“READY TO DIE, Nila?”
Cut’s voice physically hurt me as he forced me to my knees. The ballroom splendour mocked me as I bowed unwillingly at the feet of my executioner.
Velvet and hand-stitched crewel on the walls glittered like the diamonds the Hawks smuggled—a direct contrast to the roughly sawn wood and crude craftsmanship of the guillotine dais. No finesse. No pride. Just a raised podium, framework cushioning a large tarnished blade, and a rope dangling to the side.
“Don’t do this. Cut…think about what you’ve become. You can stop this.” My voice mimicked a beg but I’d vowed not to beg. I’d seen things, understood things, and suffered things I never thought I would be able to endure. I refused to cry or grovel. I wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.
“In five minutes, this will all be over, Weaver.” Cut bent to the side and collected a wicker basket.
The wicker basket.
I didn’t want to think about what its contents would be.
He placed it on the other side of the wooden block.
My lungs demanded more oxygen. My brain demanded more time. And my heart…it demanded more hope, more life, more love.
I’m not ready.
Not like this.
“No. No more talking. Not after everything you’ve done.” Ripping a black hood from his pocket, he didn’t hesitate. No fanfare. No second guesses.
I cried out as the scratchy blackness engulfed my face, tightening by a cord around my throat.
The Weaver Wailer chilled me. The diamond collar that’d seen what I’d seen and whispered with phantoms of my slain family prepared to revoke its claim and detach from around my neck.
This was it.
The Final Debt.
Cut pushed my shoulders forward.
A heavy yoke settled over the top of my spine.
I closed my eyes.
I said goodbye.
I waited to die.
One Week Earlier
I pushed back, gripping the handrails of the private jet, throwing my weight against Daniel’s incessant pushing. “Stop!”
“Get up the fucking stairs, Weaver.” Daniel jabbed his elbow into my spine.
I stumbled, bashing my knee against the high tread. “You can’t do this!” How had this happened? How had mere hours turned the entire universe against me? Again.
I wanted to smash every clock. Tear out the cog from every watch.
Time had once again stolen my life.
Daniel cackled. “I think you’ll find we can.” He shoved me higher.
My heart hurt—as if every mile between us and Hawksridge was a blade slicing me further from Jethro’s protection—a disharmony in an already discorded symphony.
One moment, I’d been love-bruised and adored, tiptoeing back into the Hall; the next, I was trapped, forced to dress in jeans and a hoodie, and obey Daniel as he lurked in my doorway, barking orders to pack a few meagre belongings.
He hadn’t left me alone.
His eyes followed my every move. I couldn’t grab the gun I’d hidden thanks to Jasmine. I couldn’t text Jethro to tell him I’d been caught. All I could do was run around my room with my lover’s release still damp on my inner thighs and submit to my nemesis.
The only saving grace was beneath Daniel’s hateful stare, I’d managed to pack the clothing I’d altered a few weeks ago. The cuffs full of needles and hems armoured with tools of my seamstress trade. Those garments were my only hope. There was no loophole. No way to refuse.
I had to trust Jasmine would get word to Jethro. That he would come for me…
Before it’s too late.
The desolation I’d suffered when Daniel first caught me faded to indignant anger. I’d been so close to being free. I’d been in Jethro’s arms. I’d been away from his psychotic family. My heart hardened a little toward Jethro for making me go back.
Why? Why did you send me back?
I didn’t know if I’d have the courage to forgive him.
You know why. And you will. Of course, you will.
I couldn’t hate him because I wasn’t selfish. He’d sent me back to protect all of us. Those precious few who’d accepted him and he’d accepted in return. Love was the worst enemy, winding its commitment, ensuring no freedom when it came to clearheaded thinking of adversity.
Jethro loved too much. Felt too much. Suffered too much. And his siblings would be our downfall. Kestrel and Jasmine relied on him—just like I did. The responsibility of settling his family’s wrongs was a terrible burden to bear.
But he’s not alone.
I might’ve been stolen. Jethro’s plans to save me might be ruined. But I was still alive. Still breathing. I wasn’t the naïve girl who’d first arrived at Hawksridge. I was a woman in love with a Hawk. A Weaver who would draw Hawk blood.
It’s not over…
Pain exploded in my spine as Daniel stabbed me with his fist. “Get in the fucking airplane.”
“No!” I threw myself backward, looking frantically at the private hangar. We weren’t at Heathrow, but a small, private airfield called Turweston. “I won’t!”
No strangers I could call for help.
No police or air marshals.
When Daniel had stalked me from my room and shoved me outside, Cut had been waiting. With a victorious smile, he’d stuffed me in the back of a limousine.
With a purring engine, we’d pulled away from Hawksridge, tyres crunching on gravel as we followed the long driveway off the estate.