There’s a warning voice that tells me to stop. All of this. Right here, right now—go no farther. It says I have no reason not to trust her. That she could never do this to me. Not the Olivia I know.

But I turn deaf ears on that voice. Because it lies. I’ve listened to it before—over and over again when I was young and stupid and wrong.

I won’t be wrong again. Not about this—not about her. It would…break me.

My face feels like a mask—stone cold and blank.

“Yes. I need more information.”

And she shatters, like a windowpane that’s been struck by a fist, right in front of me.

“Fuck you!” She steps back, yelling and crying and shaking her head. “Fuck you and this fucked-up place that raised you. You’re so messed up. You’re so warped inside—because of these games and these people. You can’t even see it. And I can’t stand to look at you right now.”

“Then leave!” I shout back. “There’s the door—get out! If I’m so hard to look at, go back to fucking New York!”

The second the words leave my mouth I want to snatch them back. I don’t mean them. But words don’t work that way. Once heard, they can’t ever be taken back.

All they can do is echo.

The color drains from Olivia’s cheeks and her eyes close. Her face turns toward the floor and her shoulders drop. Like she’s…done. Like there’s nothing left to her at all.

She takes a shuddering breath and without raising her head, without looking at me even one more time, she turns and walks out.

For a full minute, no one speaks. I stand there—like an idiot—staring at the space where she just stood.

Henry’s words fill the silence. “You’re making a mistake. And that was harsh, Nicholas, even for you.”

I face Winston. “Find out where the money came from. Now.”

Winston bows and leaves.

I feel Henry’s eyes on the back of my head, but I don’t turn around. I have nothing to say.

He doesn’t feel the same.

“Hello?” He comes around and tries to knock on my head. “Is anyone alive in there? Who are you right now?”

He seems different to me somehow, taller or older. More…serious. I don’t know why I didn’t notice before, or why the hell I’m seeing it now.

“What are you going on about?”

“Well, you look like my brother and you sound like him, but you’re not him. You’re some alternate version of him—the one who gives all those scripted, meaningless answers in interviews. The Tin Man.”

“I’m not in the mood to play games with you, Henry.”

He goes on like I haven’t spoken at all.

“My real brother would know that Olivia wouldn’t, couldn’t, do this. He’d know it in here.” He pokes my chest. “So either you’re too afraid to trust your own instincts or you’re too afraid to trust her, but either way, you just let the best damn thing that’s ever happened to you walk right out the door. And with the lives we have, that’s really saying something.”

I swallow hard, feeling cold and numb inside. Feeling…nothing.

My voice is as hollow as my chest. “If she didn’t do it, it’s one hell of a coincidence. I’ll know what to do once Winston gets more information.”

“It’ll be too late then!”

I don’t say another word. I’m done discussing this. But my brother isn’t quite finished.

“There’ve been many times in my life when I thought Mum would be ashamed of me. This is the first time I’ve ever thought…she’d be ashamed of you.”

And then he walks away too.

I don’t take a breath on the way back to my room. I’ll lose it if I do. So I bite my lip and wrap my arms around my waist, passing security men in the halls, nodding to maids. But as soon as I’m through the door, I let go.

The sobs tear out of me, shaking my shoulders and scraping my lungs. It’s rage and devastation mixed together, the worst kind of heartbreak. How could he do this? After everything I’ve done—everything I was willing to do for him.

I saw it in his eyes—those gorgeous, tortured eyes. He wanted to believe me—but he didn’t. Couldn’t. Whatever tiny wick of trust still lives inside him has been burned one too many times.

Did he ever really trust me? Did he ever believe that we could last…for always? Or was some part of him just waiting, watching, until I screwed him over?

Well, fuck him. Fuck him and his fucking palace. No more. I’m done.

“Can I bring you some tea, Miss Hammond?”

I gasp loudly and I think my heart stops. It’s the maid for my room—Mellie, I think her name is. I didn’t see her when I first walked in because I was crying into my hands.

Her fresh face is awash with sympathy. But I’m tired of being surrounded—sick of the maids and the security and, and…Twitter assholes…and the fucking secretaries and assistants. I just want to be alone. I want to crawl into a corner where no one can see me or hear me, so I can breathe…and cry my fucking eyes out.

A hiccup rattles through my chest. “N-no. No th-thank you.”

She nods, eyes down—like a good little servant. She slips past me discreetly, closing the door behind her. Trained oh so well.

I lock the door. Then I march to the bookcase that connects this room to Nicholas’s and lock that too. I walk into the bathroom and turn the shower on to scalding. As the steam rises around me, I strip out of my clothes, choking on my tears. I step into the shower, slide down to the floor, and rest my forehead on my knees. And as the water pounds down over me, I let it all pour out.

Tags: Emma Chase Royally Erotic