“Remember to eat, kid,” Kenzo says as he takes the remote for the nest from Chance. “Tomorrow’s going to be harder.”
The second Kenzo walks out of the arena, I turn my back to the entrance and Chance, clenching my jaw and fighting the tears.
You have to do better than this, Jai!
Don’t show any weakness.
I suck in deep breaths of air and close my eyes, focusing on calming the chaotic emotions in my chest.
To survive in this world, you have to become hard and strong like a deviant.
You can do this.
“Jai,” Chance says, his tone tense.
I swallow the tears back and feeling miserable, I shake my head. “I almost made it.” Letting out a sigh, I turn around to face whatever scolding he’s about to give me for not being strong enough.
His eyes drift over my face, then he surprises me by saying, “You did well for your first day of training.”
I don’t understand why he’s being nice to me all of a sudden. He shouldn’t, though, because it makes my eyes burn, and even though the arena is huge, the air feels tight.
Lifting an arm, he takes hold of my bicep and tugs me toward the exit. “Let’s fix you up.”
Don’t you dare cry in front of him.
“How was your first day?” I ask as we walk up the pathway. “I mean, when you started your training.”
He doesn’t answer me, making me feel even more miserable. When we reach the blue door, he opens it and waits for me to go first.
“Wait in the park,” he instructs, then walks to the first door, which I assume is his bedroom.
I head to the park and use the cobblestones to get to a bench, so I don’t disturb the sand. While I’m alone, I lift my shirt and check my side. It’s red and inflamed.
Chance comes out of his room, and I quickly cover myself. I watch as he skips the cobblestones and walks in the sand, leaving a clear trail of footprints.
He sits down next to me, and it makes me feel weirdly nervous. My stomach flutters as if a kaleidoscope of butterflies has taken flight.
Chance lifts his hand to my face and nudges my chin up. His eyes touch on the bruises, then he murmurs, “Your cheek is healing nicely.”
With his hand so close to my mouth, it’s unsettling, and I exhale slowly.
He lets go of my chin and picks up the tube, unscrewing the cap. “I’m going to check your side.”
When he takes hold of the hem of my shirt, my eyes dart around the park, and my heart thunders in my chest. As he lifts the fabric, I inch up, and it has him stopping.
My face grows hot under his stare.
“Valen shows more skin on a daily basis,” he says.
I feel embarrassed, and when he lifts my shirt, exposing my ribs and stomach, I wish the ground would open beneath my feet and swallow me whole. He presses lightly against my side, and before I can stop myself, I shoot forward, grabbing hold of his hand.
I’m unsure if my reaction is because of the pain or because he touched me. “It hurts,” I blurt out.
Chance tilts his head, and I can feel his eyes on my face. “But I realize you’re nothing like Valen or the other women, and this is all new to you.” My gaze darts to his. “It’s going to take a while before you realize touching is not a bad thing, and showing skin won’t send you straight to hell.”
I lower my eyes to the ink peeking from under his collar. “Why isn’t it a bad thing here?”
He lets out a heavy breath, then asks, “When I was helping you up the ladder, and when I pulled you into the hole, how did it make you feel?”
I turn my gaze to the patterns in the sand, thinking back to the day I left the ecocity.
Gosh, it feels like a lifetime has passed, even though it’s only been three days.
Not used to talking about my emotions, heat flushes my neck and face. “It felt… safe.”
He leans forward to catch my eyes. “Why?”
I search my heart and answer honestly, “Because I’ve been taught it’s wrong.” Then I think to add. “Even you said I must guard my feelings and not leave myself vulnerable.”
He clears his throat, then explains, “I was angry when I said that.”
My heart clenches for the loss he suffered. “Because of Ethan?”
“Yes.” Chance rests his elbows on his thighs. “But also because you’re so damn innocent. It would be the easiest thing in the world for anyone to take advantage of you.” His eyes find mine again, and this time it’s hard not to look away. “You should only care about someone once they’ve proven you can trust them.”
“But…” I wet my lips, “I can trust you. Right?”