“And at my graduation,” I agree, my heart hammering in my chest. “But I thought you might’ve been there for someone else. Like a younger brother or sister . . .”
He takes a deep breath, and I can see that he’s much more calm now. “It doesn’t matter now, Nora. I wanted you here, with me, not out there. It’s much safer for you—and for that boy.”
Julian nods. “If you had gone out with him again, I would’ve killed him. It’s best for everyone that you’re here, away from him and others who might want you.”
He’s completely serious about killing Jake. It’s not an idle threat. I can see it on his face.
My lips feel dry, so I lick them. His eyes follow my tongue, and I can see his breathing changing. My simple action clearly turned him on.
Suddenly, a crazy and desperate idea occurs to me. He obviously wants me. He’s even willing to do things to make me happy—like letting my family know I’m alive. What if I use that fact to my advantage? I’m inexperienced, but I’m not completely naive. I know how to flirt with guys. Could I do this? Could I somehow seduce Julian into letting me go?
I’m going to have to be careful about it. I can’t have a sudden about-face. I can’t act like I despise him one minute and love him the next. He needs to believe that he can take me off the island and that I would willingly remain with him for as long as he wants me. That I would never look at Jake or another man again.
I’m going to have to take my time and convince Julian of my devotion.
For the rest of the dinner, I continue acting scared and intimidated. It’s not really an act because I do feel that way. I’m in the presence of a man who casually talks about killing innocent people. How else am I supposed to feel?
However, I also try to be seductive. It’s small things, like the way I brush my hair back while looking at him. The way I bite into a piece of papaya that Beth cut up for our dessert and lick the juice off my lips.
I know my eyes are pretty, so I look at him shyly, through half-closed eyelids. I’ve practiced that look in front of the mirror, and I know my eyelashes look impossibly long when I tilt my head at exactly the right angle.
I don’t go overboard because he wouldn’t find that believable. I just do little things that he might find arousing and appealing.
I also try to avoid any other confrontational topics. Instead, I ask him about the island and how he came to own it.
“I came across this island five years ago,” Julian explains, his lips curving into a charming smile. “My Cessna was having a mechanical problem, and I needed a place to land. Luckily, there’s a flat, grassy area right on the other side, near the beach. I was able to bring down the plane without crashing it completely and make the necessary repairs. It took me a couple of days, so I got a chance to explore the island. By the time I was able to fly away, I knew this place was exactly what I wanted. So I purchased it.”
I widen my eyes and look impressed. “Just like that? Isn’t that expensive?”
“Do you come from a wealthy family?” I’m genuinely curious. My captor is a huge mystery to me. I stand a much better chance of manipulating him if I understand him at least a little bit.
His expression cools a little. “Something like that. My father had a successful business, which I took over after his death. I changed its direction and expanded it.”
“Electronics and other things,” he says, and I realize that he’s not going to reveal more than that for now. I strongly suspect that ‘other things’ is a euphemism for something illegal. I don’t know much about business, but I somehow doubt that selling TVs and MP3 players results in this kind of wealth.
I steer the conversation toward a more innocuous topic. “Does the rest of your family also use the island?”
His gaze goes flat and hard. “No. They’re all dead.”
“Oh, I’m sorry . . .” I don’t really know what to say. What can you say that will make something like that better? Yes, he kidnapped me, but he’s still a human being. I can’t even imagine suffering that kind of loss.
“It’s all right.” His tone is unemotional, but I can sense the pain underneath. “It happened a long time ago.”
I nod sympathetically. I genuinely feel bad for him, and I don’t try to hide the glimmer of tears in my eyes. I’m too soft—Leah says that every time I cry at a depressing movie—and I can’t help the sadness I feel at Julian’s suffering.
It ends up working in my favor, because his expression warms slightly. “Don’t pity me, my pet,” he says softly. “I’ve gotten over it. Why don’t you tell me about yourself instead?”
I blink at him slowly, knowing that the gesture draws attention to my eyes. “What would you like to know?” Didn’t he find out everything about me in the process of stalking me?
He smiles. It makes him look so beautiful that I feel a tiny squeezing sensation in my chest. Stop it, Nora. You’re the one seducing him, not the other way around.
“What do you like to read?” he asks. “What kind of movies do you like to watch?”
And for the next thirty minutes, he learns all about my enjoyment of romance novels and detective thrillers, my hatred of romantic comedies, and my love of epic movies with lots of special effects. Then he asks me about my favorite food and music, and listens attentively as I talk about my preference for eighties’ bands and deep-dish pizza.