“I am being honest. Knox is trying to frame me. He’s the leader of the Blackcoats—him and Celia. All this time, they’ve been working together to destroy you.”

A strange sound emanated from deep within Daxton, and it took me several confused seconds before I realized what I was hearing. He was laughing. “Wrong again, my dear. You’re on quite the roll tonight, aren’t you? Knox has been working for me—reporting back on Blackcoat activity, telling me their next moves. How do you think we’ve been ahead of them the whole time?”

“I—” I faltered. Knox didn’t meet my eye, and his grip on Benjy’s shoulder tightened.

No. Not possible. After all this time and everything he’d done to help me—not possible.

“He’s lying,” I said, the words tumbling out of me in a rush as I tried to convince Daxton as well as myself. “He might be feeding you tidbits to make it look like he’s on your side, but he’s really telling the Blackcoats everything he knows about you and—”

“Everything I tell him to say,” said Daxton. “Why do you think the Blackcoats haven’t gotten any closer to their goal? Why do you think tonight’s raid failed? Why do you think they’re cut off at every turn before they can find their footing? No one, not even my sister, is that incompetent.”

I was going to throw up right there on Daxton’s leather shoes. “Knox?” I said, my voice shaking. “Is he telling the truth?”

“He seems to be the only one in the room who is,” said Knox coolly.

“It’s not here,” said the guard. He’d ripped apart my duffel bag, and it hung in pieces from the handles. In the room over, I could hear the sounds of furniture breaking and glass shattering.

Daxton’s fingers dug into my neck until the edges of my vision began to darken. “You have two choices,” he said with remarkable calm. “You can tell me where you hid it, or I can kill you right here and now.”

I forced myself to breathe steadily. In and out, in and out, slowly and deeply. “All right—okay,” I said. “Just—don’t hurt me, okay? The file...”

Daxton’s grip tightened. “Yes?”

I locked eyes with Benjy, my gaze unwavering. He knew how much I loved him. He knew I would do anything to save his life. But I couldn’t do this to save mine, not when it meant giving Knox and Daxton exactly what they wanted.

I’m sorry, I mouthed to him, before I said out loud, “The file’s exactly where it should be. Stuck so far up your ass that it’ll never see the light of day again.”

An enraged roar ripped through the room, and a burst of white-hot pain shot through me as Daxton forced me to the ground by my neck, pressing my cheek against the wooden floor.

“Last chance, little girl,” he whispered. “Five...four...three...two...”

“Sir!” A guard burst into the room, and Daxton’s grip relaxed enough for me to breathe. “It isn’t in her suite.”

“You’re sure?” said Daxton. “You looked through everything?”

“Yes, sir. If it’s in there, it’s in a place no one will ever find it.”

“Good.” I could hear the smile in Daxton’s voice, and he released me. As I began to stand, however, he stomped down on my back, digging his shoe into the middle of my shoulders. I bit back a cry. “Had you cooperated, we might have been able to avoid this sideshow of unpleasantries,” he said. “It does make for a bad taste in my mouth. But as it stands, you have left me with no choice.”

Even with half my face pressed against the floor, I spotted Daxton stroking his pistol lovingly. My eyes widened, but I kept my mouth shut. I refused to give him the satisfaction of making me beg.

“You have been nothing but a thorn in my side, dear niece, and the time has come to weed the garden,” he said smoothly. “I can’t say I’ll miss you.”

“Daxton.” Knox’s voice cut through the room, sharp and as much a warning as it was a reminder. The man who was supposed to be my uncle sighed dramatically.

“Oh, very well.” He gestured toward Knox with the gun. “Only because I like you, mind. Let’s get it over with.”

Knox grimaced, and my mind raced. What were they talking about, getting it over—

Bang.

A shot rang out, and my entire body turned cold with dread. An excruciatingly slow second passed, but pain didn’t blossom like I thought it would. Instead, the only agony I felt came from the pressure of Daxton’s shoe and the throbbing in my neck where he’d grabbed me.

But I wasn’t their only prisoner. Across the room, Benjy went rigid, and his eyes grew wide. He seemed to fall in slow motion, his knees hitting the floor first, making a resounding crack against the hard wood. One moment our eyes were locked, and I saw the fear and pain and trepidation on his face—and the next, he slumped lifelessly to the ground.

My world went silent. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t blink. I couldn’t move. As had happened when I’d killed Augusta, I was vaguely aware someone was screaming, and soon enough I realized it was me. My mind detached from my body, separating itself so completely that I felt as if I were looking down on myself, fighting underneath Daxton’s foot as he uncapped a syringe. Ten feet away, Knox knelt beside Benjy’s body and touched his throat as if he were feeling for a pulse. But even as he did so, I couldn’t look away from Benjy’s stare—his cold, empty stare void of any life or love or warmth, and I didn’t have to see Knox’s satisfied nod to know.

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