I had nightmares about my mother again. She’d bound my hands and locked me in the bathroom, while she brought in another lover for the night. I strained against the binding, but the more I struggled to be free, the tighter the binds became.
With a coughing gasp, I woke, frantically gulping in the air. The first thing I noticed in this newly conscious state was a strong smell of perfume, overbearing and far too musky, too unlike anything produced by Lockhart. The next thing I realized was I was in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room.
I lifted my hands, making sure they weren’t bound. They weren’t, but for some reason, that didn’t make me feel any better. I still had that same ominous feeling, like I was trapped in a cage and couldn’t get out.
Where was this place? I tried to summon the last memory I had before blacking out, and then I remembered. I was going to meet Marcus, he sent a text, and when I went to the bungalows to investigate, two men grabbed me.
How could I have been so idiotic? Marcus never sent text messages. And now that I thought about it, I should have looked at the original note stuck in my locker more closely. Marcus’s writing was neater by far.
Someone had tricked me in order to kidnap me. Grandmother had probably already received a ransom note. Of course I’d been warned before that this might happen, but foolishly, I’d never thought it would.
The question now was, who were my kidnappers?
I didn’t have to wait long to find out. A soft knock sounded, and a woman walked in, bringing with her a stronger waft of that same nauseating perfume. I held my breath and looked into the face of my kidnapper. Her features were all too familiar, although age had finally caught up to her. I should have known it was her.
“Emmaline.” She pasted a smile I knew to be phony on that overly Botoxed face and sat on the side of my bed. “Stop scowling. You’re already ugly enough. Don’t need to develop wrinkles earlier than usual.”
The last time I’d seen her must have been three years ago, at my thirteenth birthday party. It was the last time Grandmother permitted visitation rights because Mother had made me cry with her harsh words. She hadn’t changed a bit, still using every opportunity to put me down. Even now I felt the same clench of inferiority creeping up on me, but I was able to suppress it a lot better than before.
“At least I don’t need Botox yet,” I shot back. It automatically earned me a slap across the cheek.
It stung, but I didn’t care. It was satisfying to see that fake smile turn into something more fitting to her personality—a hardhearted glower.
“Ungrateful girl,” she spat. “Leech!”
The word made me quake, as it had every time she’d said it before, only this time I didn’t feel myself falling into a tantrum.
“I should have told Ben to tie you up. But no, I decided to place you in a comfortable bed instead of the floor because that’s the way the Lockhart princess has lived all these years. My soft heart always wins out.”
I was about to say if she had any heart at all, she wouldn’t have kidnapped me, but the name Ben stopped me short. “Ben Lyons?” I breathed out a snort of disdain that I hadn’t realized sooner. No wonder my kidnappers had looked so familiar. Father and son must have worked together. The Bulk had known my real identity, and so he told his father, who told my mother, and they all hashed out a plan to get me.
“You know his son,” Mother said simply. “We date whenever I’m back in town. Much better in bed than your father ever was.”
I shook my head in disbelief, still unable to fathom how this woman could have been the one to give me life. “How much did you ask Grandmother for? I’m curious how much I’m worth to you.”
“Interesting,” she said, folding her arms across her implanted breasts. “You’ve developed more cheek while I’ve been away. At least you’re no longer some idiot who’d rather read or make out with a flower than kiss a real boy.” She added grimly, “Not that you could ever get a real boy to kiss you, with your less than stellar looks.”
I bit my lip, trying not to let her words get to me. If I ignored her jabs, maybe she would stop. “How much?” I repeated. “Eighty million?”
“Aren’t we overly confident about our worth,” she smirked.
Lower then. “Fifty million?”
“Fifty million and the Lilting Lily.”
The Lilting Lily? I narrowed my eyes. “Why do you want the Lilting Lily?” Mother had never been interested in a flower in her life, unless it was used to beautify her own glory. And the Lilting Lily, without an expert perfumer to turn it into a fragrance, was useless.
“Let’s just say it’s for a friend,” she said, with a wave of her hand. “From what I’ve heard, they really wanted this lily, but you refused to give it to them. Instead, you humiliated them. Unforgiveable, Emmaline.”
“Humiliated?” I frowned, wondering who it could be. Then the name came to me. “The Murdoves?” I’d made it clear that I’d never sell the lily to them.
“The very same,” Mother said, now looking at herself in the mirror. She could never be away from her own reflection for more than two minutes. “Poor Veronica said you accused her of abandoning her son. A son she never gave birth to. Really, Emmaline, do your research before you accuse a poor girl.”
I should have known the two of them were friends. They were…what was the idiom? Oh yes, cut from similar fabric, or was that cut from the same cloth? And why was I even thinking of idioms at this time?
“Where is this place?” I could hear seagulls outside the window, so I was guessing it was by the beach. “Your house?”
“Of course not dear, don’t be silly.” She laughed low and waved her hand. “The cops will be searching my house, so of course I couldn’t bring you to my place. Think before you speak, darling. This is the Murdoves’ beach house. The police don’t suspect them of anything, which is exactly why I had to work with Wayne and Veronica.”
“The cops will know if I tell Grandmother when I return,” I said. “I am returning, aren’t I? Even you wouldn’t kill your own flesh and blood.” Or at least I hoped not.
“Of course you’re returning.” Mother finally turned from the mirror to look at me. “I don’t care if you tell on them. Veronica’s not that close a friend anyway. By that time, Ben and I will be out of the country with our money, never to return again.” She gave a little yawn, delicate and fluttery-eyed. “All this talk has made me sleepy. Time for my midday nap.” She then pointed to a television set in the corner of the room. “Go keep yourself busy until dinner.” She gave a wry smile. “Goodness, don’t I sound like a domesticated homemaker?”
Never in your life, I wanted to scream.
I waited until her footsteps had grown fainter before getting out of the bed and heading for the door. As suspected, it was locked. I put my ear to the peephole, trying to listen for any sounds outside the bedroom. There was a low rumble of a male, presumably The Bulk’s father, followed by the silky sweet voice of my mother.
Knowing Lydia Lockhart, she was going to settle down for a midday nap. She’d never worked a day in her life after marrying my father and probably not before either—not in the work force or at home. But I’d also bet she wasn’t going to bed alone. Not with a man in the house.
A disgusted shudder ran through my body. I’d always hated how Mother brought different lovers to her room every night, but now it just might be to my advantage. If the two of them were busy…ahem…sleeping, then nobody would be paying any real attention to me. And that meant I could try and escape.
On the opposite wall from the bed, there was one window that was just out of reach. It was a small window with not much of a view of the ocean, so I guessed Mother and Ben had taken the master bedroom and given me a room that wasn’t even supposed to be a bedroom. In fact, if this house belonged to the wealthy Murdoves, all the guestrooms would have better window views of the ocean, maybe even a patio or balcony. But then it would make it too easy for me to escape, and Mother didn’t want that.
Judging from two pipes sticking out behind the bed, it was probably the laundry room.
It figured, I thought dryly. Mother had always treated me like dirty laundry, untouchable and detestable for her perfectly manicured hands.
The room only contained a TV set and the bed, so I tried pushing the bed frame over to the window. It was only twin-size, made out of some cheap, lightweight material, so it didn’t require that much effort to move. However, it did make squeaking noises across the tiled floor. I winced, sure that someone would burst in any time. But they didn’t.
Finally, I pushed it under the window, and then stood on tiptoes on the bed. It was the perfect reach. The window unlocked, and I pushed it open. Immediately, the salty smell of the sea flooded in, although I couldn’t see the ocean, meaning this was the side of the house.
I made to push my feet off the bed, bracing my weight on the ledge of the window, and then a horrifying crash sounded. I looked down and realized the bed had fallen apart. It must have been so cheap that all that pushing and then my weight had been too much for it to handle.
But now I knew I was doomed. Because that crash had been ten times louder than the squeaking across the floor, and the window was open too. The sound must have echoed through the house, and there was no way they hadn’t heard it.
There was no time to waste. My body was halfway out the window before I heard the door swing open. I struggled to push the rest of my body out, but strong hands clamped around my waist, bringing me back inside. Screaming, I fought against my assailant, but he was too strong.
My hand struck his cheek, and he roared. “You little—” He threw me down, and my head landed against the broken post of the bed with a sickening thud. The world spun.
Mother’s voice rang out from the entrance way. “Don’t kill the girl, Ben. She is my daughter after all. But you’re free to push her around a bit to make sure she doesn’t try anything again. Just tie her up when you’re done. We were far too nice and underestimated her spunk, which I swear she didn’t have before.” Then she swung around and left, leaving me at the mercy of her lover.