But not anymore.

And it hurts. It fucking hurts beyond words. I’m powerless now, utterly helpless, with no one in this dark, fucked-up world.

“Igor, stop,” my father orders just as I feel the needle prick my skin.

Hope swells inside me. Perhaps I’ve finally gotten through to him…

Igor looks to my father with a frown of confusion. My father takes a deep breath, regaining his composure.

Then he looks at me, his eyes filled with both love and sadness.

“Your mother would want me to do anything in my power to protect you, Meghan. And that’s what I’m doing.”

I shake my head in denial, the word, “No,” spilling from my lips.

How can he possibly believe giving me to Alexei protects me?

“But she would also want me to give you another chance,” my father goes on. “So I’m going to give you one more chance, lass, to come with me calmly.”

So that’s it then? Once again, I’m being given the choice to do this clear-headed or drugged out of my mind.

Perhaps you should take the escape, a little voice whispers inside my head.

Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and this will all feel like a bad dream.

Or maybe I’ll wake up with Alexei grunting and thrusting on top of me.

Staring at my father through the blur of my tears, his betrayal boils inside me like hot acid, eating away at the love I once felt.

The choice he is giving me is really no choice at all.

“So Meghan, what will it be?” my father presses for my answer when I remain silent.

To be drugged or not to be drugged…

That is the fucking question of the day.

To stay in control or say fuck it…

“Fine. I’ll come calmly,” I mutter bitterly.

* * *

The double doors leading into the Cathedral are thrown open wide. The pews are sparsely filled with men in black suits and a couple of women dressed in pastels that wilt against all the dark. As soon as my father and I come into view, the first chords of ‘Here Comes The Bride’ blare from the organ. So loud, I can feel every note vibrating in my bones.

The entire left side of my body aches as I walk down the aisle, the pain radiating from my arm. Reminding me with each step that I chose to do this sober.

I chose not to take the out.

“Don’t forget to smile,” my father hisses through his own flashing teeth.

I attempt to stretch my lips into something resembling a smile and fail.

There is absolutely no joy left inside me, no hope. I can’t even muster up a happy memory or two to help me fake it.

‘Here Comes The Bride’ might as well be my funeral march. There’s no way, no way in hell I’m going to let Alexei violate me tonight, or any other night of my life.

My gaze falls upon Alexei standing at the end of the aisle. Tall, dark, and as handsome as a fucking prince. He watches me with black, glittering eyes as if he finds my misery amusing.

Tonight, one of us is going to die. I know it deep in my soul.

God, please don’t let it be, I pray.

Unable to look upon him for a second longer, I tear my gaze away, taking in those who’ve come to witness this farce.

My side of the church contains only a few high-ranking Irish. Men who helped raise me. Men who I looked upon as second fathers and uncles. Their wives and daughters however are suspiciously absent. I recognize a couple of mistresses, but no women of worth. No women I can trust to help me.

A small, tight group of big men in dark suits stand in the pews on Alexei’s side of the church. The men study me with sharp eyes that size me up. Every inch of me, from the top of my head down to the bottom of my toes, is being judged.

At this moment, I can’t help but feel like I’m the pretty young sacrifice being led to the edge of the volcano. My father willing to give me the push to appease the savage gods.

With that depressing thought, I return my gaze to the end of the aisle.

Only a couple of pews remain between me and the rest of my miserable life.

My father’s arm tightens around mine, sensing my desire before it even registers in my brain. The need to run, to flee, courses through my limbs.

Would they stop me? Would someone tackle me and drag me up to the altar?

“Don’t even think about it,” my father hisses. “You agreed to be calm.”

His steps quicken, and with my arm trapped in his, I have no choice but to speed up too.

Well, I guess that answers my earlier question. They will indeed drag me up to the aisle against my will.

I finally look to the priest, hoping to find an ally in a man of God, but the bastard is avoiding my eyes.

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