“I-I’m sorry,” I say with fear lacing my voice.
“Do not call me by my name,” he demands. “I can’t have you doing that.” He lowers his eyes and I can tell by that look of pain hidden behind them that his own rule burdens him in some way.
Fredrik stands from the chair and takes a seat on the edge of the bed closer to me.
“Come here,” he says gently, holding out his hand.
I take it with only slight hesitation because even as much as I fear him, I still want to be with him.
He guides me next to him and I lay my upper-body in his lap, my cheek pressed softly against his firm thigh. His large hand strokes my blonde hair. His touch is gentle and kind and euphoric, but I know too what else those hands are capable of. I’ve seen the things he does to people. Terrible, nightmarish things. The very things he is threatening me with now.
“I can’t bear to watch again,” I say. “Please…don’t make me watch.”
His fingers continue to comb through my hair, leaving shivers to dance along the length of my spine.
“But you’ll have to,” he says in a calm, relaxing voice, “because I don’t see any other way. Your memories only seem to be triggered by traumatic experiences. You wouldn’t know what you know now about the fire if it wasn’t for making you watch.”
I move my head against his lap so that I can look up at him. His fingers fall from my hair and he brushes the backs of them down the side of my cheek.
“Tell me about her,” I say in a powdery voice, trying not to force him away like I did the last time I insisted such a forbidden thing. “What did Seraphina do to you? Why do you want to find her so badly?”
He shoots up from the bed, leaving me to fall against the mattress.
“I’ve told you—”
I shoot up after him, stopping him mid-sentence, intent on making him understand, to make him talk to me once and for all. The chain around my ankle clanks loudly as I force myself across the few feet to stand in front of him.
“YOU TELL ME!” I scream at him, more tears pouring from the corners of my eyes. “PLEASE! I DESERVE TO KNOW!” I cry out. “You’ve kept me down here for a year. Took me away from…from whatever life I had before the fire. I may not remember it, but it was mine.” I point at my chest; my voice and I know my expression, strained by pain and desperation. “You believe I know this woman well enough that I can lead you to her, that somehow I can help you find her. And I’m willing to do that…,” my voice begins to soften. I only want to make him understand, not show defiance.
He shakes his head, though not as if telling me no, but it seems more like he’s convincing himself not to tell me. Something he has done time and time again in all these months that I’ve been his prisoner. His willing prisoner.
I lower my voice to a whisper and clasp my thin fingers about his wrists. “Please, Fredrik,” I say and he doesn’t reprimand me for calling him by his name. I look deeply into his hardened, conflicted eyes that refuse to look back at me. “Maybe if I knew more about her…I could remember. I might begin to understand who she was to me, how I knew her and…,” I try to force his gaze but it’s unshakable, “…and what it is that I owe her.”
This has been the one thing I’ve tried time and time again to make him understand, but he always cuts me off. He would rather make me watch him torture people to death to trigger my memories than to do something as simple as tell me more about this woman who I apparently used to know before I lost my memory in that fire last year.
“Please.” It’s my last desperate attempt. My chest is heaving with long, deep breaths. My heart is aching with hopelessness.
He looks down into my eyes from his tall height and I can’t read him. So much confliction. So much regret and anger and emotions I’m not sure I ever want to know. There’s a beast that lives inside this man that I have seen, but I never want to meet it again. Not face to face like others have met it. I feel in the deepest part of me that he holds that beast down for my sake. Because he doesn’t want to hurt me. But I also feel that it’s only a matter of time before it controls the man I know and love. And every time he looks at me, he inches that much closer to succumbing to the beast and letting it take control.
I feel like I know, because it’s what my heart tells me, that one day I will die by his hands.
I step toward him and soften my eyes as I reach my hand up and touch it to the side of his face. I smile warmly and push up on my toes, placing my lips against his.
He gazes deeply into my eyes when I pull away, and still, there’s so much going on inside of him that I can read nothing.
I step back and away from Cassia, resolved to end this before it begins. I can’t let her do this to me. Not again. I won’t let her. Seraphina is important to me and I’ll stop at nothing to find her, my ex-wife, the only woman I’ve ever known who I could be the real and true Fredrik Gustavsson with and not have to hide. The one woman who was so much like me that it was fate we were brought together.
Seraphina is the epitome of darkness. And I need her back.
She and I have unfinished business.
“Fredrik…,” Cassia says and I raise my eyes to her. Hers are so innocent and pure, so…vulnerable. I want to take her. Now. To press her tight pink flesh against the wall and ravage her little body violently from the inside out. I want to mark her with my blade and lick the blood from her wounds, the way I used to do to Seraphina.
I force the need away, rounding my chin. Because I can’t. I can’t do that to Cassia. I won’t do that to Cassia.
I force myself to walk away.
“Fredrik…please…don’t go. Not yet. Please!” she calls out after me.
I hear the chain wrapped around her ankle hitting the floor as she tries to catch up to me, but it stops hard when I step out of her walking range and head toward the basement steps.
I hear her crying. I hate to hear her cry. Goddammit…I hate to hear her cry!
Slowly, I turn to face her, and she looks back at me with the same light-brown doe-eyes that I have come to admire…that I’ve become a victim of.
I’ll need to kill tonight. Just so that I can wash this threatening feeling from my dark heart.
“I’ll be back in four hours,” I say impassively, coldly even. “And you will watch.”
I leave her standing there, drowning in her own tears, as I ascend the steps and out of the basement.