Before I can get my bearings about me, Tilda appears again, her expression unreadable beneath the severe line of her tightly-pinned auburn hair.

“I’ll escort you downstairs to your car,” she informs me. A clipped, professional tone that brooks no argument.


The word lands like a slap, my throat constricting painfully even though I know she didn’t mean it in the way my mind automatically goes. All the same, I’m reminded with brutal clarity of my role here to the very end. A transaction. A service provided. For the right price.

The knot in my neck tightens as I hastily gather my remaining belongings, shoving them haphazardly into my worn leather tote, my heart still thrumming from the peculiar, silent exchange with Frost just moments ago. I find myself craning it this way and that as Tilda leads me down the wide corridor, searching for any trace of his imposing figure. But there’s no sign of him. Not even his lingering scent of sandalwood—and something darker, more primal—can be detected amidst the manor’s richly appointed surroundings. A sigh of relief escapes my lips, unbidden but genuine, though the tension still winds its coils around me like a constrictor snake. Like that sense you get just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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