Just hearing his name set off a reaction inside me—longing and something akin to being stung. But then my thoughts turned to Sophia. He was with her, maybe fucking her right this moment. I took another pull on the mint julep, the taste less bitter this time than the first.

Lucius got up and went to the fireplace. The muscles in his back pressed against the soft material of his shirt as he leaned over and reached for some wood. Before long he had a fire going and had finished his drink.

He claimed my glass and fixed two more mint juleps. After killing the lights, he sat even closer to me as the fire blazed orange, keeping the clammy air at bay. My head swam, but I enjoyed the lessening ache in my heart. Dulling my senses seemed to be the only way to look at Sin’s conquest of Sophia objectively. It was a ruse. It had to be. He loved me. I’d seen it in his eyes, felt it in his touch.

Before long, Lucius made me another drink and put his arm around me. We didn’t speak, just watched the fire and listened to another storm roll past with a rock tune thumping in the background. I was as content as I could be under the circumstances.

Uncertainty still ruled my future, but I had a trump card—Cal’s proposal.

“You know.” I snuggled into his side, enjoying his familiar sandalwood scent. “Cal made me an offer.”

He tensed. “What sort of offer?”

I giggled, the sound foreign to my ears, especially because what I was about to say didn’t strike me as humorous in the least. I blinked my eyes to clear my swimming head, but it didn’t work, only made it worse.

“Stella.” He gripped my injured upper arm and I yelped.

He eased up. “Fuck, sorry. I forgot. What did Cal say?”

“He said all I have to do is give myself to him for the rest of the contract year and Sin will win.”

He finished his drink and slammed the glass onto the side table. “Drink up.”

My glass was half full, and my eyelids were heavy. “I don’t think I should.”

“Drink it, Stella.” His voice was an insistent whir when I wanted silence.

“Fine.” I drained my glass, the taste barely registering. He took it, set it next to his, and turned to face me.

“Tell me exactly what Cal said. Don’t leave anything out.” His light eyes were close, his brow wrinkled as he focused on me.

“I did. He said he wanted complete obedience. Said Sin would have to agree to give me to him and then Sin would win.” I tried to make my mouth stop moving, to stop giving away my secrets, but the gates were open and I was gone. Why did telling someone make it easier?

“Complete obedience?”

“He wants to hurt me.” I shuddered, my body quaking as if another peal of thunder had sounded overhead. “And it’ll save Teddy.”

His jaw tightened, and he put his hand to my cheek. “It won’t come to that.”

I leaned into it, suddenly desperate for a touch that was gentle instead of cruel. “I was going to tell Sin, but he ran away from me. Went to her.” I loathed the sorrow in my heart that leeched into my voice.

He put his palm on my other cheek and kissed me. I tried to lean away. He held me steady. His lips were soft, his kiss gentle. It felt like a caress, not him trying to take something from me. He licked my lips, asking instead of forcing. I opened my mouth as he deepened the kiss, his tongue sinking into my mouth as he wrapped one arm around me and pressed me close.

I ran my hands along his shoulders and then trailed my fingers through his hair. He groaned into my mouth when I tugged lightly. His tongue flicked against mine as he lifted me so that I straddled him. Emotions flashed through me—desire, guilt, and anger chief among them. I didn’t love Lucius. My heart belonged to his brother, and there was nothing either of us could do to change it.

I pulled back, breaking the kiss and breathing deeply as he moved to my neck. “I can’t.”

He gripped my ass and ground me against his cock, the movement sending tingles and heat through me. “You can.” He ran his teeth along my throat. Gripping the hem of my shirt, he tugged it until I lifted my arms. He pulled it over my head and tossed it to the floor.

“No.” I protested as he wrapped his arms around me and turned, laying me on my back.

“Yes. Stop fighting it.” Settling between my thighs, he shoved my bra over my breasts and sucked a nipple into his mouth. I moaned and arched off the couch, clawing at his scalp as he bit and licked.

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