I knew the feel of his hands. He had big hands, strong hands. My entire hand had fit easily in his palm, his fingers easily closing around mine. His voice came from above me, it seemed, so I imagined him to be fairly tall.
I was curious. I wanted to know what he wanted from me. Why me? That was the biggest question I had. Why me? He’d watched me for “a long time,” he’d said, and the depth of his knowledge about me made it clear that he wasn’t lying or exaggerating. But yet, despite this, I’d never, ever sensed his presence in my life. Never had the feeling of being followed or watched, except for those few times that he’d already explained. He’d never interfered with my life, never sent creepy letters or made stalker phone calls. When I’d been in the most direly desperate straits of my life, he’d…saved me, and claimed to not want financial repayment.
And he’d also promised that he wouldn’t force sex on me. He just wanted me to…what? I still didn’t know. Be here? Have bizarre blindfolded conversations, blindfolded dinners and cocktail hours? Be his non-sexual blindfolded mistress? He had a housekeeper, so I doubted he was going to try to turn me into some odd Cinderella, doing his laundry or whatever. So what did he want? Just me, it seemed. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what it was he actually wanted me to do, and I had a feeling I’d never figure it out. I’d only discover that through experience.
And yet, for all my fear, I realized—if I examined my own emotions honestly—that I felt no sense of danger. I didn’t feel threatened by him. I didn’t feel like he was crazy or unstable. Eccentric, surely. Strange and reclusive, definitely. But…dangerously unbalanced? The kind of stalker who would leave me in dismembered packages in a refrigerator? No.
So…the arrangement? Was I going to go along with his wishes? Obey him? Or go home, and return to being one step away from destitution?
I couldn’t do that. Cal was depending on me. I loved my little brother. He was all I really had, and he needed me. He deserved the best chance at a normal life that I could give him. Cal was a smart, good-looking kid with a solid head on his shoulders. He could go places. He was studying filmmaking, and I’d seen some of his pieces; he was talented, and I could see him making it in Hollywood. But I’d have to make sure he finished college. He was already working as much as he could and still go to school. He was a determined kid, and I knew if worse came to worst, he’d find his own way…but I was his big sister, and I’d been his only real parent figure since he was eleven. Mom was helpless, and would never recover. Ravenwood was the best place for her. If I couldn’t pay the bills, she’d end up a ward of the state and would be moved to some shitty nursing home where she very likely would be abused by the staff. I couldn’t let that happen. And, finally, Dad was seven years dead.
I’d already made my decision. When I let Harris put that blindfold on me in the vestibule outside the front doors, I’d made my choice. I wouldn’t back out now. I couldn’t. This was for my mother and brother.
And…yes, for myself. I wanted to know more about this mysterious man who now owned me.
So, with a deep breath, I touched the intercom button. “Eliza? I’m ready.”
Eliza was a short and slender Hispanic woman with thick black hair tied back in a long braid that was gray at the temples. She wore a simple uniform of black slacks, a black button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and practical black clogs. She had kind, intelligent brown eyes that looked me over in a thorough assessment.
“I am Eliza,” she said in her lightly accented voice. “If you are ready now, I will escort you to the dining room.”
“Sounds good.” I extended my hand. “I’m Kyrie.”
“It is my pleasure to meet you, miss.” She nodded at me, inclining her upper body slightly, a vaguely formal gesture. “This way, please. Would you like a tour?”
I nodded. “Sure.”
She led me out of my room and into a hallway. The floors were dark wood, polished to a gleam. I followed Eliza to the end of the hallway and into what I realized was the room I’d sat in with him. I was really irked by not having any kind of name to use, even in my own thoughts. It was a small sitting room with two deep leather chairs and a small table. On one wall was a side table that held a silver tray, a decanter of dark amber liquid, and three crystal tumblers. I’d broken one of those glasses, I realized with dismay.
“I’m sorry about the glass,” I said.
Eliza shrugged. “It is no matter. It was just a glass.”
“Just a glass? Those look like crystal.”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“It wasn’t, like, a family heirloom, or anything, was it?”
Eliza shook her head. “No, nothing like that. Please, do not worry. Such things are no matter to him. Possessions can be replaced, and he does not put high value on mere objects.” She gestured at the sitting room, the foyer, and the hallway leading back the way we’d come. “You’ve seen this area, then. Follow me, please.”
From what I’d seen so far, Eliza was a quiet, efficient woman. She didn’t ramble on about the artwork on the walls, or the vases on the pedestals, or the suits of armor that stood to either side of the front door. She merely led me from room to room, occasionally pointing out items of interest. Such as the original Vermeer in the formal living room, the frame encased behind thick temperature-controlled glass. Or the suit of armor from the twelfth century standing at attention beside a regal grandfather clock. Or the first-edition copies of famous books in the library.
God, the library. It was a dream, that library. It looked like nothing so much as the decadent extravagance from Beauty and the Beast: fifty-foot-high ceilings, shelves stuffed with books stretching the entire height, with rolling ladders for access to the highest shelves. There were three levels to the library, accessible by hidden spiral staircases, each level having nooks with deep plush chairs and reading lamps and little round tables.
When Eliza saw my reaction to the library, she cocked an eyebrow at me. “He likes books,” was her deadpan statement.
I gave a short bark of laughter. “No kidding. This place is amazing.”
“Yes, it is,” she agreed. “This building was specially designed and built to my employer’s specifications. What is usually referred to as the ‘penthouse,’ meaning the uppermost floor of the building, really encompasses something more like the upper three or four stories, which obviously accounts for the abnormally high ceilings in this room in particular.”