I EXISTED WITH a brain full of betrayal, schemes, and plotting.
Living with the Hawks was utterly exhausting. Every day was a challenge to figure out the truths from the lies. But no matter how hard I worked, I could never seem to unravel reality from fiction.
And with a winner came a loser. One triumphant and one depressed. A trophy over misery.
Two days had passed since Kestrel had granted the truth to one huge mystery. Two days in which I hadn’t been able to think of anything else.
I wanted to hate Jethro for duping me—for stringing me along like an idiot.
But whenever my anger boiled over, needing desperately to confront him, I remembered one thing.
One important, vital thing.
He’d initiated contact before he was told.
He’d communicated with me almost as if it were a cry for help, rather than a plot to deceive.
If this were another trick, then so help him, I’d find a way to castrate him.
But, somehow, I didn’t think it was.
I had a horrible feeling this was the one way that he would let me in. An avenue of truths that he felt comfortable enough to continue, because a silent written word didn’t have as much weight as a loudly spoken one.
Which brought me back to my vitally important conclusion:
Jethro wants to be honest.
He wanted to stop playing charades and show me everything he kept hidden.
He wanted to talk to someone. Perhaps, for the first time in his life, he wasn’t satisfied with the hand life dealt him and…
Stop fabricating excuses.
All day, I’d been coming up with theories on why he was how he was and reading too far into things that he’d done.
It could be as simple as: he’d been told to get in touch. Told to initiate contact in a way that could potentially mould me into a more submissive captive, especially if I were to believe he was on my side.
I wanted to believe he’d acted against his father. But no matter how much I wished it, it didn’t make it was true.
How do you explain the knowing then?
I slouched against my pillows in bed. That was true. A part of me just seemed to know. Call it either sheer idiocy or feminine intuition. I believed he’d texted me because I was the first outsider permitted into his world—the only one not a Hawk.
My brain hurt.
When we were alone, when we weren’t arguing or fighting, there was an enchanting calmness. A connection.
Closing my eyes, I let my mind skip back to Kes’s unwilling promise. The way his eyes had darkened with secrets as I’d collapsed into his arms from the vertigo spell two days ago.
A crushing headache appeared from nowhere. It was the most I could do to stay present and not permit my mind to relive every text Jethro had sent to see the hidden agendas now that I knew it was him.
“I’m—I’m okay. You can let me go.” I struggled out of Kes’s embrace, my skin humming from his touch. I needed some space. I needed a world full of space to get over the treachery and lies.
“You didn’t know? You hadn’t guessed?” Kes crossed his arms, never taking his golden eyes from mine.
I glowered. “How could I know? I thought the messages were from you!”
He flinched. “Yes, that was the plan. To make you believe it was me, so he could continue on with whatever little mind games he was playing.” Leaning closer, he added, “I haven’t been privy to any of the messages he sent you or you sent him—so don’t feel like I’ve intruded on details that I shouldn’t.”
Anger infused my blood. “If you were both in on it—why didn’t he show you the messages? Why were you so nice to me? What does all of this mean?”
Kes moved away, reclining against a sapling. “I was nice because that’s just who I am. Yes, I come from a family with twisted up morals and I’m loyal to those twisted up morals, but I also did it out of loyalty to my brother. If you’re pissed, direct it all on him. Not me.”
“Oh, believe me. I’m pissed. Beyond pissed.” My hands balled as my mind filled with crazy ideas of retribution and revenge. I would make him pay.
“I’d cool down before you spring it on him. Best to keep it quiet. Cut doesn’t know. It was just me who knew Jet had been in touch with you before he was given the go-ahead to collect you in Milan.”
I froze. “Why did he initiate conversation with me almost five weeks before he could claim me?”
Kes shook his head. “The day I understand my brother is the day I’ll gamble my entire inheritance on the stock market. I can’t work him out. The only thing I can do is be there for him. And I only found out ‘cause he changed pretty much around the same time he started messaging you. Something was different—we’re close. So, I saw it before the others.”
My brain throbbed trying to figure out just what had changed in Jethro. He’d seemed the perfect Hawk when he’d come to collect me. Cold as ice and deadly as a sword.
Now that I knew his secret, I had power. And I had no intention of giving that power back. Jethro had been playing me for far too long. He’d successfully screwed with my head. It was time for payback. “Don’t tell him that I know.”
Kes’s eyes popped wide. “Pardon?”
“You heard me. Don’t tell Jethro about today. Let him continue to think I’m clueless.” My heart frothed with rage and unhappiness. I was so stupid to believe I’d gotten through to him on some level. The sex between us left both of us stripped bare. Something more than family feuds and hatred existed when he slid inside me and sent both of us shattering into dust.