Series: Boston Belles #2
Release Date: December 16, 2020
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"I’m unequivocally, irrevocably head over heels in love with Cillian Fitzpatrick. Filled with Shen’s trademark wit, soul searing angst and emotional poignancy, The Villain is a deeply satisfying story of patience, acceptance, perseverance and love. Hands down a top 2020 must read! - Helena Hunting, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author.
Cruel. Coldblooded. Hades in a Brioni suit.
Cillian Fitzpatrick has been dubbed every wicked thing on planet earth.
To the media, he is The Villain.
To me, he is the man who (reluctantly) saved my life.
Now I need him to do me another, small solid.
Bail me out of the mess my husband got me into.
What’s a hundred grand to one of the wealthiest men in America, anyway?
Only Cillian doesn’t hand out free favors.
The price for the money, it turns out, is my freedom.
Now I’m the eldest Fitzpatrick brother’s little toy.
To play, to mold, to break.
Too bad Cillian forgot one, tiny detail.
Persephone wasn’t only the goddess of spring; she was also the queen of death.
He thinks I’ll buckle under the weight of his mind games.
He is about to find out the most lethal poison is also the sweetest.
My love story started with a death.
With the sound of my soul shattering on the hospice floor like delicate china.
And Auntie Tilda, wilting inside her hospital bed, her breath rattling in her empty lungs like a penny.
I soaked her hospital gown with tears, clutching the fabric in my little fists, ignoring Momma’s soft pleas to get off her ill sister.
“Please don’t leave, Auntie. Please,” I croaked.
The cancer had spread to her lungs, liver, and kidneys, making it excruciating for my aunt to breathe. For the past few weeks, she’s slept sitting upright, falling in and out of consciousness.
At twelve, death was an abstract concept to me. Real, but also foreign and faraway. Something that happened in other families, to other people.
I understood what it meant now.
Auntie Tilda was never going to scoop me in her arms, pretending to strum her fingers on me like I was an air guitar again.
She’d never pick Belle and me up from school with Ziploc bags full of apple slices and strawberries whenever our parents worked long hours.
She’d never braid my hair again, whispering magical tales about Greek gods and three-headed monsters.
My aunt tucked wisps of blond curls behind my ear. Her eyes shimmered with sickness so tangible I could taste it on my tongue.
“Leave?” She belched. “Oh, my, that’s a big word. I’d never do that, Persy. Dead, alive, and in-between, I will always be there for you.”
“But how?” I tugged at her gown, clinging to her promise. “How will I know you’re really here after your body is gone?”
“Just turn your face up, you silly goose. The sky will always be ours. That’s where we’ll meet, between the sunrays and the clouds.”
On hot, sticky summers, Auntie Tilda and I would lie on the grass by Charles River, cloud-spotting. The clouds came and went like passengers at a train station. First, we’d count them. Then we’d choose the funny-shaped, extra fluffy ones. Then we’d give them names.
Mr. and Mrs. Claudia and Claud Clowdton.
Misty and Smoky Frost.
Auntie Tilda believed in magic, in miracles, and I? Well, I believed in her.
While my older sister, Emmabelle, chased after squirrels, played soccer with the boys, and climbed trees, Auntie Tilda and I admired the sky.
“Will you give me a sign?” I pressed. “That you’re there in the sky? A lightning? Rain? Oh, I know! Maybe a pigeon can poop on me.”
Momma put her hand on my shoulder. In the words of my sister Belle—I needed to take a chill pill, and fast.
“Let’s make a deal,” my aunt suggested, laughing breathlessly. “As you know, clouds are more reliable than shooting stars. Common, but still magical. When the time comes and you grow up, ask for something you want—something you really want—when you see a lone cloud in the sky, and I will grant it to you. That’s how you’ll know I’m there watching. You only get one miracle, Persephone, so be careful what you wish for. But I promise, whatever your wish may be—I will grant it to you.”
I’d kept my Cloud Wish for eleven years, harboring it like a precious heirloom.
I didn’t use it when my grades slipped.
When Elliott Frasier came up with the nickname Pussyfanny Peen-rise sophomore year, and it stuck until graduation.
Not even when Dad got laid off and McDonald’s and hot water became rare luxuries.
In the end, I wasted the Cloud Wish in one, reckless moment.
On a doomed desire, a stupid crush, an unrequited lover.
On the man every media outlet in America referred to as The Villain.
On Cillian Fitzpatrick.
Three Years Ago.
I was drunk before noon the day my best friend, Sailor, got married.
Typically, I was fun-drunk. Responsible drunk. The kind of drunk who talked a little louder, snort-laughed, and danced like no one was watching, but also called an Uber, saved her friends from bad hookups, and never let anyone in my vicinity get a tattoo they were going to regret the next morning.
Not this time.
This time, I was crank-up-the-Enola-Gay plastered. The kind of hammered to end up in the hospital with an IV drip, an oopsie baby, and a criminal record.
There were a variety of reasons I was so drunk, and I would point all of them out if I were able to hold a steady finger in the air.
The problem was, now was the worst possible time to be indisposed. I was on bridesmaid duty. The twenty-three-year-old—drumroll, please—flower girl!
Was it weird to be a full-grown flower girl? Why, not at all. It was an honor.
Okay, fine. It was a little embarrassing.
And by a little embarrassing, I mean soul-crushingly humiliating.
Yet saying no was out of the question.
I was Persephone.
The easygoing, even-tempered, roll-with-the-punches designated friend.
The one who kept the peace and dropped everything when someone needed help.
Aisling, who was about to become Sailor’s sister-in-law, was in charge of holding the eight-foot train, à la Pippa Middleton, and my sister, Emmabelle, was responsible for the rings.
Thorncrown Chapel was a luxurious wedding venue on the Massachusetts coastline. The medieval castle looming over a cliff boasted fifty acres of old-world architecture, French-imported limestone, private gardens, and a view of the ocean. The bridal suite was an oatmeal-hued apartment that offered a claw-foot tub, a front porch, and four fully equipped vanities.
All expenses for the lavish wedding were paid by the groom, Hunter Fitzpatrick’s family. Sailor was marrying up, climbing high up the social ladder.
The Fitzpatricks stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, and the Murdochs.
Rich, powerful, influential, and—at least, according to the rumors—with enough skeletons in their closet to open a cemetery.
It was crazy to think the girl I’d played hopscotch with as a kid and who let me cut her bangs was going to become an American princess in less than an hour.
It was even crazier that she was the one who introduced me to the man who now occupied ninety percent of my brain’s capacity and virtually all my dreams.
The villain who broke my heart without even noticing my immortal existence.
Trying to sober up, I paced back and forth in the room, stopping at the window. I leaned over the sill, tilting my face up to the summer sky. A lone cloud glided lazily behind the sun, holding a promise for a gorgeous day.
“Auntie Tilda, fancy seeing you here! How’ve you been?”
It wasn’t the first time I’d spoken to a cloud like it was my dead aunt, so I couldn’t blame my level of intoxication on this particular quirk. “Weather’s looking fine. Sailor is going to appreciate it. How do I look?”
I twirled in my pine-green gown in front of the window, giving my hair a playful toss. “Think he’ll finally notice me?”
The cloud didn’t need to respond for me to know the answer—no.
He wasn’t going to notice me.
He never did.
I highly doubted he even knew I existed.
Five years I’d known him, and he had yet to speak a word to me.
Heaving a sigh, I grabbed the flowers I’d picked earlier outside the suite and pressed them to my nose with a greedy breath. They smelled warm and fresh, spring-like.
The flowers were pink and shaped like a Valentine’s heart. I wove some of them in my hair, which was partly coiffed at the top.
One of their thorns pricked my finger, and I lifted it, sucking on the drop of blood it produced. The stickiness of the sap filled my mouth, and I groaned.
“I know, I know, I should just get over him. Move on.”
I quickly licked all my fingers to get rid of the nectar. “There’s a fine line between being a romantic and a moron. I think I’ve straddled it about four years too long.”
I’d been harboring my obsession to the eldest Fitzpatrick brother for the past five years. Half a freaking decade. I’d compared every guy I dated to the unattainable tycoon, sent him starry-eyed looks, and compulsively read every piece of information about him in the media. Simply deciding to forget about him wasn’t going to cut it. I’d tried that before.
I needed to go big or go home.
In this case, I needed to use Auntie Tilda’s wish and ask to move on.
I opened my mouth to make the wish, but just as I began to utter the words, my throat clogged up.
I dropped the flowers in my hand, stumbling to the mirror. A rash fanned across my neck like a possessive male palm. The rubicund stain spread south, dipping into the valley between my breasts. Every inch of my flesh was turning scarlet.
How in the hell did I have an allergic reaction? I was too anxious to eat anything all morning.
Maybe it was jealousy.
A green, pointy-toothed monster clawing its way out of my heart. Reminding me that being a bride was my dream, not Sailor’s, darn it.
Sure, it wasn’t feminist, or inspiring, or progressive, but it didn’t make it any less the truth. My truth.
I wanted marriage, a white picket fence, giggly babies in diapers roaming around freely in my backyard, and smelly Labradors chasing them.
Whenever I allowed myself to think about it (which wasn’t very often), the unfairness of it rubbed me off my breath. Sailor was the most asexual thing in the world after a surgical face mask before she’d met Hunter.
Yet she was the one who ended up marrying before all of us.
A knock on the door snapped me out of my trance.
“Pers?” my older sister, Emmabelle—Belle for short—crooned from the other side. “The ceremony starts in twenty minutes. What’s taking you so long?”
Well, Belle, I look shockingly similar to a Cheetos, both in color and complexion.
“You better get your ass in gear. Our girl has already puked in the limo’s trash can twice, cursed the groom like a pirate for not eloping in Vegas, and one of her acrylic nails is playing Amelia Earhart.”
“How do you mean?” I shouted back through the suite’s door.
“It’s disappeared. Hopefully not in her hairdo.” I heard the grin in my sister’s voice. “Oh, by the way. Can you bring Hunter’s ring if his brother doesn’t show up to take it? Technically, it’s Cillian’s job, but he’s probably in the gardens, skinning a female employee and making fashionable coats out of her flesh.”
My stomach clenched at the mention of his name.
“Roger that. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
I heard my sister’s heels clicking as she left, heading back to the waiting limo.
I glanced around the room.
How can I make this stupid rash go away?
Mentally snapping my fingers, I looked around for Aisling “Ash” Fitzpatrick’s purse, finding it on the bed. I rummaged through it, flicking away Band-Aids, a Swiss knife, and a thumb-size makeup kit. She must have Benadryl and antihistamines. She was a Girl Scout, ready for any occasion, be it a rash, a broken nail, a World War, or a sudden pandemic.
“Bingo.” I tugged a skin-soothing ointment tube from the diamond-studded Hermès. I scrubbed the lotion on my skin, pleased with my drunken self, when the door behind me flung open.
“Five minutes, Belle.” My eyes were still glued to my blemished arms. “And yeah, I remember, Hunter’s ring…”
I looked up. My jaw slacked as the rest of my words shriveled back into my throat. The ointment slipped between my fingers.
Cillian “Kill” Fitzpatrick stood at the door.
Hunter Fitzpatrick’s older brother.
The most eligible bachelor in America.
A stonehearted heir with a face sculpted from marble.
Attainable as the moon, and just as cold and wavering.
Most important of all: the man I’d loved in secret since the first day I’d laid eyes on him.
His auburn hair was slicked back, his eyes a pair of smoky ambers. Honey-rimmed yet lacking any warmth. He wore an Edwardian tux, a chunky Rolex, and the slight frown of a man who regarded anyone he couldn’t screw or make money out of as an inconvenience.
He was always calm, quiet, and reserved, never drawing attention to himself yet owning every room he entered.
Unlike his siblings, Cillian wasn’t beautiful.
Not in the conventional sense, anyway. His face was too sharp, his features too bold, his sneer too mocking. His strong jaw and hooded eyes didn’t harmonize together in a symphony of flawless strokes. But there was something decadent about him that I found more alluring than the straightforwardness in Hunter’s Apollo-like perfection or the Aisling’s Snow White beauty.
Cillian was a dirty lullaby, inviting me to sink into his claws and nestle in his darkness.
And I, aptly named after the goddess of spring, longed for the ground to crack open and suck me in. To fall into his underworld and never emerge.
Whoa. That last mimosa really killed whatever was left of my brain cells.
“Cillian,” I choked out. “Hello. Hey. Hi.”
So eloquent, Pers.
I peppered my greeting by scratching my neck. It was just my luck to be alone with him in a room for the first time ever while looking and feeling like a ball of lava.
Cillian ambled toward the safe with the indolent elegance of a big cat, oozing raw danger that made my toes curl. His indifference often made me wonder if I was even in the room with him.
“Three minutes until the limo leaves, Penrose.”
So I did exist.
My breathing became labored, slow, and I was starting to realize I might need to call an ambulance.
“Are you excited?” I managed.
The metal door of the safe clicked mechanically, unlocking. He took out the black velvet box of Hunter’s ring, pausing to look at me, his eyes sliding from my red face and arms to the pink and white flowers crowning my head. Something passed across his features—a moment of hesitation—before he shook his head, then made his way back to the door.
“Wait!” I cried.
He stopped but didn’t turn to face me.
“I need…I need…” A better vocabulary, obviously. “I need you to call an ambulance. I think I’m having an allergic reaction.”
He swiveled on his heel, assessing me. Every second under his scrutiny dropped my temperature by ten degrees. Sharing a space with Cillian Fitzpatrick was an experience. Like sitting in an obscure, vacant cathedral.
At that moment, I wished I were my sister, Emmabelle.
She would tell him to stick his attitude where the sun don’t shine. Then drag him into one of the private gardens after the ceremony and ride his face.
But I wasn’t Belle. I was Persephone.
Timid, nice, Goody Two-shoes Persy.
The awkward romantic.
The boring one.
There was a beat of silence before he took a step back into the room, closing the door after him.
“Not much going on inside that pretty head, huh?”
He sighed, discarding his blazer on the bed, then unbuttoning his cuff links. Hiking his dress shirt up his muscled forearms, he stared me down with dissatisfaction.
My body had decided this was a great time as any to collapse on the floor, so it did just that. I crashed on the carpet, heaving as I tried to draw my next breath.
So that’s how Auntie Tilda felt.
Unaffected by my fall, Cillian flicked the faucet of the claw-foot bath in the middle of the room, turning the tap to the blue side, so the water would be ice-cold.
Satisfied with the water temperature, he stepped toward me, rolled me over on my stomach with the tip of his loafers—like I was a sandbag—and leaned down, pressing his palm to the base of my spine.
“What are you—” I gasped.
“Don’t worry.” He tore the corseted dress from my body with one long movement. The violent sound of fabric ripping and buttons popping sliced through the air. “My tastes don’t run to little girls.”
There was an age different between us. Twelve years weren’t something you could easily disregard. It never bothered me, though.
What did bother me was my new state of nakedness. I shivered like a leaf beneath him.
“What the hell did you do?” I shrieked.
“You’re poisoned,” he announced matter-of-factly.
That made me sober up.
He kicked the pink flowers next to me in answer. They careened to the other side of the room.
My breath became shallower, more labored. The vitality seeped out of my body. The echo of gurgling water pouring into the tub was monotone and soothing, and suddenly, I was exhausted. I wanted to sleep.
“I found them in the garden outside the suite,” I murmured, my lips heavy. My eyes widened as I realized something.
“I tasted them, too.”
“Of course you would.” His voice dripped sarcasm. He hoisted me over his shoulder and carried me to the restroom. Dumping my limp body by the toilet, he lifted my head by fisting my hair. My knees screamed in pain. He wasn’t gentle.
“I’m going to make you throw up,” he announced, and without any further intro, he stuck two of his large fingers down my throat. Deep. I gagged, vomiting immediately while he held my head.
In the words of Joe Exotic, I am never going to recover from this. Cillian holding my hair while he is making me puke.
I emptied my stomach until Cillian was sure everything was gone. Only then did he wipe my face with his bare hand, undeterred by the puke residue.
“What’re they, anywhmm?” I slurred, resting my head on the toilet seat. “The flowers.”
He scooped me in his arms with frightening ease, walking across the room, and dumping me onto the bed. I was stark naked, save for a skin-colored thong.
I heard him rummaging through the cabinets. My eyes fluttered open. Grabbing a first-aid kit, he produced a small bottle of medicine and a syringe, frowning at the tiny instructions on the vial as he spoke.
“Bleeding Hearts. Known for being beautiful, rare, and toxic.”
“Just like you,” I murmured. Was I seriously cracking jokes on my deathbed?
He ignored my riveting observation.
“You were about to poison an entire chapel, Emmalynne.”
“I’m Persephone.” My eyebrows pinched.
Funny how I could barely breathe, but I still managed to take offense at being confused with my sister. “And my sister’s name is Emmabelle, not Emmalynne.”
“Are you sure?” he asked without looking up, sticking the syringe into the bottle and drawing the liquid into it. “I don’t remember the younger one being so mouthy.”
I was filed under The Younger One in his memory. Great.
“Am I sure I am who I am, or what my sister’s name is?” I resumed my scratching, about as demure as a wild ogre. “Either way, the answer is yes. I’m positive.”
My older sister was the memorable one.
She was louder, taller, more voluptuous; her hair was the dazzling shade of champagne. Normally, I didn’t mind being overshadowed. But I hated that Kill remembered Emmabelle and not me, even if he got her name wrong.
It was the first time in my life I resented my sister.
Kill lowered himself to the edge of the bed, slapping his knee.
“On my lap, Flower Girl.”
“The word shouldn’t even be in your vocabulary with me.”
“Turns out I’m full of surprises.” My mouth moved over the linen. I knew I was drooling. Now that I was breathing better, I noticed the stench of puke from my breath.
I turned my head in the other direction on the bed. Maybe dying wasn’t such a bad idea. The man I’d been obsessed with for years was a massive prick and didn’t even know my name.
“I don’t care if I die,” I croaked.
“Ditto, sweetheart. Unfortunately, you’ll have to do it on someone else’s watch.”
His arms came around my body, and he draped me over his legs. My breasts spilled over his muscular thigh, my nipples brushing against his pants. My butt was aligned with his face, allowing him a perfect view. Luckily, I was too weak to feel embarrassed.
He eased the needle into my right buttock, slowly releasing the liquid into my bloodstream. The steroids hit my system immediately, and I sucked in a lungful of oxygen, my mouth opening against his thigh. I moaned in relief, my back arching. I felt a bulge nestling against my body. It was thick and long, splaying across most of my belly. That thing belonged in a rifle case, not a vagina.
And the plot thickens.
It wasn’t the only thing that did just that.
We stayed like this for ten seconds, with me regaining my breath, gulping precious air, and him picking the flowers from my hair with surprising tenderness. He disposed of the flowers inside a napkin, then folded it a few times. He put one hand on my butt cheek and pulled the syringe out slowly, causing ripples of desire to run along my body.
My head dropped to the bed.
I was shamefully close to an orgasm.
“Thank you,” I said quietly, pushing my palms up on the bed to rise. He plastered a hand over my back, lowering me down to lie across his lap.
“Don’t move. Your bath should be ready any minute.”
He had the eerie, irritating ability to treat me like dirt while saving me at the same time. Stuck in a state of drunkenness, gratefulness, and mortification, I followed his instructions.
“So. Persephone.” He tasted my name on his tongue, rolling my panties down my legs with his strong, long fingers. “Did your parents know you were going to be insufferable and punished you in advance with a stripper’s name, or were they on a Greek mythology kick?”
“My Auntie Tilda named me. She battled breast cancer, on and off. The week I was born, she got the all clear after her first round of chemo. My mother let her name me as a present.”
In hindsight, they were too quick to celebrate. The cancer came back in full force a few years later, claiming my aunt’s life. At least I had a few good years with her.
“They couldn’t say no.” Cillian tossed my panties on the floor.
“I love my name.”
“It means something.”
“Nothing means anything.”
I whipped my head to flash him an angry look, my cheeks hot with anger. “Whatever you say, Dr. Seuss.”
Cillian took off my heels, leaving me completely naked. He discarded me on the bed to stand up and turn off the faucet, then he took a seat on the edge of the bathtub.
“Lady-in-bath.” He swirled his finger in the water, checking the temperature.
I cocked my head from my position on the bed.
“That’s another name for the bleeding heart,” he explained aloofly. “Get in.”
He turned his back to me, allowing me some privacy. I stepped into the bath, sucking in a breath. The water was ice-cold.
Cillian texted on his phone while the arctic water soothed my skin. I was already feeling much better after the shot. Despite throwing up most of what I’d eaten and drank that morning, I was still lush. Silence stretched between us, punctuated by staff and event coordinators barking instructions beyond the suite’s walls. I knew that despite the awkward situation, I only had one chance to tell him how I felt. The odds were against me. Other than his erection at having me buck naked on his lap, he seemed turned off by my very existence.
But it was now or never, and never was too long a time to live without the man I loved.
“I want you.” I propped my head against the cool surface of the bath. The words soaked the walls and ceiling, and the truth filled the air, charging it with electricity. Using the L-word was too intimate. Too scary. I knew what I felt for him was love—despite his rude behavior—but I also knew he would never believe me.
His hands busied over his phone. Maybe he didn’t hear me.
“I’ve always wanted you,” I said, louder.
A glutton for punishment, I continued, my pride and confidence collapsing brick by brick.
“Sometimes I want you so much it hurts to breathe. Sometimes the pain from breathing is a nice distraction from wanting you.”
A knock on the door made him dart up. Aisling was on the threshold, holding a replica of the bridesmaids dress we all wore.
“You said you needed my extra gown? Why on earth…” She trailed off, taking me in behind her brother’s shoulder. Her eyes flared.
“Holy Mother Mary. Did you two…?”
“Not in a million years,” Cillian snapped, plucking the dress from his sister’s hand. “Stall the limo. She’ll be down in five minutes.”
With that, he slammed the door in her face, then locked it for good measure.
Not in a million years.
White-hot panic mixed with good ole embarrassment coursed through my veins.
Reality sank in.
I’d poisoned myself.
Rambled to Cillian drunkenly.
Let him undress me, make me puke, give me a shot, hurl me into the bathtub.
Then confessed my undying love for him with vomit pieces still decorating my mouth.
Kill threw a bathrobe into my hands, all business.
I sprang up on my feet, doing as I was told.
He rounded on me with Aisling’s spare dress, helping me into it.
“I don’t want your help,” I bit out, feeling my cheeks flush.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“I don’t care what you want.”
Pursing my lips, I watched his dark figure in the mirror as he fastened my corset, working quicker and more efficiently than any seamstress I’d ever seen in action. It was jarring. His fingers moved like magic around the ribbon, looping it into the hoops expertly to tie me like a bowed present.
It dawned on me he knew I was poisoned from the moment he stepped into the room and saw the flowers in my hair, but hadn’t offered to help me until I asked him to call an ambulance.
I could have died.
He wasn’t kidding when he said he only saved me because he didn’t want me to die on his watch—he honestly didn’t care.
Cillian tugged at the satin strings of my dress, tightening it around me.
“You’re hurting me,” I hissed, narrowing my eyes at the mirror in front of us.
“That’s what you get for having a bleeding heart.”
“The flower, or organ?”
“Both. One is a fast poison. The other slow, but just as destructive.”
My eyes clung to him in our reflection. Graceful and self-assured. He stood tall and proud, never used profanity, and was the most meticulous person I knew.
It was what I admired about him the most. The thin film of properness engulfing the chaos teeming inside him. I knew that underneath the flawless exterior laid something untamed and dangerous.
It felt like our secret. The perfect Cillian Fitzpatrick was, in fact, not so perfect. And all I wanted was to find out how.
“You weren’t going to help me. You were going to leave me to die.” My tone was frighteningly mild. I became more sober with each passing second. “Why did you?”
“A poisoned bridesmaid makes bad press.”
“And they say chivalry is dead,” I said sarcastically.
“Chivalry might be dead, but you’re not, so shut up and be grateful.” He gave the satin cords another yank. I winced.
He did have a point. Cillian not only saved me this morning but he also didn’t try any funny business and was probably running just as late as I was now because my dumb ass had decided to pick poisonous flowers.
Begrudgingly, I muttered, “Thanks.”
He arched an eyebrow, as if to ask—for what?
“For being a gentleman,” I clarified.
Our eyes clashed in the mirror.
“I’m no gentleman, Flower Girl.”
He finished with a final pull, then stepped away and picked up his blazer from the mattress. I had to think on my feet, fast. My gaze drifted to the window. The lone cloud was still there.
Waiting to be used.
You only get one miracle.
This one was worth it.
I took a deep breath and said the words aloud, not wanting to half-ass it in case there was a fine print and I needed to do the whole Hocus Pocus thing.
“I wish you’d fall in love with me.”
The words surged out of my mouth like a blizzard, making him freeze midstride on his way to the door. He turned around, his face a perfect mask of harsh brutality.
Drawing a breath, I continued.
“I wish you’d fall in love with me so hard you won’t be able to think about anything else. To eat. To breathe. When my Aunt Tilda died, she granted me one miracle. This is the wish I choose. Your love. There’s a world beyond your ice walls, Cillian Fitzpatrick, and it is full of laughter and joy and warmth.” I took a step in his direction, my knees wobbling. “I’m going to pay back your favor. I’m going to save your life in my own way.”
For the first time since he entered the room, I saw something resembling curiosity on his face. Even my naked body splayed on his lap didn’t make him as much as blink twice. But this? This pierced his exterior, even if it only made the tiniest of cracks. His brows pinched, and he advanced toward me, erasing the space between us in three confident strides. Outside, Belle and Aisling banged their fists on the door, yelling that we were late.
My entire life spun out of focus at that moment. My carefully crafted fantasy unraveling into a nightmare.
Cillian tipped my chin up with his finger, his eyes hard on mine.
“Listen to me carefully, Persephone, because I will only say it once. You are going to walk out of this room and forget you know me, just as I’ve failed to notice your existence thus far. You will meet a nice, sane, boring guy. A perfect fit for your nice, sane, boring self. You’ll get married to him, have his babies, and thank your lucky stars I wasn’t horny enough to take you up on your less than subtle offer. I’m giving you the gift of turning you down. Take it and run for the hills.”
He smiled for the first time, and it was so unpleasant, so twisted that it knocked the breath out of my chest. His smile told me he wasn’t happy. Hadn’t been for years. Decades, even.
“Why do you hate me?” I whispered.
Tears blurred my vision, but I refused to let them fall.
“Hate you?” He wiped the tears with the back of his hand. “I have no feelings, Persephone. Not for you. Not at all. I am incapable of hating you. But I will also never, ever love you.”
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