Turning away from the mirror takes more effort than it should. Another wave of dizziness threatens to overwhelm me, so I take it very slow. Like I’m outside, watching my body struggling without me, I carefully put one foot in front of the other and make my way to the door.

Hand reaching out, my fingers brush across the knob when it suddenly turns. My reactions still delayed, my hand lingers in the air as the door swings open.

“Ah, there you are,” Alexei says as he suddenly appears in front of me.

An apparition from my deepest, darkest nightmares.

Like a trapped bird, my heart flutters behind my ribs, and my feet itch with the need to escape his presence. To run and run and run.

The things I’ve learned about this man have haunted and tormented me since the announcement of our engagement.

I discovered he’s not your typical Russian kingpin. No, he’s so much worse than that. He’s a monster, even in the eyes of the criminal underworld.

His deeds go far beyond kidnapping, extortion, and even murder. Go far beyond what’s considered beyond the pale even in our circles.

He deals in the selling and exploitation of young women and children.

Most of his empire has been built on the success of his human trafficking operation. Built on the success of selling little boys and little girls to the highest bidder.

It makes me sick. So fucking sick and scared.

He has no soul. No heart. I doubt he’s even human.

Standing in the doorway, Alexei’s black eyes sweep slowly over me, appraising me with keen interest. My eyes are much slower to move over him, and when they do, when I finally see what he’s wearing, I feel like I’m going to puke.

He’s dressed in a sharp black tux that’s been tailored to fit his body perfectly.

Oh god, maybe we’re already married…

Hand finally dropping, it bounces against my skirt in defeat.

He takes a step into the room, and I nearly fall on my ass as I take a stumbling step back.

Closing the door behind him, his body blocks off the exit.

“Going somewhere?” he asks, his eyes hardening.

If he wasn’t so damn big, and if I wasn’t so damn clumsy and slow from being drugged, I might be able to get around him. But as it is, I’m fucking trapped.

I briefly consider trying my luck anyway, but the last thing I need right now is to force a physical confrontation with him. He’s got at least six inches on me, and probably a hundred pounds of pure muscle. No, it would be better if I wait for a better opportunity… like when the drugs wear off and I actually stand a chance.

What I really need right now is to know if we’re married. Because if we are… fuck…

I might as well be a dead woman walking.

Going out on a limb, I manage to slur out, “Isn’t it bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding?”

His lips curve into a sharp smirk and I find myself holding my breath as I await his answer.

“You know this ceremony is merely a formality. A show for the families,” he says dismissively, taking another step toward me. “I already own you, Meghan.”

Any relief I might have felt to learn that we’re not already married is immediately crushed beneath the weight of his statement.

At first, I want to balk, to protest. He doesn’t own me. I’m not a fucking object, I’m a person. I can’t be bought, sold, or traded.

But isn’t that exactly what my father did? He traded me to Alexei in exchange for the Russian’s protection.

I’ve been reduced to a fucking bargaining chip.

“What did you drug me with?” I ask as he continues to approach me, eating up the distance between us.

I’m hoping my question will trip him up, or at least stall him. If he touches me or even breathes on me, I don’t think I could take it.

Despite his handsome face, everything about him repulses and unnerves me. When I look at him, my skin crawls and my stomach clenches. I don’t see his perfect bone structure or his soft, pouty lips.

All I see is the cold, dead space inside his eyes that’s utterly inhuman.

My little ploy seems to work because he pauses for a moment, as if he’s thinking, before saying, “We were forced to administer a mild sedative when you became hysterical.”

“Hysterical?” I repeat, my voice thick with disbelief.

When have I ever been hysterical? I don’t think I’ve ever been hysterical at any point in my life. In fact, I believe I’ve held up pretty fucking well given all the shit that’s happened to me lately.

“Yes… hysterical…” he drawls out, as if he wants those two words to really sink in. Then his eyes suddenly gleam with a strange light as he continues. “You were quite distraught over poor Callum.”

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