Those words should be reassuring, but the way he says mine sounds more like a threat than an endearment.

“But—” I try again, only to have him stop me.

Pushing his way between my legs, he grabs me by the face. His grip is too frantic, too harsh at first but immediately gentles when I wince.

“I won’t say it again. You’re mine and I’m not fucking giving you up.”

I should accept that. I should even be happy with it, but I can’t. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Especially on the account of me.

I’ve met the wives, Lily, Amy, Beth, and Meredith. And their children. And their husbands. There are too many people to protect. Too many possible causalities. .

Fingers tightening behind my head, Gabriel pulls my face up. “The only people that are going to get hurt are the fucking Russian cocksuckers who think they can threaten us and get away with it.”

I open my mouth to argue with him, to point out that the odds are against us. That the odds are that at least one person is going to get hurt.

But once again the fucker cuts me off, a strange light flickering to life in his eyes. “I’m going to kill them, Meghan. I’m going to fucking kill them all.”

His thumbs stroke tenderly against my cheeks as if he’s saying something emotional, something sweet. “I’m not only going to exterminate them, I’m going to abort them and everyone connected with them from this world. Abort their walking carcasses and use their blood to baptize their taint from this city.”

He lets that sink in, lets it sink into the very marrow of my bones before he finishes with, “And I need you at my side. I need to know you’ll stand with me.”

My gut reaction is to tell him no. To rail at him for asking that of me.

How can he? How dare he?

Not only does he plan on killing Alexei and all the Russians, but he’s also going to kill everyone connected to them. That includes my father and all the Irish.

Everyone I’ve grown up with, whether they’ve personally done me wrong or not, is in jeopardy.

“It’s them or us,” he reminds me as I hesitate.

So we’re back to this again. We’ve come full circle, and this time I know he won’t let me off without answering him.

The way he’s looking at me, his eyes boring into me, I can sense his desperate need for a commitment from me.

And, oh god, I want to give it to him. With all my heart I do. He’s given me so much, he’s given me everything. But the thought of helping him kill my former family makes me sick.

I’m not a murderer, and I don’t know if I have it in me.

But what’s the alternative?

Abandon Gabriel? Spit in the face of everything he’s done and sacrificed for me?

His thumbs continue to stroke against my cheeks, urging me to choose him.

Choose him over all the fuckers who’ve tried to hurt me.

Choose between him and my fear.

“Meghan,” he says, his head dipping down, his nose rubbing against mine.

He continues to say my name over and over again, nuzzling at my face, and there’s so much pleading in the way he says it, he might as well be begging me.

I hate to him hear beg, but I know in the very depths of my soul that this choice will forever change me. I’ll never be the same again.

I might not be able to look at my face in the mirror after this.

I might fucking hate myself after this.

Tears fill my eyes as I make my choice.

Dragging in a shuddering breath, I’m afraid something inside of me is breaking, a fundamental part I need to survive, to exist as I have.

But as I say the words, “I’ll stand by you,” out loud with tears spilling down my cheeks, I suddenly feel free.

Free of the chains that have been holding me back.

Gabriel pulls slowly away from me, and I catch a flicker of hope in his eyes, but it quickly fades away.

Something inside me desperately needs to see that flicker again.

So I find myself saying, “I’m with you, Gabriel. I choose you. I choose us.”

I didn’t know joy could be found inside darkness, but that’s the only way I can explain the emotions that play over his face.

Bone-deep, endless joy.

He looks like I’ve just handed him the sky.

Then a hair-raising, animalistic sounds rumbles out of his throat just before his mouth slams into mine.

Any other time, I might not be prepared for the force of the kiss he lays on me.

But I’m ready this time.

Grabbing at him, I meet him push for push. Determined to not let this thing between us break me.

Determined to stand by my choice.

Our lips, tongues, and teeth clash and tangle together in a frantic need that makes time fade away.

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