The journey took a lifetime in the back of that car that night. I cowered in the backseat, long past struggling for composure. The tears came easily, loud at first, then fading to quiet as we hit the motorway. I tried to keep an eye on the road signs, but my brain was scattered. North. We were headed north. But I’d never really been that far north. I had no idea where we could be headed and no idea what was coming when we got there.
I didn’t want sixty days with the man who’d taken me. I wanted Brandon. I wanted the trust I’d found in his touch. I wanted to serve the man who’d coaxed love in me where he shouldn’t and only him. That’s when it first started to hit me, a bigger fear than any I’d had so far.
What if this change was his doing? What if his talk of me not being with him for sixty days anymore had nothing to do with him dropping me back at university? What if instead he was passing me onto some business associate to fulfil the contract with no complications?
I didn’t want to believe it. Even the thought made my belly lurch. I could handle my body being bruised and battered. I could handle pain at his hands, no matter how far he pushed me. But pain of the heart?
Heartbreak? Was this heartbreak?
Was this him throwing me aside as a needy little weakling wanting love he’d never give me back in a million years?
I didn’t know.
The truth was that I didn’t know anything on that journey other than the fact that I didn’t want to be there.
I was half conscious, exhausted against the leather seats when the car finally pulled to a stop. The engine cutting out was enough to bring me to my senses, stiffening in a beat as some burly guy opened the door and reached out an arm for me.
It was the business partner’s voice that spoke to me from the darkness behind him.
“Come, Miss Emmerson, sixty-day girls are paid to do what they’re told. Get with the rules now.”
For the first time since viewing Brandon Grant’s social media profile, I really didn’t want to be a sixty-day girl.
I was rigid as the burly guy gripped my upper arm and tugged me out of there. My bare feet hit cold gravel and the shudders of winter breeze set my teeth on edge.
The manor looming tall before me wasn’t anything like the country house we’d left far behind. The windows were all illuminated, the gardens well-manicured with ornate hedgerows fencing us in. It looked like a home. One of those homes you saw in glossy magazines with smiling professionals all slick for the cameras.
My footsteps were tiny as I was led across the gravel to the main entrance. The illuminated brickwork was red. Deep, rich red. The steps up to the main doorway were wide and stone.
And so was the business partner — wide and stone.
He was tall and strong with grey hair swept back from a high forehead. It was his expression that was made of stone. His eyes were hard, lifeless. His jaw gritted, like a wolf ready to bite at any second. He paced ahead of me with barely more than a glance back in my direction, cursory at best, eying me like a piece of meat.
I guess that’s when I realised Brandon Grant had been right about me in so many ways during our loggerhead conversations.
I was naïve. Optimistic. Always wanting to see the best in everyone and everything, even when I was looking into the depths of hell.
Whatever I’d taken these sixty days to be like at his hands was nothing more than an illusion of the main event. Driven by fascination with him. The beautiful monster. The man I wanted.
The man I believed in.
Maybe I’d been stupidly naïve all the time.
The hallway opened up to a huge high ceiling once we were through the main entrance. One of those grand sweeping staircases disappearing up into the upper floors. The burly man let go of me and I dropped my arms to cover as much of my modesty as I could manage.
Brandon’s business partner laughed. He laughed right at me.
“Oh, sweet Miss Emmerson. As if modesty has any place for you here.” His glare lingered on my chest, my attempt to cover my bruised tits doing little but making me look like an idiot under bright lights. “Believe me, I’ve seen every slutty inch of you on screen.”
My voice was weak when it sounded. “Please, Brandon said we could speak. He said he’d be back to talk things out.”
“Brandon Grant says plenty he doesn’t follow through with,” the man told me with a steel glare.
I couldn’t hold back from asking the questions. They came tumbling.
“Does he know where I am? Does he know you were coming to collect me?”
I flinched as he stepped up close to me, his shoulders so rigid I felt hunched.
“I’d have thought you’d have a brain in that pretty little skull of yours, little girl. What do you think?”
My brain rattled. “But… but the broken door… the way you came in…” It didn’t matter. My lip was trembling as I uttered the words.
He really could have sent me here. Brandon could really have sent me here — shipped me away without a care.
I hated his business partner’s smile. I hated the joy he took in my upset.
“Dear little girl,” he mocked. “You really have been caught up with all that nonsense. I heard your three magic words, of course, so enamoured with Mr Grant after a few of his performances.” He shot a glance to the burly guy still in the room. “We all did. So sweet of you, albeit very unfounded. You’ll learn how these sixty days really do work now you’re here, and they won’t be involving Mr Grant, I can assure you.”
He pulled my arms down to my sides. I only resisted him for a moment before giving in to the reality of the situation.
I felt pitiful, but I didn’t care. The only thing I had left to still care about was earning my money and making sure my sister was safe.
That’s if she really was in rehab. That’s if Brandon had done anything with her at all.
But even then, standing there under a stranger’s scrutiny, I couldn’t think like that, my heart wouldn’t let me. I’d felt it. I’d felt what was real. I’d felt him.
I’d damned well felt that he’d put Phoebe in rehab, regardless of what he had planned for me.
“I’ll allow you a night of sleep before we get you started back on the lights camera action,” the man told me, and I managed a nod.
“Aren’t you missing something?” he prompted, and my throat thickened.
“Yes, please, sir,” I finished.
His nod was sharp. “Manners are everything in this arrangement,” he told me. “Our clients demand the very highest levels of service and obedience. You have a full recollection of the contract you signed, yes?”
I struggled to remember the words on the printed document Brandon had made me read through on my first night. The passages were blurry in my memory, non-disclosure, full agreement.
“I think so…” I said. “I remember agreeing to serve the full sixty days, without limits, or safe words.”
“Yes,” he responded. “You’ll do whatever is instructed of you, and you will be delivered back to your original location with no permanent injuries when your time is served.”
I knew I shouldn’t be meeting his eyes, but I couldn’t stop myself. His were light blue and icy, the perfect complement to the silver of his hair. I couldn’t age him, not exactly. He was holding himself very well for an older man, very… attractive for an older man…
I noticed again the badge pins on his blazer, trying to make sense of the crests. They weren’t familiar to me, but I couldn’t help feel like I should know him somehow. That he was a man with some kind of status.
“You are aware that you will be fulfilling your obligations for the full remainder of your contract, yes?” he asked, and I nodded.
“Good,” he said. “I do insist on respect for the obligations.”
I wondered if this was usual, this split in the girls and location. I wondered if Brandon and this guy — business partner — made a regular deal of sharing the workload. But no. Rebecca Lane hadn’t mentioned anything other than Brandon Grant being her master throughout the process. Always in control. Always overseeing. Always there.
But now he would be nowhere, not if things were turning out as they seemed. He was likely hundreds of miles away, maybe scoping out the next sixty-day signup.
The thought made me feel sick.
Of all the things I should be feeling right now, jealousy wasn’t one of them. But I was jealous. The idea of him with another girl was enough to pain down deep.
“I recommend you rest up well until you’re called for action,” the business partner said, and I nodded.
He gestured to the burly guy and I didn’t flinch when he approached me and held out an arm this time, just resigned myself to a whole new world of sixty days here. He didn’t lead me upstairs into the grandeur, just took off to the back of the hall. I tried to take in the route through the house as he pulled me through the ground floor, off to the right and down a long corridor past a row of closed doors. He unlocked one at the far end, and we were in another wing of some kind. More doors and a turn to the left and I could hear noises. Cries.
A girl was crying loud.
My stomach tightened at the sound.
The cries grew louder as we approached a door to the left, and she was behind there. Whoever she was, she was behind there.
“Hopefully you’ll get some sleep,” the burly guy said. “Wouldn’t be surprised if she keeps you up with that racket.”
He didn’t have any sincerity behind his words, just pulled a fresh key from his set and shouldered the door in. Only dull outdoor light came in through the far window, but I could see her there, hunched on a bed with her legs to her chest, rocking back and forth like a girl gone mad.
Maybe she had gone mad.
Maybe I’d be joining her soon enough.
“Hey,” burly guy grunted, but the girl didn’t respond, just kept rocking and crying oblivious. “Hey, noisy chick, button your fucking mouth and say hi to your new roommate.”
Even I flinched when he flicked the light switch and the room lit up in an orange glow. I blinked once, twice, adjusting to the brightness before my gaze landed back on my alleged new roommate.
And then I gasped.
I gasped so loud that she stopped crying to turn her face in my direction, and then she gasped too, eyes widening huge as they met with mine.
“Paige?!” she asked, and her voice was hers even if it was croaky as hell. “Paige?! Is that really you?!”
I was with her in a flash, on the bed alongside her with my arms open wide, and hers were right back at me, crushing tight.
“It’s really me,” I told her. “I can’t believe it’s really you!”
But it was really her.
It was really, really her. Complete with her beautiful mane of dark hair, and her perfect curves and her pretty face, even in the madness.
In this crazy storm of nowhereville, holed up in the world of sixty days she’d escaped so well, it really was Rebecca Lane.
I waited until the door closed behind burly guy leaving. Waited until the key sounded in the lock and the footsteps sounded away down the hall. And then I asked her. I took one deep, solid breath and I asked her.
“What the hell happened to you?”