I had two options. I could kill them both as they slept and bring the entire Vinemont line to ruin. Or I could walk away. I stood for long minutes, just listening to them breathing deep and even, no doubt exhausted from a long night of fucking.

Lucius had finally won out, taking her from me while I was busy solidifying our family’s safety. She’d chosen him over me yet again, and I was the fool who hadn’t seen it coming. I studied the back of my hand, the scars there visible, but not as deep as the ones that remained hidden inside me.

Of course she’d turned her back on me. I was a demon. She’d said it in her sleep on dark nights when she would cry out and awake in tears. I’d cradled her in my arms, fighting off the nightmare version of myself. But as I watched her and Lucius, I realized there was only one me. I was the nightmare version, the one who terrified her, haunted her—who took everything from her and left her broken.

My head pounded, and each beat of my heart was an individual torment. A maelstrom of dark thoughts rained down and swirled in my mind, each one worse than the last. Pity was that I couldn’t make good on any of them. Even as she lay in another man’s arms, I still wanted her.

Long minutes slipped by as I weighed my need for retribution against the lives of my two brothers and Stella. Could I destroy it all, killing what little was left of me in the process?

Murder whispered to me. After a few more moments, I shoved the dark thoughts down. Molten lead poured over my heart, charring it and sealing it in an impenetrable tomb. When it cooled, I would finally be the man I needed to be to win the Acquisition.

I closed the door.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

STELLA

“SO, ABOUT THAT MORNING fuck we discussed.” Lucius ran his fingers down to the small of my back and tucked them into the waistband of my shorts.

I groaned and rolled away from him. It was too early, though bright rays of sun streamed through the window. My head pounded along with my pulse, a hangover already setting in.

“Nuh uh.” I buried my face in my pillow and stretched my legs all the way down to my toes before relaxing again.

“Come on.” He propped on his elbow next to me and squeezed my ass. “It’ll be fun. I don’t even care if you just lay there. Go back to sleep. I’ll handle the rest.”

I snorted and reached back to slap his hand away. “Asshole.”

“I’ve never met a girl who jumps right to anal, but sure.” He smoothed his hand down farther.

“That’s my cue.” I slid out of bed and stretched, my arm aching where the break had been. My stomach churned—the bourbon had transformed to acid. He lay back in a huff, his erection noticeably tenting the sheet. Climbing back into bed and sleeping in was preferable, but there was no way I was going anywhere near him.

He sat and pulled his knees up. “How did you sleep?”

“Good, actually. Better than when I’m alone.”

“You cried a little.” He glanced away. “I woke up and you were talking about leaves and then rope. I said something to you, and you quieted down.”

I should have been embarrassed about it, but I wasn’t. He knew what I’d gone through at the last two trials. Besides, there was no way I could control what I did in my sleep.

“What did you say to me that helped?” I asked and walked to the bathroom.

“I don’t know. I was half asleep. I guess my voice or something made you feel better.”

“Maybe. Hey, I’m going to shower.” I turned and pinned him with a glare as he smirked. “Without you. Your sleeping buddy services, while very much appreciated, are no longer needed.”

“Don’t get used to it. The next time I’m in this bed, I’ll be between those legs.” He licked his lips. “Also, I’m about to be out the country for a week or two.”

I peered at myself in the mirror, the circles under my eyes still apparent though not as dark. “You’ll miss Sin coming home.”

“Yeah, I’m real bummed about that. I’ll cry into my mojitos over it.” His voice receded, and I heard my door click shut.

“Thank you.”

He didn’t hear me, but I meant it all the same. Somehow, I’d spent the night with Lucius Vinemont and made it through unscathed.

I laughed at the thought as I stripped and stepped into the shower. Halfway through soaping up I heard a knock at the bathroom door.

“It’s me,” Renee called.

“Hey. What’s up?” I rinsed off and stepped out, taking the towel she proffered.

“Nothing. Just wanted to come by and see you.” She smiled. Her warmth had dimmed as of late, but it was still welcome.

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