A year of my life has passed in captivity.

I feel like I’m suffocating, like all air had left the room, but I know it’s just an illusion. There’s plenty of oxygen here; I simply can’t seem to breathe in any.

“Nora?” Beth’s voice somehow penetrates the din in my ears. “Nora, are you all right?”

I finally manage to draw in some much-needed air, and I look up from the cake. Beth is staring at me with a puzzled frown on her face, and Julian is no longer smiling. Instead he looks like a dangerous stranger again, his gaze filled with something dark and disturbing.

Holding myself together with superhuman effort, I squeeze out a shaky smile. “Of course. Thank you for the cake, Beth.”

“We wanted to surprise you,” she says, her features smoothing out as she takes my words at face value. “I hope you have some room left for dessert. Chocolate cake is your favorite, right?”

The ringing in my ears intensifies. “Um, yes.” Despite my best attempts, my voice sounds choked. “And you definitely surprised me.”

“Leave us, Beth,” Julian says sharply, glancing at her. “Nora and I need to be alone right now.”

Beth blinks, obviously taken aback by Julian’s tone. I’ve never heard him speak like that to her before. Nevertheless, she obeys immediately, practically running up the stairs to her room.

I haven’t seen Julian this angry in a while and I know I should be frightened, but at this moment, I can’t seem to bring myself to care about what’s to come. Every muscle in my body is trembling with the effort to contain the terrible storm I can feel brewing inside me, and it’s a relief to have Beth away from here. A year. It’s been a fucking year. The rage that’s building inside me is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before; it’s like a dam has broken and would not be contained. A red mist descends on me, veiling my vision, and the ringing in my ears grows louder as my emotions spin out of control.

As soon as Beth is out of sight, I explode. I’m no longer rational or sane; instead I’m fury personified. I grab at the nearest thing I can reach—the chocolate cake—and throw it across the room, the dark-colored icing splattering everywhere. My plate and cup follow, hitting the wall and shattering into a million pieces, and all the while, I hear screaming, coming at me from far away. Some still-functioning part of my brain realizes that it’s me—that it’s my own screams and curses I’m hearing—but I can’t stop it any more than I can contain a typhoon. All the anger, terror, and frustration of the past year has boiled to the surface, erupting in a lava of fierce rage.

I don’t know how long I exist in that mindless state before steely arms wrap around me from the back, imprisoning me in a familiar embrace. I kick and scream until my voice grows hoarse, but my struggles are futile. Julian is far, far stronger than me, and he uses that strength now to subdue me, to hold me tight until I completely exhaust myself and slump against him in defeat, tears running down my face.

“Are you done?” he whispers in my ear, and I can hear the familiar dark note in his tone. As usual, I find it both sinister and arousing, my body now conditioned to crave the pain that’s to come—and the mind-shattering bliss that inevitably accompanies it.

I shake my head in response to his question, but I know that I am done, that whatever it was that came over me has passed, leaving me drained and empty.

Julian turns me around in his arms, so that I’m facing him. I stare up at him, my tear-glazed gaze helplessly drawn to the perfect symmetry of his features. His high cheekbones are tinged with a hint of color, and there is something disquieting in the way he looks at me—as though he wants to devour me, to tear out my soul and swallow it whole. Our eyes meet, and I know that I’m standing on the edge of a precipice right now, that a sinkhole is opening up underneath my feet.

And in that moment, I see things clearly.

I am not angry because I’ve been imprisoned on the island for an entire year. No, my rage goes far, far deeper. What burns me up inside is not the fact that I’ve been a captive this whole time—it’s that I’ve grown to like my captivity.

Over the past few months, I have somehow come to terms with my new life. I’ve grown to enjoy the calm, relaxing rhythms of the island. The ocean, the sand, the sun—it’s about as close to paradise as anything I can imagine. Freedom and all that it implies is now just a vague, impossible dream. I can barely picture the faces of those I left behind; they are just blurry, shadowy figures in my mind. The only thing that matters to me now is the man holding me in his hard embrace.

“Why, Nora?” he asks, almost soundlessly. His arms tighten around me, his fingers digging into the soft skin of my back. When I don’t reply, his expression darkens further. “Why?”

I remain silent, unwilling to take that last, irrevocable step. I can’t bare myself to Julian like that. I just can’t. He’s already taken far too much from me; I can’t let him have this too.

“Tell me,” he orders, one hand sliding up to twist in my hair, forcing my neck to bend backwards. “Tell me now.”

“I hate you,” I croak, gathering the last shreds of my defiance. My voice is like sandpaper, hoarse from all the screaming. “I hate you—”

His eyes flash with blue fire. “Is that right?” he whispers, leaning over me, still holding me arched helplessly against him. “You hate me, my pet?”