I rolled into the fetal position, holding onto myself because there was nothing else. I wanted to scrub every square inch where Cal had touched me with steel wool. Instead, I gathered my wits and got out of bed. Considering the hot weather, I would have dressed light in a tank top and shorts. Given the twists of the trials, I dressed in layers—tank top, light jacket, jeans, and boots.
Once I’d tucked my knife into my boot, I whipped my hair up into a ponytail. My stark refection in the mirror barely resembled me. What little curves I possessed had turned to muscle, my eyes had grown colder, and my cheeks were almost gaunt. But it was the woman inside who’d changed most of all, to the point where I felt I was looking at a stranger. Would I ever get myself back?
“Stella.” Sin stood in the hall, his medium gray suit hitting in all the right places. He didn’t even throw me a glance. “Let’s go.”
I followed him down the stairs and into the breakfast room. Cal held sway over the table, ordering Laura around and discussing the sugar business with Teddy. Sophia met Sin’s eyes as we entered and gave him a chilly smile.
I sat, trying to keep calm despite my growing sense of dread. Laura poured me an orange juice and set down a plate of my favorite breakfast—bacon, two eggs over-easy, and fresh fruit. My hand shook so badly I almost knocked my glass over.
Cal smiled. “Calm down, Stella. My goodness. Would you like to sit on my lap? See if that makes you feel any better?”
“Oh Daddy, you’re the worst sometimes.” Sophia tittered what I assumed was a laugh.
“I was just trying to be nice. Comfort her a bit.” He watched me over his coffee cup as I sipped my orange juice.
“What’s the plan?” Lucius leaned back in his chair, giving off an air of relaxation.
“We’ll be taking the lovely Ms. Rousseau and Sin to an undisclosed location for a little fun. They may be back by nightfall. They may not.” Cal shrugged. “So, what wedding plans have we settled on?”
My stomach turned. I forced myself to eat. I couldn’t be certain what was in store, but keeping my energy up was key.
Sophia sighed as if shouldering a heavy burden. “We’ll have the wedding at our chateau of course. I haven’t decided on much else.”
“You’ll need to get to work as soon as the Acquisition is over. I want some grandsons sooner rather than later.”
“Daddy, there will be plenty of time for that.” She turned to me. “I hear you’ll belong to your stepbrother after the coronation.” She simpered. “I hope he treats you as you deserve.”
“I hope you choke on your coffee.”
“Stella!” Sin slammed his hand on the table. “Apologize.”
“And there it is. The fire that’s never been snuffed out. Will today be the day?” Cal laughed before turning icy again. “Apologize to my daughter.”
I clutched my napkin in my fist and stared at her, hoping she’d fall over dead as I’d said.
Lucius squeezed my knee, and I knew I had to do it.
“More punishment is needed, to be honest, but we simply don’t have the time. I think it’s best we be on our way. The guests will be waiting for us.” Cal rose, as did the rest at the table.
Lucius waited for me to walk past and fell into step behind me. “You can do this,” he whispered as we entered the foyer. I glanced over my shoulder. His light eyes weren’t fearful, but they weren’t colored with his usual mischief, either.
I gave him a small nod as Sin strode past, Sophia on his arm, and walked onto the front porch.
“Go on, now.” Cal shooed me out to the waiting limos. “Stella, honey, ride with me.”
“Actually, I apologize, Cal.” Sin helped Sophia into the car, her lemon yellow sheath dress perfectly accentuated with narrow floral pumps. “But I did have some business I’d like to discuss. The Cuba conflict brought up some information you’d likely find of interest.”
Cal wrinkled his nose and stared at me, as if trying to decide if hurting me was more important than Cuban business deals.
“Fine, fine. Business before pleasure. Besides, I’m sure Sophia would enjoy Stella’s company just as much as me.” He laughed and slid into the back seat.
Sin shot me a look, his face hard but his eyes warm. Together. We would get through this together.
I walked around and sank into the backseat next to Sophia. She was speaking fluent French into her phone and paused, craning her head to watch as Sin got into her father’s car.
“Merde!” She swiped her phone off as the car started moving. “Why?”
“I guess Sin got tired of your sparkling personality.” I grinned as she balled up her fists. “Daddy’s not here to make me behave, so do me a favor and shut the fuck up for the ride. Sound good? Good.” I leaned back and turned my head, watching the oaks recede and the woods encroach.