Alena Thompson walked the stone steps that led to her in-law’s home, her heart filled with a heavyweight as the echo of their laughter and joy reached her ears. Their merriment making her steps sluggish as she neared the large white door, where family, his family, awaited her arrival. Their plastered smiles and honey-soaked words, masking their pity as they gazed upon her with judgmental eyes.
A small hand raised towards the door; Alena stared blankly at the golden knob before dropping her hand at her side. Anxiety overwhelming her as she fought against the tears that threatened to spill. God. Why do I still come here? But even as she questioned herself, Alena already knew the answer. She did it for him, for her late husband. With Fredrick’s death, Alena inherited his home and finances, a position that left her guilt-ridden and indebted to the Thompsons. With a huff, Alena turned on her heel, perching herself onto the front step as she dropped her head into one hand. The frigid cold of the stone on her buttocks a welcome reminder that she was alive. And he is not.
It had been three years now since Alena’s husband, Fredrick, died. A shot to the heart leaving him on life support, and Alena eventually widowed. Though they were not married for longer than a year, Alena’s heart still wept at his loss. Her mind filled with the vicious nightmares of the night of his murder, the coppery scent of blood still fresh in her nostrils as she tossed and turned in her bed.
Freddy wasn’t like other men. He was earnest and kind, his aim always to uplift and bring light wherever he went. The day she met him, was the day her world stopped spinning and finally made sense. Though the two had quite the age gap, Alena being only eighteen at the time and Fredrick just barely hitting his thirties, it didn’t stop him from pursuing Alena and eventually claiming her as his.
After only a few short months, Alena finally accepted his love, and the two were married in the fall, their one year of union filled with laughter and bliss as they relished in each other’s mere existence. That is, until that one fateful summer night. As a sigh left her lips, Alena clenched her eyes tightly shut against the memory, slender fingers rubbing her temples as she fought against the faint screams that hid in the depths of her unconscious. The echo of machinery beeping ruthlessly in her ears as the vision of her husband’s body, cold and frigid, clouded her mind as he laid in that hospital bed. The only proof that he was still alive, displayed by a monitoring screen. His life slowly ticking away.
A loud bang followed by a man’s obnoxious chortling broke Alena from any further thoughts, her cheeks wet with tears she’d been unaware she shed. Exhaling a shaky breath, Alena carefully wiped her now smudged makeup from her cheeks, admittedly relieved by the distraction. Standing to her full height of five-six, Alena ran a shaky hand through her auburn locks, clearing her throat as she reproached the door. Alright, let’s get this over with.
Yanking open the heavy door, the smell of roses filled her lungs as smiles and boisterous greetings welcome Alena. With a few nods and a fake smile of her own, Alena made her way through the wave of people, recognizing only a few family members as she stumbled head first into the lion’s den. There with arms open wide, stood her mother in-law, Nancy Thompson. A woman in her late fifties, Nancy wore her wealth like a beacon, donning only the finest jewelry, ensuring every wrinkle was smoothed, and every calorie consumed, nipped and tucked. She wasn’t particularly unbearable, but Alena couldn’t help but find the way she tossed money around to be distasteful and arrogant. Two things Frederick was not.
“Alena. So, kind of you to join us!” Her lilted voice rang clear above the noise of the other guests as Nancy squeezed Alena’s shoulders, the woman’s stiletto red finger nails piercing into her skin as Alena forced a pleasant smile to her lips. An abrupt hand on Alena’s shoulder brought her gaze to that of Aunt Gretchen, a wide smile spread over her overdrawn lips as she spoke enthusiastically.
“Ah! Alena, just the girl I wanted to see! I know this young man who would be absolutely perfect...” Great, this again. Though she knew her in-laws meant well when they shoved men her way, Alena knew she was quite capable of finding a man all on her own. What they seemed to misunderstand, was she simply didn’t want one. She was perfectly content spending her evenings alone or with her trusted friend and business associate, Johnathan.
“Alena! You finally made it!” The sight of her beloved sister in-law, Addison suddenly filled Alena’s vision, a genuine smile blossoming onto Alena’s features as Addison bestowed her with a cheeky grin. With a grip on Alena’s wrist, Addison pulled her through the crowd of people with ease, her long platinum blonde hair swaying with the rhythm of her hips as she peeked over her shoulder at her crimson-haired sister. As per usual, Alena looked awful in comparison to this bombshell blonde. Though she hid the lack of sleep well with makeup, it was clear to any that Alena fell easily in Addison’s shadow.
Nestled into the far corner of the room, Alena sipped on the glass of wine Addison handed her just moments before. Her violet eyes scanning the room with little enthusiasm as family young and old stopped by to ask her about this and that. Though it was always the same question. “Have you thought about remarrying?” And then as family does, they would exhaust Alena with the tedious task of gushing over a friend of a friend’s son that would be just perfect for her.
“Can you believe this party?” At the sound of Addison’s haughty voice, Alena did her best to suppress an eye roll. No matter how hard she tried, Alena never found these parties enjoyable. All this just to show off another person’s wealth and rub it into the less fortunate. Addison, as lovely as she could be, was the worst of them all.
The saying “like mother like daughter” couldn’t have been more fitting as Addison took after her mother’s ridiculously high standards when it came to appearances. Fitting the stereotype of aristocratic women, Addison was the type of girl who always had her nails perfectly manicured, her platinum blonde hair, touched up monthly, and of course, she kept up her figure by being completely vegan and working out six days a week. While she chugged water and prattled on about the nutritionist values of her diet, Alena was indulging in Chinese food and wine, while watching Hallmark movies on repeat.
“Well, you know how your mother is. Anything to show off the new hubby.” With a nod of her head, Addison sipped her drink in agreement, her blue eyes sparkling as she gazed at what had to be her fifth or sixth stepfather.
“Oh! That reminds me,” with a small smile on her lips and mischievous glint her eyes, Addison spoke in a secretive tone as she downed the rest of her gin and tonic, her Copa de Balon glass stained with plum-red lipstick as she rested her emptied drink onto a random waiter’s tray.
“I have a gift for you!” With a wink and a motion of her head, Addison made her way to the ivory spiraled stairwell. With a groan and a large swig of her own beverage, Alena begrudgingly followed Addison’s footsteps, her fingers trailing lazily over the glossy black banister, feet screaming in her heels as she trudged up the steep steps.
It wasn’t until Alena reached the top that she found Addison settled onto the pearl white balcony of the master bedroom. The sun’s warm light illuminating the tall trees that surrounded the beautiful home, red and orange hues of dying leaves, painting the world in array of color.
Her feet officially blistered, Alena sauntered unamused into the room, a frown tugging at the corner of her lips as she met the gaze of one of Addison’s many lovers, Ray a dark- skinned man who never seemed to smile. He wore a snug white suit, his eyes a deep brown, hair shaved close to the skin, and a goatee surrounding full lips. There was no question that Addison had good taste in men. Now if only she could keep it to just one. Cracking a smile at her own joke, Alena opened her mouth to question why Addison had brought her up here, only for Addison to interrupt Alena, turning her attention to her lover.
“Has he arrived?” With a curt nod from Ray, Addison smiled brightly, her eyes wide with excitement as she threw out jazz hands.
“Excellent. Why don’t you fetch him then?” At the word him, Alena felt her annoyance at people’s expectation of her moving on, to come forth once more. Hands clenched shut, Alena stood her ground as she stared hotly at the blonde wannabe matchmaker, her voice impassioned as she prepared to dole out a speech of her detest of dating.
“Addison! I’ve already stated a million times...” Holding up a small hand, Addison cut Alena off with a fierce glare, her signature red lips set into a thin line as the two stared each other down. Before either woman was able to say another word, it was then that Ray returned, a strange man in tow behind him.
The smell of sweat and dirt filled Alena’s nostrils as a deeply tanned man entered the room, his hair, skin, and clothes covered in mud as he stood with head hung low behind Ray, hands bound with what appeared to be thick rope. Concern immediately overwhelmed Alena as her head swung between Ray and Addison for answers, questions filling her mind as she wondered what exactly happened to this poor man for him to wind up in this state, and why the hell did Addison have connections to it?
“What is this?” Hearing Alena’s question, Addison smiled mischievously. Her stiletto heels clicking with malice against the hardwood floor as she circled the grime-covered man. With a long, slender finger, Addison jerked the stranger’s face to hers reveal startling green eyes that shone like emeralds in the setting sun.
“You’ve heard of the Vineyard, haven’t you, Alena?” Rumors flooded Alena’s memory as she stared with disgust at her sister-in-law. Did she mean the vineyard?! From what Alena knew, it was a despicable place that people, young and old were sold like cattle to people of wealth. Years prior, Alena and Fredrick had learned of its existence. Attempts had been made to make the knowledge of this vineyard known, but the vineyard had more connections with the police than Alena ever thought possible.
Overwhelmed by the sudden change in conversation and situation she’d been blindsided with, Alena rested her body against the wall. Blood draining from her face, making her dizzy as she resisted the urge to vomit at the idea of taking this man as property. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what Addison’s “gift” was, and Alena wanted no part of it.
“No. I won’t accept this!” With finality clear in her voice, Alena quickly made to leave the room and Addison’s offer behind. But Ray’s large form blocked her retreat as he slid with ease in front of the doorway. His large build making it impossible for Alena, as small as she was, to fit through the tiny crevices of empty space that his body didn’t hide. With a huff and a stomp of her foot, Alena fixated an intense glare in Addison’s direction.
With a click of her tongue, Addison moved with predacious steps as she circled the man who stood unbothered in the middle of the room. His eyes fixated on the floor, reminding Alena of an abused animal. Hungry and desperate. The urge to take him and give him a better life overwhelming as she watched Addison continue to poke and prod him. Dammit. What the hell do I do?! I can’t very well take him home, but I also can’t send him back to that awful place! Her mind torn and unable to escape. Alena made her displeasure known as she grimaced at her sister in-law, Addison’s voice soft and silky as she spoke.
“You don’t understand, Alena. This is so much better than any other man you’d find...” Her red lips were practically at his ear as Addison fixed Alena with a sensual look.
“This is property.” Addison’s voice practically purred as the word “property” fell from her lips. Scrunching her nose, Alena swallowed back the bile that threatened to spill, her stomach churning with each passing second that ticked by.
“Whatever you decide to call it, I don’t want anything to do with it!” Rage filled Alena’s voice as she glowered at Addison. Owning somebody?! What a joke. It was then that a deep, husky voice spoke through the tension, the sound startling Alena as she met eyes with the stranger.
“I’ve already been purchased. If neither of you has a purpose for me, then cut the shit and bring me back to the vineyard.” The man fixated his gaze on the empty space of the wall as he spoke, his tone blunt and unbothered. Cheeks filled with an immense heat, Alena found herself unable to speak as she thought over her options. Noticing the hesitation, Addison acted on her opportunity to convince Alena further to bring the man home, a pout on her lips as she fixed a puppy-dog gaze onto Alena.
“It’s time to move on, Alena...” With the gentle approach one would give a skittish cat, Addison reached out for Alena’s small pale hand, her tone soft and consoling as she took notice of the conflicting emotions that flitted through Alena’s violet eyes.
“Fredrick would want you to be happy.” Unable to speak, or even fathom what was happening, Alena stood there dumbfounded. Her mind still unable to form words to deny or accept such a strange gift. With an outstretched hand, Addison shoved an envelope in Alena’s hands.
“Ray, be a dear and give farm boy and escort to the limo, won’t you?” With a soft grunt and a nod, Ray did as he was told leaving the two women alone once more. With a flick of her hair, Addison sighed as if bored before making her escape from the room, but not before throwing another sly glance in Alena’s direction.
“Do enjoy your gift, Alena. After all, pleasure is its purpose.”
As the strange man was brought away from the two women who still occupied the other room, his thoughts were filled with the events that led up to this moment. Though saying everything was a blur would be an understatement. He had no idea how he’d gotten here, hell, he didn’t even know where here was. But what he did know, was that he was finally free.
Free of that damn place and the bastard who ran it. His entire life, all he knew was of that farm. Even from the smallest memories of childhood, it had always been those brick red walls and that cigar smoking bastard who had groomed his adolescence. But now? He was finally rid of him, all the hell he faced finally turned fruitful the day that annoying blonde woman came to the farm and looked over her spoils.
At the thought of the blonde, the image of the strange redhead came to mind. The word beautiful didn’t quite fit her. Unlike the blonde, this woman was natural. Her hair fell in careless curves at her waist, the makeup she wore placed purposefully to enhance her best features, and her body small yet still held the curves of a true woman.
She was an interesting woman, her gaze steady and words impassioned as she spoke. Even as he hung his head, he could feel her heavy gaze on him, though when she had heard of the blonde’s intentions, he had to admit he was shocked to find there were aristocrats who detested the thought of owning a sex slave. His curiosity entirely peaked; the man dared to ask the large chocolate-colored man who escorted him out the building about her.
“Ah, that’s Alena Thompson, she’s a rather wealthy woman. Married into the family. Can’t say I know much more than that, though.” The man chuckled as he spoke, through small talk the man called Ray, had admitted to having a similar background to himself.
Once seated in a large limo, the man waited for his companion to join him as he rested against the plush leather seats, lavender filling his nostrils as Ray closed the door with a soft thud. Though his relaxation time was cut short as the door across from him opened seconds later and the woman known as Alena, plopped herself into the vehicle, a frustrated sigh escaping her lips as she brushed a long strand of hair from her face. With a shy gaze in the man’s direction, Alena did her best to appear anything but awkward as she played with the sleeve of her shirt.
“Take me home, Jonathan.” As the car chugged along, only silence filled the space between the two. The man not accustomed to small talk, he simply sat there, his gaze fixated on the terrain of the outdoors as various other cars zoomed past them, and the fall leaves danced colors across his vision.
“What’s your name?” The question surprised the man as he ripped his eyes from the scenery, his brows stitched together in confusion as he met Alena’s eager stare. Is this her attempt at a joke?
“My name?” Repeating the question back, the woman seemed even more puzzled than he as she stared at him with a blank expression.
“Yes! Your name? What is it?” As it finally clicked, the man couldn’t help but let out a small laugh, the deep tone filling the large vehicle as Alena’s cheeks heated once more in embarrassment.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh, it’s just... I thought you knew.” Clearly unaware with the custom of the trafficking world, the man rubbed a large hand through his dark locks, a sheepish grin on his lips as he further explained.
“We don’t have names. Instead, we have this.” The man twisted his body to the side, revealing his neck to the woman, the sight of scarred, raised flesh filling Alena’s vision as the numbers four-six-eight-two could be read. Eager to touch the marred flesh, Alena stroked it gently, afraid her touch would hurt him. But the man didn’t flinch. Returning her hand back to her lap, Alena chewed on a finger nail, a bad habit she had yet to break.
“Everyone has a name? You had to have had one before....” Trailing off awkwardly, Alena clasped her hands together as she fixated her eyes to the floor. An uncomfortable silence settled between the two as Alena tried to wrap her brain around what was currently transpiring in her car. He can’t go without a name. And those scars... I’m sure those aren’t the only ones he has. The abrupt sound of Alena slapping her thighs brought the man back to attention as she peered at him with a look of determination as she proclaimed her idea boldly. If it wasn’t for the fact they were in a moving car, she might have stood on a theoretical soapbox.
“I will give you a name then!” With a small smile, Alene put on an exaggerated thinking face as she took her new responsibility with the seriousness one gave a heart attack. Moments passed as the woman mumbled various names. With each one she spoke allowed, she'd make a face then quickly move onto the next.
“Ah! I got it!” Her sudden declaration resounded of the windows as Alena beamed from ear to ear, the man utterly charmed by the woman’s devotion to such a trivial thing as he awaited for her to reveal the name she'd chosen. Cracking a smile, he nodded his head, excitement getting the better of him.
“Quentin! How does that sound?” At the name, the man couldn’t help but smile broadly as he scratched the stubble on his cheek, his heart fluttering like a hummingbird as he repeated the name over in his head. He had never once thought of what he’d want for a name if he were given the choice, but for some strange reason, he knew this one fit perfectly.
“I very much like that name, thank you.” Clearly pleased with herself, Alena gave him a firm nod before returning her attention to that of the envelope the blonde woman had given to her upon her departure. The man more than content as he thought over the life he lived only hours before, the hope that this would be a start of something beautiful, overwhelming as he repeated the name over and over, again.