Ignite Me (Shatter Me, #3)(10)

I cross my arms. “The extravagance was disgusting. So much money is wasted on the army while other people are starving to death.”

Warner waves a hand, shaking his head. “That’s not the point. The point,” he says, “is that I hadn’t provided you with any of those things for some calculated, underhanded reason. It wasn’t some kind of a test.” He laughs. “I wasn’t trying to challenge you and your scruples. I thought I was doing you a favor. You’d come from this disgusting, miserable hole in the ground. I wanted you to have a real mattress. To be able to shower in peace. To have beautiful, fresh clothes. And you needed to eat,” he says. “You’d been starved half to death.”

I stiffen, slightly mollified. “Maybe,” I say. “But you were crazy. You were a controlling maniac. You wouldn’t even let me talk to the other soldiers.”

“Because they are animals,” he snaps, his voice unexpectedly sharp.

I look up, startled, to meet his angry, flashing green eyes.

“You, who have spent the majority of your life locked away,” he says, “have not had the opportunity to understand just how beautiful you are, or what kind of effect that can have on a person. I was worried for your safety,” he says. “You were timid and weak and living on a military base full of lonely, fully armed, thickheaded soldiers three times your size. I didn’t want them harassing you. I made a spectacle out of your display with Jenkins because I wanted them to have proof of your abilities. I needed them to see that you were a formidable opponent—one they’d do well to stay away from. I was trying to protect you.”

I can’t look away from the intensity in his eyes.

“How little you must think of me.” He shakes his head in shock. “I had no idea you hated me so much. That everything I tried to do to help you had come under such harsh scrutiny.”


“How can you be surprised? What choice did I have but to expect the worst from you? You were arrogant and crass and you treated me like a piece of property—”

“Because I had to!” He cuts me off, unrepentant. “My every move—every word—is monitored when I am not confined to my own quarters. My entire life depends on maintaining a certain type of personality.”

“What about that soldier you shot in the forehead? Seamus Fletcher?” I challenge him, angry again. Now that I’ve let it enter my life, I’m realizing anger comes a little too naturally to me. “Was that all a part of your plan, too? No wait, don’t tell me”—I hold up a hand—“that was just a simulation, right?”

Warner goes rigid.

He sits back; his jaw twitches. He looks at me with a mixture of sadness and rage in his eyes. “No,” he finally says, deathly soft. “That was not a simulation.”

“So you have no problem with that?” I ask him. “You have no regrets over killing a man for stealing a little extra food? For trying to survive, just like you?”

Warner bites down on his bottom lip for half a second. Clasps his hands in his lap. “Wow,” he says. “How quickly you jump to his defense.”

“He was an innocent man,” I tell him. “He didn’t deserve to die. Not for that. Not like that.”

“Seamus Fletcher,” Warner says calmly, staring into his open palms, “was a drunken bastard who was beating his wife and children. He hadn’t fed them in two weeks. He’d punched his nine-year-old daughter in the mouth, breaking her two front teeth and fracturing her jaw. He beat his pregnant wife so hard she lost the child. He had two other children, too,” he says. “A seven-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl.” A pause. “He broke both their arms.”

My food is forgotten.

“I monitor the lives of our citizens very carefully,” Warner says. “I like to know who they are and how they’re thriving. I probably shouldn’t care,” he says, “but I do.”

I’m thinking I’m never going to open my mouth ever again.

“I have never claimed to live by any set of principles,” Warner says to me. “I’ve never claimed to be right, or good, or even justified in my actions. The simple truth is that I do not care. I have been forced to do terrible things in my life, love, and I am seeking neither your forgiveness nor your approval. Because I do not have the luxury of philosophizing over scruples when I’m forced to act on basic instinct every day.”

He meets my eyes.

“Judge me,” he says, “all you like. But I have no tolerance,” he says sharply, “for a man who beats his wife. No tolerance,” he says, “for a man who beats his children.” He’s breathing hard now. “Seamus Fletcher was murdering his family,” he says to me. “And you can call it whatever the hell you want to call it, but I will never regret killing a man who would bash his wife’s face into a wall. I will never regret killing a man who would punch his nine-year-old daughter in the mouth. I am not sorry,” he says. “And I will not apologize. Because a child is better off with no father, and a wife is better off with no husband, than one like that.” I watch the hard movement in his throat. “I would know.”

“I’m sorry—Warner, I—”

He holds up a hand to stop me. He steadies himself, his eyes focused on the plates of untouched food. “I’ve said it before, love, and I’m sorry I have to say it again, but you do not understand the choices I have to make. You don’t know what I’ve seen and what I’m forced to witness every single day.” He hesitates. “And I wouldn’t want you to. But do not presume to understand my actions,” he says, finally meeting my eyes. “Because if you do, I can assure you you’ll only be met with disappointment. And if you insist on continuing to make assumptions about my character, I’ll advise you only this: assume you will always be wrong.”

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