“What?”

I stared at him, not sure, wondering what the next step was and as terrified as ever. He continued to look at me, inquisitive, his face a twisted mask of indecision. If that mask was real, I almost pitied him. It was better than feeling sorry for myself but I wanted to be stronger, even as I just wanted to crawl into a hole. Get it over with. “I don’t know what you have planned for me. I know…I know it…” I paused, taking a moment to collect myself as much as my thoughts but the words in me had to be spoken. If not now, then never. I let the sparks of pain encourage me. “…I know it can’t be good. Whatever it is you’re planning. But if you could do me one favor?”

“Oh?”

I blinked once, “If it’s anywhere near as bad as what those ass**les did to me.... I’m tired of living through this shit just to step into deeper f**king shit. So if all you have planned for me is more torture, I think I’d rather die. Just do me one favor and don’t…I don’t want to die slow.”

He reared back as if I had slapped him. Or not. I had slapped him twice before and he had never looked the way he did now. He suddenly wasn’t so inquisitive or indecisive – he looked pissed! But also...offended. “Is that what you think?” he said, his voice strained and tight. “You think I would…” He stood up and paced. I could do nothing but stare.

“What do you want me to think Caleb?” I said harshly. My face was hot and my nose hurt and felt stuffy. Breathing hurt. “You kidnap me, you beat me, you do...unspeakable things to me.” The burning in my chest felt like it was spreading, and it was all the anger and my despair that had been coiling within me, now oozing to the surface. “What am I to expect from you?” I did a lackluster imitation of his abnormal accent “‘Don’t let me find you.’ Isn’t that what you said?”

Finally he stopped in the center of the room, his eyes flashing then cooling. “You are a stupid, stupid girl Kitten.” I did laugh this time. Loudly, hysterically, laughing through the pain even as it ripped through every fiber of my being. He had never said anything more true. I was a stupid, stupid girl! Stupid to think my mother would ever forgive me. Stupid to think I could be something other than what I was. What had that filthy f**king biker called me? Whore! The label followed me everywhere. And what had I done to earn it? Not enough! Still virgin territory. A whore fighting her nature. For what? Yes, I was a stupid, stupid girl. I laughed and laughed and laughed until finally…I cracked. My laughter devolved into wails of pure loss, grief, and black despair.

Eventually, I found him at my side, his arms engulfing me. I let him. I was always seeking shelter in the people who hurt me the most. My mother. My father. Caleb. Like a battered dog begging for love from a malicious master. It was all I knew. And still his arms felt safe, warm, meant for me to seek sanctuary within. The cycle of damage would never end because I couldn’t tell the difference until it was too late.

“I made them pay.” He whispered again, his tone cold and final, but his words meant nothing to me, though I suspected they meant a great deal to him. Only his arms mattered, only the tangible feel of hard, sturdy flesh surrounding mine. His embrace said all the things his lips could not or would not, they said, you’re safe and I will protect you, maybe even some semblance of caring about me, however f**ked up, but everything was f**ked up. Through it all, his lips only repeated, “I made them pay,” and I felt something different that still felt oddly real to me, more real than anything.

I hated him, but I didn’t either and I didn’t understand anything anymore, least of all myself.

I cried for a while, taking solace in the comforting lie of his embrace. The illusion, the fantasy, it helped. I never wanted to leave. I wanted to stay here forever, held tight to his chest, his fingers stroking my hair, his heart beating against my ear: you’re-safe, trust-me, love-you. Love. Did I want him to love me? Yes. I wanted someone to love me. And what was love if not someone risking their lives to save you? Caleb had saved me. Did it mean he loved me? A part of me wanted to think so. To believe in a romantic ideal that didn’t exist. I wanted to believe the lie. But more than that – I wanted it not to be a lie.

After a while, I forced myself to pull away. The longer I stayed, the more I doubted I could keep my resolve to escape and that was dangerous. I was torn, constantly, between emotions that continued to fight each other. Caleb was dangerous. And not just because he was bigger, stronger, and more sadistic than I cared to think about. “Can I see a mirror?” I asked warily, sniffling. It wasn’t about vanity. I needed to see just how close I’d come to losing my life, and I wanted it to mean something real for me. A harsh dose of reality to shake me free of all my stupid fantasies.

He was very slow, dare I say, reluctant, to release me. Even as I tried to put distance between us, his fingertips wiped gently at the corners of my swollen eyes and the look on his face said the hurt, pain and superficiality didn’t matter. His words echoed the sentiments I read on his face. “It’s not necessary. The damage isn’t permanent.”

“That bad, huh?” I asked, but the look in his eyes shifted, turning harder, colder and it told me all I needed to know. Those sons-of-bitches had done a number on me. My arm bent behind my back. Pain. Laughter. A c**k pushing against me, looking for a way in.

“It’s not necessary,” he repeated firmly. “The damage isn’t permanent.” He paused, the hesitation odd in his otherwise firm and confident demeanor. “I made them pay.” Caleb was not a man who hesitated or questioned anything. And yet, I felt him doing so at that moment. There were things he wanted to say and wasn’t. “I know you’ve been through more than enough.” He reached out and tilted my chin gently, meeting my eyes, “But promise me you’ll never do it again.” I turned my head slightly away. He was telling me, not asking me, to never run away from him again. Without saying it, he was chastising me, letting me know that by taking matters into my own hands, I’d just gotten into deeper trouble and all on my own. It was a bitter pill to swallow...because he was right.

“Yes, Caleb.” I paused, “Yes, Master,” I whispered dully, feeling hollow again. Caleb frowned but nodded. I didn’t know what was more frightening, that in that moment I meant it or that Caleb had expected it.

His fingers continued to play softly across my jaw. He was tentative, pensive, and wary of causing me any pain or discomfort. I couldn’t stand it. There was always confusion when he was near. A conflict over what I should do and what I wanted to do.

I thought about my life, the history of my existence, a past that revolved around my mother who’d ushered me in this world. About the way my wants had led to this moment. Just the same way her wants had led her to hers. As hard as I’d tried to not be like her, I felt like I was becoming exactly like her. It was so unfair, and as I stared at Caleb, and his fingers danced across my lips so delicately and intimately, I reaffirmed that life was anything but fair.

I pushed his hand away, not roughly, but firmly issuing my denial of his touch, and oddly, I knew, in the corner of my mind, that it was my denial too.

There was a flicker of something primal in his eyes before he schooled his features into an impassive mask. He sat up straight with his back against the headboard. The foot of space between us may as well have been an ocean. Our silence, an uneasy calm before an impending storm. He did have a plan for me. And he still wasn’t telling me what it was.

“Caleb…”

“It wasn’t, you know.” He must have read the confusion on my face and expected it because he pressed forward seamlessly, “In your sleep. You said it wasn’t all your fault, and it isn’t – none of it is your fault. It’s…. It just isn’t.”

There was a hard knot in my throat. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t swallow it down. It was just stuck there, choking me. Caleb’s fingers slid across the bedspread toward my leg, then faltered and returned to his own personal space. Why couldn’t he just keep being an evil, soulless bastard so I knew what his role was and I knew mine? Why did he have to continually switch back from cold and unforgiving, to comforting and warm?

“What did they do to you Kitten? Can you tell me?” His eyes slid closed and I wondered at what he was hiding. Was this about me? It hardly made sense. He had tortured me, kept me prisoner, beat me, forced me into situations beyond my imagination. And now, now he felt...something for me?

A voice in my head reminded me that despite everything he’d done to me, there had always been some semblance of mercy. Yes, I was still alive, and he hadn’t tried to do what those animals had tried. I had not been a person to them. I understood the fine line between what Caleb was doing with me, and what he could have done so easily to me. He was always in control of himself. Had always explained why he was doing one thing or another. He kissed and caressed me, brought me ecstasy.

I was as real to him as he was to me and it struck me just then that I meant something to him. In whatever capacity he was able, I meant something. The irony of that epiphany made my gut twist. Now that I knew what real horror felt like I knew I had never felt it with Caleb. Even when he hurt me, when he made me feel shame, he was there to massage me, hold me – take responsibility for me. He would never do the things those motherfuckers had done. I knew that. But did any of it matter? I didn’t know. Perhaps nothing really mattered.


Tags: C.J. Roberts The Dark Duet Series Romance
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