I grimace, glancing at the necklace. I’m down a point? Great.
“Anyway, we fell in love the usual way, but I had…reservations about her level of commitment. I explained to her that if she wasn’t ready for it, we should go our separate ways. I told her that once you opt in, there’s no opting back out later if you change your mind—especially with me. I told her that.” Dangling the necklace closer to me, he says, “This belonged to my father’s wives. Belle was his first wife. My mother was Jocelyn. His first wife never loved him, but he fell in love with her. I guess that kind of rejection every day of his life… well, he got mean. My mother was much softer, much more docile, so he used her as a salve. The day I offered this necklace to Beth, I told her the story of Belle. I told her that despite her lack of love, my father expected her loyalty.” His gaze hardens on mine, not mean, just… guarded. “You never have to love us, but loyalty is a given regardless.”
I nod my understanding, though it makes my stomach feel entirely hollow.
“I gave her a choice, something my father never did. I thought it might change the end result.” Dropping the necklace into his other hand, he stares at it. “Some men might offer rings laden with promises. I offered this necklace, to hang around her neck as a reminder—a warning.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I can’t look at him, so I look at the necklace instead.
His hand closes around it, clenching into a fist. “She didn’t heed it.” He watches me until I look at him, and I can see this is where he’s taking a stand. He may have allowed me assurances about Mia, he may have threatened me into this life with water instead of gasoline, but here he offers no apologies. Whatever he’s about to tell me, he isn’t sorry for it, and he wants me to know that.
“Beth chose me, she chose this life, and she fell short. She cheated on me, she betrayed me, and she tried to put me behind bars.”
There’s a finality in the last words of that statement, but I don’t want to infer. “So you killed her?” I ask quietly.
His eyes are like a hawk’s, trained on me, waiting for a reaction. Then he gives me a slow, wordless nod.
It’s what I was expecting, but it still knocks the breath out of me—visibly. My body isn’t concerned with his feelings, and I buckle internally, though I remain on my feet somehow. I can’t hold his gaze, the fear I never feel for him suddenly sweeping over me with this reality check.
Of two things, I’m now certain—one: if Mateo ever finds out the truth about me, I’m dead; and two: he needs to kill Antonio Castellanos, not just for his own safety, but for mine.
Neither of us speaks for a long time. Mateo is watchful, noting every hitch of my breath, every movement of my eyes as I look anywhere but at him. Me, I feel a little like I’ve been dancing in a ballroom on the Titanic, and all of a sudden it just rammed into an iceberg.
Only instead of a physical wall, I’m hurled against the gates guarding Mateo Morelli, keeping him safe from the world, and perhaps, us safe from him.
He extends his hand, eyes never moving from mine. My gaze flits to his hand, to the gold necklace pooled there, then back to his eyes. I can’t read them, and that makes more nervous than I already am.
“You can have it, if you want.”
I feel my eyes widen, though I don’t intend it. The last thing I want to do is look alarmed, but as he offers this necklace—this warning—I feel a little like I might throw up.
I swallow. “You want me to have Beth’s necklace?”
“If you want it.”
After what he just told me, I’m not so sure I do. I can’t really say that, so I offer a tentatively bashful smile. “I’m just your maid.”
“You don’t have to be,” he says simply.
I stare at it longer than he would probably like after such a telling offer. “So, just to review—every woman who’s ever worn this necklace is dead.”
A fleeting desperation bursts out of me. “I don’t want to die.”
“Don’t betray me and you won’t,” he states, like it’s simple.
“I never would,” I whisper, because it’s true.
Neither of us moves, him still offering me the necklace, me still afraid to take it. A gift of jewelry is supposed to be a nice thing, but all I can think about are the phantom blood stains it’ll leave around my neck.
Finally, I nod, turning my back to him and lifting my hair so he can put it on me.