work to earn your keep and learn to fight for the cause. If you think you can’t do that, then it’s best you leave now.”

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