In the fall of light from the door his shadow loomed long and dark. Unbidden, words once made ominous by Poe, now manifested as flesh in the man before me: “Suddenly I heard a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.”

Crap, crap, crap. Okay, that last part was me.

Caleb raised his hand as if to hit me and I threw my arms up to protect my face. His hand slammed against the wall. While I cringed, the bastard laughed. Slowly, I moved to bring my arms down and cover my br**sts. Caleb grabbed both my wrists in his left hand and pressed them to the wall over my head. Pinned between him and the wall, I reacted like a frightened hamster. I froze, as if my stillness would discourage his predatory nature. Like a snake that only eats live mice.

“Are you hungry?” he asked, soft and low.

I heard the question, but the words had no meaning. My brain ceased to function as it should. The only thing my mind could focus on was his closeness. The intense warmth of his soft fingers pressed into my wrists. The clean, wet smell of his skin in the air around me. The invisible pressure of his gaze upon me. What was this?

When I failed to respond, the fingers of his right hand trailed across the underside of my right breast, the fabric of my camisole made his fingers warm satin against my flesh. Our earlier exchange forced its way into my consciousness. “Go f**k yourself.”

“…I’d much rather f**k you.”

My knees slightly buckled and my ni**les hardened. I took a sharp breath and leaned away from his touch, forcing my tightly shut eyes into the skin of my upraised arm.

His lips caressed the shell of my ear, “Are you going to answer? Or must I force you again?”

Food? My stomach suddenly twisted sharply. A primal pain. Yes, there was my hunger, when he reminded me of it. I was absolutely starving. I mustered up my courage by taking a deep breath. “Yes.”

I felt his smile against my ear, and then his fingers held my chin. In my peripheral vision I watched him lean into me. His breath was cool against my heated flesh.

“Yes,” he repeated my response, “you’re hungry? Yes, you’re going to answer? Or yes, I have to force you again?”

My heart raced. I felt his breath on my cheek. There was suddenly not enough air, as if his proximity sucked it out of my lungs.

“Or is it just, yes?”

My lips parted and my lungs pulled in deep, bringing in as much air as they could. It didn’t seem like much. I forced myself to answer through my panic.

“Yes,” I stammered, “I’m hungry.”

I knew he smiled, though I couldn’t see it. A shiver, so strong my body nearly jerked toward his, ran down my spine.

He kissed me softly on the cheek. I think I whimpered. Then he walked out of the room leaving me paralyzed even after I heard the door shut.

Caleb returned shortly with a wheeled cart laden with food. My stomach gnawed as I smelled the meat and bread. It was difficult to control the urge to run toward the food. Then Jair followed him into the room carrying a chair.

Seeing Jair made me wish the floor would open up and swallow me. Earlier, when Jair had sought to rape me, I had (once again) tried to find protection in Caleb’s arms. I suppose that somewhere in my head, I’d clung to the hope that this man, this Caleb, would protect me. All I could see was that horrible, feral look in Jair’s eyes. He wanted to hurt me.

The door shut and I looked up to find Caleb sitting next to the food. We were alone again. Fear and hunger tore at my insides.

“Come here,” he said. His voice startled me, but I moved to walk toward him. “Stop. I want you to crawl over here.”

My legs shook. Crawl? Are you kidding me? Just run. Run right now. He stood looking straight at me. Run where? See how quickly he slams you to the ground and drugs you again! My knees hit the floor. What choice did I have? I put my head down but I could still feel his eyes on me like a weight that promised his hand. My knees and my palms moved across the ground until I reached the tops of his shoes.

I was trapped. I was nearly naked. Weak. Scared. I was his.

He bent and gathered my hair in both his hands. Slowly, he lifted my head until our eyes met. He looked at me intently; brows knit together, his mouth set in a hard line. “I wish he hadn’t done this to you,” he said while stroking the corner of my left eye. “You really are a very pretty girl; it’s a shame.”

My heart twisted. A memory, the memory ripped through my defenses and surfaced at the forefront of my mind. My stepfather had thought I was pretty too. I was a pretty thing, and pretty things did not fare well in this world, not in the hands of men like him. Instinctively, my hands grabbed his wrists in an effort to guide his hands from my hair, but he held me firm. Not rough, just firm. Without words, he made himself clear; he wasn’t done looking at me yet. Incapable of holding his gaze, I averted my eyes to some point just beyond him.

The very air around me seemed to shift to accommodate him. His breath skated across my cheek, and beneath my trembling, sweaty hands, his forearms hinted at his immense strength. I shut my eyes and took a deep breath in the hopes of calming down. The smell of him mingled with the food and rushed into my lungs. The combination did strange primal things to me. I suddenly felt carnivorous. I wanted to tear the flesh from his bones with my teeth and drink his blood.

Unable to help myself, I whispered, “It’s your fault he did it. All of this is your fault. You’re no better than he is.” It felt good to say the words. I felt I should have said them sooner.

A bead of sweat trickled down the side of my neck, its slow crawl over my collarbone, across my chest, and into the well of my br**sts served to remind me of my body. My soft, breakable body.

He sighed deeply and let out a slow breath. I shivered, unable to discern whether the sigh meant he had calmed, or he was about to slap me senseless.

His voice, thinly coated with civility, filled my head, “I’d watch what you say to me pet. There is a world of difference between me and him. One that I think you’ll learn to appreciate, despite yourself. But make no mistake; I am still capable of things you can’t imagine. Provoke me again and I’ll prove it.” He let me go.

I sank without thinking, back down to all fours, once again staring at his shoes. I was sure I’d completely break down if I tried to imagine all the things I wasn’t capable of imagining, because I could imagine some pretty horrible things. In fact, I was imagining some of those horrible things when his voice interrupted my thoughts.

“You’re entire life is going to change. You should try to accept that, because there’s no possible way to avoid it. Like it or not, fight it or don’t, your old life is over. It was over long before you woke up here.”

There were no words, no me, no here. This was crazy. I had awoken with sweat and fear to this, this darkness. Fear, pain, hunger, this man—eating at me. I wanted to put my head to the tops of his shoes. To stop. The words hung in the air like a speech bubble still clinging to his lips. How long before? Before that day on the street?

I thought about my mom again. She was far from perfect, but I loved her more than I loved anyone. He was telling me I’d never see her again, that I’d never see anyone I loved again. I should have expected those types of words. Every villain had a similar speech, ‘Don’t try to get away, it’s impossible’, but until then, I hadn’t realized how truly terrifying those words were.

And he stood above me, as if he were a god who had torn the sun away, not caring for my devastation. “Address me as Master. Every time you forget, I will be forced to remind you. So you can choose to obey, or choose punishment. It’s entirely up to you.”

My head snapped up and my shocked, horrified, pissed off eyes met his. I wasn’t going to call him Master. No. Fucking. Way. I was sure he could see the determination in my eyes. The unspoken challenge behind them that screamed, ‘Just try and make me ass**le. Just try.’

He lifted a brow, and his eyes responded, ‘With pleasure pet. Just give me a reason.’

Rather than risk a fight I couldn’t possibly win, I returned my eyes to the ground. I was going to get out of here. I just had to be smart.

“Do you understand?” he said smugly.

Yes, Master. The words remained unspoken, their absence duly noted.

“Do. You,” he leaned forward, “Under. Stand?” He drew out each word as if speaking to a child, or someone who doesn’t understand English.

My tongue pushed against my teeth. I stared at his legs, unable to answer him, unable to fight him. A lump began to form in my throat and I swallowed hard to keep it down, but the tears eventually came. These were not the tears of pain or fear but of frustration.

“Very well then, I guess you’re not hungry. But I am.”

At the mention of food my mouth surged again with saliva. The smell of the food twisted my stomach into tight knots. While he tore off pieces of bread, my nails dug into the thin carpet where my tears now dripped onto the floor. What did he want from me that he couldn’t just take? I sniffled, trying not to sob. He touched me again, stroking the back of my head.

“Look at me.”

I wiped the tears from my face and looked up at him. He sat back in his chair, head cocked to one side. He appeared to be considering something. I hoped whatever it was wouldn’t cause me more humiliation, but I doubted it. He picked up a piece of cut meat from his plate and slowly stuck it in his mouth, all the while looking at my face. Every tear that sprang from my eye I quickly wiped away with the back of my hand. Next, he picked up a piece of cubed beef. I swallowed hard. He leaned forward and held the delicious smelling morsel to my lips. With an almost unabashed relief I opened my mouth, but he snatched it away.

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