I don’t know what to say, so I just watch the waves pounding against the shore. My chest feels as though it’s being squeezed in a vise. “Did Julian save you from evil?” I ask after a while, when I’m certain that I can keep my voice reasonably steady.

She turns her head to look at me. “Yes,” she says quietly. “He did. And he destroyed the evil for me. He handed me a gun and let me use it on those men—on the ones who killed my baby daughter. You see, Nora, he took a used-up, broken street whore and gave her her life back.”

I hold Beth’s gaze, feeling like I’m crumbling inside. My stomach is churning with nausea. She’s right: I didn’t know the real meaning of suffering. What she’s been through is not something I can comprehend.

She smiles at me, apparently enjoying my shocked silence. “Life is nothing more than a fucked-up roulette,” she says softly, “where the wheel keeps spinning and the wrong numbers keep coming up. You can cry about it all you want, but the truth of the matter is that this is as close to a winning ticket as it gets.”

I swallow to get rid of the knot in my throat. “That’s not true,” I say, and my voice sounds a bit hoarse. “It’s not always like this. There is a whole other world out there—the world where normal people live, where nobody tries to hurt you—”

“No,” Beth says harshly. “You’re dreaming. That world is about as real as a Disney fairy tale. You might have lived like a princess, but most people don’t. Normal people suffer. They hurt, they die, and they lose their loved ones. And they hurt each other. They tear at each other like the savage predators they are. There is no light without darkness, Nora; the night ultimately catches up with us all.”

“No.” I don’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. This island, Beth, Julian—it’s all an anomaly, not the way things always are. “No, that’s not—”

“It’s true,” Beth says. “You might not realize it yet, but it’s true. You need Julian just as much as he needs you. He can protect you, Nora. He can keep you safe.”

She seems utterly convinced of that fact.

“Good morning, my pet,” a familiar voice whispers in my ear, waking me up, and I open my eyes to see Julian sitting there, leaning over me. He must’ve come here straight from some formal business meeting, because he’s wearing a dress shirt instead of his usual more casual attire. A surge of happiness blazes through me. Smiling, I lift my arms and twine them around his neck, pulling him closer toward me.

He nuzzles my neck, his warm heavy weight pressing me into the mattress, and I arch against him, feeling the customary stirrings of desire. My nipples harden, and my core turns into a pool of liquid need, my entire body melting at his proximity.

“I missed you,” he breathes in my ear, and I shiver with pleasure, barely suppressing a moan as his talented mouth moves down my neck and nibbles at a tender spot near my collarbone. “I love it when you’re like this,” he murmurs, raining gentle kisses on my upper chest and shoulders, “all warm, soft and sleepy . . . and mine . . .”

I do moan now, as his mouth closes around my right nipple and sucks on it strongly, applying just the right amount of pressure. His hand slips under the blanket and between my thighs, and my moans intensify as he begins to stroke my folds, his finger drawing teasing circles around my clit.

“Come for me, Nora,” he orders softly, pressing down on my clit, and I shatter into a thousand pieces, my body tensing and peaking, as though on his command. “Good girl,” he whispers, continuing to play with my sex, drawing out my orgasm. “Such a good, sweet girl . . .”

When my aftershocks are over, he steps back and begins undressing. I watch him hungrily, unable to tear my eyes away from the sight. He’s beyond gorgeous, and I want him so badly. His shirt comes off first, exposing his broad shoulders and washboard stomach, and I can no longer contain myself. Sitting up, I reach for the zipper of his dress pants, my hands shaking with impatience.

He draws in a sharp breath as my palm brushes against his engorged cock. As soon as I succeed in freeing it, I wrap my fingers around the shaft and bend my head, taking him into my mouth.

“Fuck, Nora!” he groans, grasping my head and thrusting his hips at me. “Oh, fuck, baby, that’s good . . .” His fingers slide through my hair, tangling in the unbrushed strands, and I slowly suck him in deeper, opening my throat to take in as much of his length as I can.

“Oh fuck . . .” His raspy moan fills me with delight, and I squeeze his balls lightly, reveling in the heavy feel of them in my palm. His cock gets even harder, and I know he’s on the verge of coming, but, to my surprise, he pulls away, taking a step back.

He’s breathing heavily, his eyes glittering like blue diamonds, but he manages to control himself long enough to get rid of his remaining clothing before he climbs on top of me. His strong hands wrap around my wrists, stretching them above my head, and his hips settle heavily between my open thighs, his thick shaft nudging against my vulnerable entrance. I stare up at him with a mixture of apprehension and excitement; he looks magnificent and savage, with his dark hair disheveled and his beautiful face drawn tight with lust. He’s not going to be particularly gentle today—I can already see that.

And I’m right. He enters me with one powerful thrust, sliding so deep inside me that I gasp, feeling like he’s splitting me in half. And yet my body responds to him, producing more lubrication, easing his way. He fucks me brutally, without mercy, but my screams are those of pleasure, the tension inside me spiraling out of control one more time before he finally comes.