“You got lost?” Mercer scoffed and advanced on me, liquid sloshing over the edge of his glass and onto the gleaming wooden floor. “What were you looking for, girl?”
Any trace of the friendly man who had insisted I stay with him and his wife was gone. Instead his eyes were bloodshot and his mouth curled into a snarl, and he grabbed my shoulder.
“You don’t want to talk? Fine. I enjoy a challenge.”
With his nails digging into my skin, he dragged me past Knox and into the foyer. At first I thought he was going to throw me out the front door and into the frozen night, but instead he pushed me deeper into the manor.
“Knox!” I cried. “Knox, please—”
“Jonathan,” said Knox, his voice tinged with annoyance, like this was nothing more than a moderate inconvenience to him. “She said she was lost. Nothing in your office is disturbed—”
“I brought her here as a favor to you,” said Mercer. “You swore you’d keep an eye on her, and here we are. Are you in on this, too, Creed?”
Knox sighed and set his glass aside. “I was down here with you.”
“Distracting me, making sure I didn’t come in here and find her.”
“Convenient, considering you’re the one who asked me to have a drink in the first place.”
Mercer’s grip on my shoulder tightened, and my knees buckled as pain shot through me. “Think it’s time you took your leave. I’ll have a driver escort you to the perimeter as soon as I’m through with this one.”
“Don’t bother. I know the way.” Knox glanced at me, and for a moment I thought I saw a flash of pity in his eyes. Terrific. “I hope you’re right about this, Mercer, because you will pay dearly for stealing my property for your own enjoyment.”
His property? I sputtered, but before I could form intelligible words, Mercer interrupted. “You’ll have your pick next time you come. This one’s defective anyway.”
Knox said nothing to counter him. Instead he turned and headed up the grand staircase, not bothering to spare me one last look.
And then I was really alone.
“Need two in the workshop,” muttered Mercer into a communication device, and he opened a door I hadn’t noticed before. A narrow staircase descended into darkness, and he shoved me inside. I stumbled down the steps, losing my balance halfway there and pitching forward the rest of the way.
I hit the concrete floor with a crack, and my shoulder exploded in pain. I scrambled to my feet as quickly as I could, but Mercer was already there, grabbing my uninjured arm and yanking me forward.
“I invite you into my home, feed you my food, let you sleep in a warm bed, and this is how you repay me?” He flipped a switch, and yellow light filled the room, revealing walls lined with rack after rack of gleaming metal objects. Some I could name—knives, saws, screwdrivers—but others looked like they were relics from some ancient time.
That wasn’t the worst part, though. Three metal tables large enough to hold a full-grown adult stood evenly spaced from the center of the room, where the stained concrete floor slanted toward a drain. I’d seen enough dried blood to know it when I saw it, and panic joined the pain pulsing through me.
We stood in a literal torture chamber.
“The workshop,” said Mercer proudly. He dragged me toward the nearest table, which gleamed in the low light. “Last chance, little girl. Tell me the truth, or you’ll turn this into a night to remember for both of us.”
Footsteps thudded down the stairs, and my insides clenched. “I told you, I was looking for the kitchen to get something to eat, and in the darkness, I got mixed up. I didn’t realize where I was until I ran into your chair. I was on my way out when you found me.”
“If you could see well enough to reach the foyer without tripping, you could see well enough to know it was my office.” Two guards spilled into the room, and Mercer barked, “Tie her to the table.”
“No—don’t—I’m telling the truth,” I said, trying to wriggle out of his grip. “It was an accident.”
“I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?” A sickening smile spread across Mercer’s face, and in that moment he reminded me so much of Daxton that, in my panic, I saw him standing there in Mercer’s place.
“Please—please,” I begged as the guards hoisted me onto the table, wrenching my shoulder so badly that white-hot agony burned through me. I screamed, but they ignored me, wrapping thick leather straps around my hands and ankles. Another burst of pain shot down my spine as they tightened the straps, rendering me immobile.
“The more you struggle, the more it’s going to hurt,” said Mercer. He stood in front of a rack filled with knives, running his hands lovingly over each handle. Without a word, the two guards disappeared, leaving us alone in that torture chamber together.
As the reality of the situation set in, my veins pumped full of adrenaline, and I began to tremble. “You don’t have to do this,” I said. “I’ll cooperate. I’ll never come here again. I’ll be the best citizen you’ve ever had—please. I’ll do anything.”
Choosing a scalpel and a pair of tongs from his collection, he then turned to face me. “What I want you to do right now is tell me which you value more—your teeth or your toes?”
“Jonathan,” said a voice from the staircase. Hannah. “You need to see this.”