“Jefe?” Javier’s tentative voice came through the door.
Lucius broke the kiss and sat up, pulling me with him. I yanked the cover back in place.
“What?” he barked.
“The jet is ready. I found Mr. Sinclair in your room. One of the hands is helping him.”
“We’re coming.” Lucius smoothed a hand through my hair and rested it on my cheek. “This isn’t over,” he whispered.
No, it isn’t.
He stood and squared his shoulders, all business again.
“We’re leaving?” I asked.
“Now that we’ve tamped down the uprising, Javier will run the plantation until after the Christmas trial.” He glanced away at the last words, unable to look me in the eye. Coward.
Reaching out, I brushed my fingers along his. “Tell me what the trial is.”
He lifted his fingers, seeking more contact. I let my hand stay there, our skin heating wherever we touched.
“I’m not sure. I haven’t spoken to Sin since we left, not until yesterday when I got word of trouble. And then we didn’t have time to discuss the trial. I know generally what it is.” He glanced away again. “But that rat bastard Cal will be sure to make it more interesting since it’s his year.”
I dropped my hand, a deadness spreading in my chest. “Renee told me about her year. I know what’s going to happen to me.”
“It can’t be helped.” He knelt in front of me, his eyes pleading. “All I can tell you is that once I’m Sovereign, I’ll make it all up to you.”
“Just let me go.” I ran my fingertips down his chiseled jaw, the stubble sharp and thick. “You could let me leave. Or we could leave together.”
“No, Stella. You don’t know what you’re asking me. When I’m Sovereign, I can give you anything you want. Anything you’ve ever dreamed about. These trials will just be some hazy memory when we’re flying on our private jet or vacationing in the Maldives or having tea with the fucking royal family. Don’t you see? If I lose, then all of that’s gone. The Vinemonts will spend another ten years under someone else’s thumb. Someone who may be even worse than Cal. Stella, look at me. We can do this.” His face appeared almost boyish in its earnestness.
I laughed, the sound cold even to my ears. “Now it’s a team sport? ‘We’? Are you going to watch as your friends rape me? Hold me down? Cheer them on? Keep count? Gag me to cover my screams? Will all of that be a hazy dream to you once you’re Sovereign?”
He rose, towering over me. “I will do what I have to do to become Sovereign. It’s the right play, Stella. You’ll see.”
Turning his back, he strode away with renewed purpose, as if our chat about my defilement put his head back in the game. “Be ready to leave in half an hour.”
My chin dropped to my chest as he closed the door. Lucius had made up his mind, just like Vinemont, to win at all costs. To them, the value of being Sovereign outweighed my well-being, my freedom, my everything. I stood and dropped the duvet before going to the shutters and throwing them open.
The fields of sugar cane waved in the light breeze as the sun blazed down. The rays were painful, sharp, and unrelenting, but the sugar cane soaked up the punishment and grew stronger, sweeter—more valuable. Every moment under the oppressive heat was a gift, a dose of life when there would otherwise be none. Surviving and thriving.
Was strength always born of fire, of torment? I nodded at the silent question. I would have to suffer to survive. But I would come out the other side. And when I did, I would burn the entire Acquisition to the ground.
The jet ride lasted a few hours, the sun already fading from the sky as we neared land. The dark waters of the Gulf retreated and a twinkle of lights sprouted along the horizon. New Orleans was ablaze, the city vibrant even from the air.
Neither Vinemont nor Lucius spoke to me or each other as they piloted the plane from the open cockpit. Despite the lack of words, the animosity between the brothers had grown into something almost palpable. It swirled around the cabin, making every moment strained. I smiled and relaxed back into my seat, enjoying the tension in both of their backs as they sat at the controls in front of me. Maybe tearing them apart wouldn’t be as difficult as I’d first imagined.
We landed at a private airfield outside the city and taxied over to a hangar. A driver waited out front next to a black limo. Once we came to a stop, Lucius stood and opened the hatch, letting the stairs down so we could exit. He held his hand out for me.
“Don’t touch her,” Vinemont growled.