“The reporter came to me with this. Apparently, she was one of several who received the package. We’ve managed to retrieve everything and have coordinated to keep it out of the press,” Mills was explaining.
“They’re trying to intimidate her by calling her out,” Nick grumbled. “She’d be humiliated – devastated.”
The sharp-dressed woman at the end of the conference table nodded. “That is how we convinced them to keep it quiet. We also explained that releasing anything about this would damage our chances to save a large number of enslaved children. Needless to say, they didn’t fight it too hard. We did ensure they would be the first names on the list when we hold the press conference and be allowed to see some of the evidence.”
Nick was frowning deeply as he considered this. “Can we keep her identity secret?”
The woman glanced at a man that had been introduced as the department head. “I have personally double-checked every document, every note, every last tag on every item to make sure she is only referred to by the anonymous name. However, we can’t doctor the photos in order to hide her face and she may have to testify.”
“Which is where we come in,” the U.S. Marshall deputy interjected. “We would like to put her in witness protection and give her a new identity.”
“No. You are not taking her from me,” Nick stated flatly. “She won’t just leave, either. She is safe with me.”
“But not necessarily her identity,” he pointed out. “We can keep her hidden. And… her parents aren’t the only threats to her life.”
Nick shook his head. “No. I can do anything you can. I have the money to hide her away anywhere in the world. It would be detrimental to her mental state.”
“What if they come after you to get to her?”
“I’ll hire extra security.”
“If they try to get to her at the restaurant?”
“I’ve got eyes on that building already,” Nick told them. “If she needs to take a break for a while, Paul will understand.”
The Agent sighed and shook his head. “Are you sure this is what she’d want?”
“Absolutely,” Nick answered with absolute certainty. “And I will do anything necessary to protect her. You tell me what you want her to have and I’ll double it with the best that money can buy. If you need access to the building, I can arrange it.”
“Alright,” the man relented. “We’ll do it your way. But don’t think we won’t take her into protective custody – by force if necessary – should we believe what you’re doing isn’t adequate.”
“Don’t even make that threat to me,” Nick thundered in outrage. “She is going to be my wife and no one will ever keep me away from her.”
“I didn’t realize you two got engaged,” the man said. “When did this happen?”
“On her birthday,” Nick answered smoothly.
“I don’t recall seeing her wearing a ring...”
“I had to have it cleaned and resized. Selene has very small fingers,” he stated convincingly. “It’s my mother’s ring, you see.”
The man raised his hands. “My mistake, then. Fine. I’ll make recommendations and we’ll see if we can’t give her the best protection possible. I’d rather see her hidden, but I understand. You had better be ready to split town if things get too hot, though. These things are usually tied to at least one criminal organization somewhere down the line.”
“If we have to move into some movie star style secure compound, that’s what we will do,” he stated flatly. “I know where a few that can be secured well are for sale – I’ve already looked into it.”
The agent nodded. “Ok. Let’s do this, then.”
Nick had received permission to speak for Selene before this meeting because she wanted to work instead. He couldn’t blame her for not wanting to think about everything – the last week had been rough. After the arrest, they had needed to speak to her more, then she had to deal with the details they’d discovered that she could be allowed to know. After that, they admitted that they wouldn’t be able to charge them for most of the offenses against her due to the statute of limitations. However, they found more child porn and a little girl who’d been bound, gagged, and left in a motel room while they came out to take Selene.
He sighed as he sat back in the car seat, rubbing a hand over his face.
“Why did you tell them that,” his lawyer asked him with a raised brow. “You realize you’re going to have to explain this to her.”
Nick groaned and swore under his breath. “Dammit… it just came out. I’ll have to talk to her tonight after work,” he grumbled. “I just… I panicked.”
After clearing his throat, Nick saw a smirk playing on the man’s lips. “Good luck explaining this one. That girl loves you but something tells me she’s not fond of lying.”
“Yeah, no… she’s the redirect type. Honest as anyone can be,” Nick agreed. He exhaled heavily and closed his eyes. “Maybe she’ll understand and we can play it off. I mean, engaged doesn’t mean you have to get married right away. I wouldn’t push her into it.”
“Well, good luck with that,” he heard as the car came to a stop and his lawyer got out. “I’ll pass along what’s relevant to Selene’s lawyer. I made a recording she will want to hear,” he finished with a wiggle of his rows before slamming the door closed.
Nick sighed before he lowered the window between him and the chauffeur. “Take me to Paul’s. Have my car dropped off here.”
Today was a disaster. They’d been told it was simply reviewing details about the case and a full report on the girl they’d found. Instead, someone had sent out packets of photos of Selene with copies of a DVD like the one he’d received to several reporters around the country. They included personal information about Selene, including ‘how much she charged’, as if she’d chosen to do that kind of thing. Fortunately, the reporters had been appalled by the material and had contacted authorities. However, it had taken the better part of a day to get all of the evidence collected and several people had reviewed the content.
Then, he found out they had decided that her situation was precarious, even though they had managed to keep her parents and the other man from communicating with anyone outside of their lawyers, but they were limiting contact. It was shady, but it was considered absolutely necessary. They wanted to hide her. Hide her where even he couldn’t find her. Nick was desperate to prevent that from happening. He felt as if his heart would shatter if she ever left him. He wasn’t sure what his life would amount to without her. What point was it all if he didn’t have her to share it all with?
It was just shy of a year of them being together, and he could no longer imagine a life without her. He would leave everything behind if that’s what it took to keep her with him. The driver cleared his throat, drawing Nick out of his thoughts. He realized they were stopped in front of the restaurant. He wondered if he shouldn’t wait until after her shift, but he also needed the assurance she was there and safe.
He walked into the restaurant and up to the hostess stand. A tall brunette looked up at him and smiled. “Hello, Mr. Saber. I can buzz the back to have her come up, would you like a table in the meantime?”
“Yes, please,” he answered with a distracted nod.
Halfway to the table, the girl leaned a bit closer. “Hey, do you know there are guys following See around?”
Nick nodded slowly. “She has a security detail.”
The girl nodded, but still looked troubled. When she put him in a booth, she nodded toward an older man in a suit. “I don’t think he’s security anything. He’s been coming for days. Always sits at the bar and only pays attention to See. If she’s on the floor, he’s watching.”
Nick narrowed his eyes and studied the man a moment before he nodded to the hostess. “Thank you. I appreciate your watching out. I’ll have it taken care of.”
That seemed to give her some relief. “Thank you, Mr. Saber. He gives us all the creeps.”
“Have you guys told Paul?”
“He never comes when Paul is here,” she explained. “Selene said we can’t just ask him to leave because he’s creepy. He pays for drinks the whole time, so...”
Nick nodded. “I’ll take care of it.”
After she left, Nick began to type a message into his phone. He’d barely sent it when another man’s voice drew his attention. He looked up to see the man from the bar standing next to the table before he slid into the booth across from Nick.
“I believe you have something that belongs to me.”
Nick looked at the man with a stony expression. “What would that be?”
“The girl. I purchased her, and I want my property,” the man stated plainly. “How much do you want for her?”
A surge of anger rose in Nick, his protective and possessive side coming out in full force.
“What makes you think I’d even consider allowing you to take her,” he answered tightly.
The man waved his hand nonchalantly. “You can replace her easily enough. Men like us can buy anything we want.”
Nick scoffed, looking away. He wanted to punch the man. “Even if I was the kind of garbage that sold human beings, I wouldn’t consider it. Selene is mine,” he stated, looking back at the man. The anger he felt showed in the dark look on his visage.
“I have waited 6 years to claim her; I’m tired of waiting,” the man hissed impatiently. “Now name you damn price so I can be on my way.”
Leaning forward, Nick’s lips curled back in a threatening snarl. “You. Will. Never. Get. Your. Hands. On. Her.”
The man squinted at Nick, then glanced around. “You would be foolish to fight me for her. I have men in this restaurant who would take her right now by force, if necessary.”
Nick chuckled darkly. “That would never happen. You aren’t the only one who has people here ready for action. I can also have the police here in no time.”
The man sat back, glancing around before he settled his gaze back at Nick. “You will wish you’d accepted an offer here,” he stated ominously. “I’m not a poor man who has few alternatives. I have all sorts of methods I can resort to in order for me to regain my property.”
“I’ll have you know that I have far greater resources than is widely known about me,” Nick said with a twisted smile. “I am quite capable of protecting my fiance.”
“Fiance,” the man said with a laugh. “She’s not wearing your ring.”
“I had to get it sized. She does have much smaller fingers than my mother did,” Nick retorted quickly. “If you try anything, we can be married in an hour. Or less.”
“I already have signed documents,” the man gloated.
“All done when she was a minor without her consent, no doubt,” Nick said smoothly. “Considering she didn’t even know that she was supposed to get married, I’d say the legal fight wouldn’t be all that difficult.”
The man caught what Nick let slip and instantly rose from the booth, straightening his jacket. “You’ll hear from me again; that I promise you.”
Before the man could leave, though, Ahmed stood ready to help two police officers that approached and cuffed the man. He didn’t ask what he’d done, he simply glared at Nick.
“I’ll be out soon. I hope you’re ready to lose,” he taunted.
“I don’t think you will,” Nick mused, waving his phone. “I accidentally recorded our conversation and it’s a single-party consent state.”
The man shut up, only glaring at Nick before he was lead away. Ahmed appeared at Nick’s side and watched a moment before glancing backward.
“I don’t think she’s very happy about a scene having been made,” he commented idly.
Nick turned to see Selene, her posture tense, hurriedly speaking to the staff in hushed tones. Ahmed was right – she looked pissed. When he caught her gaze, he could see she was more than just angry, too. He knew there would be an explanation to give soon. That’s when Agent Holloway’s voice came from behind him.
“Mr. Saber. We’re going to need to ask you some questions and confiscate your phone,” he told him quietly.
Nick looked at him and nodded. “Yes. Uh.. will I be able to get my information off of it? I use it for business as well.”
Holloway nodded. “Bring us the new phone. I’ll have our tech copy everything over for you. No matter what the Marshall says; I think Selene is better off with you. There is no doubt in my mind you will keep her safe.”
“Assuming she doesn’t murder me,” Nick pointed out as he nodded in her direction.
Selene was dealing with some concerned customers and Nick could see the tight lines around her mouth. She didn’t look his way at all – in fact she’d yet to acknowledge him. While that might normally require correction, she was at work and he had possibly caused her more work. Nick’s shoulders slumped.
“Right… the engagement thing,” Holloway realized. “Look – just ask her to wear the ring and explain why. Or, you could propose. You are planning that thing, right?”
Nick nodded, then sighed. “I just hope she’s not upset about my lying to that man. Something about him didn’t sit right with me.”
“I’ll check in on him and keep my eye out. You don’t strike me as the paranoid type,” he commented, turning to look as Mills walked in.
“There are three men here with him,” he said quietly. “We’re going to get them after they’ve come out.”
Holloway nodded and turned back to Nick, pulling a plastic bag out of his pocket. “Phone, please, Mr. Saber.”
Nick dropped his phone into the bag, then watched as Holloway sealed the bag and put a sticker over it, jotting a few things down before he stuffed it into his pocket with the pen.
“Drop the phone off with the lady in the dark red car outside. I’ll get it to you in the morning,” Holloway told him.
Nick nodded, watching them leave before he started to retake his seat. He was intercepted by Selene who motioned for him to follow her into the back. She lead him into what he assumed was Paul’s office and locked the door behind them.
“What on earth was that all about?”
Nick sighed at sat on the edge of the desk. “That man was here because… he… that was the man your parents sold you to,” he finally managed.
He watched Selene sit down hard in a chair and deflate. She was angry, but this was all wearing her down, bit by it. In was evident in the slump of her shoulders and the shadows around her eyes. She lowered her head into her hands.
“He’s going to jail, sweetheart. He won’t bother you anymore,” Nick consoled, moving to stand behind her and massage her shoulders. “I recorded our conversation. He admitted to his role in things with you, so it will help keep him locked up.”
Selene shook her head. “I’m just so sick of this. I ran away to be free. Now, to be free, I have to deal with all of them popping up and trying to ruin my life all over again,” she said quietly, both frustrated and hurting. “I just want to forget it all.”
“I know, pet. This is just temporary, though,” he reminded her. “However, if you need a break, tell me and I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”
Selene leaned back and tilted her head to look up at him. “Paul needs me. Running isn’t going to solve anything, either. It’s all still here when I come back.”
Nick sighed and moved a hand to stoke her cheek with his thumb. “I see only a few options, to be honest. I told them no, but… they are willing to put you into witness protection,” he trailed off. The pain in his chest came back at the idea of them parting ways.
Selene frowned deeply. “For how long?”
“I think once you are in, that’s it,” he said tightly.
She shook her head and closed her eyes. “You were right to tell them no. I can’t do that,” she added, placing her hand over his. “I won’t leave you.”
Relief surged within him and he stroked her fingers. “I am so happy to hear that. One of the ways I sort of ensured he took no for an answer was to say we were engaged...”
Selene chuckled and looked up at him. “You sound like you’re afraid I’ll be pissed off at you over that.”
“Well, it would require you to agree to lying… or… we could be engaged for real,” he added, moving away until he was crouched in front of her. “I know this isn’t the way you deserve and the ring is at home, but… I am certain I want you to marry me. I know it’s not been a long time and we’ve got a long way to go, but… the engagement can be long, too, if you want,” he rambled,” but I know I want to marry you. I can’t imagine ever being with another woman. I just want you. If you just want to fake it, though, I am ok with it...”
Selene placed her hands on each side of his face before she pressed a kiss to his brow. “Calm down, Master. It’s ok. I understand what you mean.”
They looked into each other’s eyes as Selene considered the implications. Could she trust him enough to make that kind of commitment? She briefly considered the last year. Even when he got aggressive, she felt no fear. He’d spent months making sure she felt certain she wanted to have sex with him. He could wrap his hand around her throat, he could call her a slut, he could restrain her and time after time, she felt no fear. Even when hesitant, she’d never had to use the safe word one time.
“I love you, Master. If you want me to be your wife, I will be your wife. I trust you. I never feel fear with you. I know you will always keep me safe and I know I don’t want anyone else, either. So, yes… I will,” she told him with all the love she felt and all the reasons she’d stayed. “You are the most wonderful man I have ever met. I don’t ever want to lose you.”
Nick raised and cradled her head with both hands. “Thank God, I was so scared it was the wrong thing to do. I am…,” with no words to express his feelings, he simply kissed her.
It was both passionate and slow, gentle and tender, as well as expressing everything neither had words for. In that kiss he put everything he had. When he pulled back, both had tears in their eyes. Nick used his thumbs to wipe hers away as Selene did the same.
“I am going to put that ring on your hand tonight. I cant wait anymore. We can get married whenever you want – tomorrow or two years from now. Just let me know when you decide. Do you want a big wedding? I’ll pay for whatever you want. I want it to be everything you could possibly want.”
Selene laughed. Her handsome Master being so nervous was rambling. She found it absolutely adorable. He was always so strong and sure that this was completely out of character.
“How about we discuss it tonight and decide what we can both agree is best,” she suggested. “If we’re doing this, we will do it as we always do: with mutual agreement.”
Nick nodded, silently thanking whatever divinity may exist that had blessed him with this wonderful woman. “You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he told her. “I am more happy than I can express.”
There was a knock on the door, causing Nick to jerk to his feet. Selene giggled and rose, walking over to see who was out there. Ahmed, looking anxious, motioned with his hand in query. Selene stepped back to let him in. As soon as the door was shut, he began speaking.
“Is there a US Marshall on this case now?”
Nick nodded, a frown of concern appearing. “Yes. I can’t remember his name, but he’s trying to put Selene into witness protection.”
Ahmed turned to Selene. “Are you considering it?”
“No,” she answered immediately. “I have Nick and I like this job.”
“Why are you asking,” Nick questioned, moving closer to Selene.
“That guy sets off my alarm bells. I don’t like him. Something’s off with that guy.”
Nick nodded in agreement. “I noticed that, too. I mentioned it to Holloway.”
“Good,” Ahmed replied with an approving nod. “Those two are definitely dedicated. This guy – let’s keep your exposure,” he said to Selene, “minimal and only with one of us nearby and watching. I didn’t interfere with that guy earlier – I wasn’t completely sure what he was up to. I did tell your agents who was with him, though.”
“How did you know?”
Ahmed grinned at Selene. “It’s what I do. It’s also why I sent in some back-up.”
Nick chuckled. “I figured as much.”
The darker skinned man smirked. “Yes, I heard. But, you guys are never without at least two sets of eyes on you at all times. Selene usually has four, not counting the FBI.”
“Wow,” Selene said, looking surprised. “That’s kinda crazy.”
“You are important,” Ahmed teased. “And not just to Nick.”
“I feel like I am some kind of royalty with all the security.”
“You are to me,” Nick said, bending to kiss the top of her head before wrapping his arm around her and pulling her close. “You are my Queen.”
Ahmed groaned and shook his head. “Save it for when I leave the room,” he teased. “So, he said he is going to do a security evaluation,” Ahmed stated, addressing his primary concern. “I think it would be incredibly unwise to allow him to know the full extent of our security precautions. If he knows everything, something could be planned at any weaknesses they could exploit. We are damn good, but people are human. I’d rather not take the risk.”
“So what do you propose,” Nick asked, looking down at Selene to see her nodding in agreement.
“Just give him the expected things and a few other minor precautions,” she answered. “Hide the majority of what would be less expected, but providing him with enough to think you are just above average”
Nick noticed it didn’t seem as if she’d even had to think about the answer. He had to wonder where she’d gained that knowledge.
“Exactly. So, the question is, how above average?”
“About a low B+,” she suggested. “Impressive, but not too impressive.”
“Ok, wait. I get that we’re not letting the man know the whole extent of the security, but how do you know all this,” he asked Selene.
Her lips curled in a smirk, amused that she knew something well that he had no clue of.
“It’s practical experience and a lot of observations when trying to find ways to escape. It’s amazing how much you can learn when people don’t consider you capable of understanding what they’re talking about.”
Selene waved her hand. “Don’t be. It was excellent mental exercise and a break from everything else. Besides, that was then. This,” she added, looking at Ahmed, “is now and I like having an advantage in my fate.”
Ahmed nodded approvingly. “That’s good. I admire your strength. I wish my sister could do half as well as you.”
“If you would like, I’d be happy to talk to her,” Selene offered. “Maybe it could help?”
Nick was surprised at the immediate softening of the man’s entire demeanor. “I would be honored if you would do that. We’ve tried everything – perhaps a personal connection...”
Selene smiled happily. “Absolutely. Let’s arrange it as soon as possible. I’d love to meet her and maybe, just maybe, having someone who knows – she will start to feel a bit safer.”
“I cannot thank you enough for this,” he told her with barely restrained emotion. “You are a truly special human being.” He looked at Nick then, smiling. “I hope one day to be as fortunate as you are with a woman as good.”
Nick felt a twinge of jealousy that he quashed quickly. “I hope so, too. You’re a good man.” He decided to redirect the conversation back to where it had been. “Now, about this security thing, what does B+ stuff mean?”
“You always want your opponent to underestimate your defenses,” she explained. “They think they find a weakness, yet you can always catch them in spite of their efforts.”
Nick nodded, understanding that part. “So, the B+ is how secure you’ll allow them to think we are? How does that translate?”
“They won’t know what all of our planned escape routes are, where all the cameras are, or where all the guards are stationed. It also means we’ll tighten up a few things. I’ve got a specialist coming who can help make sure we have everything covered,” Ahmed explained. “I will make sure they don’t get all the details.”
Nick smirked as he realized the full implications of the plan. “You realize that he’s already threatened to take her by force if he feels her safety is threatened. Arresting her as a material witness, he said.”
Ahmed laughed. “He couldn’t get within 10 feet of her without at least one of us being on him. Since none of us trust him, I’ll keep an extra set of eyes on him. I’ll also request a full background check on this guy.”
“You can do that on a federal agent,” Selene asked with surprise.
“Sweetheart, we can do background checks on any human being on the face of the planet,” Nick told her, amused. “It’s just a matter of how hard they have to work for it.”
“Wow… there really are some cool advantages of having money.”
“Yes, there are.”
“I’m going to start making phone calls. I would advise trying to keep things looking as normal as possible for now. I would recommend we start looking for other places where we can retreat to if this becomes a bigger deal,” Ahmed stated. “With this Marshall… I’d like some leeway in case he becomes a problem.”
Nick nodded slowly. “I’ve got a few places I’ve been thinking about.”
“Let me know, so we can review the location,” Ahmed said before he excused himself and left the two alone again.
“Would you like me to get the ring now?”
Laughter bubbled from Selene. “I can wait until after the shift. We both already know and we are all that’s important.”