“Whose bedroom is it?” I ask, a sick feeling appearing in my stomach.
I stare at him, feeling colder by the minute. “Jake’s?”
I begin to shake inside. “Why is it on your TV?”
“Do you remember when I told you that Jake is safe as long as you behave?”
I stop breathing for a second. “Yes . . .” My whisper is barely audible.
Truthfully, I had forgotten about his initial threat to Jake, too consumed with the experience of my own captivity. I don’t think I took the threat seriously to begin with, certainly not after I learned we were on an island thousands of miles away from my hometown. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had been convinced Julian can’t really harm Jake. Not from a distance, at least.
“Good,” Julian says. “Then you’ll understand why I’m doing this. I don’t want to keep you locked up, unable to go anywhere or do anything. This island is your new home, and I want you to be happy here—”
Happy here? I’m more than ever convinced that he’s crazy.
“—but I can’t have you trying to hurt Beth in pointless escape attempts. You need to learn that there are consequences to your actions—”
The sick feeling inside me spreads throughout my body. “I’m sorry! I won’t do it anymore! I won’t, I promise!” My words are hurried and jumbled. I don’t know if I can prevent what’s about to happen, but I have to try. “I won’t hurt Beth, and I won’t try to escape. Please, Julian, I learned my lesson . . .”
Julian looks at me almost sadly. “No, Nora. You haven’t. I had to come back today, cutting short my business trip because of what you did. Beth is not here to be your jailer. That’s not her role. She’s here to take care of you, to make sure you’re comfortable and content. I can’t have you repaying her kindness by trying to kill her—”
“I wasn’t trying to kill her! I just wanted . . .” I stop, not wanting to reveal my plan to him.
“You thought you could take her hostage?” Julian looks amused now. “To do what? Get her to take you off the island? Help you reach the outside world?”
I look at him, neither denying nor admitting it.
“Well, Nora, let me explain something to you. Even if your attack had succeeded—which it wouldn’t have, because Beth is more than capable of handling one small girl—she wouldn’t have been able to help you. When I leave, the plane leaves with me. There’s no boat or any other way off the island.”
His words confirm what I had already suspected from my explorations. But I’m still hoping that—
“And I’m the only one who has access to my office. There’s no computer or communication equipment anywhere else in the house. All Beth can do is send me a direct message on a special line that we have set up. So you see, my pet, she would’ve been quite useless as a hostage.”
So much for that hope. Each sentence feels like a nail getting pounded deeper into my coffin. If he’s not lying to me, then my situation is far, far worse than I feared.
Unless Julian chooses to let me go, I’ll be stuck on his island forever.
I want to scream, cry, and throw things, but I can’t let myself fall apart right now. Instead, I nod and pretend to be calm and rational. “I understand. I’m sorry, Julian. I didn’t know any of this before. I won’t try to escape again, and I won’t hurt Beth. Please believe me . . .”
“I’d like to, Nora.” He looks almost regretful. “But I can’t. You don’t know me yet, so you’re not sure if you can believe me. I need to show you that I’m a man of my word. The sooner you accept the inevitable, the happier you’ll be.”
And with that, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out something that looks like a phone. Pressing a button, he waits a couple of seconds, then says curtly, “You can proceed.”
Then he turns his attention to the screen.
I do the same, a hollow sense of dread in my stomach.
The TV still shows an empty room, but a few seconds later, the door opens and Jake walks in.
He looks terrified. One of his eyes is swollen shut, and his nose is off-center, like it’s broken. He’s followed by a large masked figure toting a gun.
A horrified gasp escapes my lips. “Please, no . . .” I’m not even cognizant of moving, but my hands are somehow on Julian’s arm, tugging at him in desperation.
“Watch, Nora.” There’s no emotion on Julian’s face as he pulls me into his arms, holding me so that I’m facing the TV. “I want you to learn once and for all that actions have consequences.”
On the screen, the masked henchman suddenly reaches for Jake—
—and hits him hard across the face with the handle of the gun. Jake stumbles backward, blood trickling out of the corner of his mouth.
“Please, no!” I’m sobbing and struggling in Julian’s iron grip, my eyes glued to the violent scene taking place thousands of miles away.
Jake’s attacker is relentless, hitting him over and over. I scream, feeling each blow inside my heart. Every brutal strike against Jake’s body is killing something inside me, some belief in a brighter future that has held me together thus far.
When Jake falls to his knees, the man kicks him in the ribs, and I can hear Jake’s pained groan.