“I can’t breathe,” I say through clenched teeth. Panic cascades down my spine like waves of a crushing tide. Panic so familiar yet so alien. My constant companion for the past fourteen years, since I was five.
My skin burns hot-and-cold-and-hot-again. Black spots bleed into my vision until it narrows into a pinpoint. I can no longer see the control compartment of our beat-up space vessel.
My seat swallows me up. I buck against its constraints, tearing against the tight harness. “I have to get out of here!”
I can’t slow my breathing. The icy air burns against my throat with each inhalation. I am drowning without being in water.
“Lilla, listen to my voice,” Arrov, the pilot of our ship, says. “I am here. You’re not alone.”
He brushes my hands to the side. Off the stubborn harness buckles. With a click the restraints cutting into me disappear.
I spring to my feet. The urge to flee! to run! pumps my blood, drowning out the hum of the ship.
A gentle hand touches mine.
Still blind to my surroundings, I grasp it before it can retreat. My lifeline out of the madness.
“You’re fine. You’ll be all right now.”
Arrov’s voice conjures his image—his almost seven-foot height, his athletic build, his angular face with pale-blue skin framed by short dark-blue hair, his straight nose and always smiling lips. I’ve heard him called “stunningly handsome” behind his back, followed by heaving sighs. I must admit they’re right. Of course I would never say that out loud in his presence!
His thumb rubs a circle in my palm, a mesmerizing motion. I focus on his touch. For the first time since setting foot on this godsforsaken ship, I can take a deep breath.
Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth.
Minutes, or hours, drag by before the hot-and-cold-and-hot-again vanish. I look up, right into blue eyes that are so dark they’re almost black.
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