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“How long do you hope to continue with this tantrum, Amy?” Our father paces the floor of the parlor, the air impossibly thin thanks to the energy he consumes. “You. Must. Eat.” His eyes flash a deep shade of crimson as he turns to address my baby sister. “End of story.”

“But, Papa—”

“But nothing!” Donovan Ambrose, the second. A man who controls an illustrious empire and yet he can’t make his youngest daughter do fucking squat. “This insubordination has lasted long enough.”

Leo frowns at our father’s outburst, agitated through the shared emotions of his twin. “Give her time.”

“She’s had months.” Father throws his hands wide, a scathing smile twisting his lips. “You adjusted in weeks, Leonard.”

Our mother, Lilith, nods from her position reclined on the loveseat beside the fire. Her gaze stays trained on the flames, hand riding the waves of heat that emanate from the added source of warmth in an otherwise stifling home. 

I gave up on hoping for her intervention when she stood by and watched her husband beat me into submission for doing the same as Amy does now. The only reason our father hasn’t resorted to the same level of “discipline” is that Amy is a girl. We may be nasty people to most, but the one thing we don’t do is take advantage of the fairer sex.

We males need their compassion to rein in our aggression. Hardening them does us no favors.

“When did you last feed?” 

I shift my attention to Amy, curious for her answer to Father’s question. 

“I can’t remember.”

“We had a banquet two weeks ago,” he counters with barely checked restraint. “Did you feed then?”

Amy remains silent, head hung as she studies her toes curling against the Persian rug.

“Amy?” I step toward her and place myself between our father and most fragile sibling. “Did you partake?”

Her gaze lifts and she spears me with that fucking sorrowful look of hers before glancing to the side. 

“Fuck’s sake.” I mutter the words to myself and turn to address our father, the man who solely decides her fate. “We can ease into it. If you let me—”

“This isn’t your responsibility, Tristan.” Donovan storms across the room to stand toe to toe with me. 

Now, Mother turns her fucking head.

“Leonard.” My father addresses my brother without looking away from me. “Take Amy to her room and lock the door behind you.”

“Papa!” Amy attempts to sidestep me.

I hold her back with one arm. “You’ll make her sicker if you force too much.”

“And eventually her body will adjust.” His eyes match mine, yet the difference is that I still see a soul when I look in the mirror. I doubt this asshole would recognize one if he held it in the palm of his hand. “She only has herself to blame for the suffering.”

“Come on, Amy.” Leo coaxes her behind me. “Let them talk.”

“I don’t want to be like you,” Amy hollers at Donovan, her voice fading as Leo presumably drags her from the room. I refuse to look away from our father. “This wasn’t my choice.”

“Perhaps. But it is your birthright.” He thunders the words over my head. 

I stand firm, refusing to let him know how badly the vicious tone shakes me to my core. He spoke the same way toward me, right before he threw me in the basement and waited until my body near ate itself before offering what Amy refuses: life. 

“How will you do it?” I lift my eyebrows and tilt my head. “She vomits up whatever you force feed her.”

“She’ll reach the point of desperation eventually.”

“And the school?” I shift a little to draw his attention back toward me. “What will you tell them? This could take months.”

“Again, that’s not your issue Tristan.” The man leans down to level our gazes, shrinking the half-foot advantage he has on me. “Hungry to take the helm, are you?”

“It’ll be mine soon enough.”

“Exactly.” Father turns away, the air rushing in as he moves toward Mother. 

I take a deep breath, feeling the oxygen flood into my starved system. 

“What do you think, my love?” He kneels before his queen and takes her wandering hand. “Am I too harsh on our princess?”

My mother’s eyes are as black as sin when she dotingly stares at him. “You are fair and respectable. A pride to us all as always.”

There’s a woman born for her role. No matter what the asshole who sired me does, she’s there to stroke his ego and make him feel justified in his actions. I used to believe that he kept her drugged to be so placid and submissive. Now I understand that apathy is merely what happens when you run out of fucks to give. She used to push back once, the same as I still sometimes do. The way my oldest sister did before our father broke her. 

As though on cue, the bitch walks in with her fiancé. “Did I miss it, Daddy?”

Father glides across the room to take his brightest prospect’s face in his hands. “No bother, sweetheart.”

“Did she eat?” Kasdeya’s fake concern melts when she turns her head to look my way. With her coal-black hair braided and half tied back, she looks every part the serpent whore she is. “Brother.”

“Sister.” We gave up on first names right after we gave up on each other.

As the oldest male in the family, I take the throne when Father passes on. She hates me for it. Resents my very existence.

“Your father will ensure Amy sees sense,” Mother states from her chair. “How was the concert?”

“Replenishing.” The bitch licks her teeth while the idiot she’s set to marry laughs. 

I stride out of the room, being sure to smash into Regan’s shoulder as I go. The asshole was just like the rest of the morons out there once: naïve and sheltered in their pathetic little town. If it wasn’t for my sister’s infatuation with changing the traditions that we hold sacrosanct, he’d probably still be reliving his glory days as the star quarterback to whatever drunk at the bar cared to listen. Instead, she gave him a role that he could never have imagined—not in his wildest dreams. 

“How is she?” I meet Leo at the foot of the sweeping staircase. 

“This tell you?” He turns his head to show fresh scratches against his neck. 

“Fuck.” If Amy fought him—her twin—that hard, then she’s seething. And rightly so. “Let me talk to her.”

“No need.” A shiver races down my back at the echo of my father’s voice. The fucker has a knack for sneaking up on us; I’d hoped Kasdeya would keep him entertained for longer. “You have other business to attend to.” Donovan moves between us, glancing toward Leo before adding, “Both of you do.”

“She’s not enough,” Leo complains.

“The cheerleader will do fine for now.” Father’s disgusted gaze drags across to me. “Unless you’ve found something sweeter?”

“Nope.” I press my lips into a thin line and raise one eyebrow. This, I can’t deny. She may be interesting, but that Gina bitch is not sweet. “We’ll go find Phoebe. I’m sure she won’t be hard to track down. Right, Leo?”

He levels me with a hard glare.

I meet him with one of my own. 

“Sure.” He spares a last look toward Amy’s room and then settles on Father. “If you wait fifteen before going up there, you’re likely to get a better result.”

“If only I had the time or the fucks to give.” With a hand to the banister rail, Donovan strides up the staircase toward his latest problem.

A child who refuses to eat.

A legacy that refuses to be what she’s born to be.

A stain on the fabric of his dynasty. 

“Come on.” I jerk my head for Leo yet watch Father leave. “We can get her some sugary shit while we’re out.”

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