The next morning I wake up to the luxurious sensation of having my feet massaged. It feels so incredible that, for a few seconds, I think I’m dreaming and try to avoid waking up. The feel of strong fingers kneading my foot is all too real, however, and I moan in bliss as each individual toe is rubbed and stroked with just the right amount of pressure.

Opening my eyes, I see Julian sitting on the bed, gloriously naked and holding a bottle of massage oil. Pouring some into his palm, he bends over me and starts massaging my ankles and calves next.

“Good morning,” he purrs, looking at me. I stare back at him, mute with surprise. Julian has given me massages in the past, but usually only as a way to relax me before doing something that would make me scream. He’s never woken me up in this pleasurable way before.

There is a half-smile on his sensuous lips, and I can’t help feeling nervous. “Um, Julian,” I say uncertainly, “what . . . what are you doing?”

“Giving you a massage,” he says, his eyes gleaming with amusement. “Why don’t you relax and enjoy it?”

I blink, watching as his hands slowly move up my calves. He has large hands—strong and masculine. My legs look impossibly slender and feminine in his grasp, though I have well-defined muscles from all the running. I can feel the calluses on his palms scratching lightly against my skin, and I swallow, the unbidden thought that those hands belong to a killer entering my mind.

“Turn over,” he says, tugging on my legs, and I plop over on my belly, still feeling nervous. What is he up to? I don’t like surprises when it comes to Julian.

He starts kneading the back of my legs, unerringly finding the areas most sore from yesterday’s race, and I groan as tight muscles begin to loosen up under his skilled fingers. Still, I can’t relax completely; Julian is far too unpredictable for my peace of mind.

Apparently sensing my unease, he bends over me and whispers in my ear, “It’s just a massage, my pet. No need to be so worried about it.”

Somewhat reassured, I let myself relax, sinking into the comfort of my mattress. Julian’s hands are magic; I’ve had professional massages that were nowhere near as good. He’s completely attuned to me, paying attention to the slightest change in my breathing, to the most minute twitch in my muscles . . . After several minutes of this, I no longer care about his strange behavior; I’m simply wallowing in the bliss of this experience.

When my entire body has been thoroughly massaged and I’m lying there in limp contentment, Julian stops and shepherds me into the shower. Then he goes down on me, pleasuring me with his mouth until I explode in mind-blowing release.

At breakfast, I’m practically humming with contentment. This is the best morning I’ve had in months, maybe even years. By some strange coincidence, Beth made my favorite food—Eggs Benedict with crab cakes. I haven’t had anything this decadent since my arrival on the island. The food Beth cooks for us is good, but it’s usually on the healthy side. Fruits, vegetables, and fish seem to make up the majority of our diet. I can’t remember the last time I had something as rich and satisfying as the Hollandaise sauce Beth made today.

“Mmm, this is so good,” I moan around a mouthful. “Beth, this is amazing. These are probably the best eggs I’ve ever had.”

She grins at me. “They did come out well, didn’t they? I wasn’t sure if I got the recipe right, but it seems like I might have.”

“Oh, you did,” I reassure her before I serve myself another portion. “This is great.”

Julian smiles, his eyes gleaming with warm amusement. “Hungry, my pet?” He himself has already eaten a sizable serving, but I’m on the verge of catching up to him.

“Starving,” I tell him, bringing another forkful to my mouth. “I guess I burned a lot of calories yesterday.”

“I’m sure you did,” he says, his smile widening, and then he tells Beth about how I almost won the race, leaving out the part about our fucking and my passing out afterwards.

When the breakfast is over, I’m so stuffed I can’t eat another bite. Thanking Beth for the meal, I stand up, about to go get a book for a relaxing reading session on the porch, when Julian surprises me by wrapping his hand around my wrist. “Wait, Nora,” he says softly, pulling me back down into my seat. “There’s one more thing Beth prepared today.” And he shoots Beth an indecipherable look—at which point she immediately gets up and goes into the kitchen.

“Um, okay.” I’m beyond confused. She had prepared something, but didn’t serve it during the actual meal?

At that moment, Beth comes back to the table, carrying a tray with a large chocolate cake—a cake with a bunch of burning candles.

“Happy birthday, Nora,” Julian says with a smile as Beth places the cake in front of me. “Now make a wish and blow out those candles.”

I blow out the candles on autopilot, barely registering the fact that it takes me three attempts to do this. Beth cheers, clapping her hands, and I hear the sounds as though they’re coming from a distance. My mind is whirling, yet I feel oddly numb, as if nothing can touch me right now. All I can think about, all I can concentrate on is the fact that it’s my birthday.

The realization makes me want to scream.

I met Julian shortly before my last birthday—and he brought me to this island shortly thereafter. If it’s my birthday today, then nearly a year has passed since my abduction—since I’ve been here, at Julian’s mercy and entirely isolated from the rest of the world.