Bounding up the stairs, I almost bowled Teddy over. I’d forgotten school was out for a few weeks before summer term.

He put a hand on my shoulder. “You okay?”

I couldn’t look at him, couldn’t bear his kindness right after Sin had treated me so horribly. I refused to cry, especially in front of Teddy. Explaining it wasn’t an option.

“I’m fine. Hungover is all.” I side-stepped him and continued climbing the stairs. “I’ll catch you later today. Promise.”

“Okay.” His voice remained uncertain, but once I reached the second floor landing, I heard his steps retreating downward.

I turned toward my room and hesitated. Raised voices from the third floor caught my ear. Throwing another glance toward the sanctuary of my room, I took a hesitant step up the stairs.

“Why?” Renee’s yell had my feet moving faster.

Was she asking about why Rebecca had chosen Sin to compete? I wanted to hear that answer. I hurried up the stairs and down the hall, the yelling covering any noise I made.

“Because he’s strong.” Rebecca’s screech raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

“You’ve doomed him. You’ve killed Teddy.”

“No, no, no. Don’t cry. Come here. Let me hold you.” Rebecca’s voice switched to something soothing. The sweet timbre drew me closer and I peeked between the hinges as Renee sat on the bed. Rebecca pulled her into a hug and rocked her back and forth.

“Why?” Renee’s question was thick with anguish.

“I had to. It’s the only way.” Rebecca smoothed Renee’s hair. “Do you know I’ve always thought your hair is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen? The softest I’ve ever touched?” Tenderness suffused every word.

I blinked hard, trying to reconcile the calm, attentive woman before me with the raving lunatic of a few months ago.

“You’ve told me, yes.”

“I’ll tell you again and again, because it’s true. You’re the best thing in my life. You and my boys.” Rebecca continued rocking Renee, the two women locked in a loving embrace.

“But Sin, he could break. The same thing that happened to us could happen to him.”

“No.” Rebecca shook her head. “He’s strong. He can end it.”

“End it?” Renee pushed back and stared into Rebecca’s face. “What do you mean?”

“I mean he’s strong enough and smart enough to win. And once he does, he will bring it crashing down.”

“How?”

“He already has what he needs to do it. Stella. He loves her.” Rebecca cupped Renee’s cheek. “My love for you broke me. His love for her will save him. I know it. He’s stronger. You’ll see.”

Renee shook her head. “But what do you mean by—”

Rebecca’s kind face twisted in disgust, and she slapped Renee hard across the face. “Goddamn bitch. Who let you in here? Why are you in my room?”

“Rebecca, please.”

She slapped Renee again, and I was about to walk in and restrain her, but Renee rose.

Rebecca wielded her harsh words like a bludgeon. “You’re a curse. I wish I’d never laid eyes on you. I wish I’d left you where I found you so you could die in the gutter where you belong. You shouldn’t be here.”

Renee calmly walked to the repaired cupboard, unlocked it, and pulled out a syringe.

Spit flew from Rebecca’s lips. “Answer me! Where are my boys? Where’s Cora? What have you done to Cora? It’s all your fault. All of it. You did this.”

Renee returned to the bed, and before long, the screaming stopped as Rebecca drifted off to sleep.

Renee pulled the blanket to Rebecca’s chin and smoothed the hair from her face. She kissed her on the forehead and curled up in the bed next to her, holding her hand. “I hope you’re right about Sin and Stella, my love. For all our sakes, I hope you’re right.”

CHAPTER NINETEEN

STELLA

SIN LEFT THAT MORNING. I pressed my fingertips to the window pane as his sports car retreated down the long drive.

“He thinks we fucked.” Lucius walked up behind me. “Wouldn’t listen to a word I said, but that’s nothing unusual.”

“He didn’t even ask. Just assumed.” I bounced my forehead on the glass. “And he’s been fucking Sophia this whole time so he has no right—” I bit my cheek to stop the waterfall of bitter words.

Lucius squeezed my shoulders and turned me around to face him. “I know, but I also know that when he gets like this, there’s no talking to him, no explaining, no nothing.”

“I’ve gathered.” I let him pull me into a hug. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

He smoothed his palms up and down my back. “I figure if he already thinks we fucked then we may as well do it, right?”

“Lucius—”

“Or look at it as getting back at him.” He gripped my ass and pulled me up his body until I was eye level with him. “Don’t you want to?”

Yes. I wanted to punish Sin for assuming the worst, for being with Sophia while expecting me to stay behind, pining for his return. Trust me. His note asked for something he wouldn’t give me—trust.

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