I could smell her fear before she entered the banquet hall.
After witnessing her practically dangling from the rooftop not an hour earlier, this surprised me. With her hair and dress fluttering in the breeze, she’d looked like a blue bird about to take flight. The sight had stolen my breath. Beautiful, was the only word my mind could process. And now, as her graceful form stepped through the arched doorway, proud chin held high, that was still the only word I could think of.
Yes, I was immediately attracted to her, but it wasn’t just her long, auburn hair or heart-shaped face that drew me in. She radiated resilience despite the fear that grew with each passing moment. And underneath that, my Sensor ability picked up a strong current running through her veins. I couldn’t isolate and name the distinct qualities of someone’s ability, but I could detect if they had one and how advanced it was.
Hers was off the charts. Did she know? With those levels, how could she not? I chanced a quick glance at my benefactor, Supreme Elite Renold Tatum, seated at the head of the table. His eyes were riveted on the young woman, consuming her in a way that sent gooseflesh rippling down my arms. The urge to distract this powerful man, to force his predatory gaze anywhere but on her sang through my blood, but I tamped the feeling down.
That’s not your job, I reminded myself. I could already tell I’d be doing a lot of that in the upcoming months.
The structure, the hierarchy of this place, was a joke. Did the elites really believe they were untouchable, their futures secure and carefree because they’d won a couple Trials? Biting my tongue was going to be my biggest trial. I had been warned that the insiders were brainwashed and it wasn’t my duty to enlighten them. In fact, I couldn’t tell them even if I wanted to.
I swallowed with difficulty, phantom fingers of pain squeezing my throat. You signed up for this. No going back now.
As the girl in blue came to a stop behind the chair next to mine, her scent drifted my way. Apple blossoms. Even her smell cast a spell over me. Hopefully she stuck close to Tatum house while I was here, otherwise I’d have a hard time controlling my impulse to crowd her personal space just to breathe her in. I added another word to my description of her: intoxicating. If I wasn’t careful, I knew she’d become a craving to me, one I shouldn’t indulge in.
A distraction that could be costly. Dangerous.
I heard Elite Tatum mention my name and snapped out of my pathetic trance, not bothering to hide an embarrassed grin. Hopefully she wasn’t an Empath because this meeting would get awkward really fast. As I rose to introduce myself, I took in the way her eyes widened at my height. Typical reaction. My smile broadened. But when our eyes met, heaven help me, my interest turned to full-blown obsession.
As she held my stare, every emotion that leaked out of her hit me in the gut. Overwhelmed, I lost my ability to speak. I had never stumbled across anyone who could project that much energy all at once. My heart rate quickened. This was big. Groundbreaking. We needed her. She was an anomaly and I had to know more.
There was something else about her, too, almost . . . familiar.
With her feelings all but oozing from her pores, I switched off my Sensor ability before I made an idiot of myself, like asking her if she would run away with me.
That’s not your job. Internally, I groaned. I didn’t even know the girl’s name, but I knew one thing for certain: she was going to change everything.
Elite Tatum interrupted the moment by answering my unspoken question. Her name was Lune. Unique, like she was. I didn’t miss the edge to his voice, and neither did she—a whisper of her fear slipped past my shield. My curiosity piqued. How could this advanced human harbor so much fear? Was she afraid of me too?
When she returned my smile with a false one and commented on my eye color, I received my answer. She wasn’t afraid of me at all. She was furious. We shook hands and her fingers squeezed mine tightly, as if in challenge. My blood warmed. She grew more attractive by the second. Was she making a point? Well, I wasn’t about to back down.
“That’s all right. I get that a lot.” Under different circumstances, I would have teased her with something like, I have the hardest time finding outfits to match, but my instincts told me that the man at the head of the table closely watching our exchange wouldn’t approve. He cleared his throat and Lune dropped my hand.
I moved to pull out her chair but she beat me to it, the action so swift and intentional that I couldn’t help a smirk from sliding onto my face. Anyone else might have been offended at the slight, but I found her refreshing. She was genuine, despite the fake words and smiles. Her body language said it all. For some reason, this girl hated my guts and didn’t want anything to do with me.
But, as the midday meal was served and she ignored me for the entirety of it, as Elite Tatum revealed her as his daughter and my Trials trainer, one thought burned hotter than the rest.
Challenge accepted, little bird.