She nods her understanding. “I’m sorry.”

Without another word, he holds his hand out to her, palm up. She extracts the key and hands it to him.

“I’ll take her back down,” he says, his eyes snapping to mine.

Mia shuffles, dismissed but uncertain. Finally, she comes to a decision and bolts, leaving me there alone with him.

I’m fine with that. Relieved, really. I don’t even mind when he claims my arm, dragging me down the steps with far more force than is necessary.

When we get back to the cell, he looks at the new additions and scoffs bitterly. “They’re trying to make you comfortable.”

“They understand I’m not the enemy,” I say carefully.

“You come here to kill me for the rival family—how does that not make you the enemy?” he snaps.

My eyes search his face, noting unfamiliar dark smudges under his eyes. “Are you sleeping?”

He doesn’t answer me. If anything, voicing even a hint of concern seems to ignite fresh fury behind the depths of his brown eyes.

“Stop acting like you give a fuck, Meg. Stop lying. Just stop.”

“No,” I shoot back. “I’m not lying. I do care about you. I won’t pretend not to so you can justify this,” I say, gesturing around my cell.

“Justify this?” he asks, his eyebrows rising. “Sweetheart, I don’t need to justify anything.” He steps inside the cage with me, and despite myself, I take a step back. The movement makes him smile. “There’s no point running from me, Meg. Where are you gonna go?”

He has me back up against the cement wall now, and still he advances. Roughly grabbing my chin, he forces me to look at him when I try to look down.

“You think Salvatore will come save you?” he asks lowly. “You think if you just buy yourself enough time, he’ll come riding to your rescue?”

“I’ve already told you,” I say, pausing, furious at the wobble in my voice. Trying again, I open my mouth, but he stops me with a shake of his head. I stop, but I add, “I’m not lying to you, Mateo.”

“Who sent you that first night?”

“Antonio Castellanos,” I reply, without hesitation.

His eyebrows jerk upward, like he didn’t expect me to say that. Confusion registers for a split second, but it’s gone just as quickly, replaced by his cool anger.

I go on. “Rodney owed him money. When he died, Castellanos came to my house, threatened my daughter, told me Rodney’s debt was mine now. Told me he didn’t want money, he wanted a favor. He set all that up for me to meet you. I was supposed to do what I had to do—get a drink, go home with you—to find an opportunity to slip that shit in your drink. I never wanted to, and when we were having such a good time…” I trail off, still holding his gaze. “But then, even though it obviously wasn’t your intention, you solved that problem for me. You brought me and Lily under your protection. He wasn’t going to come after me in your house—he would never have needed me to begin with if he’d do that. And since then I have never misled you. None of it was fake. I wasn’t playing you. I wanted to tell you, just so there were no lies between us, but then you told me about Beth. You gave me this necklace, this warning, and I just couldn’t. I thought since you were planning to kill Antonio anyway, the problem would resolve itself and you’d never have to know.”

“Did you tell him that?”

I frown, confused. “Tell who what?”

“Did you tell Salvatore I planned to kill his father?”

I can only gape, searching his face for any sign of softening. There’s none. My truth landed on deaf ears.

“Didn’t you just hear me?” I whisper.

“I did,” he says easily. “I’ve also read the text messages between you and Salvatore Castellanos. Women lie; those text messages don’t. I’ll repeat myself one more time: did you tell him—?”

“No! Of course I didn’t. Mateo, I didn’t.” I’m shaking my head, reeling from my own powerlessness, but terrified he’ll do something impulsive with the wrong information he has. This is bigger than us, if he’s thinking like that. Bigger than me. There’s a whole operation, two families stretched out over this city, and every single one us would be impacted by a wrong action.

Reaching a hand toward him, I touch his face, a tender shadow of his harsh grip on mine. His grip loosens at the brush of my fingers against his jawline, but his expression doesn’t change.

“I don’t think you’re paranoid,” I begin, pausing as I try to consider my next words. “I understand that you have to look over your shoulder, that trust is maybe the most costly thing you can give a person. I get that. But I need you to believe me when I tell you, I told that man nothing about you. Nothing. I didn’t tip him off, I didn’t warn him, I would never do that to you. I would never betray your trust that way. Never.”

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