Every year he had suffered in training, every moment he had spent in battle, all of it had been in preparation for this. For him to have a fighting chance to save Cass…the woman he loved. The woman he would die for.
Julian caught sight of Jose and Cass through their reflections on the hallway mirror, which was across the bedroom’s door. His cousin’s face was a twisted mask, made unrecognizable by the evil in his soul. He held Cass by the hair, and Julian’s rage took a murderous edge as he saw how her face had already started to swell with the bruises Jose had given her.
The movies always made it seem easy to sneak up on a person, to hone the necessary skills that turned stealth into a deadly art form.
But in reality, making noiseless steps took years of blood and sweat to master. Jose might be a killer by nature, but Julian was a killer by choice – a killer who had bled and toiled those necessary years in order to survive.
Stealth was about harnessing fear through courage.
One wrong move and Cass would die.
Doubts like that were insidious. It could make him breathe a little too loudly, make his finger shake a little too hard on the trigger, make him hesitate at the wrong moment.
There was only one way to conquer those doubts.
Julian took one, two, three steps to position himself by the doorway, love for Cass making him believe he could save her.
He took aim.
And Jose died, his last thought consisting of a horrible realization as his eyes met the cold gaze of his cousin’s. Even in the last moment of his life, Julian had still gotten the better of him.
On her fifth day at the hospital, Cass woke up to find Julian seated next to her bed, holding her hand. He had repeatedly asked for permission to visit her, and she had repeatedly said no. But she knew there would come a time he would tire of asking.
With them connected, Cass was able to see him with painful clarity. He was dressed in a pinstriped suit, every inch the powerful prince that he was. His gorgeous face was unreadable, as was his hazel eyes, when he asked in a formal tone, “How do you feel?”
She tried to read his mind but found it completely closed to her. She knew she could try to dig deeper, but she refused. If he did not want her to know his thoughts, she would certainly not beg for it.
Julian was looking at her with a patient expression on his face this time. He wanted an answer, and a vindictive part of her wanted to ask why. Why did he have to know when he only thought of her as a woman he fucked?
But she couldn’t, for far too many reasons, most of them she didn’t want to think about. If she did, it would only make her cry, and she had already cried too much in the past few days.
“I’m feeling better.” Her voice only shook at the end. She should be proud of that.
Silence gnawed between them.
Julian knew he should speak, but he did not know what to say. Was there any right thing to say, considering how much he had failed her?
Looking at her was an exercise in agony. Now that he knew he loved her – and now, loving Cass came as easy to him as breathing – her beauty shone even more greatly in his eyes. He loved the way her hair curled the wrong way at the end; loved the way her large vague eyes gave her character. He thought every damn part of her was perfect like an angel, actually, and because it was so, Julian knew that he did not deserve her.
He would never deserve her.
Cass started when Julian abruptly withdrew his hand. “I know it does not mean much, but I want to say how…” Cass heard him inhale hard. “I’m fucking sorry that my cousin killed your parents and tried to kidnap you for the second time. It’s my fault that he had a reason to look for you—-”
Despite everything, she couldn’t bear him blaming himself for something that was not his fault at all, and Cass cut him off. “You didn’t make him kill my parents. It was all him. I’ve…I’ve seen through his soul and he’s…”
So, so dark—-
Pushing the nightmarish memory away, she said tightly, “He was evil. Even before he started becoming jealous of you, he was evil.”
“I am also sorry for doubting you.”
The words caught her unaware. Julian was sorry for doubting her. She waited to feel furious. She waited for the need to lash out at him, to tell him that his doubts had almost killed her. But she did not feel anything, her heart hollow. It had been so since she learned that for Julian, she was just a woman he fucked.