I moved my arm and heard the rattle of a chain.
Forcing my eyes open, I blinked against the bright sunlight filtering through my lace bedroom curtains. I stared at the delicate pattern of twisting, turning shadows the light cast through the lace as my mind tried to focus.
A dull pain in my shoulder once again had me trying to lower my arm, to no avail.
A chain rattled against the bedpost.
This time, the sound jolted me fully awake. I stretched my neck to gaze at my shackled wrist.
Flashes from last night bounced around my brain.
A nightmarish kaleidoscope.
Cruel scenes of sex, violence, and fear.
With my heart clawing to escape my chest, I looked around my bedroom. It appeared to be empty. My gaze fixated on the closed bathroom door. Was he inside? My lower lip trembled as I waited, straining to hear even the slightest sound.
Fear closed my throat when I thought I heard the scuff of a boot heel on tile.
I could barely hear over the pounding of my heart and my own erratic breathing.
Several more seconds passed by.
My eyes watered as I stared at the bathroom doorknob without blinking, waiting to see even the slightest turn.
I sucked air into my lungs as a lightheaded rush made the room blur and swim before my eyes.
Without thinking, I pulled on my wrist in an attempt to rub my forehead.
The chain rattled again as my wrist remained shackled to the bedpost.
I cast a glance over to where the bedroom door had been. It was now hanging by only a few screws from its last remaining hinge, a pile of splinters scattered on the floor nearby. I waited to hear heavy footfalls on the steps beyond.
I lived in a small two-story flat in London. My bedroom and the attached bathroom were the only rooms on the second floor, with just a tiny landing at the top of the stairs. If he was still here, he must be downstairs where he wouldn’t hear the grate of the metal chain against the wooden bedpost. Hopefully.
Locked around my wrist was one end of a pair of handcuffs. It had a longer-than-usual chain in the middle and the other bracelet was attached to the bedpost.
A hiss escaped through my teeth as I tried to turn my body and rise up on my knees. Every muscle screamed in protest. I glanced down at my naked form. My vintage-inspired nightgown with the pretty pink flowers was gone. On the top of my left breast was the faint red outline of a bite mark. Finger-shaped marks marred my inner thighs. Never in my life had I been taken so brutally. It was as if I had let a wild animal into my bedroom.
There wasn’t an inch of my body he hadn’t touched, kissed… bruised.
And he had pushed himself inside my…
No, I wouldn’t think about that now. I needed to get these handcuffs off. I desperately wanted a long, hot shower. I needed to wash the depraved, lust-filled night off my skin. If only it could have been so easy to also erase it from my mind.
Clenching my jaw against the pain, I shifted my hips and rose up onto my knees. I gripped the bedpost for purchase as I looked down at my wrist. Thankfully, there weren’t any red marks from the handcuffs. No visible ones at least.
I lifted my left hand to my throat as I glanced at my reflection in the glass covering the peony print hanging over my bed. There were several round marks encircling my neck where his mouth had sucked and bitten at the soft skin of my throat. Never mind that now. A scarf would cover it. I needed to focus on getting free.
I gripped the handcuff chain and yanked it upward, intending to pull it up and over the end of the bedpost. It didn’t budge. The handcuff bracelet was tightly secured around a decorative indentation in the bedpost. I yanked again. The chain rattled but didn’t move.
With a frustrated whimper, I pulled on my wrist. Scrunching my fingers tightly together, I tried to twist and pull my hand free. The handcuff bracelet dug into the skin below my thumb but wouldn’t slip off my hand.
I swiped at the tears clouding my vision as I tried again and again. The skin around my wrist was scratched and red before I finally gave up. I looked around the tiny bedroom for anything I could use as a tool, but there was nothing. The room only allowed for a four-drawer bureau and a bed. Despite my embarrassment at being found this way, I could try screaming for help, but I doubted anyone would hear me.
My love of all things vintage and gothic had prompted me to rent a flat in an eighteenth-century building located in Whitechapel. Yes, that Whitechapel, of Jack the Ripper fame. The walls were impossibly thick. It was one of the things I loved about the place. I looked at the lattice window to the left of my bed. The window frame had long ago been sealed shut from countless coats of thick white paint. Maybe I could break it? But with what?
I turned my attention back to the four-poster bed. My only hope was to break the post. Shuffling closer to the headboard, I leaned my shoulder against the post and pushed with all my might.
I heard a crack.
It was working!
I pushed harder, ignoring the pain in my shoulder and wrist.
There was another crack as the post gave under my weight. Unfortunately, it didn’t crack near the indentation as I had planned. My efforts had dislodged the post from the headboard and frame. I cried out as the bed collapsed. The footboard with two posts attached fell forward, slamming against the floor. The post not connected to my wrist leaned precariously to one side. The post connected to my wrist lurched to the other side. The mattress and box spring dropped to the floor with a loud thump.
I lay sprawled on the bed, momentarily stunned.
Just then, the bedroom door swung open, violently hitting the wall behind it.
I took one look at the man storming over the threshold toward me and let out a bloodcurdling scream.
Three days earlier
It wasn’t right.
It wasn’t right.
I took the glass vial of noxious crimson liquid and flung it against the wall. A grotesque blood-like stain oozed down the cinder block wall of my lab.
I turned away in disgust and snatched up the pile of files and my research journal.
I turned back to see the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on standing on the threshold. She had pale skin so delicate it appeared almost translucent. Her silky mink-brown hair was piled on top of her head in a fetching old-fashioned style. The kind you saw in old movies where the women wore dresses with bustles and carried parasols. Her dress was black with the kind of skirt that swung out and swished around her knees. Covering her bare arms and dress bodice was a thin black gauze cape. The hand she held to her heart was covered in a small black lace glove with a cute ruffle around the wrist. Perched on her nose was a pair of silver wire-rimmed glasses. The glare from the laboratory lamps was reflected off the lenses, denying me a true look at the color of her eyes.
She looked like a gothic librarian… and was staring with shock and horror at the dripping wet stain I had caused.
Startled by both her reaction and her beauty, I dropped the files I was holding. The endless pages of reports, bar graphs, lists of chemical compositions, and military memos scattered across the pea-green linoleum floor at my feet.
I fell to my knees, wincing at the pain as my body made contact with the hard, unforgiving floor. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was standing there.”
Uncaring about their order, I grabbed at the papers and shuffled them into a chaotic mess of a pile.
As I kept my head lowered, her pale, black-lace-covered hand appeared within my line of vision. “Let me, Dr. Jekyll.”
Her voice was like a dark sonnet on an overcast day, sweet with just a hint of sadness.
I inhaled her perfume. It smelled like white lilies.
I shook my head. This was madness. Sonnets? Lilies? What the hell was I thinking? I was a scientist, not some addled schoolboy trying to write tortured lines of poetry to a pretty girl.
Not knowing how to respond, I just nodded my head. In silence, we gathered up the papers together. Several times our hands brushed one another as we did so. I gritted my teeth against my body’s reaction to her innocent and unintentional touches. While on her knees, she bent low and reached under my mass spectrometry bench for an errant sheet. Against my will, I noticed the round curve of her ass and glimpsed her slim thighs as her skirt hiked up in the back.
She glanced over her shoulder and caught me looking.
I coughed as I looked away, pretending to be preoccupied with retrieving a particular memo.
Several agonizing seconds later, I lifted the haphazard pile of documents and files into my arms and tossed them onto the top of my workbench.
The beautiful woman rose with me. She laughed as she patted the protruding corners of the papers in her hands, forcing them into a neat, if disorganized pile. “I guess this will be my first task.”
I stared at her, saying nothing.
The welcoming smile on her pink lips faded. She gestured over her shoulder. “Unless you wanted me to clean up that mess on the wall first?” She started to pull off her black lace gloves.
I placed a palm over her hands, stopping her.
Her eyes widened as she turned her face up to meet mine.
Her eyes were green.
A stunning, deep emerald green with tiny flecks of gold.
They sparkled like some unearthly gemstone.
At her questioning look, I pulled my hand back, clutching it to my chest as if I had been burned. “I’m sorry, but who are you?”
She blushed. “No! I should apologize for just barging into your lab like this.” She held out her hand. “I’m Catherine. Catherine Poole, your new lab assistant. The university hired me.”
I shook her hand as I processed the information.
I had specifically told the dean of my university that I did not require an assistant. My work was in too delicate of a stage for any form of distraction or interference. Besides, I was working on a highly secretive military project for Her Majesty’s Government. Bl88dX# was a formula I was creating that would temporarily inhibit a soldier’s natural response to violence. It was to be used as an effective tool in warfare by creating an immunity in soldiers to any hesitant reaction when faced with the threat of death. Essentially it would be extra bravery in a vial. It worked by superficially inflating both adrenaline and testosterone in the blood.
At least it was supposed to work like that.
So far, my tests had proved frustratingly inconclusive.
I needed to advance to human trials if I was going to complete my work.
So far, testing with rabbits had been a disaster.
Two white rabbits that I had given a moderate dose had torn at each other’s throats. Bile still rose in my throat at the memory of the sight of all that matted white fur covered in blood. The rabbits had clawed and scratched the hell out of my hand as I desperately reached into the cage to separate them before they killed each other.
Clearly, my formula required human testing. I was wasting precious time with animals. My research was intended to tap into a soldier’s natural instinct of bravery and fortify it. How was I to achieve this without testing the formula on the human brain?
However, up until now, the university where I worked had refused to submit my formula for human trials, repeatedly contending that more research was required. If I didn’t present something within the next four weeks, I was in danger of losing funding for my lab.
I couldn’t let that happen… not when I was so close to success.
I focused my gaze on the seemingly innocent woman before me.
She obviously was a plant by the university. They’d probably hired her to spy on me and my research. They knew how strenuously I had objected to having an assistant—no matter how pretty—in my lab.
My research was at a crucial stage and highly confidential. I couldn’t let some random graduate student looking for a break on their tuition into my inner sanctum. It was unthinkable.
She awkwardly pulled her hand from my grasp when I held on to it for too long.
Filling the tense silence, she continued, “I have my credentials here.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a white, neatly folded piece of paper. “The university asked me to assure you that I am not a graduate student. I have advanced degrees in chemistry and bioengineering from both the Imperial College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.”
I continued to stare at her, not reaching for the piece of paper she offered.
After a long pause, she opened the paper and held it up for me to see. “I was also given the necessary top secret clearances by the military to work on this project with you.”
I blinked several times, trying to gather myself together. Finally, I spoke. “I’m sorry, Miss…”
“Poole. Catherine Poole.”
“Yes, I’m sorry, but you’ve been misinformed. I do not require a lab assistant on this project.”
“Please, Dr. Jekyll. If you’d only give me a chance. I’ve read into the details, and I have to say I admire and respect what you are doing here.”
My eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
She held her hand to her heart. “Why, creating a formula that would enhance the bravery of Her Majesty’s soldiers, of course. Allowing those men and women to set aside their fears and focus on protecting our country will probably save thousands of lives. Just think of all the deaths that could happen if a soldier hesitates, even for a split second, before pulling a trigger or giving the all-clear for a drone strike.”
She was lying.
I could tell.
She was just telling me what I wanted to hear, trying to get me to trust her.
Turning my back on her, I gathered up the papers and held them close to my chest. “As I’ve said, there has been a mistake. I do not require an assistant.”
Catherine’s shoulders slumped. She neatly refolded the paper and tucked it into her purse. “Thank you for your time, Dr. Jekyll. I’m sorry to have disturbed your work.”
Without another word of protest, she turned and left.
The floral scent of her perfume lingered long after she was gone.