Home > His Rule (The Rite Trilogy #1)

His Rule (The Rite Trilogy #1)
Author: A. Zavarelli

 

1

 

 

Mercedes

 

 

Blood.

Every time I close my eyes, I see it. That pungent metallic odor still burns my nostrils, and it’s seeped so deep into my flesh, I can’t wash it away. I know because I’ve been trying for well over thirty minutes. My skin burns as the spray from the shower pelts the areas I’ve rubbed raw, but I can’t feel sorry for myself. This is the least of what I deserve.

My eyes are swollen, and it hurts to shed more tears, but I let them fall because this is the only time I have. I can’t allow the world to see me vulnerable. Santiago can’t witness me crumbling any more than he already has. The De La Rosa blood runs through my veins, and we are not weak. So I try again to burn the image of the lifeless corpse from my mind. I blink through my tears, hoping to wash away the memory of her battered and bloodied face.

It doesn’t work.

She’s everywhere. The entire car ride here, she haunted me. As Santiago’s tires crunched over the gravel, all I could hear were the shards of broken glass beneath my blood-streaked heels. Every muscle in my body aches even though I made it out with little more than a gash on my cheek and some bruises that will inevitably fade. Time has a way of dealing with wounds, at least physically. But there is no cure for a broken spirit.

I can’t forget the look in my brother’s eyes when he saw me tonight. When he came to my rescue, the way he always has. I tried to explain it away, the way I always have. It was never intentional. I just needed to make things right. I was going to take that woman back to him so he could punish her for the things she’d done. But it didn’t work out that way. My flimsily constructed plan blew up in my face, and by the end of the night, it was my hands stained with her blood. There was no pride in what I’d done. Santiago certainly wasn’t proud.

He looked at me like I was a monster, and the worst part was, I couldn’t deny it. That’s what I’ve become, isn’t it? It’s why he brought me here, to the IVI compound instead of the safety of the manor. He doesn’t want me tainting the halls of our family home with the misery that seems to follow me everywhere. Now, there’s a voice in the back of my mind, whispering the fate I don’t want to accept.

He’s going to send me away.

As I step out of the shower, I try to muster up some denial, pacifying myself with paper-thin assurances. Santiago is the only family I’ve got left. He wouldn’t hurt me. Not like this. Not when he knows the pain of losing everyone we’ve ever loved. Our grief tethers us together for life. Our blood is the same. Our loyalty is unshakable. It’s the one truth I have to cling to.

I can be difficult. Intolerable at times. I won’t deny that. But he loves me regardless. He protects me, and I’m certain he always will. I can accept his disappointment in me. I can find a way to bear his shame, which can’t be worse than my own. But I will show him there’s still something in me to love. Something worth salvaging. I just have to pull myself together and figure it out. The way I always do.

I release a few shuddering breaths and force my gaze to the reflection in the mirror. I don’t recognize the person staring back at me. The woman with the long black hair and dark eyes may as well be a stranger. I feel detached from her. Empty. And it’s a fucking relief.

That means numbness is setting in. As long as I can stay like this… unfeeling, I can survive.

Robotically, I brush my hair and dress in the cheap sweats Santi bought me on the way here. They are a far cry from my usual clothing, but I don’t care. I’m exhausted, and I need to face him. I need to show him that it’s okay. I’ll find a way to fix everything.

When I emerge from the bathroom, my brother stands by the window, his gaze unfocused as he peers through the glass. I know he feels my presence, and he certainly heard me open the door, but it takes him a few moments to turn and face me. His expression is guarded, his eyes equally anguished and frustrated. It sets me on edge, the tightness in my chest gripping my breath like a vise.

“Santi.” My strangled voice forces his name out. “Why are we here?”

He swallows the words he doesn’t want to say, and it hits me like a punch to the gut. Even so, I can’t accept it. I have to believe there’s a purpose for me being here other than what my instincts are screaming at me.

“Tell me everything,” he orders in true De La Rosa fashion.

I make myself move, taking a seat on the bed, my hands twisting together in my lap. “I will. But I need you to promise you won’t hate me. No matter what. I need to hear that from you.”

“I can’t promise you anything.” He glares at me.

A quiet sob slips from my lips before I can stop it, and tears hover precariously on the edges of my eyes as I turn and try to wipe them away. So much for being numb. I swore I wasn’t going to do this, but for the first time in my life, I really can’t control it. I hate crying. I despise it. And more than anything, I hate that I allowed my brother to see such a display of emotion. If our father were here right now, he would have backhanded me into the next week for showing such cowardice.

“Now, Mercedes,” Santiago clips out. “If you don’t tell me now, you will decide for both of us. You will never hear from me again.”

Horror washes over me as I glance up at him, blurting the words out before I can think about how pathetic it makes me look. “No, you can’t do that!”

“You aren’t in a position to argue anymore.” He turns back toward the window, reaching for the curtain as he glances down into the courtyard again.

I’m terrified of what he might be looking for, but I’m even more terrified that he’ll follow through on his threat. If my brother disowns me, I’ll have nothing left.

“It wasn’t supposed to happen this way,” I cry out. "I never meant for any of this to happen. I was just so irritated with you, Santi. To see the way you looked at that Moreno girl. You were falling for her right before my eyes. I could see it, and it felt like such a betrayal."

He releases the curtain and turns to look at me, his pity unmistakable. He can see my jealousy for what it is, but I don’t care. What did he expect? He betrayed our family when he married the enemy. He committed the most egregious crime he could by falling for her. And in the end, instead of following through on our plans as he had promised, he ousted me from the scheme entirely. Our revenge fell by the wayside, and now he’s making his own little family with the blood we swore we’d extinguish from this earth.

"She was going to take you away from me," I snap. "I had to do something. I just wanted to make her hate you. So I hired that courtesan who used to work for IVI to lure you away at the gala and seduce you. Ivy was supposed to come out of the bathroom and see you together. That was it. Nobody was ever supposed to get hurt."

He’s quiet as he paces across the room, refusing to look at me, and in my desperation for his understanding, I rush to get the rest out. I go on to explain how I knew it was a stupid idea, but I thought I could trust her. I could never have predicted that she was in bed with the enemy too. That mistake almost cost Santiago his life, and I was trying to make it right. That’s why I went to the courtesan’s apartment tonight. I just wanted to make it right, so he’d forgive me.

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