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Hell couldn’t give me a more wicked man;

heaven couldn’t give me a more perfect moment.

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“WHOSE CHILDREN DOES the royal nursery take care of?” I ask as we make our way through the palace once more, on our way to that very nursery. It seems strange to me that these peculiar kids, as

Gaelia put it, are right inside the castle, in the very heart of the kingdom.

Des clasps his hands behind his back. “The nursery takes care of children orphaned by warrior parents—our way of honoring their final sacrifice—

children of nobility working in the palace, and of course, any children of the royal family—including mine.”

“Y-yours?” I echo.

Why had I never considered the possibility Des might have children?

A warrior king like him? He’d have no shortage of women … it’s possible.

Desmond peers over at me. “Does that bother you?”

I shake my head, not meeting his gaze, even as my stomach twists.

I can feel his eyes on me.

“Truth:” he says, “how would you feel if I told you I had children?”

The moment the question leaves his lips, his magic closes around my windpipe.

I clutch my throat, glaring at him. “Some warning would be nice,” I rasp out.

My windpipe constricts. Not the response it wants.

I feel the magic drag the words out, much like my magic dragged answers out of Gaelia.

“I would be jealous,” I say.

God am I glad we’re the only two people walking down this particular hallway. It’s embarrassing enough to admit this to Des without having any additional audience.

“Why?” he asks.

The magic doesn’t let up.

I grit my teeth together, but it doesn’t stop the answer from slipping out. “Because I’m a horrible person.”

The magic squeezes harder. Not truthful enough, apparently.

“B-because,” I try again, “I don’t want anyone else to share that experience with you.”

“Why?” he presses.

You’ve got to be kidding me. The magic’s a noose around my neck.

“Because that’s an experience I’d like to share with you,” I rush to say. Immediately, my cheeks flush.

The magic eases up, but just barely.

Des’s eyes soften. “You’d want to have my child?”

“Not anymore,” I wheeze.

But even now the magic senses I lie. It squeezes my windpipes, choking me.

“Yeeesss,” I hiss out.

All at once the magic releases me, and I know several beads have just disappeared without even looking.

I don’t give a flying fuck.

I’m seeing red.

Des looks so pleased. Pleased and aroused.

“We will be returning to this conversation, cherub,” he promises.

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WHEN DES APPEARS in front of me, I’m a fucking mess. A handful of tissues are spread out around me. My face is wet and my eyes, swollen.

I look up at the Bargainer miserably, my entire body trembling.

He crosses his arms, his leather jacket groaning.

“Who do I have to hurt?”

I shake my head, dropping my gaze. I don’t know why I called him. I don’t let other people see me when I’m like this. But I’m so tired of being alone.

Today was … today was a bad day.

“Give me a name, cherub.”

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I drift to my back and stare up at the dim stars. His world is above us, and mine is below. There’s something very satisfying about that.

“You know,” I say, “I missed you. Every day.” It was an ache that lasted seven years. It should’ve dulled, but it never did.

He’s quiet for a long time. Finally, he confesses,

“I missed you too.”

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Venice. It’s even more wonderful than what I imagined it would be like.

“Before we go, can we take a gondola ride?” I ask.

The Bargainer’s upper lips curl when he sees one such boat pass by us. “Why would I ever—?”

“And can we swing by one of those gift shops so I can get a mask?”

I’d also like some gelato—and perhaps a blown glass bottle—but I won’t push my luck too far.

He groans. “Haven’t you ever heard the expression ‘Don’t mix business with pleasure’?”

A sly smile spreads across my face. “Aww, are you suggesting I’m pleasure?” My heart is thumping way too loud.

He frowns severely at me. “I’m definitely rubbing off on you.”

He really is.

“C’mon, it’ll be fun,” I say, grabbing his hand and tugging him towards a little area along the canal where several gondolas wait.

Behind me the Bargainer says, “I’ll only agree to this if you do me one favor—”

Me do him a favor? “Yeah, anything.”

“Please give me my balls back at the end of the evening.”

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The Bargainer’s eyes glitter, full of emotions I spent a year memorizing, and then seven years trying to forget.

“I’ll be back tomorrow evening.” His gaze sweeps over me again, and he raises an eyebrow. “Consider the following advice a favor free of charge: be prepared for more than just a kiss.”

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"Bargainer, I would like to make a deal."

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People like us are not victims. We’re someone’s nightmare.

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“Ah, I would give my kingdom for that smile alone.”

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“And mountains may rise and fall, and the sun might wither away, and the sea claim the land and swallow the sky. But you will always be mine.” He runs his knuckles over my cheekbone. “And the stars might fall from the heavens, and night might cloak the earth, but until darkness dies, I will always be yours.”

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