Book Two in the INESCAPABLE Series
Her eyes fluttered open. Just that brief motion sent shock waves through her head. It felt like a vice grip had been placed around her skull, and with each movement, it grew tighter.
“Where am I?” she asked out loud, the sound of her voice echoed in her skull. She placed her hands on either side of her head. It felt like it would explode if she didn’t hold it together.
How did I get here? Think … What is the last thing I remember? I was being stuffed into a car. I had been sold. Nicho…
In a flash, it all came flooding back. She rolled over, buried her face in the pillow, and screamed.
No, no, no, no! She screamed into the pillow. Tears flowed unabated, as her clenched fists beat against the mattress.
What am I to do? She moaned. How am I going to live through this? How can I get out of this? She sniffed and wiped her nose with the tail of her shirt. If I did—no, do—where will I go? I don’t know who I am. I don’t know where I am. I don’t have any money. I don’t know anyone who will help me! Oh, God, what am I going to do? She wailed inwardly.
Panic took hold and she began to hyperventilate. Gasping for air and struggling to sit up, she felt strong but gentle hands pull her into an upright position.
“Here, let me help you up. Put your head between your knees; that will help.” Brad gently sat her up on the side of the bed.
“Wh … wh … where am I?” she asked, between gulps of air.
“You are safe,” Brad said, gently rubbing her back and trying to control the urge to wrap his arms around her.
She looked up to see who that mesmerizing velvet voice belonged to and lost what little breath she had left in her lungs as she gazed into emerald green eyes.
It was him! The man from the Gala. She inwardly cringed and tried to move away, but there was no place to go. She was too dizzy to run. His hand on her back was doing crazy things to her heart that she couldn’t explain. Finally, the stress that had been building came crashing in on her. She couldn’t hold on any longer to the anger, frustration, and fear that had sustained her these past months. She hugged her middle to keep from breaking in two as the dam broke, and a flood of tears cascaded down her face.
The pain of seeing Darcey cry hurt Brad down to the bottom of his soul. He reached out, and gently pulled her to his chest and cradled her close, letting her cry herself out until there was nothing left but hiccups. Gently rocking her, he caressed her hair and kissed the top of her head murmuring softly that everything was going to be okay, inwardly cursing Santiago for doing this to her.
I will have that bastard’s head on a platter, he swore to himself.
Slowly, she unwound her arms from her middle and wrapped them around him. Brad thought his heart would burst; the feel of her was ecstasy. He wanted to hold her closer, tighter until her body melded with his and they were one. No matter how he longed to make that happen, for now, he couldn’t do anything more than hold her. If he pushed her, he knew he would lose her. She had to learn to trust him … she had to want him.
When her crying jag subsided, it hit her—she was wrapped in the stranger’s arms and hers were clinging to him like he was a life preserver that had been thrown to a drowning victim.
What am I doing? What am I thinking? This feels so right, yet so wrong. This man bought me. He paid money for me; like he would a piece of meat. No! No! No! This is not right!
She forced herself away from him. He let her go, and when his arms fell away … she felt cold, extremely cold.
“Just go away and leave me alone,” she snuffled and picked up the tail of her shirt to wipe her nose.
“Here, use these.” Brad handed her a box of tissues he had picked up from the bedside table.
She glared at him as she jerked a tissue out of the box. It made her nervous as he watched every little move she made.
It’s like he’s waiting for me to do something that he doesn’t like, she thought.
“Thanks,” she said sarcastically and blew her nose loudly. The tissue fluttered out in front of her.
That wasn’t very lady-like, she admonished herself and then thought, Oh what the hell, he bought me and what he sees is what he’s got, like it or not. Why should I care?
“Would you like some breakfast? It’s been quite a while since you ate last,” Brad inquired. He had a smile playing around his mouth as he watched her small display of defiance.
“I don’t know if I’m hungry or not,” she said petulantly. “My stomach is all upset, and my head hurts, and I feel awful,” she wailed and buried her face in her hands and started to cry all over again.
What’s the matter with me? I don’t cry, she thought angrily wiping at the tears sliding down her face with her fingers.
Brad reached for her again and held her tight, and it felt right. She didn’t fight him and rested her forehead on his chest.
“I will get you something for your head, and see about having some food sent in for you,” Brad said, releasing her. “What would you like? We probably have most anything you might want,” he said, smiling as he pulled a tissue from the box and sopped up the remaining tears from her face.
Sniffing and blowing her nose again, she immediately replied, “I would like a hamburger with everything on it, fries, and a strawberry milkshake,” she said, excited.
Whoa! I didn’t even think about that, she thought, startled at her immediate response. I just blurted it out. Now where did that come from? Was that something from my past life, she wondered staring at the crumpled tissue in her hands?
In all the months, she had been held captive, she hadn’t thought about what food she liked or didn’t like, and no one ever asked what she liked. She just ate what was prepared and set before her, never questioning if she liked it, or if she might have liked something different.
“I think we can handle that.” Brad gave her a lopsided grin. That had always been Darcey’s favorite when they’d eaten out on Saturday’s, he remembered. Maybe her memory’s starting to come back.
Butterflies erupted in her stomach when her eyes met his.
What is the matter with me? She closed her eyes in order to break the connection.
“Please, where is the bathroom?” she asked, out of desperation, her eyes still closed.
She had to get away from this man. Maybe she could lock herself in the bathroom again. But, that wouldn’t solve anything; there would be no Nicho to come rescue her this time.
Oh, I miss Nicho. She drew her bottom lip between her teeth as she thought of him.
“The bathroom is the first door on your right,” Brad told her. “I’ll order your food.”
She scooted off the edge of the bed and lost her balance, her head was spinning again. Brad put his hand out and caught her before she even knew she was falling.
“Steady. Would you like me to walk with you to the bathroom?” Brad raised one eyebrow and tried to hide the grin that was threatening to escape.
“No, I think I can make it on my own,” she said curtly, squirming out of his hold. “I’m just a little dizzy. Must be because I haven’t eaten in a while,” she said quietly to herself. “What else could it be?”
She steadied herself and moved over to the bedroom door; she turned back, “First door on the right?”
Brad nodded and watched her as she held onto the doorframe for balance. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and walked out into the hall.
Brad called the Bajo el Mar kitchen and asked them to whip up a couple of burgers with the works, some fries, and two strawberry milkshakes. They told Brad it would be about twenty minutes and it would be delivered.
She closed the bathroom door and leaned against it for several minutes before deciding she had better take care of the necessities. All done, she placed her hands on the cold marble of the vanity and sighed. She raised her eyes to stare again at the woman in the mirror.
Steadying herself with one hand, she pushed the shell-shaped handle down to release the flow of water into the porcelain basin. The woman in the mirror stared back at her.
She looked a mess. Her copper-colored hair, even though it had grown longer, was sadly in need of a good brushing. She had the haunting look of sadness accentuated by dark circles that rimmed her hazel eyes. Her face looked drawn and pale.
Will I ever know her, she wondered as she dropped her eyes and gazed absently at the water as it splashed into the basin from the dolphin shaped faucet.
“Stop this. Pull yourself together,” she looked up, squared her shoulders, and scolded the person in the mirror. “This is where you are now and it isn’t going to change anytime soon if ever, so you’d best get used to it.” She glared at her image in the mirror.
The cold water she vigorously splashed on her face made her feel a tiny bit better.
A nice hot bath would feel even better, she thought drying her face on an ivory-colored hand towel. She gazed longingly at the gray-green marble tub that filled half the bathroom imagining her body immersed in a steamy tub full of fragrant bubbles.
When she walked out of the bathroom, she was startled to see the green-eyed man leaning casually against the wall waiting for her.
“Thought I’d wait for you and show you the rest of the place,” Brad said pushing himself away from the wall. “The food just arrived and we can eat at the bar.” He gently took her by the elbow and guided her into an enormous living area.
His hand on her elbow shot waves of desire and passion through her body. The place where he touched burned, the heat sped up her arm, and then there was no air for her to breathe. She jerked her arm away from his grasp stopping the heat that was setting her body on fire.
Brad raised an eyebrow. A ghost of a smile touched the corners of his mouth as he let her precede him into the living room, watching as she briskly rubbed her hands up and down her arms.
The living area had a vaulted ceiling that covered the living room, the dining area, and the kitchen. A dark, marble-topped bar separated the kitchen from a formal dining area and a large, dark-brown, leather sofa and matching chairs defined the living room area. A big, flat-screen TV hung on the wall over a large stone-front fireplace. She noticed that a holographic insert stood where the logs would have been in a real fireplace and decided it wouldn’t be quite the same as having a real fire burning like the ones at Vargas’. Regardless of the pretend fireplace, the entire area had a cozy, comfortable feel. The light in the room made her feel like it was a sunny day and then, she realized there were no windows.
Odd, she thought, her eyes searching the room.
Brad led her over to the bar where he had placed the burgers and milkshakes. He waited until she had hiked herself up on the barstool before he also slid onto a stool.
It smells awesome, she thought. Her mouth began to water as the delicious aroma assailed her nostrils.
She had her burger almost gone before she realized that he was also eating, but much slower—he seemed to be enjoying watching her wolf down her burger.
“What!?” she exclaimed, glaring at Brad and annoyed with herself for scarfing the burger down. “I guess it’s been longer than I thought since I ate last. I didn’t know I was so hungry,” she said, taking a pull from the straw in her milkshake.
I know I should feel embarrassed, but I don’t, she reflected. What he bought is what he’s got. So he can learn to deal with it—or not!
“I’ll order you another if you want. It will just take a few minutes for it to get here,” Brad said, enjoying the unladylike scene she was making stuffing the last bite of the burger in her mouth. Then she sexily licked off the small dash of mustard that lingered in the corner of her perfect mouth setting an explosion of butterflies off in Brad’s stomach. It was all he could do to contain the impulse to pull her into his arms and ravish those perfect lips.
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye noticing the delighted expression on his face. “No, I’ll finish the fries and shake. I’ll be fine,” she said, stiffly, mustering as much dignity as she could considering her recent lack of manners. She was not going to give him any more opportunities to laugh at her.
“When you’re feeling up to it, I will show you to your quarters, they should be ready by now,” Brad replied. He was trying to contain a laugh that threatened to escape his lips as he watched the look of indignation cross her face.
Slipping off his bar stool, Brad gathered up the lunch dishes and placed them on a large oval tray for the Café staff to pick up later.
“Yes, that would be okay. I would like to clean up,” she said, wiping her mouth with her napkin, still not looking at him as she placed it on the tray with the dishes. She felt dirty, her muscles hurt, and she was tired. “What time is it? I’ve lost all track of time,” she asked looking around.
“It’s almost noon. If you’re ready then?” Brad held out his hand for her to take. As she reluctantly placed her hand in his, he felt the electric jolt he always felt when they touched. The jolt ran through his body then set off an explosion of butterflies in his stomach. Brad searched her face. Surely she had felt it, too.
A thousand tiny pulses of heat surged through her body when her hand touched his. She jerked it back and rubbed it down the side of her leg trying to dispel the inexplicable feeling his touch had created.
What was that? She questioned looking at her hand.
Brad was taken by surprise when she jerked her hand back, rubbing it down her leg.
She had to have felt it, too. Why else would she have reacted so strangely if she hadn’t, he thought?
Brad stepped aside for her to precede him out the front door. She stepped hesitantly out the door and into a wide, oval, gray tunnel. The fact that there was no defined division between the floor, walls, and ceiling, unnerved her.
What kind of place is this? She shivered as her eyes traveled over the gray expanse of the corridor. Is this another place where I’ll be locked up again? This time, is it a place with no windows? Will I ever see daylight again? At least at Vargas’ there were windows. The questions raced through her mind. A twinge of fear crept in and she shivered again.
She looked again at her surroundings, and the twinge became outright fear as a feeling of foreboding enveloped her. She grabbed Brad’s arm, “Where are we? What kind of place is this?” she demanded, her eyes wide while her nails dug into his arm.
Brad was taken by surprise at her reaction. He had become so used to the dome, he forgot Darcey knew nothing of this project, let alone that it was five miles down, on the ocean floor.
“I’m sorry.” He winced, loosening her grip on his arm. “I should have explained to you right away where you are. You are in the Bio-Dome. This is the project I have been working on but was unable to tell you about.” Brad stopped and turned to face Darcey, holding her hand as he spoke. He could feel her trembling.
“Let me explain,” he said, gently placing his arm around her shoulders. “A group from my senior university engineering class started this project as an experiment to create an underwater habitat capable of sustaining life over an extended period of time.”
He hesitated to add the real reason for the project. A group of independent scientists had discovered that over the past three decades, the Earth’s ozone layer had been depleting at a rate far faster than anyone had anticipated. Brad hadn’t even told Ty and the guys who were working on fixing the damage caused by the attempted sabotage by Armando. Because the ozone problem was serious, the fewer people who knew about it, the better chance it had of staying under wraps until it was absolutely necessary to let the public know. If that information ever leaked out, there would be worldwide panic. So, until the time was right, the rest of the billions of Earth’s inhabitants were being kept in the dark.
The controlling global government, the United Federation of Nations (UFN), had been keeping a tight lid on the problem and vehemently denied any scientific research that contradicted their policy. They suggested it was being used as propaganda to cause a worldwide panic to bring down the government. Brad had heard rumors that the UFN had been researching the possibility of off-world colonization, but no hard facts had been found.
Brad’s professor at the University had been one of the scientists on the team that had discovered the rapid decline of the ozone layer. He encouraged Brad and his team to quietly develop a habitat that could sustain people when the inevitable happened. However, it was certain that if the UFN discovered the real purpose behind the Bio-Dome, they would claim it for the UFN. If that happened, it was a given that any future domes built would be only for the elite of the world. There was much money to be made by selling space in the dome to high-ranking officials from around the world. That had never been part of Brad’s plan. His had been, and still was purely humanitarian.
“If successful,” he continued, “it would, when finished, be a complete city on the ocean floor. It would have everything a city should have. It would include businesses, theatres, restaurants, schools, hospitals, parks, farming, and would be capable of housing up to five hundred families with additional domes being added as needed.
“We were almost ready to take our design from the drawing board to reality when some VIPs, who had been closely watching our progress, stepped forward and made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. They made an offer for the plans to our Dome, the Biosphere Ecosystem, and the Filtration System. Since I was the head engineer on the project, they hired me to build it. Now, here we are five years later and five miles down on the ocean floor off the coast of Peru. The only access to the dome is by specially built submarines.” He paused noticing the blood draining from her face. “It is all perfectly safe. You have nothing to worry about. In the next few months, the dome will be ready for its grand opening.”
“Fff … ff … ffive miles? A submarine?” she stammered panic setting in. There was no air to breathe, her knees began to buckle, and she slipped from under Brad’s arm.
He has to be kidding. Doesn’t he? She thought as the floor rushed up to meet her.
Before she reached the floor, Brad grabbed her, putting his arm around her waist, holding her up.
“Easy,” he said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You are entirely safe,” he reassured her.
“That’s easy for you to say,” she exclaimed, her breath coming in short gasps. “You haven’t been kidnapped, locked up, and sold. How do I know you don’t have something like that planned for me right now? Right here in this place, where there’s no hope of escape?” she cried out, fear in her eyes as she squirmed her way out of his grasp and almost fell again.
“Hey, calm down!” he grabbed her again. “You’re going to hurt yourself.” He gave her a small shake. “I promise, you are in no danger. You are safe and no one is going to lock you up ever again,” he emphasized ‘ever again’; his brows coming together as he felt her breathing hard.
She wasn’t sure what he had just said. She was too busy trying to control the panic that threatened to overtake her as well as attempting to block out what his touch was doing to her.
“I have to sit down,” she said, short of breath.
Brad kept his arm, around her waist and steered her the short distance, to a strange looking door with no doorknob. She watched as he took a card from his pocket and swiped it through a slot in a small black box attached to the wall beside the door. The door silently slid open.
Brad guided her through the door and into a beautiful room much like his quarters, but the décor was lighter with a feminine touch. Her shoes sunk into the plush cream-colored carpet covering the floor. The soft colors of the room had a calming effect as she made her way across the room and sat down on the sofa. She put her head between her knees and breathed slowly. Brad watched from across the room; worry lines creased his brow.
This had always been Nicho’s remedy when I had a panic attack, she remembered drawing a ragged breath.
Brad walked into the kitchen and came back carrying a glass of water.
“Here, this should help,” he said, handing her the glass.
“Thanks,” she said, avoiding touching him as she took the glass. She knew she couldn’t withstand another episode of the feelings that raged through her body from his touch.
Brad watched as she drank some of the water resisting the urge to sit down beside her and comfort her. His heart cried for her, knowing how this must be driving her crazy not knowing who she was, who he was, and being in a strange place. It couldn’t be good for her sanity. His only hope was that she would start regaining some of her memory soon and that their connection to each other would be strong enough to pull her back to him from the abyss she had fallen into.
“Better?” Brad grinned at her, taking the glass and placing it on the triangle shaped coffee table in front of the sofa.
“Yes, thanks,” she replied, trying not to look into those green eyes, which she felt could look right into her soul. It was all too unsettling.
Feeling a tiny bit better, she glanced around the room, the woman in her, appreciating the beauty of it. The curved sofa she was sitting on was upholstered in a beautiful patterned fabric of muted tones of sage green and ivory. The matching chairs complemented the sofa in a solid fabric of a darker shade of sage green.
Across from the room was a formal dining area with a rectangle, glass-topped and chrome table, and eight matching chrome chairs. The chairs should have looked hard and cold, but in the soft light of the room they glowed warmly. A light colored, marble topped bar separated the dining area from the kitchen area that was filled with the latest in appliances. Four chrome and leather bar stools stood like soldiers in front of the bar.
There were no windows in this space either, yet there was some sort of light that did not come from the table lamps or the wall sconces. It was a defused light, like daylight.
How can this be? Five miles under the ocean there is no daylight. How can this be? She wondered shaking her head.
“Do you have a question?” Brad asked watching the puzzled expression on her face.
“Yes,” she turned and looked at Brad. “How come it looks like daylight in here when we are, as you say, five miles down on the ocean floor? How’s that possible?”
“It is possible because of the Biosphere Ecosystem and Filtration System designed by my friend Mike Bellington. The Ecosystem controls all of the atmospheric conditions within the dome, and that includes artificial daylight. I’ll explain it all to you later when you’ve had a chance to rest.”
Her mind was in a whirl as she tried to absorb the information he had just given her. She wandered around the room still in awe of the surroundings that he had said were to be her living space. Reaching the door on the far wall, she pushed it open slowly and peeked around it. Her eyes widened as she took in the charming bedroom before her.
The lush, cream-colored carpeting from the living room continued into the bedroom where a king-sized bed sat squarely on a six-inch high riser in the middle of the room. A cream-colored silk coverlet trimmed in sage green spread across the bed, its edges just brushing the floor of the riser. Mounds of light sage green, ivory, and dark sage green pillows were piled high against the tall ornate, whitewashed wooden headboard.
A seating area in front of the bed’s matching footboard consisted of two matching chairs upholstered in dark sage green brocade and an elegant marble-topped table with a stylish cut glass lamp sitting on it. Wandering farther into the room, she spied another seating area at the back of the bed, just behind the headboard. The tall headboard had obscured it until she walked around the bed. There, a sofa and chair matching the ones in front completed the furniture in the room. Also attached to the wall opposite the seating area was a flat screen TV and below, bookshelves filled with books of all sorts.
Continuing on, she opened the door opposite the right side of the bed that led into a large, over-sized marble, chrome, and glass bathroom. Sitting in the middle of the stone tiled floor was what she was sure must be the bathtub but, it looked more like a mini-marble swimming pool. She looked up at the ceiling since the lighting above the tub made it seem as though the light was streaming down from a skylight, but there was no skylight.
A glass walk-in shower with multiple showerheads occupied one corner of the bath. Elegant brushed chrome fixtures and two raised, translucent blue glass basins accented the ivory marble-topped counter that ran the length of one wall. Beveled mirrors extended from the counter top to the ceiling above it. The toilet and bidet were discretely hidden behind a blue, glass-block wall.
Another door led into a huge, walk-in closet and dressing room. Gasping, she noticed that the closet was already full of clothes.
My clothes. He had my clothes brought in, she thought, a smile spread across her face as she took a closer look, running her hand down the row of dresses and across the shelves of sweaters and slacks.
Seeing her clothes seemed to make everything okay and the anxiety she had been feeling slowly began to fade away. She didn’t even stop to analyze why these familiar things were so important to her.
She swung around to see him standing in the doorway. His arms were folded and he was leaning casually against the door frame, with a lopsided grin that was doing crazy things to her insides. Darcey took in every inch of his very male body. It wasn’t just his touch that drove her crazy—it was everything about him.
“Well, what do you think?” Brad swung his arm around encompassing the whole of the quarters, pushing himself away from the door frame.
She tore her eyes away from him before answering. “It’s beautiful, and this all for me?” she asked, doing a three-sixty, her arms out wide, looking at it all again. She still was unable to wrap her mind around the idea that all of what she saw was hers.
“Yes, this is yours,” he said, grinning.
Brad resisted the overwhelming urge to pick her up and swing her around, then toss her on the bed, and make love to her, but he knew he couldn’t, not yet anyway. He struggled to put a damper on his growing desire as he watched her graceful body twirling around in front of him. He knew every inch, every curve and it was driving him crazy not to be able to take her in his arms.
“I will leave you now, so you can have your bath. It’s been a long thirty-six hours. You need to rest, and I have things to look after,” Brad said, unable to stop smiling at her. “You are free to look around. Your door will never be locked unless you lock it.” With that said, Brad turned and left her standing in the middle of the bedroom.
What had he just said … my door will never be locked? I am free to look around, she thought in amazement. He bought me. I’m his property so I’m supposed to be his slave, aren’t I? I must have missed something. Something I didn’t hearing correctly, she decided as she ran out of the bedroom hoping to catch up with him. The concept of him giving her freedom never entered her mind.
She reached the front door and saw it was closed. It was a sliding door but did not have the usual hand-hold to use in order to slide it open. She pushed, and then pulled on the door, but it would not move.
She backed up, exasperated with herself because she couldn’t figure out how to open one stupid door when it suddenly slid open. The man was standing there looking at her with that goofy, lopsided grin of his, making her stomach do summersaults once again.
“Sorry, I forgot to show you how to open the door and to give you your ID card that will let you go most everywhere,” he said, stepping back into the room.
Brad handed her a small plastic card the size of a credit card. It had a photo of the woman in the mirror on it, with the name ‘Darcey Callahan’ in big, bold letters printed underneath the picture. She stood looking at the card, and then at the man with confusion in her eyes.
“Yes, that is your name. You are Darcey Callahan from Dallas, Texas. You and I have been dating for over a year. I know this is a lot to throw at you right now, and I’m sorry. So please don’t stress over it. Take it slow and give yourself time to take it all in and remember who you are. I will help you as much as I can,” he told her in a rush, not knowing exactly how to handle the situation without scaring her more.
Darcey was dumbfounded. Her legs wouldn’t hold her and she collapsed on the floor. Brad came over and squatted down in front of her, taking her hands in his. Electric shocks radiated up her arms where her hands touched his. All of a sudden, there was no air to breathe and she had an overwhelming urge to throw her arms around him and bury her face in the curve of his neck. Instead, she struggled to let the urge pass and sat there frozen. Her mind was slipping into a numbing void as she stared at the man in front of her. She was not actually seeing him at all, her heart beat wildly.
“It’s okay,” he said, drawing her into his arms to comfort her. “You safe are now. You no longer have to worry about what will happen to you. I didn’t plan on telling you this so soon, but I realized you had to have an ID card and it would have to have your name and photo on it. I didn’t have a choice.” He paused waiting for her to absorb all he had just said.
Darcey pulled back out of Brad’s arms, a million questions raced through her mind. She couldn’t give voice to any of them. All she could do was stare at him, her mouth open. It became increasingly harder for her to breathe.
“It’s okay,” Brad said, a small frown slid across his face as she pulled back. “When you are ready, I will tell you everything that I know about what happened to you. But in the meantime, let me show you how to use your card.” He would leave it at that for now and hoped that changing the subject would alleviate some of the stress she was feeling right now. He took her hands and pulled her up mesmerized by her hazel eyes as she looked into his.
Brad adverted his eyes to break the connection and cleared his throat as he began explaining how the ID card worked. “You take your card and slide it like this, in this slot.” He pointed to a small back box on the inside resembling the one she had seen on the outside of the door, attached to the wall just to the right of the door.
Brad took the card from Darcey’s hand and slid it through the slot in the small black box, and the door closed. He slid it again, and it opened. With one last pass of the card, he closed the door.
“To lock the door,” he said pointing to the button on the top of the box. “Just push this button here, and you will see a red light come on to indicate the door is locked. Push the button again, and the door will be unlocked. Do you want to try it?”
Brad looked at her bewildered expression as he handed the card back to her. Maybe he should have handled it differently, slower, but it was too late now.
“I … I … ge … ges … guess,” she stammered, her mind still in a jumble trying to make some semblance of what she had heard him say.
Darcey took the card from him and stared at it, unable to comprehend how the face and name on the card could be her. The face looked like the one in the mirror, the one that had been looking back at her these past months, but she felt no connection to the name or to the face.
“Here let me help you,” Brad said, partially drawing her out of the stupor she had slipped into.
Blankly, she looked up as Brad took her hand holding the card and slid the card through the slot, and the door opened. Then he repeated it, and the door closed. Then he took the forefinger of her hand and pushed the button, and, the red light came on; pushed it again, and the light went off.
“There, see how easy it is. There’s also a slot outside beside the door. Want to try it by yourself?”
He grinned at her trying to lighten her mood, but instead, her face reddened in frustration that he had made her feel like a helpless child.
“No, I’ve got it,” she said curtly, yanking her hand out of his. She couldn’t tell if her heart was beating rapidly because of his touch or because she was agitated at herself for acting like a fool.
“Well then, I’ll be off,” he said. He needed to leave before he made matters worse. He had to give her some space and time to set things right in her mind. “Oh yes, one more thing,” he paused just inside the door. “There is a pager on the bar. Use it if you need me. It is synced with my phone. Remember to take it with you if you go exploring. This is an enormous place and until you know it, it is easy to get lost,” he cautioned, and then he was gone.
Trying to calm her irritation over his condescending manner and being treated like a child, she was still attempting to put the things she had just been told in order, but nothing stayed put. It all kept jumping around. She looked at the card in her hand and then at the slot on the wall. Dazed, she took the card and slid it through the slot. She watched as the door opened, and she slid it again, and the door closed. She had no idea how many times she numbly repeated the process before the jumbled mess in her mind settled and she could think again.
The man had said her name was Darcey Callahan and that she was from Dallas. Those names didn’t mean anything to her. They jogged nothing in her memory. She had thought she would feel relieved to know her real name, but it meant nothing. She felt no connection to it. The only things real to her were these past months.
He said don’t worry about it. What good would it do anyway? She asked herself. What can I do about it? It is what it is. How would worry change anything? She grumbled to herself.
It won’t, but when you see him, have him tell you about this Darcey Callahan. You may be surprised what you find out about her.
Who are you? Get out of my head! Leave me alone!
I can’t leave you alone; we are one in the same. You just haven’t remembered me yet, but you will. I’m here to help you find your way back.
The voice was fading away…
…you will remember…
Then, it was gone.
Darcey shook her head and looked at the card in her hand and the face on the card. Yes, it matched the one in the mirror, but she still didn’t know her. She only knew who she had been for these past months—Saleem.
Darcey took a slow turn and walked back to the bedroom, she needed to get cleaned up. She felt sticky, dirty, and was sure she didn’t smell too pleasant either.
She turned on the tap and the water began to flow into the marble tub. She looked around for soap, washcloth, and towels and found them all behind the rattan doors of a large, free-standing cabinet across from the tub. She stepped in and inch by inch, slipped into the steaming water. It felt like heaven as the bubbles tickled her chin.
A little while later and feeling much better, she walked into the kitchen and looked in the gleaming, stainless steel fridge to see what there might be to eat. It was empty. She turned to look through the cabinets; they too were empty of food, but were stocked with all types of cooking utensils, pots and pans, dinnerware, drinkware of all kinds, and silverware.
Darcey grabbed the pager the man had left her, put it in her pocket, and opened the front door. She stepped out into the corridor, and looked left, and then right, seeing nothing, but gray corridor in either direction. She turned around and saw the slot for an ID card on the wall beside the door. The number 308 was stenciled in bold, black numbers above the slot. She made a mental note of the number, slid the card, and the door closed.
“That was easy,” she commented to herself.
Darcey had no idea where either way led so she tossed a mental coin … heads go right, tails left. Heads it is. She started walking, noticing every so often, there would be another number with a slot beside a door. She guessed these were other living quarters.
Darcey had gone maybe fifty feet when she heard a soft humming sound coming up behind her. With a quick turn of her head, she saw a golf-cart-type vehicle heading in her direction. She jumped back and pressed herself flat against the wall to let it pass. Too late, she noticed there had been no need to move. There was plenty of room for her to keep walking and the cart to pass.
Feeling foolish, she gave a half-hearted smile to the people in the cart as they drove by. The cart turned left a short distance in front of her and she jogged to where it had turned; it was another corridor.
Interesting, she thought.
Standing in the middle of the junction of the two corridors, she looked around to find something to help her to remember her way back. She saw, on either side of the connecting corridor’s walls, directional signs with arrows pointing in the direction the cart went. ‘Bajo el Mar Café and ‘Main Street Plaza’ stood out in bold, black letters. Then, she turned to look at the sign on the corridor wall behind her. It had numbers ‘300-325’ with an arrow pointing right and ‘399-375’ pointing left.
Now that she had her bearings, Darcey took off down the corridor, following the cart. She could see farther on that the corridor she was walking down opened into a partially finished area. However, before she reached it, another corridor intersected the one she was in, running perpendicular to it.
Looking right, she saw the Bajo el Mar Café that the man had said he ordered their food from. She paused and peered through the row of large glass windows into the interior of the Caféteria. Lots of tables and chairs filled the dining area. A Caféteria-style food line ran down the side, several vending machines sat against one wall, and a beverage station with every imaginable beverage available sat next to the vending machines. She made a mental note to come back here after she finished exploring.
There were only a few people in the Café and she didn’t see the man, so she continued on, toward the open area. Reaching it, she saw that it was a plaza and still under construction. Many workers were bustling about working on what appeared to be twenty large rooms that ringed the outer edge of the circular plaza.
What had the man said? It would be like living in a city, but under water? This could be a shopping area, like a mall, she considered.
Walking on into the center of the plaza, Darcey realized it would be a park when completed. She marveled at the workers laying sod around the sidewalk that circled a fountain. There were park benches stacked just off to the side waiting to be installed in the grassy area.
Looking behind her, she noticed that the corridor she had just come through, continued on across to the other side of the plaza, and she headed toward it. Reaching the next intersection, she saw directional signs again. The ‘Services & Maintenance’ arrows pointed in both directions. The signs with ‘Pacific Theatre, Costal Library, Stingray Bowling Alley,’ ‘Hydroponics,’ and ‘Bajo el Mar Café pointed to the right. ‘Corporate Offices,’ ‘Pacific K-12 School,’ ‘ORCA Medical Wing’, and ‘Bajo el Mar Café’ pointed to the left. Then it hit her—the perpendicular corridors were circular.
This is strange. What kind of place is this—no windows, but yet, it’s like the sun is shining, and the air feels fresh like you’re outside? And, he tells me this is five miles underwater with some kind of ecosystem running it all? She wondered in amazement. I’ll have to ask him to explain all of this now that I have my wits about me again. And, I’m going to have to ask his name, too. I just can’t keep calling him ‘the man.’ Strange he hadn’t bothered to introduce himself. Odd, she contemplated as she wandered on.
Darcey turned left and walked toward the corporate offices. That seemed to her the best place to look for him. There were more people here going about their business. The doors to most offices were either open or had large glass windows that opened onto the corridor. Everyone she saw or met was friendly. They smiled and said ‘Hello’ like they knew who she was, but otherwise left her alone.
Darcey strolled past several offices, casually looking in each of them, smiling when the office happened to be occupied and hoping she would see the man. When she didn’t find him in any of the offices, she walked on. Since she didn’t have a watch, she guessed it had been maybe an hour or so by the time she eventually wound up back at the Bajo el Mar Café. Darcey stood outside debating whether to go in.
I sure could use a cup of coffee. Do I need money? She fretted. I don’t have any, but I could ask. Surely, they could afford to let me have one cup of coffee ‘on the house’, she worried, her hand reaching for the door.
Her mind made up, Darcey pushed the door open and hesitantly walked in. Then she saw him walking across the floor toward her with that lopsided grin of his turning her knees to jelly. Her heart beat faster, and butterflies erupted in her stomach. She felt excited to see him and didn’t take the time to analyze why—she just was excited to see him.
Brad saw Darcey hesitate before coming in the door and hurried across the floor to meet her. She looked lost but seeing him, her face lit up with a big smile and Brad’s heart took wings.
“Darcey, I’m so glad you found your way here. Are you hungry?” Brad asked, taking her hand and leading her over to a table. “Sit and I will get you something.”
“All I want is a big cup of coffee, please.” Darcey smiled at him still holding his hand as she sat down. The vibes she was feeling felt right and she let her hand linger in his grasp, relishing the heat from his touch as it raced through her body.
Brad looked down at their hands, and then up into her eyes. He wasn’t sure what he saw there, but it wasn’t fear—acceptance maybe? Was she feeling the connection as he felt it, he wondered, his heart pounding?
“I’ll get your coffee. Are you sure you don’t want something to eat?” Brad asked, again.
“No, just the coffee,” she replied. Her eyes followed his tall, muscular frame as he walked away. The surge of heat from his hand raced up her arm all the way to her heart—it started doing crazy things. She wasn’t sure what had just happened, but she liked it and she felt completely safe for the first time in months, even safer than Nicho had made her feel. At this moment, she felt like she could fly.
While Brad was getting Darcey’s coffee, his phone vibrated. Pulling it out of his pocket, he saw that it was Luis Vargas, who had helped him rescue Darcey.
“Luis, I’ll have to call you back. I’m not in my office. Give me about five minutes.” Brad put his phone back in his pocket and took Darcey her cup of coffee.
“I have an important call I need to take. Can you make it back to your quarters, or would you like to wait here for me, and we can go together?” Brad asked her, hoping she would say she would wait.
“I’ll wait. This is nice to just sit here and watch people and know I’m not locked in a room. Do I need money to get another cup?” she asked blushing, embarrassed at not knowing what the protocol was for acquiring another cup of coffee.
“No, just go get all the coffee you want and something to eat, too. I won’t be long,” Brad said, walking away his heart soaring.
Brad hurried down the hall to his office, a goofy smile plastered across his face. Entering, he stopped to pour himself a glass of Scotch before he sat down and picked up the phone to call Luis.
“I have excellent news,” Luis said, smiling. “I have the location where you can find Carlos.”
“Luis, it is good to hear your voice. Thank you for all your help,” Brad responded while anger and frustration welled up inside of him at the mention of Carlos’ name. It immediately squelched the euphoria he had been feeling just moments ago.
“Carlos is in Lima along with the other two. They are staying at a house just outside of Lima. I will email you the directions. It seems he has come into an inheritance of some sort and will be staying in Lima for a while,” Luis told him. “Tell me how is Darcey? I have not told her grandmother yet. I will wait to tell her grandmother until you have had time to help her remember.”
“Darcey is doing well. I believe some things are coming back to her. Her reaction to me is changing. She is more comfortable with me. I haven’t had to dodge any flying objects or fists yet.” He heard Luis laugh. “I hope to have good news for you in a few weeks.”
Brad took a drink and sat the glass on the desk.
“I need to go. Darcey is waiting for me,” Brad said, a hint of anticipation in his voice. “Tonight will be our first real time together, so I want it to be special. I will call you in a few days and let you know what happens with Santiago.”
“I will look forward to hearing from you.” Luis hung up and emailed Brad the directions where to locate Carlos Santiago.
Brad didn’t check his email before he left, deciding that Santiago would still be there tomorrow, and he didn’t want anything to distract from the evening he had planned. Earlier he had given instructions to the Bajo kitchen staff about what he wanted delivered to his quarters for this special evening. Everything should be ready at seven. He glanced at his watch. It was going on four thirty.
Having emptied her cup, Darcey picked it up and walked over to the beverage station for a refill. Walking back, she chose a table closer to the windows where she could watch the busy people in the corridor. Wherever this was, it was bustling with activity and it was wonderful to just sit and know she would never be locked up ever again. She glanced down the corridor and saw the man heading toward the Café and an explosion of butterflies came back.
Brad pulled the door to the Café open and was pleasantly surprised at the feeling of happiness he felt radiating from Darcey. The feeling grew the closer he moved toward her. When he reached the table, the feeling had grown to one of pure pleasure. He didn’t know if she was remembering, but he certainly hoped so. An unabashed sexy grin spread across his face as he gazed into her eyes.
“Do you want to finish your coffee here or take it with you,” Brad asked, as he sat down, his eyes never leaving hers.
“If you are ready, I can take my coffee with me,” Darcey told him, a smile played around the corners of her mouth and she was having a hard time controlling it. The smile wanted to spread across her face and she couldn’t let that happen. It had only been a few hours since she had come to know him. It was too soon to be having such strong feelings for him.
I don’t know this man and I don’t want him to get the wrong idea about me. I may be his property, but I’ll be damned if I will give myself over willingly, she vowed to herself.
However, she wasn’t sure how long she could hold out. Her body responded of its own accord whenever he was close and that worried her. She willed herself to resist the onslaught of emotions that would come the next time he touched her.
“Okay, let’s go then.” Brad stood and extended his hand toward her.
Darcey avoided taking it knowing she couldn’t handle touching him again. Instead, she picked up her coffee cup in one hand and slid the chair back up to the table with the other. Keeping her distance seemed the better choice for now even though he hadn’t made any untoward advances.
He’s always behaved like a gentleman. Could I have misjudged him? He certainly isn’t Nicho, but he seems to be just as concerned about me as Nicho was. She pondered that thought as they walked to the Café door.
“We’ll take my shuttle back so you won’t have to walk,” Brad said, holding the Café door open for her.
Ten minutes later, Brad parked the shuttle in the designated shuttle parking area located about twenty yards from his quarters. They walked the short distance to his door.
“I thought we would dine in tonight.” Brad opened the door and motioned to her to enter. “Dinner will be delivered around seven.”
“What time is it?” Darcey asked. “I don’t have a watch and I haven’t seen a clock anywhere,” she said, looking around to see if he had one.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize you did not have a watch. I will get you a clock and watch if you would like,” he said making a mental not to pick one up for her. “It’s a little after five. Would you like to rest a while before dinner?” Brad asked. “You can lay down on my bed … or go back to your quarters,” he added quickly.
Oh, shit! Why did I mention my bed? Damn! He watched out of the corner of his eye at her reaction.
“Thank you, but I would like to change clothes before dinner, so I think I will go back to my quarters,” Darcey replied, turning away from him and heading for the door. A bit of pink tinged her cheeks.
Darcey waited, not looking at him, to open the door. The circling butterflies in her stomach fluttered at the mention of ‘his bed’ and she knew she was blushing. She gritted her teeth in frustration as they erupted into a full-blown explosion when his arm brushed against her as he reached to slide his card through the slot.
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! She admonished herself. What’s with you? No! Forget it. You’re just hungry, that’s all,
Brad watched as Darcey walked the short distance to her quarters. She seems so much better he thought. At least, he hadn’t noticed any adverse reaction when he mentioned she could rest in his bed. Maybe her memory of him would come back sooner than anticipated—he hoped. He didn’t know how much longer he could hold out not touching her. The brief brush against her as he opened the door nearly drove him over the edge.
How could she not feel the power of their connection? And, if she did, how could she remain so calm?
Entering her quarters, she was amazed yet again that this was all hers. She went over and flopped down on the sofa, swung her legs up, and marveled at her newfound freedom.
Maybe this being owned by the man might not be so bad, after all, she speculated, clasping her hands together behind her head. He’s been the perfect gentleman. Could I have misjudged him? What had he said … we had been dating in my past life? Damn, I wish I could remember, but there’s nothing but a blank space before I met him at the Gala. A smile spread across her face and her eyes closed. But … when he touches me … a thousand fingers of heat surge through my body. There is something there; I can’t explain it. Could it be, my mind does not remember him, but my body does, she thought again sitting up and placing her feet on the floor.
She rolled that around in her mind, kicking her shoes off and flexing her toes in the lush carpet, then walked to the bedroom to change for dinner; no closer to an answer.