SACRIFICE (Book Two: The London Crime King)

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Chapter 6

Alexa

Finding a monster in your bedroom is one of many greatest fears. I, however, acclimatised to evil at just five years old. I feel insidiousness lurking in the shadows, sense wicked, nefariousness emanating from their stationed forms.

I laid motionless, pretending to sleep.

Jace squats behind me and gently sweeps hair from my face.

I remained lifeless, mustered much strength, levelled my breathing into a calm, unnoticeable pace. If I inhaled too fast or too slow, he'd discern my innocent deceit.

His hand tours my thigh, and he examined old bruising. I am not sure how it happened. It's neither sore nor troublesome—I assume he'd knocked me into something during my abduction.

"Alexa," he said in a stern, unfriendly voice. "Wake up."

I groaned, squinting my eyes open. "What do you want?" He snagged my elbow with punishing fingers, yanked me across the mattress. "Hey, asshole! Quit manhandling me!"

He pinned me beneath him, snatched my throat in an iron grip, catching me off guard. Nostrils flaring, he lowered his head, his warm breath against my lips. "You talk too much, Alexa. I presume three days of starvation was ineffective. Perhaps you require harsher, firmer measures." My stomach sank. "I demand obedience. If noncompliance sustains, famishment and neglect will be the least of your worries."

Working on a tight swallow, I sag my arms to the mattress, either side of my head. I withstood his penetrating glare, twisted my tongue and spat in his face. Spittle clung to his reddened cheek. I grinned like a woman who cared not for longevity. "Fuck. You."

Jace dabbed my disgusting disparagement off his jaw. "You'll regret that." Ripping me from the unaccommodating comforters, he hauled my reluctant, thrashing body away from the enclosure. "You fucking reek."

"Good!" I snapped, kicking and thrashing in his strong arms. "I have aids, too, so I dare you to touch me!"

His laughter failed to pacify me. "I'd rather fuck a dog." Ripping the shower curtain out of the way, he altered the water temperature. "No offence." He released me with a shove, locking the bathroom door. "Get undressed. Shower."

I am going to kill him. It's an inept, foolish brawl, one I cannot win, but I attack him regardless. I swing blindly, shrieking like an unhinged mental person. He yelled, blocking my weightless beating, striving to capture me in his hold. He might be big, but I am a determined woman who effortlessly outfoxes him. I fled under his outspread arms, smashed into the door, fumbled with the lock and ran.

"Alexa!" he barked, hot on my heels. "Enough!"

Whimpering and heaving for breath, I stumbled up the stairs, praying to whoever listened to give me a breakthrough.

Dashing through the opened main door, I belted down the corridor, uncaring for surroundings or possibilities.

Near the end, like the stairway to heaven, a red door, veiled in light, beckons me. I shouldered straight through, inhaled a lungful of sea breeze air. Cold winds slapped me in the face alongside cavernous, seaside views that snatched the life from my body.

"No," I whispered, trudging barefoot across the grass, ice-like blood in my veins.

"You see," Jace rasped behind me, "there's nowhere to go, Alexa."

I stared at the turbulence ocean, waves crashing against the cliffside. My eyes darted in search for something, anything, people, homes, neighbours. "You can't do this to me!"

He circled me, a predatory stride, brandishing a syringe. "Now, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way."

A single tear trickled down my cheek. Defeated, I glimpsed over my shoulder. Hunkered between towering, dense, leafless trees, the off-white cottage-like home sits behind a cobbled enclosure. It's boarded up windows explains indoor murkiness. "Please don't put drugs in my body."

He jerked his chin. "Get inside and shower."

I stormed ahead, using the hoodie sleeves to dab tears from my eyes. "How much is he paying you?"

Jace ignored me.

"Liam will pay more," I bartered, hearing his heavy stomps nearby. "Let him offer a ransom, Jace—"

"It's not about money," he cuts me off, shoving a hand in my back, edging me to the bathroom. "Stop talking, Alexa."

I half-heartedly eliminated my clothes, leaving them in an untidy heap on the bathroom floor. Under the tepid water, I dropped my head back, closed my eyes. The water beat against my sore, tired body, and I will never admit ravishment to Jace, but the soothing, tranquil cleanse certainly revitalised me.

I chanced to look at him across my shoulder.

Back to the wall, he stares at my backside, eyes roaming my legs. A quirky comment sat on my tongue, like, I thought I was unbecoming and horrifying to look at? I didn't want to probe the beast, though.

His heinous capabilities remain a mystery.

"Wash your hair," he orders, folding his arms. "Towel dry, wrap up and sit on the counter."

Terror seized my beating heart. I fumbled with the faucet, stepped out of the shower, swaddled myself in a towel. "Why can't I go back to my room?"

"Counter," he said, sans patience. "Now."

I bristled, obeying his command.

Jace opens the wall-mounted cabinet, rummages, comes to my side. "Towel to your thighs."

Hollowing my cheeks, I gingerly relinquished.

Popping the lid off a bottle, he squirts white foam into his palm and lathers my right leg.

I blinked owlishly, engrossed as he shaved my legs. "I am more than capable."

"I don't trust you with a razor," he droned, gliding the blade, shaving delicate hair from knee and ankle with intense concentration. Pleased with his handiwork, he turned on the sink tap, cupped water, washed my leg and repeated the process. "I am supposed to make sure you're presentable."

I steered my eyes to the wall, a lump forming in my throat. "He will kill me," I whispered, and he hesitated, proceeded. "Flamur will kill me." Rape me, I thought, fingers gripping to the dresser edge, knuckles whitening.

"I don't want to hear your sob story," he grates out, drying my legs with a spare towel. "Here." Pulling off his hoodie, he buries the leather scented cotton over my body. "Time to eat."

Jace doubled my porridge intake. I shamelessly devoured the honey tasting oats at his coffee table while he surveyed from the kitchen. "My stomach hurts," I said, and he arched a damaged eyebrow. "Where's your piercing?"

"You ripped it out with your talons," he muttered, touching his ruptured brow. "Shit. You got so mad that you didn't even notice."

I inwardly smiled. I hope it hurts.

"Right," he chimed, fishing keys from his pocket. "Back inside."

Jace left me unattended after locking me into solitude. I had wondered where he ventured, considering nothing but stretched waters and an uneven cliffside caged our perimeters.

Laying on the mattress, I stared at the ceiling, concluding an upper-level bedroom. I didn't know which concept I preferred—him driving away, staying elsewhere and deserting me, or having him close by so that I wasn't alone.

Daily, I drew a line on the wall. I achieved and survived two weeks, the daunting, promising date where Jace hands me to Flamur Bajramovic. I vomited until my throat and stomach protested. I had sweating intervals, panic attacks and ghastly hallucinations, ones where the Albanian appeared at my bedside, brushing a knuckle across my jaw, whispering pet names in my ear.

Sleep implanted too much trepidation. I dreaded dreamless slumber, convinced myself the second I relented, Jace and Flamur would seize their moment.

Conjecturing gruesomeness made me senile. Talking to myself, although senseless, kept my brain ticking.

Day fifteen: Jace reared his head.

I relinquished the night before and slept. At this point in my dire situation, I pondered killing myself. I'd rather die a thousand deaths than return to the monster who almost ruined me.

"Eat," Jace ordered, dropping a porridge bowl at the foot of my bed. "Now."

My stomach hurt too much. My boneless, numb body, protested movement or consumption.

"Alexa," he sighed, lingering beside the mattress. "Eat, or I'll force-feed you."

Extending an arm, I curled my fingers around the container, without lifting my head off the pillow, picked up the plastic spoon and ate. Every mouthful took considerable effort. Chewing, swallowing and licking became an unbearable experience.

Cursing expletives, Jace hauled me into a seated position, setting my back to the wall. "You're losing too much weight," he said, hand to my forehead. "Fuck."

I mustered a shrug.

He fed me, spooning overflowing mouthfuls, encouraging me to swallow.

Alone again, I laid face down on the mattress, humming to myself. I imagined scenarios, allowed my mind to travel into different dimensions and past encounters. Always, Liam came to my side, whispered his love in my ear, reassured me with his firm, resolute words and passionate upbraids. The man's inherently tactless, forceful, demanding and his vocal delivery, often abrupt, moulds and shapes his perfected performances, yet I'd never change him, not even a little bit. I love him, flaws included. "Please don't forget about me," I whispered into solitude, tracing the uneven floor with my fingertips.

Day twenty-three: Jace administered weight-gain shakes.

I hated the tasteless, powdery substance. It's no good. I disobeyed.

"Why must you be difficult?" he shouts, pacing the cell. "Alexa, come on. You're starting to resemble a decomposing corpse. You were hardly blessed with curves beforehand."

"I hate you," I mumbled, licking my chapped, sore lips. "You disgust me."

"Tell me something I don't know," he retorts, thrusting a hand through his unruly brown hair.

I belatedly noticed his bare-chest. "You're half-dressed."

He stopped pacing, the cords of muscle in his arms flexing as he folded his arms. "I stayed in the living room last night."

Why hadn't I known his whereabouts?

Jace doubled my meals and portions. He showered me at the crack of dawn and once more before bed. I slept in his clothes, oddly comforted by his long-lasting cologne. Most nights, he watched television while imbibing beer bottles. If a horror movie commenced, I'd hide under the duvet. If comedies resounded, I'd sneak by the enclosure and view the screen with him. He caught me once, glancing at me from the corner of his eye, but refrained from scolding me. I appreciated his lenience, snuggled beside the metal bars and, in mute humour, laughed at the obscenities or unrealistic plot sequence.

Day thirty: Jace tattooed his knuckles in the kitchen.

I think he was bored—I recall him saying he never inked himself. "What is your creation?" I asked, hands clasped around the bars. "New addition?"

"Touch up." Omnipresent buzzing awkwardly stretched between us. "You're staring."

"I got nothing better to do." I noticed a slight twitch in his lip. "Plus, you're quite decent to look at."

Jace paused with the tattoo gun. "Flattery? That's a new one."

Yes, I concluded last night that destructiveness and churlish behaviour had zero effect on Jace. I pondered different methods and survival tactics. I mean, Jace still holds me captive, and Flamur's yet to make an ugly appearance. A small part of me hopes Liam found and killed the Albanian, leaving me in my captors care. I hadn't quite deciphered what such notions signified. I did, however, speculate female propinquity and misleading affections. "You're not so bad," I half-lied. I loathed the man, but he hadn't violated nor beaten me, so that's moderately positive.

Turning off the gun, he lathered something over his hands, pinned me with an inquisitorial glimmer in his sliced eyes. "I am not freeing you."

I bite the inside of my cheek. "I didn't ask you to."

Settling his back to the kitchen counter, he tapped a finger on his bottom lip, undoubtedly aiming to decode my current approving behaviour. "What are you up to?"

I faked mystification. "I'm standing in my cell, stalking my unfriendly roommate."

He prowled toward me, and I elevated my chin in defiance. "No," he barks, inflamed fingers snatching the guard rail. "Why aren't you singing? Why aren't you name-calling and promising my demise? Where's the real Alexa Haines hiding?" He searched my teary eyes. "What, you're scared now?"

No, I am getting under his skin, and it thrills me. "You scare me when you shout," I lied in a soft, unassuming voice. "You're intimidating Jace." It's partly true. This heathen mounts my tall frame. His bulky, muscular body sends a feral warning without him muttering a deadly word. Although his beautiful, deceptive green eyes captivate me, there are no denying facts. He's a monster—a cold, ruthless monster. "I'm sorry for offending you."

I'd flawed him. His gaze probed into me, delving deep to prevail and overturn conceivable deceitfulness. "Are you?"

I nod sheepishly.

"Why are you acting nice all of a sudden?" he mused, brushing his finger across my grasped ones.

"It's cold in here," I fibbed, wanting to get closer to him. "That threadbare blanket offers scarce warmth."

The muscle in his jaw popped. He uprooted his keys, unlocked the enclosure. "Get on the sofa."

I hope my impromptu bullshit doesn't backfire on me. Running to the exit is futile. Omitting food only weakens my physique. "Thank you." Feet slapping against the cold floor, I beeline to the two-seater sofa, submissively awaiting his command.

"Get some sleep," he said, lifting the thick duvet. "Step out of line? And I'll break a wrist."

My eyes rounded on a firm nod. I sank beneath softness, snuggled against the pillow. In the background, the television demonstrates a bank robbery. "Where will you sleep?" I hardly desired his touch. How else will I earn his trust, though? "We can top-and-tail if you want."

Again, Jace seemed stunned by my proposal. He halted his kitchenette sprucing. "You better not get all Stockholm Syndrome on my ass," he jests, stuffing empty food packages into a bin liner.

I fought against rolling my eyes. My plan fails by the second. Too desperate, I thought, knowing he'll cotton on and wise up. "Whatever." Rolling onto my side, I faced the sofa rear, heard him sigh behind me.

Later on that night, Jace lifted the blanket, obtained my hand and attached something to my wrist. His body stretched out beside mine, but he kept his arms to himself. When his breathing evened out, I touched the cold, bounded metal.

Jace handcuffed us together.

It's a start in the right direction, I guess.

Now I needed him to like me enough to show mercy.

The next morning, Jace's maddened voice alarmed me. I opened my eyes and immediately tugged my wrist. The restraint tore my skin, preventing movements. Keeping my back to the room with an unnoticed examination, I contoured the metal chain with curious fingers. He'd cuffed me to the table leg. Shit, he's beyond paranoid.

"You promised two weeks," he whisper-shouts, his loud footsteps beating the floor while pacing. "It's been almost a month, Bajramovic."

I wilted beneath the duvet.

"Fuck him!"

I wished I were privy to the other side of this heated conversation.

"It's not working." Quietness dawdled in the humid air. "She's fucking infuriating —that's why."

My face twisted in perplexity. He's so dramatic.

"Why is she so important to you?" Another pause. "Because I don't see it. There aren't any special qualities or—don't fucking talk over me..." A thump followed. "I am trying to understand what all this means! No. No, no, no," he babbles in a monotone voice. "We had a deal." His anger escalated to a feverish pace. "Break our bargain, and Warren will be the least of your worries."

Further silence stifled the oxygen we shared. Something smashed against the wall, and I jumped, cowering underneath the blanket.

"Fuck!" His ranting coincides with shattering glass. He tore the duvet from my curled-up body. "Get up."

Do I remind him about the handcuff?

Realising his mistake, he growled, extracted my cuffs and hauled me off the sofa with unwarranted force.

"Jace," I seethe, falling over my feet, palms crashing against the floor. "I am not fighting you!"

"You're fucking everything up." He clutched the back of my hoodie and marched me back to the enclosure.

His incomprehensible exasperation rattled my bones. "Wait," I protested, and he shook his head with fierce omnipotence. "Jace, please. I'll be good. Don't lock me away—"

"Shut up," he spits through gritted teeth, lunging me onto the mattress.

"No, wait." Scuttling off the floor, I collide into the railing, begging him to demonstrate forbearance. "Jace..." He rips on a leather jacket and dread falls upon me. "No, Jace!" I rattled the metal poles, furiousness aiding strength. "Please don't leave me! I hate the darkness—don't do this to me!"

He paused near the stairs, dipped his head and listened to my raw sobs.

"Please," I whispered through temporary blurriness. "I am begging you."

Shaking whatever demons festered inside his head, he placed a boot onto the step and ascended the stairs.

Two seconds later, lights dimmed into unnerving darkness. I jumped away from the railing, crawled onto the mattress and hid under the thin coverlet.

Only hours transpired when I heard Jace whisper an apology beside the gate.

I convinced myself that I dreamt his admission of guilt.

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