It’s so strange being here without Mateo. Everything feels different. Wrong. Like something’s missing. Not just a person, but a presence. A mood. I don’t even like the study without him in it.

I climb off Vince’s lap. “If we have to stay, I’m going to help Elise with dinner.”

I’m a little unsure about leaving Adrian and Vince alone in a room with cameras with Vince in the mood he’s in, but I figure the vindictiveness will drain out of him when I’m not present to bring it out in him. Vince and Adrian used to be friends, but since Adrian killed Joey, that has very much not been the case.

God, family dinner is stressful without Mateo here to keep us all in line. The inmates are running the asylum tonight.

When I get to the kitchen, Elise looks up at me. I flash her a brief smile, but she doesn’t return it, she just goes back to food prep.

“Sorry I’m a little late,” I tell her, glancing around, wondering where I should start. “Vince’s fault. I guess it’s just us tonight.”

“Yeah,” she murmurs, not looking at me. “Meg wasn’t feeling well, apparently.”

“I hope everything’s okay,” I remark.

“She seemed to be feeling fine when I saw her.”

My gaze jumps to her and I move closer, wanting information. “You saw Meg?”

Nodding succinctly, she doesn’t offer anything else.

“Well… what happened? Mateo never cancels dinner.”

Elise shakes her head. “Nope. Not getting involved. Never does any good when I do, anyway. You’re both crazy bitches.”

My jaw drops open as Elise drops this assessment, but without another word she goes back to her task, like I’m not even here.

Dinner is weird tonight. Really weird. I unthinkingly put dried cranberries on Vince’s salad. Elise smirks at this for some reason, watching as I pick them all off.

My heart nearly stops as I lead Elise out into the dining room. She stops just short of running into me as I come to an abrupt halt in the doorway, staring at Mateo’s seat, no longer empty. My heart starts again, picking up the pace to make up for it, but only for a second.

Because I realize I do recognize those broad shoulders, but they’re not the right ones.

Vince is sitting in Mateo’s chair.

It makes my stomach hurt. It makes me angry.

He doesn’t belong there and Mateo wouldn’t like it.

Clutching the plate a little more angrily, I walk over with our salads and glare at him.

“That’s not your place.”

Vince smirks at me. He doesn’t fill the chair right—which I guess is absurd, because it’s only an ordinary dining room chair, but it’s Mateo’s and it feels excessively wrong for Vince to sit there. Especially knowing what I know. It feels like a threat.

“He’s not coming,” Vince tells me, enjoying the anger in my eyes. “It’s just a chair.”

“It’s not your chair.”

He doesn’t vocalize a response to that, but he smiles at me, a slow smile that makes me feel sick. That reminds me of him trying to have Mateo killed. Of my silence. Of the hatred he still feels so strongly for Mateo. I manage it by staying, but I’m only feeding that anger. That hatred. It’s enough for now that I stay, but will it always be? What if it isn’t enough someday? What do I do then?

“Please move,” I say, forcing myself to be a little more docile. “I want you to sit next to me.”

“Liar,” he says, but not with any fire. He’s amused by my attempt to handle him.

That makes me frown. Usually he doesn’t make me try very hard. It’s enough for him that I do; I don’t need to convince him.

“You’ve made your point, Vince,” Adrian says from the other end of the table. “Why don’t you go back to your seat?”

“Why don’t you fuck off, Adrian?” Vince replies.

My heart plummets. I don’t think I’m going to survive this dinner. I was semi-dreading it to begin with, but now Mateo isn’t even here to steep myself in. Now there’s nothing to distract from the unpleasantness.

“Come here, Mia. Give me a kiss.”

Swallowing down a lump in my throat, I lean in to give him a kiss. He takes hold of my hips, pulling me into his lap in Mateo’s chair, and this is so wrong. Not sexy wrong, but wrong wrong. Like, I’m breaking out in a cold sweat here, terrified that Mateo will surprise all of us by coming down here right now. By seeing this. By unleashing his anger on this whole fucking room. Not because Vince is kissing me, but because he’s in his chair, and I’m in his lap, and it doesn’t look like anyone here is being loyal to him.

Vince kisses me, but it’s not a nice kiss. It’s a punishing kiss, hard and lacking any tenderness. All ownership. I’m his consolation prize, and whether he enjoys it or not, he will damn well take me.