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Page 6

On the coffee table was a manila file folder. Steven. I sat down on the edge of the couch and pulled the folder onto my lap. I hesitated, and then flipped it open. Front and center was a close-up photograph of Steven, taken with a zoom lens from a distance. The look in his eyes was…feral. Evil. Scary. Nothing like the gentle way he’d always looked at me…at first. The next page was a dossier, personal information on Steven. I perused it briefly, then flipped the page. I nearly dropped the folder, so surprised was I at the next photograph. It was of a young woman with blonde hair, but that was about all I could make out of her features. She’d been beaten bloody, unrecognizable. I had to choke back my own horror. The next photograph was of her as well, of her body. She was naked in the photograph, and she had a terrifying array of welts, bruises, contusions where she’d been actually whipped, it looked like, the kind of wound you’d see in a movie showing someone being flogged. The wounds covered her from head to foot, on her arms, legs, back, thighs, stomach, br**sts….

  There was a whole series of photographs of different women with similar injuries. All of them were blonde-haired and blue-eyed, similar in age to me, similar even in body shape. There were medical reports on each of them, and even a few copies of police reports. Those were the most terrifying. They read exactly how I would have described the beginning of my relationship with Steven—how I had described it. Except with them, it didn’t stop where mine had. The women described how he’d talked them into things gradually, eventually getting them to agree to be tied up, handcuffed, bound in some way, and that was when he began to truly hurt them, starting with little slaps and moving to punches, kicks, using whips and canes, all sorts of awful things. I couldn’t finish reading after learning about one girl who had been permanently blinded in one eye.

  I closed the file and set it on the coffee table, hands shaking, stomach roiling. He’d been telling the truth. If not for him, for his interference—or help, more accurately—which I’d never even known about, I’d be another series of photographs in this file.

  It took a long time before I was able to stand up and finish my exploration of my rooms.

  I moved through the doorway beside the wet bar and found myself in a bedroom, which also featured a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass. There was a four-poster bed with a full canopy, the same thick cream carpeting under foot, an enormous armoire, and a sitting area near the glass wall, two simple but comfortable-looking chairs and a small table, the kind of furniture that is understated but insanely expensive. There was no television, which was fine by me, as I wasn’t much for TV. I opened the armoire and found it to be full of my underclothes, yoga pants, and sleep tees. A single doorway opposite the glass wall led to a marble and tile palace of a bathroom. The glass wall theme continued, with a jetted soaking tub set into a pedestal near the window, a sprawling vanity already stocked with all my makeup, my brushes, my hair dyer. There was a tiled shower with an incredible-looking rainfall showerhead, also stocked with all my shower supplies from home.

  Another door led to a walk-in closet bigger than my bedroom, bathroom, and living room combined. The walk-in closet was so big it had its own sitting area: an island with shelves containing all of my shoes and purses, a three-way full-length mirror, and a glass-fronted case containing all of my jewelry. My clothes were all hung up together, taking up one tiny little corner of the closet. The rest of the space? Stocked with dresses, skirts, blouses, jeans…all brand-new, with tags, in my size, from all of the most expensive stores in the world. The scariest part? They were all my style. I’d gladly wear every single item in this closet.

  I had to sit down as I considered the implications of what I was seeing.

  He’d moved me in. Everything I owned was here. He knew my sense of fashion, which kinds of dresses and tops I’d like, and I’d seen an entire section of the closet devoted to lingerie. I’d not examined the lingerie, but I assumed it was all in my size. I was close to hyperventilating again.

  It took serious effort, but I got control of my breathing, calmed my ever-present panic enough to function, and went back into the bathroom. I wanted the taste of Scotch out of my mouth. I found my toothbrush in a little cup, along with my own half-used tube of Crest toothpaste, the end crimped and rolled partway up. It was beyond bizarre to see my toothpaste and toothbrush here, in this bathroom. I pushed away my emotions as best I could and brushed my teeth, rinsed, and used the mouthwash—again my own third-empty bottle of Listerine.

  I remembered watching Harris pack my clothes, but how had my other belongings gotten here and unpacked? He’d stuffed my clothes rather hurriedly into a suitcase and herded me out the door, and then taken me directly to the airport. So very strange. It was undeniably impressive, but creepy and unsettling.

  With my teeth brushed, my makeup retouched, and my hair fixed, I went back out into the living room of my suite and stood at the window, staring out at the view of the city and trying to get a handle on my own emotions.

  Obviously, my strongest emotion was fear. I’d been “collected” without warning, flown across the country, and brought to the palatial penthouse home of some wealthy, secretive man who claimed to own me, and who knew every detail of my life, who knew everything about me, down to my taste in clothes. I didn’t know his name, and I didn’t know what he looked like.

  But his voice…god, his voice. Every word he spoke felt intentional, thought-out, carefully chosen and perfectly enunciated. He could go from warm and tender and personal and intimate to sharp as a razor and ice-cold. His voice caressed, hypnotized, penetrated.

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  I knew the feel of his hands. He had big hands, strong hands. My entire hand had fit easily in his palm, his fingers easily closing around mine. His voice came from above me, it seemed, so I imagined him to be fairly tall.

  I was curious. I wanted to know what he wanted from me. Why me? That was the biggest question I had. Why me? He’d watched me for “a long time,” he’d said, and the depth of his knowledge about me made it clear that he wasn’t lying or exaggerating. But yet, despite this, I’d never, ever sensed his presence in my life. Never had the feeling of being followed or watched, except for those few times that he’d already explained. He’d never interfered with my life, never sent creepy letters or made stalker phone calls. When I’d been in the most direly desperate straits of my life, he’d…saved me, and claimed to not want financial repayment.

  And he’d also promised that he wouldn’t force sex on me. He just wanted me to…what? I still didn’t know. Be here? Have bizarre blindfolded conversations, blindfolded dinners and cocktail hours? Be his non-sexual blindfolded mistress? He had a housekeeper, so I doubted he was going to try to turn me into some odd Cinderella, doing his laundry or whatever. So what did he want? Just me, it seemed. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what it was he actually wanted me to do, and I had a feeling I’d never figure it out. I’d only discover that through experience.

  And yet, for all my fear, I realized—if I examined my own emotions honestly—that I felt no sense of danger. I didn’t feel threatened by him. I didn’t feel like he was crazy or unstable. Eccentric, surely. Strange and reclusive, definitely. But…dangerously unbalanced? The kind of stalker who would leave me in dismembered packages in a refrigerator? No.

  So…the arrangement? Was I going to go along with his wishes? Obey him? Or go home, and return to being one step away from destitution?

  I couldn’t do that. Cal was depending on me. I loved my little brother. He was all I really had, and he needed me. He deserved the best chance at a normal life that I could give him. Cal was a smart, good-looking kid with a solid head on his shoulders. He could go places. He was studying filmmaking, and I’d seen some of his pieces; he was talented, and I could see him making it in Hollywood. But I’d have to make sure he finished college. He was already working as much as he could and still go to school. He was a determined kid, and I knew if worse came to worst, he’d find his own way…