Waterpouredintomy mouth faster than I could swallow, and the soggy towel over my face made it next to impossible to breathe. Sully! I jerked and twisted my body, desperate for air to fill my lungs. And despite my body’s natural fight for survival, I wanted to die. I wanted to die so the torture would stop.
I couldn’t breathe, anyway.
Gasping for breath, I sat up in the bed, disoriented and hyperventilating. My chest rose and fell hard as I tried to breathe through torrents of water that were only in my head. It might have happened a day ago, but I could still hear the laughing of the men.
I’d prayed for both death and for Sully to come and save me. I had no business praying to stay alive when I’d helped to take lives, but a desperate man clutched at straws.
Beside me, a figure shifted. Not the one who I wanted next to me. My captor had given me the choice of the floor or the bed. I’d been too scared to be on the floor, so I’d opted to lie as far as I could at the edge of the bed without falling off.
“What’s wrong?” a concerned voice asked. The sheets rustled, and the bedside lamp switched on.
Javier Grimaldo, the man who’d kidnapped me, ordered me to be waterboarded, then promptly called it off when I burst into tears and begged him not to torture me anymore, was a paradox I couldn’t read. One minute he was kind and gentle—mostly when we were alone—and the next he was cruel and harsh, denying me food and making me shower with one of his men watching me the whole time. He must have known that would humiliate me to no end.
That same Javier cupped my face between his palms. “You need to slow your breathing.” His voice was firm, and yet his touch was gentle.
“You will, or I swear I’ll tie you to the stairwell to sleep, and whoever wants to have their way with you can do it. Now, take deep and steady breaths. Follow my lead.”
I stared directly at him and inhaled deeply, breathing with him. My pounding heart settled down to a more normal pace. I still was shaky and jumpy, but I chalked that down to my nightmare of the near-death experience I’d suffered at this man’s hand.
I shoved his hands away from my face, and he chuckled. “I can see you’re feeling better.”
I shuffled as far away from him as possible, but I miscalculated and teetered on the edge. He caught my arm before I could topple to the floor and set me back on the bed.
“What are you doing?” He scowled. “You fall off this bed and break your goddamn neck, and your Sully will make my Tal pay. Behave yourself and go to sleep.”
He turned off the bedside lamp and settled back under the sheets.
“I need to use the bathroom.”
“Make it quick, and don’t try anything funny. I don’t have to remind you of what happened last night.”
No, he didn’t. One of his men had entered the room where I’d been sleeping. I’d woken up in the middle of a familiar nightmare, hand covering my mouth, practically suffocating me while my clothes were being ripped off my body. Almost as soon as it began, it had stopped. Javier had smashed his fist into the man’s face for trying to assault me.
His act of kindness had made me think about who Javier Grimaldo was. There was a lot more to him than a man seeking vengeance for his brother. Despite his stern manner, he seemed to have a softer side. I’d noticed the wistful expression on his face, the worry in his eyes about the man Sully kept prisoner.
Would he ever make the trade?
I used the bathroom quickly. After I peed, I opened the mirror cabinet for something to use as a weapon, but I came up empty. Nothing in the drawer under the sink either, but in the basket on the catty corner shelf, I found a pair tweezers. It would have to do.
I shoved it into the pocket of the shorts Javier had insisted I wear before we went to bed, and walked back to the bedroom.
“I was just about to come searching for you,” Javier said. “You’re keeping me up. Will you get in the bed already and stay put, or should I tie you there?”
I glared at the man lying on the left. “It’s not proper for us to sleep together.”
Javier groaned. “We’ve been through this already. You’re not my type. To be specific, I prefer my men more masc, so your lack of virtue is safe with me.”
I scowled at him and climbed into the bed but lay on top of the sheets on my back with my hands folded on top of each other, hiding the tweezers. Attacking him now would be a stupid move, since he’d shielded me from his own man who tried to assault me. I would save the tweezers for a time when I would really need them.
Javier’s soft snore assured me in a way. He was my best chance of survival. My eyes drooped, and I slid under the covers, sinking into the pillow.