The anger helps hold back the panic. I’m able to think a little. I still can’t see anything in the dark, but I can feel.
First, I determine that I’m indeed lying on a bed. A big bed, probably king-sized. There are pillows and a blanket, and the sheets are soft and pleasant to the touch. Likely expensive.
For some reason, that scares me even more. These are criminals with money.
Crawling to the edge of the bed, I sit up, holding the blanket tightly around me. My bare feet touch the floor. It’s smooth and cold to the touch, like hardwood.
I wrap the blanket around me and stand up, ready to do further exploration.
At that moment, I hear the door opening.
A soft light comes on. Even though it’s not bright, I’m blinded for a minute. I blink a few times, and my eyes adjust.
And I see him.
He stands in the doorway like a dark angel. His hair curls a little around his face, softening the hard perfection of his features. His eyes are trained on my face, and his lips are curved in a slight smile.
My instincts had been right—this man is capable of anything.
“Hello, Nora,” he says softly, entering the room.
I cast a desperate glance around me. I see nothing that could serve as a weapon.
My mouth is dry like the desert. I can’t even gather enough saliva to talk. So I just watch him stalk toward me like a hungry tiger approaches its prey.
I am going to fight if he touches me.
He comes closer, and I take a step back. Then another and another, until I’m pressed against the wall. I’m still huddling in the blanket.
He lifts his hand, and I tense, preparing to defend myself.
But he’s merely holding a bottle of water and offering it to me.
“Here,” he says. “I figured you must be thirsty.”
I stare at him. I’m dying of thirst, but I don’t want him to drug me again.
He seems to understand my hesitation. “Don’t worry, my pet. It’s just water. I want you awake and conscious.”
I don’t know how to react to that. My heart is hammering in my throat, and I feel sick with fear.
He stands there, patiently watching. Holding the blanket tightly with one hand, I give in to my thirst and take the water from him. My hand shakes, and my fingers brush against his in the process. A wave of heat rolls through me, a strange reaction that I ignore.
Now I have to unscrew the cap—which means I have to let go of the blanket. He’s observing my dilemma with interest and no small measure of amusement. Thankfully, he’s not touching me. He’s standing less than two feet away and simply watching me.
I press my arms tightly against my body, holding the blanket that way, and unscrew the cap. Then I hold the blanket with one hand and lift the bottle to my lips to drink.
The cool liquid feels amazing on my parched lips and tongue. I drink until the entire bottle is gone. I can’t remember the last time water tasted so good. Dry mouth must be the side effect of whatever drug he used to get me here.
Now I can talk again, so I ask him, “Why?”
To my huge surprise, my voice sounds almost normal.
He lifts his hand and touches my face again. Just like he did at the club. And again, I stand there helplessly and let him. His fingers are gentle on my skin, his touch almost tender. It’s such a stark contrast to the whole situation that I’m disoriented for a moment.
“Because I didn’t like seeing you with him,” Julian says, and I can hear the barely suppressed rage in his voice. “Because he touched you, laid his hands on you.”
I can barely think. “Who?” I whisper, trying to figure out what he’s talking about. And then it hits me. “Jake?”
“Is he—” I don’t know if I can even say it out loud. “Is he . . . alive?”
“For now,” Julian says, his eyes burning into mine. “He’s in the hospital with a mild concussion.”
I’m so relieved I slump against the wall. And then the full meaning of his words hits me. “What do you mean, for now?”
Julian shrugs. “His health and wellbeing are entirely dependent on you.”
His fingers caress my face again, push the hair back behind my ear. I’m so cold I feel like his touch is burning my skin. “Yes, my pet, on you. If you behave, he’ll be fine. If not . . .”
His smile is the most beautiful and frightening thing I’ve ever seen.
“Who are you?” I whisper. “What do you want from me?”
He doesn’t answer. Instead, he touches my hair, lifts a thick brown strand to his face. Inhales, as though smelling it.
I watch him, frozen in place. I don’t know what to do. Do I fight him now? And if so, what would that accomplish? He hasn’t hurt me yet, and I don’t want to provoke him. He’s much larger than me, much stronger. I can see the thickness of his muscles under the black T-shirt he’s wearing. Without my heels on, I barely come up to his shoulder.
While I contemplate the merits of fighting someone who probably outweighs me by a hundred pounds, he makes the decision for me. His hand leaves my hair and tugs at the blanket I’m holding so tightly.