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Rapacity

“I want to make a bargain.”

At the words, heat blasts my lips, chaps my cheeks, and suddenly I’m standing alone at the edge of a precipice, the place where space and time end. The void—black and hungry—slaps below, sends a spray of sparks and ether.

From the craggy ledge above, the demon stares.

He’s crouched like a wolf, shoulders hunched, mouth pulled into a snarl. From the way he’s turned his cheek, he probably means to scare me, except his lips are full, his lashes golden. I’d expected something dark and dangerous, but he’s more like the angels painted above the cathedral nave—blue eyes, tan skin. Handsome. And not in a terrifying sort of way.

He opens his mouth as if to speak, but I go first.

“I want out of my marriage. He’s—” I shake my head and remember how Prince Florentino stood next to me at the Sacra Liturgia, the way his mouth curved into a coy smile, the fizzy taste of champagne on his tongue when we snuck behind the confessional and nipped and explored . . .

 

I thrust the thought aside, reach into my jacket pocket, and pull out a glass bird. It sparkles, a thousand facets that snatch all color in the room. “For you.”

 

A flash of fire, of firmament. The demon is in front of me, then back on the ledge, flipping the figurine between his fingers. His lips press into a line. “It’s a start.”

 

“What? That bird came out of the archives. It’s—”

 

“An antique,” he finishes. “Hundreds of years old. Brought back by Alessio Romano during the conquests of St. Lucia. Handmade by a heretical monk who wrote one too many love letters to the Santoro family and had the misfortune of losing his head.” He cocks a brow as if to say he’s smarter than me. The bird disappears in a furl of smoke. He rests his chin on his knee and laces his fingers around his foot. “Tell me you hate your fiancé. I’ll only do this if you hate him.”

 

I hate him, I hate him. I want to say it, but the words stick in my throat, and instead Prince Florentino and I are back behind the confessional, his mouth on mine, hands tangled through my ink-dark hair. He tastes like persimmons, creamy and cool, and I taste like the lemons that grow in the orchard.

 

I taste them on him. I taste myself on him.

 

Persimmons and lemons, sweet and bitter.

 

“I love you,” Florentino says, sucking my bottom lip. He steps closer, pushing me against the wall. “Catalina Maria Mocenigo, I love you so much, I—”

 

I jolt.

 

I can’t marry him. My feelings don’t matter.

 

The demon’s eyes go bright and lurid, a gleaming shade of blue. He gestures, a lazy flick of the hand as if to say he’s waiting, as if to say this is a game. He knows I don’t hate Florentino. I wear myself too openly, my colors laid bare.

 

I think he wants to hear me lie.

 

Demons can’t lie—a curse from when they were cast from heaven, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a fetish for it. I think they like the allure of hearing what they can’t have. It’s why they flock to cheats and thieves, why they whisper wickedly in their ears.

 

They want to hear them lie.

 

And it would be so easy to give it to him, a little lie passed between my teeth.

 

I hate Prince Florentino. That’s all I’d have to say.

 

Yet—

 

“I love you,” Florentino says again, dragging his nose down my jaw. “And someday, I’ll love our babies too.”

 

That’s when I knew I could never go through with it.

The coup.

I’d thought about faking my death, running away, setting sail on a ship. I’d gotten as far as the docks before my uncle found me—dragged me back, barred the windows, locked the door. He said if I tried that again, it would be Dea’s head. If I tried to kill him, it would be Dea’s head. If I breathed a word of this to anyone, Dea’s head.

Dea or Florentino.

My sister or my fiancé.

I’d rather rip out my heart.

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