Rubbing the intricate rune on her arm, Rayna reminded herself that the people in the restaurant, be they Meta or Human, were only there to eat and weren’t out to get her. She had nothing to worry about; all she had to do was deliver food to a table, nothing else.
Wanting to get through the evening with minimal anxiety, she quietly chanted as she ran a hand across her skin. Druidic power raced through her veins, calming her heart rate. Moments later, her breathing steadied, which was a relief, because her erratic heart threatened to fail way before the rune would disappear from her flesh.
Glancing around the restaurant, she searched for any indication of trouble. There was no sign of the rebellion. All she saw was what appeared to be normal people, but looks were deceiving, as she well knew. You never knew what lurked beneath the surface or what nefarious deeds someone was planning.
The troll in the corner, for instance, was likely planning to grab the unsuspecting Human then drag her off and torture her. Rayna believed everyone was up to no good, and, consequently, stayed in defense mode 24/7. Realistically, she knew her thought process was way off, but the shit she’d been through in life had shown her the evil capability of others.
Sighing, she looked through the large glass windows adorned with the name Uni Thai House of Siam where people were milling about on the street. Never in her wildest dreams would she have applied for a waitress position. Unfortunately, it wasn’t up to her. Those in charge of the Complex had assigned her the job. To say it sucked was an understatement.
She had no choice but to interact with others while at the same time repeatedly being plagued by paranoia, unsure whom she could trust, or when an attack might happen. She could never let her guard down, especially, not in the Complex.
And, quitting wasn’t an option. She had signed an agreement to work and live there for thirty long months, and wasn’t going to fuck that up. She wanted the one-hundred-thousand S-Co she would receive at the end of her term. With that kind of cash, she could buy any house on any planet, and she planned on living as remotely as possible after she fulfilled her contract.
Trying to focus on the bright side, she looked around the eatery. Thankfully, her co-workers were non-threatening, even if they thought her crazy. She had been suspicious of a couple of the Humans and wondered if they were part of the rebellion because they’d filed ridiculous complaints against her, trying to cause problems for her. Unfortunately, it brought unwanted attention from her boss, which only incited more fear.
Seriously, how could anyone expect her to know the ins and outs of waitressing when she’d never worked in a restaurant? It wasn’t like she’d received training before arriving at the Complex. She still wasn’t sure about those two individuals, but she’d quickly learned her job and was now one of the most efficient employees Jonas had on staff.
Banging snagged Rayna’s attention. She looked up and saw one of the cooks, a shifter named Tony, pounding a fist on the pass-through.
“This Panang is getting cold, Rayna. Get it to the table, dammit,” he barked, making her jump. He shook his head and rolled his eyes before turning back to the grill.
“Yep, thinks me crazy,” she muttered under her breath, sensing his frustration. Steeling her nerves, she grabbed food for a six-top, arranging the plates on a large circular tray before hoisting it to rest on her shoulder. One major benefit of the job was her arms and legs got a daily workout and were becoming nicely toned.
Loud noise overwhelmed her as she walked through the double doors into the dining area, but the rune was doing its job and buffeted the sounds. Her best friend, Charlotte, waved excitedly from the hostess podium where she was waiting for a table.
Rayna tossed her hand up and greeted the redheaded bombshell, thinking how happy she was that her friend had agreed to apply to the Complex with her. If only it were the land of fulfillment promised.
Rayna had foolishly believed Ama Seldova when they touted it as a safe and peaceful place to live. Three weeks into her two and a half year stay told her otherwise. It was just as chaotic and dangerous in the Complex as it had been on the vast spaceship where she grew up. Maybe more so because now Humans and Metas were stuck together in a huge silver dome and couldn’t leave.
Recently, there’d been an explosion in the ‘eye in the sky’ where the powers that be resided, which was far more terrifying than the skirmishes at ground level. The rulers should be safer than peons like her, but they weren’t. The Human rebellion had infiltrated the Complex. Intra was doing their best to locate the troublemakers, but the little bastards didn’t run around with anything as obvious as tattoos on their foreheads marking them as the enemy, so they were impossible to find.
The Human rebellion didn’t commit every crime. Meta fought each other often. That was the main reason everyone on her home ship had been so anxious to find another planet. The Meta didn’t get along with each other any better than the Humans got along with Meta. It was a cruel world and nowhere was safe.
Her breaths were now coming out in pants and spots danced in her vision as another anxiety attack threatened her system. She was going to pass out if she didn’t get a grip. She chastised herself for obsessing over shit she couldn’t change. It was her greatest weakness, and she wished she could overcome her terror.
Hurrying to the table as fast as she dared, she set down the tray and nearly dropped it. A vampire sitting at the table reached over and stopped the tray from tipping to the floor. She couldn’t help but flinch when his pale hand brushed against hers. The male was too savvy not to notice and tilted his head at her reaction.
“Thank you,” she mumbled, eyes downcast. Some Meta could manipulate the mind and she didn’t have the benefit of the implant given to Humans. She’d learned that the hard way, as well.
“No problem. I don’t bite, you know,” the vampire said with a wink as she looked at him through the fringe of her long silver hair. “Unless you want me to,” he added, and she couldn’t help notice the field generator around his neck, which permitted his kind out during daylight hours.
She blushed to the roots at the heat in his eyes. For a second, she was tempted to accept his offer. He was drop-dead gorgeous, and she’d never felt the pleasure of a vampire’s bite but had heard it caused an instantaneous orgasm.
Thinking about her lack of recent sexual experiences, she acknowledged that was another hope she’d had for the Complex. A relationship that lasted past the third date. Her intimacies to date hadn’t been complete disasters, but they didn’t measure up to Charlotte’s stories.
Her friend was a leopard shifter and made no qualms about testing every male she could for a mating bond. Her motto was you had to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince. The female was all curves and sex appeal, and never had a shortage of willing partners. Rayna was slim with small boobs and felt like an unattractive waif next to her girlfriend.
Initially, Rayna jumped right in and followed the female’s example, thinking she wouldn’t be so afraid if she had a big, tough male to protect her. Didn’t take long to realize no one could make her feel safe and happy but herself. Now, she was good at taking care of herself, but adjusting to life in the Complex had severely depleted her fear rune.
Charlotte must have overheard the vampire because she chose that moment to walk by and bump hips with Rayna then turned to the vampire. “You couldn’t handle my girl, here,” she teased. “But, I’ll go gentle on you, if you’re lucky.”
Quickly forgetting Rayna’s existence, the vampire placed his hand over his heart and tossed his head back, laughing. “What a coincidence, my middle name is Luck. What’s your name, baby, and can I give you a call sometime?”
“My name is No,” she countered and started laughing in her seductive way that caused males to lose all rational thought.
“Ouch,” he replied, but Rayna could tell Charlotte’s rejection didn’t deter him. On the contrary, he appeared even more interested.
“Give it up, Jax. She’s way out of your league,” a Human at the table chided as he pulled the vampire back into his seat.
As Charlotte flirted with the males, Rayna quickly took the plates off the tray and set them on the table. She breathed easier, grateful she didn’t spill any of the food. Her anxiety was high, and the last thing she needed was to draw more attention with clumsiness. She rubbed her rune, comforted by its presence, albeit a faint one.
Straightening, she smiled before addressing the table. “Let me know if there is anything else I can get you,” she informed the table.
“I need some Sriracha, please,” the Human male piped up.
Glancing around, Rayna took stock of the Metas and Humans in the restaurant and wondered if the peace treaty was finally making headway or if it was a case of coworkers simply enjoying a lunch break together. Probably the latter, she amended.
“How do you put that stuff on everything you eat, Jax?” a female asked with a smile.
The pointy ears told Rayna she was Fae, but she had no idea what type. Her memory wasn’t the greatest, and there were dozens of different kinds of Fae at the Complex. Thankfully, most were non-violent unless provoked.
“Everything is better with spicy chili sauce,” Jax murmured, looking to Rayna again. The vampire was a player, for sure. Smooth as peanut butter, with plenty of sex appeal.
Rayna walked to the server area and grabbed the bottle with the green lid then hurried back to the table and gave it to him. He winked at her, and she smiled before scurrying off to tend to her other customers.
After delivering food to several tables, her arms were shaking as much as her insides. She should join the gym, she thought. She may be toned, but she tired quickly. Working out would build her stamina. The problem was, that would mean interacting with even more with people.
She checked the lines of her rune and weighed how long it would last if she joined the gym. Not long, she figured, given it was barely visible. When it faded completely, that was it for her fear rune. That was the case with all the ink her parents had meticulously placed on her arms. Once depleted, there was no more magical assistance given for that need.
She had other magic at her disposal, but what good was a deflection spell going to do for her crippling fear? Not a damn thing. Some of the others could be used to deal with certain situations, and she’d taken to using the invisibility spell when she was followed. Or the aversion spell to make others avoid her, but that did no good at work. As a Druid, she relied on the aid of her ink and the thought of how it originated had her missing her parents more than usual.
She had to face the bitter truth. She was pathologically paranoid, and there was no hope for her. The only reason she left her home most days was because of that rune. Without accessing its power, she couldn’t breathe, and her heart threatened to burst from her chest. Hence her predicament, she thought, with a sigh.
Her parents had warned her when they’d given her the tattoos that their magic was limited, but that was all she’d had after they were killed. Too many times, she had relied on the rune to soothe her emotional state when she thought about the night she witnessed their murders. She wished more than anything she were brave and valiant like her parents and adoptive father, but she was a coward to the bone.
No hero coming. No knight on a white horse or any other fairytale bullshit. She was responsible for herself, and that was it. She recalled the classes offered at the gym. One was a self-defense class. She could learn to defend herself and build muscle at the same time. Two birds with one stone sounded good to her.
Vowing to give that a try, she took some drinks to a table without needing a pep talk to calm frayed nerves. That defense class was the best idea she’d had since arriving at the Complex, and she felt lighter as she practically skipped to the back of the restaurant.
The place was full, thanks to the lunch crowd, but all her tables were served. Seeing an opportunity for a quick break, Rayna ducked behind the double doors, grabbed some Pad Thai from the service station and shoveled down some food while she decided the best time to go to the gym. Her shift ended early today, so maybe she’s swing by when she was done working. Maybe Charlotte would go with her.
She’d heard a Giant taught the self-defense class. Could she be in the same room as a Giant and not piss her pants? They were seven feet tall and intimidating as hell, but she had to believe they also knew a lot about fighting back.
Was she insane to think she could pull this off? The idea alone threatened to dissolve what power remained in her fear rune. Eyeing a nearby table that needed clearing, she set those thoughts aside and headed back toward the front. Before she made it two feet into the dining room, a loud boom rocked the restaurant, blowing out the windows and throwing her against the wall.
The last thought that flashed in her mind was she would never be safe again. Then her world turned to blackness.
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