I wait for orders as he stands above me. The large pliers are in his right hand; his muscles corded. His left hand reaches down and he firmly lifts my hands up to the pliers. They’re bound by a shackle. It's the same type as the one on my neck. The leash has always been on the collar though, so there’s not much bruising on my wrists. I want to close my eyes as he opens the pliers, but I don’t.
I stare straight ahead and expect the cold metal to clip around my finger. That would make sense. Maybe I still have family alive. Maybe I’ve angered Felipe more than I thought and this is the price to pay. I thought I was more valuable whole, though. That’s an argument I’ve heard before, when they wanted to leave more marks. But they weren’t allowed to do anything permanent.
Perhaps after all this time I no longer hold that value. I hear the snap of the pliers and feel my right arm fall. Snap! The metal clicks again and then my left arm falls as well. The muscles in my arm scream. It’s been so long since they’ve had the freedom to move at this angle.
I steady my breathing and try to make sense of what’s happening. I wish I could ask, but I can’t.
“Hold still,” he says, as he moves the pliers to my neck. I don’t want to, but my eyes close. I try to resist, but I pray he’s only cutting the lock on the collar. My heart hammers in my chest, and when I hear the loud snap and feel the metal give from around my throat, I can’t help the emotions that wash over me. I hear the chains clinking and open my eyes. I watch his back as he leaves the room and walks into the kitchen. I shouldn’t, though. I know better. As he drops the chains into the trash and turns, my eyes snap forward. I stare straight ahead and resist the desire to put my hands to my throat. He walks back to me and stands over my body.
I wish I knew what he wanted. I wish I knew how to react.
His hand slowly lowers to my neck and he squats down in front of me. His finger brushes along a cut on the side of my throat. I try not to, but I wince from the pain. I know better! I shouldn’t have winced. I knew the pain was coming. I school my expression and wait. He lays his hand on my shoulder and lets his eyes travel down my body. I wish I could hide. I used to be beautiful. Now I’m thin and bones poke through where they shouldn’t. I’m scarred, although they did try to keep the whips on skin that’s normally hidden by clothing. Most of the bruises have faded and not many are new.
He stands up slowly and continues to watch me. “I want you to look at me.” At his command, my eyes reach his. My heart stops and for a moment, the world tilts on its side.
Kane De Rocca. I heard his name earlier. I make sure to listen. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. And I know that’s this man’s name. Kane. He’s stunning. His jaw is stubbled and hard against the sharp lines of his high cheekbones. His shoulders are broad and his chiseled chest pulls the crisp, white dress shirt he’s wearing taut against his body. His dark eyes stare into mine with such passion and emotion that I feel a pull to look away.
But he commanded me to look at him. And I’m a good girl. I will obey him. For now.
I wish I knew what the look in his eyes means. But I don’t.
“What’s your last name, Ava?” he asks.
I’m quick to respond, “Ivanov.” I will never forget. That name is why I’m here. Why all of this has happened to me. I didn’t choose this life. I didn’t want it.
“I see. You’re Alec’s daughter?” he asks. Hearing my father’s name causes a stir of emotions in the pit of my stomach. I’ve heard his name before, over and over. Accompanied by hateful slurs, or laughter and cheers of his death. But not like this. Hearing his name spoken calmly. With respect. That’s something I haven’t heard in a long time.
“Yes,” I answer, still holding his gaze.
“Ava Ivanov,” he says, with reverence in his tone. He repeats it in a murmur I almost don’t hear.
“Come, Ava,” he says, and turns his back to me. I stand quickly to obey.
As I watch him move with dominance and power through the hallway, I feel a stir of emotions I haven’t felt in some time. I feel hope.
I know I shouldn’t, though. Hope will destroy me.
I don’t know shit about this house. I fucking hate this. Vince sent me here. This is where I can stay on his territory. I feel like this is a fucking trap. Like this place is wired and they’re watching me. I know a safe house when I see one. And this is definitely the Valetti safe house. I looked for bugs when I got here, but I couldn’t find shit.
Ava was passed out, but I still didn’t want to leave her alone for too long though. If I lost her… fuck. That’d be bad. Who the hell am I kidding? This is all fucked. I’m not a member of Petrov’s crew. I don’t belong on Valetti soil, and I know I’m not fucking wanted here. Even worse, this job is a fucking nightmare. I don’t want to do this shit. I can’t stand the fact that this is what I’ll be doing.