Authors: Susan A. Bliler
Still slightly groggy from her nap, she wondered if she should follow through with her intentions, but swiftly decided she had no choice. Sliding her socked feet into her tennis shoes, Lucia’s heart began racing frantically at the thought of being caught in the act of escaping, but the visions of being home in her tiny flat were more than enough to stifle her fear.
She lived alone and had no family, which is why she assumed she felt such a brotherly affection toward Warren. Right now, Warren was the only person in the world who knew that she’d been missing, and she wondered if he was going out of his mind with worry.
Leaving the room she had come to call home for the past several weeks, Lucia stepped out onto the balcony with a renewed sense of determination. With her thoughts on Warren and the state of panic he must be in at her absence, Lucia limped over to the rail and looked down to the ground some two-stories below. She’d never been one to balk at a challenge, and greatly looked forward to Draken’s realization that he had been bested.
Standing on her tiptoes, Lucia lifted her bad leg over the balcony rail, with her body facing the wall. Shatan manor was exquisite, and fortunately for her, white lattice threaded with vines and flowers covered almost the entire expanse of the wall she was now facing.
Her plan was to use the lattice as a ladder and climb down to safety, then simply walk off the estate undetected where she would hitch a ride with a passerby and be home by suppertime.
With her attention intently focused on her cause, Lucia almost fell off the balcony when she heard a thunderous crash coming from the balcony closest to her own. Quickly, she turned her head to look at the source of the ruckus and saw the balcony’s door slowly swinging back and forth, with broken glass covering the ground. Still straddling the rail and without a chance to react, Lucia again flinched as she heard the door to her bedroom crash open. Her eyes--wide with fear--locked on those of Draken’s as he swiftly approached her.
With great speed, Lucia tried to decide if she should scramble over the rail and attempt to make a swift climb down to safety or climb fully onto the balcony and make up an excuse about wanting to pick one of the flowers on the lattice. Before she could even finish the thought, Draken had her by the arms and was lifting her back onto the balcony.
Once both her feet were firmly back on solid ground, Draken roughly grabbed her by the arm and drug her into the room, he slowed only to slam the balcony’s glass door, which instantly shattered upon its harsh greeting with the threshold.
Lucia cowered as Draken spun on her with eyes of black steel, “What in the hell were you thinking? You could have been killed!”
Lucia brought herself to her full height, which barely crested Draken’s shoulders, and lifted her chin in a defiance that her quivering bottom lip betrayed, “I want to go home. I have affairs I need to attend to, and I am quite fed up with your games.”
Draken’s eyes lost none of their harshness as he hissed, “Is Warren the affair to which you need to attend?”
Her arms still held in his crushing grasp, Lucia answered with more confidence than she felt, “My affairs are none of your concern, and as for Warren I am quite certain that he has informed the authorities that I’ve been missing for several weeks.” Lucia hesitated a moment, then lied, “My family must also be concerned with my whereabouts. Surely they’ve heard of the wreck by now and must wonder how I am doing.” At the blatant lie, Lucia let her eyes slide down from Draken’s harsh sneer to stare at his chest.
Draken violently pulled Lucia closer to him and as her head snapped up, his gaze bore down as he offered, “You have no family. You live alone. You have no pets, and save for Warren, no one would notice if I kept you here forever.”
Tears stung at Lucia’s eyes. Never had she been so aggressively forced to admit that if it were not for Warren, she’d be utterly alone in the world. She placed her gloved hands firmly on Draken’s chest and shoved back in an attempt to put some space between them as she defended herself, “You’re right, I have no family, but Warren cares for me...”
“Does he?” Draken cut her off, refusing to loosen his grip on her, “I’ve left message after message for your precious Warren. I’ve informed him that you are being cared for here at my estate and that if he wanted you back on his team and in his bed, that he had but to accept my challenge.”
Lucia shook her head as she looked up at Draken with confusion in her eyes, but before she had a chance to protest that Warren would come for her if he knew her whereabouts Draken continued. “Either he is a coward as I’ve always suspected, or you must not be much of a lover,” he gritted, as he looked her up and down his lip curling in disgust.
The look felt like a slap to the face and had Lucia slowly removing her hands from his chest. She turned her head to the side before quietly stating, “Apparently I’m not as prized a pawn as you’ve assumed. If you’ll send me on my way, I’ll be sure to tell Warren…”
Her words trailed off as Draken cut in, “Warren will give me what I want and you’ll stay until he does. As for your escape attempt, be sure my sweet that the expanse of my estate is vast. I do keep guard dogs and will not tolerate any further attempts at any early departure.” Glancing up at the clock just above Lucia’s head Draken composed himself but tightened his grip as he peered down at her, “Our dinner guests will be here shortly. It would be in
best interest to shower, change into the red dress, come down to dinner, and play your part.”
With that, he released his hold and threw over his shoulder as he left the room, “The maids will be up shortly to clean up the glass.” He closed the door behind him, and Lucia noted that she didn’t hear it lock.
Alone in the room, Lucia sank to the floor, burying her face in her hands. Sobs of frustration racked her body as she tried to process the confrontation. Why hadn’t Warren taken up Draken’s challenge and come for her? Surely Draken must be lying, or mistaken. During the race when he sped passed her, Warren must have seen her car in a ball of flames. Wasn’t he concerned about the state of her health? Reflecting back to the race, Lucia remembered for the first time that it was Draken who had nearly run her down, but stopped just in time, and his face was the last thing she remembered seeing before waking up here in the manor.
Pulling herself up from the floor, she limped without her cane to the bathroom where she removed her gloves and splashed cold water onto her face. Standing looking at her tear-streaked face in the mirror, Lucia wondered how she’d gotten herself into this predicament. She always knew that no good would come from being an illegal street racer, but she never imagined things would go this far. “Damn you Warren,” she muttered to her reflection as tears again sprang to her eyes, “how could you just leave me here?”
With Draken’s words echoing in her head, Lucia opted against a second escape attempt and resolved to ride this thing out. She knew Warren would come for her, he had to…didn’t he? Even if he didn’t, Draken would surely tire of this game and her expense and set her free. It was the only hope she had.
Stepping out of the shower, Lucia quickly dried herself with a fluffy white towel. After smoothing a scented lotion over her body, she wrapped the towel around her petite frame and stepped out of the bathroom. The maids had come while she was in the shower and there wasn’t a shard of glass left on the floor. A large black sheet covered the now closed balcony doors. Luckily for her, the English summer was warm.
Lucia sat on the bed to wrap her scarred thigh with bandages that too must have been laid out by the maids. She wasn’t surprised to see the red dress neatly placed on a satin covered hanger and hooked onto the top of the bed’s canopy. Ignoring the dress, she finished wrapping her leg and hobbled over to the dressing table.
A few days after she was finally able to get out of bed, Draken sent one of the maids to request that Lucia write down a list of supplies that she’d need to be comfortable. Besides items for personal hygiene, Lucia requested specific brands of make-up, hair supplies, lotions, and perfumes. She had intentionally picked items that she knew were expensive, hoping to annoy her captor, but the items were purchased for her and were never brought up again.
Now sitting in front of the mirror, Lucia was glad that she had requested the cosmetics. She didn’t often wear much make-up, but knew that to compliment an evening gown, a hint of color would only be proper, and she’d certainly need the make-up to disguise the puffiness of her eyes.
Lucia swept her deep black curls up from her neck with a black hairpin. She added a touch of deep red to her full lips and a hint of rouge to her already high cheekbones. She dabbed a warm brown to the lids of her eyes, trailed by a lighter gray, and topped near the brow with a shimmering white that made her eyes appear sultry. Her beauty was one of the few things in her life that Lucia secretly enjoyed. There was something liberating about appreciating one’s own good looks.
Out of defiance, Lucia stood before the wardrobe placing the red velvet dress back into the closet, and retrieving the black silky gown. Sliding its cold satin material up over lean hips, she was amazed at how well the dress fit, almost as if it were tailored to her shape. She slid her bare feet into flat satin slippers that perfectly matched the gown. She was impressed that whoever ordered the garment had the foresight to realize that with her bad leg she wouldn’t be able to walk in high heels.
With the assistance of her cane, Lucia crossed the room to stand in front of the full-length mirror that hung on the bathroom door. She felt exquisite and looked the part. One of the reasons she had chosen the black gown was that it came with matching elbow length evening gloves. They would suffice to disguise her burned hands, but her smile faded as she slowly approached the mirror and realized that the gown’s plunging neckline left her scarred neck and cheek in plain view. Frustrated, Lucia crossed back over to the closet and threw the doors open.
Quickly, flipping through the several dresses that were brought up earlier in the day, Lucia searched for something with a higher neckline or at least something less revealing. Nothing. They were all the same, with drastically plunging necklines and spaghetti straps if they had straps at all. Clearly, whoever had the foresight to realize that she wouldn’t be able to wear high-heels due the wreck, didn’t have the prudence to think that she would be embarrassed of her scars. One thing she knew for sure was that she didn’t want to experience another confrontation with Draken like the one earlier that day.
With that thought, a knock sounded at the door and Patrick announced from behind the closed door, “Mr. Shatan is ready to accompany you to dinner.”
Despair filled Lucia’s frantic eyes. Hurriedly, she limped over to the dressing mirror, leaned over the table, and pulled the onyx pin that held long dark curls atop her head. As her jet-black hair cascaded down around her shoulders, she quickly tried to use the long locks to cover her neck and sighed in frustration as Patrick again knocked, this time louder and announced more firmly, “Lady Lucia, Mr. Shatan is prepared to escort you to dinner.”
As if time had stopped, Lucia stood just staring at her reflection in the mirror, deaf to Patrick’s announcement, which was closely followed by a loud discussion and her bedroom door being thrown open for the second time that day.
Draken stormed in, filling the room with his massive frame handsomely featured in a crisp white dress shirt covered by a tailored black suit. He crossed the room quickly. Leaning over Lucia, who was still bent over the dressing table.
She could smell his soap and it reminded her of the scent of a fresh spring rain.
Draken placed his hands firmly on the dressing table and peered down at her with his dark eyes evenly set under perfect black brows, “Now what? I warned you about crossing me Lucia.”
She didn’t raise her eyes from her gloved hands. “I’m not coming to dinner,” she stated evenly.
“The hell your not,” Draken boomed. He pulled her up from her chair and saw her wince as his grasp tightened around the same spot on her arms that he had bruised earlier in the day. He slightly loosened his grip and his look of anger turned to concern as her usually defiant gaze refused to meet his. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Lucia let a moment pass and took a deep breath before stating evenly, “I don’t want anyone to see me like this. I don’t want to…repulse anyone, especially when they are dining. The make-up can’t cover it up and I don’t know how to hide it.”
Draken let his eyes drift down to her scarred neck and felt embarrassment singe his cheeks at his own stupidity. How could he have forgotten the vanity of a woman? He should have known she’d be embarrassed by her scars. Honestly, he forgotten she’d even had them as he never noticed them unless they were pointed out by the doctor.
His eyes darted about the room as he pondered how to make her appreciate her own appearance as much as he did. Gently he lifted his hand to her chin and raised her head until her eyes met his. He let his hand slide gently down the soft scar tissue of her neck that was a drastic combination of tan and white. Her skin was so soft that Draken instinctively licked his lips, and when he did so, Lucia took a fearful step backward.
A smile spread across hiss features and he chuckled, “Concerned with my intentions? Honestly, with your curves in that dress, you should be.”
Lucia looked at him in disbelief, her feelings of shame at her appearance being replaced by feelings of alarm.
She took up her cane and slid from his touch to cross the room and sit on her bed.
Draken watched her walk away and his appreciative smile only widened as he could fully assess her figure without her watching. When she turned to look at him, Draken forced the smile from his lips and cleared his throat, “I am aware of the source of your discomfort, but must inform you that nothing so trivial as a few scars could mar your beauty. As a woman, you think the scars are prominent, but as a man, I’m telling you they are not. If anything, they give your exquisite allure a hint of character that only seems to draw further interest to you.” He crossed over to the door, resting his hand on the handle, “Please take a moment to compose yourself, but know I will be back shortly to escort you to dinner. Also, be aware that our guests this evening are of utmost decency of character and would never be dissuaded by mere appearance even if there were any defect to your perfection…which, there is not.” Draken gave her a soft smile and exited the room.