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“I will impose upon your kindness for a few weeks,” Haider says suddenly. “That is—if that’s all right.”

I frown, begin to protest, and Kenji cuts me off.

“Of course,” he says, smiling wide. “Stay as long as you like. The son of a supreme commander is always welcome here.”

“You are very kind,” he says with a simple bow of his head. And then he hesitates, touches something at his wrist, and our room is swarmed in an instant by what appear to be members of his personal staff.

Haider stands up so swiftly I almost miss it.

Kenji and I hurry to our feet.

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Supreme Commander Ferrars,” Haider says, stepping forward to reach for my hand, and I’m surprised by his boldness. Despite the many rumors I know he’s heard about me, he doesn’t seem to mind being near my skin. Not that it really matters, of course—I’ve now learned how to turn my powers on and off at will—but not everyone knows that yet.

Either way, he presses a brief kiss to the back of my hand, smiles, and bows his head very slightly.

I manage an awkward smile and a small nod.

“If you tell me how many people are in your party,” Kenji says, “I can begin to arrange accommodations for y—”

Haider laughs out loud, surprised. “Oh, that won’t be necessary,” he says. “I’ve brought my own residence.”

“You’ve brought”—Kenji frowns—“you brought your own residence?”

Haider nods without looking at Kenji. When he next speaks he speaks only to me. “I look forward to seeing you and the rest of your guard at dinner tonight.”

“Dinner,” I say, blinking fast. “Tonight?”

“Of course,” Kenji says swiftly. “We look forward to it.”

Haider nods. “Please send my warmest regards to your Regent Warner. It’s been several months since our last visit, but I look forward to catching up with him. He has mentioned me, of course?” A bright smile. “We’ve known each other since our infancy.”

Stunned, I nod slowly, realization overcoming my confusion. “Yes. Right. Of course. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to see you again.”

Another nod, and Haider’s gone.

Kenji and I are alone.

“What the f—”

“Oh”—Haider pops his head back in the room—“and please tell your chef that I do not eat meat.”

“For sure,” Kenji says, nodding and smiling. “Yep. You got it.”

WARNER

I’m sitting in the dark with my back to the bedroom door when I hear it open. It’s only midafternoon, but I’ve been sitting here, staring at these unopened boxes for so long that even the sun, it seems, has grown tired of staring.

Castle’s revelation left me in a daze.

I still don’t trust Castle—don’t trust that he has any idea what he’s talking about—but at the end of our conversation I couldn’t shake a terrible, frightening feeling in my gut begging for verification. I needed time to process the possibilities. To be alone with my thoughts. And when I expressed as much to Castle, he said, “Process all you like, son, but don’t let this distract you. Juliette should not be meeting with Haider on her own. Something doesn’t feel right here, Mr Warner, and you have to go to them. Now. Show her how to navigate your world.”

But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Despite my every instinct to protect her, I won’t undermine her like that. She didn’t ask for my help today. She made a choice to not tell me what was happening. My abrupt and unwelcome interruption would only make her think that I agreed with Castle—that I didn’t trust her to do the job on her own. And I don’t agree with Castle; I think he’s an idiot for underestimating her. So I returned here, instead, to these rooms, to think. To stare at my father’s unopened secrets. To await her arrival.

And now—

The first thing Juliette does is turn on the light.

“Hey,” she says carefully. “What’s going on?”

I take a deep breath and turn around. “These are my father’s old files,” I say, gesturing with one hand. “Delalieu had them collected for me. I thought I should take a look, see if there’s anything here that might be useful.”

“Oh, wow,” she says, her eyes alight with recognition. “I was wondering what those were for.” She crosses the room to crouch beside the stacks, carefully running her fingers along the unmarked boxes. “Do you need help moving these into your office?”

I shake my head.

“Would you like me to help you sort through them?” she says, glancing at me over her shoulder. “I’d be happy t—”

“No,” I say too quickly. I get to my feet, make an effort to appear calm. “No, that won’t be necessary.”

She raises her eyebrows.

I try to smile. “I think I’d like the time alone with them.”

At this, she nods, misunderstanding all at once, and her sympathetic smile makes my chest tighten. I feel an indistinct, icy feeling stab at somewhere inside of me. She thinks I want space to deal with my grief. That going through my father’s things will be difficult for me.

She doesn’t know. I wish I didn’t.

“So,” she says, walking toward the bed, the boxes forgotten. “It’s been an . . . interesting day.”

The pressure in my chest intensifies. “Has it?”

“I just met an old friend of yours,” she says, and flops backward onto the mattress. She reaches behind her head to pull her hair free of its ponytail, and sighs.

“An old friend of mine?” I say. But I can only stare at her as she speaks, study the shape of her face. I can’t, at the present moment, know with perfect certainty whether or not what Castle told me is true; but I do know that I’ll find the answers I seek in my father’s files—in the boxes stacked inside this room.

Even so, I haven’t yet gathered the courage to look.

“Hey,” she says, waving a hand at me from the bed. “You in there?”

“Yes,” I say reflexively. I take in a sharp breath. “Yes, love.”

“So . . . do you remember him?” she says. “Haider Ibrahim?”

“Haider.” I nod. “Yes, of course. He’s the eldest son of the supreme commander of Asia. He has a sister,” I say, but I say it robotically.

“Well, I don’t know about his sister,” she says. “But Haider is here. And he’s staying for a few weeks. We’re all having dinner with him tonight.”

“At his behest, I’m sure.”

“Yeah.” She laughs. “How’d you know?”

I smile. Vaguely. “I remember Haider very well.”

She’s silent a moment. Then: “He said you’d known each other since your infancy.”

And I feel, but do not acknowledge, the sudden tension in the room. I merely nod.

“That’s a long time,” she says.

“Yes. A very long time.”

She sits up. Drops her chin in one hand and stares at me. “I thought you said you never had any friends.”

At this, I laugh, but the sound is hollow. “I don’t know that I would call us friends, exactly.”

“No?”

“No.”

“And you don’t care to expand on that?”

“There’s little to say.”

“Well—if you’re not friends, exactly, then why is he here?”

“I have my suspicions.”

She sighs. Says, “Me too,” and bites the inside of her cheek. “I guess this is where it starts, huh? Everyone wants to take a look at the freak show. At what we’ve done—at who I am. And we have to play along.”

But I’m only half listening.

Instead, I’m staring at the many boxes looming behind her, Castle’s words still settling in my mind. I remember I should say something, anything, to appear engaged in the conversation. So I try to smile as I say, “You didn’t tell me he’d arrived earlier. I wish I could’ve been there to assist somehow.”

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