Did you miss Chapters 1-12? You can find them here.
Did you miss Chapters 13-24? You can find them here.
Did you miss Chapters 25-36? You can find them here.
Someone grabs my arm. I’m so convinced it’s Owen that I lean into the touch without taking my eyes off the bell tower.
“I found Willow,” Kat says in a hollow voice.
I grab her arm, holding onto her as tightly as she’s holding onto me. The tower is so high, it’s difficult to make out much except Willow’s pale pink dress, and her hair blowing in the wind.
“What do we do?” I whisper. Now that the music has stopped and everyone around is silent, staring up at the tower like we are, a surreal hush has fallen over the Firefly Ball.
“There’s nothing we can do. I heard someone call the sheriff’s department, but it will take them a few minutes to get here.”
That’s when my eyes catch sight of movement in one of the bell tower’s windows, slightly below where Willow’s standing. From what I remember when I was up there, the security mesh on one of those windows was coming loose. Willow must have wrenched it off in order to climb out.
People closer to the base of the tower start yelling. I squint, Kat and I both leaning forward to get a better look at what’s happening.
“Oh, my God… is that…?”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Kat murmurs. “If it isn’t Mr. Dalton, trying to save the fucking day.”
My heart shoots into my throat. “He’s going to die!”
“Strange,” Kat says, giving me a sidelong glance. “You didn’t sound nearly so concerned about Willow a minute ago.”
I let out an indignant gasp and punch Kat’s arm. She snickers, but neither of us can take our eyes off the tower.
It looks like Owen has slipped out of one of the much smaller windows interspaced along the inside of the stairwell leading up to the tower. I remember them being very narrow—I don’t know how he managed to get his body through that gap.
“He’s going to die,” I say again, my voice heavy with dread.
“Yeah… I’d love to know what the hell he was thinking. He seems as suicidal as Willow right now.”
My heart aches at Kat’s comment. I wouldn’t dare to think I’m that important to Owen… but what if it was something I said? I called him out for doing what he did to Willow… what if he thought doing something as stupidly brave as this was the only way he could make up for it?
Everyone around us gasps when Owen leans out of the window, only his feet and a single hand keeping him attached to the windowsill. We’re close enough to the base of the tower to hear him speak.
“Willow! Hey, it’s me. Can you hear me?”
Willow’s body jerks, and the crowd gasps again. She grabs onto the inside of the window and carefully peers down. When she sees Owen below her, she turns to the side and clings desperately onto the side of the window. If she says something, I can’t hear it. All that reaches us are broken sobs.
“Willow, I need you to open the door.”
My heart clenches. “Oh, fuck, the door!”
I glance at Kat before tilting my face up again. “There’s a door at the top of the stairs. She must have found a way to block it. That’s why he can’t get into the tower.”
“And you know this how?”
“I… I’ve been up there. With him.” I can feel Kat staring at me, demanding more, but fuck it if there aren’t more important things to deal with right now.
“Well, if she’s locked herself inside, I don’t know how he’s going to help her.”
“He can talk her down.”
Kat snorts. “Owen? Have you forgotten he’s the reason she’s up there to begin with?”
I spin to face her. “You don’t know that.”
She gives me a deadpan look that shifts to my neck before returning to my eyes. “You’ve fallen harder than those two are about to, haven’t you?”
“Willow!” Owen’s voice draws our attention back to the tower. He glances down, and I swear for a second we lock eyes. But it has to be my imagination because I’m just one person in a sea of faces. And if I were him, all I’d be concerned with was how far away the ground was.
“Please, Willow,” he says. “I made a mistake.”
My hand flies to my throat, and that’s when I realize I’m still wearing Owen’s collar. That’s what Kat was looking at… and suddenly I’m not so sure that she’s wrong about me. I mean, if I didn’t feel something for Owen, I’d be rooting for him to slip and fall, wouldn’t I? But right now, I can’t think of anything worse than either him or Willow crashing to the ground.
“It doesn’t matter!” Willow yells down to him. “It’s not the first time I’ve been forgotten, or abandoned. It happens—” She cuts off, twisting her head away to let out a wild laugh that sends a chill racing through my body. “It happens all the time. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of trying so hard just to live a normal life, and failing. Every day I fail, Owen. I can’t keep doing it. I can’t keep trying, just to fail. What’s the point if everyone just keeps forgetting and abandoning me for the rest of my life?”
“Fuck,” Kat mutters beside me. “Jesus, I feel so fucking bad. I had no idea…”
“Me neither,” I whisper back. Kat and I lock hands, gripping each other tight.
Owen drops his head before looking up at Willow again. “My God, Willow, you couldn’t be more wrong. You’re a wonderful person. Any guy would be lucky to have you. I’d be lucky to have you.”
Willow says nothing, but at least she’s listening to him.
“And you won’t be alone forever. You’re meant to be with someone, and that person will never abandon you or forget you.”
“You can’t possibly know that!” she yells. “And I’m not going to keep fighting if there’s nothing to fight for!”
Owen is silent for a beat before he says, “You’re right. I don’t know what will happen. But, Willow, neither do you. If you do this…” He looks down, and again I feel a spark of heat as our eyes lock. Again, I brush it off as coincidence. “None of us know what’s coming, but that means it can be anything we want it to be. You have the power to become whoever you want, Willow. Don’t give that up.”
Willow clings onto the window as she stares down at Owen, and I know I’m not the only person who’s holding my breath.
“I c-can’t,” Willow says through a sob. “I can’t!”
Owen puts out his hand. “Then let me help you. Open the door, Willow. Let’s talk.”
Kat starts squeezing my hand ever tighter. “No, no, no,” she whispers fervently.
“I’m sorry, Owen.” Willow swipes at her face with one hand. “I can’t. It hurts too much. I just want it to be over.”
Hundreds of mouths open to gasp. Myriad upturned faces go pale. Everyone knows what’s coming, but no one can do a thing about it.
Head hanging down, hair curtaining her face, Willow steps over the edge of the window and plummets down.
I just want it to be over.
Defeat lies heavy on Willow’s words. For a moment, I lock eyes with her. We’re only two or three yards away, but it might as well be a fucking chasm.
I can’t say anything to make her open that door. There’s no way for me to convince her that she shouldn’t end her own life. I’ve only known her a short while, but it seems Willow’s had to face a lifetime of disappointment and despair. Honestly, in her shoes, wouldn’t I be tempted to do the same?
To end the pain?
Willow watches me for a long moment and mouths, “Sorry.”
I barely have time to react when she steps off the windowsill. I’m already picturing her flying past, her hair straight up in the air, her dress trapped against her legs. I’m convinced I have the best seat in the house as I watch a girl I dismissed as unimportant falls to her death.
And I’d be the number one reason why she’ll never witness another sunset, or fall in love, or find out what her life could have become.
I can’t let that happen. I won’t let that happen.
I scramble down from the window, my stomach folding over the thin sill as I shove my hands out into the cool night air. There’s a blur—Willow’s body passing—and then a sudden, impossibly heavy weight.
I’m dimly aware of a gasp from the crowd below as my fingers latch onto the back of Willow’s dress. I grab desperately at the flimsy fabric, my heart stalling when it begins to rip. Willow screams, reaching up and grabbing hold of my wrist. Her weight drags my body down, until I’m folding over the window with those sharply edged stones cutting into my flesh.
If she’d fought me, I’d have dropped her.
But I guess she didn’t like the way gravity felt when it was sucking her toward the ground—and oblivion—because now she’s clawing for her life.
“Willow, stop moving!” I yell down.
But she’s screaming like a gutted pig, her legs kicking out furiously below her. I’m drawn another inch through the window, my toes leaving the ground. There’s a sickening moment when I feel myself tipping forward in slow motion as the scales of the universe slowly readjust. “Willow!”
She throws her head back, gazing up at me with terror-stricken eyes.
“Stop moving, or we’re going to die.” Maybe my words sober her. Maybe she finally realizes that she’s making matters worse. Or maybe, once again, she’s just done fighting. Whatever the reason, Willow finally stops kicking and wriggling. She clamps onto my wrist with both hands, determination on her face.
But it’s too late.
Gravity has concluded its calculations… and found me wanting.
I tip forward, the stone scraping painfully across my belly as Willow’s weight drags me further out of the window. I look past Willow, desperate for something to latch onto, and for the last time, I find Evie in the crowd.
Our eyes lock, and I heave a sigh of relief. All that disgust, that fear, that pain that had been in her eyes… it’s gone. She stares up at me with utter calm, and it’s ridiculous to think it’s even possible, but I swear I can feel a kind of love blossoming in her heart.
Or maybe it’s just my brain giving me a final hurrah before it’s smeared across the paving below.
I stare at Evie, and she peers up at me as I’m drawn inexorably over the windowsill to my death.
And then a hand grabs my belt, another my left foot, another my right.
Am I hallucinating?
A sudden jolt makes Willow cry out in fear, and sends pain shooting through my midriff where the stones are scraping over my skin.
“Pull!” a voice bellows behind me.
I grimace at Willow, and she stares up at me with hope flickering in her eyes as we’re both slowly drawn back up. My feet touch the ground. Hands reach past me through the narrow opening of the window, and grab Willow, hauling her inside.
We all crash together in a pile of bodies, and I get an elbow in my jaw before I can scramble to my feet. Liam stands, brushing off his now-grubby white tuxedo. A moment later, Oz and Sterling and Wilder are at my side too.
Willow stays in a heap on the floor, her dress rumpled and her hair a bedraggled mess. She claps her hands over her face and burst into tears. Oz drops to her side, cradling her against him, holding her tight as he looks up at the rest of the Royals. There’s a tormented panic on his face, but none of us seem to know what to say.
I turn and stick my head out the window again, but as much as I scan the crowd, I can’t see Evie. Below, the crowd cheers, but I don’t bother to acknowledge them before running down the stairs two at a time.
“Owen! Where the fuck are you going?” Sterling calls after me.
I wince as the sudden movements pull at the scrapes and bruises on my stomach, giving Sterling a dismissive wave over my shoulder.
“I just saved your life!”
“Thanks!” I yell without looking back. “Remind me to buy you a beer.”
I burst out into the courtyard, hunting feverishly through the crowds. My height is a true advantage, allowing me to easily pick out anyone I want to… if they were here. When I catch sight of a blue head of hair, I angle toward it, ignoring everyone I pass who’s trying to grab my clothes or shake my hand or lay some bullshit on me about how fucking heroic I am.
Kat stands waiting for me. “Congratulations on cleaning up your mess, Mr. Dalton.” She shrugs as she pushes past me. “Next time, you might want to consider not fucking up so badly in the first place.”
I stare after her, open-mouthed and still panting for breath. Kat’s never been my fan, but I couldn’t care less right now. “Where’s Evie?”
Kat glances at me over her shoulder, giving me a disparaging onceover. “She’s gone, Owen.”
I shouldn’t be here, but I can’t fight the dark compulsion that forces me back to the Walsh House. I have no reason to suspect Evie would be here—Kat said she didn’t say where she was going—but something inside me knows I’ll find her there.
And when I do, I immediately regret it.
She’s in the laundry room, angrily shoving her uniform into the machine. I stand in the doorway of the small room, picking out her scent from the soap and dryer sheets hanging thick in the air. She slams the door and turns the knob, stepping back and watching as the machine begins a wash cycle. She’s in sweats, her hair pulled up into a messy bun, and it pisses me off that she looks just as beautiful now as she did at the ball in her resplendent dress and gorgeous collar.
Evie turns to leave, gasping when she sees me filling the doorway. “You… you scared me.”
“Is that why you keep running?” I ask, sliding my hands up the inside of the door, well and truly blocking her. “Because I scare you?”
Her lips twist. “God, you’re so full of shit.” She comes closer, but hesitates when she realizes she’ll have to come into contact with me to get out. She falls back, her face setting like stone. “Move.”
“I’m not done with you yet.”
She laughs softly. “See, that’s what I don’t understand. You’re not an idiot, so that must mean you’re either incredibly stubborn or just plain delusional.” She tilts her head to the side. “So, which one is it?”
I hate to admit it, but she’s right. I’ve never had to fight so hard for a fuck in my life. Is she really worth it?
I shake my head, banishing the thought. “I get it,” I say quietly, taking my hands away from the door. “You’re not scared. You’re ashamed.”
Her eyes flinch, but she smooths that pain away so quickly, I could have imagined it. “Move… or I’ll scream.”
“We’re alone, Evie.”
She bites her lower lip. “Then get it over with.”
I frown, and she rolls her eyes at me, looking away as she lets out another bitter laugh. “You came here to do something, Owen. Something to me. What will it be this time? Your belt? Your hand?” She drops her eyes to my crotch. “Your cock? Whatever it is, just get it over with.”
Anger I can handle, but this? Her sullen resignation cuts me deeply… and it makes no fucking sense.
Why I give in and do exactly what she expects of me, fuck knows. But there’s no surprise in her eyes when I charge her, grab her around the waist, and slam her down on top of the churning washing machine.
She leans back and opens her legs like the submissive plaything I forced her to become. But despite how hard I get when she grabs my cock and gives it a squeeze, I feel nothing.
My darkness doesn’t care. It smells blood in the water, and nothing will stop it taking what it wants.
I drag her sweats down her legs, letting them dangle from one of her feet as I grab her hips and drag her closer to the edge of the washing machine. I yank my dick out, giving it a single hard pump before lining it up with her entrance.
“That’s it,” she says in a flat voice. “You let it all out for me.”
I slam into her to the hilt, forcing a gasp of pain from her. “Careful, Evie,” I growl in her ear. “Just because you’re my favorite toy, doesn’t mean I won’t break you.”
When I grab her messy bun and wrench her head back, there are tears glittering on her lashes. But she grits her teeth and blinks rapidly, refusing to let them fall. “It’s cute that you think there’s anything left to break.”
She wraps her legs around my waist, sending another rush of rage through me. I pull on her hair, forcing her to arch her neck, and graze on her skin as I start fucking her in earnest. She begins to pant, hints of pain in each sharp exhale.
“That’s. It,” she whispers, the words jolted out of her with each violent thrust. “Break. Me.”
I’m so fucking close, I can barely hold back. But every time she calls me out, it holds my orgasm at bay. So I turn, glare at her, and trap her mouth with mine.
She kisses me back twice as hard, her tongue pushing between my teeth. Hands that had been pushing against my pecs instead latch onto my shoulders.
My hips move faster, my cock filling every inch of her tight pussy. Our bodies smack wetly against each other, slicked with her arousal, scorched by the heat of friction.
“Yeah, that’s it,” she whispers when I break off our kiss so I can come. I had to—there was no fucking oxygen left in my lungs.
I sink my fingers cruelly into her ass as I slam into her over and over, holding her firmly in place as I fill her to overflowing with my seed. She squirms and writhes around my dick, trying to get enough friction on her clit so she can come too.
Keeping my cock buried deep, I wrench her head away, staring into her eyes. “You’re right, Evie,” I murmur, my breathing labored. I shove a hand between us so I can tweak her clit. Her eyelashes flutter until I start rubbing her instead. “I can’t break something that’s already been broken.”
She comes with a frantic wail, her hips grinding against mine. My dick starts to harden again as her pussy clenches it, desperately trying to milk it as she rides out her orgasm.
And when she’s finally done… I force her to come again.
Her second orgasm drags a haggard gasp from her lips, her body shuddering against mine as I give her barely an inch of movement from where my cock’s impaling her.
“Okay!” Her glazed eyes struggle to focus on my face. “Owen, please, you’ve… made your point.”
“Pity I’m so stubborn.”
She starts struggling, but with my body wedged between her thighs, there’s not much she can do to get away from me. And despite her protests, her body is more than eager to climb that precipice and fall—shattering her a third time as I grind the heel of my palm against her clit.
She lets out a wretched sob, a tear racing down her cheek as her body goes limp. “You fucking asshole,” she whimpers when I start stroking her clit again.
I drag my cock out of her, ignoring how desperately I want to drive into her and fill her with my cum all over again. I give her clit a parting slap with my hand, and her body convulses, a sharp gasp escaping her lips.
I let go of her and step back, struggling to get my dick back in my suit pants. She sags, her thighs still spread, my seed leaking out of her pussy.
“Fuck you,” she groans.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to find someone else to do that,” I say, giving her a cold smile. “I finally got the message, Evie.”
My phone vibrates in the breast pocket of my blazer, and I take it out to peek at the message.
R U OK?
I shove the phone back and swipe my keycard to open my dorm room. Dropping my backpack at the foot of my bed, I collapse on the mattress with a heavy sigh.
“Seriously, could you keep it down?”
Rolling my head to the side, I give my new roommate a dull-eyed stare. She blinks at me from behind her glasses for a moment before going back to her studying.
I never thought I’d miss Kat, but I do. Sharon does nothing but study, and yells at me if I make even the slightest noise.
It’s been a week since I’ve been back in the girls’ dorm room. The repairs were completed the weekend of the Firefly Ball, and when I found out I could move out of the Walsh House, I was thrilled.
Ever since that night, I’d been hiding in my room, hoping against all hope Owen wouldn’t slip inside and change my mind again. But he seems to have finally gotten the message, because he wasn’t at the Walsh House that entire weekend. Kat mentioned something about him going home to visit his parents.
I let out another sigh. I thought I was being quiet, but Sharon groans and starts packing up her stuff. “This is ridiculous,” she mutters. “Try loosening your corset if you can’t breathe properly.”
And with that, she stomps out of the room.
Well, thank God for that.
I shove my hand under my pillow and take out the glittery sapphire collar from the Firefly Ball. I twist it in my fingers, letting the light play over the gorgeous stones.
I left because I knew what would happen. Owen would come over and expect everything to be different just because he’d saved Willow’s life. I know he’s not the sole reason she climbed out on that window ledge, but he was definitely the last straw.
My phone vibrates again, but I ignore it assuming it’s another message from Kat. She’s been calling and texting me nonstop to find out if I’m okay. I’ve hardly said two words to her since the ball. I know it’s not her fault, but I feel like communicating with anyone even loosely connected to Owen or the Royals would just pull me back into that dark web.
Which begs the question—why do you still have that collar?
The rational part of me knows it’s valuable. I could sell it and probably fund the entire second year at college with the proceeds. But the irrational part of my brain can’t let it go because of how important the collar is to me.
I wish that part of my brain would let me know why it’s so fucking important.
It because it represents a part of my life I’d rather forget, but at the same time, it’s something I keep being drawn back to.
Owen had no idea what was happening in that video he watched. Hell, I didn’t either. I was so doped up with whatever Brent gave me, I remembered nothing the next day. I woke up on his couch, and he told me we’d both had too much to drink, but he’d been a gentleman and left me to sleep there instead of taking me to bed.
And I’d believed him.
It took my spiteful ex-boyfriend a week to implement phase two of his plan. He’d arrived unexpectedly at my house, catching me and my family completely off guard. I thought he’d came to ask me to rethink our relationship… but he’d come armed with a video on his phone.
Just me and my mom were home at the time. I’m sure Brent planned it that way because he knew my father would fuck him up. Between my Dad and me, I don’t know who was more shocked by the video.
The video showed me naked, bound at hands and feet, wearing a BDSM collar. Brent—who’d had the foresight to wear a mask—was fucking me from behind. I seemed to be enjoying myself thoroughly, as was clearly evidenced by the several close-up shots of my face.
Mother nearly passed out when she saw it, and that was before Brent told us how much money he wanted from us. He knew my father made bank as an engineer. He knew my family didn’t spend much of it because we lived a very middle-class life.
It was laughable that he thought we’d give it to him, but when he’d threatened to post the video on social media and add the church’s hashtag, my mother ran for her checkbook.
None of it should have ended the way it did. In the real world, we’d have reported Brent to the police. Mother would never have handed over that money. We’d have told my father, and he’d have sorted everything out.
But shame is a powerful deterrent. At that moment though, I couldn’t bear the thought of my dad seeing that video, and neither could my mother. She made me swear not to breathe a word to anyone.
A week went by. Then two. I thought it was over.
Back in the now, lying on the bed in my dorm room at Pinecrest University, I let out a dry, bitter laugh as I run my fingers over the diamond-studded collar. I was an idiot back then. So idealistic. So fucking naive. When Brent said he’d deleted the video, I’d actually believed him.
But he wasn’t done punishing me yet.
On the third week, days after I’d assumed the money had cleared in whatever offshore account he’d hidden it in, Brent released the video anyway.
And the fucker hash-tagged my mother’s church, just like he’d threatened to.
The uproar from the community was immediate, and shocking. In my darkest nightmares, I’d never imagined everyone in my life would turn on me like that. My friends, my neighbors… my family.
Because Brent was anonymous, all that hate came straight at me.
I was slut-shamed from the moment I set foot in the hall at my high school until I left an hour later, in tears. I missed a month of schoolwork, and nearly didn’t graduate.
My family disintegrated. My father was livid when he found out my mother had paid off Brent. He and my mother fought every time they saw each other, blaming each other for the way their slutty daughter had turned out.
And all the while, I was too ashamed to admit that I didn’t even remember Brent taking the video. I blamed myself for being stupid enough to go to his house, to drink anything he’d offered me…to believe him when I woke up on the couch.
My parents forced me to see a therapist. But I couldn’t even tell her the truth. And she knew I was keeping something from her, so she never gave me the all clear. Mom spent more and more time at the church. She would come home late and leave early. Soon her and my father weren’t even speaking to each other anymore.
Then, the day after I graduated, they had a massive blowout. I guess my father couldn’t take it anymore, because he told me that we were moving out of the city to try to scrape together a life away from the nuclear fallout of that video.
But I guess we didn’t go far enough.
If that video made it all the way out here, to this small town in the middle of nowhere, then I’ll never be able to escape my past. Five, ten years from now, I’ll be applying for a job somewhere, and the person in charge of hiring would have seen it.
Honestly, when my dad said we’re moving out here, hope blossomed in my crushed heart for the first time in months. I wanted to believe it too—that we could take a long car ride and it would all be different. Like flipping a switch.
But then I met Owen.
I wish I’d known he saw me on that video before we even met. I wouldn’t have been such a fool. Instead, it felt like we were meant to be together. Like he was the yang to my yin.
There was a reason I moaned like a cheap whore on that video. I did enjoy it. Brent and I had dabbled in some BDSM before. I loved being tied up, having him fuck me roughly from behind. We’d never tried spanking and stuff like that, but we probably would have… if he hadn’t fucked someone else.
I’ve thought about it a lot since then. What would have happened if I’d just forgiven him instead of breaking up? Would he still have raped me? Still have blackmailed me? Still have ruined my life?
My life would have been shitty either way… but at least I wouldn’t have dragged my parents down with me.
Bringing the collar to my mouth, I brush the smooth, cool stones against my lips.
I know why I kept this. I don’t want to admit it, but I miss him. I miss Owen. When I was with him, I didn’t feel like a freak or a slut. It was exciting and new… but in a good way. In a healthy way.
Which doesn’t say much about how fucked up my life was before I knew him.
I wish I’d met him before I met Brent. If he’d been my first, everything would have been different. We’d have been able to explore our darker sides together.
But it’s too late to change what happened. Too late to fix my life. I’ve fucked it up too badly.
I’m destined to be alone, unloved, shamed.
And honestly, it’s what I deserve.
I’m in the games room, earbuds blasting music that fails to drown out Evie’s moans. The video ends, and I tap to replay it. It’s no wonder I felt like she enjoyed our time together. She did. But despite my honest intentions for re-watching this video a thousand times since the Firefly Ball, I still feel wrong knowing she never consented to it.
“You know there’s a site for that now, right?” If Sterling hadn’t been yelling, I wouldn’t have heard him through the music. I snatch out one of my earbuds and twist my head to glare at him over the back of the couch.
“I thought you’d all gone to the game.”
“Forgot my phone,” Sterling says. “And I’m expecting a very important call.”
“From your mother?” I quip dryly, setting my phone in my lap, screen down.
“Nice one.” Sterling grabs the back of the couch and vaults over it, landing so hard that I almost bounce off the seat. He beckons at my phone. “Lemme see.”
“You’re no fun,” he says, and then narrows his eyes. “Wait… I remember that one. I sent it to you like months ago.” He digs in his pocket and takes out his phone. When I lunge at him to take it away, he holds it up out of reach with a laugh. “Whoa, easy, tiger. You’ve got no say in what porn I do and do not watch.”
He frowns at the serious tone in my voice. “What? Like I’m going to judge you? I was the one who forwarded it to you.”
I clench my jaw, but his curiosity is already piqued. And, judging from how quickly he locates that old video on his phone, it was probably only a matter of time before he watched it again.
This is what I say to try to console myself, of course. It doesn’t help, because I know what’s coming.
Sterling starts playing the video, a lewd grin on his face as he bobs his head up in down in appreciation. “Oh, yeah… this was a good one. Excellent production value for such an amateurish…”
His grin slowly fades. His eyes dart to me before going back to his phone. “Dude. No. Is that…?”
I sigh as I rake my fingers through my hair. “Yeah.”
“Jesus fucking Christ. I knew she looked familiar.”
Sterling glances up at me again, eyes narrowed. “How long have you known it was her? Did you recognize her straight away? Is that why you’ve been so obsessed with her? Bro!”
“I didn’t—” I cut off, growling. “I had no idea until now, okay? Now could you stop watching, you fucking perv?”
“Yeah, fine,” Sterling says through a laugh. “It’d be weird anyway, especially if you guys started dating.”
I let out a bitter chuckle. “No chance of that.”
He gives me a dismissive wave as he lifts his hips from the couch to rummage inside his pocket for his box of cigarettes. He pulls out a joint and lights it, his voice tight as he holds in the smoke. “Everyone’s a little shook up about Willow right now. Soon as the terror of watching someone else’s existential crisis boil over fades, she’ll come running back to you.”
I hesitate when he offers the joint to me, but I finally take it from him. Maybe it’ll drown out the shopping list of memories that keep scrolling through my mind.
Re-watching that video didn’t help, of course, but I told myself it was a means to an end. Now I’m more stumped than before.
“Christ, should I light my own?” Sterling asks. I realize I’ve smoked half the blunt by myself. He takes it with a deep frown creasing his brow. “What’s up with you lately? You’ve been weird as fuck.”
I shrug. “Just got shit on my mind.”
“Yeah, we all do, Owen, but you know that’s not what I’m talking about. Plus, you were acting strange way before Willow went up that bell tower.”
Thank God for the weed, else I might have socked Sterling in the fucking jaw for the unnecessary reminder that I’d nearly cost someone their life.
I sit forward, intending to stand, but Sterling lays a hand on my shoulder. It shouldn’t, but that weight keeps me seated. That, and the weed. Sterling likes the kind of shit that gives you roots.
“If you need to get something off your chest, I’m here,” my friend says. “And if it’s something you need me to forget after, then there’s a bottle of whiskey over there with our names on it.”
I glance over at the drinks station. It’s a tempting fucking offer… but it’s difficult enough keeping my urges at bay without bringing alcohol into the mix. No wonder I attacked Evie outside the library at the Firefly Ball. No fucking wonder she used her only line of defense against me—the double-edged sword of her painful past.
Sterling finishes the joint while I sit there, perched on the edge of the couch. I keep willing myself to leave, to get over all this shit, to get over Evie… but that girl’s got her claws in me good and proper. I haven’t been able to think about anything else since I trapped her in the laundry room the other night.
Afterward, I couldn’t stand the thought of being so near to her after what I’d done, so I went home for the weekend.
I’ve never felt as crushed as I did the day I got back to the Walsh House and Kat told me Evie had moved back to the campus dorm rooms. But I couldn’t blame her—I was the one who’d driven her away. Instead of helping her overcome her fear, her shame… I’d managed to find a way to make it even worse.
Your hypocrisy knows no bounds.
“Do you ever wonder how your life would be if you’d done shit differently?”
Sterling gives a dry laugh. “All the fucking time. But what’s the point? You’ll just make yourself miserable.” For just a moment, there’s a dark edge to his voice I haven’t heard before. He glances at me, a cynical grin on his face. “Don’t worry, dude. No matter how badly you fuck up, you’ll always be a Dalton. That should give you some comfort.”
“That’s supposed to make me happy?”
Sterling shrugs. “If it doesn’t, you could always buy a key of coke. That’ll make anyone happy.”
He’s wrong. Being a Dalton is a poor replacement for losing Evie. Which itself is probably the wrong way to think about her.
Did you ever really have her to begin with?
“I’m assuming this is about the white-haired temptress who left in such a rush last week?” Sterling says, squinting at me over a rising coil of smoke. “Because you do seem more depressed than usual. I thought it was the whole Willow thing.”
“It’s not that. I mean, it is…” I rake my fingers through my hair again, shifting uneasily. “I feel like shit about what happened.”
“And you should, but didn’t we just establish there’s no point getting stuck in the past?” Sterling shrugs. “For all we know, this was the best thing for Willow. What if she’d chosen to try slicing her wrists when no one was home? Now at least she’s getting some help.”
I brush away the thought that any of this was better.
A familiar feeling comes flooding back then, twice as strong—longing.
For her. For what we had.
And fuck it if that’s not the right word… I felt something. There was a connection. I enjoyed the games we played, and if that makes me a sick bastard, then so fucking what? Nothing new there for an asshole like me.
“What a fucked-up start to the year,” I mumble. “But at least it can’t get any worse than this.”
Sterling whistles through his teeth. “Dangerous words, man. Fucking dangerous. Shit can always get worse.”
I look at him, again sensing something deeper, darker, under his words. But he plasters another smile on his face. “You know… you could change history if you wanted to. You’re a fucking Dalton. It’s like one of your superpowers.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
Sterling shrugs, but there’s an impish gleam in his eyes. “Normal people, they can’t do shit about whatever’s happened. But you?” He snaps his fingers. “What’s stopping you from rewriting history?”
“What do you mean?”
“Willow. You can put out a press release. Flip the whole thing on its head. Make everyone see you for the hero you are.”
“Think I care about that?” I mutter, sinking back into the couch. I almost thought he’d come up with some way for me to change the way I’d treated Evie.
A way to fix all the shit I’d broken.
Sterling lapses into silence, and I’m grateful for it. The weed is suffusing my mind with calm, and for once, I’m able to think about Evie without rage getting in the way.
We were good together. I just approached it wrong. I tried to force her into something she didn’t want.
Or maybe… just maybe… she wasn’t ready. After what happened to her, I can understand that she’d be hesitant to get into similar situations again. The few times she’d submitted to me, it was obvious she enjoyed it… but something would always drag her out of that state.
She is well and truly broken, my toy. Like Cinderella’s slipper, or Snow White’s glass coffin.
So what if I could find all her pieces—wherever they were—and put her back together again? Maybe Sterling is right. Maybe I do have the power to rewrite history?
“That video,” I say, slowly sinking back into my seat. “Is there any way to trace where it came from?”
Sterling cocks an eyebrow at me. “What, so you can track down her ex and kill him for daring to fuck the girl you like?”
I clench my jaw, and Sterling quickly puts up his hands. “It’s a joke, dude.” Then he mutters to himself, “Christ, you used to have a sense of humor before Evie came on the scene.”
It’s not my place to go around telling Evie’s secrets to anyone who asks. “Just tell me if it’s possible.”
“I’m sure it is,” Sterling says. “But you’d probably have to hire a PI and pay him a small fortune to do it. Especially something this old.”
“It’s from a couple of months back.”
“Online, a couple of months is ancient history.” Sterling lights a cigarette, watching me as he makes the cherry glow virulent orange. “This isn’t going to work, Owen.”
I roll my lips together, looking away. “Yeah, I didn’t think so.”
“I mean, trying to be a hero.”
I glare at him. “What?”
Sterling waves a hand toward his phone. “That’s it, isn’t it? I’m guessing Evie found out you saw her video, and now she doesn’t like the thought of it being online. And you think by getting it taken down, you can score enough brownie points to get back in her pants.” Sterling shrugs when my glare doesn’t shift one iota. “Dude, if rescuing Willow didn’t work, then neither will this.”
Despite the weed, I nearly punch him in his smug fucking mouth.
I stare at the box on my bed with a strange tingle working its way through my body. “What’s this?” I try for casual, but even I can hear the unsteadiness in my voice.
Sharon doesn’t even look up from her books. “Someone delivered it this morning.”
“If I knew, do you think I would have used the word ‘someone’?”
It’s a big box. Very similar in size to the one I received my Firefly Ball gown in. My first instinct is to take it down the hall and throw it in the nearest trash can—even if I have to stomp on it a few times to make it fit. But I know the minute I touch it I won’t be able to resist looking inside.
“I’m going out,” I tell her.
“Bring me a sandwich.” There’s not even a hint of a request in her voice. I sniff, but we both know I’ll be bringing her that fucking sandwich.
Sometimes I wonder why I even bother pretending I have a backbone.
You put up a fight with Owen.
I shove away the voice. I was pretending back then too. I’m nothing but a whimpering, weak-willed baby. I don’t deserve happiness, because I don’t have the guts to reach out and grab it.
If someone actually offered me happiness on a silver platter… I’d still be too nervous to take it.
I stomp down the hall, trying to put the image of that big box on my bed out of my mind. I get Sharon’s sandwich, grabbing another one for me too, and find myself creeping back upstairs.
She takes the sandwich without a word of thanks, but I’m used to that now. Doesn’t even bother me anymore. What does bother me is the shiny box gloating at me from the bed.
“God, could you not breathe so loudly?” Sharon pushes away from the desk, turning to face me with her hands on her hips. “Just open it already.”
When I give her a defiant stare, she rolls her eyes at me, snatches her sandwich off the desk, and leaves our dorm room, slamming the door behind her.
The crash is still echoing through our room when I rip the big satin bow off the top of the box and flip open the lid.
On top of the pale pink tissue paper hiding the contents of the box is a gleaming black envelope. There’s a symbol pressed into the gold wax seal—Pinecrest’s rearing stag.
I crack the seal, my heart practically jumping into my throat when I take out a piece of paper with the words Follow The White Rabbit written on it in thick black marker. I’ve never seen Owen’s handwriting… but I have no doubt he wrote it.
I tuck the note back in the envelope and carefully peel away the layers of tissue paper. Shiny black latex greets me, and I stare down at it in shock. I’d been expecting another a ball gown or something… but this?
Swallowing, I unfold the garment inside. It’s a shiny PVC jumpsuit, almost like the one Catwoman wears.
No… not Catwoman.
Follow The White Rabbit
I yelp when someone knocks. Hurriedly shoving the catsuit back into the box and ramming on the lid, I hurry over to open the door. “Did you forget your keycard?”
But it’s not Sharon standing in the hall. It’s a freshman wearing a white bunny mask. As soon as our eyes lock, she races away down the hall.
I frown as she runs all the way to the stairs. She stops there for a moment, looking back as if to see if I’m following, and then disappears down the steps.
What. The. Actual. Fuck?
I close the door, shaking my head as I retreat into my room. My eye catches the box on the bed, the black envelope with Owen’s handwritten note.
Follow The White Rabbit
This is beyond fucked up. What the hell makes him think I’d willingly go along with this stupid Matrix cosplay bullshit? There’s no way in hell I’m walking out of this room wearing a shiny black catsuit. Or following a stranger around campus. For all I know, I’ll end up in the bell tower again.
The thought makes me shudder. I grab the box, toss the envelope back inside, and shove it under my bed.
Going back to the door, I make sure it’s locked before climbing back onto my bed and opening one of my textbooks. I have an assignment due Monday, and I plan on working on it the whole weekend. Even if I wanted to, I don’t have time to chase bunnies.
They’ve only opened up one floor of the girls’ dorm rooms, and this one only has an en-suite toilet. So, I’m stuck having to haul my shit down the hall to the communal showers for a wash. I usually go in the mornings, but I thought since it was Friday night, it would be quieter if I went just before supper.
I didn’t get as much studying done as I wanted to. The box under my bed kept whispering to me, begging me to open it. To try on the outfit… if only to see how awful I looked in it so I would finally have the will to toss it in the trash where it belonged.
I’m halfway down the hall when I sense someone behind me. I spin around, my eyes narrowing to a glare when I spot the same freshman in that bunny mask a few yards away.
“Tell him I’m not interested,” I say, before turning my back.
But when I’m done showering and I step into the hallway, that same girl is sitting on the carpet. She scrambles up as soon as she sees me, tenses, and then sprints down the hall.
“Not gonna happen!” I yell after her. She pauses at the top of the stairs again, and then runs down them.
“God, I hope he’s paying you for all this time you’re wasting,” I grumble to myself as I head back to my room.
I try to go to sleep, but Sharon never came back to the dorm room and now I’m finding it hard to doze off. Sharon snores like a bear, but I’ve gotten so used to it, that the absence of it seems… odd. I hope this doesn’t mean I’ll need a white noise snore machine to get a good night’s rest.
I’m busy playing on my phone later that night when there’s a timid knock on the door.
What the hell? It’s past midnight.
I already know it’s the bunny before I open the door, but I do it anyway. She’s already halfway down the hall, and as soon as she sees me, she races to the stairs and disappears again.
The hallway is dimly lit. Quiet. A lot of girls have left to go home for the weekend and those that stayed behind are either out partying with friends, or fast asleep.
I slowly close the door behind me.
Reluctantly, I take the box out from under the bed. I lift the catsuit out of the tissue paper and walk over to the full-length mirror, holding it up against me.
When I rush back to shove the thing inside the box, my hand brushes against something soft lining the bottom. I peel away another layer of tissue paper and stare at the long, floor-length cloak nestled inside.
It looks big enough to wrap around me.
To hide any outfit beneath.
“No,” I say through a faint chuckle. “This is not happening.”
I close the lid. Then I open it again. The envelope feels thick and luxurious in my fingers. I lift Owen’s note up to my nose, and inhale a lingering trace of his scent from the paper.
Follow The White Rabbit
“Oh, God,” I groan, pulling the catsuit out of the box. “This had better be good.”
“No way.” I shake my head. “No fucking way.”
“Ma’am?” The guy in the black suit holds out his hand to steady me, as if the danger of tripping is the biggest thing on my mind right now.
I clutch the front of the cloak in a tight fist at my chest, seriously considering turning and running.
My mind underwent a series of emotional rollercoasters as I tried to curb my curiosity. But I had to know what the hell Owen was trying to pull. And once I’d put on the catsuit and followed the white rabbit to the limousine that brought me to this private airfield, there was no going back.
The girl with the bunny mask steps forward and lifts it, revealing her plump face. Her bright green eyes crinkle at the sides as she smiles. “Don’t you want to know what’s on the other side?”
I swallow a dry lump. “I… I’ve never flown before.”
I’m standing in front of a sleek white plane. Well, I guess I should call it a private jet, judging from the Dalton family crest painted in gold on the side. Gusts of chilly night air toy with the edges of my cloak, bringing me the scent of the distant pine trees on the edges of the vast area of land cleared for the hangars and concrete runway.
“You’re not going that far,” the girl says, giving me a wide smile.
“Then why can’t I drive there?”
She shakes her head, her brown ponytail swaying. “Trust him, Evie.”
There’s a bitter laugh bubbling up my throat, but I feel too bad to let it out. The girl seems sweet, and vaguely familiar. Is she in one of my classes? And no one’s said a thing about my weird cloak, or the fact that I’m hesitating to board a private jet at one o’clock in the morning.
I didn’t even know there was a landing strip close to the lake. Then again, there’s a lot I don’t know about this town.
Climbing the short flight stairs, I step inside the plane, finding a cabin accented in soft beige leather. The guy in the black suit leads me to one of the seats, and asks me to belt up for take-off. Despite how my heart is hammering in my throat, I inch toward the window and look out as we start the take-off run down the runway. A giddiness spreads through my body as I’m pressed into my seat by the acceleration, the lights along the runway melting into a bright yellow blur.
I grip the seat beneath me, a heady giggle slipping out of my mouth as the jet becomes airborne, and begins to climb. But the best part is when it finally levels out, the ride so stable and smooth that it feels almost as if we’re back on the ground.
A hostess in a smart black-and-gold uniform hands me a glass of champagne. “Have you eaten?”
“Uh… I’m not really hungry.”
“Are you sure?” She smiles warmly. “The chef can prepare anything you’d like.”
I stare up at her, suddenly ravenous. “Anything?”
I’m still busy scarfing down the best nachos I’ve ever tasted when the hostess comes back to clear my plate. I almost fight her for it, but there were only a few crispy chips and some delicious, gooey cheese left anyway.
As we begin to descend, I start regretting the food I just ate. Gravity seems twice as greedy as when we took off, and I hate how heavy I feel as our altitude steadily decreases.
In short order, we touch down with barely a bump, and in seconds we decelerate dramatically, the engines roaring as the thrust reverses. Within moments we’re back to a leisurely crawl up another brightly lit runway.
This one is much larger than the landing strip by Scarstone Lake. And there are already a few other jets neatly parked near a large group of airport hangars.
I’m led outside by the same man that helped me into the jet at Pinecrest, and my chest clenches when I see Owen standing a few yards away.
He’s wearing dark clothes and a black leather trench coat.
“I guess if I’m Trinity, it only makes sense that you’re Neo, right?” I say through a laugh as I walk up to him. I’m still holding the cloak tightly closed in front—not only because there’s a brisk breeze nipping at my heels, but because I’m not quite sure I could ever let anyone see me in this scandalous outfit. Although there’s barely an inch of my skin that’s left exposed, the catsuit hugs me like a second skin. I never even knew I had such curves until I wriggled into it.
“Who says I’m not Morpheus?” Owen asks with an arch to his eyebrow.
“You haven’t offered me any pills yet.”
Owen smiles. “I’m glad you came.”
“Are you going to tell me what this is all about?” I ask.
He turns, beckoning me to follow him as he heads for a white Rolls Royce Phantom. I’m not surprised it’s there… I’m just surprised at how magnificent it is. And once I’m inside, I can’t believe I was ever happy with being a middle class anything.
I run my hands over the pale leather seats, shifting my butt around. “This is amazing. I can’t believe I’m here.”
“Me neither,” Owen murmurs. Something in his voice makes me look up at him, and I blush at the hungry look in his eyes. “I can’t wait to see what you look like without the cloak.”
I laugh. “Doubt that’s going to happen.” I peer out the window, narrowing my eyes. “Where are we?”
“That’s not important. What’s important is where we’re going.”
I turn to him, eyebrows lifting.
He smiles. “I have a gift for you. I’m sorry I dragged you out of bed on a Friday night, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it.”
“It better be.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “Trust… is earned.”
“Then let me earn it.” He slides his hand over my thigh, using his pinky finger to push away the edge of my cloak. “I owe you that much, at least.”
My heart is racing. I can’t believe this actually worked. I honestly thought she’d just keep telling the white rabbit to go home. But it seems Sterling was right.
I do have a superpower.
It takes us ten minutes to reach our destination. The entire way, I can’t help but stare at Evie. I’ve seen her around campus, but it’s different being this close to her. Touching her. Being able to inhale her scent.
And there’s the fact that she looks fucking unbelievable in a catsuit. Despite not wearing any makeup. Despite her hair loosely pulled up in a bun.
Maybe I’ve just missed her… although I already know that’s not it.
I’m in love with her, perhaps since the day we met. Thankfully, I’m done kidding myself. This is a last-ditch effort to make her understand how much she means to me.
And if it doesn’t work, I’ll have to make peace with the fact that I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.
If it means I get to make even the smallest change in her life, then it’ll be worth it.
“Seriously,” Evie says, turning to frown at me. “Where are we?” She’s been glued to the window this entire time. Avoiding me as she tries to figure out where I’m taking her.
She’ll never be able to guess, simply because so few people know this place even exists.
“A friend’s house.”
Her eyes go back to the window.
It’s not a lie either. This place belongs to a friend of the Daltons. And it is technically a house, though most people would call it a manor, or an estate. The grounds are certainly expansive enough.
It’s the second time I’ve been here. This is where I came from when I went to fetch Evie from the airport a few miles away. I’d been helping set things up when she finally landed.
Our Rolls Royce pulls up at the front of the circular drive, gravel crunching under the shoes of the man who’s waiting on hand for our arrival. He’s the quintessence of a professional escort in his black suit and white gloves. He opens my door, and waits for me to go around to open for Evie.
As she steps out of the Phantom, I hand her a mask. She frowns at me when she sees it. “Really?”
Her face screws up at that, but she hesitantly slips on the golden fox mask, looking only slightly more comfortable when I put on my matching mask.
Draping her hand over my arm, I lead her up the walk to the front door of the mansion. She hangs back when the doors open and we’re bathed in warm golden lights from a chandelier dripping with diamonds.
“Owen,” she whispers uneasily, when a young woman walks past wearing only tight leather shorts, a golden tray balanced on her hand. She’s wearing a rabbit mask—similar to the one the white bunny was wearing—but hers is gold, like ours.
“Hold on tight, Evie.”
When her fingers dig into me, I turn and gently grasp her shoulders. “You’re safe with me,” I murmur down to her. “And if you want to leave, just say the word and we’re gone.”
Her eyes are luminous behind the mask, the deep blue of a twilight sky. For a moment, I think she’s going to back out. Then she slowly releases the tight grip she had on her cloak and unclasps it at her neck.
My breath catches as she lets the silky fabric drop to the floor at her feet, baring her perfectly curved body. Another bunny girl hurries to our side to scoop up the cloak, and I hand her my trench coat.
Evie nods, and there’s a smile on my lips as I lead her down the gleaming hallway.
“This had better be good,” she murmurs to me as we stop in front of a set of wooden doors.
“Good?” I can’t help but smile, earning a double-take from Evie. “Prepare to have your mind blown.”
Owen pushes open the wide doors, and despite how eager I am to see what’s behind them, my eyes are glued to him. He’s deeply handsome in his dark suit, the cut of the cloth emphasizing his broad shoulders and trim waist, his black, slicked-back hair gleaming in the light. When he glances over his shoulder at me, a softness touches his eyes.
He takes my hand, twining our fingers together, his eyes locked to mine for a moment as he draws me over the threshold.
I could have stared at him the rest of the night and left satisfied, but the crack of a whip drags my gaze away.
With a wide-eyed sweep I take in the room. There must be at least a hundred people milling around in a large ballroom that’s been converted into what my mind dubs a… pleasure zoo.
There’s a wide aisle that runs a circuit around the attractions clustered along the walls. Guests dressed in everything from gimp suits to ball gowns amble along the aisle, stopping every now and then to watch or partake in whatever the various stalls have to offer.
Another whip crack draws my attention. My eyes dart to a stall some thirty feet away, where a woman dressed in studded, shiny black leather is trailing a cat-o’-nine-tails down the back of a sweating, shivering man she has tied over a bench. I jolt when she swings without warning, leaving several bright red lines over his back with the whip.
“Easy, toy,” Owen rumbles in my ear. “There’ll be nothing left of my hand if you keep squeezing like that.”
I was so entranced with the act that I didn’t realize he’d come up right behind me. He glides his hands down my arms before sliding them over my belly, drawing me close against him. My catsuit is so tight, I’m not sure if I’m imagining it, or if he’s got a hard-on. “Sorry,” I murmur, my eyes still locked to the dominatrix as she gives the bound man another lash to his back.
“Come. We have lots to see.”
I’m reluctant to let him lead me away, but at the same time, I’m eager to see what else this place has in store for me.
Quite a few of the stalls just have people in various stages of undress fucking each other in interesting positions—usually with a very clear view for the crowd of how the guy or girl is penetrating the guy or girl.
I point at a girl with a strap-on ramming into a guy from behind. “Oooh, I’ve always wondered what that would feel like.”
“For you or for me?” Owen asks, and for the first time since we entered this place, he sounds uneasy.
I laugh, grabbing his hand and leading him to the next stall. “What is this place?” I ask, tilting my head as I try to work out how many people are involved in the orgy I’m witnessing. I shouldn’t have bothered: before Owen can reply, a couple who’d been walking beside us most of the way hurry over to the black-clad guy standing beside the red rope like a bouncer. A gold coin exchanges hands, and the couple are let through the rope, the girl already starting to disrobe.
“Le Renard Dansant,” Owen says. “The Dancing Fox.”
I tap the mask. “Makes sense. Whose house is this?”
“You’re full of questions, aren’t you?” He grabs my hand and leads me down a narrower side alley between two stalls.
“Where are you…?” Then I see an intimate alcove set into the wall of the ballroom. There are so many stalls around, it’s the first time I’ve had a chance to appreciate the luxurious wallpaper, double-vaulted ceilings, and intricate moldings that make up this space. Even this tiny area radiates opulence… and with the cluster of plush velvet pillows arranged just so on the semi-circular bench built into the alcove, it’s clear the place is intended for one thing above all else.
I spin around, but Owen doesn’t even slow. He herds me into the alcove so fast that I don’t have a choice to escape before he grabs me around the waist and turns to sit with me in his lap.
I’m instantly taken back to the night he lashed me with his belt, my hands splayed upon his window seat. This alcove is nothing like that, though. His was bare wood, a window at our backs with the cold pressing in through the glass. This alcove is lit with a warm golden glow, and the seating is thickly padded, the cushions plump and soft.
Owen wrenches my mask to the top of my head, grabs my hair, and hauls me in for a kiss. Despite my tight catsuit, his hard erection is unmistakable against my ass. I rock into his lap, desperate to feel that ridge against my pussy, and his kiss becomes urgent.
He tears away a second later, staring up at me. “I can’t believe you’re here.”
“Me neither,” I say through a giggle. “But I’m glad I came. This is… exhilarating.”
It’s so freeing, knowing that I’m surrounded by people who don’t think a spanking or a collar or some rough sex means you’re a freak. It seems ridiculous to be ashamed of liking it… although it still takes me to a very negative place whenever I think about Brent’s video.
Owen must sense my happiness starting to slip away, because he cups my face in his hands and brings our lips together. His kiss is slow, gentle, so fucking arousing that if this hadn’t been latex, I’m sure I’d have a big wet spot between my legs right now.
“I want you,” I whisper as I squirm around on his lap.
“And you’ll have me… but there’s something I have to show you first.”
“It can wait.” I duck down to catch his lips in another kiss, and his hands grip my ass so tight that his fingertips squeak against the latex.
I’m pressed up so close to him that I giggle when his phone vibrates in his pants pocket. “Let it ring,” I tell him. “I’m almost there.”
He laughs too, but when I try to kiss him again, he grabs my hair and wrenches me off his lips. I gasp, but the pain instantly transforms into pleasure and I start wriggling around on his lap like an excited puppy.
He glares at me. “Sit still.”
He gives my ass a resounding slap. The unexpected sting makes me sit up straight, and he smiles as I wince in pain.
Owen answers the phone with a surly, “Yes?” But his tone changes a moment later. “Yes, thank you. We’ll be there.” He slides his phone back in his pocket and gives my PVC-clad backside another slap. “It’s time.”
He stands, forcing me to slide to my feet or end up on my ass. I scowl up at him, but in an instant, he has his hand around my throat.
My body freezes when I catch sight of the shadows in his eyes. Suddenly, I’m not sure about anything anymore… especially the clandestine phone call he just received.
One of the stalls we passed had a girl handcuffed to a gurney, and anyone from the crowd could pay to touch her, hurt her, fuck her. I’m sure it was an act, but she put up a terrible fight every time a new stranger came to play with her.
“Why did you bring me here? Because if you think for a second I’ll let you pass me around like a cheap bottle of whiskey, you’re sorely—”
I cut off when Owen tightens his fingers. His nostrils flare as he drags his gaze down my body. “I don’t share my toys. They can look, but I’ll kill them if they try and touch you. Do I make myself clear?”
I give my lips a quick lick and nod as much as he’ll let me.
“Good girl.” He shoves his hand in his pocket, and pulls out the black leather collar he took back from me what feels like ages ago. “Now, hold still.”
He slips it around my neck and closes it so quickly, I’m still reeling as I bring my hands up to touch the leather. “Owen…”
He drags my mask down to cover my face and then cups my ass, giving me a hard squeeze that brings me onto my tiptoes.
“You’re mine, Evie. Don’t ever forget that.”
We’ve been moving around the center of the room, visiting the stalls arranged against the wall. In the center is a big black tent cordoned off by a ring of golden rope. But I’ve yet to see an entrance to it, or anyone even attempting to get inside it.
It’s as if it doesn’t exist, the gathered people seeming to look past it.
But when Owen leads me out of that alcove, he heads straight for it.
We go around to the far side of the tent, and my heart skips a beat when I see two bouncers in smart black suits flanking a narrow entrance. There’s a flap split down the middle that keeps whatever’s going on inside hidden from view, and that just amps up my nerves… and my curiosity.
Owen takes five golden coins out of his pocket and hands them to the buzz-cut bouncer on the left. The man takes it with a scarred, tattooed hand, his slightly shorter, tanned friend clipping open the rope for us to step through into the dimly lit tent. It’s as though I’m invisible. As we pass, neither of the bouncers so much as a glance in my direction. Even on the way over here from the alcove, it was like I didn’t exist.
It’s exciting. Freeing.
If no one can see me, how can they judge me?
The only thing that’s changed is the collar, so that must be it. I finger it as Owen opens the flap for us to go through. I turn to smile at him, but realize he can’t see me behind the mask.
Music swells around me, a jaunty tune that makes me wonder if a clown is going to appear on the stage built of wooden boards situated in the middle of this odd spectacle. It reminds me of a circus tent, although it’s much smaller. The musty air smells faintly of wood and leather. A handful of spotlights shine onto the stage, illuminating the dust motes floating in the air.
I grip Owen’s hand as he leads us right to the front of the rows of seats. There are golden cushions for us to sit on too.
From what I’ve seen so far, I’m not surprised. I’m sure more than one patron has a sore ass… and not just from a good old spanking.
I’m jittery with excitement. There aren’t many people inside this tent, and they all face the small stage with obvious anticipation.
“What kind of show is this?” I whisper to Owen.
He says nothing, but he’s gripping my hand as tightly as I’m gripping his.
I look around, soaking in every inch of the place as I shift on my cushion. Honestly, it’s not as nice as the rest of the… what did Owen call this place? The Dancing Fox? There’s a bit of hay on the floor, and some of the benches are a little dusty.
Slowly, my eager anticipation turns to cold dread.
I try to pull my hand out of Owen’s, but he just tightens his grip.
“What is this?” I say, not bothering to keep my voice low.
“Ssh,” Owen murmurs, dragging my hand into his lap. “It’s about to start.”
I settle back, licking suddenly dry lips. That jaunty tune is on repeat, and it’s starting to become jarring. “I don’t like this.” I try for meek, and probably fail. “Can we go?”
“Hush, toy.” Owen gives me a sidelong look. “I paid a lot of money for this.”
“So?” I tug at my hand again. “I want to leave.”
He watches me for a second before lifting my hand under his mask and giving my knuckles a soft kiss. “Trust me… you’re going to love this.”
The music switches to a new tune. It’s much louder, accompanied by the heavy boom-boom-boom of big bass drums. Someone staggers onto the stage as if they were pushed from the sidelines.
I sit up straight in my seat.
The guy is naked but for the leather cuffs on his wrists and ankles. And then there’s the weird belt around his waist.
“Is this some kind of trapeze act?” I ask in a thin voice. I glance around, trying to figure out just what the hell I’m in store for… and that’s when I see the camera stand. A red light glows, whoever’s doing the recording hidden in deep shadows.
Owen lets out a dark chuckle. “This is definitely not an act,” he says. “Everything you’re about to see is real, toy.” He slides his hand over my thigh and squeezes. “Fair warning—that guy? He’s not the main attraction.”
I squint at the man on the stage a few yards away. He still has his back to me. I guess he’s drunk or high or something, because he’s still staggering around like he can’t quite catch his balance.
Two burly men step onto the stage from either side. They’re each holding a rope that attaches to somewhere above. They approach the guy, and he’s dopey enough not to fight them off when they hook their ropes into the belt around his waist.
He grabs the ropes and tugs, and then glances over his shoulder as if he’s only just realizing there are other people around.
My body jerks like a bolt of lightning just shot through me. I sit forward in a rush, blinking furiously.
No. It can’t be. It’s impossible.
Beside me, Owen lets out another sinister chuckle. “Relax, Evie. We’ve got the best seats in the house.”
“Owen, stop this. Whatever this is. Please.”
“It hasn’t even begun.”
I turn to him, gazing up into his eyes. The mask casts them in deep shadow, but I can see them glinting with sadistic delight.
It shouldn’t… but somehow that look excites me.
Woodenly, I turn back to the stage.
My ex-boyfriend, Brent, doesn’t seem to recognize me with my mask on—he’s already looking at the other people in the crowd. If he’s embarrassed to be standing naked in front of them, he doesn’t show it.
But I know him. He doesn’t move like this. Doesn’t act like this. He was always stiff in public, careful of what other people saw. I used to think he was being polite… but he didn’t want people knowing what a filthy fucking deviant he was.
From the way he’s acting now—loose and unbalanced—he must be drunk.
Or drugged… like you were.
A shiver chases through me as I grip Owen’s hand even harder. He makes a pleased sound in his throat at my anticipation.
There’s not a trace of dread in me anymore.
I have no idea what’s about to happen… but there’s one thing I do know.
No matter how bad it is, Brent deserves everything he’s about to get.
The two figures standing beside Evie’s ex-boyfriend—the man who dared rape and then blackmail my toy—grab his ankles, securely attaching him to hooks embedded in the cheap wooden stage.
This is the first time I’ve been inside this tent. I sincerely hope it will be the last. I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Evie. I could just have sent her the video the men are currently recording in the background, but it wouldn’t have been the same. I want her to be close enough to taste his despair.
Although, from the reports I received about what this guy was fed, I’m sure that shame will only come much later. The unique cocktail pulsing through his veins right now is like a roofie mixed with GHB… with one particular exception.
He’s going to remember everything.
I hope he has fucking night terrors about this day for the rest of his life.
With his ankles secured, the two assistants move to one side of the stage. A young woman walks through the curtains at the back, and Evie lets out a soft gasp as her fingernails dig into my flesh.
“Who’s that?” she whispers, not taking her eyes off the petite, enigmatic woman strutting around the edge of the stage, soaking up the crowd’s surge of adoration.
“I don’t think anyone knows. She just goes by the Falcon.”
The Falcon wears a fanciful bird’s mask to hide her identity, red leather pants, and a red-sequined crop top that bares a belly rippling with abs.
A bullwhip drags over the stage behind her. She gives it a little twitch, and it snaps in the air, making Brent twist to watch her.
The pathetic idiot is trying to leer at her, but he’s so doped up I doubt he’s capable of speech. She snaps the whip again, the tip cracking in the air a foot from Brent’s shriveled dick. He surprises me by letting out a whimper of shock.
Guess he can still talk. That should make this interesting.
The Falcon turns her back on the crowd, standing arms akimbo as she studies Brent. “God, but you’re a pathetic excuse of flesh,” she says in a rich, performer’s voice. “Can you even fuck anyone with this tiny little dick?”
Brent yowls in pain when her whip connects with his dick, making it swing wildly as he bucks his hips back.
Not that he can move very far with the belt holding him in place, and the restraints on his ankles. As if realizing he’s truly fucked, he starts tugging frantically on the belt. It seems it’s not easy to unlatch, because he decides to cup his balls instead.
The Falcon lands a blow on his hands, making him howl in pain. But he refuses to let go of his saggy balls, glaring at her with glazed defiance as she begins to circle him.
“What’s it going to take to get some blood pumping into that limp dick of yours, worm?” The Falcon flicks the whip against his ass, making him cry out and flinch forward. “You want to see a naked lady? Maybe fuck her? Think you can do that in front of all these people, worm?”
“Ffffuck you, bitch.”
I and some other people in the audience chuckle at this. I’ve heard about the Falcon. What happens in her show. How anything but utter adoration and submission from the people she works with earns debilitating humiliation.
This guy is fucking toast.
I glance aside, watching Evie’s throat move as she swallows. Her hand has slackened a little in mine, but she’s staring transfixed at the stage like she’s forgotten I exist.
I’ll allow it… for now. This is my gift to her. I don’t want her to miss a single second.
“No…” the Falcon muses as she does another languid course around Brent’s shaking body. “I know what you are. I know what you like, Brent Morris.”
Evie’s fingers tighten when the Falcon says his name.
The Falcon stands in front of Brent. She drops her voice, but the microphone on her mask picks up her words perfectly. “You like taking what doesn’t belong to you.”
The crowd hisses. Evie glances around, her eyes wide behind her mask. When she locks gazes with me, there’s trepidation in her eyes.
“Ssh,” I murmur, stroking her thigh. “Your secrets will always be safe with me.”
“You know what I do to people like you, Brent?”
Brent lunges at her with his hands. The crowd gasps, but the Falcon moves back like a snake. Her bullwhip shoots out, wrapping around Brent’s limp dick.
“I’d hold onto that pathetic cock of yours, unless you want to lose it.”
He lets out a sob of pain, his body shaking as he doubles over.
“Yes, that’s better. Stay like that.”
Brent looks up at her, and gets a whip cracked an inch from his face for disobeying. “Want to lose an eye, worm?”
He hurriedly hangs his head again.
“Good. Now don’t move a muscle. I don’t want you to scare my little friend.”
The jaunty music that had been playing this whole time suddenly cuts off. There’s a terrible hush inside the tent as everyone waits.
Evie glances at me. “What—”
She stops when I stroke her thigh and point at the stage with my eyes. “You don’t want to miss this.”
Her eyes go wide, but she turns her head back to the stage.
She’s not the only one who rears back with an audible gasp when the Falcon’s two assistants lead a shaggy donkey onto the stage.
“No. Oh, my God, Owen. No!” Evie spins to look at me, her eyes pleading with me from behind her mask. “Please, make it stop. You can’t—” She swallows hard, glancing back at the stage.
Brent is now openly weeping.
Evie’s eyes swallow me whole when she looks back at me. I graze my knuckles down the front of her throat, thrilling at the feel of the collar. “He deserves this, Evie. This and more.” My voice sounds strangely hollow, and there’s a fearful light in Evie’s eyes as she searches mine. “I considered having him killed, but this seems more… appropriate.”
I point with my chin toward the camera set up on the sidelines. “Soon as the show’s over, this video is hitting the DMs of every friend he sent your video to. That donkey is the last free fuck he’s getting for years.”
Her gaze is glued to mine as the Falcon cracks her whip. The donkey lets out a comical bray as its hooves clop over the wooden stage.
Brent starts begging, but at another crack of Falcon’s whip, he subsides into a volley of wretched sobbing.
Evie shakes her head. “No. I can’t let this happen.” She sniffs, dropping her head. “What he did was wrong. Criminal. But this isn’t the way.”
“He’ll never do it again.” There’s a hardness in my voice, and Evie looks up at me in surprise.
“It’s enough.” She glances over at the stage and faces me again with her eyes squeezed shut. “I… I forgive him.” She swallows again, her words uneven. “Make it stop. Now.”
I hold up my hand, palm facing the stage. Evie’s eyes fly open as the crowd starts grumbling. She glances at my hand, then back at me, tears gathering in her dark lashes. She gives me a tiny nod, and then ducks her head as her tears begin to fall.
The Falcon laughs. “You’ve been given a reprieve, you pathetic little worm. What do you say?”
Brent blubbers out a barely comprehensible “Thank you.”
“Thank you!” Brent blows out a snot bubble as his sobs start up again. “Thank you!”
Evie quivers beside me, and then shoots to her feet, heading to the tent’s exit with quick steps. When I stand, the Falcon looks over at me. I can’t tell what’s going on under her mask, but I know she’s not happy.
I had no way of knowing whether or not she’d stop. The people who helped me organize this made no promises.
Somehow, I get the feeling I owe her. And I don’t think it’s a good thing to be indebted to a woman like her.
She cracks her whip as I turn to go after Evie, but I refuse to look back. “You think this is over, you horrible piece of shit?” Hooves clomp over the stage, but thankfully they’re headed away from the helpless man. “Your ass is mine tonight.”
Brent howls in pain, the sound perfectly timed with the crack of the Falcon’s whip.
I roll over, opening bleary eyes when my hand collides with something. As soon as I focus on Owen’s body in the bed beside me, I sit up with a jolt.
Oh. Right. Shit.
I move to slide my legs over the side of the bed, but an arm wraps around my waist, trapping me. “No way, Evie. You’re not disappearing on me again.”
“I need to pee…”
“Hmm.” Owen nuzzles his face into the side of my neck. “You have one minute or I’m coming after you.”
I shove him away with a laugh and hurry to his en-suite bathroom. I thought it would be weird to be back in the Walsh House after everything that’s happened, but it almost feels like coming home.
Owen has a lot to do with that. We got back from The Dancing Fox in the early hours of the morning, and didn’t go to sleep until dawn was brightening the eastern sky. I blush as I remember my evening with him.
“Thirty seconds, Evie.”
I roll my eyes, but flush and go to wash my hands. I’m still naked, and when I step back inside his room, Owen takes in every inch of my body with a hungry, sweeping gaze that stokes a fire deep in my belly.
“You don’t own me,” I tell him as I slide back into bed. “I don’t need your permission to pee.”
Owen gives me a bemused smile as he pushes a finger behind the collar around my neck. I forgot I was wearing it. “This says otherwise,” he murmurs, drawing me closer for a kiss.
Before our lips can touch, my phone starts vibrating on the nightstand. Judging from the bright light pouring through the windows, it must be close to noon already.
“Don’t answer it,” he says, but I roll my eyes at him and twist around to pick it up anyway.
“It’s my dad.”
Owen slides a hand between my legs. “Call him back.”
I squint at the phone. “Shit. He’s called a dozen times already. Why didn’t I hear it?”
“I’d like to think I tired you out,” Owen says, his hand inching up to my pussy. “Now put it down, and—”
“Hello?” I answer, pulling Owen’s hand out from between my legs as I turn to sit on the side of the bed. “Dad?”
“Evie! I’ve been calling all morning. Where are you?”
“Uh… at… at college. Why?”
My father’s accent is stronger than usual. He sounds panicked. “You’re not. I’m standing in front of your room. Your roommate says you never came home last night.”
I grab the sheet, bundling it up to my throat. “What are you doing on campus?” I ask, realizing a second too late that I sound super fucking guilty.
“More important, Evie, where are you?”
“I-I’m at…” I swing around, gazing at Owen with wide eyes. “A… study group?”
Owen rolls his eyes, mouthing study group like he can’t believe I just said that.
“Hm.” My father doesn’t seem to believe me either. “Well, young lady, when does this study group of yours end? I must speak with you immediately.”
My hair stands on end at the tone in my father’s voice. “I… uh… I can be back on campus in a few minutes.”
“Then get your—”
I yelp when Owen snatches the phone from my hand. “Hello, Mr. Larsen?” he says in a smooth, officious voice. “This is Owen Dalton. Yes, the Daltons. You must have heard of my father, Jet.”
My eyes feel like they’re going to fall out of my skull. I shake my head urgently, making grabbing motions at the phone as dread swills nastily in my stomach.
Owen shakes his head at me, his eyes narrowing, but there’s a bemused light gleaming in those concrete depths. “No, there’s no study group. I’m not sure why Evie would lie to you, I can only think it’s to protect my reputation.”
My mouth twists into a confused snarl. His reputation?
Owen smiles at me as he listens to whatever my father says. “Yes, you’re correct. No, not long now. About a week, I’d say? Nothing is quite official yet.”
Blood drains from my face. My father is going to kill me. This is what I get for daring to defy Owen by answering the phone. I collapse on the bed, burrowing my face in my hands.
“Yes, I’m sure my parents would love to meet with you.”
I shoot Owen a scowl that he accepts with another curl of his lips. “This week is a bit tight, but I’m sure we could arrange something for next weekend.” Owen slides his hand between my legs again. “Of course, it all depends on when Evie is ready.”
Fuck this guy. How is it humanly possible to be so angry, and yet so damn… in love with someone?
I stopped kidding myself about that last night. When everything had finally sunk in, I’d had an epiphany. I can’t even imagine what lengths Owen went to when he set up Brent’s humiliating exhibition show with the Falcon. From the sounds of things, even attending one of her events was reserved for VVVIP quests only.
And then he stopped the whole thing with a wave of his hand, because I felt wrong about it?
Yeah, he made me pay for that when we came back to the Walsh House. But still… I’ve never had someone fight this hard to be with me.
And now he wants our parents to meet? It feels like my life is moving at light speed, and I can’t understand why I’m not terrified.
If anything, I’m exhilarated.
Now that I’ve stopped resisting my own urges, being with Owen feels natural. It feels right. Like he fills in the missing pieces of my soul.
“Would you like to speak with Evie?” Owen asks.
I snap out of my thoughts and grab the phone from him, then I leap out of bed before he can lay another finger on me. It’s bad enough being naked and wearing a fucking collar while I’m speaking to my father. I’m not about to let Owen put his hands between my legs too.
My father exhales a long breath in my ear.
Oh, God, this is bad.
I know I’m technically an adult, and I can do whatever the hell I want, but I don’t want to disappoint my father any more than I wanted to have our family fall apart. I love my parents, despite our differences, despite everything.
“Dad?” My voice is softer now. I glance over to Owen, and his face is set like stone.
It’s almost like he already regrets speaking to my father.
“He sounds like a nice young man,” my father says after a heart-clenchingly long pause. “But I’d have to meet him to be sure. You won’t make me wait too long, will you?”
Relief floods through me, making my knees sag. I perch on the edge of the bed, flashing Owen a smile that he immediately returns with one of his own.
“No, of course not. Maybe… maybe even next weekend, if his parents are available.”
Owen’s eyes light up, and he gives me the kind of nod that makes me think that he’ll make sure they can see us.
“Good. Now, Evie, I must see you immediately. Your roommate mentioned a cafeteria. Meet me there in twenty minutes.”
He puts the phone down before I can reply, but that’s always been his way. He gets to the point, niceties be damned.
Twenty minutes? Shit!
“Where are you going?” Owen calls out when I grab last night’s cloak from the floor and wrap myself in it.
“My dad wants to see me in the cafeteria in twenty minutes!”
It’ll take at least fifteen to get there, and I still need to take a shower and put on some clothes. Why the hell didn’t I tell my dad I was too far away to make it in time? Then again, I’ve never been good thinking on my feet like that. My study group lie is proof of that.
Owen opens his mouth, but I run out of his room before he can speak. Throwing his name around might have gotten me out of hot water for now, but Dad won’t be that forgiving if I’m late.
“Fuck, Evie!” Kat yelps when I charge into her room down the hall. “You’ll give me a fucking heart attack!”
“Sorry!” I don’t even bother asking, already piecing together an outfit from what’s scattered on the floor. “Need clothes. Shower.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“No time!” I rush past her, slamming her bathroom door in her face.
“Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on!” she yells at me. “He’d better be treating you right!”
I smile to myself as I step under the spray, and then shudder when the icy water hits my skin. There’s no time to waste waiting for it to warm up—but at least I’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when I get to the cafeteria.
Usually, it takes two cups of coffee before I’m ready for the day.
That hasn’t been all that true lately either. Something else I can chalk up to all this fresh mountain air.
I toss on the sundress I found on Kat’s floor. Thankfully, she’s the same shoe size as me, so the calf-length boots I dug out fit me just fine. I drag fingers through my wet hair, gargle some of her mouthwash, and rush outside.
She’s standing with her arms crossed. “Do I have to sleep with you too before you come to visit?” she asks grumpily.
It seems she had a rough night as well judging by the dark shadows under her eyes. “I’m so sorry. I’ll try to be back for lunch, okay?”
She shrugs. “Get your ass back here before one and I’ll think about it.”
I blow her a kiss before running out of her room. I take the stairs three at a time, almost spraining my ankle on the last one, and rush out the front door.
Where I skid to a halt.
“That…” I stop to haul in a breath as I stab my finger at Owen. “That’s not possible!”
He’s standing with a travel mug in either hand, wearing a neatly pressed pair of jeans and a dark, slim-fit, button-up shirt. His hair is immaculate.
Mine is a fucking mess.
He gestures to the golf cart behind him. “Get in before you make us late.”
I wish I could curse him to hell and back, but when he scans me with his gray eyes and gives me a dark smile that says he can tell I’m not wearing any underwear, my insides melt. I snatch the mug out of his hands with ill grace as I slide into the golf cart. Thankfully, by the time we reach campus, the caffeine has jolted my foggy brain into some semblance of alertness.
There are a handful of students in the cafeteria already, some drinking coffee and working in their textbooks, others having an early lunch. My father is seated near the door, facing us. He stiffens when he spots us before slowly getting to his feet.
There’s a nervous knot in my stomach when him and Owen shake hands, but after giving him a solid onceover, my father seems unmoved to give me shit.
“I’d prefer if we could speak alone,” Dad says, eyeing Owen.
Owen gives my arm a squeeze. “I’ll be back in a short while. Enjoy your visit with your dad.” He nods at my father before leaving the cafeteria, Owen watched by every student who saw him come in.
“Owen Dalton,” my father muses quietly, his eyes moving to the exit before coming back to me. Then his gaze focuses on my neck. “I’m not sure how I feel about… all of this.”
My hand flies to my throat to brush the leather there. A deep blush creeps up my cheeks. In my rush, I completely forgot to take it off. But with a strength of will I didn’t know I possessed, I bunch up my hand and force it into my lap.
“I’m happy,” I tell him. I’m still working on more, maybe even an apology for rubbing this lifestyle in my father’s face.
But he flicks his fingers dismissively. “Then I’m happy.”
Surprise widens my eyes. “Really?”
“I received a call from your mother this morning.”
Shock puts a lump in my throat. “Oh…”
Father looks down, his bushy eyebrows twitching as if he’s working through a complex equation. “The bank sent her a notification this morning. That money she gave him”—Dad’s eyes dart up to mine—“it was wired back into her account yesterday.”
It feels like someone’s poured cold water down my back. My first instinct is to ask something stupid like, “Are you sure?” but I fight the impulse.
Father toys with the mug that used to contain tea. “It came from a different account, but it was the exact same amount, same reference number, everything.” My father’s eyebrows draw together. “Do you know anything about this?”
I don’t. Not a single thing. But I can put the pieces together. It can’t be a coincidence that Brent turned up at The Dancing Fox the same night the money was wired back into my mother’s account.
Now I wish Owen was here, because with one look into his eyes I’d be able to confirm my suspicion.
“I guess Brent realized he couldn’t get away with it,” I say, trying not to fidget.
“But he already had. You said you weren’t going to press charges, Evie.” There’s a change in my father’s voice. He was livid when I told him I refused to testify against Brent. Oh, he said he understood, but to him, I was standing in the way of justice.
As if Brent would have served time. He had enough connections in the city to make a rape charge disappear, especially since it was his word against mine. In fact, if I’d tried to open a case, he’d probably have sent the detectives that video… and that would have been the end of that. Because despite what actually happened, it looks like I’m having the time of my life.
It was one of the things that drove a wedge between me and my family. Mother thought I didn’t go to the police because I was lying to them about being raped. Father couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t put everything on record and get justice for what had happened.
I just wanted it to end.
“Something must have happened,” my father presses. “You know you can always talk to me, Evie.”
I throw my hands up. “Maybe he found God.”
Dad gives me a rueful smile. “Funny you should say that…”
My stomach goes cold. “Why?”
Father eyes me for a second as he swirls the last of his tea around in the mug. “Your mother says the church received a very generous donation from his family yesterday, along with a handwritten note of apology for leading you into temptation. It mentions the drugs, the video tape, the money… everything.”
Dad drains his cup as I struggle to process the news.
“Wow, indeed.” He sets the mug aside and leans in, lacing his fingers together. “It’s enough to put him away for what he did, Evie. Are you still going to tell me you don’t want to have him charged?”
I stare at my father for the longest time, my heart pounding fiercely in my chest. I don’t know if I have the courage to do it, especially now that it feels like I’ve finally moved on with my life. But, at the same time, I owe it to my parents to do the right thing. If I open a case against Brent and get a rape charge to stick, then he’d have a permanent mark on his name. If he ever tried to do it again, he’d be facing serious jail time.
But what are the chances he hires a fancy lawyer and gets everything dropped? I’ve heard of these types of cases getting turned on their head, where the girl is then sued for defamation of character or some bullshit.
That would wreck me. It would wreck my parents. And what the hell would Owen do if something like that went public?
I can’t risk it.
My father looks past me and then gives a double-take. Eyes narrowing, he flicks his fingers, beckoning at someone in the distance. I swing around in my seat, my stomach tightening at the sight of Owen standing near the exit of the cafeteria.
“You’ve got a lot to think about, Evie,” my father says. “I won’t force you to make a decision straight away, but I will need one from you soon.”
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” Owen says as he walks over to our table. “I just wanted to find out if you’d like to join us for lunch?”
My father stands, putting his hand out for Owen to shake. “Not today, young man. I have a long drive ahead of me.”
“Dad?” I stare up at him, not quite trusting my legs yet. “You didn’t mention—”
“Your mother…” My dad looks uncertain for a moment. “She… asked to see me.” He gives Owen a circumspect look. “All these recent developments have opened her eyes. You are more than welcome to come with, but I have a feeling you’d rather stay here this weekend.”
There’s a gleam in my father’s eyes. I almost can’t believe it… but it might just be hope.
Tears prick at my lashes, but I blink them back feverishly before they can fall. If Dad is saying what I think he is, then he and my mom might be on the mend. I guess the church receiving that note from Brent made her realize I was telling the truth all along. Now she’ll finally understand that my dad wasn’t running away from her.
He was trying to protect me.
“You’ll let me know?” Dad says.
I nod. “Yes, of course.”
He glances up at Owen. “I look forward to meeting your parents.”
Owen smiles, and we both turn to watch Dad leave.
Sitting down beside me, Owen slings an arm around my shoulders.
I give him a furious, wide-eyed stare. “You could have told me about the money! I was totally blindsided.”
“Would you rather your father think you had something to do with it?”
There’s a long beat of silence before my shoulders sag. “You’re right,” I mutter. “But it was still a shitty move.”
“Do you really believe I didn’t consider every option?” He grabs my chin, turning me to look at him. “Evie, I will never intentionally hurt you. All this… I did it for you.”
Something’s bugging me. I make sure to stare Owen solidly in the eyes as I ask, “Was it your money, or his?”
Owen cocks his head. “His.”
“If there’s one thing you’re not, Evie, it’s a charity case.” He smiles at me, tracing the outline of my lips with his thumb. “He and his family had already spent most of the money, but after cashing in on some shares they managed to scrape enough together. They put up quite a big fight about the donation to the church… but they came around.”
“Was this before or after the donkey?”
Owen laughs. “Before.”
“Holy cow,” I murmur.
Drawing me close, Owen stares down at me with an unreadable expression. “Do you feel Brent got everything he deserved?”
I bite the inside of my lip. “You’re still pissed that I made you stop the show.”
Owen shrugs. “None of that was for my benefit.” Then he looks away, an impish gleam touching his eyes. “Okay, maybe a little of it was. But you’re the judge, jury, and executioner here, Evie.”
I give him a firm nod. “There are some lines I won’t cross, Owen. Forcing my ex-boyfriend to have sex with a donkey is one of them.”
He gives me a dark smile. “What are your thoughts about revenge porn?”
“Huh?” My mind instantly goes to the humiliating video Brent broadcasted to everyone I knew. How it tore my life, and my family, apart.
Owen takes his phone out of his pocket, taps on the screen a few times, and then turns it to face me. A whip crack sounds through the speakers, then the camera focuses on Brent.
He’s at just the right angle so you can clearly see his face, and the fact that he’s gripping both butt cheeks and holding them apart. But the camera is angled so his dick and his asshole—thank God—aren’t visible.
The Falcon is, though. She’s standing in clear view holding a massive pink dildo.
I slap my hand over the screen. “What the hell?”
Owen takes his phone away, tapping a few times on the screen. When he faces it my way again, there’s a ‘send’ button visible.
“Tit for tat,” he says. “Tap that button, and everyone who saw your video will see his.”
Cold flushes down my face. I shake my head, my eyes growing wide. “I… I can’t do that.”
Owen frowns, looking genuinely puzzled. “It’s time to balance the scales, Evie.”
“You can’t make me do this,” I whisper, gripping the collar around my neck that suddenly feels much too tight.
“I’m not making you do anything,” he says, his frown deepening. “This is entirely your choice.”
I stare at the phone, then up at Owen.
I guess everyone wishes they could see into the future, especially when they’re faced with difficult decisions. My father gave me one today, Owen another.
Brent is an evil man. He should be punished for what he did. His actions left a permanent scar on my life… so why the hell can’t I do the same?
I have two ways to tackle this. I could do what my father wants, and open a case against him. But I stand the chance that it will just get swept under the rug.
Or I could do what Owen wants, and forever taint Brent’s name.
“Will he know it was me?” I whisper.
“Completely anonymous. For all intents and purposes, Brent got spiked and woke up with a sore ass and a video showing how that happened circulating to all his friends.”
I lick my lips. “And what if I wanted him to know it was me?”
Owen gives me a dark smile. It promises so many things—chaos, and pain, and sweet, sweet revenge.
But above all, it promises an end to my suffering.
“I’ll give you the world on a silver platter. All you have to do is ask.”
I bite my lip, and Owen drops his eyes to my mouth with a stifled groan. Grabbing my collar, he drags me against his lips, suffocating me with a kiss.
I have no idea what I’ll choose to do, but there’s one thing I do know.
No matter what I decide, Owen is the answer to all those silent prayers I whispered into my tear-soaked pillow at night. The ones where I begged for someone to save me from myself.
He is my savior.
But, if I’m not careful, he might just be my undoing.
I will have to choose wisely.
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