I obviously felt things for Caleb. Some feelings were clear, but others weren’t. If I let myself trust him, with my safety, my comfort, my life, or…my heart, I was going to end up hurt.
I winced at the internal reminder.
It had always seemed to me as though I were split into two people, but not equally. One of us, the less dominant, was strong, confident, snarky, and not to be fucked with. She was the one who told Caleb to go to hell, she was the one who threw elbows and bit through shoulders. She was the one who forced me to keep going.
I was the other one. I was the one who needed love and validation. I was the one who didn’t want to let Caleb go because I was convinced he was important to me in some irrational, irrevocable way. I was feeling things I’d never felt before, and in other ways, I felt Caleb was more damaged than me. Not in some tragic sense, but in a fundamental way that bridged the vast distances between us.
But my other half didn’t think any of that mattered.
He kidnapped you for a reason, she reminded. Don’t trust him. Don’t be like your mother, stop falling for his bullshit. He doesn’t care about you!
I pulled back, but unlike before, his arms released me easily. Deep, Caribbean-blue eyes looked down at me. At first they seemed to want to express so much, but then…nothing. I was tired of nothing. I wanted something. I needed something.
“What is it?” he asked, his tone carefully veiled. “Tell me.”
“I think I’m done trying to run, but I’m also done with not knowing what horrible thing is going to happen to me next. I’d rather know Caleb. Please, just tell me and give me the time…” Sitting there, I didn’t really understand what I was saying, but the part of me that was wising up, really did. Brace yourself…
Caleb’s blonde hair, usually groomed, now fell into his eyes. I resisted the sudden urge to brush it away from his face. As we sat in pregnant silence I watched him stare into his own lap. His jaw was tense, his lips tight, but I wasn’t afraid. I was done being frightened of Caleb. If he were going to hurt me, he’d have done it already. He wanted to tell me. I only had to wait.
I remained silent, waiting for his words I craved, my heart jammed into my throat as I willed him to continue. “If only I’d never laid eyes on you, never met you…” His wistful words suddenly caused a deep ache in my chest though I knew they shouldn’t. “I have obligations, Kitten.” He swallowed deeply. His brows knitted together to instantly let me know he was feeling sadness, anger, and disgust all at once. The desire to touch him was almost too much, but then I realized I should be worried about what the hell his words would mean to me and less about what they did to him. “There’s a man who needs to die. I needed you…need—” He paused. “If I don’t do this now then I’ll never be free. I can’t walk away until it’s done. Until he pays for what he did to Rafiq’s mother, to his sister, until he pays for what he did to me.” Caleb stood abruptly, his chest heaving. He ran angry fingers through his hair and fisted his hands at his nape. “Until everything he loves is gone, until he – feels it. Then I can let it go. I’ll have repaid my debt. Then, perhaps…maybe.”
“Rafiq?” I’d heard the name before but the importance of that name eluded me. Why was he so important? Did he have more say in what happened to me than Caleb?
Caleb’s eyes returned to mine. He had been far away again as though his words had not truly been meant for me. He was back in control now, the impassive mask he wore so easily slipped over his face. My guard went up. The past few moments when he seemed almost human, evaporated. “I’m going to sell you as a pleasure slave to a man I despise.”
A wave of nausea slammed the pit of my stomach and pushed bile into my throat. His words hit me in harsh staccato slaps and as each word made contact I flinched.
Sell. Pleasure. Slave.
The reality hit me hard, knocking the air out of me. I felt like I was going to throw up and felt my stomach heaving and throat working.
No more movie references. No more fictional characters to relate to. This was real. It was destiny. I was…a thing, a commodity.
He’s made you a whore Livvie, a fucking whore.
Caleb was still speaking, but I hardly heard him.
With difficulty, I stopped myself from retching and cleared my throat, “Pleasure means sex right? A sex slave?”
Caleb stopped in the middle of another sentence and gave a tight nod. His head was slung low, his hair hung in his eyes. This time I had no urge to brush it out of his eyes, in fact, it felt like a manipulation. His every move was calculated. He knew just how to knit his brows to portray sadness. How to tumble his perfect hair into his even more beautiful eyes and seem vulnerable and trustworthy. Well, I wasn’t going to fall for it anymore. Whatever I might have been feeling, it was dying and the numbness was left in its wake. “And…that day. The day we met, that’s why you were there. Did you know the asshole in the car?”
Caleb’s eyes flashed with anger, and then cooled just as quickly. He was too fucking good at hiding his emotions. Why are you like this? Why the fuck do you care Livvie? He’s made you the one thing you swore never to be. “Does it really matter–”
“No, I guess it fucking doesn’t,” I cut in sharply. He wished he’d never met me? Well, the feeling was definitely fucking mutual. An old anger flared through me. My life just kept getting better and better. I was finally going to get out of one worthless existence, to prove to everyone I wasn’t worthless and my scholarship had been my ticket out, and then Caleb happened to me. I was finally…. “I was finally going to show her she was wrong about me…”
“You don’t need her approval,” he said, correctly guessing who I was referring to. I looked up at him.
“You know shit about what I need. I’ve been dealing with your mindfucks for I don’t know how long now, trying to figure out why someone like you would kidnap me. Despite what you’ve done to me, I’ve had these thoughts—”
“Thoughts, or fantasies, Kitten?” he broke in softly, his expression still cloaked.
“Both, I suppose,” I admitted. It didn’t matter what I said, not really. “I told myself you couldn’t help yourself, that something happened to you to make you this way, to make you as fucked up as me but you’re even more fucked up than I am. And in the strangest corners of my mind I thought…”
“That you could fix me? What’s more, that I could fix you? Well, sorry pet, I don’t want to be fixed. Whatever your little school-girl brain told you about men is absurdly wrong. This isn’t a romance. You’re not a damsel in distress and I’m not the handsome prince come to save you. You ran. I went to collect my property. End of story.
In two years, maybe less, I’ll have what I want – revenge. After that, I’ll make sure you get your freedom. Fuck, I’ll even send you on your way with enough money to go wherever you want. To do whatever you want. Until then….”
I wanted to cry. But crying hadn’t done me a bit of good before and it certainly wouldn’t do me any good now. “How much?”
“Afterward. When I’m done being your whore, how much will you pay me? Whores get paid don’t they?”
Caleb stared at me for what seemed an eternity, then, “What would you like?”
“My freedom. But in lieu of that…a million dollars?” It came out as a question instead of a firm demand. The reality was he didn’t have to offer me anything. I had nothing to bargain with. He could take whatever he wanted.
“A million dollars? A bit much don’t you think?”
Caleb smiled, the self indulgent little shit. “My apologies,” he mocked with a slight forward bow, “What I meant to say is: no pussy’s that good. Though yours does come close.”
Now he was back to trying to shock me and perhaps if I were still the naïve school girl he’d met all those weeks ago it might have worked. But I wasn’t her right now and I liked it. I was powerful. Perhaps the calculating, angry, fighter version of me would take over completely and I’d never be weak again. “How close?”
His smile was wry, “Half.”
Outside I was a placid lake. Inside I was a raging ocean, “What exactly do I have to do?”
“Yes. But also—”
“The man you’re selling me to.” My stomach rolled but I met his eyes. I’d survived this man. I could survive anything, I hoped. “Who is he?”
When Caleb spoke his tone was softer, but what did that mean to me now? Nothing. “His name is Demitri Balk. He’s a billionaire who deals in guns, drugs, diamonds – anything that deals in misery and money.”
And this was the man he intended to sell me to, had always intended. My heart sank lower. ‘You’re not a damsel in distress and I’m not the handsome prince come to save you.’ No. He wasn’t. In real life you had to save yourself.
“He won’t have you forever,” Caleb said softly. “But you’re a means to an end for others much more powerful than me. In a way, we’re both chess pieces. I simply have a larger role to play and it’s a game I’ve invested my entire life in. If I could give you any hope, it’s that I will do all within my power to ensure an end where you and I come out of this with the things we need.” His tone said he had no doubt of his words, and I could tell it was important to him that I believe him too.
“Two years is a long time Caleb? Anything could happen.” Something in me wanted to give way and break. I refused that inclination. I had to be strong, not for anyone but myself. “Then what?”
He was silent for a long time. “Slaves–” he began, and stopped as he registered my shock over the use of the word. “You’d be worth a lot to him. So long as you were obedient, there would be no need to harm you. You’d be…kept.”
I gave a derisive laugh. “Just what every girl dreams of, a billionaire.” I swallowed hard, sounding wooden and not myself. “Maybe I’ll be ridiculously happy and we’ll never have to think of each other again.”
“Is he handsome, this Demitri? As handsome as you?” I said dully, softly and numb all over. Caleb visibly flinched. Good. That felt good, inflicting pain in him. I looked at Caleb. He was an example of what I could become if I let myself become hard, unforgiving, consumed with rage and vengeance. I couldn’t be like that. I didn’t want to be like him. “Will he make me come half as good as you do? Tell me Caleb, tell me all of it. Tell me so I know what I’m getting into, and then tell me how I have no possible way out. It’ll be better this way. Clean, and I can depend on myself—no need for the prince charming to rescue the damsel in distress.”
Caleb turned his back on me, fists clenched at his sides. I couldn’t imagine what the hell had made him angry this time. “You should try and get some sleep.”
My eyes were stinging, but this was not the time to cry, not here and not with him being witness. I was tired of crying, of being feeble and in no control of my own life “I’d rather not sleep. I don’t want to dream.” I ran my hand through my sweat caked hair, something in me turning ice-cold and resolute. “I could use a shower though.”
Caleb turned and I noticed immediately his face had altered to a stalemate. The argument was over and I think we were both relieved to avoid the inevitable for now. He had told me what I wanted to know, and he didn’t have to, but it didn’t give me any relief, not the way I thought it would. I had thought that if I knew what to expect I could prepare myself for the horror to come. But—