I don’t want to be mean to Boo; she’s only ever been nice to me, and even though I resent being kept here, she doesn’t deserve my bitchiness. Standing, I take the plate with a smile and put it on the nightstand. Her face falls as she questions, “You’re not hungry? You haven’t eaten much the last few days. Maybe eating would help your fatigue.”
Still wearing a strained smile, I lie, “Yeah. Sure. I’ll eat soon. Thanks again.”
Opening a book, I don’t look back up. I hear her leave and my body eases slightly. Not five minutes pass when Nox appears at my door, scowling.
Stomping over to the nightstand, he takes the plate and thrusts it under my chin. “Eat.”
I mentally sigh. I don’t want to deal with him right now. Taking the plate, I utter politely, “Thank you, but I’m not very hungry right now. I’ll eat later.”
My head snaps up. “I beg your pardon?”
He leans down closer to me. “I said bullshit.” Not sure what to say, I lower my head back to my book and pretend to read. Nox goes on, “I get that you’re not very hungry. That’s fine. Actually quite normal in this situation. But I call bullshit on this change of attitude. What’s with all the pleases and thank yous? That’s not the fiery girl I met a week ago, and it sure as hell is not the girl I had under surveillance. What happened to her?” My body tenses further. Nox leans down and asks quietly, “Where’d she go, Lily?”
Suddenly angry, I whisper through curled lips, “You broke her, Nox. Happy now?”
My anger fades and is replaced with humiliation when he answers, “Hell no, she was a fucking hoot. This pitiful version of her makes me mad. I don’t like this Lily, bring back the old one. You know? The strong one.”
Dropping my book, I ball my fists tightly by my sides.
Nox spots it and says, “There she is. Just gotta figure out how to get her to stay with us because,” he scoffs, “polite Lily blows. She’s the type who wants a pity party. She’s the type who refuses to eat or get mad, or join us here in the real world.” Just when I think I couldn’t get angrier, I’m proved wrong when his lips touch the shell of my ear and he whispers, “She’s pathetic.”
It all happens in slow motion.
My hand slides under the plate and flings it upward. The sandwich, fruit and potato chips fly through the air and I watch with wide eyes as they hit Nox in the chest, neck, and stomach. My mouth forms an O and I start to apologize until I see his smirk.
This is no ordinary smirk.
This smirk is victorious.
Jumping up on the bed, my lips part and the last three days of compressed hatred eject out of my mouth. “You pulled my hair! No! Not only did you pull my hair, but you dragged me back to the house by my ponytail like I was a freaking dog on a lead!” Pointing to my pillow, I screech, “I haven’t slept in three days, Nox! Do you know what that does to a person?” I pace on my bed. “You were all like, ‘I’m sorry, it won’t happen again’ and just expected me to let it go. I’ve never had a man touch me in anger and you just blew it off like it was nothing. Know what I say to that, Nox?” Turning to face him, I bend at the waist and shriek in his face, “Fuck you! That’s what I say to that! Take your goddamn sorry and shove it up your ass.” Straightening, I hold my arms out by my sides. “Oh, but you’ll have to remove the stick you have up there first to make room.”
My eyes widen and I lift my index finger. “Oh! And you know what I’ve also figured out?” Nox stares at me, completely void of any emotion. I go on, “Having someone watch you while you sleep is creepy! Not creepy, but…” I wiggle my fingers in the air in front of me. “…creepy!”
Nox continues to watch me through a steady gaze. Panting, I straighten once more and mutter hoarsely, “I’m going insane here, Nox. It would really help if you’d just let me be.”
Realizing I’ve expelled what little energy I had left, my knees shake and just as they buckle, I reach out to grip his shoulders. At the very same time, he reaches forward and grasps my waist tight. When he looks down to see his fingers almost touching, he frowns at my obvious loss of weight. “Gotta eat something. Anything, Lily. You tell me what you think you could eat and I’ll fix it for ya.”
Suddenly queasy, my hold loosens on his shoulders. I blink rapidly, trying in vain to see through the bright white spots that blind me. My ears block with pressure, my breathing shallows, and I shiver. I quickly respond, “I don’t think you could get it here in time.” My body weakens and tilts sideways as I slur, “Catch me. ‘Kay?”
Holding Lily in my arms and feeling the weight of her, or lack of weight, I’m suddenly ashamed of myself.
Damn it to hell. I let this go on too long. Should’ve stopped it sooner.
I saw the exact moment the light switched off. The moment she lost consciousness. And she knew it was coming too. “Catch me. ‘Kay?”
Looking down at her pale, drawn, and ashy face, I shake my head in frustration and fight the urge to growl. Her long, dark lashes rest on her cheeks, and it takes just about all I have to stop myself from running my thumb over her pink, pouty lips.
Trouble. I knew you’d be trouble, missy.
Clearly, this is all her fault. If she would just learn to do what she’s told and tried for a goddamned second to think rationally, none of this would’ve happened. When she wakes up, we’re having a serious talk.
Oh yeah, it’s all her fault. She’s a petrified young woman with a simple request of speaking to someone she trusts and she’s the issue. You’re losing your touch, man, acting like a mall cop on a power trip.
Me? I’m doing everything I can to keep her safe and this is my fault?
Keeping her safe isn’t enough. She’s not like you. She’s fragile. A girl needs more than just being told to trust. You gotta show her you’re willing to compromise. Meet her in the middle.
Meet her in the middle. Compromise. I’m not sure I can do that.
What would you do if you were her?
Run. Run like hell. And I’d hurt whoever got in my way.
The dull throb in my temples being a sure sign of an oncoming migraine, I carry Lily bridal style out of her room, down the hall into the west wing, and stop in front of the very last door.
My door. My room.
Hesitation stalls me. This might not be the best idea but she’s my responsibility. I need to keep her somewhere I can keep an eye on her. Somewhere I can babysit and work at the same time. Holding her tight with one arm, I open the door to my bedroom and walk Lily’s limp body inside. Gently as I can, I lay her down on my bed and she moans softly.
A good sign. She’ll be awake again soon.
Picking up the two-way radio by my bed, I press the button and call into it, “Vito, I got a situation here. Where’s Boo?”
As I release the speak button, a trilling noise sounds and I wait. A beep followed by, “Yo, what kinda situation we talkin’ about here? Boo’s around. I’ll find her.”
Running a hand down my face, I tell him quietly, “Lily. She fainted.”
Immediately, the two-way sounds and an amused Vito probes, “What the hell d’you do to her, Nox? She’s just a girl, man. You probably scared her to death.”
Vito’s young. He still doesn’t quite grasp the authority thing yet. Picking up the two-way, being extra careful to not crush it in my hand, I growl, “Find Boo. Now.”
Still clearly amused, Vito signs off with, “Sir, yes, sir.”
A minute passes and I realize I haven’t moved an inch. Placing my hands on my hips, I turn to view the little woman in my bed and mutter to myself, “Knew you’d be trouble.”
Groaning, I roll myself into a tighter ball, trying in vain to find some relief from the aching.
Aching. All over.
Every muscle in my body feels too tight, and moving even the slightest bit, painfully stretches me. Squeezing my eyes shut, I breathe rapidly. I feel like I’m going to be sick, but that can’t be right. I haven’t eaten more than an orange in two days. What could I possibly throw up?
My eyelids flutter but refuse to open without a fight. As soon as I manage to pry an eye open, I groan louder. The light in the room hits me with such force, the ill feeling returns with a vengeance.
Shuffling alerts me to the fact I’m not alone, and when the light switch is turned off, I breathe a sigh of relief. Finally able to open my eyes, I sit up against the headboard. I’m completely disoriented. It takes a full minute before I can see what I can’t believe I’m seeing.
Nox sits at a desk at the back of the large room typing away on a laptop. The laptop the only source of illumination in the room, I look around some more.
This is not my room.
Navy blue cotton sheets surround me. This bed is bigger than mine. This is clearly a man’s room. No furniture. No closet. A chair in the corner of the room holds a stack of folded black clothes. Underneath is a pair of army-style boots.
This is Nox’s room.
Opening my mouth to speak, all that comes out is, “Errr my gerrrd.” My attempt at begging the Lord for mercy makes me sound like a drunken sophomore.
My head snaps up when I hear Nox laugh through his nose. Still typing and not bothering to look up at me, he says, “Serves you right. You’re so dehydrated, you’re lucky you didn’t have a muscle meltdown. Boo was this close to putting you on a drip. I talked her out of it.” Finally looking up at me, he smirks and says way too loudly, “Welcome back to the land of the living.”
Each word he says pierces my eardrums and my stomach recoils. Cringing, I cover my eyes with a hand and mumble, “What happened?”
A chair scraping is followed by thudding footsteps over to the bed. Peeking through my fingers, I suddenly wish I’d never looked.
Nox is pissed.
With his jaw set, a vein in his temple pulses. And I know what’s coming. He almost yells, “What the hell did you think would happen, Lily? You haven’t eaten a damn thing in days! You’re underweight and dehydrated.” Looking down at the floor, he sighs and shakes his head before looking back at me. His eyes soften and he admits, “I fucked up. I know it. You know it. My team knows it.” Leaning closer to me, he goes on, “Don’t hold onto it. Let it go. You got pissed at me. We exchanged words. It’s over. Starting fresh. Right now.”
It all comes back.
The escape incident. The depression. The fight. The embarrassing fainting episode.
We don’t speak. I take a moment to search my captor. He looks haggard. Exhausted. Worn. Just plain tired.
Who can blame him? He’s been watching your sorry ass for three nights. When’s the last time he got some sleep?
When is the last time he got some sleep? I hadn’t thought about how my actions had affected him.
If only I could trust him.
“What if I can prove you can trust me? Would you do what you’re told?”
I hadn’t realized I’d spoken aloud. My cheeks flush, but hope blooms in the very center of me. Nodding quickly, my lips part and I mouth ‘yes’.
Nox nods, turns, and exits the room, leaving me to wonder if I’d just unknowingly made a deal with the devil.
Trust is like a mirror
Left on my own, I look down at myself and squeak.
Oh, dear God! Where are my clothes?
All I’m dressed in is a pair of white cotton panties and a white, spaghetti strapped tank. I gasp when I spy my clothes at the side of the bed, including my bra.
I’m going to kill him!
Standing on unsteady legs, I stumble over to the bathroom and flick on the light.
Holy shit. Nox was right. My collarbone protrudes slightly. My is face drawn. Lifting my tank a little, my ribs stick out sickly and my throat tightens.
I’m naturally thin, tall and lanky. Now I just look ill.
A cough at the bathroom door jerks me out of my head and into the present. Nox stands there, eyes fixed on my ribs. My neck flames and I shove my tank down over my belly. Then I remember I’m fuming. How dare he remove my clothes! Opening my mouth, I start, “You better have a good reason-”
My argument dies on my lips as he holds out a hand. A shiny black object sits in his palm.
Suddenly frozen, all I can do is openly stare at the cell phone. My head spins. Placing my shaking hands over my eyes, my chest heaves with heavy breaths. Bending at the waist over the bathroom sink, a large hand rubs my back gently.
Nox asks, “You okay?”
Unable to speak, I nod yes while my head screams no. He walks back out the door and I hear him say, “Sorry, Ciaran, she’s not feeling too well. She had a bad day. Maybe we’ll try again tomorrow.”
Ciaran? As in my dad, Ciaran?
Energy magically restored, I run out of the bathroom, almost sliding on the tiles. Coming up behind Nox, I snatch the phone out of his hand and place the cell to my ear. Voice shaking, I ask quietly, “Dad?”
“Delilah! Oh, my sweet girl. You’re okay?” His unsteady voice matches mine shake for shake.
That’s all it takes. My heart soars. Relief settles me. And the floodgates open. Tears stream down my face as I turn to Nox. Our eyes meet. Sobbing silently, I mouth ‘thank you.” And I mean it. I’d do anything he asked right now.
“I’m fine, really. Just a little woozy today.” I lie.
Dad sniffs, coughs, and steadies his voice. “Good. That’s good. Nox is the best at what he does and he’ll keep ye safe, darlin’. I-” He clears his throat. “I’m sorry, Delilah. So sorry. I never meant for ye to find out this way. I know I should’ve told ye. But it was hard for me. I’m your Da, meant to protect ye meself.”
Stomach coiling with tension, I push past it and tell my father, “Don’t do that. You did what you could and when you knew you couldn’t, you got help. That’s what a good father does. You’re a good father. The best.”