“When I got word you were on your way, I went ahead and drew you a nice hot bath. How’s that sound?” Renee led me up the stairs and into my room. Lavender and vanilla permeated the air and drew me into the bathroom.

She didn’t need to tell me twice. I stripped out of my jeans and t-shirt and slipped into the fragrant water. I moaned in sheer pleasure as Renee bustled around making sure I had towels and anything else I needed.

I finally waved her toward the small hamper. “Sit down and tell me what happened while I was gone.”

She laughed and took her seat. “I think you need to tell me why you’re back so soon first. I heard there was trouble brewing, but from the looks of Mr. Sinclair, it seems to have boiled over and scorched.”

I nodded and lay back, letting the heat relax my muscles. I recounted my two weeks of wandering around the Cuban estate, swimming in the pool, and doing everything in my power to avoid thinking about Vinemont. When I told her about the uprising she clucked her tongue.

“That sort of trouble has happened before, but it was a long time ago.”

“When was that?”

Her dark eyes scrutinized me and she furrowed her brow as if she were trying to make a choice.

I willed her to tell me something, anything. Information was like to gold to me. It always had been in this house.

She sighed. “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. I’ll tell. Maybe it’ll help.”

I leaned forward and propped my chin on my knees. Renee must have missed me to be so ready to spill information.

Her fingers were already in a twisting war with each other. “When Rebecca was Sovereign, she had a problem with a neighboring sugar cane plantation in Brazil. It was owned by another family, the Roses. The Roses had been steadily eating up the open farmland around the Vinemont fields and gained a stranglehold on the crop in that particular area with the help of paramilitaries. It was a lawless place that far inland. Still is. Anyway, once Rebecca won Sovereign, the Roses had already been doing everything they could to get the Vinemonts out of Brazil.” More hand wringing.

“Go on.”

“Well, the Sovereign has a certain set of powers.” She halted, clearly wondering how much information she should give.

“What powers?” I had to keep her talking.

“Well, the Sovereign can bring families in.”

“Like the Vinemonts?”

“Yes.” She avoided my gaze. “Like them.”

She scratched at her neck before forcing her hand back to her lap. “And the Sovereign can cast families out.”

“What happens when a family gets cast out?” I asked.

“It means that, should the Sovereign will it, the family’s assets and lives are forfeit.”

I cocked my head sideways at the idea of such a one-sided remedy. “Why doesn’t the Sovereign just do that to everyone and take everything and call it a goddamn day. To hell with the Acquisition?”

“Because the Sovereign may only do it to one family during their entire reign. He can bring one in and he can kick one out. It helps keep everyone in line, you see?”

It made sense. Casting a family out fortified the Sovereign’s wealth and position. And just the threat of it was likely enough to keep the families under the Sovereign’s thumb. Being able to add an ally? Priceless. It was like stacking up pieces around the king on a chess board. “What happens to the family that gets the boot?”

“It depends. Some are allowed to go, move away, try and rebuild. Some aren’t so lucky. The Sovereign controls fortunes, controls life or death…” She dropped her gaze to the floor, a pall falling over her.

“What happened with Rebecca and the Roses?” The water couldn’t have cooled in such a short time, but I felt a chill rush down my spine all the same.

“The Vinemonts weren’t always one of the main families. Some of the older families looked down on them, tried to take advantage—”

“Families like the Roses?”

She nodded but still didn’t meet my gaze. “By the time Rebecca became Sovereign, she was a different person. Before, she would work with the local farmers and try and sort out the issues the Roses were creating at the plantation. But after the trials, she decided to make an example of them. She waited until they instigated another supply problem—Rose trucks blocking the roads and keeping the workers from getting the sugar cane to the processing plant. She went down to the farm, flew herself as she used to do, and took Mr. Sinclair with her. I told her he was too young. She didn’t listen. That poor boy…” She finally returned my stare, her dark eyes swimming with unshed tears.

“What happened?”

Renee took a deep shuddering breath. “I really shouldn’t be telling you this.”

“Tell me.” I needed to know the rest of the story like I needed my next breath.

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