“Your new home,” she said with a sniff. “The other girls will help you find a bunk. Once you’re settled, ask for Isabel Scotia. She’ll find you a welcome kit, which will have your basic necessities. If you want anything more, you’re going to have to earn it.”

I didn’t want to know what the Mercers did and didn’t consider to be basic necessities. At this rate, I’d be lucky if I got a toothbrush.

“If you change your mind, you know where the manor is,” she said, but once again, her tone made it perfectly clear that if I were smart, I’d stay as far away from her home as possible.

I stepped inside the bunkhouse, certain that whatever waited for me inside was infinitely better than standing there in increasingly uncomfortable silence with Hannah. She let the door spring closed behind me, and the sharp rap of wood against rock made me jump.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light. Like the streets of Section X, everything in here was gray. Two rows of bunk beds covered in gray blankets were packed tightly together, leaving a narrow aisle running down the center of the room. At first glance, it looked as if there was no space between the beds at all, but as I moved closer, I noticed the few inches that separated them. If I wanted to get into one of the beds, I’d have to climb into it from the end.

On the other side of the door was a tiny room barely bigger than the holding cells, but it had some semblance of privacy. Beyond that was another door, and though it was only cracked open, I spotted gray tile. A bathroom. At least I wouldn’t have to trudge into the cold to pee.

Daylight flooded the bunkhouse again, and behind me, a voice drawled, “Look what we have here.”

I whirled around. Standing in the doorway and blocking my only exit was a pack of four girls, each wearing the same red jumpsuit. They seemed like they were around my age—seventeen, eighteen at the most, but they looked rough in a way that only the older IIs in the hardest parts of D.C. did. Their skin was already showing signs of aging from being underneath the sun all day, and their eyes were hardened and devoid of hope. Instead, all I saw was malicious glee, and the dark-haired girl at the front of the pack—the one who’d spoken—stepped forward.

“Mercer told us to expect a very special guest,” she said in an accent I didn’t recognize. “He never said you were a Hart.”

The girls shifted toward me, effectively surrounding me in the doorway. I’d dealt with plenty of territorial girls growing up in a group home, but with all four of them eyeing me like I was their ticket home, this would be anything but a fair fight.

“Was a Hart,” I corrected calmly. “Not anymore.”

The leader smirked, showing off her chipped front tooth. “No, not anymore,” she agreed, and without warning, her fist flew out, connecting squarely with my jaw. “Welcome to Elsewhere, bitch.”

VI

SCOTIA

All four girls descended on me, punching and scratching and pinching every square inch of me they could find. On my way down, my head hit the doorway with a resounding crack, and for a split second, everything went white.

I lay there motionless as the leader pummeled the air out of my lungs, leaving me wheezing. I didn’t fight back. It wouldn’t help, and besides, maybe these girls would do what Daxton and Knox and the Mercers refused to—maybe they would kill me, and this all would end. Despite the pain, relief flooded through me. It wasn’t the easiest way to go, but at least I’d be going.

Suddenly a shout echoed through the bunk, and the leader cried out. She flew backward, and with quick succession, the other three joined her on the other side of the door, each cursing in protest. One girl held the left side of her face, and even with my blurred vision, I could see a red mark the shape of a boot print forming on her cheek.

“How many times do I have to tell you not to fight in my bunk?” growled a new voice. I squinted upward. Looming over me was a tall, thin woman with dark skin and sleek hair pulled back into a ponytail. She glowered at the girls, and the look on her face would’ve made Daxton piss himself. “You’re already on probation, Maya. You want the cage, too?”

“I don’t want another snitch wandering around,” the leader—Maya—spat, though there was a quiver of fear in her voice. “We’ve got enough to worry about without a Hart lording over us.”

“Doesn’t look like she’ll be lording over anyone anytime soon.” The woman bent over me. Our eyes met, and I saw a spark of fury that made me wish Maya and her friends had knocked me out. “Get up.”

My head pounded, and my lungs still struggled to suck in oxygen, but I shakily sat up. The bunk spun around me, and I gritted my teeth, hating myself for showing any sign of weakness. But what was the worst they could do? Kill me?

“You listen up, bitch,” said Maya, and she took a menacing step closer. “You’re dead. Your heart might think it’s still beating, but it’ll find out soon enough what we do to snitches in this place.”

“And you’re about to find out what I do to bitches who don’t listen to me,” said the woman behind me in a dangerously quiet voice. “Get out of here, Maya, before I change my mind about letting you.”

I expected Maya to protest or challenge her—anything other than walk away. But that was exactly what she did, cursing and sputtering to herself while her friends followed. Once they were gone, I closed my eyes and let my pounding head lull forward.

“Should’ve let them kill me,” I muttered.

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