“For having brains.” He shot her an unimpressed look. “But clearly you don’t.”
She glared up at him. “Are you really blaming me?”
“Yes, I’m blaming you,” he snarled. Even now, his heartbeat hadn’t gone back to normal and he still couldn’t get the sound of her terrified scream out of his mind.
Fawn was incredulous. “How is it my fault?”
“Because this wouldn’t have happened,” he hissed, “if you hadn’t let curiosity get the better of you in the first place.”
“Are you serious?” she gasped. “You have it the other way around! This wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t have so many stupid secrets to keep in the first place! Seriously!” She counted them with her fingers. “One: you have a dungeon – a dungeon, oh my God – for a basement. Even worse, two: you have a woman imprisoned in your dungeon. And worst of all, three: that woman is batshit crazy and she tried to strangle me!”
Her voice cracked.
They stared at each other, and when her lips started to tremble, the prince bit back a curse. How the hell he could stay angry – even when he knew he had a right to – when she looked like that?
He said quietly, “I’m sorry.”
The apology took her by surprise, and before she knew it, she was already crying, the tears gradually relieving her of her terror. Taking the seat across her, the prince forcibly scooped Fawn into his lap and, ignoring her flimsy struggles, pushed her head firmly on his chest.
The words had her forgetting about struggling, and she found herself crying even harder. “I was s-so scared.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
The harshness of his tone penetrated her shock, and Fawn fought for control, sniffing back her tears as she lifted her gaze to his. “I’m sorry, too. I know it wasn’t your fault.”
“It was not.”
“Will we never agree on anything?”
The prince’s tone was sardonic, but his gaze was gentle, and it was this that had her lips trembling anew. Eyes bright with tears she struggled to keep at bay, Fawn said with a bewitchingly tremulous smile, “P-probably.”
Did she know how she looked right now? Any man would be forgiven for kissing her, and he was tempted.
And God, he was tempted.
Drawing a deep breath, the prince forced himself to lift her off his lap and place Fawn back on her seat.
They stared at each other, her gaze full of questions.
When the prince finally spoke, it was in a carefully neutral voice. “Before you ask anything, you must know that the more questions you ask of me, the more secrets you will have to keep.”
Oh. Fawn could feel her fear gradually ebbing as she stared at the prince. Her heart started to squeeze, tighter and tighter until she realized that she was hurting…for him.
And that was crazy, wasn’t it?
He was the Prince of Darkness, and he had the world on its knees, begging, craving, and crying for his attention.
So why was it that she felt he was suffering more than those women she would from time to time see sobbing about having their hearts broken? Why was it that when she listened to him talk about secrets he didn’t want to burden her with—-
Why was it that she felt he was already breaking, bit by bit, by the weight of them all—-
And she was the only one who could see it?
She heard herself say, “Tell me. Please.”
And so he did.
In a voice devoid completely of expression, the prince told her about the dungeon hidden under the house and how it could be accessed from inside and outside of the house. People held in his custody weren’t good in the conventional sense of the word, but neither had they completely gone off the deep end either.
It was, the prince said, his job to persuade them to turn over a new leaf.
Gulping, Fawn asked, “Persuade…how?” When the prince’s gaze bored through her, she could only shake her head, and her heart started squeezing again. “Why?”
“Don’t you believe they deserve another chance?”
“I do, but that’s not what I’m asking.” She bit her lip. “I meant…why does it have to be you?”
He said simply, “Because I’m the Prince of Darkness.”
She touched her chest, feeling like her heart was starting to give up on the pain it was trying to absorb from the prince. And the funny thing was, she thought dazedly, he didn’t even seem to realize just how much all this was hurting him.
“T-the woman I saw,” she heard herself say. “Who did that to her?”
The prince stilled. He had expected her to assume he was behind the woman’s injuries…but she had not.
He wanted to ask. Wanted to demand. Wanted to force her to see that there could only be one reason why she did not suspect him.
But he could not.
Because if he did – it would mean forcing himself to listen to something he didn’t want to hear either.