Her eyes flickered to the ceiling and then back to me, and she dropped her voice to barely above a whisper. “She rounded up every farmer on the Vinemont property, armed them, and set them on the Rose plantation. It was burned to the ground within hours. The fields charred. The workers killed. Mr. Rose was down there at the time. He never returned. A month after that, the Rose plantations were Vinemont plantations, and the Rose clan was no more. The little boy that left with his mother never came back, either.”

“Why would you tell me this now?” I couldn’t keep the anger from my voice. She had so much more information that she wasn’t sharing. She doled it out in tiny spoonfuls and I was hungry within seconds after each bite.

“Because I’ve seen the way Mr. Sinclair looks at you. I saw how he was for the two weeks you were gone. He needs you, Stella. More than he’s ever needed anyone. I think…I hope.” She chose her words haltingly. “I hope that you may be the one thing between him and a lifetime of regret. I wasn’t strong enough to save Rebecca. But you’re different.” A tear rolled down her cheek, hesitating in the small crease next to her mouth before falling to the floor.

“You want me to save him?” I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around the mix of Stockholm Syndrome and pure fucked up insanity she’d just said. “I’m his prisoner, his plaything, the ant he likes to use a magnifying glass on. I have no power to save myself, much less him. Whatever feelings he may have for me are nothing compared to the darkness inside him. You’ve seen it.”

“I’ve seen it.” She held my gaze. “But he’s not the only one with darkness inside him, Stella. We all have it.”

I closed my eyes and sank beneath the water, for once sated with information. I didn’t want to think or hear any more about the child Sinclair, how scared he must have been, how horrified at the violence he no doubt witnessed. I had to think of myself. It didn’t matter what sort of rules he adhered to now. The fact was he could still let me go if he chose. He could leave my father alone. He could still turn his back on the whole Acquisition. He only stayed in it to reap the rewards and benefits of a system that was built on darkness, on the vilest impulses of human nature. He was a part of it, participating willingly.

No, I wouldn’t save him. I refused. But I would save myself.

When I emerged from beneath the surface, Renee had disappeared.

After I’d soaked as long as I could in the hot water, I rose and dressed in some new pajamas I found in my dresser. Renee had been busy during my absence, the closet full of new clothes and the dresser bursting with even more. I ate in my room that night, not willing to sit through a meal with the Vinemont clan. I picked through the roast chicken and vegetables Renee had brought until there was a knock at my door.

Adjusting my tank top, I pulled the blanket up over my shorts. “Come in.”

A blond head of hair peeked through. “Hi.”

“Hi, yourself.” I smiled, happy to see Teddy. Of all the Vinemont brothers, he was the most genuine. Teddy telegraphed his motives clear as a bell and his boyish manners endeared him to me, though he was only a handful of years younger than I was.

He came in and shut the door behind him before easing onto the foot of my bed.

“I heard some things about Cuba. You okay?”

I set my plate on the nightstand and drew my knees up. “Things were hairy there for a minute, but I’m safe.”

“Yeah, Sin doesn’t look so good. Dr. Yarbrough is patching him up right now. But Sin said you took care of him, doing staples and all that?”

I nodded, remembering the way Vinemont had watched me as I knelt before him, cleaning his wounds. “I did.”

“Why?” He angled his head so I could look down the line of his strong jaw.

It wasn’t an easy question, and I had no easy answer. “He needed help.”

“But why would you help him after he…” He glanced up to my shoulder, as if he could see the lash marks there.

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

He traced the stitching on the quilt at the foot of my bed with his fingertip. “I think I know why.”

“Enlighten me.”

He met my gaze, his hazel eyes shy but also seeking. “I think it’s the same thing I feel with Laura. Like, you would do anything for that person, even if you’re mad at them or even if they’ve done something terrible.”

I tilted my head to the side. “Are you talking about love?”

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