I smile, and nod. I don't just seem happy. For once in my life I am happy. I am safe. No one has hit me. I have friends. I am allowed to read and learn. Everything is perfect.
"What else would you like to know about the Harvest. It's only four days away," Jali says, and I shrug as I open my book.
I haven't asked about the Harvest very much because whatever happens I don't have a choice in the matter. I am apart of an alien competition, and when it ends, a male will ask me to be his.
"You don't have a single question," she asks, almost desperately, and I look at her.
"If you had a choice, what planet would you want to live on," I ask, and she smiles.
She sits down at the small table and leans forward excitedly.
"During our training they have us tour the planets and get familiar with each planet's customs. I really enjoyed it. My favorite places were Shikaz, Glortinon, and Vaal. The planets were beautiful, and so were the people. They reminded me of Kea and our personalities. Especially the planet Glortinon. It's lovely, and the people there are even more so," Jali says with unbridled enthusiasm, and I nod.
"Then I will focus on the Glortinon champions," I reply, and Jali's smile wobbles.
"You don't seem too excited," Jali says softly, and I shrug before turning the page in the children's book.
"I am more focused on learning and trying to reclaim what was stolen from me. I want to learn. I don't really care who I end up with. That's just a part of this, right? I don't have much of a choice," I reply, and she looks down at the book I requested with a frown on her brightly colored face.
"That's not true at all. You have a choice. You can refuse to seal your bond and live as a single woman," Jali says, and I look up at her with big eyes.
"Really? I wouldn't get sent back," I ask, and she shakes her head.
The light in her eyes and the excitement on her face has disappeared. She looks saddened by my feelings.
"No one will ever force you to bind your life with another. I am hoping once you meet the right male, you will want that commitment, but no, you are not forced. You will live on the planet of the male who would have been your mate. You would become a citizen there," she explains, and I give her a genuine smile.
I thought my health had been traded for commitment, and I was ready to accept the bargain. But to be honest, the thought of trusting a man and letting him touch me was giving me anxiety.
I can be free. I don't have to commit.
"Fiadh, please keep an open mind. These males are nothing like the evil men you lived with. I know you have faced more trauma than anyone ever should, but please consider giving him a chance. He would be kind to you and patient. He will understand you need to build trust," Jali says, and I search her eyes.
I feel conflicted. I want to be loved, but men are dangerous and mean. I have known nothing else from them. But I don't think Jali would be pleading with me like this if the males coming to compete would mistreat me.
"I will see how I feel. I won't decide either way until I am certain about how I feel," I whisper, and she gives me a small smile.
"Thank you," she says, and I nod before looking down at my book.
I will give them a chance, but this is the most freedom I have ever had. I won't hand it back to any man. Whoever chooses me will have to be the kindest male in the galaxy. If he isn't, I will choose to be single and free.
"You know we can d******d knowledge to the brain," Jali says, and I stop for a second.
She grins at my reaction and nods.
"It's the same technology that allows the different languages to be understood and stored. Many planets use it to cover the more difficult lessons in school. I could give you all the basic knowledge of a high school graduate from Earth. It is relatively simple. Many prefer a more hands-on way of learning, but maybe in your case," Jali says hopefully, and I nod eagerly as my face stretches into a massive smile.
She stands up rather quickly, and I follow in a rush. She giggles at my enthusiasm but heads for my bedroom door with hurried steps. I keep right on her tail as she takes me out of the compound we stay in. She isn't saying anything and something about the way she is acting tells me this is a secret mission—something to be done quickly and quietly.
We go about a mile up the street before Jali turns toward a blue building. When we slip inside, she takes my hand and pulls me into the first room, confirming my suspicions.
"Wait here. We normally have to request clearance, but I know you are excited. I will disclose what I have done after. I will get scolded, but it will be fine," Jali whispers, and I snicker at her facial expression.
When we were walking, I was behind her, so I couldn't see the guilt on her face. She looks genuinely upset to be breaking a rule, and it is adorable.
"Oh, be quiet," she whispers with a smile before slipping back out of the room, leaving me standing there.
I barely manage to reign in my laugh after she leaves, but I do. She is gone for maybe five minutes, and when she returns, she looks even guiltier.
"What," I whisper, and she looks at me sadly before glancing down at the instrument in her hand.
"We have more levels of Earth education than I thought. I brought you higher level education as well. It's primarily writing and grammar education, but I figured you would enjoy it," she replies, and I realize she is upset because she took more than she originally planned.
I immediately pull her into my arms and hug her. I pour out my appreciation through physical touch, and she instantly responds by hugging me back.
"Thank you," I say with emotion coating every word, and she sighs softly.
"Your welcome, sweet girl," she whispers back, and I pull away.
She smiles at me, and I smile back before looking at the small device in her hand.
"It won't hurt at all. It will upload the information to the device already implanted in your brain," she says, and I nod, not caring about the pain.
This pain would be voluntary and beneficial to my life. I would accept it even if she told me it would be excruciating.
She holds up the device, and I freeze on instinct. She places the tip on the side of my head before pressing a large red button that I can barely see. There is a brief buzz and a small zap before she lowers it with a smile.
"You now have a complete Earth education. You no longer need to practice reading with children books," she whispers and again, I hug her.
My arms are actually attempting to crush her, but she doesn't wince. She laughs. We stay like that for a few more seconds before I release her. I have happy tears streaming down my face, but I don't care.
My breaths are coming out in short pants, and my legs won't stop pacing. I haven't been this scared in two weeks. "Fiadh," Jali says softly, but I still flinch. I twist the beautiful white fabric of my skirt even harder in my hand as I force myself to meet her worried eyes. "Meeting the females will be stressful, but do not forget you have four other women who will be standing beside you...including Zuri. She will protect you," Jali says, and I nod as a sliver of calm slips down my spine. She is right. My friends will be with me. They will be nervous too. We will be a team...Like mom and I were. "I don't like thinking about how outnumbered we are," I whisper, and Jali nods as she approaches me with a bottle of liquid. "This is a nice fragrance spray," Jali says, and I nod as she mists the front of my dress. "Think of each group as its own. Technically you all are equal. It will be planet vs. Planet in that room. Not everyone against the females from Earth," Jali says,
"Attention, after meeting with your next group, you may retire for thirty minutes. For the last switch, please listen up," the male Kea says, and the chatter around our table halts. The rest of the room falls silent also and I lift my eyes from my lap. I have been avoiding eye contact for the last two rounds. I am emotionally exhausted. Every group since the Froles has been pleasant, but I have never been exposed to this many people. I feel like my energy has been zapped away from me. I want to make friends. I really do, but I don't know how to interact yet and my anxiety makes me tired. The male Kea lists the names and colors just like he has this entire time and I breathe out a rather loud sigh of relief. This is the last group. Then I get to escape to my room and scrub my face. I get to curl up on my soft bed and read a beautiful book. I grin as my mind conjures up the image of my escape, but I quickly regain control. I don't want my friends thinking I dislike spending time
"We have to go back," I softly whine, and Jali nods while giggling. "Yes. If you had paid attention, you would have known that," Jali says, and I gaze at my bed longingly. I was hoping I could shower and jump into bed after meeting with the females. I completely forgot we were expected to eat dinner with the males. "I'm exhausted," I mumble as she fusses with my hair. She nods and dabs at my cheeks with something I can't see. "That's normal," she replies, matter-of-fact-like, and I groan. I am quickly realizing I can't get out of this. I am going to be stuck eating dinner with a whole bunch of guys. Males make me uncomfortable on a good day; then factor in my exhaustion, and this is a recipe for disaster. "But I'm not hungry. We had a bunch of finger foods while meeting the other women," I grumble, and she laughs. "While I am enjoying you showing more emotion, I can't excuse you from this. This is day one of the tournament, Fiadh. Everything must go according t
"The rest of the evening is all about enjoying each other's company and getting to know one another on a more intimate level. Have fun," the male Kea says, and I watch as the males begin to approach the females rather eagerly. Xia and Zuri get asked to dance almost immediately and disappear into the thick crowd. Jia and Krystal get asked next, and I start to get nervous. I don't find the idea of attempting to dance appealing, but I don't want to be left standing here, either. As I begin to chew on my bottom lip, I see something rather large out of the corner of my eye. I turn to see what it is, and I find a massive orange man looking at me with brown eyes. The fact that he was able to approach me so stealthy is rather alarming, but I try to keep the fear from showing on my face. I told Jali I would try, and I intend to uphold that promise. "Evening Fiadh of Earth, would you care to join me for a dance," he says, and I give him a forced grin before nodding. He offers me his elbow,
FIADH POV A small smile tugs at my lips as I watch the crowd of new pairs gets set. Everyone appears to be having a good time. There is no tension and no yelling. Most of the women are smiling, and none of the males seem to be in bad moods. I could really get used to this. "Good Evening, Fiadh of Earth. I was wondering if you would care to dance with me," a gentle male voice asks, and I turn to see a male from Glortinon. His striking appearance freezes the yes in my throat, so I just nod before taking his warm hand. When he positions us amongst the other couples, he moves his hands to my waist, and I blush. He is the most beautiful man I have ever seen. I can't believe I didn't spot him during dinner earlier. With his luminous yellow skin and white hair, he definitely stands out. "Thank you for agreeing to dance with me. My name is Terrax. Captain Terrax, that is. I heard you decline the offer from that champion from Frole last round. It surprised me. I don't think a
TERRAX POV "You dance beautifully," I say, and the stunning orange Kea in my arms smiles. "Thank you, Captain. I have taken dance lessons in preparation for the Harvest," she says in a soft voice, and I nod. I expected as much. Every one of my partners has been graceful and poised, all except the human. Fiadh...she has a natural rhythm but was as untrained as they come. "So, Captain, what are you looking for in a mate," she asks, drawing my attention back to her red eyes. "Someone with a kind heart and happy personality. I like the outdoors, so I want someone who is willing to be out of the house most of the time," I say, and she stares at me with a forced smile on her face. She nods to show she heard me, but I can tell from the look in her eyes she doesn't think that sounds appealing."What made you choose me for the final dance," she asks, poking to see how serious I am about this choice. I look away from her, and my eyes somehow land directly on the angel in white. Sh
FIADH POVI lean against my door as my heart thumps wildly in my chest.I can't believe I just accepted a man wanting me. He is so beautiful, and he wants me. He is sweet, and I feel like he is someone I could actually fall in love with. At no time did he make me feel scared or insignificant."Wow," I breathe as I look at the hand he kissed.The memory of how soft his lips felt seems to be imprinted on my knuckle, and I can't help but yearn for more. Before I can question myself, I bring my hand toward my face. I kiss the exact spot he did, and giddiness instantly feels my stomach. I smile and cradle my hand to my chest as if it is a unique treasure. Tonight has been more special than I ever thought it could be. Something new has been unlocked within me, and I never want it imprisoned again.I walk to my bathroom and begin removing my beautiful white dress. I wash my face and brush out my hair with a smile the entire time. Terrax has given me something to be excited for, and I don't s
I twirl the dress's skirt a little and sigh. The powder blue color is beautiful, but the style of this dress just isn't me. Not like the white one was. I loved that one. This one has a flowy skirt, but the top is weird. It fits well, and it does make my chest look appealing, but it isn't something I would have chosen. "You don't like it," Jali states from behind me, and I shrug. "It isn't my favorite. But the first two dresses did boost my expectations," I reply with a smile, and she stomps her foot. "I want you to feel beautiful. Each dress is meant to make you shine. I feel terrible," Jali says dramatically, and I spin around to grab her hand. "Jali. It is a beautiful dress. It fits me perfectly, and my body looks good in it. It just isn't my style. I still feel pretty. I have felt prettier this week than I have in my entire life. There is no reason to get upset," I say as I stare into her large eyes. She grins, and we hug each other as if on instinct. Jali has bec