Chapter 1 - The first meeting
“So, to sum up, we can now conclude that Jackson’s theory about the poetic function projecting from the axis of selection over the axis of combination is true.”
Professor Lassiter smiles weakly under his bushy moustache and his glasses slide further down the tip of his nose.
“And now we’re out of time. Alright, guys, that’s it for today. I’ll see you all next week, same time, same place.” A half-hearted applause follows which ends today’s lesson, and the sound of voices and chairs being pushed back is deafening. I lean back in my own chair and carefully shut my laptop down. Linguistics. Yikes. The sound of the word almost makes me yawn. But it is mandatory and I have to pull myself together, if I am to realise my dreams of completing my bachelor degree here at the University of Oxford. There is no saving grace from linguistics. I sigh loudly, while I run a hand through my long, blonde hair. It’s going to be a long semester. Or, another long semester, I might say. This is my fourth one.
“Oh no, look at that. You would not have expected that, huh? You owe me another Cadbury” Christian laughs next to me and gently pushes his elbow against my ribs. I lift my head and follow his gaze to one of our classmates Morten. The annoying and arrogant I-think-I-know-all-and-I-am-better-than-everyone-else-Morten who has pulled Professor Lassiter aside to ask some clarifying questions. As always. Christian and I have been study-buddies since the first semester and Morten has been attending the same lectures in more than half our classes ever since.
“Oh shit, another one? I’ll buy you a whole box and be covered for the rest of the year.”
I smile and Christian claps his hands in joy, while he smiles with expectation.
“Are you coming along for the train?” Christian asks, while he pulls his bag up on his shoulder and looks towards the exit. “It’s always so crowed on Fridays.”
“No, not today, I have to find Professor Howard and talk to him about my thesis. You’re on your own today” I reply, while I pack my things into the heavy backpack.
“Oh, it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be unbearable. But somehow I will find the strength to survive without you” he replies and I smile while I shake my head in laughter. Christian; the always overdramatic homosexual. Talk about stereotyping someone. We leave the auditorium together and say our goodbyes, while Christian heads towards the train station and I walk in the opposite direction towards the building where the philosophy department is located. I pull my jacket closer to my chest. The fall is turning into winter and the dark clouds above are threatening to send a wave of cold rain down on me. It’s late afternoon on a Friday and as I make my way through campus, I see the buildings getting emptier as the students and staff leave for the weekend. I reach the building of my destination, just as the first of the heavy raindrops lands in my hair. The building is empty and feels almost abandoned. I walk through the empty halls while I read the names on the doors to find the one I’m looking for. Deep inside the building I finally find the right door. “Professor Asgaard Howard, Cand. Mag. in philosophy and psychology”. I lift my hand to knock and Professor Howard calls out a mumbled reply. I enter his office and looks around. The walls are covered in bookcases with books in all shapes and sizes. And genres. Philosophy. Psychology. Encyclopaedias. Most of them are old and worn down, as if they have been pulled out and read many times. Which they probably have. Professor Howard is an aging man well on his way to retirement. The top of his head is almost bare, only a thin ring of light gray hair bears witness about hair ever having been on his head to begin with. He is short, skinny and looks a bit fragile, to be honest. But his eyes are kind and his smile is warm, and he is my favourite professor as well as my mentor for my thesis. He is just so damned wise. Professor Howard bids me welcome and I start to present my thesis to him as well as my ideas surrounding the whole project.
When I finally lift my head from my notes, I discover that the sun has set and it has become dark outside the windows. I hastily look towards the clock on the wall. Wow. We have been buried in my thesis for almost three hours. It is almost 8pm and I am going to be so late. Martin is going to be angry with me. Again. And Professor Howard will probably also be in for a scolding from his wife when he finally gets home.
“I’m so sorry, it was never my intention to take up so much of your time, professor” I mumble, while I quickly put my things into my backpack. Howards smile for me is warm.
“Don’t you worry about that, my dear. It is always a pleasure to be able to help one of my best students” he replies and my bad conscience is soothed by the warmth in his eyes. He really means it. My smile is wide while the heat rises to my cheeks. I wholeheartedly thank him for his help and hurries out the door and down the hallway. I am almost at the front door of the building, when I remember that I forgot to borrow the book Professor Howard had promised me I could use for my thesis. I curse under my breath and turn around to head back to Professor Howard’s office. When I reach the end of the hallway, I see that the door isn’t shut completely and I’m pretty sure I closed it behind me a moment ago. Maybe he already left? No, there’s light spilling out from the crack. I slowly walk nearer and hear the sound of muted voices from inside the office. Weird, I think. The professor was alone a minute ago when I left. Maybe he is calling his wife to apologise? No, I hear another male voice coming out of the office. It is not my intention to spy. But something about the whole situations feels wrong. With no sound, I stand in front of the door and put my ear nearer the door.
“... the payment is not something you should concern yourself with, Professor. I am willing to pay a large sum of money for you help” a strange voice says loudly and the tone in his voice leaves no doubt; this man wants to get his way.
“It is not a question of money, young man; I am simply not interested in helping you” Howard replies. I move in a little closer to the door. Help with what? What are they talking about?
“Do you know who I am, Professor?” the man asks and the coldness in his voice makes chills run down my spine. My instincts awaken and scream to me, that this whole situation is wrong and that I need to get away from it now. My survival instinct is working hard to convince me, but I ignore it, as I stay put and continue to listen to the conversation.
“Yes, I know who you are and like I said; I am not interested in helping you. Please leave my office at once” Howard replies in a firm tone that indicated he wants to ends the conversation. A dark laughter seeps through the door and the sound makes the hairs on my arms arise. Fear tickles down my spine.
“We shall see” the man replies in a dead voice and I sense my clue to leave. But before I get the chance to turn around, the door opens and I gasp loudly in surprise. I lift my head and stares directly up into a pair of dark, deep eyes.
“What the fu... what do we have here?” the man in front of me asks in surprise, but before I can reply, Professor Howard speaks up.
“Arya! Why haven’t you left yet?” Howards says with blame in his voice and it sends a chill through me. My professor who’s usually so warm and nice. I’ve never heard him use that tone before. Not to me nor to anyone else. This is wrong. The whole situation is just wrong. I nod slowly and step back a bit, while I pull my gaze from those dark eyes and looks over at Howard. My sweet professor has a scared look on his face that makes me look at the stranger in front of me instead. The stranger is starring intensely at me and I know exactly what he sees; long, strawberry blonde hair. Green eyes. A round face with freckles on the cheeks. A height to match most men – if they aren’t as tall as this stranger. A body with curves all the right places. His gaze searches over every inch of my body and leaves goose bumps all over my skin. Suddenly he starts to laugh and I level my confused gaze up at him in the same second as he grabs on to my arm in a hard grasp. All the warning signs in me are screaming in alarm and with good reason.
“Well, well, Professor, you have been a naughty boy” the man laughs and pulls me closer before he turns me around so I am pressed up against his hard body with my back against his broad chest. His arm has a firm hold around my waist and the strong muscles hold me tightly against him.
“Hey! Let me go!” I exclaim and start to twist to get free, but the man tightens his grip around me. I see Howard move slowly towards us and try again to get myself free. Then I feel the coldness of steel against my throat and all movements in the room ceases as a knife is pressed against my skin. Check.
“If you will calm down, Professor, your little Lolita here won’t be harmed” the man says as he tightens his hold around my waist even harder. So hard it hurts. He presses the air out of my lungs.
“Do not hurt her, she has nothing to do with this” Howards pleads and I feel my eyes gets wet with his words. No, I don’t. What have I been dragged into?
“She has now. I was ready to use more drastic methods to get you to cooperate, but it looks like all I need is this girl and you will do everything I say” the man replies and presses that cold steel harder in against my throat to underline his point. It works. I let out a low gasp and feel myself being pressed tighter into his hard, warm body, while Howard steps forward and I see the surrender in his eyes.
“Alright, alright” Howards exclaims while he holds his hands up in front of him in surrender, “do not harm her and I will agree to help you.”
I cannot see the man who is holding me, but I can sense his smile and the satisfaction in his attitude. Checkmate.
“Very well. Let’s go.”
His arm around my waist tightens again and I am being pulled backwards with a hard jerk. I grasp at his arm to hold my balance and notice briefly how soft the leather of his jacket is. We have left the office and are standing in the middle of the hallway, when I realise, that we are no longer alone. Out of nowhere it seems, three men steps out from the shadows and surrounds us. Two of them flank my poor professor and leads him down the hallway, while the third stops in front of me. He is tall, blonde and with a cheerful look in his blue eyes.
“Cute” he smiles and his eyes glances over my body before they settle on the man holding me against him. “Shall I take her?”
“No” the man behind me growls and blue-eyes nods in agreement, before he makes his way down the hallway. The arm around me tightens even further and I gasp for air.
“Keep your mouth shut and do exactly as I say, is that understood, Arya?” he whispers warmly in my ear. I want to reply, but my voice is paralysed with fear. I nod weakly. The man chuckles low and slowly lets the knife leave my throat. I take a deep breath and feel a little of the stiffness in my body ease. Just a little. Then he loosens the grip around my waist, but before I get a chance to react to my sudden freedom, he grabs both my wrists and forces my arms behind my back. In a grip of steel, he holds my hands tight against my lower back and pushes me forward down the hallway. I don’t have a choice here.
Out in front of the building, a black CR-V with darkened windows is parked with a running engine. The man pushes me through the rain and the door to the car is opened from within. I am pushed into the back seat with a hard shove. In the car sits the blonde and blue eyed man from before; the one who offered to ‘take me’. His smile widens and I sense that ‘take me’ has a double meaning. The man with the dark eyes places himself next to me and slams the door shut, before the car accelerates quickly. I am squeezed in between two large men; one more broad-chestsed than the other. My shoulders rub against both of them every time I move just a little so I try not to move at all. I stare straight ahead, but I sense both men’s gazes on my face and down my body. I pull my jacket closer to my chest and shut my eyes hard; completely incapable of understanding this horrible situation I suddenly find myself in the middle of.
The silence in the car is interrupted when my mobile phone starts to ring in my pocket. I almost scream in pure shock and reach down my pocket to pull it out, when a hard hand closes around my wrist. I stare up at the man with the dark eyes and that hard look on his face makes me more frightened.
“Give it to me” he snaps hard and I obey without hesitation. I pull the mobile phone from my pocket and hands it to the man, but I still manage to see who’s calling me: Martin. Shit. He must be so mad wondering where I am. And worried, probably. It might seem like me to forget the time, but never like this. Never this late. Not without letting him know. He really must be worried. The man takes the phone from me and turns it off immediately before putting it into his own jacket pocket. I dare to gaze up at him. And I regret it as soon as I do. Because he is good looking. Very good looking. He radiates masculinity. His hair is dark, only a shade lighter than black and is cut short, but still have enough length to look a little ruffled. His dark eyes are intense and hard. His jaw line is wide and marked. Soft lips. A large, wide upper body hidden beneath a tight, dark red t-shirt and a black leather jacket. Light pre-washed jeans. Without doubt; one magnificent piece of hunk. The bottom of my belly tightens with the mere thought of his hard, strong arm around my waist. The second that thought goes through my head, the man turns his head in my direction and makes eye contact with me. I lower my gaze. What am I thinking, for fuck sake? How can I think like that about a man who threatens me, scares the shit out of me and who wants to hurt me? Who has kidnapped me, for fuck sake?! I scold myself, but do not make it halfway through my triad, when the car suddenly makes a hard turn and I feel myself being pressed hard up against blonde-and-blue-eyes. The man with the dark eyes quickly reaches out for me, grabs my wrist and pulls me back into the middle of the seat. Okay? I could have gotten up myself, thank you very much. What just happened?