Authors: Susan A. Bliler
Draken’s amusement faded as he reached down and replaced the silky white robe that slid off her bare shoulder. His eyes lingered on the area he’d just covered and Lucia watched as his gaze changed from one of amusement, to something else, then transitioned again becoming steely. “You’ll stay here until I decide it is time for you to go. Until then, you’ll do as I say. Now, return to your room”.
Lucia’s soft lips parted in protest as disbelief seared her cheeks. “I am not a child and I won’t be treated like one. You don’t own me,” she declared as she attempted to back down the stairs.
Draken grabbed her arms and pulled her hard against him, looking down at her with what she could only describe as a mixture of hatred and disgust.
Again, she attempted to pull back as she challenged, “You can save your loathing for someone who deserves it. I’ve never done anything to you. And as for doing what you say, you’ve got the wrong lady because I’m not her.” Realizing her attempts to free herself were futile, she slumped her shoulders with a harshly expelled sigh of resignation and held her hands up in front of her as if to protect herself from his hateful scowl. She stood trembling from a mixture of adrenaline and anger, but her features only portrayed despair as she kept her head turned to the side to avoid eye contact.
He was much taller than Warren’s five foot six and he was more heavily muscled.
Intimidating on and off the track…of course!
Staring down upon Lucia’s slight frame with her gloved hands held up in a gesture of self-protection, Draken’s hard gaze softened and he felt a pang of guilt for having judged Lucia so harshly. He still had no proof that she was a participant in, let alone even aware of Warren’s schemes, and without the proof he couldn’t confront her. Not that he would in her current state. From what Dr. White had informed him, Lucia was still healing. While her burns and leg were getting better daily, there was still a great chance of infection.
He bent and effortlessly scooped Lucia up into his arms. A startled squeak escaped her lips but she quickly looked away from him to avoid meeting his gaze. She was light…and soft. He tried not to rub his hands on the bare skin of her legs or her satin covered ribs where he held her and the effort was difficult.
Wordlessly, he carried her down the corridor and back to her room where he gently placed her on her bed then turned and left the room.
In the hall, he stopped to regain his composure. Something about Lucia had him off-balance. He was a consummate professional and an uncompromising businessman, but for some reason he felt himself buckle slightly where Lucia was concerned. He ran a hand over his face. He hadn’t held a woman in years. He’d been too consumed with tracking his sisters’ killers to bother with a love life. Now, after cradling Lucia in his arms he realized what a mistake the action had been. It only served to remind him of what he’d been missing.
He shook his head and snorted with a smile,
Get a grip! She’s your enemy.
He tried to convince himself of the fact as he stalked back down the hall to his room.
Lucia sat on the bed in disbelief. Shaking from the encounter, she tried to figure out what just happened. A pang of guilt tore through her at how she’d confronted him, but he’d earned the admonishment. Still, he’d been allowing her to stay with him and taking care of her.
I should be grateful.
She didn’t bother getting back up off the bed. Instead, she lay on her back staring up at the ceiling and going over Draken’s potential motives before sleep finally claimed her.
The next afternoon Lucia lay in bed listening to birds chirping outside her balcony window as she wondered what Draken meant by “until I decide it’s time for you to go.” Whatever he was up to, Lucia knew she wanted no part of it.
With the help of her cane, she maneuvered about the room with only slight effort. Quickly, she pulled a short jean skirt and peach sweater from the wardrobe of clothes that Draken had purchased for her. Nurse Hall had informed her of the clothes, but she hadn’t had a chance to wear any having been confined to her room for the past four weeks. Now, she dressed and had to admit it felt good to finally get out of the satin nightgown and into some proper attire.
She slid her feet into a pair of white canvas shoes then eased herself down into the chair in front of the tall mirror that sat atop one of the bedroom dressers. She repeated in her head the lie she had prepared for Nurse Hall the night before after finally having decided that it was time for her to go home.
I’ll simply tell her that Mr. Shatan believes I’m well enough to be transported home and that he’d like Nurse Hall to drive me there straight away.
Running a brush through her long dark hair, Lucia attempted a smile at her reflection in hopes of inspiring courage. She was afraid of what would happen if the plan backfired in her face. What would Draken do if he knew she was trying to be deceitful in an attempt at escape?
He already dislikes me. Can it get much worse?
Her smile quickly faded because she had no doubt that it actually could.
Her eyes flicked back up to her reflection and she stared at her own image. When she’d first met Warren, she’d often wondered why he’d never tried to instigate an intimate relationship with her. She was told often that she was beautiful and frequently had to thwart advances from other men, but Warren seemed immune to any beauty she possessed. After time, she lost any romantic inclination where he was concerned and grew to love him as a brotherly figure.
Gazing at herself, her eyes drifted down to the scars that marred her neck and the right side of her jaw. Luckily, the flames that licked up at her face that awful day hadn’t reached too high. One swirled looking scar crested her jaw line up to her cheek about two inches and was about an inch and a half wide. Unfortunately, under her chin and a good portion of her neck were severely scarred where her protective suit had ironically melted into her flesh.
Removing a glove from one of her equally scarred hands, Lucia felt the unbelievable softness of the scar tissue and couldn’t make out whether it was the deformed flesh of her neck or her fingers that was so soft. She wondered if any man would again find her as beautiful as she had formerly been dubbed. The thought was interrupted by Nurse Hall entering the room.
“Up and around I see, that’s good for you my dear,” Nurse Hall proclaimed in a chipper tone.
Before she lost her nerve Lucia blurted out, “Draken says I can go home and he wants you to take me.” She quickly lowered her gaze and bit her lip, annoyed at her own impatience and dismayed at so quickly abandoning her well-rehearsed lie to simply blurt it out.
Nurse Hall simply laughed and said, “I’m glad to see your sense of humor is returning.”
Annoyed, Lucia looked up and said more sternly, “I’m not joking, Draken feels I am healthy enough to endure travel home.”
Nurse Hall scowled at Lucia with her own annoyance and said, “That’s not funny. It’d break Mr. Shatan’s heart to hear you talk in such a manner.”
A look of utter bewilderment crossed Lucia’s face, but went unnoticed by Nurse Hall who was busy setting out new bandages for Lucia’s wounds. “How on earth could my leaving break Mr. Sha…Draken’s heart?” Lucia questioned.
Nurse Hall turned to her with a serious look and opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off by an elderly gentleman dressed in a suit who entered the room.
“That will be all Nurse Hall,” the old man drawled.
Nurse Hall glanced at Lucia, then quickly left the room throwing a, “Best of luck dear!” over her shoulder.
Lucia opened her mouth to protest Nurse Hall’s rapid departure, but was immediately silenced by the older gentleman’s words. “I am Patrick, Mr. Shatan’s valet, and charge of the household staff. Dr. White and Nurse Hall have been cleared of their service as your last check up went as well as can be expected.
Mr. Shatan would like you to accompany him for dinner this evening in the formal dining hall.” Patrick clapped his white gloved hands together and three young women wearing matching gray uniforms entered from the hallway carrying several boxes.
“I haven’t even had lunch yet,” Lucia scoffed under her breath perturbed with the man’s no-nonsense demeanor.
Patrick ignored the comment and continued, “Mr. Shatan would like you to dress formally as he will be entertaining guests. He has graciously provided the dresses for you to choose from; however, I highly recommend the red gown as it is Mr. Shatan’s preferred color on a woman of your…appearance.
Dinner will be served promptly at seven, so please be dressed by then.” He clapped his hands again and the three women quickly exited the room leaving the boxes laid out on the bed.
Patrick stiffly turned to follow suit, but his exit was interrupted by Lucia
“Wait! Please tell Mr. Shatan I’ll be returning home today,” she fidgeted nervously. “Now,” she amended with more courage than she actually felt. “I won’t be attending dinner and I certainly won’t be dressed in a gown of his preferred color for a woman of
, whatever that means.”
Patrick turned slightly, looked over his shoulder at her and gave an approving smile before exiting the room.
Lucia watched Patrick depart with a look of sheer disbelief on her face. “Excuse me!” She used her cane to limp toward the door and was halfway there when she heard the unmistakable sound of the bolt locking into place.
“Hey! HEY!” With injured hands she was prevented from pounding on the door and her shouts garnered no response. “Shit!” she muttered and rolled her forehead on the door until she was turned and facing her room. “I can’t believe he locked me in,” she sighed worriedly as she leaned against the bedroom door.
As she stood thinking on Draken’s intentions, she was relieved to realize that if he had wanted to harm her he would have already done so. The only logically answer she could surmise was that he intended on using her to harm Warren somehow.
She pushed herself off the door and tried the handle one time already knowing that it would be locked.
Making her way over to the bed, she stood staring down at the assortment of beautiful gowns. Each one was more gorgeous than the next. They were comprised of different materials from silk to velvet and in an array of colors from deep aqua to lemon yellow.
Lucia bit her lip as she sat down on the bed and pulled a gown to her chest. “Too bad I won’t be wearing any of these tonight.” Her thoughts quickly turned to images of Draken storming into the room to find her gone. She never knew she could experience delight and fear simultaneously, but she knew beyond any doubt that she’d overstayed her welcome and needed to get home.
Thank God, I don’t have any pets or plants.
Four weeks wasn’t too bad considering she’d already paid the rent on her flat and had already taken care of the rest of her monthly bills. She could only hope that Kennedy or Warren had contacted her employer at the Firm, the pub she worked at, and informed them of her accident. With any luck, she’d still have a legit job once she got back home.
Placing the gown back on the bed, she got to her feet and limped to the window. She took a seat out on the balcony just off her bedroom and scooted her wicker chair back an inch or two as the shade retreated with the slow passing of the sun. Dr. White had warned her that her scars would be extremely sensitive to sunlight and she would need to apply sunscreen to them for the rest of her life to avoid any damage.
The sun had just passed its zenith and Lucia gave the balconies attached to the rooms on either side of her own a cursory glance before she smiled wickedly to herself and thought of her plans of escape. She’d tried to be polite about the situation and had been rewarded with a locked door. So she decided to wait until after lunch was served; thereby, allowing her as much time alone as possible to slip away without being noticed. She quickly hid her smile as she heard the door to her room unlock.
Patrick came strolling in with a tray. He placed the tray on a table in the bedroom and cleared his throat, “Mr. Shatan would recommend that you refrain from direct sunlight as it may have harmful effects.” He hesitated a moment then declared, “Lunch is served.”
Lucia pushed herself up from the wicker chair and used the black cane to assist her into the room. Limping up to the table, she was greeted by the scent of fresh baked bread, and homemade stew. Her stomach growled its appreciation as she turned to Patrick, “Thank you for the lunch, and please tell Mr. Shatan that I am a grown woman and I am fully aware of what is harmful to me and what is not. For example, it is harmful to be locked in a room where no one could hear my cries for help should something happen.”
Patrick gave her a bored look and answered, “I assure you Miss, should any injury befall you during your stay at Shatan manor, assistance would be swiftly provided as help is not so far as one might think.” With that, Patrick turned and exited the room, making sure to lock the door behind him.
Lucia sat and ate her lunch in silence wondering just how close help actually was.
After finishing her creamy beef stew, warm sourdough roll, and tall glass of sweetened iced-tea, Lucia kicked off her canvas shoes and lay on the bed. Locked up in the room with little else to do, she opted to try to force a short nap in hopes of gaining strength for her quickly approaching evening escape.
A few hours later, Lucia awoke with a start. Had she slept too long? Her eyes darted to the clock on the opposite wall and saw that she’d slept for three and a half hours, much longer than she had anticipated. It was now 4:30pm and Patrick had informed her earlier that dinner was to be served promptly at 7:00pm, which left her little time for her great escape.
She sprang from the soft mattress, grabbed her cane in a gloved hand and quickly put her plan into action. First, she tidied her room to make it appear as if nothing special were taking place within its confines. She hung all the evening gowns in her wardrobe, save for the red one, which she sprawled across the bed giving the appearance that she intended to submit to Draken’s request. Then, with great urgency, Lucia slipped into the bathroom and turned on the shower and closed the door behind her as she left the bathroom, hoping that when Patrick came up to fetch her for dinner, he would assume she was still bathing.