Page 80 of Corrupt Kingdom

Why the woman looked familiar.

Much younger, but still recognizable.

It’s her.

Pulling out his list of names, I see Mariana. Wasn’t that what Cyrus referred to her as?

My heart starts to hammer in my chest.

Does he employ his ex? Or is it worse than that? I can feel the muscles in my stomach contract as bile threatens to rise. A new thought pops into my head; a dark and disturbing thought that chills me to the bone.

Is she his captive too?

Was everything a lie?

No.

It couldn’t have been.

The blood thumping through my veins makes me feel dizzy and weak. I fear I might pass out.

Last night, we broke down walls, and he told me his truth. There has to be more.

“It’s not what you think,” she says, and I look up at her, my mouth hanging open when she does.

“You-you speak English,” I stutter. “But . . . why?” Then it hits me in the chest. “Cyrus.” It all makes sense, yet makes no sense at all. Why wouldn’t he want me to speak with her? Was he trying to isolate me? Did he not want me to know I am one of many?

She steps forward and shakes her head. “It’s not what you think.”

“Oh, no. Because to me, it sure does look like it.” I gesture to the pictures. “To me, it looks like Cyrus is full of shit, and he took me because he likes to take women. Not protect them.” The pain that radiates through my body is not like anything I have ever felt before. “Was it all lie?” I feel like I’m drowning. As if cold water is slowly filling my lungs. “Did my father—”

“Stop,” her voice cuts in. “Mr. Reed is a good man. He saved you. Just like he saved me.” She rolls up the sleeves over her arms. “He saved you from my fate.”

The scars on her arms scream at me that there is a truth so much bigger than even I can fathom.

“Those women, he saved all of them in some way or another. Some from poverty. Some from being so hungry that they were going to sell themselves on the street. Others from drugs. And for me, he saved me from a fate worse than death.”

“Boris?” I whisper.

“No. This was my husband’s doing. He was an abusive man who worked for Cyrus. Cyrus didn’t know at first that he beat me, cut me, burned me. But once he did . . . Cyrus lost someone close to him, and he vowed to help women who couldn’t help themselves.”

My eyes widen as her words hit me in the gut.

Each woman on this list represented something that reminded him of his sister. He saved them because he couldn’t save her.

Like me.

He never was lying.

He really was protecting me.

“Cyrus Reed is a good man,” she says again as she moves to leave the closet.

He helps women.

Now that I’m alone again, my mind is going a million miles a minute.

Standing, I place all the pictures and the list back in the box and leave the room.

I need to go for a walk and think about all I learned today. Stopping in my room, or at least what used to be my room, I grab a pair of leggings and slip them on, then socks and shoes.

Now that it’s April, the weather should be nice enough to not need to have a coat, especially with Cyrus’s long sleeve button-down on.

Fresh air will do me good.

On my way out of the house, I pass by Cyrus’s office, but it’s empty. Mariana must have heard me come down because she walks up behind me.

“He’s not here.” Her voice startles me. There is a long, brittle silence that stretches between us as I think of a response. She lied, which means Cyrus probably lied. What else could he be lying about?

My mouth opens and shuts, like a guppy trying to eat food.

All I muster out is an, “Oh?”

“Yeah, when you were sleeping, he headed back to the house. That’s when I was dropped off.”

A part of me wants to leave the room without asking the question that burns on my tongue because ignorance is bliss after all. But that’s not the girl I am, so I incline my head, narrowing my eyes at her.

“Why didn’t you tell me you spoke English?” I ask.

“Cyrus was worried I would tell you the truth about your father.”

“Wasn’t that my right?”

“It is, but—” She stops herself, swallowing and then meeting my gaze. “He thought he was doing right by you.”

I nod, and then walk past her. “I’m going for a walk.”

Cerberus chooses that moment to walk up to me. Well trained. “Kom,” I say to him, and he follows me outside.

I don’t mind him coming, though. He makes me feel safe and cared for.

I had started to feel that way about Cyrus, but all the lies, or omissions of truth, still sit heavy in my heart.

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