“Is that a g-string?”

She smoothed her skirt. “Well, that dress clings, and you can’t have panty lines. Or you can go no panties if you like that better.”

I definitely did not like that better. I gave up my quest for comfortable cotton panties and pulled on the barely-there thong. My ass was totally exposed, but at least my pussy had some semblance of fabric over it.

“I’m guessing no bra, either?”

She shook her head and eyed her feet. “The back is open, so no.”

“Fine.” I lifted the dress and dropped it over my head. Renee was right, it clung as it slid down my body and settled. The front dipped low between my breasts in a draping cowl that thinned into spaghetti straps and tied at the top of my shoulders. The straps multiplied into three thin strips that flowed down my back and joined the sides at elbow level, leaving the rest of the back open almost down to my ass. The slit was so high that I was glad I chose to wear the panties.

“You are perfect.”

“I take it this isn’t a jeans and t-shirt event?” I snorted and walked to the full length mirror to get a better look. Renee had created a fashion plate in record time.

“Never. You need to impress the Sovereign. Play to your strengths.”

“To help Vinemont?” I narrowed my eyes at her in the mirror. “I have to dress like a street walker to help my captor?”

“Yes.” Renee pushed my hair over my shoulder and perused my tattoo. “Though I never had a dress this nice when I was a working girl.”

That raised my eyebrows.

Renee shrugged and blushed. “I told you about my past, and I’m not proud of it. But I’m just saying that yes, you are being taken somewhere to be shown off as an Acquisition, but enjoy the little pleasures. That’s all. One day you won’t even have those. So—”

“Did you just tell me to carpe diem?” I turned and smiled at her, willing away her embarrassment.

“I did.” She smiled back, the clouds of memory giving way to the present. “Now let’s see about your shoes and, the best part, your jewels.”

She went into the closet and brought out a pair of velvet stilettos with red soles.

“I don’t know if I can manage those. Got anything with a shorter heel?”

“Nope. These are the ones.” She set them down in front of me and I stepped into them. They were almost impossible, but not quite. As long as I was on an even surface and not doing any running, I might survive.

“And these.” She practically pranced to a box on my dresser and flipped the lid before pulling out a dazzling necklace. An array of emeralds in an art deco layout. The jewels dangled from silver chains, with the center emerald hanging lower than the rest.

“Do the Vinemonts own all the choicest emeralds in the world or what?” I walked over to her and lifted my hair so she could fasten the priceless strand around my neck.

The earrings were similar threads of silver with an emerald dangling at the end. I put them in and smoothed my hair back down.

Renee clasped her hands in front of her. “This is going to help us. It has to.”

“Us?” I turned to her, searching her dark eyes for some clue as to what she meant. Obviously, I wasn’t in this to help the Vinemonts. I couldn’t care less who became Sovereign.

“Winning will help everyone, Stella. You included.”

I peered down at her. “Did winning help you? You’re still here, aren’t you? Are you living out your wildest dreams? Did things perk up after your lover was ruined by becoming Sovereign?”

She waved my comment away with an impatient flick of her wrist. “Rebecca was strong, but Mr. Sinclair is stronger. Even Lucius is stronger. When either one of them is Sovereign, there will be so much they can do for you, for their mother, for the family, for all of us.” She closed the jewel case, her fingers shaking slightly. “Now that we’re in the running, winning would be the best outcome. There’s no way around the trials. But if you win,” she turned, an iron glint in her eye that I’d never seen before, “and you’ve played your cards right, you have a great deal of power at your fingertips. Power to destroy the ones who hurt you.”

“Like the Roses?”

She nodded. “Like them and others.”

I’d meant it as a barb, but she wore the Roses’ destruction like a badge of honor.

“Have you destroyed people, Renee? The ones who tortured you most during the trials?”

She took my elbow. “We should get you downstairs. Mr. Sinclair will be antsy to leave.”

“Renee, you can’t just cut me off. I need to know.” I hadn’t actually considered the proposal Lucius made in Cuba—the power he would have after winning Sovereign. But Renee was echoing his sentiments: win, and then everything else will fall into place. Was Renee right? Was helping the Vinemonts win the surest route to destroy the entire game? Take it all down from the inside? Maybe, but it hadn’t worked for Renee.

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