Accepting his wishes despite my reservations, I switched my attention to the squad. Having worked on their physical stamina earlier, we intended to now work on their gifts. As usual, they enthusiastically rose to every challenge, but they cleverly faked limitations or difficulties that they didn’t have, ensuring that the information that went to the Prelature wasn’t accurate enough to be used against us.
As usual, Collins repeatedly interrupted the session to ask questions such as, “Is it really important that they always suck in their surrounding energy?”, “Are they punished if they do not do it?”, and “Do they enjoy doing these exercises despite that they can harm each other?” His most annoying question came at the end of the session: “Are they rewarded when they overcome their weaknesses, or is this the strongest that the squad will ever get?”
“This squad is not weak, Mr Collins. The members are simply stronger in some areas than they are in others.” He flushed.
“I can’t help but notice that your questions are becoming more and more about the squad and how they feel rather than about Sam’s actions,” observed Jared. He was right.
Collins shifted nervously in his seat. “Naturally it is important how they feel. It tells me whether or not they enjoy having Commander Parker as a commander.”
“But you already asked us that question during our interview,” Chico pointed out. “So you already know the answer to that.”
Butch nodded. “Commander Michaels is right. You’re a little too interested in us.”
“Maybe he wishes he was part of the squad,” mused Damien. His expression said ‘like that would ever happen’.
That gave me an idea. “Is that true, Mr Collins?” I gave the arsehole a delighted smile. “Oh, why didn’t you say something sooner? Come on down here.”
Collins froze. “Excuse me?”
“You can spend five minutes with the squad before they leave the arena. Come on, there’s no better way of understanding what it’s like to be part of the legion than up close and personal. It’ll be fun.”
I really did love this woman. By the end of the five minutes, Collins had been psychically slapped at least twenty times, was lathered in yellowy-green ooze from head to toe, had over a dozen thorns sticking out of his ass – luckily for him, Reuben had lessened the strength of Chico’s gift and so the thorns only caused him discomfort – and then Denny had farted skunk-like musk at him. To top it all off, Collins had a personal encounter with the ceiling thanks to Harvey’s gift.
Wheezing, a pale Collins staggered toward the exit. “It’s all right. I’m okay.” He put a hand to his stomach and swallowed hard. “I think I’ll go lay down for a while.”
David gave him a falsely sympathetic smile. “Yeah, I think that might be for the best.”
“Eloise, could you carry my things? I’m unable to do it myself.” Collins showed her his ooze-covered hands.
Eloise did as he’d asked, shooting me another inviting smile as she past. “Maybe I’ll see you later, Jared. I’ll be at the pool if you need me for anything. Anything.” That was getting real old.
Unlike Sam, I wasn’t convinced that Eloise wanted me as desperately as she and her body language implied. In fact, I’d been told by another commander that Eloise had been amusing herself with a few of the guards – and all at once. Nor did I believe that she was under the illusion that I’d ever cheat on Sam. She never invested any real effort in trying to get my attention. Sleazy smiles, flirty comments, and walking around half naked were nothing compared to the type of things that Joy had been known to do.
I personally believed that Eloise simply did all that to rile Sam, maybe in the hope of making Sam snap and do something that wouldn’t look so good in the report, or maybe simply because Eloise was – as I’d soon come to realise – jealous of Sam. Jealous of how powerful she was, of how people looked up to her, and of how they respected her. Flirting with Sam’s mate was guaranteed to anger her. Possessiveness took on a whole new meaning when two people were Bound – probably because of the protectiveness the couple had of the bond and the instinctive need to eradicate any threat to it.
Eloise was undoubtedly frustrated that Sam wasn’t responding violently to her taunts. Sam knew that I’d never betray her, and she knew that I’d never leave her. Not just because of how deeply the bond connected us and just how much it allowed her to see, but because I never let her forget it. Of course, someone as fickle and selfish as Eloise wouldn’t understand that and wouldn’t expect Sam to hold back. Nor would she expect that Sam would put her position and her squad before her own wants.
It seemed that people had a habit of underestimating my blunt, crazy, homicidal ray of sunshine. More fool them. I’d been guilty of that at one time, but it wasn’t a mistake I’d repeated. I didn’t doubt that Collins and Eloise would soon learn that they had stupidly underestimated her in many ways. She could be impulsive, sure, but she could also bide her time when need be.
“Now that they’re gone, I can tell you what happened yesterday evening.” Chico double-checked that Collins and Eloise were gone before he spoke again. “When you went home after training, we all headed to the basketball court for a while. Collins turned up, wanting to play, like we were all good friends – the cheeky f**ker. Anyway, I told him no. That I only played with people I trusted. He said that his presence here at The Hollow should prove his loyalty to us.”
Reuben shook his head in disbelief. “He really thinks that investigating the complaints that have been made against you is good for us, Coach – that he’s helping and protecting us from potential harm and exploitation.”
Harvey smirked. “Butch cleverly took advantage of that.”
We all turned to Butch, who shrugged and smiled crookedly. “I told him that if he was really loyal to the squad, he’d reveal which one of us apparently made the complaints.”
I stiffened. “And did he?”
“At first, he said the complaints were made anonymously,” replied Butch. “But I reminded him that he’d already told us the first night he came here that he knew their name and that he was respecting their wish to remain anonymous. We were just about to walk away from him when he blurted out their name.”
There was a long moment of complete silence before Sam asked, “Who?” Butch didn’t respond.