I don’t know if he loves me back. I don’t even know if he’s capable of that emotion. How can you love someone whose freedom you stole without a second thought? And yet I can’t help feeling that he must care for me, that his obsession with me is not only sexual in nature. It’s there in the way I catch him looking at me sometimes, in the way he tries to anticipate my every need.

He constantly brings me my favorite foods, my favorite books and music. If I so much as mention needing a hand lotion, he buys it for me on his next trip. I am about as pampered as a girl can be. He even takes pride in my accomplishments, praising my artwork and going so far as to take several paintings with him off the island to hang in his office in Hong Kong.

He also misses me when we’re not together. I know because he tells me so—and because every time he returns, he falls on me like a starving man just getting out of prison. That, more than anything, gives me hope that his feelings for me go beyond that of owner for his possession.

“Do you see other women? Out there, in the real world?” I ask him at breakfast after one night when he takes me three times in a row. The question had been eating at me for months, and I simply can’t contain myself any longer. My captor is more than gorgeous; he’s got that dangerous, magnetic appeal that probably draws women to him by the dozen. I can easily imagine him sleeping with a different beauty every night—a thought that makes me want to stab something. Even with his sadistic proclivities, I know he would have no trouble finding bed partners; there are probably plenty of women who, like me, derive pleasure from erotic pain.

He smiles at me with dark amusement, not the least bit put off by my obvious display of jealousy. “No, my pet,” he says softly. Reaching over, he takes my hand, stroking the inside of my wrist with his thumb. “Why would I want to fuck someone else when I have you? I haven’t been with another woman since the day we met.”

“You haven’t?” I can’t conceal my shock. Julian had been faithful to me this whole time?

He looks at me, his lips curved in a sinfully delicious smile. “No, baby, I have not,” he says—and in that moment, I feel like the happiest woman in the world.

I love it when he calls me ‘baby.’ It’s a common endearment, I know, but somehow when Julian says it, it sounds different—like he’s caressing me with that word. I much prefer ‘baby’ to being called ‘my pet.’

Ultimately, though, I know that’s what I am to him—his pet, his possession. He likes the idea that I belong to him, that he’s the only man who gets to touch me, to see me. He likes dressing me in the clothes that he provides for me, feeding me the food that he brings. I am completely dependent on him, utterly at his mercy, and I think something about that appeals to him, appeasing the demons I frequently sense lurking beneath the surface.

Truthfully, I don’t mind being possessed. It’s a disturbing realization, but some part of me seems to like this kind of dynamic. I feel safe and cared for, even though logic tells me I’m far from safe with a man who deals in weapons for a living—a man who admitted to killing without any regret. The hands that touch me at night are those that brought death to others, but there is a certain piquancy in that. It makes everything more intense somehow, helps me feel more alive.

Besides, despite his need to hurt me, Julian has never truly harmed me—not physically, at least. When he’s in one of his sadistic moods, I end up with marks and bruises on my skin, but those fade quickly. He’s careful never to scar my body, even though I know that blood and tears—my tears—excite him, turn him on.

When I share some of my feelings with Beth, she doesn’t seem surprised in the least.

“I knew the two of you were made for each other from the first moment I saw you together,” she says, giving me a wry look. “When you and Julian are in the same room, the air practically sizzles. I’ve never seen such chemistry between two people before. What you have together is rare and special. Don’t fight it, Nora. He’s your destiny—and you are his.”

She seems completely convinced of that.

On the night my life irrevocably changes, everything starts out as normal.

Julian is on the island, and we share a delicious meal together before he brings me upstairs for a lengthy lovemaking session. It’s one of those times when he’s gentle, worshipping me with his body like I’m a goddess, and I fall asleep relaxed and satisfied, held tightly in his embrace.

When I wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, I become aware of a dull pain near my navel. Relieving myself, I wash my hands and crawl back into bed, stretching out next to Julian’s sleeping form. I feel slightly nauseous too, and I wonder if I’m having indigestion. Could I have gotten food poisoning somehow?

I try to fall asleep, but the pain seems to get worse with every minute that passes. It migrates down into my lower right abdomen, becoming sharp and agonizing. I don’t want to wake up Julian, but I can’t bear it anymore. I need a painkiller of some kind, any kind.

“Julian,” I whisper, reaching for him. “Julian, I think I’m sick.”

He wakes up immediately and sits up in bed, turning on the bedside lamp. There’s no trace of confusion on his face; he’s as alert as if it’s the middle of the day instead of three o’clock in the morning. “What’s wrong?”

I curl into a little ball as the pain intensifies. “I don’t know,” I manage to say. “My stomach hurts.”