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Warner goes rigid.

He sits back; his jaw twitches. He looks at me with a mixture of sadness and rage in his eyes. “No,” he finally says, deathly soft. “That was not a simulation.”

“So you have no problem with that?” I ask him. “You have no regrets over killing a man for stealing a little extra food? For trying to survive, just like you?”

Warner bites down on his bottom lip for half a second. Clasps his hands in his lap. “Wow,” he says. “How quickly you jump to his defense.”

“He was an innocent man,” I tell him. “He didn’t deserve to die. Not for that. Not like that.”

“Seamus Fletcher,” Warner says calmly, staring into his open palms, “was a drunken bastard who was beating his wife and children. He hadn’t fed them in two weeks. He’d punched his nine-year-old daughter in the mouth, breaking her two front teeth and fracturing her jaw. He beat his pregnant wife so hard she lost the child. He had two other children, too,” he says. “A seven-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl.” A pause. “He broke both their arms.”

My food is forgotten.

“I monitor the lives of our citizens very carefully,” Warner says. “I like to know who they are and how they’re thriving. I probably shouldn’t care,” he says, “but I do.”

I’m thinking I’m never going to open my mouth ever again.

“I have never claimed to live by any set of principles,” Warner says to me. “I’ve never claimed to be right, or good, or even justified in my actions. The simple truth is that I do not care. I have been forced to do terrible things in my life, love, and I am seeking neither your forgiveness nor your approval. Because I do not have the luxury of philosophizing over scruples when I’m forced to act on basic instinct every day.”

He meets my eyes.

“Judge me,” he says, “all you like. But I have no tolerance,” he says sharply, “for a man who beats his wife. No tolerance,” he says, “for a man who beats his children.” He’s breathing hard now. “Seamus Fletcher was murdering his family,” he says to me. “And you can call it whatever the hell you want to call it, but I will never regret killing a man who would bash his wife’s face into a wall. I will never regret killing a man who would punch his nine-year-old daughter in the mouth. I am not sorry,” he says. “And I will not apologize. Because a child is better off with no father, and a wife is better off with no husband, than one like that.” I watch the hard movement in his throat. “I would know.”

“I’m sorry—Warner, I—”

He holds up a hand to stop me. He steadies himself, his eyes focused on the plates of untouched food. “I’ve said it before, love, and I’m sorry I have to say it again, but you do not understand the choices I have to make. You don’t know what I’ve seen and what I’m forced to witness every single day.” He hesitates. “And I wouldn’t want you to. But do not presume to understand my actions,” he says, finally meeting my eyes. “Because if you do, I can assure you you’ll only be met with disappointment. And if you insist on continuing to make assumptions about my character, I’ll advise you only this: assume you will always be wrong.”

He hauls himself up with a casual elegance that startles me. Smooths out his slacks. Pushes his sleeves up again. “I’ve had your armoire moved into my closet,” he says. “There are things for you to change into, if you’d like that. The bed and bathroom are yours. I have work to do,” he says. “I’ll be sleeping in my office tonight.”

And with that, he opens the adjoining door to his office, and locks himself inside.


My food is cold.

I poke at the potatoes and force myself to finish the meal even though I’ve lost my appetite. I can’t help but wonder if I’ve finally pushed Warner too far.

I thought the revelations had come to a close for today, but I was wrong again. It makes me wonder just how much is left, and how much more I’ll learn about Warner in the coming days. Months.

And I’m scared.

Because the more I discover about him, the fewer excuses I have to push him away. He’s unraveling before me, becoming something entirely different; terrifying me in a way I never could’ve expected.

And all I can think is not now.

Not here. Not when so much is uncertain. If only my emotions would understand the importance of excellent timing.

I never realized Warner was unaware of how deeply I’d detested him. I suppose now I can better understand how he saw himself, how he’d never viewed his actions as guilty or criminal. Maybe he thought I would’ve given him the benefit of the doubt. That I would’ve been able to read him as easily as he’s been able to read me.

But I couldn’t. I didn’t. And now I can’t help but wonder if I’ve managed to disappoint him, somehow.

Why I even care.

I clamber to my feet with a sigh, hating my own uncertainty. Because while I might not be able to deny my physical attraction to him, I still can’t shake my initial impressions of his character. It’s not easy for me to switch so suddenly, to recognize him as anything but some kind of manipulative monster.

I need time to adjust to the idea of Warner as a normal person.

But I’m tired of thinking. And right now, all I want to do is shower.

I drag myself toward the open door of the bathroom before I remember what Warner said about my clothes. That he’d moved my armoire into his closet. I look around, searching for another door and finding none but the locked entry to his office. I’m half tempted to knock and ask him directly but decide against it. Instead, I study the walls more closely, wondering why Warner wouldn’t have given me instructions if his closet was hard to find. But then I see it.

A switch.

It’s more of a button, actually, but it sits flush with the wall. It would be almost impossible to spot if you weren’t actively searching for it.

I press the button.

A panel in the wall slides out of place. And as I step across the threshold, the room illuminates on its own.

This closet is bigger than his entire bedroom.

The walls and ceiling are tiled with slabs of white stone that gleam under the fluorescent recessed lighting; the floors are covered with thick Oriental rugs. There’s a small suede couch the color of light-green jade stationed in the very center of the room, but it’s an odd sort of couch: it doesn’t have a back. It looks like an oversized ottoman. And strangest of all: there’s not a single mirror in here. I spin around, my eyes searching, certain I must’ve overlooked such an obvious staple, and I’m so caught up in the details of the space that I almost miss the clothes.