Her Last Goodbye Page 30

Apprehension stirred in her belly. Something was different in his posture, his attitude.

“I have something special planned for you tonight.” Excitement vibrated through his tone.

Chelsea’s pulse quickened. Sweat broke out between her shoulder blades and breasts as anxiety blossomed into real fear.

“Say the rules,” he commanded, as he had every time he’d come into the container.

She repeated them.

“Repeat number one.”

“I belong to you. I will do what you say without question. I am your property.”

He opened the bag at his feet. “Lay on the cot, facedown.”

She backed to the wall, her bones trembling. “No. Please.”

The words barely left her mouth before she realized her mistake.

He straightened, anger tensing his body. “What did you say?”

She slapped a hand over her mouth.

“I thought we’d gotten past that.” He shook his head in disappointment as he stepped closer. “Not only did you speak without permission, but you dared to defy me.”

The blow came with lightning speed. Delivered with an open hand, the slap stunned and stung without affecting her consciousness. Still, the force of it sent her reeling. She landed on her knees, the impact with the wooden floor ringing pain through her legs.

“I will not repeat myself again.” His words were slow and deliberate, menacing. “On the cot. Facedown.”

Chelsea’s entire body shook, but she couldn’t seem to move. Her limbs were useless.

“I guess we still have some work to do.” He grabbed the handles of his bag with one hand and took a handful of her hair with the other. Her scalp screamed as he dragged her onto the cot.

“Don’t move.”

She turned her head to watch as he removed thick leather straps from the bag. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she couldn’t stop the sobs that poured from her mouth.

What is he going to do?

He took one hand and firmly tied it to the leg of the cot. Then he did the same with the other. He pulled her dress up to her waist before strapping her torso and legs down.

Cold air caressed Chelsea’s exposed legs and buttocks.

This is it. He’s going to rape me now.

But he left the room. Minutes passed. She had no idea how much time went by. Her heart thundered. Sweat poured from her armpits. Gooseflesh rippled on her bare skin, and her stomach flipped inside out as she waited.

When the door opened, she startled, her pulse sprinting with a fresh burst of panic. He had a box in his hands. He set it on the floor. From it, he took a piece of gauze and a bottle of rusty-colored liquid. Crouching next to her, he wet the cloth and cleaned her right buttock.

When he pulled on a pair of surgical gloves, she flailed, terror driving her completely out of control. A scream built in her throat, choking her when she couldn’t get it out. The lightweight cot jumped.

“Stop it!” He backhanded her across the side of the head. Pain jolted through her. Her ears rang, and her body went slack.

Dimly she heard him rattling around in the box. The sight of the blowtorch and a length of metal brought a groan from her mouth. At the sound, he turned back to her and shoved a thick piece of cloth into her mouth.

The torch fired up with a soft whoosh. He held the metal rod in the blue flame until the metal glowed. When he turned back to her, she knew exactly what he was going to do.

Oh, my God. Oh, my God. OhmyGodOhmyGod.

He was going to brand her.

“Don’t. Move.”

She couldn’t obey. Her brain went into a frenzy. Her body went wild, her limbs tensing and straining against her restraints. With a grunt, he straddled her thighs, his bulk weighing her body and the cot down. He pressed one hand between her shoulder blades to keep her upper body still. Without any hesitation, he pressed the brand into her skin.

Pain blasted through her buttock, the intensity as bright and hot as a rocket. Over the screaming in her throat, she heard his voice, steady and controlled.

“One. Two. Three.” He lifted the iron.

The agony radiated from the wound, pulsing with every beat of her heart.

Drenched in sweat, she went limp. She didn’t recognize the faint mewling sounds that came from behind the gag. She closed her eyes.

“It’s over now.” A gentle hand caressed her head. He pulled the gag from her mouth. “Shh. Take a deep breath.”

She couldn’t. Her breaths came faster and faster. He emptied the bag and put it to her face until she stopped hyperventilating.

“You are a strong one,” he said with pride.

He took the bag away. Standing, he repacked his tools and took the bag from the room. Then he applied ointment and a bandage to the burn, finally taping a piece of plastic wrap over the bandage. “It’s best to keep the air out.”

She didn’t move, even after he removed the leather straps. Her body was spent. The horror and pain that filled her left no room for anything else. It filled her until she felt as though she’d burst.

“You rubbed the skin right off your ankle.” Then he removed the manacle from one ankle and put it on the other. He treated the abrasion, murmuring soft words that were supposed to be comforting, but they only turned her stomach. Then he offered her two tablets. “These will help.”

She couldn’t respond. She couldn’t do anything. Even her tears and sobbing had stopped. With the heat radiating from her wound, her brain couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. Her body and mind were paralyzed with shock.

“I’ll leave them here.” He set the tablets on the barrel next to the lantern. “You can take them when you’ve composed yourself. I realize this has been an emotional experience. But now there’s no doubt to whom you belong.”

He pulled her dress down to cover her legs. Then he went out the door, returning in a few minutes with a white take-out bag. The smell of food wafted across the space, nauseating her.

“I’ve brought you a special treat. Tonight is special.” He set the bag on the barrel then leaned over her. She flinched as he pressed a kiss to her temple. “Tonight, you were marked forever as mine.”

Chelsea didn’t move as he left. She didn’t know how much time passed. She lay on the cot, curled on her side, trembling down to her skeleton, beyond tears.

Almost beyond reaction.

A part of her brain seemed to be shutting down, walling itself off from the horror like scar tissue over a wound. There was only so much fear she could comprehend before descending into madness.

She pictured Bella’s smile, her joy, spinning in a twirly dress, skipping across a playground, zooming down a slide.

Running into Chelsea’s arms.

And William.

If Chelsea concentrated hard enough, she could smell him, hear his wails, watch his mood shift from despondent to content as he nursed at her breast.


She stirred, levering her upper body off the cot.

She wouldn’t . . . couldn’t give up.

If she did, he won. And she’d never see her children again.

Shivering, she looked for the wool blanket. It had slipped onto the floor. She reached for it, the movement sending a white-hot bolt of pain through her buttock, hip, and thigh. She hadn’t seen the brand but knew it was only the size of her palm. Still, her whole body throbbed. She pulled the blanket around her shoulders and breathed.

She spotted a small metal object on the floor near the door. What was that?

A nail.

It must have fallen out of his bag.

Getting to her feet felt impossible. Her body was ravaged by the beating and branding, and by a terror so layered she could barely comprehend its depth. If she sank into that abyss of fear, if it closed over her head, she might never reach the surface of sanity again.

But she’d learned over the past three years that her body could do amazing things. She’d given birth twice. She could do this.

She had to do this.

Shifting her bare feet to the floor, she sat on her uninjured hip. Dizziness swam through her head. She waited, breathing, until it passed. Then she rose to shaky legs. Her knees wobbled, the brand thrummed with waves of heat. Dragging the chain attached to her ankle, she staggered toward the door. The chain ended, and she had to crouch and stretch her hand toward the nail. The tips of her fingers touched it. She pawed it closer, and when her fingers closed around it, a sense of resilience passed through her.

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