She gifts me with a shadow of a smile. But as I step toward the door, she clasps my hand in her chilly grip. “Henry. You can’t . . . you need to leave my sister alone. You can’t toy with her. I know she seems strong and in some ways she is, but inside . . . she’s so fragile. Sarah is genuine and good and . . . not like us.”
Penelope Von Titebottum and I are cut from the same selfish cloth. Wild. Needy. We know how the game is played, how to turn all heads our way. We thrive on it—the attention, the adoration of others. I mean—look at this fucking show I’ve jumped into.
Without a care in the world.
Without a thought for my country or my responsibilities or even a second of concern for the feelings of the women who’ve signed up for it. The whole point is to get them to fall in love with me—to think they have a chance at living royally fucking ever after, while the whole world watches.
All because I wanted a distraction.
And if a few hearts are shattered in the process? That’s just too damn bad. Because this is who we are.
What did my brother tell me once?
We can’t change who we are.
“No.” I tell Sarah’s sister. “She’s not at all like us.”
My hands shake as I walk down to the great hall—to the Fantastic Wall of Death.
The mace is the first thing to come down. The rusty spiked ball and chain. I give it a test swing.
Next is my grandmother’s namesake—the battle-axe. It comes with a sling so it can be strapped across the back, and the blade is still razor sharp.
Then it’s the jewel-handled sword. It’s heavier than you’d expect. I thrust forward and imagine running it through a stomach, then watching patiently as the acids leak out from the wound into the body cavity, eventually eating away at the vital organs. It’s a slow, ghastly way to die.
After carefully selecting four additional harbingers of death, I clink and clank my way up the steps to the third floor. When I walk into the room, Sarah is awake, sitting on the sofa. She’s changed into nightclothes and a soft white robe, and her voice is thick with sleep. “I woke up and you weren’t here.”
Her eyes drift over my arms and chest, laden with weaponry. “What are you doing?”
Her brows pinch. “Where . . . where are you going?”
When I speak, I barely recognize my own voice.
“I’m going to find your father, and then I’m going to kill him. Badly. I thought it’d be rude not to ask if you’d like to come along and watch.”
SHE GIVES ME THAT LOOK. I’m familiar with it now. It tugs at the flesh of my heart.
It’s a small smile, a pitying shake of her head as if to say, silly, silly boy.
“Henry, you can’t kill my father.”
“Oh, I can.” My voice is low and dark and viciously certain. “Believe me, I can.”
She reaches out and takes my hand.
“Penny told you.”
My chin jerks, nodding.
I replay every interaction Sarah and I have had, noting every sin and overstep. Did I ever frighten her? Was I ever too rough? I think about the night I broke her book, the things I said, and I want to hit my own fucking head with the mace.
“I should have been more careful with you.”
She looks up, eyes round and innocent. “You are careful with me.”
She takes the sword from my hand and sets it aside. She slips the strap that holds the battle-axe on the back of my shoulder and lays it on the table. One by one she disarms me, and I let her. Then she leads me to the sofa by the hand and sits down.
“I don’t think about my father anymore, Henry.”
“But that’s not true. Every time you slip away, it’s because of him.”
She licks her bottom lip, and her forehead furrows as she thinks over what she wants to say.
“When you hate someone, they’re a part of your life; they get to take up space in your thoughts, every day. They claim your focus and, in a way, they have control over you. What happened to me, happened; no one can change it now.” Her voice grows stronger then, more determined. “But he doesn’t get to have anything else. Not a second more of my time or my energy or my thoughts. My life is mine, Henry . . . and it’s a good life.”
She looks down at our hands, clasped together.
“So you see, if you kill him for me, it will all be dredged up again. I’ve put him behind me. And I’d like him to stay there.”
I bring her hand to my mouth, kissing the back, forcing myself to be gentle, because the rage still lurches and swirls inside me like lava.
“It’s not fair.”
Sarah smiles then and it’s sad.
“You had a mother and father who loved you more than anything else in the whole world. And they were taken away too soon. Life isn’t fair, Henry. Not for any of us.”
No. Not fucking good enough.
I hold her face in my hands. “It should be for you.”
I lean down and kiss her forehead. Then I stand up.
“And if I can’t make it fair, then I’ll make it even. An eye for an eye. See how he likes it when I break his fucking—”
Sarah stands up and presses her lips against mine. It’s so unexpected, I freeze. But then, as her mouth moves over mine, I begin to thaw. Her mouth is so soft, so very sweet. The kiss is almost chaste—at least it’s the most chaste I’ve ever had. Unpracticed.