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The Skull Ruler (Skull 3) Penelope Sky 2022/8/5 16:54:45

I turned to him, my face hard in a scowl. Cassini and I had no future, and I’d made that clear to her days ago. I never lied, so she believed every word I said.

“I don’t care if you’re in love with her. I don’t care if you would die for her. Evan is out of the picture, Lucian will be gone soon, and you can’t take their place. She needs to start over, to find a man who’s actually good for her. A Skull King will never be good for her.”

“The Skull King is the most powerful man in this country. It’s because of me that she’ll be free. It’s because of me that she got her revenge against Evan. If she were my woman, she would only know power and luxury. Before you shut me down, remember exactly who you are talking to. Remember that the only reason her freedom is possible is because of me.”

Case held my gaze, unblinking just the way I was.

“But no, I won’t keep her. She and I want different things in life, and there’s no compromise. I can’t afford her as a distraction because I’m devoted to my cause. I have many more important things to worry about. And she wants a life I have no interest in, one of peace in the middle of nowhere. Marriage and fatherhood put me to sleep just thinking about them. We have this time together, but when it’s over, it’s over.”

Case finally looked away when he heard the answer he’d been hoping for. “Good. I hated you when we first met. But you know what? I think I might actually like you.” He glanced back at me. “But don’t let it go to your head.”

“I won’t. When you’re liked, it usually means you’re doing something wrong. And every decision I’ve made for Cassini has been wrong…”

The three of us sat at the dining table with our plates empty of food.

Cassini and Case scarfed everything down like true Italians, wiping the remaining sauce with pieces of bread. They shared a bottle of wine and went through the entire contents.

I ate everything because a single bite wasn’t enough. Pasta was a rare meal for me, so rare I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had it when Case didn’t prepare it. Even if I went to an Italian restaurant, I managed to find something carb-free. But the lasagna was delicious, so I ate every single bite.

Cassini glanced at my plate. “Balto never eats like this, so that’s a big compliment.”

Case shrugged. “What can I say? I know my way around the kitchen.”

“What’s Dirk doing tonight?” Cassini asked.

“He went to the bars with the guys. Catching tail, probably.” Now that Case didn’t hate me anymore, he relaxed in his chair and treated me like a welcome member of the conversation. There were no silent looks of threat across the table, no bouts of tension that hinted of impending war.

I drank my scotch because I didn’t drink wine. Even the dry stuff was too sweet for me. I’d been drinking liquor for the last decade, and anything less potent than that felt watered down.

“So, are you going to help me with the dishes?” Case asked his sister.

She laughed before she sipped her wine. “Do I ever?”

“No,” he countered. “But maybe you should offer since I always cook for you.”

“I’m your guest,” she said. “It would be rude for you to allow me to do that.”

“And we both know I’m rude.” Case grabbed his glass.

I noticed Case and Cassini bickered when they were in the same room together, but there was also a potent undertone of love. Case loved his sister fiercely and wasn’t afraid to go head-to-head with me when it came to her. He’d folded when I demanded a percentage of his business, but he never folded when it came to her. Their love ran deep, underneath the taunts and lame insults.

My brother and I had a much different relationship. When he left prison, it was rocky, but living in the same building united us in many ways. Being part of the Skull Kings entertained him, so he stayed out of trouble. He must have realized I was right for locking him away because he warmed up to me noticeably over the last few months. But we didn’t have the depth that these two had.

“Well, it’s getting late,” Cassini said. “We should go home.”

I felt a slight thrill when she referred to the compound that way, like we were a couple that lived together. She considered my fortress a home, a place where she could sleep soundly at night because she felt safe.

Case walked us to the door. “Balto, when are you going to take out Lucian?”

I shrugged. “When the time is right.”

“You don’t carefully plan things?” Case asked as he opened the front door. “You just do it on the fly?”