At breakfast, I’m a little sore, but happy regardless. Julian is here, and all is right with my world. He seems to be in a good mood as well, teasing me about watching an entire season of Friends in one week and asking about my latest running times. He likes it that I’m so much into fitness lately—or rather, he likes the results of it.
Physically, I’m in the best shape I have ever been, and it shows. My body is lean and toned, and I’m a walking testament to the benefits of a healthy diet, lots of fresh air, and regular exercise. My thick brown hair is growing without any sign of split ends, and my skin is perfectly smooth and tan. I can’t remember the last time I had so much as a pimple.
“My last three-mile run was 16:20,” I tell Julian without false modesty. “I bet not many guys can beat that.”
“That’s true,” he agrees, his blue eyes dancing with laughter. “I probably couldn’t.”
“Really?” I’m intrigued by the idea of beating Julian at something. “Want to try? I’d be glad to race you.”
“Don’t do it, Julian,” Beth says, laughing. “She’s fast. She was quick before, but now she’s like a fucking rocket.”
“Oh yeah?” He lifts one eyebrow at me. “A fucking rocket, huh?”
“That’s right.” I give him a challenging look. “Want to race, or are you too chicken?”
Beth begins to make clucking noises, and Julian grins, throwing a piece of bread at her. “Shut up, you traitor.”
Laughing at their antics, I throw a piece of bread at Julian, and Beth scolds both of us. “I’m the one who has to clean up this whole mess,” she grumbles, and Julian promises to help her with the bread crumbs, soothing her temper with one of his megawatt smiles.
When he’s like this, his charm is like a living thing, drawing me in, making me forget the truth about my situation. On the back of my mind, I know that none of this is real—that this sense of connection, this camaraderie is nothing more than a mirage—but with each day that passes, it starts to matter less and less. In a strange way, I feel like I’m two people: the woman who’s falling in love with the gorgeous, ruthless killer sitting at the breakfast table and the one who’s observing the whole thing with a sense of horror and disbelief.
After breakfast, I change into my running clothes—a pair of shorts and a sports bra—and go read a book on the porch, so I can digest my food before the run. Julian goes into his office as usual. His business doesn’t wait just because he’s on the island; an illegal arms empire requires constant attention.
While Julian rarely talks about his work, I’ve managed to glean a few things over the past several months. From what I understand, my captor is the head of an international operation specializing in the manufacture and distribution of cutting-edge weapons and certain types of electronics. His clients are those organizations and individuals who cannot obtain weapons by legitimate means.
“He deals with some really dangerous motherfuckers,” Beth told me once. “Psychopaths, many of them. I wouldn’t trust them as far as I can throw them.”
“So why does he do this?” I asked. “He’s so rich. I’m sure he doesn’t need the money . . .”
“It’s not about the money,” Beth explained. “It’s about the thrill of it, the challenge. Men like Julian thrive on that.”
I wonder sometimes if that’s what Julian likes about me—the challenge of making me bend to his will, of shaping me to become whatever it is he thinks he needs. Does he find it thrilling, the knowledge that I’m his captive and that he can do whatever he wants with me? Does the illegal aspect of the whole thing excite him?
“Ready to go?” Julian’s voice interrupts my thoughts, and I look up from my book to see him standing there, dressed in only a pair of black running shorts and sneakers. His naked torso ripples with thick, perfectly defined muscles, and his smooth golden skin gleams in the sunlight, making me want to touch him all over.
“Um, yeah.” I get up, putting down my book and begin to stretch, watching Julian doing the same out of the corner of my eye. His body is incredible, and I wonder what he does to keep in shape. I’ve never seen him working out here on the island.
“Do you do some kind of exercise when you go on your trips?” I ask, shamelessly staring as he bends over and touches his toes with surprising flexibility. “How do you stay so fit?”
He straightens and grins at me. “I train with my men when I can. I guess you could call it exercise.”
“Your men?” I immediately think of the thug who had beaten up Jake. The memory makes me sick, and I push it away, not wanting to think about such dark matters now. I have to do this sometimes, to separate this new life of mine into neat little sections, keeping the good times apart from the bad. It’s my own patented coping mechanism.
“My bodyguards and certain other employees,” Julian explains as we head out toward the beach, walking fast to warm up. “Some of them are former Navy SEALs, and training with them is no picnic, believe me.”
“You train with Navy SEALs?” I stop and give Julian a hard look. “You were just kidding earlier, weren’t you? About not being able to beat me in a race?”
His lips curve in a slightly mischievous—and utterly seductive—smile. “I don’t know, my pet,” he says softly. “Was I? Why don’t you race me and see?”