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He swings back to me, looming large and dark and breathing hard. “Flippancy.” His eyes rake over me. “Why am I not surprised?”

Something wilts inside of me under the searing heat of Griffin’s wrath, seeing in the towering man before me the warlord I know is capable of explosive violence. Despite all the times I’ve provoked him, he’s never once looked at me this way before—like he could hurt me.

Usually I laugh, or at least pretend to, in the path of danger or in the face of unmitigated rage. Not this time. I manage to lift my chin, though. “The truth is out. I don’t know what you want me to say. You got me?”

“You got me?” he thunders, stalking forward. “You got me!”

I clamp my mouth shut and hold my ground. I’m indefensible. I’m a lot of things, but a hypocrite isn’t one of them.

My silence always irks him. This time, it drives him into a full-blown fury. Griffin unsheathes his sword, not even a shred of his rational, reasonable, steady self remaining. When he reaches for me, my blood runs cold, but all he does is manually—and none too gently—remove me from my spot next to the bed. Once I’m out of the way, he hauls back with a two-handed grip and swings down with a furious shout. His blade sinks into the mattress, and I gasp. He heaves his sword back up and then brings it down again. And again. Each hit harder and more savage than the last. In a mighty cyclone of destruction, he slashes, spears, cracks, slices, and breaks everything. In mere minutes, he reduces what was once our huge bed into a heap of mangled feathers, fabrics, and splintered wood.

A hot ache crawls up the back of my throat. My eyes sting, and I tuck my lips between my teeth, biting down to keep my tears in check. My mouth still trembles. He demolished the bed, the one thing in this room with any meaning to us.

Cats don’t cry. I will not cry.

Griffin turns to me, his chest heaving and his eyes feral. I almost can’t hold his stare. “Helen, your cousin, had her baby.”

I blink. My emotions are tumbling like a wild tide, deafening me with their rip and roar, and it takes a moment to latch on to the change in topic. “Here?”

He nods, the movement terse like his words. “She heard you were attacked, for some reason thought she’d be blamed for it, and panicked. It must have triggered labor. Her whole family ended up staying here while the rest of the realm dinner guests left.”

“Her family?” Alarm hits me like a fist in the face. I have to run!

“Her husband’s family.”

Oh. Right. “Who is her husband?” I never took the time to find out. Helen and I barely talked at the realm dinner when we accidentally crossed paths. I was too focused on getting her away from Griffin before she gave away my secrets, or I did something unforgivable, like force her to back off with Compulsion Magic.

“Oreste,” he answers.

“Oreste? Agatone and Urania’s son?” I remember him being preoccupied and waiting for someone to join him at the realm dinner. Helen, I guess.

A scathing smile twists Griffin’s lips. “Not jealous, I hope?”

I scoff. “That’s not funny, you know.” And he obviously knows a lot.

“Oreste and I had an interesting conversation while my mother, Egeria, and Jocasta were tending to Helen behind closed doors. Nerves made him prattle incessantly throughout the entire ordeal, and guess what I learned?” Griffin spears his sword into the upturned table, leaving both the blade and the heavy hilt vibrating from the force of his thrust.

“Helen wasn’t his original choice of brides. He and his parents set their sights much higher, aiming for a Fisan princess and thinking their old lineage, strong magic, and deep coffers could buy them the best there was to have, even if she was little more than a child at the time. But Alpha Fisa must have had other plans for her daughter. She wouldn’t give her up. In fact, Andromeda was so enraged by their presumptuous offer that she sent their messenger back in the form of a bloody stump.” Griffin levels accusing eyes on me. “Know anything about that?”

I don’t answer. I can hardly breathe.

“Oreste, it turns out, is very satisfied now, after all these years of waiting for the ideal wife. Apparently, he’s thrilled he didn’t ‘get saddled with that hellion Catalia. She was wild, hostile, and unpredictable, too much like her mother, and now she’s Beta Fisa and bloody gone, leaving her family in a right mess.’” Griffin’s eyes blaze, burning straight to the bottom of my polluted soul. “Sound like anyone you know, Talia?”

I nod, sickened, unable to force a single word past the awful lump in my throat.


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