Rebecca leaned back, her eyes beginning to dim. “So many to choose from. So many. I’m afraid I’ll be no help. But Cal is the worst of them all. He will make it hurt. He will try to turn you into something you’re not.” She held her hand out to me.

I took it, the skin thin, and the bones frail.

“Don’t let it happen to him. Please. Don’t let him turn into this.” She looked down at her withered body beneath the covers. “I couldn’t bear it if I’d doomed him to live this way. He’s a good boy. They’re all good boys. Please help them.”

“I’ll try. I promise. I don’t want anyone else to suffer ever again in the Acquisition. We have plans. We—”

She snatched her hand away. “What are you doing in here?”

Sin’s face fell, and Lucius stood.

“You two just let anyone in my room?” Her voice cut through the air, shrill and poisonous. “Servants and riffraff from the street?”

“Mother, please.”

“Get out!” She turned her face away, staring out the window as the rain hammered against the glass.

Sin sighed and rose. We trudged back down the stairs, silence enveloping us like a too-warm blanket.

“After that exciting interlude, I’m calling it a night.” Lucius gave us a two-finger salute and strode toward his side of the house.

I stroked Sin’s cheek, but his gaze was far away, likely in the past. “Hey. It’s going to be okay.”

He blinked and kissed my palm. “I know. As long as I have you, it will be.” Striking off toward his room, he pulled me behind him.

When we got there, he shut the door and locked it. Pushing me down onto the bed, he went for my neck, his teeth sliding over my pulse.

I stared up at the canvas I’d done of the first trial, the dark vines swallowing me whole. “You never told me what you did with the North Star. My painting.”

“I know what the North Star is, and I sold it. Why do you insist on wearing so many clothes?” He yanked my top over my head.

I laughed as he kissed my chest. “I’m wearing a t-shirt and jeans.”

“That’s the problem. Nothing is preferable.”

“You want me to walk around the house naked for Teddy and Lucius to see?”

He bit my breast, and I yelped. “No. But in my room, or your room, or any room with just the two of us, is nude really too much to ask?” His tongue grazed my nipple.

“Stop trying to distract me. What about the North Star? Why did you sell it?”

He sucked my nipple into his mouth and swirled his tongue around the hard tip. I raked my fingers across his scalp as he kneaded my other breast.

He switched to the other nipple, licking and sucking until I was panting.

Kissing to my lips, he continued, “I sold it to a very high end collector. It’s on prominent display in his Manhattan home. I hated to part with it, but I had to sell it to launch your career. Last I checked…” He nipped at my lower lip. “You were still the talk of the art scene, your mystery only enhancing your reputation.”

“You did that for me?” I stroked my fingers through his hair, wondering at the softness that lived at the very heart of him.

He kissed me, hard and possessive, before gazing down at me with an intensity that belonged only to him. “I would do anything for you.”

I laced my fingers behind his neck. “Do you think we can do it?” Doubt flittered around my mind, worry as well. “All of it, like we planned?”

“Of course. Lucius has already moved our money.” He got to his knees and yanked my pants down before tossing them to the floor. He stripped his shirt and pants off, his muscles rippling. “We’ve stockpiled everything we need for the coronation ceremony. Teddy will be safely stashed at our compound in Brazil. All we have to do—”

“Is win the final trial.” I finished for him, the words far easier than the deed.

“And we will.” He sank back on top of me, his weight keeping me grounded.

“What if we don’t? What if—”

“Shh.” He stroked my hair. “Everything will fall into place. If anyone so much as talks to Dmitri, or Teddy, or Alex, or anyone you love, we’ll know.”

“Knowing won’t stop me from having to hurt them.” The whispered truth roared in my ears.

“I could win it. I could give myself to Cal—”

“No.” He gritted his teeth. “We’ll win without it. I won’t give you away. Not to anyone, but especially not to him. There’s no point discussing it.”

“I’d do it. To save Teddy, I would.”

“I know you would. I can’t let you. I couldn’t stand it. He would do horrible things, and I would know. Every night, I would know you were being tormented because I wasn’t strong enough to save you.”

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