It seemed that once that first truly intimate act had been done, Selene had discovered something about herself that she didn’t know.
She could be with a man without feeling horrid afterward.
Nick had broken through that barrier. While they still weren’t having sex yet, Nick was seeing to it that she felt beautiful and cherished. He sent her flowers at work, left her little notecards to remind her he thought of her around the penthouse. He took her out to dinner and a club where they could hang out with Rachel and a few others in a private VIP room. He took her shopping, taught her how to drive, and paid for her room to be redecorated.
He finally convinced her to accept a cell phone, putting it on his account with a Samsung,. Then, he bought her a laptop and a tablet to take with her to work for breaks or downtime. Of course, he had to teach her how to use them, since she’d rarely had the opportunity up to this point. With her struggles, technology hadn’t been high on her priorities, so this was largely new for her. Fortunately, she caught on fairly quickly.
Of course, she had all the bells and whistles with subscriptions to virtually everything. He cracked up when she began browsing Amazon and was shocked at everything they sold. He had plugged his card numbers into her devices so she could buy whatever she wanted, though she still wasn’t going crazy. Mostly, she bought books. When she began to stack them up next to her bed, he had bookshelves installed in her room.
“Paul, I think I’m in trouble,” Nick told him one night while Selene was in the back. “I think about her all the time. I can’t wait to see her at the end of the day. I can’t sleep if she’s not in bed with me. I see something cool and I want to show it to her.”
Paul chuckled and nodded slowly. “I knew this was coming. Nick, my friend, you are in love. Congratulations.”
“Fuck, Paul. What am I going to do,” Nick asked worriedly.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m too old for her. She’d never want to attach herself to me,” he grumbled. “I want her to be happy, but I want her to be happy with me.”
Paul sighed and eyed Nick, who was seemingly clueless. “You two talk about almost everything, right?” When Nick nodded, he continued. “So talk to her. Tell her.”
“I don’t want her to feel pressured, Paul.”
“That she would need to… I mean...she might feel obligated to...”
Paul’s brows shot up. “You two haven’t had sex yet?”
“Geezus, Paul,” Nick hissed, glancing toward the employee door.
“Sorry. Seriously, though,” Paul said in a lower tone. “You haven’t?”
Nick shook his head. “I’ve been avoiding it. I want to make sure she’s completely comfortable and ready to take that step.”
“Nick, you’ve got to tell her. That you respect her too much to jump into it tells me you’re in deep. You’ve been good for her. She’s happier and she looks healthier. Tell her you love her,” he insisted. “You might be surprised.”
“What if she says no?”
Paul leaned inward and looked Nick dead in the eyes. “What if she says yes? Fuck, Nicholas, you aren’t asking her to marry you.
Nick mulled it over a few days, trying to decide if he was ready to risk the friendship for something potentially far deeper. His biggest fear was causing her pain, making her afraid of him, or causing her to put a wall up between them. Losing her in any way, he was quickly realizing, was absolutely terrifying. It caused him some restless nights, just watching her sleep as he held her against him.
In sleep, the tension around her eyes, hardly noticeable to him before, was gone. She looked younger and far less troubled. It hadn’t even taken six months for her to become the most important person in his life. With anyone else, he would be suspicious, but there had seen no signs of her manipulating him or anyone else. She was just Selene. Good, bad, or indifferent – she was the same person every day, even when the ghosts of the past came back to haunt her.
Christmas was coming soon. The last week of the year, Paul closed up shop, so Selene would be home. Nick had made plans to surprise her with a trip to his cabin in Maine. It was somewhat remote and private, maintained by a few locals who checked in with him a few times a year to let him know how things were. He’d called last week to let his plans be known, and had been assured that everything would be ready when they arrived. This was his private hideaway, where he brought very few. There were a grand total of 4 that knew it’s location, and a dozen or so more who even knew it existed.
With skiing, snowmobiling, and other winter activities, there would be plenty to do away from the cabin. He was hoping they could leave a couple days early so he could take her to look at the Christmas lights. Some of the Mainers really got creative and there were always beautiful displays. While Selene hadn’t seemed terribly excited about the holiday, he was going to change that. She’d not had much reason to celebrate before. This year would be different.
Rachel would be nearby at her folk’s place in Vermont, and would join them just before the New Year. Paul and Angie would be just outside of Boston to visit relatives, and would join them, too. Tom was flying out with his sub, Marie, and would be staying in a rented cabin nearby. They would be there for Christmas and New Year’s.
Tom and Nick were hoping Marie and Selene would hit it off, since Marie, Nick had learned, had been date raped in her 20’s. While not as extreme, the sense of violation was much the same, according to Tom. All Nick cared about was making this a perfect holiday for Selene, full of fun, friends, and good memories. With her knowing most of those there, he was hoping she’d feel secure enough to enjoy herself fully.
They had a few holiday parties to attend – mostly those he had to attend or couldn’t get out of – including a company party where he would have his first real chance to show her off. He wanted everyone to see they were still together and happy. At least, to those who’d thought his personal life was a game. The rest would have the chance to see her beauty and experience for themselves the kind of person she was.
It was December 1st when security buzzed the penthouse.
“Sir, your lawyer is in the lobby with a woman lawyer and 2 men with FBI badges...”
“Send them up,” Nick told him before the man could finish speaking. “Thank you. Can you put the other lawyer on the approved list? She represents my girlfriend.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Thank you,” Nick answered, ending the conversation. Nick went to find Selene. She’d want to make sure she was decent before they got upstairs. “Selene!”
Nick jogged down the hall, glancing into the living room before he continued on to her room. When he got there, he stopped short. Selene stood nude with her foot up on a stool, rubbing lotion on her legs. Her hair draped downward loosely, covering part of her face and over one arm. He could see everything. As his brain froze, his cock hardened almost instantly. All the moisture in his mouth dried up.
Nick’s eyes hungrily devoured every centimeter of available flesh. Every scar, every curve, line, and fold. He wasn’t even aware of crossing the room, and only vaguely aware of Selene’s surprised face as he cupped one breast as his lips found the bare side of her neck wide open. His free hand slid down, first cupping her bottom before his fingers began to explore. The moment he slid his fingers within her folds, Selene moaned. He was ready to push a finger inside of her when he heard the doorbell.
“Shit,” he hissed. “Sorry, sweetheart. I came to say we have guests coming up, but you just looked so… tempting,” he finished with a groan. “I’ll get them in the living room. You’ll want to get dresses. The lawyers brought some police.”
“Dammit,” Selene grumbled. “I will get dressed.”
“Bring your pot out to the living room with you. I know you’ll probably need it. I don’t care if you smoke it inside, you know,” he told her. Nick pressed a kiss to her temple. “See you in a few minutes, sweetheart.”
Selene watched him go, then hurried into the closet to get dressed. Less than five minutes later, she was jogging down the hall with her pot box, as she called it. She paused at the edge of the doorway to listen; a lifelong habit.
“She’s strong, I can tell you that. And I’m here to back her up with anything she needs,” Nick was saying.
“That’s good. You’ll need to keep us apprised of your location,” a man was saying. “We’d like to make sure we can reach you if it is necessary.”
“That’s not a problem. I’ll give you my card with all my numbers and Selene’s cell,” Nick responded.
Nothing sounded off, so she tried to sneak a peek in before she stepped into view. No one was too close to the doorway and there was a straight shot to Nick. Taking a deep breath, she pulled herself together and put on the mask. She was going to get a joint going right away; her mental state was going to require it. Talking about it didn’t make it easier – it just made it all come rushing back and tore the wound wide open all over again.
“There she is,” Nick said as she entered the room, extending his arm to invite her to stand next to him. He wrapped his arm around the back of her shoulders, giving her a squeeze.
“Ma’am, I am Agent Mills, this is my partner, Agent Halloway. We are with the FBI,” the younger man said with a soft smile, moving forward to shake her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Acres. I’m terribly sorry to do this to you, but we really need to ask you some questions,” he concluded, speaking as if he were seeking a favor from her.
Selene swallowed and nodded after the man had stepped back. “I guess we better sit down,” she said quietly. “Mind if I smoke a joint?”
The older of the two chuckled quietly. Agent Mills nodded with an amused grin. “We’ll never tell a soul.”
That made Selene laugh softly and caused her to relax. Everyone took seats, just as Dottie stepped into the room with a large coffee service. Nick helped her get it set up on the coffee table while Selene rolled up her joint and lit it. By the time everyone was sitting down with coffee, she’d already taken a few hits and it was starting to work. Dottie retreated after giving Selene a supportive smile.
“Miss Acres,” Mills began,
“Selene,” she corrected. “I don’t like to be called by my last name.”
The man nodded. “Noted. Selene, we’d like to record this interview so that we don’t risk missing anything or forget anything you say that could be important and we not realize it unti much later. Is that ok with you?”
Selene shrugged. “If it will save me having to repeat myself any more than necessary, sure. I didn’t know the FBI investigated child abuse, though.”
The two agents looked at each other, then at the lawyers.
“Selene, this goes way beyond child abuse. What they did is child prostitution and sex trafficking,” Agent Holloway said. “That is correct, isn’t it? You were rented out for parties, sent to people’s houses, forced to do things for money?”
Selene frowned, but Evelyn spoke up. “I played them some of the tape when we were discussing your case.”
Selene nodded, chewing her lower lip, remaining silent for a moment.
“Selene..,” Agent Mills began.
“And filmed,” she interrupted, staring at her fingers. “They recorded it. They said people would watch it online. I think they broadcast it – where people can watch it live. I was mostly drugged though, for the ‘shows’, as my mom called it.”
“I need all the places you can remember, names, anything about the other children that you could remember? Any symbols, burns, tattoos, ok?”
Selene looked at him a moment. “Are you trying to find others?”
Agent Mills nodded. “We are trying to find as many as we can save. We need to get these people off the streets. We think your parents are connected to a major child trafficking ring that we’ve been trying to bust for a few years now. If we’re right, you could be the key we need to break this case wide open and stop these… people from hurting anyone else.”
Selene sat up a little and nodded. “Record it, then. What do you need to know?”
Agent Mills smiled. Nick saw the spark that had lit up in her eyes. There was fire and determination there as she realized there was a chance to help others. She could see some form of justice done, if all went well, on top of it. But keeping any other child from suffering as she had, Nick knew, was more than enough motivation.
For almost 5 straight hours, they interviewed Selene. Holloway was taking notes and tossing out questions now and then, but Mills handled the majority of the questions. They went over every place, person, name, and event she could remember. They wanted the details and Selene told them everything.
Nick mostly sat there and offered his silent support. Dottie periodically came out to refresh the coffee pot, bring Selene soda, or bring out some snacks. She didn’t remain long, retreating promptly back into the kitchen as soon as she was done.
When the agents seemed satisfied, Evelyn spoke up. “I need your permission to give them a copy of the recording of our conversation, too.”
Selene nodded. “You have it. Whatever will help them stop this.”
“You’re a very strong woman,” Agent Holloway stated. “We need more victims with your strength. We really appreciate your help.”
“Will it help put them away,” she asked bluntly.
The two men exchanged a look before Holloway nodded. “Yes, and more. There are details here that can also help us identify other victims.”
“Now, about the threats,” Nick’s lawyer spoke up. “They clearly have figured out where they can find her...”
“We want you all to call us if anything like this happens again. If you see someone watching or following you, any strange notes, letters, or more pictures. Don’t touch anything with your are hands if you can avoid it. We’ll want to test it all for evidence,” Mills informed them. “Also,” he began, looking at Selene, “I don’t want you out anywhere alone. Have someone with you at all times. I am not saying you are in any danger, but they could try to kidnap you if they see you as a potential threat.”
Nick nodded and looked down at Selene a moment before he addressed the agents. “Should I hire someone to keep an eye out? A bodyguard or something? I don’t want them to get at her and if there’s some danger...”
“That’s up to you, Mr. Saber,” Agent Mills responded. “However, if it were me, I’d find someone. If nothing else – someone that could watch discreetly with a camera.”
Nick nodded slowly as he thought about it a minute. “I think I know who to call. I don’t want to risk anything happening.”
Selene relaxed against him, listening as her mind swirled with questions, mental images, and thoughts. What were they capable of? Would they try to kidnap her? Would they go further? She knew the answers to these from her past experiences.
“They are going to try to intimidate me more,” she finally revealed. “They’ve tried to get me back since I ran away.”
“I’ll hire someone, then. A team, if we need it,” Nick decided. “They aren’t dragging you back,” he told Selene. “I promised I’d protect you and I will.”
Selene leaned into him and Nick wrapped his arm around her again.
“You’re a lucky woman,” Agent Mills said. “You have a great boyfriend. Now, we will be keeping an eye out for your parents and anyone else we know connected to the trafficking ring. It’s a good idea to have someone keeping an eye out independently as well. The better protected you are, the lower the risk. You said they’d tried to get you back several times, so I would advise staying alert. Not many successfully escape.”
Selene nodded. “It’s why I’ve moved around so much.”
There was a few more minutes of conversation as they wrapped up. Cards were exchanged, then the agents promised to keep in touch. They would be by in a few days with a typed up copy of her statement to sign, though they did say her identity would be protected as much as possible since she had become their best witness and a good source of information. Agent Holloway told her that she was remarkable and that her memory would help them a lot. The only downside was this case was still under investigation and it could be a while before they were ready to make arrests. If she remembered anything else, she needed to let them know right away.
As soon as they left, Nick began making calls to find the best agency to get the security he wanted for Selene. Selene stared at the TV’s blank screen as memories rushed over her. The smells, the sounds, the faces… an endless stream as one memory after another tumbled through her conscious mind. So many other children and the adults who hurt them still survived, even many years later after she’d tried to forget.
Nick’s voice snapped her from her thoughts. Her emerald gaze flicked to him.
“Are you ok? I know that had to have been hard to do.”
She nodded slowly. “It was. But this is the first time where I feel as if I am not all alone and that there’s a chance they can be stopped,” she admitted. “Maybe, just maybe, someone can be saved or never be hurt at all.”
Nick smiled at her. “You’re amazing. I’m so proud of you for doing this.”
The approval caused her face to light up. It was something she’d rarely had in her life, and from Nick it meant a lot. “Thank you for helping me do this. I couldn’t have done any of this without you.”
Nick’s smile changed to one of warmth as he took his spot on the couch next to her. “I’m glad that I can help you in any way. You’ve done all the hard work, though.”
“You make me feel safe, Nick. That’s the one thing I’ve always wanted and never had.”
Nick wrapped his arm around her again, drawing her to lean against his side. “Anything for you, sweetheart. No matter how big or small.”