Her Last Goodbye Page 8

She began to strike the side of the cap with a link. She missed. Her fist struck the edge of the cap, and pain shot up her arm. She shook her hand and pressed her stinging knuckles to her mouth. Tears welled in her eyes.

Don’t give up!

Desperation fueled a second attempt. The cap shifted slightly. She tried to open it. Not loose enough. Praying no one was close enough to hear, she struck it again and again, until she could turn it with her bare hands. She unscrewed it all the way, lifted it, and peered inside, holding the lantern over the opening.

Pea gravel.

She almost fell backward with disappointment. No wonder it was so heavy. What was the volume of a drum? Fifty-five gallons? How much did fifty-five gallons of stone weigh?

More than she would ever be able to move. She and Tim had done some landscaping when they’d bought the house. They’d moved river rock by the shovelful. They’d barely been able to get out of bed the next morning.

Could she tip the drum over and roll it to the door? She went around to the side near the wall. Bracing her back against the corrugated metal, she put both feet on the barrel and pushed.

Nothing.

On the other side of the door, chains rattled and metal scraped on metal. She jolted at the sound and scrambled to her feet, heart thudding in a dreadful beat. Her gaze went to the barrel. The cap was upside down on the lid of the barrel.

Praying he didn’t notice, she pressed her back to the wall. The door swung inward.

And he stepped inside.

A ski mask covered his face. He was average size. Dressed in jeans, work boots, and a heavy sweatshirt that concealed the shape of his body.

He carried a pile of clothes and a greasy paper bag. The scent of hamburger made Chelsea’s stomach churn and growl. He walked closer and set the bag and clothes on the foot of the cot. He scanned her from head to toe. Then his head turned toward the barrel. His body stiffened.

“What were you trying to do?” He stalked closer. “Were you trying to escape?”

The first blow caught her on the side of the face and sent her spinning into the wall. Her head ricocheted off the corrugated metal. She crawled onto the cot and cringed, pain and fear congealing in her belly like cold grease.

She heard the chain rattle. She turned toward him, afraid to see what he was doing yet unable to hide her eyes.

“This will be your first lesson. It’s a shame you had to learn it the hard way.” He yanked hard on the chain. The manacle bit into the thin skin over her anklebone as he dragged her off the cot.

“No! Please.” She grabbed for the frame, her fingers wrapping around the cold metal bar for a few precious seconds before his strength was too much. Pain bloomed in her ankle as he pulled harder, and the lightweight cot slid across the floor.

“Come here.” The command was quiet, menacing. The icy control of his voice belied the fury in his movements. “You will not speak without my permission.”

Her fingers gave way. She landed on the floor on her hands and one knee, the chained leg pulled straight. He kicked out. The toe of his boot caught her in the thigh. Agony ripped through her leg. A fist crashed into the small of her back, the blow radiating white-hot through her spine.

Falling to her side, she curled into a ball as the blows rained down on her. Pain filled every inch of body. She covered her head with her arms and prayed.

He kicked her in the ribs, cutting off her next breath. “Rule number one: You belong to me. You will do what I say without question. You are my property.”

Chapter Seven

He could make her love him. He knew it with complete certainty.

Smoke rose in a cloud from the barrel of burning leaves. He waved it away and tossed her jeans onto the fire. At first, the bulk of the material smothered some of the flames, but in seconds, the denim began to burn slowly, starting at the edges and creeping inward. Smoke rose, smelling like burned paper.

Patience.

He added more dead leaves and waited for the flames to rise again. After the fire was reestablished, he set her sweater on top of the pile. Flames curled around the fabric, embracing, and then destroying it.

Unlike Chelsea, who needed to be broken down but left intact.

She’d tried to escape. Fury rose inside him. He breathed through it. Letting the air slowly out of his lungs, he tried to force his muscles to relax. But the tension wouldn’t leave him. It built, feeding on his memories like the fire fed on her clothes.

His rage couldn’t get the best of him. It needed to be shut down. Chelsea wasn’t the only one who needed to change her behavior. He hadn’t intended to beat her so badly, but his temper had taken over. He’d barely been able to tear himself away before he’d done permanent damage. He needed another outlet for his rage. He extended his forearm over the fire. The flames licked his skin. The stink of burning hair rose into his nostrils.

But the pain. The pain was a two-headed beast. Ugly as it roared through his arm.

Beautiful as it overran, then released his anger.

He pulled his arm away before the skin blistered. His forearm was red and sore and would be highly sensitive for a few days, a good reminder of the consequences of lack of control. His body would remember the punishment. His brain would learn to avoid it.

Control and reason must rule. He couldn’t let his emotions affect his actions. He needed to think clearly. To be objective. To adjust his plan according to Chelsea’s progress—not his anger.

He wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Losing his temper, not being in control, had cost him too much already.

She would not get away. Her chain was secure. As a backup, he’d used a heavy-duty lock on the door. A wireless door alarm served as a third line of defense. If the door opened, he would get a notification on his phone app. He couldn’t be here all the time, but no matter where he was, he’d know if she escaped.

There was nothing to worry about. She wasn’t going anywhere.

Besides, he had expected her to rebel. It was part of his plan. If she didn’t test the boundaries, he’d be disappointed. And every mistake she made was an opportunity to discipline her, to shape her behavior. He needed a strong woman, not a weak, easily dominated one. But Chelsea would have to adjust her decision-making process. When she was presented with options, she should consider his wants instead of her own. Eventually, her instinctive reaction would be what does he want?

When he’d first laid eyes on her, he’d known she was the woman for him. His perfect mate, she would be Eve to his Adam.

For him, it had been love at first sight.

Karma, fate, destiny. The label didn’t matter. She was going to be his woman. It might take her a while to adjust to the idea, but when her conditioning was complete, she would submit to him as a woman should. And after she learned her lessons, he would cherish her forever.

Chelsea was smart. She was strong. She wasn’t going to be easy to break. But that’s exactly what he needed to do. He would take her to the root of who she was, and then he would cultivate the characteristics he chose. Like a well-tended hedge, her new personality would grow. And as it bloomed, he would shape it, trimming off her ugly traits and encouraging her desirable attributes until her character was amenable and pleasing to him.

It was simply a matter of working with nature rather than against it.

When a woman’s survival was threatened, she tapped into the base instinct that would keep her alive. All humans were programmed for survival. The key would be to find the right combination of discipline and love.

Pain and pleasure.

Stick and carrot.

Stick first, though. Always.

Consequences were the key to any training. They should be severe enough that the subject took no action without careful consideration of the teacher’s reaction. At first, she would do it to avoid punishment. She would learn to adapt her behavior to please him. As a reward, she’d be praised, fed, and kept warm. Eventually, she would associate his encouragement with comfort and his criticism with pain.

She would crave his approval like a drug.

He considered how quickly her shock, horror, and disbelief had shifted to acceptance. At first, she’d tried to shield herself from his blows, but then she’d realized it was pointless. He was in control. After she’d stopped defending herself, he’d come to his senses and stopped beating her.

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