Authors: Lauren Stewart
Her eyes widened as she looked down at her body. A lightness filled her chest, even as her muscles tensed and her legs spread for balance. As if it wasn’t
at all. Overpowering her desire to run the hell away, a wave of calm—of control, of confidence—kept her feet planted firmly on the floor.
“Oh shit.” As the word hit the air, Eden realized not even her
was her own.
This is so very, very not good.
Unconsciously, she scanned their bodies, looking for weakness. They were heavy which meant they wouldn’t move as fast. But there were two of them which meant she’d need a miracle to get past them. Her mind raced, trying to find something she possessed that they didn’t. There wasn’t much, not that would help in a fight. But she was smart, and if the stereotype of henchmen was correct,
were not. It was a big leap, but sometimes the
of the cliff is preferable to what’s at the top.
“Be careful with her,” the woman said, still hiding behind the door. “She’s still weak.”
“Thanks a lot,” Eden grumbled. But it was true. She
The larger of the two—by about an inch—caught the eye of his partner and nodded. Probably trying to corral her, they stepped forward confidently leaving a small space between them. But the smaller man grimaced each time his left foot hit the floor. She looked at his leg and saw an outline of a knee brace through his pants.
. The word appeared in her mind as if someone else had thought it.
There is nothing perfect about this!
But she knew the man’s weakness. And that
perfect. Or as close to perfect as it was going to get.
If it was going to hurt, she’d make sure it would hurt him just as much. She surrendered to instinct, hoping her body would know what to do.
Bracing one arm with the other, she ran at him low, just long enough to gather some momentum before contracting her abs and sliding elbows-first into him. He tried to back-step, but like a bowling ball, she slammed into his legs. Strike! The sound of his knee snapping was immediately covered up by his scream as they both hit the floor.
As she scrambled away, she felt the other guard’s thick arms wrap around her and lift her off her feet. He held her in a bear-hug, so her violent movements held no danger. She kicked backwards, hearing
grunts distantly, as if it was coming from somewhere far away. As if none of this was real.
The more she struggled, the tighter his grip became. Until all she was fighting for was breath. She tried to find something to latch onto, something to hurt, to bite, to beat, but he was out of her reach. And the kicks that
connect didn’t seem to bother him as much as she needed them to.
“That wasn’t nice.” His voice was gruff, his breath warm near her ear.
“Okay, okay. I give up.” She relaxed in his arms and dropped her head forward. As soon as she felt him stop squeezing, she threw her head back into his chin. Bone hit bone. And if the pain he felt was half of what she did, he’d be hurting for a while.
“Christ!” he yelled, the sound muffled. Hopefully by a broken jaw. But he didn’t let go.
The woman came out of the room “Be careful with her!”
“Are you kidding?” he asked angrily. “She almost broke my nose!”
He shifted his grip, wrapping one arm around her waist and sandwiching her neck in between his chest and his elbow.
She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe. But she
“I could kill you right now,” he whispered. “Do you understand?”
Her nod was only a shiver.
“What are you doing?” the woman shouted. “Let her go!”
“I’m not going to,” he continued quietly as if only he and Eden existed. “Because that’s not what we do here, and I want you to trust me. But you need to know that I could have, and that I
not to. Understand?” On his last word, he released the pressure around her neck.
“Stop it! Let her go!” The woman’s panicked voice mixed with the whimpers of the guard holding his knee and slowly getting to his feet.
Eden’s chest expanded as she took a deep breath, letting her lungs suck in as much air as they could. Then she nodded slowly. “I understand.” She did. Despite the pain she was feeling, she understood him, the truth he spoke. Life and death was a simple concept—you either had it or you didn’t. And whatever was going on here, she wanted to live through it.
As soon as her feet touched the ground, she pulled against him, planning on getting just far enough away from him to kick him in the balls. But he knew what he was doing. He held her in front of him—close, like an enemy
be kept—until the other guard limped to her side.
“You don’t give up, do you?” the guard whose jaw she’d tried to crack asked.
She didn’t like her answer, her frustration only making her struggle more.
Of course I give up.
She gave up all the time! On everything. And everybody. So what the hell was so different now? Why wasn’t she playing dead or rolling over? It didn’t make sense.
The woman approached, eyes leery, face flushed. “Well, that isn’t what I expected. I guess you
Eden squirmed in their arms. “Let me go!”
Sure, like that’ll convince him
. “You said you weren’t going to hurt me!”
“We’re not,” she said calmly, running her hands down her shirt. “If you get hurt, it will be your own fault. Stop fighting.”
“Never. I will never stop fighting.”
. As tears crested her eyelids, she knew she was weak. She wanted to be stronger.
to be stronger. “Never.” But it didn’t matter what her mind wanted—her body just wasn’t up to the challenge.
“You are the ones responsible for this, aren’t you?” At least her voice wasn’t defeated. “This is
Clinic, isn’t it? Isn’t it?” The Clinic that Hyde had growled, that Carter’s confession had outed. The Clinic that had been drugging her for years, drugging Mitch for a decade and a half. That Jolie had worked for, that Carter had…betrayed her for.
“This is The Clinic.” The woman shook her head. “But we aren’t responsible for your condition. Please, calm down. If you stop struggling, they will let you go and we can talk about it.”
When the devil tells you to stop struggling, do you? “No.”
“If you can’t calm yourself, or calm your Jekyll—”
The woman quickly glanced at the guard before refocusing on Eden. “We have a lot to discuss. But only if you are calm. If you can’t do that, then we’ll have to strap you down so you can’t hurt yourself or anyone else.” She took a step forward. “Don’t make us have to tie you up.”
The men’s hands dug deep into Eden’s skin. She’d have bruises. Matching, angry bruises to prove just how weak she was. There was no way out.
She took a deep breath and willed her muscles to relax. Her body slumped, as if it had heard her command and let go of everything at once. Complete shut-down. Or death. She hung in their arms, her legs crumpled underneath her, holding none of her body weight.
The guards grunted as they shifted their grips—holding her up instead of holding her still.
“That’s…better,” the woman said, her head tilted. “I think.” She came closer and lowered her head. “Are you alright?”
When she brought her hand towards Eden’s face, Eden jerked away. “I’m just fine. Thanks for asking.” Her legs felt like they weighed a hundred pounds each, but she pulled them underneath herself and stood slowly, glaring.
“Good.” The woman smiled politely.
Eden wanted to smack her. She squinted, trying to remember where she’d seen the woman’s face before. Not knowing if she was someone
met or Chastity had known. “I know you,” she said. “How do I know you?”
“I was the psychologist you spoke with at the police station.”
Vaguely, she remembered their conversation—the woman she’d thought was a police-shrink trying to lead her into a story about what had happened with Carter. A story that wasn’t true.
Lies. Damn it, there were always lies.
“Do you remember meeting me, Eden?” She looked at her quizzically. “After that unfortunate situation with Carter Poole?”
“Unfortunate situation? You mean when Jolie tried to kill him?” Her words shot out like weapons, the only weapon she had at the moment. “Before she tried to kill
“That’s the one,” she said nodding as if it hadn’t been the worst day of Eden’s life. As if her picnic-of-a-life had been ruined by ants instead of a psychotic bitch. As if her life had been a picnic to begin with. “My name is Alexandra Bertram, and I’m the facility’s clinical behaviorist-slash-administrator. You can call me Alex.”
“Gee, thanks. You can call me ‘Kiss My Ass’.” She blinked. It was as if Mitch had replaced
tongue with his. And it had happened like it was a habit. Which it wasn’t.
“I think I’ll stick to Eden.” She stretched her neck and sighed. “Are you ready to talk now?”
Eden turned her head to the goons holding her still. “Are your dogs ready to heel?”
After a pause, Alex said, “You can let her go.” She cocked her head, staring straight at Eden. “But stay close until she proves that she can behave like a normal human being.”
That was the problem. “Am I?” Eden asked softly. “Am I a normal human being?” Even quiet, her voice held more power, more confidence. But it wasn’t
. Not exactly. It felt foreign. Somehow she knew that the minute she let her guard down, Chastity would take control. But it also felt comfortable, empowering, and safe. No, Eden was many things, but being a ‘normal human being’ wasn’t one of them.
Alex’s lips tightened and sadness danced around her face before being outmaneuvered by a more business-like expression. “That’s one of the many things we need to discuss. Come on.” She turned and walked in the opposite direction the guards had come from, quickly telling the guard whose knee Eden had bashed in that he could see to his injury.
“Don’t piss me off anymore,” the bigger guard said as he slowly released her. “You walk, you talk, and we’ll have no more problems. Got it?”
“Yeah, I got it.” What other choice did she have?
The men stayed a half-step behind her as Alex led her past a bunch of doors that all looked exactly the same. The only light was from the overhead fluorescents, and the stale air was suffocating.
“Doesn’t The Clinic believe in windows? This place could use some airing-out.”
“I’ll put a note in the suggestion box,” Alex said without turning.
This was something out of a movie. Not real. None of this was real. Maybe she was in a coma, in the hospital room next to Carter’s, and all of this was part of a terrible psychotic break-down. Yeah, right. She wasn’t that lucky.
Eden coveted the keycard Alex pulled out of her pocket. One keycard for a place with so many doors, and one of those doors must lead outside. Which meant that keycard was her way out. If she could—
“We can talk in here.” Alex stood to the side after opening the door, waving her hand and expecting Eden to go in first. “Then I’ll show you around a bit.”
Please. I’m not that stupid, not that trusting…anymore
. Without taking another step, Eden peered into the room. It was just like the one she’d woken up in, except instead of a bed, there were a table and a few chairs. Same wall-color, same floor.
“Some pillows would really warm this place up, you know,” Eden snapped. “Make it more home-y.”
“Great idea. I’ll get right on it.” She waved her hand again.
“You first,” Eden said, glancing at the guard out of the corner of her eye.
Alex sighed. “Fine. But if you try to run, he’ll just stop you again. And after that dog comment back there, I can’t guarantee he’ll be gentle.” She went into the room, holding her arms out and swinging them around. “See? No booby-traps. Are you convinced?”
“You’re going to have to do a
more dancing to convince me of anything.” But Eden went in, her eyes everywhere at once, looking for the next trap. Like she was surrounded by predators and seemed to be everyone’s prey-of-choice. Which was nothing new—that’s all she’d
After Alex sat down, Eden pulled out the chair across the table from her. She stopped when the guard came in and stood behind her. “I thought we were going to talk. Why does
need to be here?”
“Because…I made a mistake that I don’t intend to repeat—trying to wake you without someone else being there. Lesson learned. I should’ve been more prepared, since I didn’t know which side of you would be present.”
of me?” Like a coin—one side’s the winner, the other’s not. Ever since she’d learned about Chastity, she’d seen it that way. But now she wasn’t so sure. Things were different, as if the coin had become a sphere and both ‘sides’ of her were swirling within it, bumping into each other, fighting for supremacy in her mind and her body.
“Yes. I assumed you would be Eden because of your hair.”
Eden ran her fingers through her hair, bringing it forward so she could look at the color. It was brown, straight, and just over shoulder-length, not Chastity-red, long and curly. Thank God.
“But I should’ve known better,” Alex said. “You’re different now.”
different. For one, she should be crying in pain from the fight in the hallway. But it felt like her body was already healing, or maybe all of her pain receptors had suddenly gone on the fritz. And if the fight had proven nothing else, Chastity’s ability to fight was now Eden’s. Because Eden had always been more of a cowerin-the-corner-until-the-fire’s-out kind of gal.
“That’s the understatement of the fuckin—” Eden slammed her mouth shut. What
parts of Chastity could Eden access now? The part of her brain that controlled language was definitely screwy, because every other word was one Eden had never used before.
Alex smiled, nodding. “Yes, it is.”