SOME PEOPLE COME INTO this world with the luck of a four-leaf clover constantly spinning inside the happy housing of their hearts. Others are born with the misfortune of an anvil hanging over their heads and the threat of it falling with every step they take. I, Nora Adams, fit into the latter category and have all the lumps to prove it. I won’t bore you with the long list of disasters that have befallen me during my twenty-six years on this earth. Instead, I will start with the latest. It also happens to be the worst.
Two months ago, I was out walking my precious Pomeranian puppy, Miss Bliss. The hour was near dusk on a balmy evening in August, but I didn’t let the hot, muggy temperatures or the impending darkness deter me. I had to get out of the house and away from my mom or go nut-cracking crazy. You see, she—Taney Adams—is a consummate hypochondriac. She took on that role the second my dad, Alton, walked out on us ten years ago. All of her contrived, concocted and cockamamie illnesses have not only metaphorically held her hostage but have literally kept me tied to her side for the last decade.
I couldn’t really blame Dad for wanting out. Even before she jumped feet-first into hypochondria, Taney was and is a whiny, self-centered, narcissistic nightmare. However, I definitely blamed him for leaving me behind, especially since he chose to execute his abandonment on my sixteenth birthday. After all these years of dealing with her, I’ve been able to forgive him. Everybody has a breaking point. He apparently had reached his. Still, as a result of his selfish actions, I was left without a buffer. It was just me and Mom.
I’m a strong believer in the fact that being the only child of a single parent has its drawbacks for any kid but, in my case, it was especially devastating. When Taney realized her fake sicknesses weren’t going to bring my dad running back to her bedside, she thrust the role of sole provider and caregiver onto my sixteen-year-old shoulders. Without my consent, she signed a consent form for me to drop out of high school so I could become her nurse, housekeeper, cook and chauffeur.
Of course, doing those chores and basically being a Cinderella-type slave weren’t enough. Since my mom claimed she was unable to work, I also had to hold down a full-time job. I started out as a page at Plainfield Library, working my way up to librarian in just five years. Although I don’t love handing my earnings over to Taney to pay for doctor visits and pricey prescriptions she doesn’t need, I do love my job. I considered the promotion to be my twenty-first birthday present. Lord knows, I wasn’t getting anything else. Taney hadn’t given me any kind of gift for any occasion since Dad left us.
The reason I’ve been able to let go of my bitterness toward him is because by my last birthday, I too had reached my breaking point. Eight weeks ago, on that fateful August evening of my twenty-sixth year, I knew I had to get away. When I grabbed my purse and Miss Bliss to go for our life-changing walk, my intentions had been to keep right on walking. To not look back and never return.
But that ever-present, dangling anvil had other plans. About two miles down a rural road running adjacent to my house, I was abducted by a man I would come to know as Foras, a member of the Rolling Lucifers—a biker gang.
I’ll never forget that horrible night. Like the demon of darkness he is, Foras appeared out of nowhere. Miss Bliss and I had just rounded a blind curve in the road, and there he sat on a sleek, black Harley. Emblems of fire and brimstone licking down the sides looked hot enough to scorch me to death as he revved the motor.
I could feel the evil emanating from him, slithering down his stained, leather vest onto his dirty, tight-fitting jeans and finally over his asphalt-scuffed boots. Every inch of his attire was as black as the bike he was straddling. Being a plus-size gal and a loather of exercise, I knew I couldn’t outrun him. Knowing how bad my luck had always been and being unable to deny the definite danger before me, I unhooked my cute puppy from her leash and commanded her to run.
Foras had laughed at the desperation in my voice when I pleaded with Miss Bliss to hurry back home. Baring his teeth, he said, “That pooch would have made for some mighty fine eating. You’re going to pay for turning her loose.”
The biker who took me might have been a lot of things, but he wasn’t a liar. He and the rest of the gang—Bael, Vepar, Deumus, Amon and the leader, Legion—have been making me pay for the last two months. I just thought living with Taney had been hell. But it was heaven compared to the time I’ve spent in their camp called The Devil’s Den.
After solitary days of being caged and starved and torturous nights of being fed fermented slop and filthy cocks, my anvil may have finally turned into a four-leaf clover. Since the day Foras dragged me into the den, Legion hasn’t left. Being the leader, he is the one who keeps the others in line in every regard, including how much drinking they do. Limiting them to two alcoholic beverages a night, he never lets his members get intoxicated. He says drunkenness is a sin. I would have laughed at the irony of his declaration if my bottom lip wasn’t split from the backhand he had delivered across my mouth before taking his leave.
I didn’t think it would ever be possible for the bikers to grow tired of passing me around for their demented pleasures, but tonight they left me alone. Liquor was the only mistress they were interested in. Every tip of a bottle, every clink of a glass, every slurp of their mouths and every guzzle of their throats was bringing me one step closer to being free.
With his lips wrapped around a Jack Daniels’ bottle, Deumus—the keeper of the den—has forgotten to put me back in my cage. Keeping quiet, I huddle in a dark corner and bide my time. As fast as they are consuming such strong spirits and not being used to doing so, all of them should pass out fairly soon. I can’t wait to make a break for it. I paid close attention when Foras brought me to The Devil’s Den. It’s located in an isolated section of woods less than three miles off the road where I was walking Miss Bliss that night.
Knowing I have been held captive this close to my mom’s house tells me she has made no effort to find me. I seriously doubt she has even bothered to report me missing. Had she done so, the authorities would have already been searching this area with bloodhounds that could have sniffed out my scent. They could have found and rescued me weeks ago.
As it is, I will simply have to save myself. I look forward to getting back home and seeing Miss Bliss. And this time when she and I leave, it will be in a car and Mom will know the reason why.
THERE IS NO WAY escaping can be this easy, I think as I literally walk out of the den and into the early evening completely unimpeded. The instant the last biker passes out, I rise from the corner I had been hiding in and run out the front door. I don’t care that the only thing I have on is a sheer, black nightie. Upon my arrival, Legion took my shoes and clothes, ordering me to wear the lingerie. It has been my only attire for two months.
It’s early October now, and I am grateful for the cool, crispness of the air as I tear through the woods, racing barefooted over jagged rocks, fallen leaves and dead tree limbs. The cuts and bruises now decorating the soles of my feet are a small price to pay for freedom. The combination of exhilaration, adrenaline and fear of being caught and dragged back to the pits of hell propel me to the accelerated speeds of an Olympic runner.
In what I would consider record-breaking time, I cover the distance to the highway. Just as I make it to the shoulder, I spot a pristine, classic Bentley limousine coming down the lonely stretch of road. Again, I get the feeling my dark, dismal anvil has morphed into a bright-green clover.
In a million years, I couldn’t have ordered up this amount of good luck. The idea that an expensive automobile being driven by a Good Samaritan would converge at this exact spot the instant I break through the woods and into the sunlight leaves me feeling giddy and overcome with happiness. An emotion I haven’t felt in forever.
The driver begins slowing the limo even before I start waving my arms for him to do so. As soon as he opens the door, I slide onto the buttery-soft, leather seat and give him a huge, grateful smile.
He smiles back. “My boss won’t believe what I’ve found this time,” he says, clicking the automatic door locks.
STANDING OUT ON THE bedroom balcony of my lighthouse, I grip the newly-restored railing. The smooth, varnish-sealed grain of well-seasoned oak glistens in the twilight of evening—that short stretch of time when the last scattering rays of the day’s sunshine in the upper atmosphere illuminates the lower atmosphere. The subtle transformation happens in such a way as to cast the earth’s surface into sepia tones where, like my soul, it is no longer completely lit or completely dark.
This particular time of day inevitably brings with it a somber reflectiveness from which there is no escape other than death. As long as I draw a breath, I will have to contend with the heaviness of the past. Some mistakes can be easily forgotten and chalked up to life lessons. They bring about growth and maturity, lending themselves to the bettering of the person who committed them. Other mistakes are monumental, defining moments of permanent change which can never be undone or overcome, no matter how much effort is made to do so.
It is my lot in life to languish and lament beneath the burden of the unescapable. The consequences of bygone times from which total recovery can never be achieved.
The last aura of evening reflects off the churning sea onto the driveway below. As expected Fernando Morae drives a limo from my fleet onto the black-topped stage, rolling to a stop right in the center of the spotlight. I turn, quickly making my way down a long, black, wrought-iron spiral staircase to the main entrance, emerging through the heavy, hickory door as Fernando is exiting the Bentley.
With a huge, toothy grin, he says, “This time I found a pet for you, Boss.”
I frown. Every time I send my simple-minded employee and childhood friend out for supplies, he inevitably brings back a stray. Four trips ago, it was a three-legged raccoon. Three trips ago, it was a one-eyed dog. The time before that, it was a cat missing its tail and left ear. The last time it was a parrot with a broken beak. I shudder to think what is lurking behind the tinted windows of the luxury car this time.
I don’t want to harm his tender heart, but I’m not interested in whatever he has brought home with him. Rubbing his big, beefy hands together in excitement, he reaches for the handle on the passenger’s side door and unceremoniously swings it wide.
“What the fuck?” I bellow. Despite the goodness of my earlier intentions, I am unable to keep the fury from my voice.
Fernando’s face falls in a silent yet crushing crescendo of hurt feelings, making me cuss a blue streak beneath my breath.
With his fat, lower lip pushed out, he asks, “Don’t you like her, Tretan?”
Shit! Fernando knows how much I detest the sound of my first name. The pain of hearing it is the equivalent of having a sharp knife deeply slice into the darkest corners of my soul, leaving rivulets of blood streaming from old wounds which never seem to heal. He only calls me Tretan when I’ve utterly devastated him, and he wants to retaliate in kind. If everything is copacetic between us, it’s Boss or Mr. Voss.
I don’t know how to answer his question. What’s not to like? The woman sitting on the passenger’s seat with her arms protectively crossed over the tempting curves of her midsection is stunning. Even with her fearful, distrusting, deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression, her face is the most beautiful I have ever seen. Commanding my eyes to stop their appraisal, I remind myself that the company of a fine woman such as this one is synonymous with acceptance and warmth, passion and pleasure. Emotions and sensations I do not deserve.
My tone is softer when I speak. “Your gift is very thoughtful, Fernando. But a human being isn’t like an animal. You can’t procure them and give them away as pets. Do you understand?”
He shakes his head. “No, Boss. I found her on the side of the road just like I did all the other creatures you let me keep.”
Knowing his childlike mind is struggling to grasp what I’m saying, I call on all of my patience. “You’ve picked up a woman, not a creature. And by the looks of her, you brought her to me against her wishes. Am I correct?”
“No, Mr. Voss. She wanted to get in the car. I didn’t have to point a gun at her or anything.”
“Why would she willingly go with you?”
He shrugs his burly shoulders and says, “I think she needs help. It’s kind of hard to tell here in the shadows of nightfall, but she’s broken like the others. If I take her out of the car, you’ll see all the cuts, scrapes and bruises. But you can fix her just like you do everything.”
Fernando’s unwavering faith in me plunges that knife a little deeper, throwing a hard twist in for good measure.
THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN THE man who drove me here and his boss may be one of the oddest I have ever heard. That could be because it is, or it could be that the pain and brutality of the past two months have finally caught up with me, crushing me into the dust of insanity. I had somehow held body and mind together until I was able to break free from the bikers. My escape hadn’t happened a moment too soon. I was barely hanging on by a thread when I exited the edge of those woods and made my way to the road earlier this evening.
I thought the luck of the oncoming limousine would be my salvation. The second before Fernando clicked those automatic locks, beautiful, bright rays of hope had shone across every inch of my existence. Afterwards, a dark and cold desperation squeezed my throat so hard it nearly choked the life from me.
Now I wish it had.
Not wanting the seemingly benign yet burly driver to manhandle me, I decide to step out of the car of my own volition. Given the circumstances, this might be my last act of freewill.
While sitting in the shadows of the Bentley’s front seat, I was unable to make out the details of my environment or the man whom Fernando referred to as Tretan Voss. But as I stand on the asphalt drive in the last light of day, the view before me fizzles my fear, replacing it with nostalgia. This ocean-side place with its long, weathered pier and majestic lighthouse reminds me of a scenic postcard I once purchased in a gift store at the beach.
While I study my surroundings, I feel Voss’ golden-brown eyes studying me. I’ve never seen that exact shade before. They look like dangerous yet dazzling topaz stones. Set against the backdrop of tanned skin, dark-chestnut hair and the closing of night, they are as hypnotic and mesmerizing as they are terrifying.
A few years ago, I read an article in a popular women’s magazine stating men with brown eyes were more trustworthy than ones with any other color. Right now I am hoping like hell that’s true.
After a few moments, he dismisses Fernando and walks stealthily towards me. Despite the raw, stinging cuts and deep-tissue bruises on my feet, I have to fight the impulse to run and throw myself into the sea. Drowning is preferable to being held captive again. To being beaten and starved, then having food stuffed in my mouth with filthy fingers before being repeatedly violated. Those men in The Devil’s Den had been torturous and cruel, their insides matching their rancid, disgusting exteriors. But this man is well put together and elegantly polished in his charcoal-grey, tailor-fitted, three-piece suit, crisp, stark-white dress shirt, silk tie and shiny, Italian loafers. Believe it or not, I am more afraid of him than I was of them.
Sometimes the darkest evil is wrapped in the prettiest package.
I’m not sure I can speak freely without getting backhanded across the mouth, but I’m about to find out. “You have a lovely place here, Mr. Voss. I wish I could stick around for a tour, but I really should be getting home. If you would be so kind as to let me use your phone, I’ll call myself a cab.”
He shakes his head. “You don’t look as if you are in good enough condition to do any more traveling tonight.”
He’s right. I’m swaying on my battered feet, fighting back waves of dizziness with each breath I take. A weak smile is all I can manage. “I’ll be fine once I get on the road.”
He takes another step closer. “You will only be better once you’ve had nourishment and a proper night of rest. Come with me, please,” he says, gesturing toward the lighthouse entrance.
I drop my chin, mentally anchoring my throbbing, blood-crusted feet to the night-cooled asphalt. As long as I am outside and not trapped inside those rounded limestone walls, I might still have a chance to get away.
The air around us grows still and the darkness eerily quiet. He reaches out, places two fingers beneath my chin, lifting my face to his. “Broken wings need time to mend before being able to fly again. But on the breath of trust they’ll soar, and they will be stronger than before.”
The heat of his touch and the intensity of his gaze makes me shiver. I feel as if I might actually be going into shock. Mustering the last bit of strength and courage I possess, I say, “That’s beautiful, Mr. Voss. It’s also bullshit. Both of us know you’re not going to let me go. And I will never give you my trust.”
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