Unfortunately, it was necessary.

Short of plastic surgery, this was the only way to drastically change the way I look. And I need to change the way I look if I ever hope to escape and evade the men after me.

Three months. It’s been three long months since I came to Garden City and begged Matthew for protection. If I would have known his version of protection would be handing me off to his most trusted goon, Simon, I would have never come to this god-forsaken place.

I expected Matthew to take care of my ‘problem’, to wipe the family of my former and late boyfriend off the map. I even half expected him to snuff me out for even asking.

What I didn’t expect was this. This… prison.

I quickly take care of my business, manage to brush my teeth without looking too much at myself in the mirror, and try to work out how I’m going to get out of the townhouse today.

Simon. Ugh. I have to call Simon.

The man has become the bane of my existence, acting pretty much like my prison warden. But given that my pleas and demands have fallen deaf on Matthew’s ears, he’s my only chance of getting out of this mess.

Walking into the kitchen, I grab my phone off the counter where I left it. The phone that was ‘provided’ to me like I needed the charity. I wouldn’t need it at all if they hadn’t taken everything I own away. Even now I can picture Simon’s cold voice and even colder face when he handed it to me like it was some great big boon he was bestowing upon me.

The phone only dials a handful of trusted numbers, 911 not being one of them. Thankfully, they at least allow me to order my own groceries and toiletries with it.

It’s the only fucking contact with the outside world I get.

I stare at the screen of the phone. Simon’s number sits at the top of the contact list.

My thumb hesitates in midair, floating above his name.

If only there was another way to get away, to escape. I’ve tried it all, though. I’ve tried sneaking out, only to find yet another of Matthew’s goons guarding the front door, waiting for me. I’ve tried escaping through the window, and I even made it across the backyard before they captured me. I’d befriend my neighbors, but the rows of townhouses surrounding me have been bought out by them and sit empty.

Subsequent attempts have ended before they even began. I don’t know how they know when I get the bug up my ass to try again, but they do.

The hair on the back of my neck rises, standing on end.

I think they’re watching me.

I shiver out my heebie-jeebies and then my thumb touches Simon’s name. Even if there are hidden cameras all over the townhouse, what can I do about it?

The phone rings once, twice, three times, before his voice comes through the line. “Meredith.”

God, how I hate the way he says my name. It’s so cold, so dead. Completely lacking in any feeling.

“Simon,” I say, trying to mimic the way he said my name and failing.

“What do you want?” Straight to the point, as always.

“I want to go out,” I sigh and lean against the counter. I’ll try this the nice way first before I get nasty. “Being cooped up like this is driving me crazy.”

“You know that’s not possible. I’ve explained this to you before. It’s too—”

I cut him off before he can say that one word he’s so fond of saying to me. Risky.

As if I’m not already extremely aware of my perilous position. Aware that there are powerful men, very powerful and well-connected men, who want to kill me.

“I’ve changed my hair,” I say over him and the line falls silent. I shift uneasily. “No one will recognize me.”

He’s quiet for so long I have to check the phone to make sure he didn’t hang up on me. Then the hair rises again on the back of my neck and I get that creepy-crawly feeling that I’m being watched.

“You what?” he asks almost harshly, finally showing some feeling. Why he sounds so pissed though is beyond me.

“I bleached my hair,” I explain, becoming annoyed that I even have to explain it to him.

Simon breathes into the phone, as if he’s upset, and I can’t help but find it a little unnerving. Why does he sound so upset? Is it because I’ve finally found a way to thwart him?

“How did you get the bleach?”

Shaking my head, I roll my eyes to the ceiling. Of course he wants to know all the dirty little details. He’s so damn meticulous and uptight, it’s beyond frustrating.

“I ordered it through the grocery store and had it delivered,” I try to say calmly but my annoyance is getting the best of me. There’s just something about him that pisses me off to no end. He’s so damn stuck-up, so anal about everything, it drives me a little mad. That, and I’ve tried every little trick in the book on him and he’s only proven to be completely impervious. “I had to because you won’t let me fucking leave.”

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