I voted—innocent, obviously. Shade, Bren and Tozer voted next.
It was a simple enough system. A witness stood in the room to make sure neither of the boxes were tampered with and people walked in, one at a time, and dropped their piece of gravel into one of the two boxes.
To think that Zosha’s fate—her life—rested in the hands of a crowd of people who’d been booing and hissing at her when she first walked into the common area set my nerves on absolute edge.
Which was why I insisted on staying with her while we waited out the results. Shade and Rix stood outside the door, with Rix holding the key.
As soon as he locked us in, Zosha pulled out the elastic band that kept her braid intact, shoved her fingers into her hair, and paced the room.
She was spinning out of control. I could see it in her eyes. That fight from her Sigma side to keep calm, stay rational and figure a way out of this was trying to control the rest of her—the human side of her that was terrified and in utter turmoil. She was scared. Scared of what it could mean if they found her guilty of treason and plotting to have Maxxon killed. I knew she wasn’t a killer like that. And nearly everyone out in that crowded common area did, too. But just like me, they’d been hurt and burned by Sigmas before and were painting Zosha with the same brush.
“What if they convict me?” she said, her bottom lip wobbling as tears welled up in her eyes and her chest rose and fell rapidly. “What if they find me guilty? Will they kill me? Will they just send me away? No, they won’t send me away. If they think I’m a traitor, they wouldn’t risk sending me away because they think I’d run and divulge the location of the bunker. They’d kill me.” She kept pacing and shoved her fingers into her hair. “Why does Maxxon hate me? What … what happened to them for him to just do such a one-eighty?” Her eyes darted furiously around the room, then she hunched over, put her hands on her knees, and the sound of her heavy breathing filled the surrounding air. She was having a panic attack and on the verge of hyperventilating. She couldn’t keep herself calm like she normally could when faced with something that frightened her.
“Let me try something,” I said, approaching her.
She stood back up eyed me warily. “What? Are you going to just kill me now? Get it out of the way? We all know you hate me, Knox. It’s not a secret.”
“I don’t hate you, Princess. Never have and you know that. Just let me try something, please?”
Her eyes formed thin slits for a moment as she continued to breathe erratically and quickly, but she nodded and wiped the tears from beneath her eyes.
“Close your eyes.”
Her lashes fluttered a few times, but then she closed them and kept them closed.
Gently, I pushed her up against the concrete wall, placed my forearm in the center of her chest between her breasts and wrapped my hand around her throat, applying just enough pressure by squeezing with my thumb and fingers. I didn’t push forward, just squeezed.
Her eyes flew open, but her breathing was already growing more even and controlled by the second.
“Am I hurting you?”
She shook her head. Surprise and excitement flashed in those vibrant blue eyes.
“How?” she croaked, which had me loosening my grip on her slightly. “How did you know this was what I needed?”
“How do you feel?” I asked, ignoring her question.
Her eyes shifted to the side, then back to my face, burning into my eyes with an intensity I felt right down to my toes. But then that intense heat made its way back up my legs and settled in my balls. “Safe,” she whispered.
“You always need to be in control of your emotions. It was how you were raised—how you were trained. To keep them hidden behind a veil of indifference—much like super soldiers are trained to do. But all you really crave is the ability to just let go and hand that control over to someone else—to someone you trust. You want to submit, don’t you, Zosha? You want to just feel. You need to feel those emotions that are all bottled up, and knowing you’re safe like this—with me, and submitting, is how you do it.”
A tear slid down her cheek and she swallowed hard against my palm. “I knew you didn’t hate me enough to kill me.”
I grin slid across my face and heat pooled and swirled in my lower belly. “Don’t usually give a nickname like princess to someone I intend to kill.”
Now it was her turn to smile. “Thank you.” Her pulse against my pinky finger that sat against her neck was at complete rest.
“Thank me when we’re done,” I said with a growl as I pulled her over to the bed, my hand still around her throat. I sat down and released her throat for a moment. “Take off your pants, Princess. I want you bare from the waist down.”