The door slams against the wall, startling me. I blink once, twice, my back sore and cold against the stone wall. My eyes land on the devil of a man looming in the hall. I instantly remember where I am. What brought me here.
Survival instinct has me jumping to my feet and shuffling to the opposite end of the tiny room. The carpet scratches my bare feet as I gather my senses to put space between us. I’m registering the pounding of my heart, the adrenaline rushing through my veins.
He looks furious. His jaw is clenched, the line of it somehow sharper for that tightness and barely hidden beneath the five-o’clock shadow. His eyes are on fire, one almost black with rage, the other a feral, animal silver. I drag my eyes from his and my gaze catches on his bare forearms, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. They’re corded with muscle, and hugging the skin tight are the coiling tails of serpents, his giant hands fists at his sides.
I fell asleep. How in the hell did I manage to fall asleep knowing where I was? What awaited me.
He takes a step toward me but when I take one back, he stops. He pushes his hand through his dark hair and I get the feeling he’s rattled by something. This man is fierce. Savage. The raw rage coming off him is palpable. I wonder if this is how he experiences every emotion. Intensely. Passionately. I know being on the wrong end of that passion is lethal. And I’m there, in his sights, the object of his hate.
I want to run but there’s nowhere for me to go. The small bathroom is the size of a shower stall with barely enough room for the toilet and sink. And there’s no lock on the door. Although I know no door or lock would stop this man from advancing. I have never been around someone like him before. Never felt so much crackling, animal energy from any human being.
“It’s done,” he says, tossing the papers he’s holding onto the bed. His voice is different than it was in the chapel. Even the threat he made sounds like child’s play compared to his tone now. There’s an edge to it. Something wild. Something he is trying to rein in.
“What’s done?” I ask, glancing at the pages, noticing one has slipped off the bed and landed on the floor.
I initiate the Rite.
He can’t do that. The Rite is not something one can take. It’s given and only to a trusted friend.
He takes a breath in, shifts his gaze around the room, not bothered by the sparseness, the cold, the old. He then settles his gaze on me. The tension in his shoulders subsides a little. Hands flex then relax. My gaze falls to those hands and inevitably to the inked forearms. To the powerful muscle beneath the skin.
“You belong to me, Isabelle Bishop.”
I can’t help my quick glance to those sheets of paper on the bed, but I can’t read more than a few words from this angle. It’s written in an old, ornate script and upside down. What I do see are the words Rite and my own name.
And a signature I recognize. My brother’s.
Christian wouldn’t have allowed this to happen. He wouldn’t sign anything that would give me away.
But Christian is dead, and Carlton is a very different man than Christian was.
I don’t need to read the details to know he’s not lying. That I do belong to him. It’s how The Society works. If it had been another man, another sort of contract, it would probably be much the same albeit with less animosity. Because this man hates me. Loathes me.
“Why did you help me?” I ask before I can think about what I’m doing.
He looks confused. “What?”
“At the chapel. Why did you help me if you hate me? Why not let those men do what they wanted to do to me?”
I take a step away from him and feel the wall at my back. There’s nowhere for me to go.
He sees my disadvantage. Sees he has me cornered. And like any good predator, he advances, only stopping when he’s closer than he was at the chapel. When I can almost feel the heat coming off him. The sheer power of him like waves of electric energy ready to zap me.
“Isabelle Bishop,” he says, noting the dozen hair pins I dropped on the nightstand before taking a thick lock of my hair into his hand. I’d taken it out of its chignon. It was so tight it gave me a headache. But now as I watch him, I wonder if I should have left it in that bun because he begins to twist a handful of it around his fist. I count one, two, three, four turns. My hair reaches my waist and he’ll use even that to his advantage.
I expect him to pull, to hurt me, and I brace myself.
His gaze meets mine and I study him. This close, I can see the specks of gold in his eyes, the ring of black around the gray one. He tugs my hair, holding it taut forcing my head to tilt backward.
“You weren’t his to break. You’re mine.”