Third Debt Page 1

Author: Pepper Winters

Series: Indebted #4

Genres: Romance

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I’D GIVEN MY heart to my enemy.

I’d fallen.

Fallen.

Fallen.

Hard.

There was no bottom to my affection. No limit to what I would do to protect it.

Jethro was mine and it was up to me….

…up to me to end this.

I was no longer trying to save myself.

I was trying to save him.

From his nightmares.

From himself.

From them.

HOW HAD THIS happened?

Where did it all go so wrong?

Jethro was supposed to love me. I was supposed to love him.

Yet he’d given me over to his family. He’d bound the ropes, blindfolded my eyes, and gifted me to his kin.

“Know what time it is, Nila Weaver?” Daniel breathed in my ear.

I jerked away. The restraints around my body meant I couldn’t run, couldn’t fight; I couldn’t even see.

Oh, God.

Please don’t let them do this.

I wanted to scream for Jethro to save me. I wanted him to put an end to this and claim me once and for all. Didn’t our connection mean anything?

You know it’s all different now.

Ever since I’d returned to Hawksridge Hall, things had been different—horribly, horribly different.

The fire crackled in the billiards room where the Hawk men had been playing poker. The air was hot and muggy and laced with cognac fumes.

Tonight, I’d had plans to end whatever changed between Jethro and me forever.

But now…those plans had changed.

Kestrel ran his fingers over my collar. “Relax, little Weaver. It will all be over soon.”

Cut chuckled. “Yes, soon you can go to sleep and pretend none of this happened.”

My ears strained for one other voice. The voice of the man who controlled my heart even though he’d thrown it back in my face.

But only silence greeted me.

Daniel snickered, licking my cheek. “Time to pay, Weaver.”

Someone clapped and in a voice full of darkness and doom said, “It’s time for the Third Debt.”

I MEANT WHAT I said before.

I meant it with every bone in my body.

Someone has to die.

I still stood by that conclusion. Only, I’d hoped it wouldn’t be me.

Too bad wishes never come true.

I’d always wondered what it would feel like. How I would react, knowing that I’d failed. I’d lain awake so many nights trying to imagine how I would behave when my father finally had enough. I’d scared myself shitless fearing I wouldn’t be strong enough, brave enough, to face the consequences I’d lived with all my life.

But none of that mattered now. I’d done what I swore never to do and revealed myself. My father knew there was no changing me—he would come for me.

But so fucking what?

She’s safe.

That was all I needed to focus on.

I’d done my utmost to be the perfect son, but I’d been fighting an unwinnable battle. No matter how much I wished I could be like them—I wasn’t. And it was pointless to keep fighting.

Not anymore.

I’m done.

I was done the moment Nila called me Kite and admitted she loved me.

Fuck, that isn’t true.

I was done the moment I set eyes on her in Milan.

I stood looking out the window, gripping the windowsill with white fingers. The view of Hawksridge—of manicured hedges and vibrant rose bushes—was no longer in colour but black and white. Before my very eyes, the sparkle and dynamism of life left me as Nila stepped into the black sedan below.

How could the ebullience of the world suddenly disappear, leaving behind a monochromatic disaster the second she vanished?

The moment she’d left the dining room, I’d removed myself from my father’s smug glare and managed to hold it together the entire three minutes it took to walk down the corridor, putting enough distance between me and the people who couldn’t see me break.

I’d managed to keep walking until there was no one to see me, but then my self-control snapped. My legs had propelled into a run. I’d fucking sprinted to the bachelor wing while every step twisted my ice into daggers, making me bleed, making me care.

I hadn’t stopped until I’d slammed my hands on the windowsill and looked through the wavy centuries-old glass at the procession below.

My heart lurched as a man in a suit closed the car door, barricading me from her forever. There were no flashing lights, no decals warning criminals who they were.

These policemen had come to steal what was mine with stealth. They knew they’d trespassed and broke treaties far older than their years with the force. My family had immunity, yet I’d underestimated Vaughn.

He hadn’t turned to the law to help. He hadn’t even enlisted mercenaries or other stupid ways that Weavers had done in the past. No, he’d been smart. Bloody bastard. He’d used social media to rally a public force. Even with our wealth and influence, we couldn’t fight against the outcry of millions of people.

Fuck Vaughn.

Fuck his tampering.

My fists curled on the windowsill as the policeman tapped the side of the vehicle as if he’d fucking won. Him. Them. The Weavers.

They’d won.

She’s ruined me.

Destroyed me.

I glared at the car, willing Nila to look up. But she didn’t. Her silhouette, staring resolutely ahead, was obscured by tinted windows.

She’d obeyed me and left the dining room.

She didn’t look back.

Now, I would’ve given anything for her to look back. To change her mind.

A terrible churning began inside.

Everything that I’d swallowed and kept deep, deep down flew to the surface. It grew and grew stronger, harder, faster.

My fingers dug like swords into the soft wood.

Even though I wanted to kill the police with my bare hands, I managed to stay in my wing as the engines of the three cars rumbled into gear. They pulled away from the house. The noise of their tyres on gravel didn’t reach my window, but I had no trouble conjuring the sound.

It sounded like glass being crushed beneath grinding stone. It sounded exactly like what was happening inside me: every organ shattering into hell.

I held it together just long enough for the convoy to disappear over the ridge, slithering like a poisonous snake, taking what was mine.

Come back.

Never come back.

I should’ve known this would happen.

I was always destined to this fate.

It was inevitable.

In a way, I was grateful to Vaughn. He’d rescued her when I didn’t have the fucking balls. He’d taken back his sister because he loved her enough to fight for her. She was better off with him, away from me and my fucked-up family.

The last of the convoy disappeared.

With a bone-deep sigh, I gave up. I let the glass inside me splinter and detonate. I permitted myself to do what I could never do. I let down my walls. My many, many walls.

I lost myself.

Bending in half, I rested my forehead on my knuckles as I suffered the worst unravelling I’d ever lived through.

See, Nila.

This is what I meant when I asked you to see me.

She thought she lived in an intense world? It was nothing compared to what I endured. Nothing compared to the condition I’d been cursed to bear.

Grief, terror, and guilt howled and roared with utmost ferocity.

I became hollow, empty—carved out by emotions. It was all too much. All I wanted to do was…fade. Fade away from biting words and gnawing consequences.

“Jethro.”

Shit.

As easily as it’d been to drop my walls, it took a herculean effort to rebuild them. Ice brick after ice brick, I did my best to reconstruct the igloo I’d lived in all my life. But it was no use.

With a face twisted in defiance, I spun to meet my father.

He stood in the doorway, key in one hand and an implement of discipline in the other. We stared at each other. Matching eyes and Hawk blood. How could two men, bound by lineage and family, be so completely different?

“Come along. You can’t run from this. Not anymore.”

Clenching my jaw so hard my teeth almost turned into diamonds, I looked one last time at the emptiness outside my window. Watching her go was absolute torture, but seeing her return would be the worst punishment of all.

Stay away, Nila Weaver. Never come back.

“Jethro,” he snarled. “Your disguises won’t work this time.”

He couldn’t even give me a second to say goodbye. To imprint every last detail of Nila onto my soul so I could carry her with me to the underworld. He couldn’t even give me the courtesy of being myself just once before it was over.

Bastard.

Absolute fucking bastard.

I glared at my father. His face was as sharp as the stones we smuggled.

“What have you done with Jasmine?” My sister was in a state. I hadn’t seen her so emotional in years. “She needs someone to be there with her when you tell her what you’ve done.”

Cut sniffed. “Kestrel is with her. And he’ll stay with her as long as she needs.”

At least Bonnie and Daniel weren’t chosen to console her. The thought of leaving my sister disembowelled me.

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