“I should have been the one to kill him. It was my responsibility to protect you. And I should have pulled the trigger.” What’s one more soul? Because that’s why I’m angry. That and this strange connection we now have. Me and this girl. The blood of my enemy. And what I should do is hate her. I should use her body, take my fill of her, and hate her.
But it’s not hate I feel. Not even fucking close.
We’re connected. We are the same in some cruel way fate has of fucking with us and driving us to the brink. And that knowledge is what has me lifting her arms from around my neck. Has me stepping back and, with all the strength I have in me, walking away.
My brother’s shoulder bumps mine when I walk into the bedroom as he stalks out, shirtless, the clothes he’s still wearing soaked through. His forehead is creased, eyes cast straight ahead. Unseeing. Or unwilling to see.
He disappears down the hall and I hear the shower switch off. I walk into Vittoria’s bedroom to the bathroom where a naked, still handcuffed Vittoria stumbles, disoriented from the shower. She leaves a pool of water as she crosses the room to pick up a folded towel from the stack. As she stands facing away from me, I’m not sure she realizes I’m there. Staring straight ahead, she’s unmoving as water drips down her back.
I wait until she turns toward me. She doesn’t startle, so maybe she did know I was here. Her eyes lock on mine, but I can’t read her. No, it’s not that I can’t read her. It’s that what I see is her own confusion. I watch her, not seeing this naked girl before me but the one in that barn. The one who snatched my gun from me and fired half a dozen bullet holes into that man. He deserved to die. Absolutely. But for her to have done it? And for me to have watched her face as she did it? Her eyes? It was a strange, dark thing. A thing I’m not sure I understand.
My brother’s words echo.
“She belongs to us now. And we look after what is ours.”
“What happened?” I ask her.
She doesn’t look looked after. If he’d touched her, she would have carved out his eyes. She’s a fighter. A survivor. And I know Amadeo. He wouldn’t have touched her, not given what just happened. But there’s something about her that neither my brother nor I expected. She’s under his skin—mine too—and pushing our buttons when I don’t even think she means to.
Vittoria blinks, then shakes her head to clear whatever thought lingers there. My brother, I guess.
“He deserved to die,” she mutters.
I shake my head. “Not that. I mean in there. With Amadeo. What happened?”
She doesn’t answer. I move toward her, taking the towel and wrapping it around her shoulders. Her wrists are still bound by the handcuffs. I dry her, squeezing the water from her hair first, then drying her shoulders, her back and arms, her chest, stomach, legs. The blood is gone. Washed away. If only it were that simple.
She stands still as I clean her, eyes never moving from my own. She doesn’t answer me. And all I can think is that this girl, this woman, is damaged.
“I’m tired. I want to sleep,” she says.
“What happened with my brother?”
I grit my teeth. “Dandelion.”
“Maybe you should ask him.” She takes a step away from me, but I catch her arm and draw her back.
“I’m asking you.”
Her expression changes, that blankness giving way to something else, something that makes her appear younger than she is. Her forehead creases. There’s that confusion again.
“He kissed me.”
I guess I’m not expecting that. A kiss. I don’t know why this bothers me, but as I watch the line form between her eyebrows, I know she’s bothered too. I wonder if maybe we’re under her skin too.
With the towel at her back, I lift her. She doesn’t resist as I carry her to the bed and lay her down. From my pocket, I take out the key to the cuffs and unlock them. Slipping them off, I secure one around a rung of the headboard. We may need it later.
She looks at it, then at me.
I take the towel out from under her. My gaze sweeps over her small breasts, the taut nipples, and her slender body with its long, lean legs and arms. All that milky skin is still beautiful, even with all the bandages, the cuts, and the bruises. I want to touch her. Touch every inch of her. But I would only dirty her.
On the finger of her left hand is the sparkling diamond ring. I take that hand and wipe away a smear of red on the polished, perfect stone.