Evelyn’s little shoulders drop and tears shine in her eyes. “Yes, Mommy.”

“Next time,” Lily warns. “It will be thirty.”

Shoulders slumped, faces dejected, both girls shoot me a disappointed look as they begin to leave the kitchen, and I don’t know what the hell comes over me.

Maybe it’s because they were so excited over the prospect of me being a princess, or maybe it’s just their sad, adorable little faces, but I feel bad about the whole thing.

“If you’re good, I’ll have tea with you later,” I tell them, the words just slipping out of me.

Lily shoots me a look and I quickly realize I probably should have asked her permission first. But then her lips curve into a smile as both girls light up again and promise they’ll behave.

Once the girls are gone, in a flurry of giggles and excitement, I lean against the counter, feeling tired and drained.

My day is catching up to me.

“That was nice of you,” Lily says, her smile still in place.

“I’m sorry, I probably should have asked your permission first…”

She waves me off, as if it’s no big deal.

“More coffee?” she asks.

I shake my head.

Nodding, her gaze drags down me, taking in my ruined wedding dress. “We should probably get you changed before someone else mistakes you for a princess.”

8

Meghan

It’s dark by the time we leave the compound. The sky is overcast, the moon smothered beneath a blanket of clouds.

I don’t know exactly what time it is, but it must be late, and I’m beyond exhausted. The dinner I was forced to attend with my new ‘family’ felt like it dragged on forever, and I have no doubt hours and hours have passed.

In the comfort of the car, my eyes struggle to stay open as we drive to only God knows where. It doesn’t help that the seat I’m sinking into is extremely soft, the leather like butter, or that Gabriel has the heater cranked up to full blast with all the vents pointed at me.

“Warming up?” he asks, his deep, rumbling voice jolting me awake.

Sitting up a little straighter, I mumble, “Yeah.”

I wasn’t sleeping, teacher, I swear.

Reaching up to rub the sand out of my eyes, I glance over at him, catching him looking down at my now bare legs.

“Good.”

That’s like the hundredth time I’ve caught him looking at my legs tonight.

Sensing my attention, he jerks his gaze away, focusing on the road.

The air in the car suddenly grows thick and heavy with uncomfortable tension.

I watch his fingers flex and relax against the steering wheel, flex and relax.

And for the umpteenth time, I curse myself for not accepting Lily’s offer of pantyhose. After swallowing my pride and accepting a dress from her—a very nice, very flattering designer black sheath dress—I couldn’t bring myself to further impose on her.

Stupid pride. I totally should have imposed on her. If I did, I wouldn’t have had to endure Gabriel’s little touches all night.

The man can’t seem to stop touching me. Little touches that could be confused for being innocent.

But I know they’re not innocent, dammit.

Throughout dinner, he found every reason and excuse to brush his skin against mine. He was constantly reaching across me for one thing or another, brushing his hand against my arm. And when he wasn’t doing that, beneath the table he was rubbing his thigh against my thigh.

I couldn’t escape his touch or his heat, and it was beyond distracting and frustrating. At a time when I should have been focused on learning everything I could about the people around me, all I could focus on, all I could pay attention to was what the man beside me was doing.

Eyes still on Gabriel’s hands, I shift closer to my door to put a little more space between us.

His fingers squeeze around the steering wheel and his body visibly tenses.

I don’t know what’s up with him, but I don’t like it one bit. The way he’s acting is alarming, and more than a little bit disturbing.

Out of nowhere, the worst realization ever dawns on me. My tired brain putting the pieces together.

He was locked up in prison for ten years…

When was the last time he spent any significant time with a woman?

Oh god…

And now he’s married to me.

I shift closer to my door and Gabriel glances over.

With a look of concern, eyes narrowing and forehead creasing, he asks, “Everything okay?”

I nod my head and lean against the door. “I’m just a little sleepy. Where are we going?”

He looks back to the road.

Rolling the tension out of his shoulders, he seems to relax. “To a safe house. You can sleep if you like.”

Yeah, not likely, buddy.

“I don’t want to sleep.”

I can’t sleep. I need to remain awake and alert so I can pay attention to where the hell he’s taking me.

Peering out the window, I try to make sense of the dark landscape passing us by. It’s nearly impossible though, and the fact that I’m completely unfamiliar with this city is seriously not helping.

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