“What do you—what does that mean?” I frown.

“You live here now,” he states, like that should be obvious.

My mouth inches open, wanting to protest. I literally have nothing but the clothes on my back and the items in my purse. “I—I have—I have a—Lily, what about my daughter?”

As if I’ve lost my mind, he drawls, “Obviously your daughter will live here, too. I have a nanny for my own daughter; she’ll take care of yours when you’re working.”

“I thought I had to quit my job?”

“Yes, you work for me now.” He says it so matter-of-factly, and my heart drops at his words.

Nodding uneasily, I lift the glass of amber liquid to my mouth and take several long gulps. “Okay,” I say, covering my mouth until I’m sure I won’t projectile vomit at him.

It’s what I offered, but somehow hearing him accept feels scarier.

“You won’t be paid, not in the traditional sense, anyway,” he tells me. “Everything you and Lily need will be provided for you. If you want something in particular, you’ll ask me for it. You can choose to think of yourself as a prisoner, or you can make the best of it and put a more positive spin on things. Up to you.”

I blink, but all I can focus on is what he isn’t saying.

“And what’s the nature of this work I’ll be doing?”

“Anything I need you to do, anything I want. If I tell you to make me a steak dinner at 3am, you ask how I’d like it cooked. If I tell you I want to fuck you, you spread your legs. My wish is your command.”

I fight down the surge of humiliation, but my earlobes burn—a telltale sign. Nodding, I swallow the lump in my throat. “You tell me to whore myself out to someone, I ask you which someone?”

Frowning slightly, he says, “No. Well, if I asked, I suppose, but I won’t; I don’t share what’s mine.”

I’m not exactly thrilled at the prospect of doing anything for him now, let alone spreading my legs, but I’m above all else pragmatic. Even if this doesn’t feel like a victory, it is. My daughter and I are both safe, and that’s what matters.

If I have to spread my legs for the monster who would’ve killed her tonight, so be it. At least it’s an exclusive deal.

Taking another sip, he places his glass down and leans back, lacing his hands together across his torso. “We have another maid, Maria. She’ll show you the way of things tomorrow.”

Brow furrowing in confusion, I ask, “Wait, a maid? I’m just…I’m going to be a maid? I don’t have to do anything bad?”

A slow smirk tugs at his mouth. “Depends on your definition of bad.”

Sinking back into the chair, I breathe a sigh of nearly overwhelming relief.

Mateo cocks his head curiously. “You thought I needed you to bust some kneecaps or what?”

“Well, I didn’t think you were hard up for domestic help,” I say honestly, shrugging a shoulder. “I was picturing… I don’t know, seducing a senator and slipping a knife between his ribs during sex or something.”

Mateo snorts, bringing a closed fist against his mouth, his brown eyes dancing with mirth as he gazes at me from the other side of his desk.

I feel a little silly, but definitely not enough warmth to share in his amusement.

“I mean, I don’t think I need to take out any senators just yet, but if that changes, you’ll be the first to know,” he adds.

Ignoring his joke, I voice my greatest concern. “Is it safe for Lily to be here?”

Sobering, his expression turns more solemn. “As long as her mother doesn’t try anything stupid, yes.” Then, leaning forward on his arms, he meets my eyes. “Do not mistake my mercy tonight for tolerance. I promise you that if you even think of betraying me again, if you even begin to hatch some foolish, pseudo-heroic escape plan, I will not think twice about snuffing you out.”

I feel cold all over. Shrinking into myself, I say lowly, “I thought I wasn’t a prisoner; why do I need to escape?”

“You’re only a prisoner if you choose to be,” he maintains. “I can’t promise I’ll be nice to you. You did try to kill me, after all. You won’t be permitted to leave the premises without permission and an escort.”

Right. So obviously not a prisoner, just a really untrustworthy guest.

Left with no other choice, I nod my head. He’s wrung all my energy from me, and all I want now is to curl up with my baby and sleep forever.

“I need diapers,” I say quietly. “Lily still sleeps in diapers. I imagine my mother probably put a fresh one on her before bed, but I can’t guarantee it.”

Nodding once, he says, “I’ll send someone to get them. What size?”

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