Johnathan takes a step back, and with another nudge and smile from me, Charlie starts to slide out of the backseat with me following behind him.

Just as I get my feet under me and straighten, Charlie latches onto my side with a death grip.

Johnathan glares down at the obviously frightened child and I glare up at him.

“Where are we?” I ask, and quickly glance around the empty garage.

There’s nothing on the walls. No lawnmower, no tools, no boxes of Christmas decorations. Honestly, it looks like no one lives here.

Johnathan’s glare lifts and his eyes lock on mine. There’s so much force, so much power in his gaze, it’s everything I can do to keep from looking away in submission.

“My place,” he says, and the way he says it sends a shiver down my spine.

Why did he bring us here? Why isn’t he returning me to my father? What the fuck does he have planned? I want to ask, but something holds me back. Perhaps it’s because Charlie is so frightened I feel the need to protect him, but honestly, I think it’s more of my gut telling me I’m not going to like the answers I’ll get.

Turning away without offering more of an explanation, Johnathan jerks his chin, expecting us to follow him. “Come on.”

He walks up to the only door in the garage, unlocks it, and then pushes it open. Then he walks through the door and into the house as if he just expects us to obey and follow him.

And we do follow after him, like two little lost puppy dogs. Really, what choice do we have?

Lights flicker on, revealing an immaculate kitchen. The place is so clean, so shiny, either he has an amazing housekeeper or he never uses it.

“Are you hungry?” he asks, and my stomach clenches so tight I don’t think I could keep anything down even if I was starving.

I look down at Charlie but he doesn’t answer. He’s watching Johnathan like he expects him to suddenly sprout a second head or something.

“Are you hungry, Charlie?” I ask him softly and he peeks up at me.

He shakes his head once and then he returns his attention to Johnathan.

Johnathan grunts and nods his head, moving into the living area. Even here, there is only the most basic of furniture. A couch, a TV, a table, and a recliner—all looking unused. There’s no painting on the walls, no books in the built-in bookcases.

No photos of family or children.

“I’ll show you where you’ll be staying for the night,” he says without looking back at us.

For the night. Those three words fill me with a sense of relief as we follow behind him. This is only temporary, I think. Merely a rest stop until we move on to our final destination.

Wherever that is.

He leads us through the living area then up a set of carpeted stairs. There’s a short hallway and four doors. And there’s something about those four closed doors that fills me with a sense of dread.

Walking up to the second door, Johnathan pushes it open but doesn’t step in. “The kid will sleep in here.”

Charlie’s steps slow as we walk down the hallway, and once we reach the open door, he freezes.

“It’s alright, Charlie,” I say softly and give him a reassuring squeeze. “I’ll stay with you.”

I understand his reluctance. I was locked inside a room for several days. How long was he locked up before the auction?

Johnathan shakes his head back and forth, and jerks his chin. “Your room is down the hall.”

Slowly, I lift my chin in the air and look Johnathan square in the eyes. “I’m staying with him.”

A look of anger flashes across Johnathan’s features, and I almost deflate with regret. I don’t know why he’s doing this, and I don’t know what’s in it for him.

For all I know, he saw an opportunity and he took it.

He may have bought me with the intention of returning me to my father for a huge reward, but why did he buy Charlie too?

Is he into little kids?

The more and more I think about it, the angrier and angrier I get. There’s no way I’m leaving Charlie’s side. I promised I’d keep him safe and I fucking meant it. If Johnathan has good intentions, he shouldn’t care which rooms we sleep in.

Johnathan and I have a stare-off. I’m so not backing down from this.

“Fine,” Johnathan finally snaps and runs his fingers angrily through his hair. “Fuck,” he mutters softer.

He steps away from the doorway, shakes his head almost sadly, and then gives me a hard look. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me,” he rumbles, and then the floor is vibrating as he stomps away.

Charlie and I both turn, watching as he disappears down the steps, taking all the tension with him.

“Are you tired?” I ask Charlie.

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