Mateo sighs, capturing my hand and placing it over his heart. I want to move it, but to be honest, right now I need evidence that it beats, so I leave it there. “Mia, I’m not a character from one of your storybooks. I’m not drawn from lines; I’m not filled with ink and printed on a page. I’m a person. I’m flesh and blood. I feel things, too. I’m not sensitive like you, but I can still feel. And I’m from the same violent blood as Vince—I just exercise more self-control. I take the time to think things through. My father was wild and soulless. Last night would’ve been nothing for him. He drove women to kill themselves to escape him. I’ll push your limits, Mia, but I’ll never push you that far.”

“Are you sure?” I ask quietly.

Something fierce crosses his face then and his hand comes up to cup my face protectively. “Yes.”

“Would it hurt you if I died?”

I’m not suicidal, but the worry that flits across his face when I ask that reassures me. “Of course it would. Don’t say things like that, Mia.”

“Because you know it would be your fault?” I question.

That time he doesn’t answer, he just studies me, frowning. He’s trying to get a new read on me. His goddamn logic is in the driver’s seat again. He’s reclaimed the hold on his mind that he clearly lost last night. He’s doubting now—me or himself, I’m not sure. I don’t care.

“That’s how I feel now,” I tell him, since he isn’t answering. “Because you killing Vince? That’s my fault. I can never get out from under that. He tried to keep me safe from you, and he paid with his life.”

He’s dark and unreadable as he says simply, “Vince knew the cost before he made the purchase.”

I shake my head, pulling my hand from his grasp, swatting his hand from my face. “You can’t always get your way, Mateo. You have to lose sometimes.”

“Even my wins come with losses, Mia,” he says, simply. “That’s the problem when you play with people. You can’t always prepare for every eventuality.”

I don’t want to look at him anymore so I roll back over. “You shouldn’t play with people. We’re not here for your amusement. We’re not toys.”

He doesn’t respond to this, and I can’t see his face, so I can’t even read whether or not he agrees. I guess he doesn’t, because his actions say plenty.

Instead of leaving me alone tonight, he wraps his arms around me, pulling me back against him. I don’t want it, but I know it doesn’t matter. My will means nothing to him. He’s shown that many times over, I just haven’t been paying attention.

I hate that his arms locked around me still sort of make me feel safe. I hate that right on the heels of every truth he demonstrates, my foolish heart still longs to believe his lies.

His lips travel slowly along my neck, dropping tender kisses. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to block him out.

“There’s nothing in our way now,” he tells me. “I know it’s not the way you wanted it, but the course is clear.”

“No, it’s not,” I tell him, moving my head to try to get him to stop kissing me. “You’re in the way, Mateo. You are.”

He stops kissing me, but his hold on me tightens. “I know I’m hard to love, Mia. Just don’t stop trying.”

He doesn’t understand.

It’s not hard to love him—it’s hard to love him and still love yourself.

It’s hard not to love him. It’s hard to look at him and see what’s really there. Vince’s body isn’t even cold, and Mateo’s goddamn lips across my skin already make my body tingle again.

I thought once I’d have to sell my soul to be with him, but even then, even mere days ago, I didn’t understand what that meant. I didn’t understand how it would feel. I thought loving him would hurt less.

Hating him hurts just as much.

Everything with Mateo hurts. Everything.

Chapter Sixteen

Meg

I’m starting to forget what it’s like to sleep next to Mateo.

He still comes in each night for the girls, but he leaves me as soon as they’re in bed. He goes to Mia. Every. Single. Night.

And that scares me. Not from a territorial place, but because no one has actually seen Mia since Vince died, and the mood of the house has gone completely dark. The same gloomy cloud that seemed to hang over the house when I was locked away in the dungeon hangs again, and it’s more pronounced when you’re above stairs. Everyone seems to understand Mateo’s in one of his dark places, and they accept it, they ride it out, because they’ve seen it before, and they know they’ll see it again.

I didn’t, though. I didn’t know.

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