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His for the Taking: A Dark Mafia Romance by Samantha Madisen – Serialization (Part Three)

Did you miss Chapters 1-6? You can find them here.

Did you miss Chapters 7-12? You can find them here.

Chapter Thirteen


I watched her as she paced the windows on the top floor of the house on Orel Island. In every direction but one, the sea yawned away to nothing; only to the southeast could one faintly make out the nearest island—a fishing village—five miles away by sea. The view was spectacular, and I could see that it pleased her. Her face was flushed, her eyes bright. Seeing her pleased gave me a particular kind of pleasure unlike any I’d ever experienced before.

She was trying not to show it, though, and I admired the defiant attitude. The apple, after all, never falls far from the tree. I hadn’t known her mother, but one couldn’t expect Kyril’s daughter to just give in, not even when no other choice remained for her.

“So?” she said at last, after taking in the view and then tossing her hair, putting her hand on her hip and jutting her jaw at me, feigning a toughness I knew she did not quite possess. I admired the bravado, though. “Alaric.”

A wave traveled through me as she said my name.

“What kind of name is that, anyway?”

I set my drink down. “The origin of a name is only of importance, Natalia, if it tells you something about the person who bears it.”

My name,” she said defiantly, “is Nata-lie, FYI.”

This seemed like as good of a place to start as any. “No,” I advised her. “It is not. Your name is Natalia, and your surname is Karkarov, not this… Paulson. You are the daughter of a man named Kyril Karkarov.”

Her defiance had cracked and fallen apart, leaving her wide-eyed and eager to hear more, as though someone had broken a plaster shell and revealed a doll inside of it. “I’m an orphan,” she said quietly, bringing her hands to her heart and clasping one with the other. “I don’t have any information about my parents.”

But I could see that, for all she wanted to deny what I was saying, she knew she could not.

“What do you remember of your childhood?” I asked her. “Before…”

I cut myself off. I didn’t feel like finishing.

Her eyes flashed. “Before what? My mother gave me up when I was born,” she said bitterly. “I moved around from foster home to foster home.”

The hurt in her body was evident; her eyes fell.

I had never given any consideration to this aspect of Natalia’s life. The pain of being alone, an orphan, believing yourself to be a child that no one wanted. It had been my own story, and I had felt the bitterness that stung her now.

I knew better than to offer sympathy.

But in Natalia’s case, I could offer her something else.

“Your mother died in childbirth,” I said gently. “And then your father, a man I knew and to whom I owe a great deal, cared for you until his death.”

Her body convulsed, and I knew the tears were coming. I had expected that—what I hadn’t expected was that I would feel her raw pain in my chest.

This girl was becoming a problem I did not know how to deal with.

She shook her head. “That isn’t right,” she argued, but she was losing conviction with every word. “I don’t remember—”

“You were five when he died,” I continued.

She shook her head vigorously. “No, I remember things from when I was five, I remember my foster parents, I remember… always… living with them…” Her voice trailed off.

“He died in a helicopter crash,” I continued, as gently as I could. She was already bringing her hands to her head and letting out a terrible wail as I said the next part. She already knew, and the memory was surfacing, unbearable for her. “You were in the helicopter with him. I thought… you were too young to remember.”

She collapsed onto the floor, her hands to her head. She was shaking her head, but I knew that she could feel the truth of my words even if her memories were suppressed.

“Natalia,” I said, stepping toward her when there was a break in her sobs. “Your father loved you very much. He wanted… he asked me to hide you.”

She looked up at me, tears on her face. “From what? What are you saying?”

I was reaching for her without even thinking of what I was doing, my fingers in her hair, pulling her gently toward me as I knelt on the floor. She brought her hands to my forearms, as though she wanted to tear my hands away from her, but her body fell toward me, and she sank against my chest. “What are you talking about?” she repeated.

I brought her close to me, my arms around her, wanting to envelop her in something that would not break apart, or leave, or let her get hurt. It was a promise, when all of this started, but now it was all that I wanted. To protect her, to keep her from harm, to love her…

“I swore to your father that I would protect you. You were presumed dead, and I wanted to leave it like that… but you started to work for Andrej Sulov. And it was just a matter of time before he found out… who you were.”

Now that I had her in my arms, I was feeling a sharp, painful fear, reaching backward into the past. All the time that I had left her out there, exposed to harm, all the time I could have kept her more carefully under my watch. Anything could have happened to her. I had been foolish, and I wouldn’t let this happen again.

She cried for a while, and then she pulled away from me. “Who cares? Why does any of this matter?”

Her eyes searched mine.

What do you tell a girl like Natalia, if you have devastating secrets about her, and you are going to make her world crumble? How do you tell her that you’ve taken her fortune, but to save her life, and because that’s what her father wanted? How do you tell her that she could open a safe deposit box in Switzerland with her eyes, and a code that has been worked into one of my tattoos, and inside it find not only an ill-begotten fortune, but the location of stolen weapons-grade plutonium? That there is no shortage of men on this planet who would happily carve out her eyes to get at it, and torture her for the code she could not possibly remember?

“Why?” she demanded, hitting me on the chest. “Why? Tell me what the hell is going on!”

I didn’t know what to say, or how to say it even If I could have decided upon the best thing for her to know, so I held her close enough to me that she couldn’t hit me anymore. She struggled for a long time. “I can’t tell you,” I told her into her hair.

She didn’t like that answer; I felt her body stiffen. This was different than the struggle against me, which had been more railing against the facts than against me. But now that her anger had turned upon something tangible, it was a stiff and cold anger, and I could feel the change.

“You can’t,” she said quietly. “Or you won’t?’

“It’s better if you don’t know,” I said. I held her tighter. Just moments before she had been falling into me, relenting into my protection, and I wanted her back. It was another uncomfortable feeling—needing something from another person, wanting it, caring about what she felt for me.

“Natalia, please trust me. Trust me when I tell you, there are things in this world you don’t want to know.”

She wriggled away from my grip, stepping back. Her eyes were bright with fury. “Trust you? Trust you? You’ve kidnapped me, drugged me, done—”

She caught herself, unable to say aloud the other things I had done, the things that I would like to do. In spite of how angry she was, how terrible the situation was, part of me wanted to take her right then, to feel her again around me. She pressed her lips together and gave up on her sentence with an exasperated sigh. “So… what’s the deal, then? I’m stuck here? Where is here? How long will you keep me here?”

Some of those questions I couldn’t answer. How long? How long would I keep Natalia here? That was the problem. How long would Natalia be someone I could not bear to lose? I couldn’t trap her here forever. And yet I couldn’t let her go…

“Natalia. I know you have no reason to believe me.”

She shook her head ‘no’ in emphatic agreement with that statement.

“But I have your best interests at hear—in mind. There are very, very dangerous men in this world who would try to hurt you. If you are here…” I waved around at the ocean that surrounded us on every side, “then you are safe.”

She was still angry, but her lower lip began to tremble. I took a step toward her. “I can protect you here.”

She folded her arms in resignation, her eyes welling up with fresh tears that she did not seem to be able to keep back now. “I don’t even know you,” she said, reaching up with one hand to wipe away a tear impatiently. She looked back at me. My heart felt like a molten stone when her expression changed, and she bit her lower lip. A tear fell out of the eye she hadn’t wiped. “You’re a bad man, aren’t you?”

I sighed and looked away from her face. The molten rock in my chest grew heavy, turning cold. What the hell did I care if she asked that question? The answer was yes, and I’d never been afraid to admit that before: I was neutral, really, and I was only a bad man to bad people. I was proud of it, in a way. I had certainly never wished that I could give a different answer than the truth.

I stepped toward her, and the icy cold in my chest thawed when she didn’t step away. I stroked her wet cheek with the back of my hand. It was almost too good to be true, her standing there, unflinchingly looking at me, waiting for my answer.

“It depends on who you are,” I finally answered. This was truthful, at least.

Her skin was like silk on the back of my hand. She hadn’t looked away when I answered her, and I moved closer to her, wanting so badly to take her, to feel her submit to me, to make love to her…

The final thought made me dizzy.

“And what am I?” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

I moved my thumb over her lip. My ears were ringing, and the intensity of the feeling inside of me was almost too much to contain. I don’t like emotions, so I avoid experiencing them.

But Natalia was unavoidable. I pulled her lip down gently, exposing the wet, raw flesh inside her mouth, thinking of how much I would have loved to feel her mouth around my cock, or under my own mouth, screaming with pleasure as I filled her full of my seed.

I shook my head, unable to speak to her. She was a treasure, she was someone I needed. But I couldn’t say that. The raw, cold-hot sensation inside my chest had spread everywhere and rendered me speechless. “You don’t have to worry about me,” I managed to say hoarsely.

Her mouth had been slightly open, and now she closed her lips around the tip of my thumb, sending a shudder through me. Our eyes met.

What would happen if Natalia suddenly learned of her power over me? What would happen to me?

I was suddenly furious with myself, furious with her, furious that this problem had come into my life. My raw anger and desire for Natalia collided, and I spun her around, pulling her head against my shoulder by placing my hand lightly over her throat. I breathed in her hair, the scent of her skin radiating from her body. It was warm, the air conditioning was not on, and she had begun to perspire lightly. The scent of her washed through me, exciting me, making me close my eyes. I could inhale her forever.

“You can’t keep me here forever,” she whispered.

I had no idea why she said that. But it tipped the precarious balance inside me, between love and almost a kind of hate, and I was angry again. I ran my fingers along her delicate neck and used my free hand to collect her wrists together.

“I can do whatever I like,” I growled in her ear. “And if I want to keep you here forever, and make you bend over and take my cock inside you every night, then I will. And there is nothing you can do about that, Natalia.”

I walked her to the bed. She didn’t protest much, and I could feel that she wanted to give in as much as I wanted her to, but her surrender was incomplete, and I wanted it fully. I gripped her jeans and yanked them down with her underwear, and then shredded the blouse, letting it fall away to the floor in tatters, one sleeve still clinging to her arm. She wore no bra, because I hadn’t given her one.

I gathered her hair and worked it around my fisted hand, pulling tightly until she gasped, to remind her who was in control here.

Her arms were free, and she tried to bring them to her head, but I was ahead of her and pulled tightly, then pushed her to her knees on the bed. I ran one hand over her bottom, where I knew it was still sore from her spankings, and in one place, a slightly raised patch betrayed a welt from the strap I had used to discipline her.

My fingers slipped between her crack, and to the center of her legs, where I encountered a hot, slick wetness. The memory of her hot flesh squeezed around my cock traveled through me, burning me up inside. Natalia Karkarov was going to consume me, which made me want to devour her first.

“Put your hands down,” I whispered in her ear. “Or I will have to discipline you again.”

Her hands dropped slowly, and I nudged her forward so that she fell onto her hands and knees. “Put your chest on the bed,” I instructed her. My cock was pressing so hard against my jeans, the zipper painful through my boxers. “Put your hands up on your ass.”

She hesitated, and began to turn her head back to me, so I gave her hair a twist and made her gasp. “I am going to tell you what to do, Natalia. And you are going to do it. For your own good. And now I need you to show me that you know how to be a good girl. Otherwise you might find that I can be a very bad man indeed.”

She dropped her chest to the bed, and I released her hair, letting it fall over her face, spreading out on the pillow. She brought her hands to her bottom, placing them awkwardly, the gesture of girl who had never been made to do much for a man who commanded her. That made me happy, just as her poor dancing skills relieved me when I thought of them. If I hadn’t cared before about Natalia being a stripper before, the idea infuriated me now, and I felt the hot sting of jealousy as I thought of any lover she might have had before me.

I was hastily shrugging out of my jeans, pulling off my t-shirt, staring at the glistening jewel between her legs. The competing forces of anger at my weakness, and desire to make Natalia love me back the way that I loved her, battled in my chest.

I moved her hands to where I wanted them, framing her lovely ass, spreading her cheeks slightly, submitting completely to me. Was she as willing as I wanted her to be? I could never know. But she could not hide that her body at least wanted what I was giving to her.

I dipped a finger into her pussy, admiring the quiver that traveled through her body. Teasing her, I drew my finger in and out, slowly, pushing against the tight walls of her love channel in all directions. I wanted to taste her, the scent of her was tangy and sweet, and I wanted to make her scream with my tongue.

But I wanted that when I could command her with nothing more than my voice, when she had submitted so fully to me that I could tell her to spread her legs and place her hands on the headboard, and she would do it, so completely mine that I could use her however I wanted.

I drew my finger up to the eyelet of her asshole, the tender pinkness of it obviously untouched. Dipping my thumb to her pussy to get it wet, I brought it back up and made several swirls around her hole, watching her squirm. But she was obedient, her hands on her ass, her pussy dripping.

I teased her a little more, and then I pushed gently inside of her.

Her hands dropped to the bed, and she tried to push up, her ass squeezing tightly around my finger. She gasped. “I can’t,” she whispered.

But she was already opening up, her body relaxing, the velvet inside of her ass beyond her tight ring tantalizing me. I turned my hand, twisting my thumb inside of her and deeper into her. My fingers could play with the soaked lips of her pussy and her throbbing, swollen clit. When I brushed the face of her button gently, her ass squeezed around me, and I knew that I had to have her like this. I curled my thumb and inserted a finger into her pussy, pushing up. I squeezed them together and she moaned into the bed.

I wanted to hear her say that she wanted this, to beg me. And then I wanted to fuck her senseless, filling her in every hole, claiming her as mine, over and over again.

Chapter Fourteen


When he pushed his thumb into me, I felt a sharp sting, but the craving to be full took over again, and even though I knew I should hate him, resist him, give in only because he held all the power over me for now, there was an undeniable part of me that wanted him inside of me. There. Everywhere.

My hands fell to the bed, and I bunched the sheets up in my fists when he began to fuck me gently with two fingers. My eyes welled up with tears from the sting of it, but like his spankings, it faded, and I was left only with a growing hunger, a desire to feel him claim me fully while I lay there, obedient, giving myself to him because he could take whatever he wanted. There was no point in resisting him, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to anymore.

When he moved his fingers away and I felt the tip of his cock against the face of my clit, I was almost disappointed. But to feel him inside of me again, I would take whatever I could get. He pushed into me, his fingers still deep in my ass, and his hard cock filled and stretched me, pushing against his fingers, and the sensation overwhelmed me so much I felt like someone had stepped on my chest to crush the last breath from inside of me. I gasped, and then I was silent, my whole body screaming like I had been holding my breath for hours.

The pleasure followed in a wave after that, and then, because he thrust deep inside and didn’t move, desire began to claw its way to the top. I tried to push against him, to move forward, to get him to fuck me. I needed him to. The orgasm that I was spiraling up to was too high, too intense; I feared if I didn’t go over now, I would be shattered by it when I finally came.

He gave me a slap on the ass, and the burn of his discipline didn’t help me any. “Don’t move,” he growled. “Stay just like that. I’m going to get myself nice and wet, if you’re a good girl, and then I’m going to fuck your ass and fill it with my cum. Right after you show me what a good girl you are and beg me to.”

Would I ever be able to tell him I wouldn’t do that, I would resist him—when my body only pulsed around his cock, eager to comply with exactly what he had ordered me to do? I wanted desperately to hate him, to tell him to fuck off, to resist him because he was a bad man who’d kidnapped me.

But I didn’t. Instead, my body squeezed his cock in waves and my pussy welled up even more as he stayed stationary inside my cunt and finger-fucked my ass.

“Tell me that you want to be a good little girl, Natalia.”

I balled the sheets up in my hand. He was fucking my ass with two fingers, and I wanted so much to feel him stretch me more, to get his cock inside of me, filling me up. Every fiber of my body just wanted more of him, and I hated myself for it. I refused to give him what he wanted. It was the right thing to do, right? I couldn’t just give in to this guy, and give him what he wanted, even if it was what I wanted…

“I can do this all night, Natalia,” he said in a low voice.

I rolled my feet in a circle and a whimper escaped me. I couldn’t take this all night, it would never end. If he just continued as he was, I would be up too high, I would say or do anything to get him to release me. I bit my lip.

He just waited, and then it was too much for me to bear.

“I want to be a good girl,” I whispered. “Please.”

He pushed down with his fingers, and I felt the pressure against my most intimate flesh between his fingers and his cock. I whimpered in pleasure. “Tell me that you want me to claim your ass, Natalia. Beg me to fuck your ass full of cum. I want to hear you say it.”

All the while he tortured me with his fingers moving slowly, rolling my flesh along his column, drawing the string inside me so tight I felt I would shatter when it broke. “I want… I want…” I had forgotten the words. I moaned as a particularly excruciating wave of pleasure rolled through me.

He leaned over me and pushed my hair from my face. “Say it, Natalia.”

“I want you to… oh! I want… claim my ass, I want you to fuck me in the ass, fill me full of cum. Please.”

I hated myself for loving to say those words. I could feel my body burning as I said them, squeezing him, craving more. But I obeyed him and stayed still, telling myself I did it only to avoid punishment, afraid to admit that I wanted to please him.

I heard a sharp sigh of what sounded like disappointment behind me. He stopped moving, and we were like that for several moments, my feverish desire consuming me, my body crying out for release. I squirmed, and he delivered a sharp swat across the middle of my ass. “Don’t move,” he breathed. “Stay just like that.”

I closed my eyes and squeezed the sheets, trying to obey him, though I was breathless for release.

Finally, he slid his cock slowly from inside of me, and his fingers from inside my ass. The emptiness gripped me, and I turned my face to bite into the mattress and the sheets. He brought the dripping tip of his cock to the pulsing eyelet of my ass, its thickness suddenly seeming too large.

“I’m going to fuck you now, Natalia. And if you are a very good girl, and you stay just like you are, then I will let you come. But if you are bad, Natalia, you are going to spend the whole night being punished.”

And then, I felt the sharp pain of his cock stretching open my ass. I squealed—but like the fingers before it, the pain, though intense, began to fade. And slowly, slowly, he began to fill me up. When he was deep inside, he thrust a little deeper, and my mouth fell open.

“Now put your hands between your legs, Natalia. And then submit to me completely. Take what I give you, and don’t move. Show me how good you can be.”

I did what he said, sliding my hands down between my knees. Now I was in such a submissive position it was almost humiliating, and my ass was thrust up further to him. I was so full inside, and I wanted to stay that way, and I wanted to obey him, but I was angry that I wanted to, angry that I would let myself give in to this man.

He fucked me slowly, and then slid his hand around my waist so that his fingers were in my pussy. When he touched my clit I screamed in pleasure and bucked against him. “Be good,” he reminded me, “or you won’t get your release.”

But he was playing with my clit and fucking my ass, and he drove me wild, so that finally I began to buck against him, so close to coming that I could feel it rushing at me like a freight train. I needed the release; I couldn’t fight against my body, not even to behave, not even to please him. I squirmed and pushed up on the mattress, bringing my hands next to my chest and trying to push up.

He pushed me back down. “That’s very bad, Natalia. Stay still… stay still and don’t move…”

But I tossed my hair and chewed on my lip. “I can’t,” I gasped. “I can’t…”

My sentence disappeared into an incomprehensible wail, because he started to fuck me in earnest, hard, slamming deep into my ass, punishing me for my disobedience. I felt him come, deep inside, the hot liquid welling around his throbbing flesh in the most unexpected place.

But he had abandoned my clit, and I was left twitching and craving release as he fell onto my back and drove his still-hard cock upward in a final thrust that set me on fire.

“That was not what I asked you to do, Natalia,” he breathed in my ear, tugging on a sweat-soaked strand of my hair so that it snaked over my face and then my shoulder. “And now you are going to be punished.”

For a few moments, he lingered there, as I closed my eyes slowly and let the shiver he sent through me travel down my limbs and back a few times.

Abruptly, he was gone; his cock slithered out of me and I no longer felt the heat of his body. I looked behind me to see that he was walking to a drawer in a small chest on one wall of the room.

My body was crying out to be relieved. I watched him, perplexed, as he pulled two scarves from hangers inside the wardrobe.

He climbed onto the bed on his knees. His thick cock, still semi-hard, slapped from thigh to thigh. He grabbed me in much the same way he had before, and this time, pushed me flat to the bed. He climbed over my torso and squeezed me between his legs, and before I knew what was happening or how it had happened, he had tied my wrists and my ankles together, and strung them together as well.

I was hog-tied.

I threw my head around to try and look at him, I was speechless, so he had time to get something else from the wardrobe, and before I knew it he was placing a gag in my mouth—a large round ball, with rubber straps that attached at the back of my head.

But he didn’t stop there. He pushed my knees apart, and as I moaned helplessly into the gag, he pushed my knees forward and further apart to get my ass into the air.

I screamed into the gag as he caressed my pussy with his mouth. His tongue flicked, and trailed, and licked, and pressed, bringing me so close to climax I thought at least five times I would finally go over the edge. But he did this only to pull away and let me sit there, tied up, crying, screaming that I was sorry but into a gag that made it impossible for him to hear. The blood pounded in my ears. I could think of nothing else but how much I wanted him to set me free, to let the climax grip me and squeeze me and make me pass out from its sheer terrifying pleasure.

But he just continued to tease me with his tongue, working me up, closing his lips around the whole root and rolling it around in his hot mouth while he placed a palm on my ass and dipped his fingers into my quivering hole.

And then, so suddenly that it felt like I had been thrown into a cement wall, he stood up, and left me with nothing touching my body, no way to bring myself to the heights needed for release.

“Now, Natalia, I am going to leave you like that for a while. That’s your punishment. And we’ll see, when I come back, if you can be a little more obedient.”

I didn’t want to let him know that he had such power over me, but I could not stop myself from screaming into the gag and throwing my head back.

But he was gone, and I was tied up so tightly I could not possibly break loose.

And between my legs, my pussy pounded and throbbed, wanting nothing more than to finally, finally be tipped over the edge, however terrifying it might be.

Chapter Fifteen


I waited in the dark, drinking on the couch, hoping to amuse myself with something else—anything else—but there was no place to turn to in my mind, no plan to make, nothing that could distract me from thinking about her.

I could almost tell myself that I was still on track with my intentions; that this was a game designed to get her to submit to me, to obey me, all to the end of getting her to do what I wanted. I could tell myself that what I wanted was to rid myself of the problem of Natalia Karkarov once and for all.

But I felt much more out of control than that, and I knew these were lies even as I repeated them inside my head.

The real reason I had her tied up right then was because I couldn’t control myself with her. The real reason I had stopped was because I needed to regain my self-control, not lose myself in the velvety depths of her flesh. Her pussy was so tight, so wet, so perfectly suited to my size, that every minute movement of her body had jerked me to the teetering edge of losing control. And she had enjoyed the pleasure of being taken from behind, had melted into the role of being dominated as intimately as that.

I could feel an obsession with her taking over the parts of my mind that needed to be dedicated to planning without feeling, without addition, without desire.

When I returned to her, she put on a good show of being broken and ready to be obedient. She had gone limp, leaning into her restraints, her breathing rapid but her body relenting. I pushed her sweat-soaked hair from her face, and she stared ahead of her, her eyes vacant as though she had finally given in and would let me do what I wanted with her.

I pulled the gag from her mouth, and she breathed easier as I stroked her hair away from her face and her hot neck.

“Do you want me to untie you now, Natalia?”

I should have known by how she answered, by the slight hesitation as she fought against her will to resist me, that she was not yet fully broken. Maybe I did know, maybe I could feel beneath her skin, her spirit still coiled up tightly, waiting for a chance to spring. But I wanted her so badly I could no longer wait.

“Yes, sir,” she whispered.

I traced my fingers down her spine, her skin so wet it was slippery. Between her legs she was soaked, her juices dripping down her thighs. I played with the eyelet of her ass, dipping my fingers into the hot velvet inside of her and feeling her body flex against the restraints in pleasure.

“Will you be a good girl for me?”

Of course she murmured, “Yes, sir,” but if she hadn’t, who knows if I could have resisted her? As the words left her mouth I felt relief, and then hunger for her started to consume me again. I moved behind her, one hand deep inside her quivering pussy, and I made her moan as I removed the ropes around her wrists.

“Stay just like that,” I told her, putting her hands, palms down, against her round bottom. A quick learner—or a good liar—she gripped her flesh and pulled herself apart for me. Her bottom rose and fell slightly, beckoning me to take her.

“This time,” I growled at her, “I want you to remain still. Do not move. Show me that you can take what I give you, and only if you can be very, very good, and very, very obedient, will I let you come. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” she breathed. Around my fingers her pussy throbbed, and I pinched her clit between my thumb and forefinger. She turned her face to moan into the pillows, and her left hand began to slip from her ass.

“Keep your hands where I put them, Natalia. Hold yourself open for me.”

She obeyed me, but her body was tense beneath her skin, ready to boil over.

My cock was throbbing, pre-cum gushing from the tip. Slowly, I pulled my hand from inside of her and started to bring it to my lips to taste her, but the tangy scent of her drove me so wild my cock throbbed against her ass, and I knew I wouldn’t last long enough to punish her properly if I could savor her in my mouth.

Later, I decided.

Her body was hot, her pussy tight and soaking wet as I slid slowly inside of her. She moaned into the sheets, and her fingernails sank into her ass. I could feel her feet twisting between my legs, but she remained obedient and did not move as I fucked her slowly, my eyes on the view of her engorged red cunt around my cock, the inviting pink hole inside of which her skin was so soft and velvety that thinking of it almost pushed me over the edge.

I had to stop, or I would have lost control. That made me angry—no woman had ever made me lose control.

Annoyed, I pushed her over onto her back. The light pink petals of her pussy were glistening with her excitement as she spread her legs open for me. I commanded her to do it and she did it: she laid her hands to either side of her. These were signs of her submission, but her eyes met mine and I could see in them that she was still defiant.

I pushed her hands to the frame of the table and found the restraints to tie her down, blood pounding in my ears, my muscles flexing with a surge of feelings I did not enjoy.

Loss of control.

This enraged me.

I was not very gentle with the defiant little brat, who was making me lose control, as I untied her legs and pushed her ankles to her hands.

“Hold yourself open,” I commanded her, and she did my bidding, spreading her long legs apart so that I could slap her pussy and make her gasp, and pinch her clit until the pain must have overtaken the pleasure that made her shudder. Her eyes grew wet and she bit into her lip, her legs trembled with the strain of holding them and holding back her own need. She dug her nails into her calves—but the defiance in her eyes would not diminish.

I grabbed her by the hair and fed my cock into her mouth. “Look at me,” I told her, as I disappeared into her throat. I could feel her gag, I could see her eyes grow wetter until tears streamed down her face. She met my eyes in this, the most submissive of all acts, her body bent to my every whim, my cock deep in her throat, and still she had some power over me.

I came in her mouth and made her swallow my cum, and when I asked her to lick me clean she did it with her eyes on mine, but this still did not quench my desire for power or make her break. She ran her tongue along my cock and opened her mouth to take my balls inside of her as I commanded, her tongue working me to a frenzy again, but the fire inside of her did not go out.

Frustrated, I pushed her back onto her hands and knees and found a leather strap. Her ass was crisscrossed with the marks of my previous training, and I flogged her without mercy, making her count out her punishment, hoping that she would beg me to stop and let me know that she was broken. Her voice cracked, her skin turned red, and her hands shook when I made her rub the welts I had given her, but when I told her to put her hands on them and massage them, she did as I asked.

I should have left her there longer, made her pay more dearly, really broken her.

But I didn’t.

I didn’t, because I couldn’t wait, because I was so hard from the hours I managed to wait for her that I couldn’t wait any longer, because the wait was torturing me as much as it was her, because I had created a problem for myself: I needed her.

Did she know what she doing? Did she know that she held a power over me that I could not control, that she might have believed that I had power over her, when in fact it was the other way around?

Nothing could satisfy me; I buried myself in her pussy and barely managed to pull out before I came again, and no matter how I restrained her, no matter how creatively I tied her up to be motionless, her body moved around me in waves of silky pleasure that I could not escape from, even after I came onto her skin and exhausted her so that I had to carry her to her bedroom. She stayed with me, embedded in my mind. No matter how many times I had her, I wanted more, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her.

This went on for days, until I had her right where I had believed that I wanted her; she gave herself to me completely, let me do anything I wanted to her, turned onto her stomach and let me take her any way I chose. When I told her to beg, she begged, and when I told her to swallow my cum, she sucked me dry. If I told her to lie still and wait for my permission to come, she did what I asked of her. But every device designed to give me power over her only made her own power over me stronger.

She stopped asking me when I would release her, and as we lay entangled after I used her body, because I didn’t want her away from me, I was relieved that the words never left her mouth because I didn’t have an answer. I would never let her go, and yet if she were to command me to do it, could I resist giving her what she wanted?

Until one night, she was nearly sleeping, with her head lying on my chest. I was entertaining the weak fantasy that I indulged in: that I could somehow have her like this, for all of time, and that there was no reason I could not.

“What do you want from me?” she said quietly, half-asleep.

I wasn’t able to say anything more than, “This. Just this.” And then she was quiet for so long, while my heart pounded with a new sort of fear I had never felt before, the cold icy fingers of having told her the truth, of revealing that she had won in this game of power, whether she knew it or not.

She turned her head to look up at me, her blue eyes wide and wet. “Alaric,” she said, her fingers trailing lazily on my chest. Her touch burned through me; it was all I could feel, pulling at something inside of me until I felt so stretched by it that I might snap. “I have something I need to ask you for.”

Anything, I wanted to say. Did she know that she could ask me for anything? That she was more powerful than she could imagine? I hated her in that moment, as much as I loved her and needed her.

She pushed herself up on her elbows to look at me, her long hair brushing over my chest. “I’ll do anything you say,” she said. “But…” Her eyes filled with tears. It took all the strength I could muster not to brush them away, not to reveal to her that I would do anything to make her stop crying. Anything but let her go, anything but tell her that she had consumed me.

I remained silent. A hot tear fell on my chest and sent an ache through me that made me even angrier with myself, with her, with the helplessness she was subjecting me to.

“I have a commitment,” she said, her voice cracking.

My mind went first to commitment to another man, and my whole body was heated in a flash; I was ready to fight for her, to kill for her, to destroy her ‘commitment.’ I seethed inwardly, unable to speak.

“There’s a girl, a friend, Lucy… she’s… she helped me through everything in life, she’s my foster sister…”

She kept talking, and the wave of anger inside of me crashed up against the walls of my body and slowly ebbed away. “She… she’s not well. She was never adopted, she needs to be in a mental health facility, and she… the state ones are so terrible, I couldn’t leave her there, and so I’ve been paying for her, that’s why I worked at Kitty Bang Bang…” Her voice turned into a sob. “I don’t care about anything else, but she doesn’t have anyone. I just have to make sure she’s okay.”

She rose to sitting, her legs curled underneath her. Relief—that she hadn’t told me she loved some other man, that the explanation for her working for Andrej Sulov was something so benign—was flooding through me. She was not a stripper, not a prostitute, not a drug addict: all of her confessions had been true.

Her eyes were wet and supplicant; this was the first time I had felt that she was truly giving in to me, truly begging me, and it must have cost her defiant spirit so much to ask.

I touched her cheek and ran my fingers over her perfect mouth. “What do you want, Natalia?” I asked her.

She closed her eyes and tears splashed onto her cheeks. “Could you… she’s at a place called Stoney Creek. She’ll be… she’ll be moved somewhere else, somewhere horrible if her bills aren’t paid. I don’t have any money; I don’t even know…” Her voice ended in a sob. “But you could do it, couldn’t you? You could pay for her?”

She was twisting her fingers together. I realized that this request must have been the ultimate submission for her, the ultimate humiliation.

I recoiled from her, sitting up, my hands on her shoulders.

Touching her was more than I could bear, making her cry like that, feeling the grip of her power over me, it was all too much.

“Give me the information,” I said angrily.

I rose and put on my clothes. I needed to be away from her, to exercise, she was pulling me in too deep. “Give me the information and I will send someone to handle it.”

I walked to the door and unlocked it, leaving her on the bed.

I made the mistake of looking back. She was wiping a tear away, her face confused, a painful mixture of fear and adoration burning at me from behind her blue eyes. This was not how I wanted to win her, not how I wanted things to be, though I couldn’t say why. My intentions had been to break her, but not like this, not in a way that left her no choice. “So you—”

“I will handle it. I will pay for your friend.”

I turned and left, the coil of tension wrapping more and more tightly within me with every step, her face burning into my vision, my mind, my soul.

“Thank you,” I heard her say.

The words were like acid thrown at my back, and they burned and burned all night as I ran on the treadmill, trying to run away from Natalia Karkarov and her power over me.

Chapter Sixteen


Days turned easily into weeks, until I lost count of them and no longer knew how long I had been out of my life. Sometimes I wondered what was going on there… but I had few real friends, and even fewer things I really cared about. If Lucy’s bills were taken care of, it was all that really mattered anywhere else in the world but here, with him.

I spent a lot of time sitting on the beach, reading books, thinking. I had a floaty mattress I could take out hundreds of yards without the water going up past my chest. It was warm and pleasant, and a breeze came along in the afternoon to cool me off. Sometimes I thought about Andrej, about the dank, shitty club, all the sticky booze on the floor and the terrible men, and I was thankful to be away from it all.

But mostly, lying in the warm water, I thought about Alaric.

There was a darkness to him, and one that couldn’t be denied. If that was all there had been inside of him, though, I would have simply accepted my fate here, trapped on his island, as a temporary, semi-pleasurable thing, that I would end as soon as I could get away from him. Or he tired of me. Or something changed.

He had claimed every inch of my body as his, and when he took me, I let him have me however he wanted. He had bound me into contorted positions and made me beg him for release, and I would have been lying to say I didn’t take any pleasure from it. I liked to submit to him, on a feral level.

And if that had been all there was, that is all I would have thought about—the strength of him, overpowering me, forcing me to do his bidding, punishing me deliciously when I failed to please him.

But there was more to him than that. Something deep and inaccessible, that surfaced in strange moments. At times he could display deep tenderness. One day I had floated into a sea of small jellyfish and they had stung my legs. He was there in a second to fish me out of the water, stoically getting stung all over himself, and then he treated my stings with such gentle care it was hard to believe he was the same man who had pushed me to my hands and knees to pleasure him with my mouth, my pussy, and my ass for hours in the morning. And then, he had summoned from his seemingly interminable on-call workers, ten men to clear the whole bay of jellyfish by patrolling it all with a net.

All so I could enjoy the water again.

But as soon as he became tender like this, and our eyes would meet in a moment so close to being… normal, like two people who were dating or in a regular relationship, he would withdraw suddenly and sharply. His eyes would turn dark again, and he would be cold, sending me to my room. Or sometimes he would take me to his special room to be punished, and the punishment would be severe, even though I had done nothing.

I was determined not to let him break me like that. I knew there was something behind his darkness. Something there that he didn’t want to reveal.

And for a long time, that was the obsession I had with him—he was a mystery I wanted to unravel, more out of curiosity than anything else. My body craved him, and my mind was fascinated by him, and I was trapped there anyway, so I slowly let go of the guilt I felt for enjoying my kidnapping so much.

And then… it happened. And my need to understand him became much more than mere curiosity.

After a few days, he had left a package of pills in my room and told me to take them. That was fine by me, of course I would. But the days were dreamlike, so I lost track of time and responsibilities, and he had left the island, posting his silent, morose guards all around the house. He hadn’t been there to check on me, to remind me, and I had missed a day.

And I had missed him. When he returned I had felt a sense of relief. I was still telling myself I hated him, that I would leave as soon as I could find a way to escape, that I was only playing a game to appease him long enough that he would take me off the island and I could escape.

But inside, I felt quite differently, and it wasn’t hard to play that game, and pretend that I wanted him.

I had run to meet him, and we had gotten no further than the living room before we were at it. That time had been different, more like lovemaking than just sex, and as soon as he closed his eyes and gripped my hair tightly, pumping my body full of his seed, I knew. I just knew. The mistake had made me pregnant. I could feel it.

I had toyed with the idea of taking extra pills. The girls at Kitty Bang Bang had pulled that one a dozen times at the club. It made you sick as hell, sure, but it was a solution.

And I couldn’t have this crazy man’s baby. Could I?

But days went by, and I let the pills pile up. At first, I decided I would save up ten or so, and make myself really ill by using them all at once, aborting the baby and getting a doctor to come.

But they piled up, and I didn’t take them. To myself I would say that I was afraid—afraid of being sick, out here so far away, where I depended on him to get me a doctor.

But the real reason was something else, and deep down inside I knew it: I didn’t want to. I wanted his child growing inside of me, because I also wanted him.

And he didn’t help. A change seemed to come over him. He was still prone to sudden withdrawals, deep inside himself, but he didn’t get as dark as he used to, tying me to hooks in the ceiling and whipping me until my whole bottom felt like it was on fire, before pushing me into one of his contraptions to immobilize me, ass in the air, hands between my legs, to take me over and over again however he wanted.

And after a while, even though I wasn’t showing, it was too late. I knew I couldn’t do it.

And that gave me a whole different set of problems.

More than once or twice, while we were enjoying dinner in the open, breezy dining room on the third floor, looking out over the water with candles and some delicious fish he had procured, I came close to telling him. It would be on the tip of my tongue, but the cold, choking feeling in my chest would not let me say it. I told myself that I wanted to keep the secret, but really, in the end, I think I was too afraid to hear him say that he didn’t want it. I wanted to drag out my fantasy that he cared for me, that the tender man inside of him was the real man, as long as I could.

He wasn’t, and I found that out soon enough.

Chapter Seventeen


I knew the next day.

I had been consumed by thoughts of her the entire week that I was gone. This was not a good way to be. I am a mercenary, and I have loyalties—purchased loyalties, but loyalties nonetheless—to the men under my command, wherever that may be, and for whatever reason they served. It’s a code, and a man has to have a code.

Nothing bad happened on that mission, but I wasn’t my professional best. Natalia stole something from the thrill of the job and turned it empty and sour. She was eating into my thoughts, stirring up a conscience, making me second-guess the things I was doing.

And distracting me. Distracting me so much.

I was angry just before I saw her. The anger that gnawed at me whenever I felt that she was cracking through my exterior, making me weak, taking my single greatest source of strength—my independence—away.

I was going to make her suffer that night. I could already envision the devices I would use on her, forcing open her every hole and using her over and over again until she was nothing but a powerless, limp rag, filled with my cum, spanked into submission, unable to walk straight.

But then I saw her there, descending the steps, and my body was seized by a different feeling entirely.

I tried to take her to my special room, but I wanted her before I got there. Differently.

And she took away all the control I had, that night.

So when I saw her the next morning, and I saw the glow on her skin, read the strangeness in her eyes, I knew. I knew that she knew, and I knew for sure—the passionate lovemaking on the couch had left my seed inside of her, and she was pregnant.

I was gripped by fear, as deep as it could go. Fear like I had never felt before, because now, suddenly, the idea of losing Natalia had become fathoms more deeply unbearable. Even thinking of it drove me to a state of madness, where my thoughts became disorderly and I could only feel: where I might have died inside if anything had happened to Natalia before, I now felt like I would burn the whole world if anything happened to her now.

And I knew that I would do anything to protect her, and there was no more chance of that wearing off, someday, as I had been, I suppose, hoping I would eventually feel.

I decided to wait for her to tell me. Surely she would—surely she would have to.

And in the meantime, we continued to make love so much like what had gotten me into this mess. We had dinner together, and she would decline the wine, or take a mere sip and no more, and at times the wind would pick up in her hair and her eyes would be wide and moist, and I thought that she wanted to tell me her secret.

But she didn’t.

When I found her stockpile of pills I was unsure what to make of it. She had obviously stopped taking them—which gripped me with fear and elation, because it meant my suspicions were right.

But why stockpile them?

That’s why I brought Eric in. A doctor, a man who owed me favors as profound as the ones I had owed to Kyril. I had saved his life and saved his favor for when I needed a discreet surgeon.

One who could be trusted.

A man doesn’t get many favors like that in his lifetime; they’re not to be squandered.

But I was going to use them on her.

“If you don’t want her to abort the child, replace the pills,” Eric advised me, without asking questions. He sent me a stockpile of placebos. I knew what he meant: I couldn’t trust her.

I deliberated over it for a long time, while she lay in the shade on the beach.

In the end, I left the pills.

A woman who declines wine and stays in the shade when she loves the sun is not saving pills to kill her baby. Or at least, she is undecided.

And wasn’t this what I wanted all along? For her to come to me of her own volition? It meant nothing to me if I forced her. I could, it was within my power.

But something about that sort of victory was too hollow for me, and it did nothing to fill the void that seemed to be growing every day.

Chapter Eighteen


I knew that he was growing suspicious of me. So when the brown-haired man with glasses and a straight, military posture arrived at the island, and Alaric took the time to introduce me to him, I knew something was up.

He even invited the man—Eric, no last name given, a faint accent in his voice as well—to dinner, and it surfaced that Eric had been a medic, in some mysterious time and some mysterious war that no one ever got around to explaining to me. I knew he was more than a medic; he was a doctor, and Alaric was introducing him to me so that when he examined me I would not be afraid.

At first I was pissed off.

But then it occurred to me that it was a roundabout way of getting what I wanted; I could find out what Alaric’s reaction would be without having to tell him myself. And then I would know what to do. I could save myself the potentially crushing experience of him looking at me across the table, disappointment falling over his face, and then telling me to get rid of it.

We had a nice time, even taking a sailboat out of the cove and into the blue waters, where there was nothing but ocean and us. Weeks before it would have been depressing to me, suffocating even, to be sailing out in the endless blue, with no way home and no land in sight, nothing but Alaric to keep me from disappearing into the water.

Instead, it was a beautiful day, and he was in one of those moods where he looked at me with tenderness. With the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, I could almost imagine that everything could work out, that I could have the baby of a man like Alaric, whatever he did, whoever he was. Watching him trim the sails, feeling his hand on my arm as he caught me when the boat tipped and I slipped, feeling his chest as he pulled me close… I was swept up. Did it matter what kind of man he was to anyone except me?

I started to feel like I could tell him, like I could divulge my secret.

We arrived late; the sun had long since set, and the two of them had caught several fish they were going to cut up into ceviche. I never got out much, and I was pretty sure you weren’t supposed to eat raw fish when you’re pregnant, so I put on my best smile and shook my head. “I don’t think I’m brave enough for that,” I told him.

“No,” he said, almost too suddenly. “No, of course, we’ll grill it.”

I was tired. I had gotten too much sun, even though Alaric had thoughtfully brought sunscreen and helped me apply it, and I had been wearing a hat.

“The water makes you tired,” Eric said, as my eyes grew heavy. They were into the whiskey, and I had taken a sip of my white wine for show. “Oh, man,” I said, feeling too drowsy to stay up. “I think I have to go to bed…”

Alaric took me upstairs, carrying me the last flight of steps. I was going to make a sarcastic remark, but instead I just smiled at him. When he lay me down in bed, he kissed my forehead. His lips were warm and dry, and my eyes felt heavier as I thought of the satisfaction I felt at that moment. “Get some rest,” he said. “Maybe you need a break from the sun tomorrow.”

I fell asleep, feeling warm and hopeful, the idea that I could find a way to be happy with him—and he with me, maybe—lifting my dreams into feathery fantasies.

I woke up because I was cold. The window was open, and as happened often, the ocean breeze had gotten chilly. A storm was gathering in the distance.

Stories below, the glow of the torches that lit the patio where we had been preparing the fish were still flickering and I could hear the low voices of Eric and Alaric. I wondered what time it was; it seemed late.

I became thirsty, and it was overwhelming. Usually there was a pitcher of water in the room, brought by maids I almost never saw and who quite obviously wouldn’t have been able to talk to me even if they had wanted to. Curiously, none of them seemed to be from the same place, and they rotated out frequently, which was one of the many aspects of Alaric’s home that made me uneasy.

But there was no water here. I’d have to go downstairs.

I decided to creep down there. It might have been true that I was going down there for water, but it was also true that I relished the chance to eavesdrop. Alaric was obviously old friends with this guy; I had seen him interact only with people who were his employees, or with Andrej. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see what he was like to someone who was a friend.

Their conversation seemed light enough as I approached. I even heard Eric laugh, and so I crept ever closer, from the living room side of the house. They were speaking in low voices, so I had to creep behind the low stucco wall to hear them.

My feet got tired from crouching after just a few minutes, and I couldn’t really understand what they were talking about, anyway. Names and places, none of them recognizable. The kind of banter between old friends—“Have you heard from Bryce, do you know whatever happened to Ryker?” I got bored, and I was getting ready to go to the kitchen for my water, when there was a pregnant silence, and then Eric took a deep breath.

“Tell me why I’m here, mate.”

I froze. I knew, somehow, that it had something to do with me. Eric’s tone didn’t sound good.

I heard the strike of a match, and on its heels the scent of a cigarette wafted over the wall.

“I told you.”

That was Alaric. His voice—cheery just moments before—had gone cold.

There was another silence.

“I need a favor.”

Eric let out a sigh. “I got that much, mate. What I don’t understand is what you’re spending your credit on, exactly.”

There was a silence.

“Tell me it isn’t her.”

“You know it is.”

“Mate, look. You know you’ve got whatever you want coming from me… but it’s… you can take care of this kind of thing…” His voice grew lower.

They spoke some more, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I thought I heard someone mention Lucy, and my heart skipped a beat.

The scuffle of two men fighting interrupted the ever-spiraling lowering of voices. I gripped the wall, wondering what I would do if this degenerated into a full-blown fight. But it stopped as suddenly as it had started.

A long conversation I couldn’t hear ensued, so low I couldn’t discern who was talking. When I finally understood a sentence, almost five minutes later, it was a hiss, and it turned me to stone with fear.

“Get rid of her. Get rid of Lucy. Get rid of her… at least get rid of the baby.”

The ground swirled beneath my feet.

The voices dropped off into unintelligible mumbles again, as I slumped to the floor.

I don’t know how long I was there, my hands on the stone.

I had been so wrong, all along.

A sob threatened to erupt from inside of me. I was so stupid.

And not only was I stupid, I was in danger.

I’d screwed up enough times in my life to know how this went. Even though this particular screw-up was cutting deeper than I had thought possible, I still had an instinct for survival.

Of course he was a bad man—he’d said so himself. Of course he was. He was rich, and like my friend Laura had said so many times: there’s nobody rich who ain’t stealin from somebody.

The richer men are, the meaner they are.

That’s another one that went around Kitty Bang Bang.

I was starting to think I should have listened better to those girls.

Think, I thought. My heart stopped for a moment, and for a few seconds I was sure the pain of realizing I was an idiot was going to consume me.

But I wasn’t going down like that.

All this time, even as I’d let myself slide into this life, I supposed I had never really believed in it. So I’d noticed a few things: the fishing village, off to the east of the island. Miles and miles away, but it was there.

I’d noticed that you could push a boat out of the cove while still standing in the shallow water.

I’d noticed that you could run a boat without sailing it, which is what we’d done all the way back that afternoon.

I wasn’t big on adventure, never had been.

Maybe there is something that kicks in when you’re pregnant, even if you’ve just been forced to consider that the man whose baby you have is going to try to kill you and you probably don’t want it anyway.

Who knows?

All I knew was, an hour later, I was as awake as I’d ever been in my life, waist deep in cool water in the pitch black, edging the sailboat toward the mouth of the cove. Slowly, because I knew that there were guards there, but I also knew that they watched the sky and the water far, far out, because those were the only ways anyone could get to the island.

The sailboat proved too heavy. And that’s when I remembered the raft at the back of it.

I was never particularly resourceful, but out there in the pitch black, I managed to wrestle the boat free from the deck and get it into the water, and then I even thought to take water and a lifejacket with me. The raft had a motor, which I felt I would figure out how to use.

I even tied the sailboat to a rock—not very well—before leaving.

Last thing I needed was for him to get mad that I’d wrecked his boat.

And then, in the pitch-black night, as scared as I’ve ever been in my life, I paddled out to the open water.

Very promptly, I regretted what I had done.

The water outside the cove was choppy and tossed me around so that I lost my sense of direction almost immediately.

The lights of the house appeared first on the left, then the right, and I paddled, spinning, and lost my way completely.

Dark clouds had been enclosing all night, and now they swallowed the sea in every direction—including the dim lights of the fishing village.

The house was suddenly very far away.

I could go back, I thought.

But then I would be dead.

The thin line of the horizon began to turn navy blue, and my heart filled with hope. The storm would pass, in the daylight I would be able to see the ocean, and then I would know which way I had gone, and I would make it to the fishing village.

Only the sky grew light so slowly, and when I could finally see all around me, I spun and spun my gaze around, twisting to see in every direction, the boat swirling on the still water with my movement.

There was nothing in sight at all but ocean.

“Okay,” I said quietly to myself, the seriousness of my situation slowly washing over me. How stupid had I been? I didn’t know anything about the water, or boats, or where I was, or… anything. I had watched Deep Water, though, and right about now I was pretty sure that’s what I was in.

Deep, deep shit.

“Okay,” I repeated, as my eyes welled up with tears.

What were my choices? Row, and maybe row out to sea, further away than I wanted to go? Or just float, and hope I washed up somewhere?

Really, this had been so, so stupid. What had I been thinking? The lights had seemed so easy to follow.

I cried for a while, and then I ran out of tears. The sun started blaring down on me, and I felt terrible. I was thirsty but I didn’t dare drink any water until the last possible minute. I was probably getting a sunburn.

I’m not the kind of girl to just give up, so I tried to pull myself together. The whole reason I was out there, I reminded myself, was because I thought Alaric was going to kill me. So if I did die out there—which was looking and feeling much more likely with every passing second—at least I’d done it under my own terms.

And also, I thought smugly, he would probably never know that I had died out there in a boat, and so maybe I would at least have the small victory of him thinking I had gotten away.

Time passed, and it got hotter and hotter. I dug through the contents of the boat and found a small shelter, which killed some amount of time while I figured out how to set it up. I sat under it for a moment and was overtaken by panic again. So I started digging through the supplies and found a pair of binoculars, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, and a fire extinguisher.


I took out the binoculars and brought them to my eyes to scan the horizon. I moved in a slow circle even though I thought things were hopeless. And sure enough they—

I squinted.

Far, far away, though I would never be able to say how far because the distance were so distorted at sea, I saw a speck of slightly darker gray-blue than the water. The water and sky blended and made me dizzy as I stared at it, trying to determine what it was, and as it stayed steady, with sharp angles that could not be anything but rock or metal, my heart went sailing to my throat and then back down to my feet.

It was something.

And I could get to it.

But what was it?

Chapter Nineteen


The day on the water had been nice. Sailing had always calmed me, and I hardly ever did it. It was a perfect day on the water, Natalia was enjoying herself, and it was almost possible to pretend that I had some other kind of life: a wife, a family, a boat to sail on, and nothing dark lurking in every corner of my world.

I could tell that Eric was brooding about something. He had his eyes on Natalia with a strange light behind them. I hadn’t told him anything about her—I hadn’t even told him why he was there yet, but Eric was no fool. We weren’t the kind of friends who visited each other for a nice day of sailing and to introduce our girlfriends. If we summoned each other, there was business on the table, and I had, by rights, only one kind of business with Eric: the favor he owed me.

He didn’t know about Kyril, but he knew of Kyril, and in our line of work, rumors didn’t travel fast but they did travel. I wondered, as he looked at Natalia with his eyes half-closed, as though she were a woman he had met once and couldn’t place.

I dismissed it as paranoia; I needed Eric’s favor if I wanted to find out if Natalia was pregnant and to have our baby delivered with discretion. There could be hundreds of reasons why I might do that, and Eric was my choice precisely because he owed it to me not to ask questions.

“I’m going to bed,” Natalia announced early in the evening. She was genuinely tired, which only added confirmation to my suspicions. I took her to bed and returned to talk to Eric.

Eric cleared his throat and leaned forward to set his drink down. “Pretty girl,” he said.

It was Eric’s way of saying a lot in few words. I set my own drink down and rolled an ice cube in my mouth.

“Tell me why I’m here, mate.”

I looked out at the dark blue of the ocean. “I need a favor.”

Eric took a sip of his whiskey and cleared his throat again. “I got that, mate. What I don’t understand is what you’re spending your credit on, exactly.”

I was silent.

“Tell me it isn’t her.”

“You know it is.”

He cracked an ice cube. “Mate, look. You know you’ve got whatever you want coming from me… but it’s… you can take care of this kind of thing through the mail.”

“That’s not what I want.”

Eric let his head fall back, looking up at the stars. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

It’s what I was afraid of, too. But I decided not to say anything.

“Rumors are going around, mate,” Eric said after a long pause.

“About?” I asked sullenly. It couldn’t have been Natalia; no one knew about her being here. “If it’s about her, I know where they came from.”

“Not about her. About some Lucy, in a Stoney Creek Mental Health Facility.”

My heart skipped a beat—and that’s not something that happened to me. Not because I cared about Lucy, but because Lucy was one step closer to Natalia. One step too close.

“What’s the rumor?”

Eric swirled his whiskey. “There’s a rumor that this girl Lucy is really somebody else.”

I turned sharply to him. “And who would that be?”

Eric knew he was on to something. “People are saying…” he cleared his throat again, “It’s a strange thing that someone like Alaric Vitkus is paying for a mentally ill patient in a mental ward. I don’t think it’s too long before they start thinking of all the people it could be. Before someone gets around wondering if it could be… I don’t know… that long-lost daughter of Kyril Karkarov’s.”

“She’s dead,” I said bitterly. “Lucy is a favor.”

“To who?”

“I don’t kiss and tell, you know that.”

Eric laughed lightly.

“That Karkarov girl. What was her name?”

I glared at him. Something in my expression must have frightened him, because he held up his hands in mock surrender. “Look, mate, you got no problem coming from me, okay? I don’t know any Natalia, I never met any Natalia, and I don’t want one fucking thing to do with any Natalia, Karkarov or otherwise. Every Natalia I ever met was bad news. But look, man… you’re putting me in a bad place asking me for this favor.”

He was right. And I’d never thought of it, not even for a moment.

Eric cleared his throat. “Look. The guy I knew—the guy we all know—wouldn’t be playing this game. How long you think it’ll take for someone to put two and two together? They’re gonna go after that Lucy girl, and when they carve her eyes out and they don’t work, they’re not just gonna go home and say, oh well. And if Lucy knows, knew, or has even thought about knowing some Natalia in her whole life, she’s gonna say so by the time they’re done with her. So you tell me. Is Lucy going to know a girl named Natalia?”

I looked at my drink. “Lucy is unrelated.”

Eric made a derisive sound with his nose. “Right.”

“I did the wrong thing, asking you here,” I said. “You’re right, it puts you in a bad position.”

“You’re fucking right it does.”

“I’ll pay you.”

Eric sniffed again. “Not enough money even in your bank accounts, mate, for the trouble you’re causing me. And anyway, that’s not the thing.” He pointed at me, pouring more whiskey into his glass. “The thing that troubles me, mate, is that you didn’t even think about that, and it’s more obvious than Kim Kardashian’s ass. And now I get here, and you’re playing Beach House Barbie with Natalia Karkarov, and you want me to what—?”

“It’s not your business. You owe me a favor and I’m cashing in on it.”

“You’re overdrawn, mate.”

“Then go home tomorrow. Have Randy take you home.”

He shook his head.

“See, this is what I’m talking about,” Eric said after a pause.

“Save it,” I interrupted.

“No, no, no. No. I won’t save it. You need to hear it. This is just the beginning, mate. You’re using up favors, and it won’t be me, mate, but eventually you’re not going to have any left, and… look, she’s a pretty little number, I’d throw one into her—”

I reacted, without thinking, lunging at him and gripping him by the neck. I hadn’t lost control in twenty years, since I was first trained as a dark ops soldier, and now I was ready to crush the throat of an ally—a loose ally, but an ally nonetheless. It was unprofessional, weak, terrifying, and yet I couldn’t help myself. “Never. Say anything like that again.”

Eric gripped my wrist and squeezed hard, just to let me know he wasn’t going down without a fight. “Hey hey hey. Okay. See… Alaric, listen, man—” He grunted and pushed my arm down, freeing himself from my grip, which I relinquished, my lack of control just dawning on me. “This is the kind of thing I’m talking about,” he said. He pointed at the ground. “Right here.”

I glared at him.

“Mate. You’ve made lot of enemies in your lifetime. A lot more enemies than you have friends. You don’t think that as soon as word gets out that there’s something Alaric Vitkus can be broken by, they aren’t coming after you? I know this girl is beautiful, I know you’ve got some romantic idea in your head that you can keep all that a secret. But you can’t. And sooner or later, someone is going to find out about her.”

I turned and stared out at the water, my jaw rigid. Eric was looking at me imploringly.

Eric was the closest thing I had to a friend in the world, I realized.

“You want my advice, mate?”

“Not really.”

Eric sighed.

“Get rid of her. Get rid of Lucy. Get rid of her… at least get rid of the baby.”

I turned to Eric. He was right, of course. It’s the same advice I would have given him had the situation been reversed.

But I couldn’t follow it. My mind could keep up with the game: Natalia was dangerous to me, her friend Lucy needed to be liquidated, and if Natalia was pregnant, I was up shit creek.

The old me would have called someone to take care of Lucy weeks ago.

The old me would have stashed Natalia Karkarov somewhere off the map and put the fear of God into her to stay put and silent.

Fuck Eric.

“Do what I asked,” I told him. “Then we’re even.”

Eric squinted at me, his expression searing. He was looking at me the way cats look at some of their few predators, when they see a weakness. The look made me hate him, but I knew he was still good for his word—and only that much.

“Your call, mate. I’ll examine her and work up a plan A and plan B, but you’re on your own for everything else. I was never here.” He threw back the rest of his whiskey. “And I’m not coming back.”

Eric turned and walked toward the guest house. He didn’t know where I lived, and he knew better than to tell anyone who he was going to see. But he was right: if any of these secrets leaked, and he was discovered, I’d put him in the very unenviable position of having information that people wanted.

I didn’t expect Eric to wait long enough to find out how someone would get it out of him. He knew how things worked and he had a very pretty face. He wasn’t going to offer it to anyone, but if someone came knocking, he was going to hand them the keys to the safe.

Which meant Lucy was, indeed, a very loose end.

I had another whiskey, while I pondered my dilemma. I came to a decision—and not one I felt good about, but it seemed that fewer and fewer decisions were as cut and dry as they had been before I had entangled myself with Natalia.

I walked up the stairwell, lost in my own thoughts—had I not been, I would have seen something, noticed the rigid black in the moving gray of the water.

But I didn’t.

Her room was empty. I had wanted to crawl into bed with her, to bring back the feeling from earlier in the day, however false it might have been. I’d let her fall asleep in my arms on many nights after using her body relentlessly, but now I wanted to sleep beside her, to remain there all night, to ease my conscience by absorbing her scent and the heat of her body.

Disappointment gripped me first when I saw that her bed was empty.

I looked on the balcony, then, slowly and calmly at first, but with mounting panic, I moved swiftly through the house, my training turning on like switches with each room I searched and found empty. My stomach was cold, I looked menacingly at the guest house, but I resisted the urge to storm into Eric’s room.

But as every place I looked turned up empty, I felt a sensation brewing in my chest that was completely unfamiliar. It rose up, from my chest through my head, and it blinded me slowly, a rising curtain. Drowning out my thoughts, filling me with a very particular kind of rage.

And then I snapped.

I remember going to Eric’s villa in disjointed segments: loading a gun, the snap of the cartridge. The cool of the plants in the small garden. The light in the window. His face staring sullenly at the wall, bringing a whiskey to his mouth. The barrel against his temple, his eyes black with fear, my own voice screaming, “Where is she?”

Blood dripping between his fingers.

Another gun, this one pointed at me.

“You’ve lost your fucking mind, mate.”

Sweat dripping from Eric’s temple.

And then descending, down to the beach, the door to the boathouse flinging open with a clatter.

The gray, unlit hollow where the lifeboat should have been.

Blackness. Rage, eating through it in sparkling squares that spread across my field of vision.

A screen, switches flipping, my cold and calculating mind taking over. A soldier’s mind: there is a task, complete it.

Locate Natalia Karkarov.

A red blip, the lifeboat locater blinking on the screen, north of the island. Going nowhere.

Wind speed, current charts, calculations.

Target would not be going anywhere. The soldier’s mind closed as thoughts irrelevant to the mission attempted to crowd in: Where was she going? Why?

The soldier’s mind was steering the boat.

The sailor’s mind was sailing at night, no lights, only radar.

The soldier’s eyes on the red blip of the lifeboat, and only deep beneath many layers of tissue and cold, calculating muscle reflex, was there the tiniest, beating sentiment:

Please, let the red blip contain a live Natalia.

That’s all until next week’s installment! If you’re aching to finish right now, though, just click below and buy the book!

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