Home > Firstlife (Everlife #1)(10)

Firstlife (Everlife #1)(10)
Gena Showalter

I want to do a more intense study.

And...there’s something odd about the images. Something more than simple aesthetics. The arrangement, maybe? There are lines through the skull with tears of blood. More lines through the cracked and crumbling moon, with pieces falling into the stars. Are they telling a story? Like hieroglyphics?

“Into tattoos, lass? Well, I’m happy to offer you a private unveiling later.”

My cheeks flare with heat. I duck my head to hide the reaction.

I’m not usually into tattoos, no. Even though I have one myself. A small rendition of planet Earth on the back of my neck. I was fifteen when I got it—snuck out with my friends in my first real act of rebellion—but I’m not sure why I thought a globe was “a perfect expression of my turbulent emotions, and something I’ll never regret.”

“You’re still staring,” he says.

I grind my teeth. “Where are you from?” Like the staff, inmates hail from all over the world. I’m a native of Los Angeles, where the House of Myriad resides—where my dad wields a massive amount of power. The laws he helps push through affect both humans and spirits.

My mother is an artist in high demand. Her paintings of Myriad always sell at auction.

I sometimes wonder what the two have told their friends about my absence. Boarding school? Rehab? Or the truth?

“Where do you want me to be from?” Killian rasps.

Irritation sparks. “Why are you here?” I always ask the newcomers, even though I rarely receive an answer. Bow, Marlowe and Clay are the exceptions.

He shrugs. “Would you believe I saw something I wanted and decided to come in and get it?”

My blush returns, and I lament the fairness of my skin. Not to mention my inability to hide even the slightest reaction. Most of all, I lament his effect on me. “Let me guess. You wanted the five-star cuisine? The frequent whippings? The voyeuristic staff?”

Nonchalant, he drapes his arm over the back of my chair. “Perhaps it was your friend. What’s she calling herself these days?”

His odd phrasing throws me. “Her name is Bow, if that’s what you mean.”

“Bow.” He laughs, low and intimate. “An archer uses a bow and arrow. How cute.”

Again, I’m thrown. “What’s the deal between you two?”

“She’s a bitch, and she can’t be trusted. Don’t worry, though.” He leans close enough to graze the tip of his nose against my ear. “I’ll protect you.”

I jerk away, severing contact.

“Are you afraid of me? I’m disappointed.” Killian pouts at me. “Where’s the firecracker who once choked a guard with his own belt?”

I don’t have to wonder how he obtained his info. In here, the gossip train never stops running. I’m sure he heard about my punishment, too.

“I’m not afraid of you. I just don’t like to be touched without first granting permission.” I meet his gaze dead-on, a clear challenge. “And if you want an introduction to the firecracker, I can arrange it. She’s a little ticked you called her roommate a bitch.”

He accepts the new challenge with eagerness. “Yes, please. With a cherry on top of me.”

He’s laughing at me, isn’t he? He’s even relaxed enough to twirl a lock of my hair around his finger, the black strands a lovely contrast to the bronze of his skin.

I slap his hand away. “You’re positive? She’s heartless.”

“You’re only whetting my appetite, lass.”

Not just laughing, but mocking. It makes my next action easier. “Don’t forget. You begged for this.” I punch him in the throat, a quick jab that causes him to gasp for breath he isn’t able to catch. Payback for Hank. The action should stop...whatever this is.

I smile at him. “Just so you know, even an animal in a cage can strike back.”

He recovers swiftly and—shocker—returns my smile with one of his own. His amusement appears genuine and, dare I believe it, tinged with a bit of respect.

He opens his mouth to reply, but Sloan glides into the empty seat beside him and pats his chest. She doesn’t appear to enjoy the connection, but she doesn’t end it, either. “Hey there, sugar bear.” She gives him a patented I’m-not-wearing-any-panties wink but it, too, seems faked. “I thought I’d save you the trouble of asking around for my info. I’m Sloan Aubuchon.”

His attention never leaves me. “No, thank you, lass. I’m only interested in Ten.”

His accent is thicker now, pure seduction, but the sweet words are actually a threat. I sense it. Too bad for him, I’m far from cowed. He has no idea the horrors I’ve endured. I’m not a wilting flower. Not anymore.

“Ten kisses from me?” she asks.

“To you,” I tell him, “I’m Tenley.” What’s in a name? Only everything. Nicknames allow an intimacy I don’t want to share with him.

“Or you can call her Nutter,” Sloan says, helpful as ever. “Everyone else does.”

His gaze rakes over me. “For the size of your balls, or the nutty goodness of your taste?”

Through gritted teeth, I say, “Do you require another introduction to the firecracker?”

He’s smiling as Dr. Vans enters the room.

Quiet descends over the circle as the most hated male in the asylum sits in the only cushioned chair. His narrowed gaze finds Sloan, and he pats the empty seat next to him. The one always saved for her.

She raises her chin and remains in place.

I don’t like the way he’s looking at her. I lean into his line of sight, claiming his attention with my glare. He runs his tongue over his teeth before looking away from me.

He’s a tall, lean man in his late thirties. His short brown hair is always meticulously styled, his clothes impeccably tailored underneath his lab coat.

“Are you protecting your enemy?” Killian asks me. “Lass, you’re getting more interesting by the second.”

“You mean I’m getting more bristling,” I mutter.

“More riveting.”

Dang, he’s quick.

“All right, everyone. We have a new member of our family. Please stand and tell the group three facts about yourself, Mr.—” Dr. Vans glances down at his notebook “—Flynn.”

Killian stands without hesitation. “I hear it’s best to picture your audience in their underwear.” He winks down at me. “Nice choice.” As the other kids chuckle, he adds, “I enjoy long walks on the beach, swimming in the ocean and surfing. I used to have a weakness for blondes, but I have a feeling that part of my life is over.”

He surfs? Seriously?

What are the odds?

A brunette on the other side of the circle fans her face. Sloan signs call me.

Vans notices and scowls at her.

“Also,” Killian adds, “I’m a Myriad boy through and through. If you give me an hour, I’ll convince you to sign in the first five minutes, and we can spend the rest of our time celebrating your decision.”

I give him a thumbs-down.

Hank raises his hand and, with challenge in his eyes, says, “I accept. Your cell or mine?”

“Like you could handle me, boy-o.” Killian sits.

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