Over the years, his illegal slave ring had become too big and ultimately, so had his visibility. There were many moles on his payroll who were willing to talk for extra cash. But while his operation was a little less of a secret, it didn’t make him any easier to catch. Like me, kids had managed to escape here and there, but Arthur kept his own hands clean. Legally, his wife runs a home for runaway or homeless children. To keep up pretenses, they often toss some of them back into the streets or turn them into authorities, but the kids they keep are never seen again.
They never took kids over twelve. The younger they are, the easier they are to lure and control. The infants they acquire are always sold by their parents, just as I was, but are in less demand.
The thought of being sold made me relive almost every hell I had gone through in order to survive.
“Is that what you want to hear? That I am afraid of you? That I am still afraid of you? Yes, I am afraid, but it’s all I will ever feel for you. It is the need to survive. You can’t control me beyond that…”
Monroe’s word rang loud in my ears and I felt as my hand gripped the steering wheel tighter and anger rolled over me in hard, unyielding waves. For ten years, she let her fear override her better judgment and called it surviving. She was weak… and maybe just a little bit of a masochist. So what did that make me?
She could have stopped me a long time ago, but instead, she chose to give in. She wanted to preserve her precious innocence. I know she thought I was talking about sex. That was just the bonus.
What I wanted to steal from her ran far below the surface. I wanted to see her selfish side. I wanted to see her save herself. I wanted to corrupt her. Why? Because I fucking hate heroes.
The rest of the world would have fought back and damned their family, friends, and whoever else I could use against them. They would have done it out of pride because their ego wouldn’t allow them to admit defeat.
The truth was, not many people had the strength to do what she did. Chances were, I would have killed her aunt and broke her little friend. She was smart enough to see that. Over the years, I would push and take just to see how far I could go before she would bend. I wanted to knock her off her pedestal and dirty her up, but she fought me. All this time she thought she was losing because she didn’t see what the real fight was. In the end, she didn’t break, and I became less concerned with her morals and more interested in owning her.
When I was finally prepared to let her go, she fucked herself and me by turning me in. Her defiance was unprecedented. While I wanted to corrupt her, I still demanded the control. She needed to realize she would always be mine.
By the time I stopped the car, I was in dark place, and in an even blacker mood. I realized I wasn’t home but it was too late. I needed to satisfy an urge and I wasn’t about to deny myself.
When Aunt Carissa called to tell me she would be driving up to visit Grandma Lane for the entire weekend, I was relieved. It would be hard to answer her questions when he showed up because I knew he would come. It was just a matter of when. His pending arrival kept me on edge for the rest of the afternoon.
Willow begged me to come stay with her, but what good would that do? I couldn’t hide forever, and he knew as much. I couldn’t hide, but I could do the next best thing.
After an impromptu stop, I finally made my way home just before dark. Stashing my purchase somewhere safe, I made my rounds through the house to make sure every door and the window were locked. I threw myself into homework and college applications for the rest of the night, ignoring my racing mind and tense body.
I wasn’t waiting for him.
Satisfied I might still have a future, even after the less than ideal school year, I decided a long soak was in order to relieve my anxiety and strained muscles.
Seeing Keiran today set me back a few milestones. He certainly didn’t look and act like a guy prepared to leave someone alone. He’s been out for three days, and I wondered if he even went to see Keenan in the hospital.
How was he able to get out on bail?
I thought about what Sheldon had told me earlier this afternoon. Was he really going back to get them because I called his soul ugly?
The doorbell rang as I was searching for bath salts. A quick look at my phone perched on the vanity told me I hadn’t had any missed calls and it was well after midnight.
It didn’t take an elaborate or scientific guess to figure out who it was. I raced downstairs but paused near the entryway with my hand near the knob.
One day, I would question why I opened the door. One day, I would question if it was the smarter choice, but today, I had something to prove. He needed to know the girl who would cower before him was gone.
I finally gripped the doorknob, but a combination of nervousness and sweat made my hand slip, so I slid my palms roughly down my jeans and tried again.
Racing heart? Check.
Fast breathing? Check.
I willed my emotions under control before snatching open the door. A snarky remark was on the tip of my tongue, but when I realized it was Willow standing on my doorstep, and not my tormentor, I bit back the remark and ignored the disappointment.
“Willow? What are you doing here?”
I forced my eyes to remain on her to keep from searching the night for him. Out of fear? Hope? Why did I want him on my doorstep so much?
“I’m sorry,” she apologized as she brushed past me. “I just had to check on you. I know you’re going through this new phase where you’re not afraid of Keiran anymore, but I couldn’t stop worrying. He fucking burnt two people alive.”