Authors: Anna Zaires
“Want to go for a swim?” Beth asks me, stripping off her shorts and T-shirt. Underneath, she’s wearing a blue bikini. Her body is lean and toned. She’s in such great shape that I wonder about her age. Her figure could belong to a teenager, but her face seems older.
“How old are you?” I ask straight out. I would never be so tactless under normal circumstances, but I don’t care if I offend this woman. What do social conventions matter when you’re being held captive by a pair of crazy people?
She smiles, not the least bit upset at my impolite question. “I’m thirty-seven,” she says.
“Are you two lovers?” I don’t know what makes me ask this. If she’s in any way jealous of my position as Julian’s sexual plaything, she’s certainly not showing it.
Beth laughs. “No, we’re not.”
“Why not?” I can’t believe I’m being so forward. I’ve been raised to always be polite and well-mannered, but there’s something liberating about not caring what people think. I have always been a people-pleaser, but I don’t want to please this woman in any way.
She stops laughing and gives me a serious look. “Because I’m not what Julian needs or wants.”
“And what is that?”
“You’ll learn someday,” she says mysteriously, then walks into the water.
I stare after her, curiosity eating at me, but she appears to be done talking. Instead, she dives in and starts swimming with a sure athletic stroke.
It’s hot outside, and the sun is beaming down on me. The sand is white and looks soft, and the water is sparkling, tempting me with its coolness. I want to hate this place, to despise everything about my captivity, but I have to admit that the island is beautiful.
I don’t have to go swimming if I don’t want to. It doesn’t seem like Beth is going to force me. And it seems wrong to enjoy myself at the beach while my family is undoubtedly worried sick about me, grieving about my disappearance.
But the lure of the water is strong. I’ve always loved the ocean, even though I’ve been to the tropics only a couple of times in my life. This island is my idea of paradise, despite the fact that it belongs to a snake.
I deliberate for a minute, then I take off my dress and kick off my sandals. I could deny myself this small pleasure, but I’m too pragmatic. I have no illusions about my status here. At any moment, Julian and Beth could lock me up, starve me, beat me. Just because I’ve been treated relatively well so far doesn’t mean it will continue to be that way. In my precarious situation, every moment of joy is precious—because I don’t know what the future holds for me, whether I will ever again experience anything resembling happiness.
So I join my enemy in the ocean, letting the water wash away my fear and cool the helpless anger burning in the pit of my stomach.
We swim, then lounge on the hot sand, and then swim again. I don’t ask any more questions, and Beth seems content with the silence.
We stay on the beach for the next two hours and then finally head back to the house.
This time, Julian is supposed to join me for dinner. Beth sets a table for us downstairs and prepares a meal of local fish, rice, beans, and plantains. It’s her Caribbean recipe, she tells me proudly.
“Are you having dinner with us?” I ask, watching as she carries the plates over to the table.
I’m showered and dressed in the clothes Beth provided for me. It’s another white lacy bra-and-panties set and a yellow dress with white flowers on it. On my feet, I’m wearing white high-heeled sandals. The outfit is sweet and feminine, very different from the jeans and dark tops I normally wear. It makes me look like a pretty doll.
I still can’t believe they’re letting me walk around the house freely. There are knives in the kitchen. I could steal one and use it on Beth at any point. I’m tempted, even though my stomach churns at the thought of blood and violence.
Perhaps I’ll do it soon, once I’ve had a chance to learn a bit more about this place.
I’m learning something interesting about myself. I apparently don’t believe in grand, but pointless gestures. A cool, rational voice inside me tells me that I need a plan, a way to get off the island before I try anything. Attacking Beth right now would be stupid. It could result in my being locked up or worse.
No, this is much better. Let them think I’m harmless. I stand a much greater chance of escape that way.
For the past hour, I’ve been sitting in the kitchen, watching Beth prepare food. She’s very good, very efficient. Spending time with her is distracting me from thoughts of Julian and the night to come.
“No,” she says, answering my question. “I’ll be in my room. Julian wants some alone time with you.”
“Why? Does he think we’re dating or something?”
She grins. “Julian doesn’t date.”
“No kidding.” My tone is beyond sarcastic. “Why date when you can kidnap and rape instead?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Beth says sharply. “Do you really think he has to force women? Even you can’t be that naive.”
I stare at her. “You mean to tell me he doesn’t make a habit of stealing women and bringing them here?”
Beth shakes her head. “You’re the only person besides me who has ever been here. This island is Julian’s private sanctuary. Nobody knows it even exists.”
A chill runs down my spine at those words. “So why am I so lucky?” I ask slowly, my pulse picking up. “What makes me worthy of this great honor?”
She smiles. “You’ll find out someday. Julian will tell you when he wants you to know.”
I’m sick of all this ‘someday’ bullshit, but I know she’s too loyal to my captor to tell me anything. So I try to learn something else instead. “What did you mean when you said you owe him your life?”
Her smile fades and her expression hardens, her face settling into harsh, bitter lines. “That’s none of your business, little girl.”
And for the next ten minutes while she’s finishing setting the table, she doesn’t speak to me at all.
* * *
After everything is ready, she leaves me alone in the dining room to wait for Julian. I’m both nervous and excited. For the first time, I’m going to have a chance to interact with my captor outside the bedroom.
I have to admit to a kind of sick fascination with him. He frightens me, yet I’m unbearably curious about him. Who is he? What does he want from me? Why did he choose me to be his victim?
A minute later, he walks into the room. I’m sitting at the table, looking out the window. Before I even see him, I feel his presence. The atmosphere turns electric, heavy with expectation.
I turn my head, watching him approach. This time, he’s wearing a soft-looking grey polo shirt and a pair of white khaki pants. We could be having dinner at a country club.
My heart is beating rapidly in my chest, and I can feel blood rushing through my veins. I’m suddenly much more aware of my body. My breasts feel more sensitive, my nipples tightening underneath the lacy confines of my bra. The soft fabric of the dress brushes against my bare legs, reminding me of the way he touched me there. Of the way he touched me everywhere.
Warm moisture gathers between my thighs at the memory.
He comes up to me and bends down, giving me a brief kiss on the mouth. “Hello, Nora,” he says when he straightens, his beautiful lips curved in a darkly sensual smile. He’s so breathtaking that I’m unable to think for a moment, my mind clouded by his nearness.
His smile widens, and he walks over to sit down across the table from me. “How was your day, my pet?” he asks, reaching for a piece of fish and putting it on his plate. His movements are confident and oddly graceful.
It’s hard to believe that evil wears such a beautiful mask.
I gather my wits. “Why do you call me that?”
“Call you what? My pet?”
“Because you remind me of a kitten,” he says, his blue eyes glittering with some strange emotion. “Small, soft, and very touchable. You make me want to stroke you just to see if you will purr in my arms.”
My cheeks get hot. I feel flushed all over, and I hope my skin tone hides my reaction. “I’m not an animal—”
“Of course you’re not. I’m not into bestiality.”
“Then what are you into?” I blurt out, then cringe internally. I don’t want to make him mad. He’s not Beth. He scares me.
Fortunately, he just looks amused at my daring. “At the moment,” he says softly, “I’m into you.”
I look away and reach for the rice, my hand shaking slightly.
“Here, let me help you with that.” He takes the plate from me, his fingers briefly brushing against mine. Before I can say anything, my plate is filled with a healthy portion of everything that’s on the table.
He puts the plate back in front of me, and I stare at it in dismay. I’m too nervous to eat in front of him. My stomach is all tied into knots.
When I look up, I see that he has no such problem. He’s eating with gusto, clearly enjoying Beth’s cooking.
“What’s the matter?” he asks between bites. “You’re not hungry?”
I shake my head, even though I was ravenous before he came.
He frowns, putting down his fork. “Why not? Beth said you spent the day at the beach and swam quite a bit. Shouldn’t you be hungry after all that exercise?”
I shrug. “I’m okay.” I’m not about to tell him that he’s the cause of my lack of appetite.
His eyes narrow at me. “Are you playing games with me? Eat, Nora. You’re already slim. I don’t want you to lose weight.”
I gulp nervously and start to pick at the food. There’s something about him that makes me think it would be unwise to oppose him on this issue.
On any issue, really.
My instincts are screaming that this man is as dangerous as they come. He hasn’t really been cruel to me, but there is cruelty within him. I can sense it.
“Good girl,” he says approvingly after I eat a few bites.
I continue eating, even though I don’t really taste the food and I have to force each bite past the restriction in my throat. I keep my eyes trained on my plate. I have an easier time eating if I don’t see his piercing blue gaze.
“So Beth tells me you had a nice day swimming,” he comments after I’ve had a chance to eat about half of my portion.
I nod in response and look up to find him staring at me.
“What do you think of the island?” he asks, as though genuinely interested in my opinion. He’s studying me with a thoughtful look on his face.
“It’s pretty,” I tell him honestly. Then, pausing for a second, I add, “But I don’t want to be here.”
“Of course.” He looks almost understanding. “But you’ll get used to it. This is your new home, Nora. The sooner you come to terms with that, the better.”
My stomach lurches, and I feel like the food that I just ate is in danger of coming up. I swallow convulsively, trying to control the sick feeling inside me. “And my family?” The words come out low and bitter. “How are they supposed to come to terms with it?”
Some emotion flickers briefly across his face. “What if they didn’t think you were dead?” he asks quietly, holding my gaze. “Would that make you feel better, my pet?”
“Of course it would!” I can hardly believe what I’m hearing. “Can you do that? Can you let them know I’m alive? Maybe I can just call them and—”
He reaches out to cover my hand with his own, stopping my hopeful rambling. “No.” His tone leaves no room for arguments. “I will contact them myself.”
I swallow my disappointment. “What are you going to tell them?”
“That you are alive and well.” His large thumb is gently massaging the inside of my palm, his touch distracting me, turning my bones to jelly.
“But—” I almost moan when he presses on one particularly sensitive spot, “—but they wouldn’t believe you—”
“They would.” He withdraws his hand, leaving me feeling strangely bereft. “You can trust me on that.”
. “Why are you doing this to me?” I ask in frustration. “Is it because I talked to you in the club?”
He shakes his head. “No, Nora. It’s because you’re you. You’re everything I’ve been looking for. Everything I’ve always wanted.”
“You know that’s crazy, right?” I’m so upset I forget to be afraid for a moment. “You don’t even know me!”
“That’s true,” he says softly. “But I don’t need to know you. I just need to know what I feel.”
“Are you saying you’re in love with me?” For some reason, that idea frightens me more than when I thought he just had weird sexual preferences.
He laughs, throwing his head back. I stare at him, irrationally offended. I don’t want him to be in love with me, but does he have to find the idea so funny?
“Of course not,” he says after he’s finally done laughing. He’s still grinning, though.
“Then what are you talking about?” I ask in frustration.
His smile slowly fades. “It doesn’t matter, Nora,” he says quietly. “All you need to know is that you’re special to me.”