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PROLOGUE

DANA

 

Ice cold water hits my face. The sting wakes me up while sending sharp pain across my naked body. Everything inside me trembles as I become more alert. My wet hair weighs my head down. I focus on my fingers that shake in small pools of water that surround me. My naked flesh is screaming for warmth. Large feet appear in front of me, my shoulders hunch closer to my ears as a second bucket of water is splashed across my frame. A short broken scream is dragged from my lips before the sound of my chattering teeth takes over. The chains on my wrist rattle as I raise my head through the pain and dizziness.

“Are you ready to talk?” The large Russian man drops the steel bucket. Sound bounces around the large space. The empty outhouse has been my cage for days now. I keep waiting for someone to come and find me, someone like Cillian. His name has me wincing, and I push the image of his face away. His memory is too painful.

A roar rolls from me. My fingers rebel and try to wriggle under the weight of the boot that is slowly crushing them. I continue to scream in pain even as the Russian steps away. Air stalls in my lungs as I stare at my hand, not daring to move a finger. The pain intensifies and I’m burning up inside. Bile claws up my throat as I rock my body like I can extract the pain from my broken fingers.

“Just tell us about your father and all this goes away.”

My breaths are shallow and fast as I continue to stare at my crushed fingers. My vision blinks in and out.

The Russian’s footsteps come closer and I quickly look up at him. I swallow the dryness in my mouth, I swallow the scream, I swallow the pain. “I never knew…” I sob when I see the disbelief in the man’s blue eyes. “I swear.” I cry out as he kneels down with a smile that sends waves of fear coursing through me.

“You are naked, beaten, and chained to the floor. He will not expect this level of loyalty.”

His large hand touches my face and I shrivel away from him, sending fresh pain into my fingers. “You have been strong.” The man’s smile remains.

I sob. The truth is, if I knew anything, I would have given up the information the moment they chained me to the floor. The moment they stripped me of my dignity. The moment they put their hands on me. The moment they took me. I didn’t know anything about my father’s dealings.

“I swear, I don’t know.”

His smile leaves his face, and he rises on a long exhale.

I try to brace myself, but it doesn’t matter, nothing could prepare me for the pain. His foot connects with my naked torso that’s already coated in bruises. Something snaps inside me and I’m lifted off the concrete floor before I slam back down onto the ground. The chains restrict me, the heavy metal burns my wrists, the pain becomes forgotten as a large hand tightens around my hair and yanks my head back. I’m staring up into his face, begging him to stop this. I already know the answer before he hits me hard across the face. My head swings back, my mouth fills with blood and I hit the concrete floor again, the small pools of water splashing up across my damaged flesh.

I can’t see through the pain and fear. I curl up and cry and I’m waiting for the next kick or hit, but his footsteps leave me and I start to cry some more. My body trembles as I lie there on the cold floor.

I try to tell myself that I will be fine, but the truth is, I’m hurting. I’m hurting so deep that I’m close to giving into the demands that my body has on my mind. My body wants me to let go. Let go of all the pain and hurt.

Another sob sends ripples across the small pool of water that I lie in. My dark tendrils bring me back, back to a moment when I was sailing through the air, my hair whipping in my face. I was so young. Maybe ten, but I was with my best friend, Maeve, as she pushed me on my swing in my backyard. The day was hot, my mother was smiling, and I felt happy.

I’d laugh if I had anything in me. I’d laugh that Maeve’s secret led me to this dark place.

My body shakes and my tears stop and all there is, is pain. So much pain.

I return to the memory of that day on the swing. I had been free, just like Maeve always appeared. She had such freedom in her life that my parents never allowed me to have. I always felt suffocated, so I spent most of my teens travelling, trying to escape their smothering tendencies. They allowed me to travel, but something deep in the back of my mind told me I was never truly free or alone. At the time I had shaken it off as paranoia, but now I see that my father had men watch over me my whole life.

I can’t stop the sob that rocks my body, sending fresh waves of pain down my side. Coldness seeps deeper into my bones, and I don’t believe the cold will ever leave me. I don’t think any form of heat could banish this level of coldness or pain. Time moves in shadows across the floor. My fingers reach out to the last stream of light like I can hold it hostage here with me, but like everything else the light disappears and I’m plunged deep into the shadows and the fear of what will happen next.

I don’t sleep, but I’m not fully alert either. The tremor and agony keep me in a half awake state, that is until the door opens. I look up, unable to move as the Russian man enters the room again. The bucket in his hand swings and I close my eyes and brace myself, but no water hits me. I look back up and notice something lumpy under his arm. He takes the material out from under his arm and a blanket is spread across my body. I cry with relief.

It’s a trick. My mind whispers and I hush the pessimism inside my mind.

The large Russian man kneels down and brushes long strands of hair off my face. His finger grazes a cut and my body curls in on itself.

“You are resilient.” He sounds impressed. “But that has no value here.” His smile drips off his face and unease skitters across my skin.

“If I knew anything I would tell you.” My chains rattle and the blanket slips as I try to rise. His fingers press against my lip.

“Shhh.It will be okay.”

My vision blurs and I know it won’t be okay. I’m going to die.

My heart takes on a new beat. The pounding jumps to the point that I think my heart is ready to come out of my chest, the sensation feels like my heart is in my throat, choking me, cutting off the air from my lungs and without the Russian lifting a finger I can’t breathe.

I crane my neck back and gasp quick short breaths that don’t fill me up. They aren’t enough. The blanket slips completely from my battered body as I continue to gasp. I’m staring into blue eyes that laugh at me, but I can’t look away. My body is shutting down and I’m dying.

Loving life has me clinging to the man before me. I sway and I know if I hit the ground, I won’t recover.

“His eyes are blue, his hair is brown.” I keep repeating this as tears cascade down my face. Another wave of dizziness hits me, and my body trembles violently.

I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life any other way.

With this knowledge, I want to scream because I don’t want this to be my end.

Not like this.

Not like this.