Eight years ago, Sailor dragged all of us to a charity ball Hunter had invited her to. In it, we saw a girl who went to our high school hanging on the arm of a man thirty years her senior. She looked bored and sad and lost and rich. A beautiful, empty urn where hopes, dreams, and ambition once resided. Watching her expression alone sucked the life out of the party. We promised each other we would never let one another marry anyone for anything other than love.
“Listen, I have options. I do.” I grabbed my bag and coat. “I choose to be with Cillian. He may not give me love, but he’ll give me everything else I’m looking for. I’ll be able to start the family I’ve always wanted, have kids. A place to call my own…” I trailed off. “All I’m asking is for you to support this. It’s crazy, and insane, and unconventional, but it is still my choice.”
Aisling dropped her head into her hands.
Sailor looked the other way as if I’d slapped her.
Belle was the only one who stood, picked up her own bag, and took my hand in hers.
“Welp. If you excuse me, I have to go scream at my sister, have a mental breakdown, then accept her decision. See you later, ladies.”
Belle and I ended up heading home, taking a rain check on dinner.
The mood had soured, and no one was hungry anymore.
Ash said she would always be there for me if I changed my mind, and Sailor threatened to shoot Kill with her bow and arrow and pin him to a wall like a butterfly if he screwed up, something we all knew she was capable of, seeing as she was an archer.
Ten minutes into our ride back home, I finally broke the silence.
“How come you didn’t freak out?” I stared out the window, watching the ice-crusted buildings zipping by. Belle signaled onto a side street.
“Sorry, were you expecting a whole production?”
“Expected? No. Predicted? Yes.”
She laughed. “I’m not Willy Wonka. I don’t sugarcoat stuff, sis. You know how I feel about Kill Fitzpatrick, but you’re not a baby anymore. You can make your own decisions, even if I think those decisions should land you in a psychiatric ward.”
“That never stopped you from being super protective of me before.”
Wait, was I mad at my sister for not making a scene? No. Of course I wasn’t. That would be ridiculous. Then again, I was a bit ridiculous. And it wasn’t in Belle’s nature not to raise hell when the opportunity presented itself. Plus, she wasn’t exactly Cillian’s number one fan.
In fact, if Cillian did have a fan club, she would probably burn the place down.
And dance on its ashes.
And then post about it on Instagram.
(To her grid, not stories. That’s how committed she was to despising him.)
“I’ll always have your back. But honestly? I’m half-sold on the idea. Paxton left you penniless and heartbroken. I watched you suffer through the past eight months, trying to hold your head up. If you want to switch tactics and marry a wealthy man who will provide for you, I’ll be the last one to judge you for it. Ultimately, we all make choices to the best of our abilities.”
She paused, gnawing on her lower lip. “There’s also something else.”
I turned to look at her, ungluing my eyes from the window.
“I know you’ve never said anything, but I always kind of knew you had a thing for Kill. It was in your eyes when he entered a room. They changed. They glittered,” she whispered. “It’s never too late to change the name of the prince in your story. Just as long as you don’t end up with the villain.”
“He can’t be the villain.” I shook my head. “He’s already saved me.”
“You know he can’t love?” she asked quietly.
“Love is a luxury not everyone can afford.”
“Well, if anyone can move mountains, it’s you, sis.”
She removed one hand from the steering wheel, squeezing my knee.
I wondered how much Belle knew about my situation. Devon was right. I didn’t look like the kind of woman to get brutally mugged. While Belle took care of my wounds and fussed over each scratch the day after Kaminski beat me up, she held back on her usual Spanish inquisition and didn’t nag me when I said I didn’t want to file a police report.
There was an ocean of lies and secrets between my sister and me, and I wanted to swim ashore, fall at her feet, and tell her everything.
About Pax. About the loan sharks. About Auntie Tilda’s Cloud Wish.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t rope her into my mess. It was mine to fix.
“You’re not the naïve little damsel everyone thinks you are.” Belle killed the engine, and I realized we were parked outside her building. “You have nails and teeth, and a spine to go with them. Persephone wasn’t only a floral maiden. She was also the queen of death. Your groom’s in for a rude awakening. But know this—if Kill ever tries to play Hades, I’d descend to the underworld myself to rip his balls off.”
“All there?” Byrne sniffed. He peered into the open black duffel bag. Kaminski stood behind him, arms crossed over his chest, watching us like The Mountain, Queen Cersei’s killer guard.
“Count it,” Sam ordered, spitting his cigarette on the floor.
Byrne began to sift through the money, which was bonded in hundred-dollar notes. His posture eased for the first time since we walked into his house. We were in his office, delivering our part of the bargain. Byrne had insisted we come to his place, probably because his office had more weapons in it than a tactical shop.
“Kam.” Byrne snapped his fingers as he counted, separating the notes by licking his fingers. His soldier leaned forward. Byrne used the opportunity to smack the back of his assistant’s head.
“Count with me, you useless sack of meat.”
It took them twenty minutes before they were satisfied all the money was there. They zipped the bag, Byrne smiling at us politely.
“I’m pleased to say we have no outstanding debts between us, gentlemen. Thank you for your business.”
Sam nodded, stood, and turned around. I followed suit. We reached the door. Instead of opening it, Sam turned the lock on the door, the soft click signaling we weren’t done after all.
“Actually,” Brennan hissed, “we do have one outstanding matter to resolve.”