“It was all a mistake,” I whisper to myself before looking back at Carter. At a version of him that’s guarded and impenetrable while all I am is vulnerable to him. “I know that now.” The realization is sobering.
I meet his gaze as I tell him, “I’m not who you think I am. I’m Aria Talvery and this was never supposed to happen.”
With one of his palms braced on the desk, he lowers his gaze until we’re eye to eye and his lips are close to mine. So close, and that side of me that wants nothing more than his affection begs me to take them with my own and silence whatever words he dares to speak. But I don’t.
“You may be a Talvery, but you’re on the wrong territory, little songbird.” Backing away slightly, he searches for something in my expression before adding, “And even if you hate me, I won’t be letting you go.”
It wasn’t her?
The fuck it wasn’t her.
It’s all I can think about as I lead her back to the bedroom. The sounds of our footsteps are heavy, but not as heavy as the beating of my pulse.
I know that night, I know her voice. That night, that moment even, changed my life forever. I know every detail. The cadence of her words. I’ve dreamed of them and been consumed by that moment for years.
The bedroom door closes with a resounding click as I walk to the dresser, where a new glass and bottle of whiskey wait for me.
I go through the motions, barely listening to her undressing and moving through drawers as I try to calm down.
It’s an impossible task. Every second, the anger rises.
How dare she lie to me. How dare she look me in the eyes and deny something that led me down a path of violence and self-hate. How fucking dare she do that, yet claim to love me.
I’ve never hated how capable she is of affecting me more than I do in this moment.
I’ll never tell her how much it hurts to hear her deny it. I refuse to let her know. I’ll be damned if I ever give her that truth and that power.
As I breathe, the amber liquid flows between the cubes of ice. My grip on the tumbler is loose as I swirl it, but it’s no use. I have no appetite for liquor tonight.
I want to punish her. It’s all I can think about.
I’ve handled everything wrong because I’ve underestimated her, but now that she’s shown her cards and revealed what lows she’s willing to go to, I won’t make that mistake again.
She was right. I should have clipped her wings.
“I don’t know why you can’t believe me,” Aria speaks softly, so softly the rustling of the covers almost drowns out her words as she climbs into bed. Glancing over my shoulder, I watch as she pulls them up closer to her throat and looks back at me the way she always should have, as if I’m the enemy.
I bite down on my tongue to keep from replying as I breathe in through my nose heavily. I don’t know why she’d lie about it. What motive is behind her lies?
My shoulders tense as I lean down to grab what’s inside the top drawer of my dresser. The sound of it opening is ominous. The metal is cold in my hand as the cuffs clink together. While I walk to her, I think about how to cuff her, but the thought of touching her right now is dangerous. So fucking dangerous.
She casts a spell over me each and every time my skin touches her. I can’t risk it.
I toss them on the bed as the thought hits me. “Cuff your left hand to the bedpost,” I command her as I drag the chair in the corner of the room toward the bed, closer to her.
With my back to her, I wonder if she’ll even obey me until the telltale snap of the closure echoes in the bedroom.
Only then do I breathe and sink down into the chair. I have her, and she’s not going anywhere.
The light from the moon shines down on her soft skin in a way that makes my chest ache. She’s so fucking beautiful. She brushes her chestnut locks away from her face and stares expectantly at me before resting back against the headboard.
“Are you just going to keep me here until the war is over and I hate you forever?” she asks when I don’t say anything. Her voice is flat, but she can’t hide the pain in her eyes. She can’t hide that from me. Not when I’ve seen the raw agony the cell brought her, the torment killing Stephan gave her, and the sorrow loving me has stained into those gorgeous hazel eyes.