Page 73 of Corrupt Kingdom

No. I’m not ready yet.

Instead, I enjoy the time we have left. Like now, in his arms.

I think this is my new favorite place to be.

It’s crazy how only a few weeks ago I would never have said that. Hell, a month ago, I would have kicked him and ran . . . okay, swam for my life.

Life changes so fast, but the more I get to know Cyrus, the more I truly see his real self.

To some, he might be the bad guy, but he’s no monster to me.

Rather, he’s the guy I have come to trust.

Right now, his arm is wrapped around me as we sit together in the den, staring at a fire Cyrus started. It’s something we have been doing every day together, that and chess. It’s nice to have, even though it’s not that cold, but the fire gives an intimate feel I love.

The nice thing about being with him is we don’t have to talk. Neither one of us needs that to fill the silence.

Instead, he strokes my arm with his hand, and I close my eyes. His movements are slow and leisurely, as though he has all the time in the world.

“That feels good.”

“Mmm,” he responds.

I open my eyes and tilt my head up from where I am in his arms. I can’t see his features, but I can tell he is looking toward the fireplace in the center of the room.

For a moment, I watch also, mesmerized by the red sparks bursting up from the wood. Time stands still at that moment as the fire flickers.

A sound has me looking in the other direction. When I see who is watching me, an involuntary shiver runs up my spine.

Z.

His right-hand man.

But it’s not his presence that has me feeling like this; it’s the look in his eyes. The darkness that lives behind them.

“Are you cold?” Cyrus says from beside me, wrapping his arms tighter around me. A part of me wants to close my eyes and not let this man come into the bubble Cyrus and I have created, but I can’t. Something tells me Z wouldn’t let me.

I shake my head before saying, “No.”

At my one-word answer, Cyrus removes his arm and looks over his shoulder.

“Z. Why are you here?” The bellow of his voice reverberates through my body.

“I came to check on you,” Z responds as I pull away from Cyrus’s grip and move to stand.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Cyrus places a kiss on my shoulder, halting my retreat.

“I’ll give you guys a minute.” I force myself to smile over my shoulder at Cyrus, who seems appeased by this.

“Very well,” he answers.

I stand, straightening my shirt, and start to walk out of the room.

As I pass Z, I note the look of disdain in his eyes. Why the animosity? I’m not sure, but I don’t care to find out.

Whatever issue he has with me, he can take up with his boss.

Instead, I head in the direction of the greenhouse.

With Cyrus preoccupied, it’s the perfect time to water the plants.

Doing that always calms me and makes me feel better, and after the way Z looked at me, it’s exactly what I need.

38

Cyrus

I push up to stand and walk over to Z. My face is unreadable as per usual. Stone cold. Calculated. Angry. With Ivy, my walls come down, but now that I am standing in front of one of my men, I need to right that shit.

The surest way to lose everything is for someone to underestimate me and try to take what’s mine.

Z wouldn’t do that. He’s been with me way too long. He knows the consequences for crossing me, but one can never be complacent. Not even with your most loyal and trusted.

“What are you doing here?” My voice leaves no question of how I feel about the interruption. I’m not happy, and he needs to give me a damn good reason.

“I came to make sure you were okay,” he responds.

Not a good answer. I narrow my eyes at him before responding, “Now that you have, you can leave.”

He’s been dismissed, but surprisingly, he doesn’t go.

Instead, Z looks toward the fireplace. I follow his line of vision. I watch as the wood cracks and explodes under the mantel, burning fast. It reminds me a little about Ivy and me. It’s not just the fire, though; Z coming here also reminds me how this is temporary.

Soon, she’ll ask me the question that will change everything.

Then like a log that burns into the night, we too shall burn away and be left with only ash.

I wish it didn’t have to be this way.

Truly, I don’t.

But it will.

I took her. No matter what happens, nothing will change that.

Not how I feel. Not how I act.

Time is limited. We are mere grains of sand running through an hourglass, and soon, it will run out.

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