Page 18

He studies me over the rim of his glass when he sits down—weapon free—and stares at me.

“We met Lake over a century ago. She went into the trials a few decades back, and because of her, we were able to get a lot of information about the process of selection.”

Alarm bells go off inside my head.

“Wait, you thought Manella was in charge,” I remind him. “And he wasn’t. Sounds like she’s feeding you bad information.”

“Or the Devil lied. Which is far more likely, since he made it sound like he had our backs right before he shoved us into the third trial to die,” he points out. “Lucifer is playing with us, and Lake is hesitant to meet with me because she’s worried she’s next. There was a culling in the underworld shortly before the third trial.”

My eyebrows lift.

“He eliminated all his guards—both hell’s throat and royal guards. Lake is an escort, and half of her kind have been replaced because the others were already recycled,” he goes on. “She thinks it has something to do with everything going on with us. Something big is happening, Keyla.”

I wave my hand dismissively. “I’ve decided that name no longer fits me. While I have some sentimental attachment to it, and might keep it as a middle name, I need a new name to define me now. Something badass.”

He blinks at me before muttering something under his breath that I probably wouldn’t like, so I don’t ask him to repeat it.

“Why’d you agree to let me come with you so easily?”

“Because if you’re here, I don’t have to worry about the three of them doing something stupid while I’m not there to reel them back,” he fires back without even having to think about it.

I knew it seemed too easy.

“Why do you think I’ll cause problems for you and this contact?” I ask him, reminding him of what he said in the parking lot.

His lips twitch, but he doesn’t respond immediately. “You gave your word you wouldn’t, so the reason doesn’t matter,” he says evasively.

“Why the culling?” I ask him, going back to the matter at hand.

He shrugs a shoulder. “I have no idea. Unless he felt he couldn’t trust any of them, given the Lamar deal. Which would mean he had no part in what happened to Lamar.”

“Which conflicts with our theory that the Devil has been behind all of it. What if he’s just behind part of it?” I ask him, my eyes not moving from his.

He raps his fingers on the edge of the chair, smirking like he’s already figured that part out and I’m slow to the game.

“This is what you were all discussing last night, isn’t it?”

“When you stormed through for an alcohol run? Yes. Yes, it is,” he states with a bored drawl.

Frowning, I look down at my pretty toenails in my elegant, high-heeled sandals.

“Why didn’t the others tell me?” I ask quietly. They spent the night in my room, after all.

“Don’t look so devastated,” he says bitterly. “They’re too busy trying for the impossible to think straight right now. Your fault, really. The evil pussy is just backfiring a little, it seems.”

This is what we do. Line our insults with snark, never being real with each other. Jude is quite literally never going to stop wanting to hate me, because he sees me as…impossible.

“Despite what you think, there is no jealousy between the three of them. It is possible,” I say on a sigh.

“A few nights does not make the impossible possible, comoara trădătoare. It takes longer for such resentments to fester, and they always do. Just like there will always be a price. Just like there will always be a favorite.”

That last part makes my eyes roll. “My favorite changes based on who has made me happiest at the moment. I’m rather capricious that way.”

He snorts derisively. “Those are superficial favorites. Eventually you’ll become attached to mostly one, seek that one out more and more. And it’s never been more dangerous before than you, because we can have you individually.”

He adjusts himself in his pants like he’s proving a point, and I realize for the first time he’s actually hard. And we’re alone.

“None of us seem immune, and whoever you end up becoming most attached to…I don’t know if they could do as we’ve done in the past when it reached that point and simply walk away,” he says seriously. No bite to his tone. No snark infused to turn it into banter.

Just real, honest disclosure.

“Then the bond would likely sever, and three of us will roam with a missing piece and the inability to ever experience that one pleasure ever again. That is your treacherous step, even though you won’t admit it aloud. All I want you to do is really think about that. Think about what you’ll be destroying.”

I admit I wanted real talk, but now he’s just being boringly obtuse, and I can’t suffer another moment of it.

“If I wanted just one of you, I wouldn’t be here with you right now, worrying to death you’re being tricked or trapped by this girl you trust far more than me. My own jealousy stems to you at the moment, even though you’re certainly not my current favorite and haven’t been since that first night when you opened your mouth to speak and ruined the illusion of the bad boy who might make an exception for me.”

His lips twitch before he takes a sip of the alcohol again.

I’m a little curious what his chosen taste is.

“I don’t even particularly like you at the moment, yet I’d still stop my heart from beating if it meant saving yours from such a fate,” I add, daring him to argue.

I’ve done nothing but prove that time and time again.

“The ability to persuade a man to question everything he knows is by far the most devious trait about you, comoara trădătoare. And you have quite a few devious traits we overlook just to keep you around. Myself included. As I said, I’m not immune. It’s because of my fear of you dying that I—”

“Leveled up and turned the blind tribe to ash?” I ask, grinning. “That was really cool. But I still stand by my theory of the Four Horsemen. Clearly, you’re Death.”

He groans, draining the last of his drink before standing to pour more.

“This is why you’re infuriating. The fact you can’t even get your feelings hurt long enough to hate me back is—”

“Endearing?” I supply.

“Exhausting,” he counters, not sounding one bit happy.

“My feelings were only getting hurt in the beginning. When it was all of you against me. Ezekiel is my special boy because he was the first to gift me with hope. Kai is like a willful drug, because I truly enjoy the attention he pays me, even when he’s so surly he couldn’t possibly have a gentle bone in his body. Gage is my current favorite because I know without a doubt he finally sees me as what I am.”

He turns to me, his brow furrowing.

“And what is that?”

“All of yours,” I state as though it should be obvious.

His eyes heat for a second as he swallows harder than necessary, as though I just said some really magical words that he’s struggling not to believe.

“It’s clear I was designed just for the four of you. Whether or not I’m a Trojan Horse is beyond my knowledge. But even if I am such, I’ll destroy whoever wants to use me against you. My loyalties are sealed and undivided. The four of you are my only charge. If Lamar had been truly trying to hurt you, I would have burned his heart in his chest without blinking an eye. And I happen to like Lamar.”

We stare at each other, not speaking, just gauging the other like we’re back in our usual opposing spots on the chessboard.

Finally, he takes a seat again, his gaze flicking over me like it’s the first time he’s letting himself appreciate the sexy black gown I’ve chosen.

“If we’re stuck here, you could at least wear red for me. Kai is the one who prefers black,” he says as though it’s no big deal.

Instead of making my dress red, I change it to blue.

“That’s Gage’s favorite color,” he points out.

“Yes, and Gage is my current favorite. If you want to make requests, you need to at least try to be my favorite first,” I state absently, as though I can’t be bothered to think about the fact he doesn’t want to be my favorite.

He fights a grin even as he shakes his head and looks away from me. I think we work best when we’re not trying to be too real. Our banter is our medium. Things get too intense too quickly otherwise.

Same for all of them, really.

Gage was willing to risk their bond just to give me a pity fuck when I was so pathetically honest with him. It’s a tad embarrassing now that I look back on it.

I’ll make sure to withhold such pitiful stories in the future. I’d rather them not pity me at all.

I want their admiration instead.

That’s much harder to achieve, but the reward would be much better.

“I was wrong about why you hated me,” I tell him as he glances over at me. “Gage had his own theory, and he was wrong too. I was wrong about all of it. I thought I had you all figured out as we floated down that fiery lake on the back of that beetle.”

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