He doesn’t speak, and his silence terrifies me, but at least he’s still holding the lit match. I’m sick with dread at the mental image of him dropping it, of the crate catching fire, and me losing my goddamn mind as I try to rip it open.
Finally, he squats down to my level, looking me right in the eye. “Do you realize you were very foolish tonight?”
My head bobs forward, tears still dripping from my face. “Yes. I’m so sorry.”
“But are you sorry enough?”
“Yes,” I say, the word launching out of me with the velocity of bullet. “Yes, I am. Please, I’ll do anything, I’ll give you anything. You want my body? You can have it. You want my soul? I’ll give you that, too. I’ll do work for you. I know it’s usually men who do it, but…I’m a woman, there are things I can do that men can’t.”
His eyebrows rise a fraction of an inch and he tilts his head just slightly to the side.
He rises. “Stand up,” he says calmly.
My eyes flicker to the match between his thumb and index finger, but I rise, my knees still wobbling.
“I own you now,” he informs me, his empty eyes peering into mine.
My eyes widen, and I nod my head vigorously in agreement.
“Adrian,” he calls out, his eyes not moving from mine.
The man with the burned face comes around the back of the crate, scowling at Mateo.
“Open the crate.” With one expelled breath, he extinguishes the tiny flame between his fingers and signs the metaphorical deal we just struck.
Gratitude oozes from my pores, relief bubbling up inside of me and streaming down my face. Adrian lifts my daughter and hands her to me, and I sink to the cement pad with her in my arms, sobbing uncontrollably as I place kisses on every spot my lips can reach.
Lily throws her arms around my neck so tightly it almost hurts, murmuring something about witches. My head is spinning and I can’t focus. I never want her to let go.
I’m vaguely aware of bodies moving around us, Mateo moving in to speak with Adrian. I hear, “Get her a sedative,” and Adrian’s grunt of assent. As my daughter’s small arms squeeze tightly around my neck, I breathe in the sweet scent of her baby shampoo and close my eyes. I’ve just sold my soul to the devil, and I’m afraid to find out what kind of hell awaits me the moment my daughter lets go.
The sound of ice cubes clinking into a glass followed by a steady stream of liquid does little to ease the tension in my body.
The sight of Mateo’s broad, impressive shoulders hugged by the fabric of his sharp, expensive suit makes me feel insanely attracted to this monster, even knowing I should run as fast as I can toward the door. It’s hard to reconcile all the sides of him I’ve seen tonight—the dream date, the monster, my new master.
I don’t really know the man before me, regardless of how I felt about him just an hour ago. The catalogue of his sins was read to me by Antonio in an attempt to make me feel better about the colossal mistake of trying to put down an animal like Mateo Morelli, but the reality of him isn’t so cut and dry.
I tug at the extremely short hem of my skirt as he turns around, offering me the small glass of amber liquid.
My hand trembles as I take it. “Now what?” I ask quietly, since he doesn’t seem inclined to speak.
“Now you belong to me,” he reiterates, as if I hadn’t been there the first time he said it.
“I got that part.” My gaze drops to the glass. My whole body feels so heavy, all I want to do is curl up with Lily and sleep, but apparently, we have to do this first. “What does that mean? What do I have to do?”
“Anything I tell you to do,” he replies silkily, lifting his own glass and taking a sip. It’s funny, after all this, now he’s finally drinking with me.
I don’t say anything. I still don’t know what that entails. Will he take me up on my offer to do dirty work for him? Does he even want my body at this point? After seeing me a sobbing mess with scraped knees, my skirt riding up my ass at an unflattering angle and snot dripping out of my nose as I clutched my toddler in my arms and rocked, I sort of doubt it.
There are plenty of other terrible uses he could have for me though, and my skin crawls just considering them.
“Your old life is done,” he tells me. “You’ll quit your shit job. Contact will be cut with your family and friends. I’ll take care of your lease.”