I couldn’t breathe. Literally. My chest seized, my lungs froze. My heart stopped. I coughed and tried to suck air into my lungs, and failed. The glass of Scotch tumbled from my hand and fell to the floor with a crash. I clawed at my throat, at the blindfold, at my chest.
I felt a big warm hand on the nape of my neck, strong and implacable, forcing my head down between my knees. “Breathe, Kyrie. Breathe in.” His voice, his honey-thick, well-deep voice was at my ear, murmuring, comforting. Soothing. I opened my throat and forced air into my lungs, dragging in huge gulps of air, breathing out, in, out. His hand remained on the nape of my neck, a gentle touch. “That’s good. Keep breathing. It’s all right. It’s all right.”
“You—you know f**king everything about me.” I jerked away from him, stumbled to my feet, and lurched away. I felt his hand catch my waist and pull me forward, just as I felt my heels and the backs of my knees hit a table. “You know—fuck—you know everything. Every goddamned thing there is to know. How many sexual partners I’ve had? Jesus. Jesus. I’m gonna be sick….”
Glass crunched underfoot. I heard a door open, and then the tinkling of the broken glass being swept up.
“Thank you, Eliza,” he said, his voice soft.
“Of course, sir. Will there be anything else, sir?” Eliza’s voice sounded on the older side, a touch of an accent, Hispanic, possibly.
“No, that will be all for now. Dinner is ready, yes?”
“Not just yet, sir. About half an hour.”
“Very good, Eliza. Thank you.” Footsteps receded, a door closed, and I sensed we were alone once more. “Are you all right, Kyrie?”
I stepped out of his touch, straightened my spine, forcing my breathing to even out. “I suppose. I could use a few minutes alone.”
“Of course. This way, please.” His hand on the small of my back pulled me into a walk, guiding me forward. “I’ll show you to your rooms. You will have a moment to refresh yourself, and then we will dine.”
“And I’m supposed to do all this blindfolded?” I asked.
“In your own quarters you will be allowed to remove the blindfold. And if we are not together, while I am working, for instance, you will have the freedom to roam my home at will. My private apartments are inaccessible to you, so you need not fear running into me by accident.” He nudged me around a corner, and I heard our footsteps echoing in what sounded like a huge hallway. “As I have stated, you are not a prisoner. The front door is unlocked. The elevator will take you to the garage, and from there to the street, where you will find a taxi readily available. I will even arrange a flight back to Detroit, if you wish. If you choose to leave, your belongings will be brought to you, along with the nondisclosure contract. You are free to go at any time. You are free to remove the blindfold at any time. But if you do, our agreement is voided, and my financial support will cease immediately. You would have, at most, three months before your various debts caught up with you and your situation became untenable. I urge you to consider wisely, Kyrie. I give you my word of honor that you will not be in any way mistreated, harmed, or forced to do anything to compromise your morals, values, or physical safety.”
I wobbled on my three-inch heels, unnerved, still shaky with fear and confusion and disorientation. “This is such a f**ked-up situation. You know that, right?”
“Yes, I suppose this is a rather unusual situation.” His voice was rife with amusement. His hand curled around my waist, halting me. “We’ve reached your quarters. I will send you in, and then you may remove the blindfold. Please leave the dress on, however. You look incredible in it. Eliza will bring you to the dining room in thirty minutes.”
A door handle opened, and I was nudged forward. His hand rested on my lower back, his palm against my spine and his fingers splayed possessively on my side. As soon as I realized how bizarrely comforting and familiar his touch felt, he withdrew his hand, and I was left in an even greater state of emotional confusion.
“I’ll see you soon, Kyrie.” Warm lips brushed my cheek, his breath Scotch-laced and hot. I shivered at the feel of his lips on my cheek, not even an inch from my mouth.
“Yeah,” I said, letting every last shred of sarcasm I possessed paint my voice. “You’ll see me.”
He only laughed, a rumbling chuckle. “It won’t be for long, Kyrie. I promise. Just try to trust me, and the blindfold will come off.”
“Trust you? How the hell am I supposed to trust you? I don’t know even know your name! I’m blindfolded!”
“You have to give yourself over to me. It will be frightening, I know. It goes against nature, especially for one who has been through what you have. I know this. I know the enormity of what I ask. But I wouldn’t ask it of you if I didn’t think you capable of it. And I wouldn’t ask it of you if it wasn’t necessary, for me.” His finger trailed along my cheek. “Hear this, Kyrie: As you learn to trust me, as you give yourself to me, so will I learn to trust you, and give you myself.”
That shook me to the core. I searched for something to say, for some way to react, but I had nothing. No words, no knowledge of what to say, what to feel, what I even thought of his statement.
“Enough of this for now. Refresh yourself, and join me for dinner. There is an intercom on the wall just to your left. Press the green button and ask for Eliza if you find you’re ready before thirty minutes have passed.”
“Can I call Layla?”
A brief hesitation. “Yes, I don’t see why not. Be discreet, please.”
“Goodbye, for now.” I heard the door close and latch, and his footsteps recede.
I stood in place for a moment, and then reached up and removed the blindfold. I turned in place, examining my surroundings. And, once again, my breath was stolen. The room itself was mammoth, big enough to fit my entire apartment in, with room to spare. And one entire wall, from floor to ceiling, was glass. I drifted over to the windows, blinking, gasping in awe. Manhattan lay spread out before me in unrivaled beauty, a myriad of towers and lights and cross-hatched streets, yellow headlights and red taillights, cycling stoplights…never had I seen anything like it. For several minutes I could only stand with my nose to the glass, staring out at the city. How many floors up was I? Very many, clearly. I couldn’t recall the inside of the elevator, except for a memory of polished chrome and dark wood. I thought hard, and realized there had only been two buttons, one for the top, and one for the garage level. But, judging by the view beneath me, we were at least fifty stories up. There were several skyscrapers nearby, and I could see the tops of all of them.