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Gilded Cage: A Dark Romance by Zoe Blake – Sample

Chapter One


My life was… complicated.

You know that feeling you’d get when you’d start to run down a steep hill?

As you ran faster, there was this single moment… just a moment… of pure joy.

You would stretch your arms out wide as you embraced the sensation that you were almost flying. You believed, truly believed, if you ran just a little bit faster, if you allowed yourself to dare just a little bit more… maybe you would actually fly. Maybe your toes would lift off the ground and you would touch the sky.

So, you dared.

You ran faster.


You swore you could no longer feel the ground beneath your feet.

All you could see was the bright, beckoning azure sky.

And then it happened… you glanced down, back to reality.

It was just the barest of seconds, but it was enough.

Suddenly you realized, you weren’t flying.

You were falling.

I could feel Richard’s even breathing against the sensitive skin along my neck. His chest hair tickled my bare shoulder as I laid within the circle of his arms.

A lover’s embrace.

Except we weren’t lovers.

I didn’t know what we were, but this wasn’t love. It couldn’t be.

Obsession, perhaps?

His arm wrapped possessively around my waist controlled as much as it protected. There was nothing in my life that Richard did not reign over; how I dressed, what I ate, where I went, who I talked to. But really, those were just artificial things. His control went much deeper. My thoughts were no longer my own; my desires, my wishes, my dreams.

All were of Richard.

All were focused on pleasing him.

I could feel the final vestiges of my soul slipping away.

Every day a little death.

Every time he bent me over a table, or forced my legs open wide, or commanded me to fall to my knees and open my mouth… the person I once was died a little, only to be reborn as his ideal fantasy woman.

I was Richard’s living doll, to be played with or punished at his will. Soon there would be nothing left of the person I once was, nothing left of my former life. It would all be a distant, fragmented memory.

My life could be divided into two distinct phases, the time before Richard and after. The time before was already a hazy blur of faces, mundane routines, and the basic motions of life.

After… was everything.

After was blindingly clear. Full of bright colors, intense emotions, pleasures and pain. After was living a life so extreme you feel the heat of the flame as it gets fed by your own desires. It unfurls and stretches toward the sky, burning hotter and brighter. Soon it will consume you… and you don’t care.

Richard had become as much my obsession as I was his.

An unholy fusing of two damaged souls.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this… it had all started out so innocently, with a chance encounter and a stolen kiss. Even now, I wondered how I could have been so naive? As if Richard ever left anything up to chance. He had planned this… every moment of our mutual destruction, from the very beginning.

These violent delights have violent ends, and in their triumph, die like fire and powder, which, as they kiss, consume.

If ever there was a quote to fit this fucked-up, twisted obsession we had for one another, that was it. Except we couldn’t claim the innocent infatuation of Romeo and Juliet. No, this was something far darker and more all-consuming. We did have one thing in common with Romeo and Juliet—this would end violently. There was no other way.

An obsession this extreme did not just fade away. We were not the type of couple to randomly have an argument over frozen pizza and then split up, only talking again to exchange small boxes of meaningless trifles like toothbrushes and unread books. That was what happened to normal couples. There was nothing normal about our relationship.

Pain, punishment, and manipulation—all to chase the high of an ever more intense, ever more consuming pleasure. We had each drawn blood in the frenzy of our own desires and yet instead of it becoming a sobering talisman it only spurred us on more.

Where would it end? In madness or death, I had no doubt. I was already half mad myself.

I could no longer tell what was real and what was part of our game. If I didn’t do something soon, to save both of us, we would be lost. Yet I knew, deep in my bones, Richard would never let me go, never allow me to simply walk away. If I were honest with myself, I didn’t think I could now if I tried. I was bound to him with chains of my own making.

These violent delights have violent ends…

Shifting my body slightly away from his oppressive warmth, I reached under my pillow, moving my fingers beneath the silk till they touched cold metal.

At that moment, Richard’s arm tightened, his fingers stretched out over the narrow curve of my waist, pressing deep into my skin. I choked on a frightened gasp. The sickening taste of blood trickled into my mouth as I bit down on my bottom lip to keep from crying out. My heart hammered in my ears, as my body became rigid in an effort to stop my limbs from trembling.

My eyes closed as I braced for his rage at my betrayal.

Holding my breath so long I felt dizzy, the rush of adrenaline made my stomach cramp. Still, I waited in the darkness.

An eternity later, his fingers once more relaxed, resting heavily on my hip.

Willing myself to move, I carefully shifted to the side, my overheated bare skin sliding easily along the silk sheets.

I placed one foot on the hardwood floor and paused, listening for the even sounds of his breathing. I then swung my other foot over the edge and crouched by the bed. For a brief moment, I thought of covering my nakedness with my discarded nightgown, whose champagne satin shown bright in the moonlight. I abandoned the idea when I remembered how Richard had torn the delicate garment from my body only hours earlier. Its tattered remains would provide no protection for me now.

My eyes adjusted to the dim light as I scanned the bedroom, before my gaze rested on Richard.

Even in sleep, he looked intimidating. Nothing could soften the harsh angles of his jaw and sharp cheekbones or the heavy slope of his brow. He had the handsome looks and charm of the devil himself, with the same moral code. Half expecting to see his piercing blue eyes trained on me in anger, I let the breath I had been holding escape through my lips when I observed him still sleeping.

Refusing to take my gaze off him, I wrapped my stiff fingers around the smooth wooden handle of the gun, stifling a hiss as it pressed against the cut on my palm, and slowly pulled it free from under my pillow.

The Smith & Wesson .38 Special was heavier than I thought it would be. I’d never really held a gun before but for some strange reason I didn’t think it would feel so heavy. Its polished metal looked dark and sinister against the pale skin of my hand.

Tremors racked my body as I willed myself to take one step, then another, away from the bed.

This was it. There was no turning back.

Circling around, I turned to once more to face his sleeping form.

Except he wasn’t sleeping anymore.

Those dark, intense eyes were trained on me.

My mouth opened on a silent scream as my stomach twisted in stark, terrorizing fear.

Had he been awake the whole time?

Had he found the gun earlier and guessed my plan?

Was this just another one of his games?

He the puppet master and me the helpless doll, dancing with every pull of my strings.

Was I once again a helpless player in a sick, macabre fantasy of his choosing?

This game… his game… our game… had gone too far.

It needed to end.

Now. Tonight.

These violent delights have violent ends…

Desperately trying not to drop it, I switched the gun to my right hand and raised it chest high. It felt as if the blood had drained from my body. A chill crept over my skin as I watched him, feeling like trapped prey just waiting for its predator’s pounce.

Without saying a word, Richard kept his eyes trained on me as he carefully rose from the bed. I watched in horrified fascination as the sheet slid across his muscled abdomen only to drop away, exposing his thick hard shaft, unmistakable evidence the arrogantly confident man who stood before me wasn’t the least bit cowed by the sight of the gun.

He knew all along. I was now sure of it. My secret deadly plan had never been a secret from him. My heart felt heavy as I realized there wasn’t a corner of my mind he didn’t know intimately. He saw me too completely, knew me too well.

Stretching his arm out, he said calmly, “Give me the gun, Elizabeth.”

Hating myself for it, I took a hesitant step backward as I shook my head no.

“Baby, you don’t want to do this.”

My vision blurred as hot tears filled my eyes. My voice wobbled as I whispered, “I have no choice.”

Not giving a damn about his nakedness, Richard took a determined step toward me.

“Stop! Please, don’t come any closer,” I cried out desperately. I could now taste my own salty tears as they slid down my cheeks and over my lips.

“Trust me, Elizabeth. You don’t want to start this game with me,” he growled in warning as he took another menacing step in my direction.

Once more I backed up. I could feel the plush edge of the chaise press against the back of my knees. The gun began to shake as my arm tired. I tried to steady it with my other hand. “I never wanted this game! Any of this!”

“Liar,” he snapped back. “You needed this, us, as much as I. Your soul is just as dark and twisted as my own. Don’t insult us both by pretending otherwise. Stop playing the innocent. It doesn’t suit you.” As always, his hard voice reverberated with calm authority.

Raising my hands up to cover my ears, the cold metal of the gun pressed against my hot cheek as I tried to block out the truth of his words. “No! I don’t believe you! You forced me to play this game!”

His hands curled into fists. “Forced you?” he bit out through clenched teeth. “Did I force those moans of pleasure that slipped past your lips earlier? Did I force you to wrap your legs around my shoulders drawing my mouth closer to your heat? Tell me. Was it I who forced you to scream ‘harder, make it hurt’ tonight?”

My whole body shook with the impact of his words. I began to plead with him. “Stop! Please, stop! Can’t you see we have to end this? It’s too much! Too toxic. Too dangerous for us both. You have to let me go!” I screamed as I once more trained the gun on him.

His obsidian eyes shone with dark fire. His jaw clenched so hard there was a small throbbing tic on his upper right cheek. I watched him fight to maintain control, knowing how badly he wanted to just rip the gun from my hand and teach me a brutal lesson at the end of his leather belt for even daring to threaten him like this.

The silence shredded my nerves.

Would he let me go?

A traitorous voice in my head asked, do you truly want him to?

“Never,” he finally ground out. “You’re mine. Mine in life. Mine even in death. You will never be free of me, Elizabeth. I own you; mind, body, and soul and I will never give you up.”

He took another step toward me. Our naked bodies now so close, I could feel the angry heat radiating off him.

Lifting the gun with a determination I didn’t feel, I pulled back the hammer.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Richard.” My voice sounded high and unnatural to my strained ears. The keen edge of desperation gave me false courage.

His eyes narrowed. For the first time, he looked down at the gun in my hand before returning his intense glare to mine. “You better shoot to kill, because when I get my hands on you, there… will… be… no… mercy.”

His words were slow and methodical. Like with everything else, he wanted to make sure I felt the painful impact of every syllable.

Trapped by his gaze, I couldn’t move.

Then, peeking through a small slit in the closed curtains, a delicate shaft of golden light stretched between us. Dawn was approaching.

A new day.

A new little death.

The high-pitched light tone of a nightingale pierced the silence. A bird that symbolized love… and freedom.

He was right. He would show me no mercy. This was the only way. My right finger began to curl.

Richard’s eyes widened. I watched as the sharply defined muscles in his chest and abdomen tensed then shifted as his toned body pushed forward in a lunge.

He was too late.

I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger.

The roar of the gun drowned out the nightingale’s soft song.

As I said, my life was complicated.

Chapter Two


Six months earlier…


I swiped at the small drops of rain that had fallen onto my book page. The ink smeared over Darcy’s impassioned plea to Elizabeth. Of course, this would have to happen to my brand-new copy of Pride and Prejudice, not one of the well-worn, broken spine copies I had back home on my bookshelf. My lips twisted in a grimace as I looked at the ruined page. This was what I got for indulging in a whim to get a new hardback copy from Hatchard’s. It was silly of course but it was so much fun purchasing my favorite book from a famous old bookstore in London. I’m convinced Ms. Austin’s words felt more authentic as I read them from this volume. How could they not? My old copies couldn’t possibly compare to the romance of a copy purchased from a London bookstore my first few weeks here, even if one of the pages was now smeared. I would know it was smeared by a London rain while I sat in St. James’s park reading.

The tiny bit of blue sky had been transformed into a watery grey. As the small drizzle intensified, I saw crowds of people shaking out blankets and packing up their belongings around the park. Once more I looked up at the sky, straining to see even a tiny ray of sunshine that would indicate this was not the fate of my entire afternoon. Another fat drop of water fell, turning the green striped canvas of my deck chair a dark hunter green.

Shooting a dirty look at the concession guy who had just taken my two quid for the privilege of sitting in this chair, I snatched up my Brahmin python-print tote and placed my book in the inside pocket before it could get any more damaged. Despite the rain, I waited a moment to rise, knowing the impractical albeit cute dark blue sweater dress I was wearing was going to make climbing out of the deck chair without flashing the family of four across from me a shot of my black lace panties a little difficult. The fabric knee-high boots certainly didn’t help. Flipping my legs over to one side, I placed one palm on the armrest and focused on using my thigh muscles to launch myself out of the deep and low chair.

Picking up my bag, I stuck my tongue out at the nasty little concession guy who had stood by and witnessed my contorted efforts. Whatever happened to chivalry? Were there no gentlemen left in the world to help a damsel in distress?

Sighing, I realized there were no Mr. Darcys in the real world.

Yanking the hem of my sweater dress down over my thighs, I promised myself I would wear a practical pair of jeans tomorrow when I went to check out the Sherlock museum. Although I would probably pair them with my new pair of purple platform patent-leather boots that I had just gotten at a tiny basement shop in Soho. So London punk! I loved them. Besides, in two days I would officially be a fashion student living in London. I couldn’t just muck about in torn jeans and a t-shirt! I might as well scream, American! If this was going to be my new home, I needed to fit in and look the part.

The rain started to come down harder. I could see small pools forming amid the blades of bright green and yellow grass. This was going to ruin my boots! Cringing as my heel sank into the soft, muddy turf, I ran toward the tarmac path. Running a hand through my hair, I could already feel the long length begin to poof and curl as the moisture soaked in. I dipped my head low, hoping to at least preserve my makeup.

Mental note. You live in London now. Buy an umbrella!

Running along the path, I spared a glance at the famous white and black swans that still swam serenely on the lake, caring little for the rain-churned waters about them. I still hadn’t seen one of the famous pelicans but perhaps next weekend. Turning right, I ran past the wooden concession carts and flower beds filled with yellow wallflowers and red tulips toward the main road.

It was far too early to return to my tiny flat. Besides, Jane was probably still there with her boyfriend and I had promised to make myself scarce for the afternoon. I’d just head to the museum. I could easily kill a few hours out of the rain strolling among the galleries. Trafalgar Square was only a few blocks to the right. I’d be soaked through by the time I got to the museum but that was what I got for not wearing a coat in late September or carrying an umbrella.

Reaching The Mall, I threw a glance to my left. The signature red road was darkened to a muddy brown from the rain. The branches on the tree-lined street swayed as the leaves shifted from bright green to their mottled grey underside. The statue of Queen Victoria appeared like a bright white beacon through the gloom. Should I reconsider my decision to save a tour of Buckingham Palace for a special occasion or just go now? No, I would wait. I wanted to finish that other book I was reading, To Marry an English Lord first. It was a silly Cinderella fantasy but a girl could still dream about elegant dresses, jewels, and the possibility of a dashing aristocrat sweeping her off her feet. Too bad people didn’t still dress like they did in the Victorian era. Dating wouldn’t be so terribly horrific if the man showed up in a top hat and tails and was expected to take you to the theater and behave himself. Instead of the modern version of sloppy t-shirts, a Netflix movie, and dick pics.

No wonder I had sworn off men.

Once more I lamented the fact book boyfriends were not real.

Why can’t a girl have her Mr. Darcy?

Pulling the strap of my purse higher onto my shoulder, I stepped into the street getting ready to run across the wide four-lane road to the other side. It was probably stupid not to cross at a crosswalk in this rain but I really wanted to get to someplace dry.

The shrill blast of a car horn was my only warning.

Swinging my head to the right, I realized my error too late.

The large round headlights of a black cab came bearing down on me. Look right! Look right! When will I remember to look right, not left when crossing the streets? My mouth dropped open with a scream as I willed my limbs to move.

Nothing, it was if my feet were in cement.

The screech of the cab’s brakes rent the air as the car swiveled, then pitched sideways in its attempt to stop on the slick street. Still, I couldn’t force myself to move. I felt the splash of muddy water against my lower thighs as the cab’s wheels locked. My heart hammered in my chest as the deafening screech of the cab’s horn roared in my ears.

This is it. This is how I fucking die.

Closing my eyes, I braced for the inevitable crushing impact.

There was a strong band of pressure around my middle as my entire body was lifted and forced against a solid wall of warmth. The toes of my boots skimmed the pavement as I was hurled backwards to the safety of the walkway.

Stunned, I leaned back, my weight supported by the strong arm wrapped protectively around my waist.

Twisting my neck, I looked up into the bluest eyes I had ever seen.

“Don’t worry, love. I’ve got you.”

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