Maybe I’m dreaming and this is all a nightmare.

“That’s relieving to hear,” Alexei says after a moment. “Because my sources tell me you allowed her to move across the country to attend university in California. Unchaperoned. Left to her own devices. Her young mind vulnerable to the corruption of the liberal agenda.”

There’s this sad, almost desperate quality to my father’s voice as he rushes to explain. “It isn’t safe here. With the Italian bastards growing bolder and bolder with Lucifer’s backing, I let her go. I couldn’t risk losing her…”

“Still, who knows what kind of thoughts have already tainted her pretty little head? I require complete and utter obedience. Anything less is simply… unacceptable.”

“You will have it,” my father declares with entirely too much confidence.

He’s either lying through his teeth or he truly believes it. And if he truly believes it, I don’t know what parallel universe he’s living in. I wasn’t raised to be a dutiful, submissive wife. I was raised like any other normal American child. Brought up to believe I can be anyone or anything I put my mind to if I work hard enough. My mother saw to that, God rest her soul.

“If she gives me any trouble, any trouble at all… You understand, I’ll have to take certain unpleasant measures to ensure her complete and utter obedience and cooperation?”

“She will not give you any trouble. She wants vengeance for her mother as much as I do.”

So that’s what this is about? That’s why my father is willing to trade me off like I’m chattel? Vengeance?

I hear my father huff in a deep, ragged breath before he adds defeatedly, “And she knows it’s only a matter of time before those damned Italians get me and her too…”

The blood chills in my veins. I’ve known my father long enough to know he truly believes what he just said.

Yet he’s never let on that I was in any danger. He let me believe he was indulging me when he approved my move to California.

“Ah… well…” Alexei says like he’s bored and could care less. “Once I walk out of this room, that will no longer be a worry, yes? She, and by extension, you, will be under my protection.”

“Yes… yes, yes,” my father mumbles distractedly in agreement.

“Good. Now, where is this bride-to-be of mine? I’d like to meet her in the flesh before I depart.”

And that’s my cue to leave. I need to find some way to get out of this house. Some way to escape before my father can force me to do this. Force me to sell myself to save us both.

I start to slowly, quietly back away from the door before my father calls out for me, freezing me in place. “Meghan?”

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

He’s not the stupid one, I am. He left that door open because he wanted me to hear. He wants me to know.

“Meghan?” he calls out again while I hesitate, unsure what the fuck I should do. “Please come here.”

Run… I should run. But where to?

Every door is guarded. Every car locked. I have no money, no ID, no one I’m willing to risk putting in danger to call.

I’m trapped like a fucking rat. Maybe earlier I could have gotten away… but not now.

“Meghan,” my father says, growing impatient.

There’s no doubt in my mind that he knows I’m standing right here. I’m so fucking predictable, he anticipated it.

Dammit. I’m my own worst enemy.

My mind races, trying to think up a way to get out of this.

I could throw a fit. I could barge in there and declare that there’s no way, no fucking way, I’m marrying that Russian.

But what good will that do me? My father? Anyone?

It certainly won’t do me any favors. They’ll probably beat me or worse to get me to go along with their plan.

The way I see it, I only have two choices. I can balk, resist, and fight—and suffer the consequences, whatever they may be.

Or I can go along with this entire sham for the time being.

“Meghan,” my father says more firmly, and I hear the leather of his chair creaking.

No doubt he’s getting up to come get me.

Mind racing, I come up with the perfect plan.

I can let them believe I’m docile, compliant.

Even obedient.

Gag.

I can be the perfect little daughter, the perfect little fiancé.

And as soon as they’re not looking, as soon as their heads are turned the other way…

I’ll run and never fucking look back.

1

Gabriel

Staring through the windshield of Simon’s SUV, I can’t help but think that things couldn’t be looking up for me any more than they are right now. I was in prison for ten years, only to get kicked out like a fucking roach in the kitchen…

All so I can cause some bedlam and mayhem.

Fuck, maybe my life isn’t over just yet.

The hum of the wheels on the asphalt feels almost like a dream, and it’s cold as fuck outside when I open the window a bit to let in some fresh air in, but damn does it feel good on my face.

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