I’D TAKEN HER, but ultimately, she’d taken me.
I’d tried to destroy her, but serendipitously, she’d destroyed me.
This was the beginning of the end.
Not the end of my feelings for her but the way of my life, my world.
Something would have to change.
Something would have to give…
Someone would have to die.
I EXISTED WITH a brain full of betrayal, schemes, and plotting.
Living with the Hawks was utterly exhausting. Every day was a challenge to figure out the truths from the lies. But no matter how hard I worked, I could never seem to unravel reality from fiction.
And with a winner came a loser. One triumphant and one depressed. A trophy over misery.
Two days had passed since Kestrel had granted the truth to one huge mystery. Two days in which I hadn’t been able to think of anything else.
I wanted to hate Jethro for duping me—for stringing me along like an idiot.
But whenever my anger boiled over, needing desperately to confront him, I remembered one thing.
One important, vital thing.
He’d initiated contact before he was told.
He’d communicated with me almost as if it were a cry for help, rather than a plot to deceive.
If this were another trick, then so help him, I’d find a way to castrate him.
But, somehow, I didn’t think it was.
I had a horrible feeling this was the one way that he would let me in. An avenue of truths that he felt comfortable enough to continue, because a silent written word didn’t have as much weight as a loudly spoken one.
Which brought me back to my vitally important conclusion:
Jethro wants to be honest.
He wanted to stop playing charades and show me everything he kept hidden.
He wanted to talk to someone. Perhaps, for the first time in his life, he wasn’t satisfied with the hand life dealt him and…
Stop fabricating excuses.
All day, I’d been coming up with theories on why he was how he was and reading too far into things that he’d done.
It could be as simple as: he’d been told to get in touch. Told to initiate contact in a way that could potentially mould me into a more submissive captive, especially if I were to believe he was on my side.
I wanted to believe he’d acted against his father. But no matter how much I wished it, it didn’t make it was true.
How do you explain the knowing then?
I slouched against my pillows in bed. That was true. A part of me just seemed to know. Call it either sheer idiocy or feminine intuition. I believed he’d texted me because I was the first outsider permitted into his world—the only one not a Hawk.
My brain hurt.
When we were alone, when we weren’t arguing or fighting, there was an enchanting calmness. A connection.
Closing my eyes, I let my mind skip back to Kes’s unwilling promise. The way his eyes had darkened with secrets as I’d collapsed into his arms from the vertigo spell two days ago.
A crushing headache appeared from nowhere. It was the most I could do to stay present and not permit my mind to relive every text Jethro had sent to see the hidden agendas now that I knew it was him.
“I’m—I’m okay. You can let me go.” I struggled out of Kes’s embrace, my skin humming from his touch. I needed some space. I needed a world full of space to get over the treachery and lies.
“You didn’t know? You hadn’t guessed?” Kes crossed his arms, never taking his golden eyes from mine.
I glowered. “How could I know? I thought the messages were from you!”
He flinched. “Yes, that was the plan. To make you believe it was me, so he could continue on with whatever little mind games he was playing.” Leaning closer, he added, “I haven’t been privy to any of the messages he sent you or you sent him—so don’t feel like I’ve intruded on details that I shouldn’t.”
Anger infused my blood. “If you were both in on it—why didn’t he show you the messages? Why were you so nice to me? What does all of this mean?”
Kes moved away, reclining against a sapling. “I was nice because that’s just who I am. Yes, I come from a family with twisted up morals and I’m loyal to those twisted up morals, but I also did it out of loyalty to my brother. If you’re pissed, direct it all on him. Not me.”
“Oh, believe me. I’m pissed. Beyond pissed.” My hands balled as my mind filled with crazy ideas of retribution and revenge. I would make him pay.
“I’d cool down before you spring it on him. Best to keep it quiet. Cut doesn’t know. It was just me who knew Jet had been in touch with you before he was given the go-ahead to collect you in Milan.”
I froze. “Why did he initiate conversation with me almost five weeks before he could claim me?”
Kes shook his head. “The day I understand my brother is the day I’ll gamble my entire inheritance on the stock market. I can’t work him out. The only thing I can do is be there for him. And I only found out ‘cause he changed pretty much around the same time he started messaging you. Something was different—we’re close. So, I saw it before the others.”
My brain throbbed trying to figure out just what had changed in Jethro. He’d seemed the perfect Hawk when he’d come to collect me. Cold as ice and deadly as a sword.
Now that I knew his secret, I had power. And I had no intention of giving that power back. Jethro had been playing me for far too long. He’d successfully screwed with my head. It was time for payback. “Don’t tell him that I know.”
Kes’s eyes popped wide. “Pardon?”
“You heard me. Don’t tell Jethro about today. Let him continue to think I’m clueless.” My heart frothed with rage and unhappiness. I was so stupid to believe I’d gotten through to him on some level. The sex between us left both of us stripped bare. Something more than family feuds and hatred existed when he slid inside me and sent both of us shattering into dust.
I’d let him inside me. In so many ways. It was my turn to do the same.
“You know I can’t do that, Nila. As welcome as you are in our household, and as much as I like hanging out with you, I can’t betray Jet. Not after everything he’s been through.”
I pounced on the small thread of truth about my tormentor. “What has he been through, Kes? Tell me and I’ll march back to the Hall right now and tell him myself.”
Kes shifted uncomfortably, refusing to meet my eyes. “Slip of the tongue. Forget it.”
Crossing my arms, I hissed, “Fine. Seeing as you’re so capable of keeping secrets, keep this one for me.”
Kes scowled. “Keeping my own flesh and blood’s issues hidden isn’t the same thing as helping out a Weaver.”
My heart raced. If Jethro hadn’t taught me how to stand up for myself, I would’ve cowered at the thought of being so pushy with a full-grown man all alone in a forest. Now, I was raging and fully intended to get my own way. “Give me two weeks. Two weeks before you tell him that I know. Do that and I’ll be forever grateful.”
His shoulders slumped in defeat. “How can you be forever grateful when forever isn’t something anyone has.”
Especially me, seeing as my lifespan was destined to be significantly shorter than his.
“Just…please, Kestrel. One favour.”
It took him a while to give in. His allegiance to his brother was strong.
Finally, he huffed. “Fine. But it won’t save you from his temper when he finds out.”
However, I had no intention of suffering Jethro’s wrath. I had every right to deceive him after he did it to me. My revelations were safe—for now. I trusted that Kes wouldn’t say anything. I didn’t know why, but on some level I did trust Kes—just enough to use him in my plans. And I was fully committed to tripping Jethro up.
It was his turn to divulge things he might not have if he’d known the truth. Hiding behind the pretence that Kite was Kes had made him softer the past few weeks. I would use that chink to make the crevice I’d been trying to form since I gave him a blowjob after hunting me down.
I couldn’t think about anything else. I couldn’t focus on sketching, sewing, reading.
My brain was a whirly-gig of Jethro. Kite. Jethro. Kite.
And I’d had enough.
Throwing myself out of bed after another sleepless night, I wrenched back the curtains and glowered at the dismal weather.
The watery dawn did nothing to inspire either anger or contentment. The sky was grey. Fog looked like haunting ghosts, threading its ghoulish tentacles over the lower woodland of the estate. No birds chirped or sun shone.
Summer had truly abandoned us. The bite in the air shouted ‘go back to bed where it’s warm’ but my brain had no such intention.
I hadn’t relaxed for two days. I’d stared at my phone, determined to text Jethro and trip him into revealing everything he kept secret, only to stare blankly at an empty message.
Now that I knew it was him, my willingness to show so much had gone. Knowledge was power and he had too much of mine already. How could I dig deeper into his mystery while maintaining all of mine?
The answer—I couldn’t. And that made me incredibly nervous. To find out who he truly was, I had to show everything that made me real. And despite the emotional growth spurt I’d endured at the hands of the Hawks, I wasn’t ready to evolve again. I’d lost so much of myself already—how much was I prepared to leave behind before I became a perfect stranger?
“Ah!” I dug my fingers into my hair. I needed a reprieve from my racing thoughts, and I knew exactly how to do it.
Mother Nature’s sudden urge to switch seasons from summer to winter couldn’t stop my itch.
I needed fresh air, and I needed it now.
Racing around my room in the new Weaver quarters where Jethro had made me beg and come apart with his cock deep inside me, I found my black spandex shorts and highlighter pink sports bra. Pulling the clothing on, followed by my sneakers, I quickly smoothed my hair into a bun, and shot from the room.
I hadn’t worn my exercise gear since the morning of the Milan runway show. I’d sprinted until I’d collapsed off the treadmill at the hotel, hoping I could dispel my anxiety enough to hide my stupid nerves and prevent a vertigo spell in front of the press.
It had worked—mainly. Until Jethro arrived, of course.
The moment when I’d set eyes upon him, I’d been done for. He’d been so dashing with his suit, tie, and diamond pin. So perfectly refined with his elegant haircut, chiselled physique, and sculptured lips. Even though his soul was dark, his body had summoned me.
He’d called to me, and like the stupid Weaver I was, I’d followed him blindly.
Now, it’s his turn to follow my whims, my rules.
Jogging down the corridor, my racing mind and temper eased, already reacting to the stress relief I’d sought all my life.
I need him out.
It wasn’t fair. I was supposed to seduce him and make him care for me—not the other way around. I wasn’t supposed to fall for my own games.
Lust was as dangerous as love. Only it was worse because it had the power to make even the worst ideas seem plausible—and even recommended—when a sexual reward was given.
The moment Jethro gave in and kissed me, I’d betrayed more than just myself. I’d betrayed my entire family line and all the Weaver women who’d died before me.
I had feelings for him.
A dangerous softness toward my would-be-killer.
It has to end.
I had to find a way to seduce him…to make him love me, all while I kept my heart frigid and locked away in an ice fortress.
I laughed under my breath. You sound just like him. I wanted to turn into the female equivalent of his glacial shell.
Only, ice wasn’t impervious. Ice melted and succumbed to fire.
I’d proven that over the past month.
The house breathed around me with gentle heartbeats only ancient dwellings could have. Spirits of past generations lived in its walls, revenants danced in the drapery, and figments of long forgotten lovers floated through the tapestries.
A grandfather clock tick-tocked as I jogged past, showing the time at six thirty a.m.
After being privy to the business meetings with Kes and the Black Diamonds, I knew the men never got up this early. They worked late, dealing with shipments and the transportation of stones worth more than any dress I could sew. Darkness was their asset, the sun their foe.
At least I could run and be back before anyone tried to stop me.
I didn’t want them to draw the wrong conclusion that I was trying to escape again. I blinked as I ran head first into a horrendous conclusion.
Even if you found the boundary this morning, you wouldn’t leave.
My heart thumped harder at the tangled web I lived.
Freedom was something I wanted more than anything. But even if I escaped the Hawks, I would only run back into the trap of pity and vertigo. I wanted more than that. I deserved more than that.
If I found the estate edge, I wouldn’t disappear. I couldn’t.
My captivity wasn’t just about me anymore. It was about the future. It was about Jethro.
It was about living.
The passion, the intensity, the blazing ferocity of existing with enemies and plotting beneath their noses was a much worthier cause than sitting at home sewing for the masses.
This was about me. Me standing up for myself, and for a future I wanted, not a future already planned for me.
This was about so many twisted things.
I wrenched open the French doors at the end of the corridor and stumbled into the foggy dawn. Fresh air welcomed me and I found a reprieve from my scrambled thoughts.
I can’t forget my ultimate plan.
No matter how Jethro endeared himself to me—giving me glimpses of someone barely coping inside his wintry armor—I wasn’t going to forget my goal.
Not just for myself, but for the rest of my legacy. My children and their children and their children’s children would never have to go through this. I intended to be the last Weaver stolen.
It’s time for a new debt—one that owes us life, not death.
Sucking in lungfuls of crisp air, I steeled myself in what I had to do. In order to win, I had to guard my soul. I had to play along with Jethro’s mind games and hope to God I won first.
A cool breeze whistled through the trees, sounding like haunted laments. I shivered, wishing I’d brought a jacket.
You’ll be sweating in ten minutes. Ignore it.
Gritting my teeth against the cold, I bent over and stretched my quads. The tug and slow release of muscles was heaven after the stress of the past few days.
My body hummed with the knowledge it was about to run.
For fun this time, not for survival.
Bouncing on the spot, I rolled my shoulders, eyeing up the sweeping lawn before me. If I went right, I’d loop around the stables. If I went left, I’d cut through the sprawling rose garden and orchards.
Down the meandering path that disappeared over the horizon.
I switched from bouncing to jogging.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” a cool voice whispered through the silver fog.
I wrenched to a stop, peering behind me.
“I thought you’d realised running wasn’t a viable option, Ms. Weaver.”
His icy voice sent a strange mixture of hot and cold desire down my spine. Jethro morphed into being, seeming to solidify from the mist like a terrible poltergeist. He leaned against one of the pillars holding up the portico, crossing his arms.
My heart collapsed, unable to untangle the maze of hypocrisy between us. My skin begged for his touch. My lips tingled for his. Every inch of me craved what he could deliver.
Heat. Passion. An eruption that I felt in every cell.
But none of that was real.
And I refused to believe in trickery any longer.
Mirroring his body language, I crossed my arms. “I realise escaping isn’t a viable option. But I’m not escaping. I’m running. Running is my only option to escape the mess you’ve made.”
His jaw clenched. “The mess I’ve made?”
“Yes.” I took a step backward as he advanced. “You’re messing me up, and I’m done playing whatever it is that you’re doing.” I sucked in courage and embraced honesty. It seemed to work around him, and I needed him to see how serious I was. How hurt I was with his deception.
Baring my teeth, I said, “It seems I have a weakness for you, but I changed my mind. I don’t—”
A low growl escaped him. “A weakness? You call what happened between us a fucking weakness?”
My breathing ratcheted as if I’d already run two miles. “The worst kind of weakness.”
He smiled, but no mirth entered his gaze. If anything, his golden eyes were luminous with anger. “You’re the one who started it…Nila.”
I gasped at the delicious decadence of my name on his lips. The sound echoed in his mouth, shooting straight to my core.
Jethro advanced again, his body trembling with barely veiled lust. “You’re the one who created this problem.” His hand came up, fingers slinking through my tied-up hair, tightening around the back of my skull. “I can’t hear the name Weaver without getting fucking hard. I can’t even think of you without boiling with need.”
His nose brushed against mine, his lips so damn close to stealing all my scrambled plans and sending me headfirst into a life of debauchery.
“You should never have said those two words, Ms. Weaver. I told you. We’re both fucked now.”
My mind was blank, every synapse focusing on his fingers in my hair and his mouth only millimetres from mine. “What two words?”
He chuckled. The sound was self-deprecating and almost morbid with dark intensity. “Kiss me.”
I shivered in his hold. “You’re reminding me of what started this mess, or you’re asking me to kiss you?”
Ask me. And I will. God, how I will.
I’d kiss him until I’d stripped him of his arctic armor and destroyed it, I’d lick him until I tasted his truth, and I’d bite him until I’d eaten every morsel of his soul.
I’d do all that so he had nowhere left to hide.
We stood wrapped in foggy silence. The drawn out anticipation of a kiss turned my legs to jelly. If he pressed his mouth to mine, I wouldn’t be going for my run. I would climb his body and impale myself on his cock.
Fakery be damned.
Kite’s messages and deceit be damned.
I just wanted a raw connection—with this man, who made my soul whimper for wrongness.
Jethro’s tongue slipped between his lips, hypnotising me. Then…he let me go. “No, I’m not asking you to kiss me. I won’t ever ask anything from you.”
I flinched as if he’d slapped me. “Why not?”
“Because I own you. Everything I want will be given, not requested.”
I should hate him. I should smite him. So, why did his every word seduce me, even while I knew his morals were chauvinistic and heartless?
Forcing my body to obey, I shoved the weakness I had for him as far away as possible. My eyes trailed down his front. He wore tan jodhpurs, black riding boots, and a tweed jacket. The bulge between his legs looked heavy and far too dangerous to be legal.
“You’ve been riding.”
A gentle gust of early morning air blew his scent directly into my nose. I inhaled, soaking my lungs in hay, horse, and all things Jethro.
He nodded, crossing his arms once again. “You run. I ride. Seems we have something else in common.”
Something other than being forced into this debt and finding each other irresistible, you mean?
“Oh, what’s that?”
Jethro stepped closer, seeming to bring shadows into the smoky light of dawn. “We both need time alone to hide from the things that chase us.” He stiffened, his eyes churning with things he refused to voice. A five o’ clock shadow decorated his strong jaw, his lips parted while his gaze was pure brimstone.
Swiftly, he cupped my cheek.
Electricity instantly sparked beneath his fingertips.
Would I always suffer the rhapsody of his touch?
My skin smouldered; pinpricks of light, of fire, of hell, all burnished beneath his hold. I swayed, pressing my face harder into his palm.
He sucked in a breath, his fingers digging harder against my cheekbone.
The chemistry and need to devour each other thickened with every heartbeat.
We stood there, frozen on the stoop of Hawksridge Hall just waiting for the other to move. The moment we did, our clothes would disintegrate and I would willingly let him drag me into a bush and fuck me.
Lust and tension swirled.
I had so many questions and doubts; so many reasons to hate and fear him. But when he touched me…poof.
I no longer remembered, nor cared.
We swayed closer, drawn against our will to close the aching distance.
I couldn’t breathe.
Kiss me. Please, kiss me.
The moment stretched until it hummed with overwhelming possibilities.
Then, it snapped.
Shattering around our feet.
“You’re too fucking dangerous,” Jethro muttered, removing his touch and stepping away. Dragging his hand through his hair, he commanded, “Wait here. Don’t go anywhere.” His hands went to his jacket buttons, undoing them with nimble fingers.
I blinked, struggling to shed myself of heavy need and focus on the true reason why I stood barely dressed in the freezing morning. “I’m not escaping. I’ll be back in forty minutes or so.”
He shook his head, slipping out of his tweed and revealing a black long-sleeved jumper.
My mouth went dry. Even in clothing, I could make out every ridge of muscle in his stomach, every ripple of energy as he breathed in and out. He was designed straight from my fantasies, and I hated him for being so splendid.
My core clenched, sending flutters of wetness between my legs.
I hadn’t seen him in two days, yet I’d panted after him as if he’d been missing my entire life.
If he suspected I knew that he was Kite, he hadn’t let on. After Kes had told me the truth, I’d waited for Jethro to barge into my room and swear me to secrecy.
But he hadn’t.
He didn’t look at me any differently; he gave no outward sign that his lies had begun to unravel. As much as he confounded and frustrated me, I couldn’t help admiring his perfection at hiding.
I wanted to be like him. I wanted to protect my secrets so damn well that whatever I did next would come as a surprise.
I wanted to rule him.
“I’m coming with you. Don’t leave.” He disappeared into the house, leaving me abandoned and covered in chills from both the morning air and his departure.
Jogging on the spot, I deliberated ignoring him and leaving.
What was the worst that could happen? He’d have to chase me again. My tummy coiled at the thought. I liked that idea way too much. I liked the thought of what would happen after he found me.
The power I’d felt giving him that blowjob. The awe and attraction that’d glowed in his eyes.
I want that again.
Screw waiting like a good little captive.
Make him hunt.
And then I would make him explode.
“I tried to play a game. I tried to wield deceit as perfectly as the Hawks. But when I thought I was winning, I wasn’t. Jethro isn’t what he seems—he’s the master of duplicity. However, I refuse to let him annihilate me further.”
Nila Weaver has grown from naïve seamstress to full-blown fighter. Every humdrum object is her arsenal, and sex…sex is her greatest weapon of all.
She’s paid the First Debt. She’ll probably pay more.
But she has no intention of letting the Hawks win.
Jethro Hawk has found more than a worthy adversary in Nila—he’s found the woman who could destroy him. There’s a fine line between hatred and love, and an even finer path between fear and respect.
The fate of his house rests on his shoulders, but no matter how much ice lives inside his heart, Nila flames too bright to be extinguished.
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