The woman’s resemblance to their shared mother began and ended with the superficial, but sometimes even that became too much. Rutee wore her hair cropped and guffawed boorishly at the golden spoils of battle she was quick to pocket; Leon was always the first to criticize, her presence a constant thorn of irritation on his side, but it was the inevitable backtalk that fed the resentment in his heart, and he’d wondered more than once if it was her hatred he deliberately sought out. If it made him the same as a caged animal: cornered into cruelty out of fear of the alternative.
But Rutee Katrea burned like ice, hissing curses at him through gritted teeth, and in this moment it no longer mattered that she had her eyes and her hair and her name that she was his sister—she was nothing like Marian and she was nothing like Chris and she didn’t understand, would never understand…
“I haven’t even done anything!”
Her yelp cut Leon off from his thoughts. Rutee’s hand clasped around her tiara, a yoke by any other name, and he stared blandly at her seething form, the instinctive trembling of her shoulders the only other obvious giveaway that she’d felt the shock at all.
It was amusing, really. He’d read records of grown men easily brought to weeping by this very same device. If she wanted to feign fortitude, certainly there were less foolish methods to choose from.
Not that he was complaining, anyway. She was making this far too easy.
“Be silent. Or, should I remind you what we usually do with criminals like you?”
This was nothing. This was nothing at all.
Rutee’s face was taut. “There’s something seriously wrong with you, you know that?”
She looked away from him, then; quickly, but not so much that he’d miss the disgust flashing past her eyes. And if he’d failed to not think of Hugo, to ignore that all-too-familiar clench of dread—if he’d decided to file away that expression of hers for another time—nobody had to know.