So. The beginning of this fic is pretty rough. There are short, non-eroticized depictions of rape and an ugly death scene, plus a whole slew of other crap that makes the first chunk altogether unpleasant. That lasts for six chapters, and after that things get easier. I've had one or two people tell me that they'd have had a better reading experience had they known how long the really oppressive stuff would last, so I figured I should make that information available. Six chapters. You can power through it, if you're so inclined.

I'm crazy about the story banner from vbfb1 Designs, and so grateful for the contribution. The link is in my profile.

Enjoy! (I mean, maybe not the first six chapters, but once you get to chapter 7 . . . enjoy!)

1. What Happens in Mexico

May 4, 2004


Bella had told herself that she wasn't going to stop. She had an eight hour drive home from the resort in Ensenada where her mother had just married Bella's new step-father, and she knew that the responsible thing to do would be to drive straight through, without stopping.

But she didn't. She was sixteen years old and she had never done a daring thing in her life. It drove her mother crazy sometimes, how carefully Bella planned everything. Occasionally, her meticulous nature came in handy, like when Renée wanted to get married in Mexico and needed someone detail-oriented to make all of the arrangements. But more often than not, Bella felt like she held her mother back. She knew that Renée loved spontaneity, and Bella's fastidiousness could be a buzz kill.

"Sometimes you have to just let go," Renée had told her, time and time again.

So Bella was. For the next two weeks, she would be entirely without parental supervision. Renée and Phil would be on their honeymoon, and they hadn't thought twice about leaving careful, responsible Bella at home alone. Renée had worried a little bit about letting Bella negotiate the trip back across the border on her own, but Bella assured her that she had all the correct documents, so her mother had relented.

Truthfully, it had been Bella's intention to go straight home. But something about driving the highway up the beautiful Mexican coast left her feeling free and independent, and when she saw the signs for Tijuana in the fading light, she found herself getting restless.

Who went to Mexico without hitting a club and doing a few tequila shots, after all? It was the first time Bella had traveled outside of the United States, and she wanted to experience the culture.

At least, that was what she told her practical, responsible self. But to the teenager buried way down deep, she winked. It was time to try something just a little bit out of character.

And really, it was almost as if Renée had been trying to encourage Bella to do exactly what she was doing. Having her wedding on the third of May meant that Bella was making her way home as the city was gearing up for its annual celebration of the Battle of Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo.

The streets were teeming with color. Bright decorations and bright clothing were everywhere, and music poured out from the open doors of the downtown shops. It melded together with the animated conversation on the streets in a chaotic cacophony of sound that set Bella's body humming in anticipation.

Cinco de Mayo, Bella had discovered, wasn't as big of a celebration in Mexico as she had been led to believe. It had always been a day to pay homage to Mexican culture in Phoenix, and so she had assumed it would be a major event when she got here. It wasn't. At least, it wasn't in most places. But Tijuana was a city that catered heavily to tourists, and the Americans were out in droves, looking for exactly the same thing that Bella was seeking —an experience.

So the city had thrown open the doors of its bars and clubs to play up the holiday and entice the foreigners, and Bella was enticed. And terrified. She was alone in a strange city where she didn't speak the language and didn't understand the currency, and she was doing something completely out of her comfort zone. A big part of her wanted to steer the car back to the freeway and get herself home, but she simply couldn't bear the thought of passing up this opportunity.

She parked her car in the lot of a club that looked clean and fairly new, where a doorman leaned lazily against the wall outside, not bothering to check IDs. He looked her over cautiously as she approached him.

"You no make no trouble," he said sternly.

She stopped, startled. "What?"

"Tu madre no come here? Be angry for you drinking?"

"My mother?" she asked, confused. "No, she's not here. Just me."

The man nodded and returned to his leaning, allowing her to enter the club.

She stepped out of the oppressive evening heat into an inferno. The club was packed, and apparently not air conditioned, and the lack of air flow combined with the press of bodies to raise the temperature several degrees. It was dim and smoky, brightened occasionally by the roving of colored search lights or the staccato flash of a strobe from the dance floor. The loud music filled the air, the repetitive baseline shaking the walls and vibrating right through her into her core.

Bella nearly turned on her heel and went right back outside again.

But she had already cleared the first obstacle—the doorman—with far less difficulty than she had anticipated, and she was that much closer to having her non-Bella experience.

Imagine what Renée will think, she told herself. Imagine what everyone at school will think. Picture their faces when you actually have something to contribute to the conversation. Something interesting. Something cool.

Her pep-talk helped, and she made her way around the crowded tables to the bar . . . or anyway, almost to the bar. There were patrons three deep, waiting to be served, so she stood at the back of the crowd and waited. After a few minutes, though, it became clear that waiting wasn't the way to get anywhere in this particular bar. People pushed their way to the front, heedless of their more polite peers, and Bella never actually got any closer. She gave it a few more minutes, but when it was obvious that her patience wasn't getting her anywhere she gathered her nerve and slipped through the tiny spaces in the crowd, successfully making it to the bar almost unnoticed by the other patrons.

Once there, though, she realized she had another problem. She had no idea how the process of ordering drinks was supposed to go. This wasn't something she had read about, and somehow it wasn't happening like it did in the movies, where a bar tender would approach her and give her a friendly, "What'll it be?" In fact, Bella was pretty much ignored as she stood there, waiting to be acknowledged.

But that wasn't so bad, because she suddenly realized that she didn't know how she was supposed to go about paying for her drink. She had spent the last of her Mexican currency when she filled up her gas tank in Ensenada, and she wasn't sure whether anyone here accepted American money. Nor did she know when she was supposed to pay. Did she buy each drink as she ordered it, or would they keep a tab and have her settle up at the end of the night? Should she order a particular brand of drink, or just tequila in general? She wasn't particularly familiar with the brands. Renée probably would have let her drink, had she been the type to keep alcohol around, but Bella's mother hadn't been much of a drinker since her high school days.

Bella watched surreptitiously as a doughy man in a Hawaiian shirt pushed his way to the counter next to her.

"Jose Cuervo!" he demanded loudly, and one of the three thick-set men behind the counter poured him a shot and passed it across the bar. He slipped them a few dollars—American money—and then licked the salt from the rim of his glass. He threw back the amber liquid, his eyes squeezing shut, and then he plucked the lime from the rim and sucked it hard.

All in all, it was a thoroughly educational display. Bella was pretty sure she could mimic that. Except for the yelling. She couldn't just demand a drink, she would have to wait to be acknowledged.

Waiting, though, turned out to be an ineffectual use of her time once again. She tried to screw up her courage to speak up, to yell out her order with the expectation of being heard the way the others did, but it was simply too hard for her to do. Ridiculous as it made her feel, Bella couldn't tolerate drawing so much attention to herself.

So she gave up. She resigned herself to the fact that her daring, out-of-character experience was an utter failure, and she turned and started pushing her way back through the press of bodies. She was about halfway to the door when a hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. She let out a little shriek that couldn't even be heard over the pulsing music and spun to face the person who had grabbed her.

He was another American, and he appeared to be several years older than Bella. He was seated at a small table surrounded by five other guys, all roughly college-age, who were laughing and ignoring her, for the most part.

"Hey, baby," grinned the one holding her wrist. "Aren't you a little young to be in here?"

Bella covered her rising panic with a sweet smile and a shrug. "They're pretty lax. I don't know if you noticed."

The man laughed loudly, drawing the attention of his friends. Bella felt herself flush as they all turned toward her, and she tried to pull her hand out of his grasp.

He pulled back, dragging her closer to the table.

"Hey, who's the jail bait?" one of the others asked, while another whistled suggestively.

"What's your name?" a third asked, and Bella's blush deepened.

"Bella," she said nervously.

"Let me by you a drink, Bella," said the one who still held her wrist.

She started to shake her head, but she suddenly realized that this may be the way for her to have that out-of-character experience after all. And oh, wouldn't the story be so much better when she told her friends that she'd had drinks with a group of college boys?

But that meant staying here and enduring the attention of six intimidating men, all focused intently on her.

She chewed at her lip in indecision, wanting to be brave, to do something worth talking about, yet naturally timid and anxious to escape anything new and frightening. And this was frightening. She was so far out of her comfort zone that she wasn't sure she could ever find her way back to it again.

Her fear got the better of her, and she shook her head, stumbling back a step. "Your table is full," she offered as an excuse, trying to extract her hand from the guy's grip.

"That's no problem, baby." He stood up and released her, but immediately grabbed her by the hips and lifted her up onto the table beside his chair. "See? Plenty of room."

The other guys laughed drunkenly and one of them yelled for a waitress. "What are you drinking?" he asked her.

"Um . . ." Bella hesitated, but she wasn't getting anywhere by making excuses, so she just surrendered. "Jose Cuervo?"

A round of shots was ordered, and the guys crowded close around Bella, taking seats on the table next to her and dragging chairs in front of her. She was peppered with questions—Where was she from? What was she doing in Mexico? Was she there alone? Was this her first time in a bar?—and she realized with a start that the guys were flirting with her. The questions seemed innocent enough, but they were punctuated with touches to her knee or squeezes of her shoulder, and one guy was winding a lock of her hair around his finger.

The whole thing was a little bit thrilling. She had never been one to appreciate a lot of attention, but six attractive college guys were flirting with her at once and she couldn't help the flush of excitement that came over her.

"It's not fair that you know my name and I don't know yours," she told them, ignoring several of the questions she had been asked.

"I'm Aidan," said the guy who had grabbed her wrist. "And this is Jesse, Chris, Sean, Jeremy, and Ryan."

Bella looked around at each of them as they were introduced, but she had forgotten which name belonged to whom before Aidan finished the introductions. "It's nice to meet you. Are you all down here for Cinco de Mayo?"

"Kind of," one of them spoke up. "And to celebrate Jeremy getting dumped by his bitch of a fiancée."

"Are you Jeremy?" she asked the guy playing with her hair.

"I'm Sean," he said, looking slightly put out.

"I'm Jeremy," said one of the guys who had dragged a chair in front of her. "And I think you need to dance with me to help me mend my poor, broken heart."

Bella giggled. "There's no way I'm dancing. At least not before I've had a drink."

As if on cue, the waitress reappeared with a tray full of shot glasses and passed them around. These ones were different than the one Bella had seen at the bar, she noticed. The rims of the glasses weren't salted and didn't have a lime wedge perched on one side, though the waitress did set a small bowl of them in the center of the table.

"Do you know how to drink tequila?" Aidan asked her.

She thought she had a pretty good idea, but she smiled and shook her head anyway, letting him take the lead.

He licked the inside of his wrist and snatched up a shaker from behind her on the table, sprinkling a dash onto his moist skin. He held his wrist up to Bella's mouth with a grin. "First you lick the salt," he said. "Then you drink."

Bella hesitated, but the guys were all watching her expectantly and a shot glass was being pressed into her hand, so she capitulated with a self-conscious smile. She ran her tongue across Aidan's wrist, tasting the bite of the salt, and then brought the glass to her lips—

And nearly choked. She barely got half of the tequila into her mouth before her body revolted and tried to force it back out again. She clapped a hand over her mouth and willed herself to swallow what was, hands down, the worst thing she had ever tasted. For a moment her muscles refused to contract properly, but eventually she was able to swallow.

Her companions were howling gleefully at her reaction, slapping their knees and rocking with laughter. Sean pushed a lime wedge into her mouth, and she sucked at it desperately, letting the sharp tang clear away as much of the horrid aftertaste as possible.

"That was awful!" she gasped. "You guys drink that on purpose?"

Her question was answered with more raucous laughter, which Bella ignored in favor of fishing another lime from the bowl, still trying to rid her mouth of the flavor of the tequila.

"You didn't even finish it," one guy said, taking the shot glass from her hand.

"Maybe you'll like beer better," another said, replacing the glass with a bottle.

Bella nodded. Beer had to be better. Anything had to be better. She brought the bottle to her lips and took a tentative sip, grimacing as yet another unpleasant taste filled her mouth. It wasn't quite as hard to choke back as the tequila, but she shuddered in revulsion and pushed the bottle back to the person who had given it to her.

Aidan gave her a patronizing pat on the head. "You're so cute, Bella." He started to say something more, but Jeremy grabbed Bella's hand and pulled her off of the table.

"There, you've had your drink, now dance with me."

"Hold up, she has to try whiskey," Sean said.

Bella decided that dancing was a lesser evil than sampling more of the offensive drinks her new friends kept giving her, so she ignored the protests and followed Jeremy to the dance floor. The rest of the guys followed, and though she started out shifting from foot to foot with her hands gripping Jeremy's upper arms, she was soon being passed from one partner to another while the guys jockeyed for position.

It was all a little bit disorienting. Bella's head was swimming from the heat, from the unpleasant flavor of the alcohol, from the excess of attention, and from the general newness of it all. It wasn't a pleasant feeling, and she was starting to wonder if it had really been a good idea for her to come here tonight. Had she continued on, she could probably have been across the border by now, well on her way to the safe comfort of her home, her bed.

But then she would still be the girl who lived vicariously through her books. The girl who was uninteresting to the other kids her age, and who was perplexing to her mother. Renée would almost definitely have approved of this detour, Bella thought, so she couldn't bring herself to regret it. She was eager to see her mother's face when she told her about this little adventure later.

She was doing a good job of convincing herself that she had made the right decision, until the hands on her hips—Sean's, she reminded herself—slid around and cupped her backside through her jeans. She jumped, startled, and tried to take a step back from him to free himself from his uncomfortable grip. She collided with a warm body behind her before she had moved more than a few inches, though, and two more hands circled around her, slipping up under the hem of her shirt.

Bella's breath caught, and she shook her head quickly. "Don't," she said, but her nervous whisper was lost in the noise of the music. The two bodies pressed closer, trapping her between them, and she pushed blindly at the wrists that held her, fighting down a spike of panic. "Don't, please," she said again, louder this time, trying to wriggle free.

"Shhh, baby, relax," a voice murmured in her ear, and she recognized it as Aidan's. "We're just dancing, having a little fun."

"I-I want to stop," she stuttered.

Jeremy frowned at Aidan. "Hey, back off a little, man. You're crowding her."

Aidan removed one of his hands long enough to give Jeremy a shove, and then it returned to Bella's body, beneath her shirt, and he let his hands inch up over her ribs.

Jeremy just rolled his eyes and stalked away, muttering under his breath. Two others seemed to lose interest, drifting away on the dance floor, while one, whose name Bella couldn't remember, stood back and watched, smirking.

Bella tried again to wriggle out of the hot press of the two large bodies that had caught her between them. "Stop, please. I . . . I don't want to do this." She clawed at Sean's wrists when they refused to release her, and he let out a low growl, grabbing her hands and pulling them in front of her.

"Play nice," he hissed threateningly.

"Stop, I mean it!" Bella said, louder this time, hoping to catch the attention of someone who might step in and break things up.

Aidan brushed his thumb over the cup of her bra. "I know you're not going to be a little cock tease," he growled in her ear. "Nah, you're not like that. You wouldn't get all flirty and let us buy you drinks and then not follow through."

She chewed at her lip, her cheeks flooding with heat. "I didn't—I didn't mean . . . I'm sixteen."

Sean's smile faltered and he took a step back, but Aidan only laughed softly in her ear. "What happens in Mexico . . ."

"Excuse me."

The words were spoken in a warm, almost musical voice that carried just a hint of a Spanish accent. Bella looked around and found herself staring at a wiry man with an easy, self-assured stance.

"May I cut in?"

Sean opened his mouth to tell him off, but the stranger shot him a fierce, feral glare, and Sean stumbled backward. Aidan's hands dropped as well, and he stepped away from Bella.

The stranger's frightening expression melted away as quickly as it had appeared, and he gave Bella a warm smile, holding out a hand to her. "Would you like to take a walk with me?"

Relief washed over Bella with such startling suddenness that an involuntary giggle escaped her throat. "Yes!" She took his hand, too giddy over her reprieve to spare more than a fleeting thought to wonder where he had been for his hand to be so cold.

"Come." He led her to the door and they slipped outside, welcoming the light breeze and the escape from the loud music.

Bella took the opportunity to gaze up at her rescuer, a bit bemused by what she saw. He was pale—extremely so—but the faint olive cast to his skin and the shape of his features gave her the impression that his pallor was somehow wrong for him. He had dark, heavy eyebrows and a short ponytail tied at the nape of his neck, and though Bella judged him to be well under six feet, he had such a remarkable presence that he seemed much taller.

He was significantly older than Bella, late thirties or early forties, she guessed, and she wondered if that had something to do with the vague sense of unease she felt. Bella hadn't had a strong male presence in her life since her toddler years, and she had always felt uncomfortable around her mother's boyfriends. Even her visits with her father were often awkward and uncomfortable, though she was more at ease with him than she was with most men.

Bella shoved her negativity aside firmly. This man had clearly shown that he was trustworthy, and she smiled gratefully up at him. "Thank you," she breathed.

"For what?"

"For helping me. For . . . noticing."

He smiled at her, his muddy brown eyes roving over her face. "Beautiful girl, I noticed you the moment you walked in."

Bella felt her cheeks warm, and she once again had to tamp down her feelings of discomfort. He wasn't flirting with her; she was reading too much into his kind words.

The man tucked her hand into his elbow and started off down the busy street, setting a leisurely pace for them. "You're far from home," he observed.

Bella nodded and told him about her mother's wedding and her reckless decision to stop in Tijuana and try something new.

"For what it's worth," he murmured, his chilled hand covering hers, "I'm very glad you decided to stop tonight. If you hadn't, I would have been denied the pleasure of your company."

She shivered slightly and sidled a little closer. He was more than twice her age, sure, but how often did she get the chance to take a walk with such a charming man?

"Do you live here?" she asked.

"I recently acquired some property beyond the city limits."

"You don't look . . ." She stopped herself abruptly, not quite certain if her comment would be construed as rude or insensitive.

The stranger cocked his head curiously. "I don't look what?"

"Mexican," she said sheepishly. "You're so pale."

He chuckled softly. "You are correct. I'm originally from Portugal, though my coloring is the result of a skin condition."

"A skin condition? Is it painful?"

"Just a bit inconvenient." He smiled warmly at her. "Tell me, pretty girl, are you affected by any ailments or illnesses?"

The question surprised her a little, but she shook her head. "Not unless you would classify chronic clumsiness as an ailment."

"You're in perfect health, then?"

She smiled playfully. "Yes, Doctor . . ." she trailed off and cocked her head. "I'm sorry, I didn't get your name. I'm Bella."

He stopped walking and turned to her, letting his cold thumb brush over her cheek. "You may call me Joham."

A chill prickled down her spine, and she wasn't sure if it was fear or anticipation. This evening hadn't gone at all the way she had expected, and she certainly hadn't foreseen herself going off alone with a handsome, charming stranger. Her heartbeat picked up as he leaned in close, breathing in deeply as he nuzzled her neck.

"You smell intoxicating," he whispered.

Bella's breath hitched at his words, anxiety mingling with excitement. She was unusually drawn to this man, but it was all wrong. She was sixteen years old, alone in a strange city, and every logical thought that managed to slip through the haze of her muddled emotions told her that it was time to leave. But her teenage hormones, the rush of adrenaline, and her gratitude over his intervention all demanded that she stay.

Joham eased away again, resuming their walk. "I read an interesting study a few years back," he said conversationally. "It was rather gratifying, I thought, because it confirmed a theory that I started experimenting with a very long time ago."

"What theory?" she asked, since he clearly expected her to.

He smiled. "We've long been aware that scent plays an important part in the mating process—for animals as well as humans. But I theorized that those whose scents are most pleasing to one another are the most likely to produce healthy offspring."

"Oh." Bella blinked in surprise. "I guess that makes sense, evolutionarily speaking. And the study you read confirmed it?"

He nodded. "A man's genetic make-up determines his scent, and our bodies are fine-tuned to sniff out, as it were, the partner whose make-up best complements our own." He stopped and turned to her again, taking both of her hands in his. "And you, little Bella, have one of the sweetest, most delightful scents I have come across in a very long time."

She stared at him, her eyes widening. The direction the conversation was taking was getting a little bit weird. "So . . . you're saying that you think we're genetically compatible?"

"I'm quite sure of it, my dear."

The prickling sense of foreboding was back, and this time Bella gave it credence. "I should really get back. I still have a ways left to drive tonight."

He clicked his tongue disapprovingly, tightening his grip on her hands to prevent her from pulling them out of his grasp. "I'm afraid I really can't let an opportunity like this pass me by," he said apologetically.

"An opportunity—" Bella stopped suddenly, staring at his eyes. In the light that shone on them from a nearby building, his eyes didn't appear to be the muddy brown that she had thought they were before. They looked mottled now, and in some places almost . . . red. "Your . . . your eyes . . ."

Joham blinked several times and the brown seemed to fade away completely, leaving only a deep maroon color. "It seems I'm out of time for niceties," he said, sounding almost regretful. "Come." He took her elbow and steered her down the street, walking much faster this time.

"Wait. I really have to get back." Bella tried to extract herself from his grip, but though he wasn't holding her particularly hard, his fingers were as immovable as iron.

"I am sorry for the rush," he said, ignoring her protests. "It has been my wont to make this as pleasant as possible for my girls, but my former habits have proven to be inadequate." He dragged her to a car parked on the side of the road and pulled the passenger door open, pushing her effortlessly inside despite her resistance.

"No!" Bella tried to scramble out again, but he drew the seatbelt over her and clicked it into place. His hand closed over the buckle and Bella gaped at it when the metal crumpled under his grip. She tugged at the mangled metal, but it had curled in on itself, making it impossible for her to free herself from the restraints.

The panic that had threatened her before finally found purchase. "No, stop!" she yelled, struggling against the seatbelt and praying that someone would hear her. "Help me! Some—"

Joham clapped a hand over her mouth with bruising force, and an animalistic growl escaped his throat. "That's enough, girl. I would prefer it if you didn't make me hurt you."

His threat only deepened her panic, and she fought harder, shoving uselessly against him. Joham pulled his hand away, but before Bella could draw a breath to scream he had plucked a handkerchief from his pocket and was stuffing it in her mouth. He reached down, and quicker than she would have thought possible, he untied and unlaced her shoe. He brought the lace up and tied it around her head, holding the makeshift gag in place.

Bella shoved and kicked against him, one hand clawing at his face while the other moved to tug at the shoelace, but Joham seemed completely unaffected. Again, more quickly than he should have been able to, he unlaced her other shoe and used the string to tie her hands together and secure them to the lap belt that held her in her seat.

Without another word, he stood and slammed the car door closed.

Bella stared down at the bindings that dug into her wrists, writhing desperately against them, struggling to work her hands free. A black haze washed over her vision, and for a moment she was worried that she might faint. But then Joham slid into the driver's seat beside her, and her senses snapped back into focus. If she was going to have any chance of getting out of this, she would have to be alert enough to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself.

"Just relax," Joham urged soothingly. "If you behave yourself, everything will go much more smoothly."

But Bella couldn't relax. She watched carefully as Joham steered the car away from the curb, trying to memorize the route he took. It was impossible, though. He took so many turns in the unfamiliar streets that soon she was hopelessly lost.

Once they left the city behind and got out onto the open road, Joham accelerated to such a terrifying speed that another panic attack threatened. Bella had herself convinced that she was going to die in a fiery automobile accident, so she was shocked when he slowed and turned off of the highway onto a long drive lined with scrubby desert vegetation. He drove for several more miles, still going way too fast, before he finally slowed in front of a two-story house.

Bella stared at the stucco and Spanish tile, wondering if this was the property he had mentioned. It looked deserted, and her mind kicked into gear again, scanning the countryside for landmarks that might be familiar to the police, should she manage to get to a phone and call them.

Joham parked the car, and he was pulling her door open almost as soon as he had exited his. In a show of strength that left Bella reeling, he ripped through both the lap belt and shoulder belt without the slightest difficulty. He pulled them away, but left her hands tied as he lifted her out of the car.

Bella fought back the urge to bolt as he set her on her feet and took her elbow. Even if she managed to break his grip this time, even if she didn't trip over her unlaced shoes and end up flat on her face, even if she could see well enough by the light of the moon and stars to run . . . there was simply nowhere to go. All she could see in any direction was desert. She let him guide her up the walk, stumbling awkwardly, and into the dark house.

Without the light of the moon, Bella could barely see a thing. Joham seemed to have no problem, though, and without breaking pace he dragged her inside and up a set of stairs. She tripped and stumbled all the way, but he gripped her arm tightly, holding her up when she lost her balance.

She heard more than saw the creak of a door as it swung open, followed by a disorienting moment when she was scooped up in Joham's cold arms, and then deposited on a soft, springy bed.

A bed.

Her blood ran cold and she tried to scramble away, but Joham caught her easily and dragged her back. His hands moved immediately to her jeans, not bothering to unbutton them, simply tearing them from her as easily as if they were made of paper. Bella screamed against the gag, trying desperately to roll away from him, but he climbed onto the bed and pinned her down with a knee to her stomach. He yanked off her shoes and socks and then made short work of her T-shirt, shredding it and tossing it aside. Her bra and panties quickly followed, leaving her bare and writhing in terror. She screamed again and again, but Joham ignored her. She heard his belt buckle jangle and his zipper slide down, and then he was pushing her hands over her head and crawling on top of her, wedging his body between her legs. The chill and unnatural hardness of his body intermingled with her fear of the inevitable, and she sobbed against the handkerchief in her mouth, desperate for anything that would stop this man—this thing—from following through with his intentions.

But there was no savior this time, no handsome stranger to step in and rescue her from the trouble she had gotten herself into. She felt fingers sliding between her legs, teasing and exploring, opening her for the invasion. And then something much larger, much more frightening was pushing into her. She felt the searing pain as her hymen tore and his member forced inside of her inadequately lubricated body. The friction and the painful stretching around his unforgiving hardness drew another agonized scream from her throat.

The pain and humiliation were too much, and Bella tried desperately to think of anything but what was being done to her. She sent her thoughts back to her mother's wedding, to the Practice SATs she had been taking in school, to the zoo that she had visited with Charlie the previous summer.

Charlie. Dependable, predictable, safe Charlie.

Thoughts of him only made her cry harder, as heavy regrets settled onto her. Bella had been so caught up in earning her mother's approval with her daring and spontaneity that she hadn't stopped to think about what her father would say. The thought of his underage daughter drinking alone in a foreign city would have been enough to send the man into conniptions. And he would have been justified. Had Bella spared a thought for what her father would have thought of her plan, she might have reconsidered.

But she hadn't, and she would have given anything at that moment to be with him, safe and protected in the dreary little town that she refused to even visit these days.

She cried harder, mentally punishing herself as the man on top of her pummeled her body mercilessly. With every bruising thrust she repeated her castigating mantra: Careless . . . reckless . . . irresponsible.

Bella was too exhausted to react when Joham cried out and spilled inside of her, but once he released her and pulled back, the terror returned full force. Now that he had gotten what he wanted, what would he do to her? Surely he wouldn't release her? Just take her back to her car and let her go home? Would he kill her? She curled into a ball and cried softly, not even trying to run away. She knew by now that it was pointless.

She heard Joham moving around the room, and then the sound of a drawer opening and closing. The bed dipped under his weight, and he slid his arms under her, shifting her higher on the bed. Bella tried to curl in tighter, but he deftly snapped the string that tied her wrists and seized one hand, stretching it above her head. She felt a much thicker rope coiling around her arm, securing it to the headboard of the bed, and again, she didn't try to fight. She just squeezed her eyes shut as he quickly knotted the rope, then did the same with her other hand. He tied each ankle, trailing lengths of rope down the large bed to secure them to the footboard, before moving back up and giving her a gentle kiss on her forehead.

"I know this is uncomfortable, sweet girl, but it won't last long. I just need to make a few arrangements."

With that, he strode out of the room and left her alone, bound and bruised and completely devastated. Bella heard the front door open and close, followed shortly after by the growl of a car engine. A few more tears slipped from her eyes and slid down her temples and into her hair.

Mentally, she ran through the list of people that she loved, crafting apologies to them in her mind, wishing desperately that she could have had a chance to see each of them one more time. But before long the exhaustion and tears caught up with her, and her thoughts morphed into fitful, self-pitying dreams.