The first book in an all-new dark romance trilogy is coming next week from author Monica James, and I have the whole first chapter for you.
I don’t want to do this, but what choice do I have? She is relying on me to save her…and I won’t fail her again. I can’t.
“Don’t drop me.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it…wife.”
“Say it again.”
“Wife…wife…wife.” Squealing like a love-struck teenager, I kick my legs high in the air as my husband of two days carries me over the threshold.
This ritual holds much significance, and to most, it’s probably absurd, but to me, it’s absolutely perfect because I just married the most wonderful man. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think little ole me, Willow Shaw, would marry millionaire Drew Gibbs.
But the thing about Drew is that he doesn’t flash his wealth. He doesn’t drive an expensive car, nor does hedeck himself out in designer threads and flashy gold. He is humbleand kind, and when we first locked eyes across that runway, I knew I was done for.
“Welcome home, babe,” he says with his boyish, playful charm. “Well, our home away from home for the next two weeks.”
Still reeling from the fact I’m on my honeymoon, I gape around in awe at our secluded villa in one of the less populated areas of the Greek Islands. Our wedding at Los Angeles’s City Hall was a quick affair, which seems to be the theme for my entire relationship with Drew.
Call me crazy because it’s not like I haven’theard it before, but Drew and I met six weeks ago while I was modeling for a local designer in LA. When I stepped out onto that runway and saw Drew sitting in the front row, I just knew our paths had crossed for a reason.
After the show, all the girls were gossiping about a tall, dark, and handsome millionaire, but when that stranger came my way, they could see he only had eyes for me. He asked me out for a drink, and the rest is history.
We spent every waking minute together getting to know one another, and by week two, I was in love. I know what you’re thinking, but with a past like mine, you come to learn that time is precious, and when the heavens present you with a gift, you take it.
I was born and bred in a small town in Texas. My father was the local Baptist pastor, and our family was well respected in our community. My parents were high school sweethearts, and together, they shined. But when fate intervened and took my dad away when I was twelve, my mother’s light faded.
Dad died of a heart attack. There was nothing the hospital could do. But my mom saw my father’s death as a betrayal from the big guy upstairs. She had put her faith in God her whole life, and in return, He took away the love of her life.
My mother changed, turning her back on the church and her friends. Liquor became her new salvation and so did seeking solace in the random men she would bring home late at night from whatever bar she frequented.
I had no one to talk to. I was an only child, and my grandparents lived out of state. The woman passed out on the recliner with a bottle of whiskey dangling from her limp fingers as she mumbled my father’s name was someone I no longer recognized.
When I turned thirteen, I began to develop in ways I didn’t understand, and things just got worse. As I came from a strict, religious family, my parents never explained what happened when your body changed. I grew tall, lost the baby fat, and my breasts doubled in size.
I hated it because I was no longer daddy’s little girl.
Girls at school picked on me, calling me a slut, while the boys suddenly showed interest, wondering if my nickname of “Satan’s Whore” was, in fact, true. All in all, I was miserable. And the only person I could talk to seemed to hate the sight of me.
I was the spitting image of my father, a fact my mom once loved, but now, it was a reminder of everything she had lost.
I kept to myself, hoping things would change, and they did when I was fifteen—when my mom moved her new boyfriend, Kenny, into our home. I didn’t know what miserable was until I met Kenny Smith.
My mom and I barely spoke as she was too strung out to even notice I was there half the time, but when Kenny arrived, it was like she wanted to have the perfect family once again. But what she didn’t know was that Kenny was a predator, a monster lurking in the dark.
At first, he was nice and attentive, showing a real interest in me. But my mother’s nightly ritual of going to bed early drugged up on sleeping pills and liquor made his true colors shine. It started out as innocent touching— an accidental bump of my breasts or passing by me too close—but when he came into my bedroom late one night and sat at the foot of my bed, I now know those accidents weren’t accidents at all. He was grooming me.
When he questioned if I’d ever kissed a boy before, I told him no. He then asked if I would like to kiss him. Kenny was forty-two. I was fifteen and a half. I didn’t understand what he meant, so I leaned over and kissed his cheek. But when he turned his head, and I felt his thick, rubbery lips under mine, I soon realized he wanted more.
I begged him to leave,that I would tell my mom, but he simply laughed. I would never forget that haunting laughter. He said she’d never believea cock tease like me. And deep down, I knew he was right. So I didn’t say anything. I stayed as quiet as a mouse.
After that night when Kenny kissed me, I decided to get a job, working the graveyard shift at a local diner. The pay was good, and it also meant I didn’t have to worry about Kenny coming into my room at night.
Working at Lea’s Diner was one of the fondest memories I had as a kid. That, and of course my father, but he soon became a distant memory, slowly disappearing as I watched my mother deteriorate before my eyes.
Life was good, well, as good as life could be for a misfit like me. My mom seemed happy I was out of her hair as she had Kenny all to herself, but late one night, everything changed forever.
It was just after two a.m., and I’d finished work a little early. Lea, who I knew from church, usually let me crash for a few hours at her house, which was just behind the diner, until I went to school. But that night, she had to close up late, so I rode my bike home.
I remembered the feeling of tiptoeing through the back door and holding my breath just like it was yesterday, but it was in vain because sitting in my daddy’s chair was Kenny. His round belly was poking out of his white tank, sporting a stain down the front from where the whiskey missed his mouth.
When we locked eyes, I knew it. I knew what he wanted. What I’d been avoiding since the night he came into my room. I ran, but he was faster, trapping me under him as he pinned me to the living room floor. His whiskey-soaked breath promised to make me feel realgood.
I was so scared I couldn’t move. My chest was pressed into the carpet with Kenny’s heavy weight on top of me, and I couldn’t breathe. And when I felt his disgusting erection dig into my back, I knew my nickname would soon come true.
One hand was down my pants, reaching around the front. The other hand was over my mouth so I wouldn’t scream. He bit me on the side of the neck just how a predator would with its prey. He forced my cheek to the carpet, the rough fibers rubbing my skin raw. I squeezed my eyes shut.
I thought of Daddy. Of how he told me to pray when I was scared…so I did.
I prayed that this wasn’t happening. That Kenny wasn’t unzipping his pants and telling me to be a good little girl. I prayed that my mom would come back to me as the loving mother she once was. I prayed for a miracle and prayed that this vile man wasn’t seconds away from raping me, but when I heard a guttural scream and my mother telling me what a dirty slut I was for seducing my stepfather, I knew I would never pray again.
My mom kicked me out—I was a harlot, a whore—and with nowhere else to go, I went to Lea’s. My only friend. She never married and didn’t have any kids, so she treated me like her own. When I told her what had happened, she insisted we go to the police, but I didn’t want to. I just wanted to leave. The day my father died was the day this place did too.
Lea lent me some money, and I hopped on a flight to LA where my grandparents lived. They missed my father terribly and had tried to reach out, but my mother had forbidden them to contact me. I just thought they didn’t care.
So I finished school and got a job waiting tables at a local restaurant, which was where I met Raffaella Mercino. She owned Models Inc., the hottest modeling agency in all of LA, and when she asked if I had ever modeled, I laughed in response.
Mom told me I used my looks for evil, but Raffaella showed me I could now use my looks for good.
I don’t think I’m anything special, but to this day, Raffaella tells me I’m one of the prettiest girls she has working for her. She said that’s because I have an innocent look about me, and all men want to break a good girl. Her analogy is disgusting and sexist, but hey, she seemed to be right because, insix short months, I was one of the most sought-after models.
I’m now twenty-five, but I suppose my looks haven’t changed all that much. My long, golden brown hair is naturally wavy. The California sun has brought out the blonde tones, which complement the deep blue of my almond-shaped eyes.
My upturned nose gives mylook an air of arrogance, and my lips are full and pouty. Many of the girls I work with are certain I’ve had a surgical date with Dr. Hollywood, but they’re mistaken.
My boobs are bigger than most standard models, andso are my curves. I have an ass and muscular thighs and am proud of it. The yoga exercises I do religiously and the fact I run five miles a day keep my stomach toned. At five foot six, I’m short for a model, but I make up for that with the personality I bring to the runway. I suppose I’m not your “typical” model. I eat whatever I want, and I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I know that’s awfully judgmental, but I’ve been ostracized for being different by my peers. They’re the ones who told me I was weird for eating carbs without any regrets.
My childhood taught me you can be a victim or a fighter, and after what Kenny did to me, I refuse to be a victim again. I worked hard, made a name for myself, and focused solely on my career. So when I met Drew, you can imagine my surprise because now, it wasn’t only me.
Because of what happened in my childhood, I am still a virgin, though I’ve kissed a couple of guys and fooled around. I no longer consider myself religious, but I wanted to abide by that one rule of no sex before marriage. It was one my father firmly believed in, so it’s one thing from my childhood I’m happy to embrace in adulthood.
But tonight, everything changes because now, I’m a married woman.
Drew kisses the tip of my nose, carrying me through the villa. When we reach the master bedroom, he arches a golden brow. “Like it?” he whispers while I nod eagerly.
“I love it,” I correct, my gaze drifting to the king-size bed draped in crisp white linens.
Drew knows I’m a virgin, but he’s a gentleman, and he hasn’t pushed me. He respects my beliefs to wait until marriage. I would even go so far as to say he embraces it. However, I’m not stupid, and I know he’s not a saint. With his baby blues and golden hair, he doesn’t lackfemale attention.
With money and good looks, he could have any woman he wanted, but he chose me. So it seems fitting I start this new chapter of my life with a man who chooses me—flaws and all. On the outside, people see me as beautiful, successful, and fierce, but on the inside, I’m still looking for my place to belong. Which is why I said yes when Drew proposed—I finally found my place.
My friends told me I was crazy because I barely knew anything about him, but when you know, you know, and life is short. I don’t intend to waste a second of it.
“You can put me down.” I giggle, not sure why he’s still carrying me.
We left Los Angeles right after the wedding and flew to Greece. Drew was very secretive about where we were going, and now, I can see why. There is no way to describe this place.
It’s isolated, away from prying eyes. When we rode our boat in, I didn’t see a soul for miles. The beachfront is our private beach and isn’t used by anyone. No one can hear me scream.
When Drew’s bowed lips tip into a mischievous grin, it’s evident that’s exactly what he intended. “Okay.” He feigns a sigh, placing my bare feet on the plush carpet. “But only because I’m going to take a shower. Can I get you anything?”
I shake my head, still reeling that this is my life.
“Okay, babe, love you. I won’t be long. Why don’t you go downstairs and wait for me on the terrace? The view is something else.”
“That sounds amazing. I love you…husband.”
Drew draws in a victorious breath. “And I love you, wife.” I will never tire of that title.
We kiss gently, a promise of what’s to come.
Drew grabs a few things and makes his way into the bathroom. When he shuts the door, I exhale because this is really happening. I can’t believe I am here, on my honeymoon, with the man of my dreams.
Deciding to follow Drew’s suggestion, I make my way downstairs, marveling at the high glass windows, which provide breathtaking 360-degree views of the full moon illuminating the rippling ocean. I’ve been lucky enough to go to Milan and Paris for fashion shows, but this is something else.
It’s so quiet.
The carpet feels like heaven beneath my bare feet, and when I see my reflection in the double terrace doors, I stop and take a moment to absorb it all. My hair is down and windswept from the boat ride we took to get here. My cheeks are flushed, and that’s not because I’m wearing makeup as I’m hardly wearing any at all.
My eyes sparkle, and a permanent smile is affixed to my lips. I look giddy, but I suppose I am. My simple white cotton summer dress may not be glitz and glamour, but it’s me. When I’m not modeling clothes, I’m usually in jeans or a casual dress. My face and body may be plastered on billboards and magazines, but at heart, I’m still the innocent Texas girl who likes to wear her cowboy boots and prefers the country to the city.
My beautiful diamond puts any star-kissed night to shame and shines brightly as I place my hand in front of me, wiggling my finger. This cements my commitment, and I don’t ever intend to take it off.
Walking out onto the terrace, I inhale deeply and sigh. I tilt my head back and peer into the star-filled heavens. I like to think my father is looking down on me and is proud of everything I’ve accomplished. Instinctively, I reach for the small silver cross around my neck. My father gave it to me as a gift many years ago, and I haven’t removed it since.
I have no idea what happened to my mother or Kenny. I lost all contact when I moved.
Drew knows everything. The first thing I wanted to do was tell him about my not so perfect past. He wrapped me in his arms and told me he was my family now. The fact my childhood was so shitty seemed to encourage Drew to speed up the marriage. He knows he’s the only family I have as my grandparents passed years ago.
I suppose you could say I’m a loner. I don’t really have any close friends, merely acquaintances. If I were to disappear…the only person who would truly miss me is Drew—my husband and the man I trust with my life.
An electric charge suddenly fills the air. I don’t hear it until I feel it, which, in most cases, is too late. “Don’t move and you won’t get hurt.”
Those words out here in paradise sound so wrong, as nothing but tranquilitysurrounds us, but when I feel something cold and hard shoved into the small of my back, that serenity soon shatters.
“I said don’t move,” says someone with a thick, cruel Russian accent. My fingers dig into the railing, afraid if I don’t hold onto something, my knees will give out from under me.
Another voice sounds behind me. I can’t understand what they’re saying, but they’re definitely speaking Russian. They seem to be arguing.
My eyes dart from left to right as my fight or flight kicks into full swing. I can jump from this terrace and land on the sand. It’s not high. Worst-case scenario—I’ll end up with a sprained ankle. Better than the alternative of ending up dead.
I dare not look behind me as my hearing is all I need. Whoever is behind me is still arguing, which will give me the opportunity to jump from the terrace and call for help. Adrenaline soars through my veins, and I can taste it at the back of my throat. Just as I boost myself up, about to spring for safety, a warm hand grips my bicep, dragging me back.
“Now where do you think you’re going?” His hoarse, honeyed breath bathes the back of my neck, and I know he’s close. When his chest presses against my back, I’m hit with a combination of smells—spicy, sweet, and floral.
“Please let me go,” I whimper, attempting to feign innocence. I hope he falls for it because then I’m going to fight with all my might.
“You’re coming with us. Move.” He’s American.
“My hu-husband is upstairs,” I plead. Shrugging from his hold, I keep my gaze forward because if I don’t see him, he won’t have to kill me.
“That’s nice for your husband,” he quips while I feel the walls beginning to close in on me. “Now move.” He tugs at my right arm without any real force, but another hand rips at my left, almost tearing my shoulder from my socket.
Tears of pain sting my eyes as I feel like I’m being torn apart by a savage dog. “Put this on!” Russian number one shouts. “Bitch, I said put it on!”
My fight gives way to flight because I am suddenly scared.
“No, please, no,” I beg, but when I’m spunaround and forced to face all three of them, I know this isn’t optional.
My brain can’t seem to process what’s going on because standing before me in paradise are three men in ski masks. This place is not meant for such a sight, but they don’t seem to appreciate the beauty. One steps forward and slaps me so hard across the cheek, I taste blood. This can’t be happening.
“Won’t ask again,” he snarls as he attempts to shove a gag into my mouth, and I know the thick black pillowcase hanging from his hand will be next.
Memories of Kenny shoving me into the carpet and my air being siphoned off by his large hand smash into me, and I sway, instantly gripping the first solid thing I can find, which just happens to be the hulking bicep of one of my captors.
The warmth through his long-sleeved T-shirt burns me. Slowly peering up, I lock eyes with him and am confronted with an unusual shade of green with swirls of warm amber. The color of his eyes are akin to a bottle of chartreuse. Out here in the pitch black, they glow…like a predator.
The thought has me quickly severing our connection.
The Russians are losing patience with me because when I don’t bend to their demands, another attempt is made to shove a white cloth into my mouth.
“Please, don’t gag me,” I say. Holding my hands up in surrender, I hope they see reason. They don’t.
Just as Russian number two rears back to pistol-whip me, the American’s arm shoots out in lightning-quick speed and grips his wrist in warning. I have no idea why he just saved me, but that doesn’t matter because Drew suddenly appears.
“What the fuck?” he curses as he frantically attempts to make sense of what he’s seeing. “Who are you?”
“Drew, run!” I scream, lunging forward, but the move is my last as I’m slapped once again. I stagger backward, gasping for air and cradling my cheek, but I still manage to slur, “Run.”
Drew rushes forward, but he doesn’t stand a chance when the American advances and slams his fist into Drew’s jaw. Drew stumbles backward, dazed and confused. The American doesn’t show him any mercy as he pushes him onto the floor and commences to beat the hell out of him.
He drops to one knee andpins Drew by his shoulder as he raises his fist over and over again. I scream, begging for mercy for my husband, but there is none. The American towers over Drew, and even though he’s donned in head-to-toe black, it’s evident he’s in good shape.
Drew doesn’t stand a chance.
Although tears cloud my vision, I still attempt to save Drew, but Russian number two is sick of my disobedience. He raises his gun, and this time, he pistol-whips me. The world spins on its axis before I hit the deck.
I’m floating in and out of consciousness, but I’m certain I see Drew’s lips move. I can’t make out what he’s saying, though. The American punches him one last time before spitting on him. This seems personal. But what do I know because I’m suddenly losing consciousness.
My eyes flicker shut, but with what little strength I have left, I extend my arm out to Drew. He’s feet away, wheezing. “Dreeww.” It comes out slurred, but I need him to know I’m here.
It’s too late.
Although my lack of strength leaves me floppy like a rag doll, one of the Russians jerks me up and shoves the white gag into my mouth. When he attempts to shove the pillowcase onto my head, I kick out, squealing muted screams, but my body is limp.
You’re going to be a good little girl, aren’t you, Willow? Let me fuck that tight virgin pussy. You’re gonna come for Daddy.
Tears leak from my eyes, mixing with the blood gushing from my templeas the horrible memory, one which I haven’t allowed into my world, floods me, and I can’t breathe. I gasp for air, but the harder I try, the more difficult it becomes, and soon, I’m hyperventilating.
I’m preparing myself for another strike, but I don’t get one. Instead, the American brushes the bloody, matted hair from my cheeks. I try to fight, but my depleted body fails me.
“Trust me. Just put it on.” Trust him? Is he fucking serious? He’s asking me to trust him when I just witnessed him beat my husband into a bloody mess.
But what choice do I have? Clearly, this is happening whether I cooperate or not, so I surrender. Just as I did with Kenny, I grow lax and allow him to win.
I have no idea what he just called me, but it didn’t sound insulting. It sounded almost…thankful.
He nods, indicating he’s putting the pillowcase on, and all I can do is comply. However, when Drew moans, twisting and turning and still very much alert, I see something in his white bathrobe pocket, but I must be hallucinating as there is surely some mistake.
Before I can question myself, the world turns black, and I am engulfed in my own personal hell. The pillowcase and gag are certain to kill me soon, and if not, my racing heart will give out in next to no time. Arms link through mine from behind and help me stand. I know it’s the American. His fragrance gives him away. I stand wearily, but I will stagger to my death before anyone carries me.
Drew is groaning, but when I hear those pained sounds floating farther and farther away, I know we’re going to wherever my captors intend on taking me.
“Ten steps,” the American whispers from behind me. I flinch at his muffled voice through the pillowcase. He stands at my back, ensuring I don’t fall. I could mistake his actions for him giving half a shit, but it’s clear that wherever I’m going, they need me alive. If not, they would have killed me already.
This isn’t a robbery. It’s a kidnapping.
Once I shakily descend the ten steps, my feet hit the sand, and in any other circumstance, I could appreciate the softness between my toes. But when I’m pushed and shoved as the American no longer seems to be near, all I can appreciate is that I’m not dead—well, not yet anyway.
Through the pillowcase, I can hear the gentle lapping of the ocean against the shore, but it’s none the wiser that three criminals are about to use it to aid in changing my world forever. When my feet tread water, I jolt with the sudden fear that they’re going to drown me. But that doesn’t make any sense.
If I’m going to survive this, I have to keep my head clear.
“Boat. In,” says someone, maybe Russian two or one. They all sound the same.
I’m yanked up—someone pulling on my floppy arms while the other lifts my legs—and I feel like a chew toy being ripped into two. Once I’m dragged onto the boat, I’m directed on where to go as someone shoves me in the back, screaming at me in a language I don’t understand.
I’m then forced down some stairs where I lose my footing and fall flat onto my stomach. Grunting on impact, I instantly search around, hoping to distinguish where I am—I’m in the bottom of the boat. The galley.
“Stay,” someone commands, ensuring I bethe good dog they clearly see me as being.
I rise slowly, using my hands as eyes as I feel my way around blindly. I need to find a weapon. One small enough to hide. Blood is seeping into my eyes from the wound on my temple, so I close them because I can’t see through this thick pillowcase anyway.
My fingers come into contact with what feels like a small torch. Not the weapon I had in mind, but it’ll have to do.
I’m interrupted when I hear someone tskme before I’m being dragged by my long hair which falls down my back and hurled against what feels like a cushioned bench seat. The pain in my head just amplifies. “Arms behind. Hands together.”
I shakily comply, sobbing around the gag.
He reaches around me, and when the unmistakable feel of metal snaps around my wrists, I know my freedom is dwindling by the second. He yanks at the handcuffs to ensure they are tight. They are.
My breathless panting reveals my fear, but when I feel the predatory touch at the back of my calves, I freeze. Two hands glide up and down my flesh, humming in satisfaction. He’s on his knees before me.
“You pretty.” His English is broken, but I’m not lost in translation. I know what he wants.
Your looks are used for evil… my mom’s words echo loudly within. Maybe she was right after all.
“We going to have fun, and it’ll be our secret.” Next, I feel a wet tongue lap itsway up the side of my calf. The smell of cigarettes and sweat has my stomach roiling.
Adrenaline takes over, and I attempt to kick him, but he’s too fast, chuckling as he pushes down on my ankles. He then begins to bind them with coarse rope. “You bad girl. Boss going to like you.”
Who is this boss, and why does he want me?
Once he tugs at my restraints, it sounds like he stands. I try to kick my feet out, but they’re tied to something hard beneath me. I’m bound. Hands and feet. And gagged. I’m not going anywhere.
“She tied up?” I almost sigh in relief when I hear the American. He was the only one who showed me an iota of mercy. The other two scare me. The American doesn’t.
“Yes, like a present. You want to unwrap her?”
I suddenly feel so objectified and dirty and attempt to recoil, but I can’t move. My heart is racing, and my breathing is uneven. The tears have long dried as I’m awaiting their next move.
“Shut the fuck up and let’s go.”
That was not the response I was expecting. The Russian laughs.
“Calm down, неудачник.”
“Fuck you. Up on deck now.” The American talks big and seems to be calling the shots. I wonder who he is?
My only clue to what’s going on is what I hear, and before the hatch closes, I’m presented with clue number one. “Be in Turkey soon. I hope you don’t get seasick, Saint.” Then the hatch closes, leaving me with the sound of the muted voices above me.
Turkey? Why are we going there? But more importantly, I just uncovered the name of my American captor…Saint.
Ironic, isn’t it, that someone who bears a name denoting nothing but holiness can deliver nothing but hell.
* * *
I awake from a nightmare so heinous, I can’t believe my brain could conjure up such images.
Blood, violence, abduction. I really need to lay off the caffeine.
As I attempt to roll over and snuggle into the warmth of my new husband, terror overcomes me because I can’t move.
My eyes snap open, only to be confronted by pure blackness. I try to scream, but it dies a muffled death when I realize I’m gagged. Panic overcomes me as I attempt to move, but I can’t because I’m bound.
Realization hits, and I shake my head helplessly. Passing out from shock and fatigue was a small mercy, but now that I’m awake, I have no other choice but to face this reality.
Three men kidnapped me while on my honeymoon. Two Russian. One American named Saint. I scoff at the notion. We’re on a boat headed to Turkey to see someone they call Boss? Ugh, this is adding to the throbbing in my head.
I think back to what I remember, hoping it’ll give me more clues. Flinching when I recall Saint beating Drew to a pulp has something materializing. In the pocket of his white bathrobe, I could have sworn…but I shrug it off. It’s impossible that what I thought I saw buried deep in his pocket was a cell phone because if it was, why didn’t he call the police?
Yes, he was struck down, but when I left, he was moving and moaning. He had every opportunity to dial for help, so why didn’t he?
I scoldthe troublesome voice for even thinking such blasphemy and instead focus on getting the hell out of here. There is no way I’m doing that tied up, so I need to think outside the box. Saint was the only one who showed a lick of humanity, so he’s the key to getting me off this boat.
Your looks are used for evil…
It’s time I listened to Momma.
Even though it’s a long shot, I can’t sit here and wait for them to strike. So I take a deep breath and scream. It comes out as a wail, a muted whimpering, but I can only hope it’ll draw the attention of the person I want. I continue yelling, tears leaking from my eyes as I thrash about, hoping to evoke some sort of a response.
Finally, it works.
The latch opens, and I’m hit with the crisp ocean breeze as well as a punch of spice. That masculine and refinedsmell seemto be his trademark fragrance. I listen as he descends the stairs slowly. My chest rises and falls swiftly, and my heart is in my throat.
“What’s wrong?” he has the gall to ask.
I’m bound and gagged, you asshole. That’s what’s wrong, I silently reply, but I merely just whimper, hoping he understands what I want.
His footsteps advance toward me before they come toa stop. I have no idea what I look like, but I try my best to feign submission. “Please,” I muffle from around the gag, shaking my head, implying I want him to take off the pillowcase.
Silence surrounds me, but his pensive thinking can be felt.
“I’ll take out your gag, but you have to promise me you won’t scream.” His voice is deep, rough even.
I nod quickly, holding my breath.
A heavy sigh leaves him as he’s clearly hoping I’m not lying. When his heavy footsteps hint that he’s proceeding forward, I’m glad I’m a convincing liar even when gagged and bound. I hear a rustle,like he’s putting something on.
I wait with bated breath, mentally crossing my fingers that he doesn’t back out. He doesn’t.
His scent is unique, and when he steps closer, I’m once again cloaked with a spicy, sweet cloud of promise. He’s careful not to frighten me as he gently removes the pillowcase from my head. The cool air on my flushed cheeks feels like heaven, and I sigh. I keep my eyes squeezed shut, needing a moment to center myself.
With two deep breaths, I open them gradually, blinking rapidly to focus on where I am. My eyes are caked in dried tears and blood, causing everything to appear blurry. Peering around as best I can, I see that I’m in a small room below deck. There is hardly any lighting, but I can make out a small table and chair set, a kitchen sink with shelves stacked with canned goods above it, and a white leather bench seat in front of me. It matches the one I’m tied to. The décor is wooden and almost modern. I take a guess that we’re on a yacht.
In the far corner, there is a door. I can only hope my plan works.
My pantingis heavy, and the gag in my mouth isn’t helping. I need it out. Now. Gradually peering upward under my lashes, I see him—Saint. He stands unbending a few feet away, the pillowcase hanging from his fingers.
His eyes are on fire, watching me closely. He’s donned the ski mask, which is no surprise as it’s clear he doesn’t want me to see his face. I didn’t realize how tall he was. But now that he’s in front of me, I crane my neck up to take in his whole stature.
His shoulders are broad, and his muscles are bulging through his tight, long-sleeved top. He is in black cargo pants and black boots, but I still have no clue who he is. And the air of mystery around him has nothing to do with his mask. His eyes are the only thing I can really see, but they are the window to one’s soul, so they say.
When he focuses on the cross around my neck, he seems remorseful, which has me wondering why he’s doing this.
“Please,” I mumble from around the gag, pleading he take it out.
He rocks back on his heels, wrestling with my demands. The only thing I have at my disposal aremy eyes, which is ironicbecause so does he. I beg him for help, putting everything I can into my expression. He is my only hope at getting out of here.
A single tear trickles down my cheek and into my gag. This is useless. I’m bargaining with the devil. But when he exhales loudly and slowly bends forward, a new sense of hope overcomes me.
“I’m going to take this out, all right? Don’t make me regret it.” He pins me with a promise—if I disobey him, I will pay.
I dare not breathe.
The blood whooshes through my ears, and my heart races in a deafening staccato as he removes the gag from my mouth. He is poised by me, ready to put it back in if I go back on my word. I don’t…for now.
The moment it’s out, I gulp in mouthfuls of air to replenish my depleted lungs. I instantly get dizzy as it’s too much, too fast. Steadying my breathing, I calm the storm within.
When I stop wheezing, I peer upward at Saint. “Th-thank you.” My mouth is dry, and my voice hoarse, so it takes me three attempts to speak. He nods once, arms folded, but other than that, he makes no attempts to move or talk.
Visions of him dropping to one knee and punishing Drew with his fists overwhelm me, but I swallow down my fear. “I need to use the bathroom.”
It’s the oldest trick in the book, but I’m certain that door leads to a bathroom, a bathroom which will hopefully have a window. As far as plans go, it’s weak and will probably get me killed, but I’d prefer that option to awaitingmy doom.
Saint’s chest rises before it depresses with a loud exhale. “Please, I know you’re not like the others,” I say in a rushed breath. “You tried to help me earlier.”
“You know nothing,” he growls, shaking his head firmly.
Recoiling, I quickly backtrack. “My name is Willow, Willow Shaw.” By telling him my name, I’m hopefully allowing him to see that I’m a person and not a thing.
“Stop talking.” He swoops forward, intent on gagging me again, but tears, ugly tears break past the floodgates.
“Please d-don’t gag m-me.” My lower lip quivers asthe thought of it turnsmy stomach.
“You talk too much,” he counters as though gagging me is the acceptable solution.
“I know. I’m s-sorry. But I’m sc-scared. What are you going to do with m-me?” I whisper, afraid of his reply but needing to hear it anyway.
Thankfully, he stops his advance and doesn’t gag me for the time being. There is so much behind those vivid eyes. He is wrestling with his decision once again. “I’m going to untie you so you can use the bathroom. You go with the door open.”
I nod eagerly.
Sighing, he yanks a thin silver chain from under his shirt, and I see a key dangling from the end. I have the sudden urge to draw back when he steps forward because his presence commands attention, but I remain utterly still as he bends low and reaches behind me.
My breathing is heavy, and being this close to him intensifies his fragrance. His fingers on my skin have me breaking out into goose bumps. He works deftly as he slips the key into the cuffs and unlocks them.
I instantly drop my hands by my side and roll my shoulders to get the feeling back into my arms. I clench and relax my hands until the circulation begins to flow.
He pulls away slowly, stopping when our faces are mere inches apart. An intake of breath gets trapped in my throat, but I peer up, challenging him to do his best.
Our pants fill the air as we examine each other carefully. My proximity appears to affect him, causing his pupils to dilate, and I gasp. His eyes dart to my heaving chest before they snap back up to meet my terrified ones.
He reaches behind him with an unhurried speed, and when the full moon peeking in from the window reflects off the silver from the blade he holds, I whimper, but I don’t move. This is a test, and I pass with flying colors as he drops to his knees, eyes still locked with mine, and he cuts through the rope around my ankles.
He is feral and in command, but I don’t feel threatened. Lord knows I should, but I’m not because I know that using my looks for evil has bought me some time. He likes what he sees, which is maybe why he skims his finger over my silver anklet before he stands and pockets his switchblade. If I wasn’t paying attention, I would have missed it or played it off as an accidental touch. But I know there is no such thing.
I’m free, but I suddenly have never felt more imprisoned than I do right now.
He’s waiting for me to make my next move. Again, another test.
I rise cautiously as I have no doubt I will be lightheaded. The blood whooshes through my body, but I find my center of gravity and stay upright. Placing my arms out wide, I balance myself, inhaling and exhaling slowly.
The decking feels cold beneath my feet, but I commence a slow stagger toward the bathroom. My steps are sluggish with the pins and needles feeling in my legs, but I make sure not to touch Saint as I stumble past him. He inhales through his nose.
When the bathroom is within reach, I open the door, never feeling more relieved. However, seeing the small window above the toilet pleases me more. I do as he says and leavethe door open as I shuffle into the tiny space. There is only enough room for a toilet, a tiny shower, and a sink, but it’ll do.
I watch him, arching a brow, hinting for some privacy.
With arms folded, he turns slowly, showing me his back.
Not wanting to alert him to my plan, I shyly reach under my skirt to pull down my underwear and quickly sit onto the toilet. I have to go, but with him standing there, my bladder gets stage fright.
“What’s taking so long?” he asks when there is silence.
My cheeks turn a beet red. “I can’t…pee with you standing there.”
“Either you go with me here, or you don’t go at all. Take your pick.”
Narrowing my eyes, I plot the ways to make him pay for being such an asshole, then decide to hum under my breath so I can pee under the cloak of music. It works. I don’t even know what I’m humming to, but it doesn’t matter because once I’m done, I’m going to slam this door shut and attempt to get the fuck off this boat.
Craning my neck, I see that the window has a latch. It’s unlocked. It’s small, but I’ll be able to squeeze through. Once I’m done, I reach for some toilet paper, my gaze floating between Saint and the window.
I flush and decide to wash my hands as that’ll give me more time for him to lower his guard. When I peer into the square mirror above the sink, I gasp as my reflection resembles something out of a horror movie.
Coagulated blood sticks to my matted hair in clumps. Crimson paints my cheeks, with rivets of dried tears cascading all the way down my chin. My mouth looks swollen and my eyes puffy. So much for using my looks because the only look I’m rocking right now is shit.
The reason that is zaps through my veins,and a surge of adrenaline overthrowsme. It’s now or never. Ensuring his back is still turned, I take a deep breath. And then another.
With the water still running, I lunge for the door and lock it, taking back my life. I only have seconds before he’s breaking down the flimsy door. My heart is in my throat as I climb onto the toilet, and with fumbling fingers, I unlatch the window.
When it pops open, I don’t have time to celebrate as I frantically boost myself up and wiggle my body through the hole. I can taste my freedom as I’m almost through, but it’s the last time I will taste it on my tongue because before I know it, I hear an ear-splitting crash and am being hauled backward violently.
“No!” I scream, flailing like a madwoman as I kick my legs. But it’s in vain. “Let me go!”
Saint jerks me back, wrapping his hands around my waist as I clutch onto the frame of the window, holding on for dear life. He is so strong, and eventually, I cave, afraid he’ll rip me into two.
“No.” I sob as he throws me over his shoulder like I weigh nothing at all. I pound on his back, thrashing to break free, but he only tightens his hold. When he twists, andI’m able to reach his side, I go on instinct and bite down—hard.
He grunts as my bite clearly stung, but when he rips free from my teeth, I know I’ve just made things so much worse. He is furious. His hulking body trembles in rage as he storms through the boat and slams me to my feet. I attempt to run, but he grabs me by the throat and shoves me backward. My back hits a support pole, and I gasp for breath.
“You want to act like a dog, I’ll treat you like one.”
“Please,” I beg, tears and spittle running down my face. But he doesn’t listen.
With his fingers still clutched around my throat, he reaches for a length of rope and forces my hands behind my back. With the rope, he then viciously ties it around my arms, just under my breasts, so I’m bound to the pole.
“You don’t have to do this,” I plead, but he’s so angry, he won’t listen to a word I have to say.
When he drops to his knees and forces my legs shut so he can tie them to the pole also, my fight dies, and I begin to weep. By the time he’s bound my ankles, tiny snivels wrack my body. I’m bound to the pole by my arms, legs, and feet. I’m not going anywhere.
Yet what scares me the most is how he won’t look at me.
“Saint…” It’s too late to take it back.
His head snaps up, and he launches off the floor, roaring into my face, “How do you know my name?”
“I-I…” I fumble over my words, his once smooth, chartreuse-colored eyes now a flaming amber.
“Tell me!” he yells, his breath fanning the hair from my cheeks.
“I h-heard one of the men call y-you th-that. I’m so-sorry.” I am gasping for breath because my fear is robbing me of air.
“Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness because I am far crueler than those two upstairs,” he growls, cupping my throat once again. Swallowing hard, I bow backward in an attempt to escape, but I have nowhere to go. “I have a lot more to lose than they do, so don’t force me to hurt you.”
He releases me, and I sag forward, sobbing. I have never felt more defeated in my life.
When he reaches for a roll of duct tape, I whimper. “Pl-please do-don’t gag m-me. I can’t st-stand it. Pl-please.”
My pleas go unheard as he stretches out a length and is about to fasten it to my lips. It’s my last chance. “Please, Saint, d-don’t…” I don’t even care what he does to me for using his name. I’m dead anyway.
I brace for the suffocation, squeezing my eyes shut, but I don’t get it. I get nothing.
“Fuck!” he roars before I hear something smash. He’s going to kill me; I’m sure of it. But when I hear his heavy boots pound along the floor and up the stairs, slamming the hatchclosed, it appears I’m not sure of anything at all.
My heavy eyelids open, and I take in my surroundings. He’s gone. I’m still tied to a pole, but he’s gone. The smash I heard was the duct tape being hurled against the wall, shattering a glassin the process.
I have no idea why he didn’t gag me. The fact I used his name was enough of a reason to. But he didn’t, and I need to know why.
But for now, I surrender to the exhaustion, anticipating what day two holds.