Matthew wondered if the situation were reversed between him and Caleb, if it would have made any difference in how either of them turned out. Would Matthew have been a kidnapper? Would Caleb feel the need to submit instead of dominate? Or were certain aspects of a person’s personality ingrained in them from birth?
A loud ping from his laptop snapped Matthew out of his thoughts. He received an email from Agent Williams. It was probably rude to open it, but he was glad for the distraction and the information could be important.
“Sorry. I have to read this email,” Matthew said.
“Can you tell me what it says?” Olivia asked. She seemed to also need a distraction.
Matthew’s finger scrolled through the email. His brows furrowed as he went over bits of information, his mouth quirking in different expressions depending on what he read. “I suppose. It might be helpful if you can tell me anything new.”
“I can try,” she said and Matthew realized he believed her. He still strongly believed Olivia was suffering from Stockholm’s Syndrome, but it didn’t mean she was trying to stop him from doing his job.
“Demitri Balk has gone through a lot of trouble to cover up his past. According to this, prior to 1988 he was known as Vladek Rostrovich. Allegedly, he was a small-time arms dealer out of Russia,” said Matthew.
“He disappears after ’88, and then reappears as Balk in ’98. In 2002, his company goes public and he becomes a billionaire seemingly overnight.”
“What does that mean?” asked Olivia.
“I’m not sure,” Matthew said. He obviously couldn’t give Olivia all the details. She didn’t have a need to know. However, he hoped giving her some of the information might lead her toward divulging information she was either keeping or didn’t know she had.
Given the information, Matthew surmised that Pakistan, like many of their neighbors, bought weapons from Russian arms dealers in the 1980’s. It was the most plausible explanation for Rafiq and Vladek crossing paths. For a moment, Matthew wondered if the bad blood between Rafiq and Vladek revolved around the sale of weapons to enemies of Pakistan, but that didn’t seem like the kind of thing that would justify a vendetta spanning twenty years. It had to be personal.
At least now, Matthew had a timeframe for when it might have occurred. Also, given the fact Olivia had been kidnapped for the purpose of human trafficking and not drugs or guns, there was a large piece missing from the puzzle.
“Did Caleb ever mention why he and Rafiq want Balk dead?”
Olivia cocked her head slightly to one side and looked up toward the ceiling as if answers were written there. Matthew recognized the behavior of someone trying to remember something. He found it interesting how people, with all their differences, were still inherently the same. Olivia finally responded, “Yes and no. The night Caleb told me he was…,” she suddenly looked sad.
“What is it?” Matthew asked.
“I think you’re right, Reed,” she said, her voice rough at the edges. “I’m going to need a lot of therapy.”
“I’m sorry,” he said and meant it.
“Me too,” she whispered and took a deep breath. “Anyway, the night he told me he planned on selling me, he said something about Balk needing to pay for what he did to Rafiq’s mother and sister. Apparently, he did something to Caleb, too. I remember because later I wondered if that’s where Caleb got the scars on his back.”
“Is it?” Matthew asked.
She looked away, getting choked up again. “No. He said it was some guy named Narweh. He wouldn’t tell me much; just that he was the one who whipped him when he was younger. Caleb said his life was hell until…Rafiq rescued him.”
Matthew wrote everything down, hoping all the pieces would fall into place for him soon. Every piece was valuable because he knew alone they meant nothing, but together they would lead him toward realizing the whole picture. That’s what he loved. It was all he lived for: solving the puzzle.
“Did he say anything else about this, Narweh, person? Do you have a timeframe?”
Olivia shook her head, “Sorry, no. I know Caleb was younger than me when it happened.”
“How do you know?”
“He told me. We…we became very close by the end, Reed. Last time you were here and Sloan had just left, I was scared that maybe I made it up. I was scared that what I feel for Caleb was my way of surviving. Then I think about all the things he told me. I think about the way everyone gave him shit for being soft with me, and I…. I just don’t think I made it up. It’s real. The way I feel for him is real.” Olivia said.
“I couldn’t tell you one way or the other.” Matthew shrugged, “My job is the case, not to determine if your feelings are real. Not to say your feelings are irrelevant, it’s just no one can answer that question but you.”
“I know, Reed. I just….”
“I know, Miss Ruiz,” said Matthew. “When this whole thing started, my job was to get your statement and bring someone to justice. It’s become something much larger than I, or my superiors had anticipated. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, or discount them, but the bottom-line is: Someone has to stop that auction. Everything else? I’m not sure,” Matthew said. He had done a lot of talking with Olivia over the last week. He’d learned a few things, but whether or not it would lead him to the auction was still unclear.
Luckily, he had a team working on it now.
“Why don’t you tell me the rest?”
Olivia was staring off again, but she nodded. “Yeah, why not”
My attachment to Caleb was evolving, but it wasn’t just that. I found myself anticipating his needs and learning the meanings behind his many silences. Some days, he was brutal and I scrambled to obey his every whim as flawlessly as I was capable. Other days, he seemed content just having me near while he attended to mundane things.
Caleb liked to read, but when I asked, he never let me know what it was he was reading. When I mentioned how much I liked to read, he gifted me a copy of Shakespeare’s, Hamlet. I thought it was ironic he gave me a story about one man’s obsession with revenge and how it literally poisoned everyone around him. He didn’t seem to find it amusing, but let me keep the book anyway. I wasn’t sure what to make of the gesture.
I thought a lot about the night he had sex with Celia in front of me. It was a painful memory for many reasons, but the worst seemed to be my nagging sense of jealousy. No matter the circumstance, I found having Caleb near was always better than not having him around. It wasn’t only his presence I came to crave, but also the man himself.
Several weeks after the night with Celia, I was finally free of all tape and bandages. My ribs still hurt from time to time, but it wasn’t the horrible kind of pain that stole my breath. I opened my eyes and it was still dark in the room, but light enough to suggest it was morning. Celia hadn’t been in to open the curtains yet. I yawned and stretched out. I was careful not to hit Caleb as he slept beside me.
I didn’t have the nightmares as often anymore, but whenever Caleb opted not to sleep in my room I found myself terrified of the dark and unable to sleep. Such had been the case the night before and I’d ended up yelling his name loudly over and over until he angrily opened my door in his boxer shorts and asked me what the hell I was screaming about.
As soon as I had seen him I relaxed. I ran toward him and put my arms around him. With my face buried against his chest I immediately breathed in comfort and security. He had seemed annoyed, but he’d wiped my face and told me to get in bed – he’d stay.
I knew morning would bring about a change in him, in the way he behaved toward me and I wasn’t ready to accept it yet. It was ironic, because at first, I hated the dark. I had spent so much time those first few weeks of my captivity, craving the sun and the light on my face. Suddenly, it seemed the opposite. In the dark, my master let down his guard and he was Caleb again. He didn’t correct me. He didn’t punish me. He didn’t push me away emotionally. Caleb was there to hold me until the nightmares passed. He was there to tell me I was beautiful. He was there to tell me I was going to be okay. In the dark, he seduced me. I didn’t want the seduction to end.
I turned toward Caleb slowly, staring at his back. I’d seen his scars before, kissed them, but Caleb had never let me study them. With his eyes so firmly shut and him taking deep, even breaths, I took advantage of the situation to satisfy my growing curiosity. Even in the dim light, I made out the thick lines crisscrossing his tanned skin. They almost looked like welts, but I could tell they’d been healed for a long time.
Unable to resist, I reached out with my fingertip and traced one from his shoulder to about the middle of his back. He groaned and shifted a little, and I withdrew my hand. I waited a few impatient seconds to see if he woke up, and when he didn’t, I went over the same spot again. The skin was raised by the slightest of degrees and I marveled over how many there were. How did you get these? My curiosity made me bolder and I pressed my palm to his skin letting it travel the length and breadth of his back. There were dozens of the tiny welts. Who did this to you? Is this why you’re the way you are?
Without thinking, I drew closer and pressed my lips to the ill-treated flesh. Caleb was soft, softer than I’d expected him to be given the firmness of him. Tiny, invisible blond hair met my lips and I smiled against his flesh. I’d never been so close to a man as I was to Caleb. Everything with him was a new discovery. Granted, most things I discovered about Caleb were horrible, but sometimes…sometimes I discovered he was soft.
I lingered over his bare skin, scooting closer and enjoying him. He never asked me to touch him anymore. I thought about the time he asked me to touch him. I’d been hesitant at the time. I’d hated him. I was surprised to realize I didn’t hate him so much anymore. I felt so many things toward him, and yes, hate was perhaps among them, but there were others too, far more complex than simple hate.
Caleb planned to sell me. I hated him for that. Everything else? I was shocked to realize I could, perhaps, forgive him. I struggled against the idea every day, at every opportunity, telling myself it would only leave me in ruins…but my heart. My heart, independent of my logic, had reserved a place for my tormentor and my solace.
I was lost in my thoughts, stroking Caleb’s back when he let out a gruff sigh and swatted at his shoulder almost hitting me. I flinched and made a startled sound. Abruptly, he turned and grabbed the hand I had used to touch him. We stared at each other for a bit, my eyes wide and nervous, and his presumably confused and a little angry.
“What are you doing?” he asked suspiciously. He held my hand as if he’d just pulled it from the proverbial cookie jar, and what could I say – I looked the part.
Brazenly, I pulled my hand free and asked, “What happened to your back?” He looked at me as if I’d said something distasteful, and then fell back against his pillow as he expelled a big yawn.
“You know, Kitten, when I first decided to call you that, I didn’t realize how aptly I’d chosen.” He read my perplexed expression and proceeded. “Curiosity killed the cat.” He smiled, but I didn’t think it was too funny.
Jokes about killing me. Yeah – not funny.
“Will you stop asking, if I tell you?” he said. He stretched. I tried not to be distracted by his nearly naked body and the serious case of morning wood he had going.
“Why would I keep asking you if I had the answer?” I said and boldly smiled when he glared at me.
“The better question would be: why do I put up with you?” I knew he meant it to be banter, but all he’d done was thrust our situation into awkward focus. We both knew why he put up with me and the answer was shitty.
I was just about to lie and tell him I wasn’t really curious, but Celia finally came into the room with breakfast. Celia; things were surprisingly not strained between us. She hadn’t been happy Caleb had used her and sent her packing, but the following morning she’d come in, business as usual.