“Never mind,” he said easily, “forget I said anything.”
She looked at him, then down at her notebook and up at him again before she raised a suspicious brow and snapped the journal shut. “I don’t forget anything you say, Reed. Only an idiot would.”
Matthew inclined his head and winced, “Thanks for the compliment.”
“What’s wrong with your neck?”
Matthew focused on not letting his embarrassment show and did a fairly good job of it in his estimation. “Hotel bed. Hurts my neck.”
“Aww, poor Agent Reed,” she teased gently.
“Funny girl, but let’s get this over with so I can go home and sleep in my own bed,” said Matthew.
She sighed, “Always business with you. Is that why Sloan’s mad at you?”
“What?” Matthew snapped. “She talked about me?”
Olivia gave him a confused look. “She asked if you were here this morning and when I said no, she seemed a little annoyed is all. You seem to bring that out in people, or just women. She didn’t want to talk about it. What’s going on with you two?” Getting even more curious, Olivia raised her eyebrows. “Did something happen between you two? Was there an FBI showdown?”
Matthew let out a breath he hadn’t realized he held. He was relieved, and felt foolish for overreacting. “A showdown? No. Has anyone ever told you you’re overdramatic?” he dismissed coolly. “Dr. Sloan’s usually more professional in keeping her focus on the case, not external distractions, whatever they may be.”
“Jeez, Reed. What the hell got up in your ass this morning?”
Matthew’s cheeks felt hot, but he forced himself to calm down before it could show. The things that could make him blush were limited, but damn it if the last few days weren’t designed to expose his weaknesses to the world.
“Just go on with your story. Please. I’m exhausted, my neck hurts, and I feel a headache coming on, so can we just get on with it?”
Olivia’s face was suddenly devoid of its light and humor. “Fine, Reed. Ask your fucking questions.”
He took a deep breath. “What did you and Sloan talk about? I’ll get her notes later, but just bring me up to speed?”
“We talked about Caleb. Nothing that would interest you, I’m sure.”
“Tell me anyway,” Matthew insisted. He tried to work up a smile to re-establish their otherwise good rapport, but by the look on Olivia’s face, it would take more than a smile.
“I had a lot of nightmares when I first got to the mansion. Sometimes about Rafiq raping Nancy. Sometimes I dreamt about Caleb selling me. Mostly though, I had nightmares about the night the bikers almost raped me. I dreamt about them beating me, stepping on my stomach and slapping my face.” She swallowed.
“I could almost feel blood pouring into my mouth. I would wake up gasping. When Caleb was there…” Livvie sighed, “He would just hold me. Caleb liked sleeping next to me, I think.
“Morning was our problem. I would lie in bed next to Caleb, watching him sleep and thinking he was so child-like when he wasn’t so obsessed with training me, or proving how much control he had over me—”
Matthew interrupted, “Was Rafiq still there?”
“No. He left a few days after I met him. He and Caleb had breakfast on the balcony. Rafiq used Nancy as a table and I don’t know how many times I had to shut my eyes because I thought Rafiq’s knife was going to go right through his steak and into Nancy. It never happened though.”
“What happened to Nancy?” Matthew asked.
“I didn’t know it until later, but Rafiq took her with him when he left. And before you ask: No, I don’t know where he went.”
“To meet the boat. Remember?”
“Right, to meet the boat,” she said.
“So where did you eat?”
“On the floor, next to Caleb. He cut things up for me and fed them to me as he ate. That’s what I’m telling you, Reed: he was good to me. I didn’t really appreciate it until I saw the way Nancy was treated. Even Kid. Celia was treated better than anyone though. Toward the end I’d sort of hoped…” She was starting to drift off.
“Hoped, what?” Matthew said in an attempt to regain her focus.
“That Caleb and I could have what they did. Felipe isn’t a great guy. He wouldn’t be involved with Rafiq if he were, but…. I don’t know, Celia loves him and Felipe seems to feel the same way. He’s pretty protective.”
“You want me to call Sloan?” Matthew asked patiently.
Her eyes drifted toward him, narrowing suspiciously. “Why?”
“Because you need a lot of therapy, Miss Ruiz. A lot.”
She shook her head at him, clearly amused by his bluntness. “Fuck you, Reed,” she said through a smile.
“Please. Continue your story…”
When I opened my eyes and realized it was morning it took me a few minutes to orient myself. The trepidation I felt during the night was slow to fade. I didn’t remember falling asleep, only lying in bed for hours trying to think of a way out of my situation that wouldn’t later involve Caleb having to rescue me.
The room I slept in was beautiful and immaculate. Every morning the sun came spilling into the room when Celia came in to draw back the heavy curtains. I had told her I was more than capable of drawing back the curtains myself, but she simply ignored me as she went about her business of preparing the room for the day.
“She’s not allowed to speak to you,” Caleb said as he sat on the edge of the bed. It was only our second week at the mansion and he looked so tired, like he wasn’t able to rest at all. He complained he couldn’t go on sleeping in all his clothes forever. Yet, every night, he did.
Caleb was more erratic than usual during those first few weeks. Yes, he was cruel. He put me through my paces, teaching me certain phrases in Russian and what actions to take when I heard them. He insisted I crawl, call him master, and that I go through a series of humiliations meant to make me get over my shyness.
For all that, he didn’t really touch me. He kept me clothed. He protected me by not letting others near me. I knew he stayed with me at night because I had nightmares when he didn’t. He slept in his t-shirt and shorts, seemingly content to just sleep next to me and not touch me unless I woke from some horrible nightmare and huddled close to him. He soothed me.
“Why isn’t she allowed to talk to me?” I asked, in a sardonic tone.
Caleb glared at me for several moments before he replied. “Kitten, you should really watch the way you speak to me. Just because you’re hurt, doesn’t mean I’m not keeping score.” He stared at me, squarely in the eyes, until I finally looked down.
“Sorry, Master.” He eyed me strangely. “Can I please know why she’s not allowed to speak to me?”
“Celia isn’t just her master’s lover, she’s also his servant. It’s not so unusual I guess. I’ve never been involved with someone long enough to know the idiosyncrasies that go along with being in a relationship, but I know enough to say it makes sense. It’s not like he can use her for sex all the time.” My face must have shown my indignant shock because Caleb pressed his finger to my lips to keep me from speaking.
Even though I shouldn’t and it might piss Caleb off, I spoke anyway, “Don’t you think that’s a silly rule? It sounds pretty mean to me.”
“Well trust me; sometimes talking to you is what is mean,” he commented, but smiled.
I smiled back. Asshole. Perversely, I thought about how much I would miss him after he sold me, and I wondered if he would miss me, too, perhaps even enough to come for me. You’re not a princess and he isn’t the handsome prince come to save you. Or don’t you remember? I sighed at my inner voice. I was talking to myself more and more. Not only was I going crazy, but I was bitchy company.
Some days I could almost forget I was being held against my will. I never did, but I flirted with the idea every now and then. Caleb would have Celia bring us breakfast and we’d eat it outside, just the two of us. Out in the sunshine, eating fresh pastries from Caleb’s hand and sipping hand-squeezed orange juice, I thought: This isn’t so bad.
Of course, some days it was nearly impossible to forget I was Caleb’s prisoner. I was still moving slowly from my injuries. The bruises had nearly faded away, but the pain in my ribs and shoulder was always there to remind me about a lot of things. It was a deterrent against running away again. It was also a reminder I had gotten off easy with Caleb. Still, leave it to Caleb to think of a way to use the pain toward his own ends.
One morning in particular, he’d left me alone in the room with Celia and against my better judgment I decided to talk to her.
Celia’s eyes avoided mine as she went about my room straightening things that didn’t need to be straightened and dusting. I really pitied her. She was beautiful and her demeanor hinted at her immense inner strength and yet…she was a slave. I wondered if I would be half as graceful as she when my time finally came. I did note, with some hope, she didn’t appear to be abused. There were no bruises on her, no outward signs to suggest she was suffering. Yes. There was definitely hope in that.
“Celia?” I spoke her name haltingly, scared she would answer me and scared she wouldn’t. Her gaze fell upon me kindly, with only a quirked eyebrow in question. It wasn’t really a response, but it was more than I’d gotten from her before. I figured since Caleb wasn’t present she would speak to me. “How long have you been here?”
She stared at me for a long while, until I grew uncomfortable and squirmed. I didn’t think it was a complicated question, though at some point I wanted to ask her those too. Finally, her mouth quirked to the side and she nodded briefly; neither was for my benefit. She looked at me with a smile in her eyes and held up six fingers.
I wanted to yell at her for not using her words, but I was sure it wouldn’t get me anywhere good. “Siiiiiix…months?”
She shook her head.
I took a deep, fortifying breath for my next question, “Years?”
She nodded and smiled.
Fuck. Years? She’d been Felipe’s slave for six years. I couldn’t imagine. “Did you never try to escape?!” My voice was apparently too loud. Her eyes were suddenly frantic and she looked at the door as if it would burst open and something horrible would happen. She scurried toward me and held her fingers to my lips.
I was stunned and still, waiting for the moment to settle. Her eyes scolded me and continued to scold me as she backed away from me shaking her head.
She left the room before I could apologize or ask another question.
“Fuck you,” I whispered to no one at all.
I had expected to face Caleb’s wrath within minutes of Celia’s exit, but no one came. I wasn’t allowed to leave my new room, Caleb had made that clear. So I waited…and waited…and waited. Hours later, I was starving and the pain in my ribs and shoulder was becoming less bearable with each passing minute. Finally, I risked trying the door, but it was locked.
Eventually, I resorted to screaming and begging Caleb through the door to forgive me and give me my medicine. I wondered if I might be an addict, but given the level of pain I was in, I doubted it. I needed those fucking pills. I also, needed to eat! Of course, Caleb knew it as well, and his punishment, free of violence, was still cruel.
Gradually, it became dark outside. As I lay crying on my bed, I heard the sound of someone unlocking my door. I cried in stark relief when Caleb entered the room.
“Are you ready?”
I whimpered and nodded. “Yes, Master. I’m so sorry. I won’t do it again.”
“You always say that, Kitten, but then you refuse to follow the rules and I have to punish you all over again. Didn’t I tell you Celia isn’t allowed to speak to you?” he chided.