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Collusion and Coercion

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The bed moved with a violent shake and for a small moment, I wondered if I'd slept all the way to Cannes. Then I heard Avery half-whisper,

"You fell asleep."

There was a pause, the bed shifted again and the next voice was Stellan,

"Apparently we fell asleep."

The emphasis he used made the breath stick in my chest and I stilled, trying to keep pretending to be asleep.

"Lucky for you I'm not dead. You're not very good at babysitting." Stellan continued and I let the breath out - not as bad as I thought. "Pretty good at cuddling, though."

I clenched the fist that was still under the blankets in the same moment that Avery hissed,

"Shhhh. I'm going to -" she broke off as she struggled out of the bed, careful not to move it too much, and then the door opened and closed just as carefully. My eyes flew open to find Stellan already staring down at me.

"Not much of a deep sleeper anymore?" He rose an eyebrow at me and then sat up, leaning against the headboard.

"What was that about?" I eyed him cautiously and sat up myself, moving to the foot of the bed, needing to create space between us. It was already embarrassingly weird enough that'd we'd all slept in the same bed. I wished I'd had a shirt on, I didn't
like feeling this exposed, even in front of someone that knew every scar. Stellan's fingers ran over a small bunching of sheets next to him and he smiled before shrugging,

"You heard it right."

The anger swelled within me and I tensed again - but immediately regretted it. My shoulder pinched with such an acute pain that I bit my tongue to stem the cursing. The last thing I needed was to give Stellan something else to use against me, he was
already looking particularly dangerous. He kept eyeing me with an impatient and suspicious stare and I snapped back,

"I better not have heard that right."

Stellan stretched his legs across the bed and I wanted to roll my eyes at how ridiculous he still looked. He really couldn't have found something else to wear? Then his fingers edged around the indent in the sheets again and it clicked in my head
- Avery. He crossed his arms over his chest,

"Damage done Jackie. You can hardly blame her for needing to find a warm body in the night. If you hadn't immediately passed out on us it would have been you instead."

I turned away from him to look at the closed curtain on the window, streaks of light bleeding into the room. I couldn't blame her and that was the problem. Something had happened in Greece between the two of them that had changed the dynamic between
the three of us. It was as if I'd left her alone with Stellan for just a moment and whatever dark destiny was working against me all this time had finally turned her head in his direction. No matter how much she tried to deny it. I tried to take
a steadying breath and regain my composure, but I could already feel the panic rising at the thought of losing her. I rubbed at my shoulder,

"Bullshit. I see the way you look at her. I know what you're trying to do."

"If you'll remember correctly," he drawled and waited until I looked at him. "I'm the one out of the three of us that has a concussion. So I can't exactly be held accountable for actions I made in my current condition."

I clenched my fists, wanting to punch him. Typical Stellan - make a joke so none of this seems too serious, but I knew his game. Checking on her in the middle of the night, sneaking off with her, partnering up with her. Christ knew what kind of stories
he was telling her in those moments, we had too much history between the two of us. We glared at each other for a long moment before I snapped,

"Just stay away from her."

"I can't help it if she keeps coming to me and not you." He shrugged and threw his hands out in a mock confused gesture. "I'm supposed to ignore my future wife's requests for help?"

My anger hit boiling point and I clenched all over trying to stop the need to punch the smug smile back into his face. "I swear to God Stellan."

"While we're on the topic - why didn't the Saxon's have you strung up in the basement? We all know how things have gone in the past for you," his eyes darted to my stomach.

"How the bloody hell am I supposed to know?" I rubbed at my aching shoulder. I had wondered the same thing initially and then immediately tried to escape.

"Why were Lydia and Cole in Paris? They had absolutely no reason to be there." He narrowed his eyes at me. His face was still a little ashen from the blood loss, making him look even more menacing somehow.

The panic rose in my throat, "I don't know. I haven't been on their detail since Venice when you three cooked up going to Greece in the first place."

He frowned and I froze. If there was anyone in the world that could tell when I was lying it was Stellan. I hoped all the years apart had lessened that ability within him, "where did you go in Greece?"

This interrogation needed to stop. I would slip up eventually. I wanted to move, evade, but I knew that would be a red flag to him. So instead I stared into his face and let him feel the full force of my anger over that whole moment. "That was a mistake,
I should have never left the boat."

He shrugged, stretching above his head, and then winced as he touched his battered skull. "Seems like I'm the one that has to keep saving Avery from all your mistakes. So what is it? You want me to stay away from her or protect her?"

"And by protect her you mean seduce her." I snapped back, but a wave of relief washed over me. At least he'd stop asking about the Saxons. At least I could contain that lie.

"I haven't touched her." He drawled. I shot up from the bed,

"Then what the hell was this?" I gestured toward the spot on the bed. "Why are you cuddling my girlfriend?"

"Not-girlfriend." He pointed at me. "You can't have it both ways. Either she's yours or she's not."

"I thought you didn't want her? Not your type." I spat at him and crossed my arms over my chest. He stood, wobbling for a moment, and then pushed past me toward the door,

"If she's destined to be mine anyway, why not start now?"

"Casse-toi!" I growled and forced myself to stay where I was. Everything in me wanted to tackle him to the ground and beat him until he didn't feel like such a threat anymore. But that wouldn't solve anything, and as the panic started to
rise back in me I realized he was right. That's what made all this so infuriating. No matter what I did, what I could promise her, what I wanted for the both of us, no matter how tightly she was holding on to her incorrect interpretation of the
mandate...she'd still have to marry Stellan. It was the only way to ensure everyone's safety.

"Ten years of French and you still can't get the accent right." He put his hand on the doorknob.

"You're wrong if you think she wants you for anything but the power. You'd fuck her and leave her if she didn't have purple eyes." I said to his back. He tensed, all the muscles clenching, moving the tattoo's on his back. Then turned to face me, lethal
and victorious looking all in the same moment.

"Nyet," he lowly growled, pulling to his full height and taking a step toward me, "that's where you're wrong. I am already hers." A mean smile pulled across his face. "I'm waiting for her to realize it."

He slammed the door on his way out. I grabbed the cheap coffee mug on the side table and hurled it at the ground, shattering it into hundreds of pieces.