I hold his gaze, refusing to blink. In for a penny, in for a pound. “Yes,” I hiss, “I hate you!” I need to convince him of my hatred because the alternative is unthinkable. He can’t know the truth. He just can’t.

Julian’s face hardens, turning to ice. In one swift motion, he sweeps the remaining dishes off the kitchen table onto the floor and pushes me onto the table, forcing me to bend over, my face sliding on the smooth wooden surface. I try to kick back with my legs, but it’s useless. He’s gripping the back of my neck with one strong hand, and then I hear the menacing sound of a belt being unbuckled.

I kick back harder, and actually manage to make contact with his leg. Of course, it gains me nothing. I can’t escape from Julian. I will never be able to escape from Julian.

He leans over me, pressing me into the table, his hard fingers tightening around the back of my neck. “You’re mine, Nora,” he says harshly, his large body dominating me, arousing me. “You belong to me, do you understand? Each and every single part of you is mine.” His erection presses against my buttocks, its uncompromising hardness both a threat and a promise.

He rears back, still holding me down with one hand on my neck, and I hear the sibilant whisper of a belt being pulled from its loops. A moment later, my dress is flipped up, exposing my lower body. I squeeze my eyes shut, bracing for what’s to come.

Thwack. Thwack. The belt descends on my ass, over and over again, each strike like fire licking at my thighs and buttocks. I can hear my own cries, feel my body tensing with each blow, and then the pain propels me into that strange state where everything is turned upside down—where pain and pleasure collide, become indistinguishable from one another, and my tormentor is my only solace. My body softens, melts, each stroke of the belt starting to feel more like a caress, and I know that I somehow need this right now—that Julian has tapped into that dark, secret part of myself that is a mirror image of his own twisted desires. It’s a part of me that longs to give up control, to lose myself completely and just be his.

By the time Julian stops and turns me over, there isn’t an ounce of defiance left in my body. My head is swimming from an endorphin rush more powerful than anything I have ever experienced, and I’m clinging to him, desperate for comfort, for sex, for anything resembling love and affection. My arms twine around Julian’s neck, pulling him down on the table with me, and I revel in the taste of him, in the deep, hungry kisses with which he consumes my mouth. My backside feels like it’s on fire, but it doesn’t diminish my lust one bit; if anything, it intensifies it. Julian has trained me well. My body is conditioned to crave the pleasure that I know comes next.

He fumbles with his jeans, opening the zipper, and then he’s inside me, entering me with one powerful thrust. I shudder with relief, with ecstasy that borders on agony, and wrap my legs around his waist, taking him deeper, needing him to fuck me, to claim me in the most primitive way possible.

“Tell me, baby,” he whispers in my ear, his lips brushing against my temple. His right hand slides into my hair, holding me immobile. “Tell me how much you hate me.” His other hand finds the place where we’re joined, rubs there, then moves down a couple of inches to my other opening. “Tell me . . .”

I gasp as his finger pushes into my anus, my senses overwhelmed by all the conflicting sensations. Dazed, I open my eyes and stare at Julian, seeing my own dark need reflected on his face. He wants to possess me, to break me so he could put me back together, and I can no longer fight him on this.

“I don’t hate you.” My words come out low and raspy, and I swallow to moisten my dry throat. “I don’t hate you, Julian.”

Something like triumph flashes on his face. His hips thrust forward, his shaft burrowing deeper inside me, and I suppress a moan, still holding his gaze.

“Tell me,” he orders again, his voice deepening. His eyes are burning into mine, and I can no longer resist the demand I see there. He wants all of me, and I have no choice but to give it to him.

“I love you.” My voice is barely audible, each word feeling like it’s being wrenched out of my very soul. “I don’t hate you, Julian . . . I can’t . . . I can’t because I love you.”

I can see his pupils dilating, turning his eyes darker. His cock swells within me, even thicker and harder than before, and then he pulls out and slams back inside, making me gasp from the savagery of his possession.

“Tell me again,” he groans, and I repeat what I said, the words coming easier the second time around. There’s no point in hiding from the truth anymore, no reason to lie. I have fallen head over heels for my sadistic captor, and nothing in the world can change that fact.

“I love you,” I whisper, my hand moving up to cradle his cheek. “I love you, Julian.”

His eyes darken further, and then he bends his head, taking my mouth in a deep, all-consuming kiss.

Now I am truly his, and he knows it.

The next three months fly by.

After that day—after what I think of as the Birthday Incident—my relationship with Julian undergoes a noticeable change, becoming more . . . romantic, for lack of a better word.

It’s a fucked-up romance, I know that. I may be addicted to Julian, but I’m not so far gone that I don’t realize how unhealthy this is. I am in love with the man who kidnapped me, the man who is still holding me prisoner.

The man who seems to need my love as much as he needs my body.