I focus on controlling my breathing and keeping the bile in my throat down. “Is that why you don’t have a Spanish accent?” My question comes totally out of the left field. I don’t even know what makes me ask something so trivial at a moment like this.
But it’s apparently the right thing to do because Julian relaxes slightly, some of the tension leaving his muscles. “Yes. That’s partially why, my pet. Also, my mother was an American, and she taught me English from a young age.”
“Yes. She was a model in her youth, a tall, beautiful blond. They met in New York, when my father was there on a business trip. He swept her off her feet, and they were married before he told her anything about his business.”
“What did she do when she found out?” I know I’m probably focusing on the wrong things here, but I need to distract myself from the gruesome images filling my mind—images of a dead girl who’s a younger version of me . . .
“There was nothing she could do,” Julian says. “She was already married to him, and living in Colombia.”
He doesn’t explain further, but he doesn’t need to. It’s clear to me that his mother was as much of a prisoner as I am—except that she’d chosen her captivity, at least initially.
For a few minutes, we just lie there quietly, without talking. I’m no longer drowsy. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep tonight at all. The ache in my body is nothing compared to the despair in my heart.
“So is that what you do now? Drugs?” I ask, finally breaking the silence. It’s not far from my original supposition that he’s part of the Mafia or some other criminal organization.
“No,” he says, to my surprise. “That part of my life ended when my parents were killed. I took the family business in a different direction.”
“Which direction?” I remember him telling me something about an import-export organization, but I can’t imagine Julian doing something as innocuous as selling electronics. Not after what I’ve just learned about his upbringing.
He chuckles, as though amused at my persistence. “Weapons,” he says. “I’m an arms dealer, Nora.”
I blink, surprised. I know a little—or at least, I think I know—about drug dealers, thanks to some popular TV shows. Arms dealers, however, are a complete mystery to me. I strongly suspect Julian isn’t talking about a few guns here or there.
I have a million questions about his profession, but there’s something I need to know first, while Julian seems to be in a sharing mood. “Why did you steal me? Is it because I remind you of Maria?”
“Yes,” he says softly, his voice wrapping around me like a cashmere scarf. “When I first saw you in that club, you looked so much like her, it was uncanny. Except you were older—and even more beautiful. And I wanted you. I needed you. For the first time in years, I was truly feeling. Of course, the emotions you evoked in me were nothing like what I’d once felt for her. She was my friend, but you . . .” He inhales deeply, his chest moving under my head. “I just needed you to be mine, Nora. When I touched you that day, when I felt the silkiness of your skin, I so badly wanted to take you, to strip off those tight clothes you were wearing and fuck you senseless right then and there, on the floor of that club. And I wanted to hurt you . . . the way I sometimes like to hurt women, the way they ask me to hurt them . . . I wanted to hear you scream—in pain and in pleasure.”
His hand continues playing with my hair, and the caressing touch keeps me calm enough to listen. In the darkness, none of this is real. There’s only Julian and his voice, telling me things that a normal person would find frightening—things that somehow make me wet instead.
“I brought you here, to my island, because it’s the safest place for you. My business associates are always looking for signs of weakness, and you, my pet, are a weakness of mine. I’ve never felt this way about another woman. I’ve never been so—” he pauses for a moment, as though searching for the right word, “—so fucking obsessed. Just the thought of another man touching you, kissing you, drove me crazy. I tried to stay away, to put you out of my mind, but I couldn’t resist seeing you one more time at your graduation. And when I saw you there, I knew you felt it too, this connection between us—and I knew then that it was inevitable . . . that I would take you, and you would always be mine.”
His words wash over me like a warm ocean wave, bringing with it trepidation and a kind of unhealthy excitement. Some twisted part of me revels in the fact that I’m special to Julian, that he’s as helplessly drawn to me as I am to him.
For some strange reason, I feel compelled to reciprocate his openness. “I was afraid of you,” I tell him quietly. “In the club, and then when I saw you at my graduation, I was afraid.”
“Afraid and attracted,” I admit. This seems to be the night for revelations. Besides, he already knows the truth. Despite my fear, I desire him. I’ve wanted him from the very beginning, and nothing he’s done since changes that fact.
“Good.” He runs his hand lightly down my back. “That’s very good, my pet. It’ll make things easier for both of us.”
Easier? I consider that statement. Easier for him, certainly. But for me? I’m not so sure.
“Did you ever contact my family?” I ask, thinking of his promise all those days ago. “Do they know that I’m alive?”