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When the casserole is baking in the oven, I feel the air shift. Seconds later, Rosalie slowly comes down the stairs. She moves cautiously like a deer, stopping every couple of steps. I can feel the tension coming off her in waves.

I continue wiping down the counter as I murmur, “You done unpacking?”

“Yes.” She inches closer to the sliding doors that lead to the patio until she stops in front of them, staring at the lit landscaped garden.

Picking up the tumbler, I walk to her and pull the doors open. A breeze caresses her hair.

She looks so fucking fragile in the oversized shirt and sweatpants, but at least all the fabric covers her body.

When I nod toward the patio furniture, Rosalie takes a deep breath and steps over the threshold. Her body is tense as if she expects me to yank her back inside at any moment.

She stops by the steps leading down to a path that branches out toward the other mansions and glances over the property. “There are other houses?”

“My family. You’ll meet them soon.”

Surprise flutters over her gorgeous features, and her eyes flit to mine. “You’ll allow me near your family?” Confusion chases the shock from her face. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll hurt one of them?”

A burst of laughter escapes me. “Good luck trying.”

“I’m talking about the women,” she mumbles.

I tilt my head. “It’s cute that you think you stand a chance against any of them.”

Rosalie glances at the other mansions and the lights shining from the windows, then wraps her arms around herself.

Her voice is nothing more than a fear-filled whisper when she asks, “Why didn’t you just kill me? Why did you kidnap me?”

I take a sip of my vodka and glance over the property. “Nothing I say will set you at ease, Little Rose.” I turn my gaze back to hers. “With time, you’ll learn I’m a man of my word. The Vetrovs and Koslovs don’t take pleasure in hurting women, especially fragile little things like you.”

More hope trickles into her eyes. “Is it true that Isabella Koslov takes down sex trafficking rings?”

“Yes.” A grin tugs at my mouth because my aunt is as badass as they come. Leaning back against a pillar, my gaze sweeps over the property again.

Even though I’m home where half an army is on guard, I’m always ready for an attack.

“You know a lot about my family and me,” I mention. “Were you training to take over from your grandfather?”

“No. I had nothing to do with the family business. ”

Grief tightens her features, making my hands itch to take hold of her so I can hug her until the heartache lessens.

She looks down at her feet, taking deep breaths as she rides out the wave of sorrow, then, with a trembling voice, asks, “What will happen to my grandfather and uncle’s bodies?”

I finish the last of my vodka and inhale deeply before answering, “Everything has been burned down.”

Her eyebrows draw together with intense pain. Her lips part, her arms wrapping tighter around her middle.

When I step toward her, she quickly moves back, shaking her head. She presses a hand to her heart, shakes her head again, then spins around and runs into the house.

I watch her until she disappears up the stairs to return to her bedroom before I walk to the kitchen. Setting the empty tumbler down on the counter, I open the oven and remove the casserole.

Feeling exhausted, I grab a plate and help myself to a good portion of the casserole. I sit down by the island and shovel food into my mouth, but it doesn’t taste as good as it usually does.

I’m not the most patient person on the planet, and I’m used to doing everything my way. I’m especially used to having my own space where I can unwind. With Rosalie in my house, all of that’s out the window.

She’s just lost everything that was of value to her, and she’s being held captive by you. It’s going to take a long while for the girl to heal and to learn that she can trust you.

It will take a hell of a lot of patience on my part.

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