And getting up, she starts washing the dishes.

I spend the next two days alternating between speculating about Maria and worrying about Julian’s return.

Who is she? Someone who looks a lot like me, apparently. So similar that she could be my younger sister, Beth said. How old is this girl? Who is she to Julian? The questions gnaw at me, interfering with my sleep. He took me because of my resemblance to her—that much is obvious to me. But why? What happened to her? Why is she in his nightmares?

I want to know, I want to understand, yet I’m afraid of Julian’s reaction when he returns and finds out that I snooped. I could try to explain that I learned all of this accidentally, that I didn’t mean to invade his privacy, but I strongly suspect my captor is not the understanding type.

Beth doesn’t tell me anything else about Maria. In fact, she doesn’t talk to me much at all. She’s one of those rare individuals who seems happy being by herself. If I were her, I would go crazy being stuck here on this island, doing nothing but cooking, cleaning, and looking after Julian’s sex toy, but she seems perfectly fine with it.

I, on the other hand, am far from fine. I am constantly thinking about my old life, missing my family and friends. They probably think I’m dead at this point. I’m guessing there was a big search for me, but I doubt it yielded any results.

I also think about Jake, wondering if he recovered from his beating. It had looked so brutal, what Julian’s thug had done to him. Does Jake know that it was my fault? That he got attacked in his house because of me?

Taking a deep breath, I tell myself that it doesn’t matter if he knows or not. Whatever Jake and I could’ve had together is over. I belong to Julian now, and there’s no point in thinking about any other man.

In a way, I am lucky. I know that. I’m sure many girls end up in far worse circumstances than me. I once saw a documentary about sexual slavery, and the images of those hollow-eyed women had haunted me for days. They’d seemed broken, completely and utterly crushed by whatever had been done to them, and even the fact that they’d been rescued didn’t seem to dispel the suffering etched into their faces.

My captivity is different. It’s much nicer, much more comfortable. Julian is not trying to break me, and I’m grateful for that. I may be his sex slave, but at least he’s my only master. Things could definitely be much worse.

Or so I tell myself as I wait for his return, desperately hoping that Julian’s reaction to my prying won’t be as bad as I fear.

Julian comes back in the middle of the night. I must’ve been sleeping lightly because I wake up as soon as I hear the quiet murmur of conversation downstairs. My captor’s deeper tones are interspersed with Beth’s more feminine ones, and I have a strong suspicion I know what they’re talking about.

I sit up in bed, my heart galloping in my chest. Getting up, I quickly pull on yesterday’s clothes and run to the bathroom to freshen up. I don’t know why I care about brushing teeth right now, but I do. I want to be as awake and prepared as possible for whatever Julian decides to do to me.

Then I just sit on the bed and wait.

Finally, the door to my room opens and Julian walks in. He looks unusually tired, with dark shadows under his eyes and a hint of stubble on his normally clean-shaven face. These flaws should’ve diminished his beauty, but they only humanize him a bit, somehow enhancing his attractiveness.

“And you decided to greet me. How nice of you, my pet.”

I know he’s mocking me, so I don’t say anything, just continue looking at him. My palms are sweating, but I’m doing my best to project a calm demeanor.

He sits down on the bed next to me and lifts his hand to touch my hair. “Such a sweet pet,” he murmurs, lifting a thick strand and playfully tickling my cheek with it. “Such a curious little kitten . . .”

I swallow, my breathing fast and shallow. What is he going to do to me?

He gets up and starts to undress while I watch him, frozen in place by a mixture of fear and strange anticipation. His clothes come off, revealing the powerfully masculine body underneath, and I feel a wave of desire rolling through me, heating up my core.

I want him. Despite everything, I want him, and that’s the most screwed-up thing of all. He’s probably going to do something awful to me, but I still want him more than I could’ve ever imagined wanting anyone.

In for a penny, in for a pound. “Did you do this to Maria?” I ask quietly. “Did you also keep her as your pet?”

He looks at me, his eyes as blue and mysterious as the ocean. “Are you sure you want to go there, Nora?” His voice is soft, deceptively calm.

I stare at him, feeling uncharacteristically reckless. “Why, yes, Julian, I do.” My tone is bitterly sarcastic, and I realize that part of my boldness stems from jealousy, that I hate the idea of this Maria being special to Julian. But even that realization is not enough to stop me. “Who is she? Some other girl you abused?”

His expression darkens, and I hold my breath, waiting to see what he would do now. In a way, I want to provoke him. I want him to punish me, to hurt me. I want it because I need him to be nothing more than a monster—because I need to hate him for the sake of my sanity.

He walks over and sits down on the bed next to me. I fight the urge to flinch when he reaches for me and wraps his strong fingers around my neck. Gripping my throat, he leans over and brushes his cheek against mine, back and forth, as though enjoying the soft texture of my skin against the roughness of his stubble-covered jaw. His fingers don’t squeeze, but the threat is there, and I can feel myself shaking, my breathing speeding up in terrified anticipation.