Page 83 of His Rule (The Rite Trilogy 1)

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I walk for about fifteen minutes, checking over my shoulder often to be sure I'm in the clear. My heart is pounding, and I can't help feeling like I'm being watched, though I'm sure it's just paranoia. That is until I hear a twig break somewhere in the distance.

"Shit," I mutter, glancing around frantically.

I don't see anyone else out here, but the hairs on the back of my neck are alerting me to impending danger, and I can't trust my vision. It's too dark to see much of anything other than the one familiar outbuilding up ahead.

Unwilling to risk being caught, I run toward it as quietly as I can manage, slipping into the darkness of the open space inside before I feel my way blindly to the locked door. The door that Judge made a point to block off.

I couldn't understand why at the time, and I'm surprised to find that when I jiggle the lock now, the jagged edges of the metal come apart, and it falls onto the floor.

It's been cut, I think. But why?

I freeze again when I hear something else. Then it goes silent, and I wonder if my mind is playing tricks on me. My fingers curl around the door handle, and uncertainty makes me pause. This could either be the worst place to hide or the best. The sound of another twig snapping makes the decision for me, and I tug the door open and slip inside.

It's pitch black and admittedly terrifying. I don't know where I am. I don't know what's in here. But I can smell the musty odor of dust and something else. Rust, maybe. Old metal and leather too.

It's an odd combination, and curiosity has me feeling my way around the room. I bump into a table, fingers moving over the splintered edges and then over the metal instruments on top. At first, I think maybe it's a gardening shed. These feel about the right size for garden tools. That is until my hand freezes on the unmistakable shape of a cane. I'd recognize that shape anywhere.

I'm trying to make sense of it when the door creaks open quietly, and I suck in a sharp breath, silently cursing my luck. I know it can't be Judge because he's not even home yet. But there's a good chance it's Paolo or possibly even Raul.

I stand completely still, hoping whoever it is can't hear me breathing. For a moment, I'm even convinced I pulled it off. Then a light flicks on overhead, blinding me.

I blink rapidly as my eyes adjust to the light, and my gaze locks on to a familiar face.

"Oh, my God, Theron," I murmur in relief. "You scared me."

"Did I?" There's a strange undercurrent of tension in his voice, and the amusement I'd expect to see is absent from his features.

"What are you doing here?" I glance over his shoulder, wondering how he even knew I was out here.

"You know, I've been asking myself that very same question since I returned." He slowly shuts the door behind him and seals us into the room together. "I thought I had a way back in with you, but Judge ruined that for me. The same way he ruins everything."

There's a darkness in his eyes that makes my skin break out in a sweat, and for the first time since I've met him, I'm wondering if I can really trust him. He seems different tonight. More amped up. His pupils huge. Something’s not right, and I don’t like it.

"I'm sorry about Judge." I attempt to pacify him. "If he took it out on you—"

"Don't be sorry." Theron smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes. "You can still help me. It just has to be a different way."

"I don't understand."

"No, I suppose you wouldn't." He sighs. "Truth be told, I would have gladly taken you for a wife. That could have solved both our problems. But Judge has never been one to let me have nice things. After all of his posturing, I suspect he's found a way to ruin that for me too."

"What are you talking about?" I try to back up a little, but I bump into the table.

"He fucked you, didn't he?" Theron spits the words out.

When my face blanches, it's obvious I don't have to answer. I already gave it away.

"I thought so." His eyes drift to the wall beside him, where there is a selection of leather whips and chains I didn't notice before.

My stomach lurches as he drags a finger over the length of one of the whips.

"No offense, Mercedes." He stares at the collection absently. "You're a very beautiful woman, but I’d never be able to enjoy my brother's leftovers as a wife. So now he’s forced my hand, and I realize I’ll have to use you in a different way."

"Theron, please," I choke on the words as I eye the door behind him. "I don't know what's going on with you and Judge, but it has nothing to do with me."

"That's where you're wrong." He looks at me, eyes shifting over me rapidly. "It has everything to do with you. It occurred to me during his display of barking and growling that he actually cares about you. And I have to say, it surprised me because Judge hasn’t ever cared about anyone but himself.”

“He doesn’t,” I protest. “I promise you he doesn’t. He’s proven that over and over again.”

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