“Tell me what happened here!”
“Where is Stuart Page?”
“Where are the guests, the guards, the slaves?”
Each question came with pain.
Pain that would never be strong enough to make me give up my family.
I swallowed down answers until they were so far inside me, they’d have to kill me, resurrect me, then murder me all over again to access.
The shouting and torture stopped.
Silence was my friend until the door opened and light entered and the man with a white beard squatted by my broken face. “Unfortunately, our time together has come to an end. I have a pressing engagement that requires swift attention.” He patted my cheek, grimacing as my blood stained his fingers. “I was going to kill you like you killed everyone here, but...I have a worse punishment for you.”
Standing, he braced himself over me. His heavy boot pressed against my throat. “I’m going to give you a parting gift. And you’re going to die slowly, painfully, all fucking alone in this valley. If I ever hear that you’ve survived or that you climbed out of here like a sewer rat, then I will slice you apart and feed your pieces to my dogs.” He laughed. “You think you stopped us? You think this place is the only one?” He ground his boot harder into my neck. “Stupid boy. No one, especially not you, can stop the lucrative peddling of flesh. Ponder on that while you die. Know that there are others, children, obedient little possessions all kneeling for their masters.”
In a burst of suicidal rage, I fought him. “You fucking son of a—”
And that was the last thing I remembered.
His boot crunching against my head.
Over and over and over...
Throwing myself forward, I didn’t care about the shooting pain up my broken arm or the many aches and stiffness. I crawled out of the blankets and tripped to my feet. I stumbled across the room and slammed into the wall, my breathing shallow and quick.
Clutching a bookshelf, I swallowed hard, doing my best to calm my galloping heart and forget.
You’ve done it before. Do it again.
Slowly, the sharp horror in my head faded, transforming into grimy water that swirled down a drain and vanished. Only once my breathing leveled out, and I no longer shook with nausea did I turn around and face the room.
I sighed gratefully.
Just a room.
No ghosts. No memories. Nothing but a—
What the fuck?
I stalked forward, noticing for the first time I hadn’t been alone in the blankets on the floor. A girl lay on her side, blond hair tangled on the pillow, exhaustion creating deep shadows beneath her closed eyes.
She slept heavily. Her forehead furrowed as if she suffered bad dreams. Her body curled up protectively.
Just as the library was familiar, so was she. I didn’t know her name, and I didn’t know where she’d come from, but she wasn’t a stranger.
Was she friend or foe?
I moved closer, my hands balled, violence simmering in my blood.
Who are you?
Whoever she was, this house was mine. Mine.
I would never have given her permission to stay—
A savage kiss in a storm.
A soul-altering moment as I sank inside her, her body welcoming me, her heart granting me peace, her kindness giving me a sliver of happiness.
I reeled backward.
Gemma goddamn Ashford.
I shook my head as more images poured through me. Recent ones instead of tarnished with history. These fresh recollections couldn’t be shoved behind rusty doors. These were far too vibrant.
A witch sent here to ensure I found my way to hell after living so long in purgatory.
She twitched in the blankets as if she could sense my growing animosity.
She’d been my prisoner. Mine to do whatever the hell I wanted.
Yet...somehow, she’d overthrown me. She’d fought me. Cut me.
She threw me off the goddamn cliff!
I snarled in the dawn.
Who would’ve thought that the closest I would come to dying was at the hands of a woman half my size? A woman who was meant to obey me. My own twisted version of a slave.
Who was she to be so pious and grandiose to think she had the right to sleep in my house? Why was she not in the basement where she belonged? How long had she been free? Rooting through my things. Touching my books. Walking through the dirty archives that this house held.
How dare she!
I bared my teeth.
My naked feet took another step toward her. Pink-gold light from the new sun peeked through the windows, dancing over my body.
My clean body.
A body that only wore a pair of navy boxer briefs. Skin that’d been washed. Wounds that’d been tended to. Hints of her handiwork. Blatant signs she’d dressed me like a child, nursed me like an invalid, and had been there for every fissure of my heavily fractured psyche.
Soft fingers in my hair.
Gentle whispers in the dark.