“No.” Gavin gripped my elbow. “You don’t have to.”

“I’ll be fine. I’ll catch up.” I disentangled my arm and walked to Dylan, despite the instinctive desire to run as far from him as I could.

Dylan nodded. “That’s right. She’ll be just fine with me. Go.”

I glanced back to Gavin, his lips pinched and his brows drawn in concern. Then he glared at Dylan. “If you hurt her—”

“You’ll what?” Dylan grabbed me around the waist and pulled me back into the shadowy alcove. “Fuck off.”

Mr. Tablet pulled a black baton—the same one from the Christmas trial—from his belt. “Come on.”

Gavin took another step toward Dylan and me. I shook my head. “I’m fine. Please go.”

“I won’t tell you again.” Mr. Tablet held the baton at the ready.

“If he hurts you, yell. I’ll come. I don’t care about the consequences.” Gavin said the last sentence to Mr. Tablet.

Satisfied he’d won, Mr. Tablet turned and led Brianne and Gavin away.

“Why is it so hard to get to you these days?” Dylan kept one arm around my waist and ran his fingers through my hair. “I couldn’t get you at Christmas, though I was so close. And now I still have to fight just for some alone time with my sis.”

I tried to push away from him, but he was too big. He may have even been more muscled than the last time I’d seen him. “I’m not your sis. Just let me go.”

“Why would I do that? You’re mine.” I couldn’t see his eyes in the dimness, and my skin crawled at what I knew I’d find there.

“I’m not.”

“You are. I was cheated at the last trial. I still intend to have you, all of you.” He gripped my hair and pulled my head back hard enough to hurt.

“Dylan!” I gasped as he bit the side of my neck. When he clamped down hard enough to break the skin, I tried to scream, but he clapped his hand over my mouth.

I struggled, trying to break free. He only bit harder. Tears rose in my eyes at the searing pain. Then he let up and pulled me to him again. My blood coated his lips, and he kissed me, smearing it onto my mouth.

He ran his hands to my ass and squeezed, pulling me forward and rubbing me against his erection. I turned my head and pushed away before he could sink his tongue between my lips.

“There now.” He grinned, my blood between his teeth. “I can’t wait for the Vinemont boys to see my mark on you. The next time Sin and Lucius are in your cunt, they’ll think of me. And then, before long, the Acquisition will be over and you’ll belong to me. My little whore to use and abuse. I’ve already ordered a cage for you. It’s custom made. You’ll sleep in it every night at the foot of my bed.”

“I will never be yours.” I couldn’t comprehend half of what he’d said. “A cage?”

“I own you.” He bent his head to my mouth and pulled my hair again. “Cal gave me a little welcome gift. You. I can’t stop the Acquisition. It’s too late for that. But once the new Sovereign is chosen, you’re mine. You can run. You can try and hide. Don’t doubt that I’ll find you. Not even the new Sovereign can break this deal. It’s done.”

Loathing invaded every cell of my body, and my fight kicked in. I balled my hand into a fist and aimed a hard hit at his ear. He howled and shoved me back. I took off down the curving corridor, sprinting toward whatever trial awaited me. I didn’t care. I had to get away from Dylan, from the twisted ghost of my former friend.

Voices rose ahead of me, and I ran headlong into Gavin’s back. He turned and put his palms on my face, tilting my head as he stared at my neck.

His lips turned up in a snarl. “That motherfucker. Where is he?” He looked over my head, spoiling for Dylan to try and follow me.

“I left him. I d-don’t think he followed.” The tremor in my voice matched the chaos in my mind. I wiped my sleeve across my mouth.

“Hey, asshole, do you have a first-aid kit or something in this hell hole?” Gavin asked Mr. Tablet.

“Oh, I’m afraid not.” Mr. Tablet smiled sweetly and strode to a wide wooden door.

“It’s okay.” Gavin turned back to me. “It’s not that bad.” He yanked his sleeve down to cover his hand and pressed it over the wound on my neck.

It stung, but I tried to calm my breathing, calm my mind. Dylan was just an appetizer for the main course of the trial. I couldn’t fall apart before the real game even began.

The door had a sliver of space I could see through. It led outside, the low light of the cloudy day filtering through. The ground beyond was grassy, and there was some sort of narrow, circular platform in the very middle. I assumed Cal stood atop it, per his usual.

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