Just speaking the words out loud causes tears to prick at the corners of my eyes.

I think deep down a part of me has always suspected he did it. Did it because she wasn’t onboard with starting a war.

“No,” he breathes out in shock and then shakes his head in denial. “No. I didn’t kill her.”

“Why should I believe you?”

Why should I believe anything his lying mouth says?

One heartbeat passes, then another as we stare at each other. So many emotions pass over my father’s face, I can’t keep track of them.

Then he seems to crumble in on himself with a look of pure devastation. “Because I loved her, lass. Loved her with all my heart. She was my sun and my moon.”

Something inside me rips open to hear him say that. I can’t even count how many times I heard him calling her his sun and moon over the years with pure adoration.

And god, the way she would smile at him just before she kissed him…

His own eyes full of unshed tears, his voice cracks. “I still love her. I love her as much as I love you.”

I’ve never seen my father cry before, not even at my mother’s funeral. I always wondered if it was because he didn’t feel enough to do so, or if it was a front for the rest of the family.

But that’s what he’s doing right now. Crying and standing in front of me with the posture of a broken man.

And I believe him.

I believe him so much I start crying with him.

He didn’t kill her, I’m sure of it now, and I should be relieved, but all I feel is the same devastation mirrored on his expression.

Oh god, how did we come to this? What the fuck happened?

“If…” I start and have to stop to swallow back a sob. “If you didn’t kill her, who did?”

I watch my father’s mouth open. I watch as a shadow passes over his face and it doesn’t even register why that might be happening. I’m so focused on him, on the answer he’s about to give me, I don’t realize the danger before it’s too late.

The hair on the back of my neck suddenly stands on end as my father closes his mouth, pressing his lips together with a look of resignation.

I straighten as I sense someone behind me and then a body is pushing into my back.

I try to whip around, but I’m too damn slow. A strong, hard arm comes around my middle, locking me in place while a hand covers my hand over the gun.

As the hand covering mine presses against my trigger finger, I freeze, afraid I might accidentally fire my weapon.

Alexei’s voice slides into my ear, chilling me to the very marrow of bones. “Hello, Meghan. So glad you’ve decided to return me.”

Everything inside me shuts down in shock. I can’t breathe, I can’t think.

I can’t fucking fight back.

Alexei’s nose rubs against my ear before he asks, “Did you miss me?”

My body begins to tremble and I squeeze my knees together, afraid I might embarrass myself like that damn priest.

Alexei chuckles, his breath moving my hair as the arm wrapped around my middle begins to drift down. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

“Alexei…” my father says cautiously as he straightens in front of us.

His tears are gone as he squares his shoulders. The faint tracks down his cheeks the only proof that they ever existed.

I sense Alexei moving his head, and then his damn hand is forcing me to move the gun.

Forcing me to lift it up to aim it at my father’s head.

I close my eyes and open them, hoping that what is playing out in front of me will change.

“Ah, yes. Your father was about to tell you who killed your mother before I so rudely interrupted… Well, go on, Brady, tell her,” Alexei says with a hint of laughter.

My father looks from me to Alexei and then his forehead creases with worry. “You said you wouldn’t hurt her. That was our deal.”

“And I won’t… even though our deal was broken.”

My father stiffens and narrows his eyes at the gun pointed at him. “Hurt comes in many forms.”

Alexei sighs and his grip on my hand forces me to wave the gun at my father. “Just answer the fucking question.”

My father’s eyes meet mine once more, full of shame and apology. And I know the answer before it even passes his lips. “Alexei killed your mother.”

A sob escapes my throat and my knees threaten to give out.

Alexei killed my mother and my father tried to marry me to him…

My father flinches at the look I give him.

Before I can even muster up the strength to ask how could you, my father explains, “He killed her when I refused his offer of alliance. Then threatened to kill you if I refused again.”

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