“What did you dream about?” I ask softly. “Was it Beth?”
“No.” She shakes her head, and I see that her breathing is beginning to return to normal. Her voice, however, still holds echoes of horror as she says hoarsely, “It was you this time. Majid was cutting out your eyes, and I couldn’t stop him . . .”
I try not to react, but it’s impossible. Her words hurl me back to that cold, windowless room, to the nauseating sensations I’ve been trying to forget for the past several days. My head begins to throb with remembered agony, my half-healed eye socket burning with emptiness once again. I feel blood and other fluids dripping down my face, and my stomach heaves at the recollection. I’m no stranger to pain, or even to torture—my father believed that his son should be able to withstand anything—but losing my eye had been by far the most excruciating experience of my life.
Physically, at least.
Emotionally, Nora’s appearance in that room probably holds that honor.
It takes all of my willpower to wrench my thoughts back to the present, away from the mind-numbing terror of seeing her dragged in by Majid’s men. “You did stop him, Nora.” It kills me to admit this, but if it weren’t for her bravery, I would probably be decomposing in some dumpster in Tajikistan. “You came for me, and you saved me.”
I still have trouble believing that she did that—that she voluntarily placed herself in the hands of psychotic terrorists to save my life. She didn’t do it out of some naive conviction that they wouldn’t harm her. No, my pet knew exactly what they were capable of, and she still had the courage to act.
I owe my life to the girl I abducted, and I don’t quite know how to deal with that.
“Why did you do it?” I ask, stroking the edge of her lower lip with my thumb. Deep down, I know, but I want to hear her admit it.
She gazes at me, her eyes filled with shadows from her dream. “Because I can’t survive without you,” she says quietly. “You know that, Julian. You wanted me to love you, and I do. I love you so much that I would walk through hell for you.”
I take in her words with greedy, shameless pleasure. I can’t get enough of her love. I can’t get enough of her. I wanted her initially because of her resemblance to Maria, but my childhood friend had never evoked even a fraction of emotions Nora makes me feel. My affection for Maria had been innocent and pure, just like Maria herself.
My feelings for Nora are anything but.
“Listen to me, my pet . . .” My hand leaves her face to rest on her shoulder. “I need you to promise me that you will never do something like that again. I’m obviously glad to be alive, but I would sooner have died than had you in that kind of danger. You are never to risk your life for me again. Do you understand me?”
The nod she gives me is faint, almost imperceptible, and I see a mutinous gleam in her eyes. She doesn’t want to make me mad, so she’s not disagreeing, but I have a strong suspicion she’s going to do what she thinks is right regardless of what she says right now.
This obviously calls for more heavy-handed measures.
“Good,” I say silkily. “Because next time—if there is ever a next time—I will kill anyone who helps you against my orders . . . and I will do it slowly and painfully. Do you understand me, Nora? If anyone so much as endangers a hair on your head, whether it’s to save me or for any other reason, that person will die a very unpleasant death. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes.” She looks pale now, her lips pressed together as if to contain a protest. She’s angry with me now, but she’s also scared. Not for herself—she’s beyond that fear now—but for others. My pet knows I mean what I say.
She knows I’m a conscienceless killer with only one weakness.