By the time they opened the back of the van to lift me out, my legs were shaking, sweat was running down my back, and it felt like an oppressive oven even though it was evening and cool outside. My heart thumped in my chest, and my fingers were curled into a fist so tight that my nails dug into my palms. My rapid breathing sounded like I were underwater as they hauled me out of the van and into a standing position.
Dad’s warning ran through my mind: Run, if they catch you, they will kill you or do horrible things to you.
I started shaking in the cool air.
Somebody removed the sack from my head. It was night, and I had no idea where I was.
“Take it easy,” Hastings said wrapping his arms around me. It’s not like I had a choice but to let him do it — tied up, hyperventilating, dizzy and disoriented — no, I had no choice. One of his companions undid the rope around my legs. “You might be the one,” Hastings said.
“One what?” I whispered looking around in the dark. “Why have you done this?” I didn’t want to hear his answer, but I knew that I needed to hear his answer. It was the only way I could begin to process what just happened. He killed my parents, and part of me wanted to scream in agony from the loss. What had they done to him, besides being good parents? Was I the cause of their death, just for being what I was? That was no explanation, but I was shackled by fear, and it was slowly twisting a knife inside me.
Hastings Smith smiled down at me; he put his arm on my shoulder which made me want to puke on his gold and black shoes. I wish I’d been able to get up the gall. But while my guts churned, they weren’t up to rebelling yet. I waited for his explanation, one which I realized would do little to settle me. No matter how much this man smiled, he was a cold-blooded killer, but at least if he had a plan in mind, I wouldn’t die as quickly.
I felt more hope than when I was in the van.
“It’s a long story, one that I will share with you once we’re inside and warm.” He signaled one of his cohorts who hustled me away into a dark, dank corridor, past an ancient-looking, wooden door.
I complied as best I could, stumbling in the gloom. The man who was half-dragging, half-carrying me appeared to have done this before, because he didn’t miss a step navigating the dim corridor. We came to a door, which opened into a warm albeit antique-looking kitchen. All of the modern conveniences were installed, but it was old-looking, and quite the opposite of how I was used to living. I never thought I’d long for my mom’s marble kitchen island. One thinks of the stupidest things when terrified.
The floor was equally old, bearing the characteristic hues of American walnut, dull, but in a way more beautiful than any modern, engineered product could be. What little I saw of the outside was equally ancient and looked as if it had seen many winters and hurricane storm seasons. I hadn’t seen that much of it, and I knew my critique was only there to keep my panic at bay.
The man led me to a chair at a round table. Formica top, it had been a long, long time since I had seen one. My mind scrambled away from the present situation to a memory of a fishing trip me and Dad took when I was young. It was early morning, and the sun was hovering below the horizon. We stopped at a diner near our fishing spot and enjoyed what my Dad called a heart attack on a plate: eggs, sausage, grits with lots of butter, salt and pepper, and wheat toast. The wheat toast was a nod to healthy eating as nothing much else on the plate qualified. It was all served on plastic plates with plastic cutlery. Not a fine dining situation, but some of the best food I’d experienced to date.
I must have been about eight, maybe nine years old. My dad started talking to me about what it meant to be an omega. He had talked about the wonders of finding an alpha and how it would be once that happened. You will love that person more than you love life itself, he had said. His words held magic for me. Omega’s dream of finding a mate, and I was no different.
Now, in this dark, evil place I wondered if I would live long enough to experience that bliss, to feel my mate wrap me in his warm, loving embrace. I wondered if I would survive the night, and if my dream of earlier was less a whimsy and more a premonition of something I would never attain.
Hastings Smith strode into the kitchen, ordering his partner to start the kettle. He sat in another chair opposite me. “So, you want to know why I brought you here, right Landon?”
I shook my head. “No, Mr. Smith, I actually want to know why you killed my family.” I realized that I sounded confrontational, but Smith’s smile only widened.
“You have spunk. I like that,” his voice was calm, controlled. “Call me, Hastings, for now.”
“Okay, so what’s the deal. You drag me out to god knows where, and now you’re giving me tea and conversation like I came voluntarily.”
“Yes, I suppose I should tell you something. To begin, I needed you unencumbered by family. The easiest and most effective way to accomplish that was to terminate them, which I have done. Now that we’re here, I can tell you why. I suppose you deserve that much.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. He had delivered the statements like we were at afternoon tea. All we needed were the biscuits and doilies. I said nothing, just looked at him.
“I need to find out if you’re my soulmate.”
I almost laughed, but stifled it because I liked my life. “Soulmate?” Who even believed in soulmates anymore?
“Well, that’s to be determined. If you are my soulmate, you will live a privileged, wonderful life where you will want for nothing. That’s how my first soulmate lived.”
“Your first soulmate?” This alpha really was nuts. Best to tread carefully. “You already had one soulmate, and you think you’ve got another one?”
“He died,” His eyes misted, and I thought he was going to cry. He shook himself, took a deep breath and the dead, shark eyes returned. “I am entitled to a second omega soulmate, no matter how many I must sort through in order to find him.”
I had never heard of second soulmates. Soulmates at all were rare. Modern science wasn’t even really sure if they existed, or if it was just an expression of a strong hormonal connection combined with latent psychic ability. I doubted Mr. Hastings Smith had any psychic abilities. He was a killer. That put out empathy or telepathy or any of the thinking and emotion powers.
“Are you listening, boy?” Hastings asked, nailing me with his gaze. In fact, I hadn’t been listening. My mind was still swirling with the idea that I was being considered for a replacement ‘soulmate’ for a serial killer.
“I have never heard of a finding a second soulmate if the first one died,” I ventured.
There was a pause in the conversation as I watched Hastings’ face go from placid to confused to angry. I pushed back from the table, from his rising anger, but it was too late. He grabbed me by the collar pulling me close to his face.
“I have the right,” he screamed, “to a second soulmate!” He pulled me up, over the table and off my feet. China cups fell from the table and shattered. My face was about three inches from his and in my terror, I held onto one clear thought for dear life.
Your breath stinks.
His breath was truly foul. I knew it was just my mind’s way of coping with near death, but he really did need to get some mints, gum, something . . .
“Don’t tell me I can’t,” Hastings was screaming stench in my face. “If you tell me I can’t have one, things could get ugly. You don’t want things to get ugly, do you?”
“No, no, no. You misunderstood me.” First rule of staying alive: never argue with a madman. “I just hadn’t heard of it. I’m only twenty-two; I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff I don’t know yet.”
Hastings lowered me to the ground. My knees buckled under my weight. I struggled to stand. My guts cramped. I shouldn’t have let myself get lulled in by his placid demeanor. This guy was a killer. And psycho.
“I’m sorry.” My voice cracked as I spoke. Good. Better to be cowed, for now. It didn’t hurt that I was scared practically pissless.
“It’s alright, Landon,” he said. “I got a little upset, that’s all. Didn’t scare you much, did I?”
“No, not much,” I replied. It was a lie, but luckily he was too wrapped up in his own delusion to notice. What a difference a few hours made. Yesterday, I was reading college brochures. After three years of part-time community college, I’d been prepared to go to university. A new, bright future. Now I was destined for the grave if I couldn’t stay careful.
“We will spend the evening together getting to know each other. I have a number of tests to perform on you, nothing dangerous. We will have dinner first.” He pointed at the guy standing in the corner. “This is Vince, my oldest son. He will be at your beck and call as we proceed.”
Hastings Smith had kids. Of course he had kids. It seemed like a crime, but Vince didn’t look like a victim. His eyes were as cold as his father’s.
Then there was the thing about tests. What tests? I wasn’t going to ask Mr. Smith. If that was even his name. Smith was the sort of name you gave an unidentified corpse. Or took for yourself if you were a spy. Reassuring. Not.
“While dinner is being prepared, Vince will get you ready.” Mr. Smith was back to playing the amiable host and benefactor. I knew it was just an act, and gave him my best false smile in return, like I was a tourist taking pictures in a foreign country with no idea how to speak the language or what the tour guide was trying to tell me. All I needed was an expensive camera, and maybe I could bash Hastings in the head and then run like hell.”
Vince took my arm. “Yes, Father,” he said, pulling me away from the table, away from the madman. It was the first time I heard him speak; I just assumed he was a sub-maniac with no voice, ever-ready to carry out any and all requests of his boss, nee father.
Vince pulled me towards the main part of the house. I wish I could give a detailed critique of it, but since I was being pulled off to spend the night with a killer who was going to perform tests on me, I wasn’t paying attention. Weird for me. I know.
“Up these steps,” Vince ordered. “I will introduce you to the people who will prepare you for dinner and your tests.”
“Prepare me?” I know I sounded like a parrot, but I felt like a scared bird in a grisly cage.
“Yes,” Vince led me down a corridor that reminded me of some old Victorian horror movie set where vampires lived in the basement, and Bela Lugosi held sway over all who came within his realm. All it lacked was the cobwebs and dust. “You must be shaved and cleaned before you meet, Sir.”
“Si-Sir?” We came to a door, old wood — no cobwebs. Vince knocked twice and then opened it inward to reveal a spacious room with a huge, four poster bed in the center. My gaze drifted to the two boys standing silently, eyes downcast. Minions? More of his kids? I looked away briefly as my stomach clenched, a wave of dizziness making me stumble. Terror, terror, go away. Come and see me another damned day. The two minions hurried to steady me.
“I am Shane and this is Ethan, Vince’s brothers. We will see to all your needs and get you ready.” They looked like twins and nothing like Vince, each adorned with unruly blond hair, blue eyes like the sea, crystal clear and shimmering, and a feather duster of freckles on their fair skin. Vince was dark haired with swarthy skin and dark eyes. How were these fair-haired boys related to him? Maybe they took after their mother? Not that it mattered. They wouldn’t stop Hastings from killing me, no matter what they looked like.
“Yes, use either Sir or Master,” Vince continued ignoring the two younger men standing to his left. “Do not call him Hastings unless he asks you to like he did downstairs. Otherwise, you must call him Sir or Master.” Vince looked at one of the minions who opened another door that lead to the bathroom. The tub was full of steamy, soapy water with a smell of lavender rising from the foam.
Lavender? Who was this guy, an English lord? In his natural habitat, Hastings might just flounce over to me, and cut my throat this evening. A flouncing Hastings was an image I could live without, much the same as a large man in his tidy whites chasing me around the bed was another image that once imagined was hard to shake . . . Like fungus.
Hastings Smith, in my opinion, was butt-ugly, and I’d have thought that before he killed my family, kidnapped me and dragged me to his horror house. Large, muscular to a fault with foul-breath, a wan countenance, stupid mustache from the 1900s and hair overly long and stringy, pulled back into a pony tail along the lines of a reject Grand Ole Opry singer, not as old as Willie Nelson, but old enough to appear grizzled. Of course, his worst feature was the fact that he killed without compunction and crazy as a bedbug.
Snap. I was drawn out of my reverie by the snap looking at Vince bewildered, until the two minions responded by stripping me of my clothes.
“You will need to be clean and shaved for this evening,” Vince was saying, as his minions helped me to the bath. They lifted me gently and placed me in the tub, both taking soft washcloths starting to wash me.
“I can do this myself,” I said to the minion who continued to lather me with lavender soap. The water was just the right temperature, and if I hadn’t been in the position where I might die shortly, I could’ve enjoy myself. Instead, all the hot water sloshing, and men washing me, was countered by the dread settled in the pit of my stomach like a bad stomach flu.
“You must let us clean you correctly,” Vince was saying. Every inch of you must be prepared.”
I was beginning to feel like a pig going on a spit. The only thing missing was the stick up my ass and an apple in my mouth. “What is going to happen after I’m prepared?” Again, my voice cracked.
“Master will test you, and if he likes you, he will test you again,” Vince replied.
“You mean he will rape me,” I said. The minions slowed for a moment, then resumed washing. They had moved to my lower regions, which was incredibly embarrassing with the second humiliation coming when my penis began to respond to their ministrations.
“He is not going to rape you. When I say, tests, I mean like doctor’s tests,” Vince said, resting his hand on my shoulder. “If you pass his first round of tests, you will have a day or two to recuperate and get ready for the next round.”
I looked at him stupefied. Was he serious? Tests? Like that Nazi doctor. Just a few tests, and they won’t hurt a bit. After which he proceeds to cut out half your stomach to see if you survive.
Rape sounded like the lesser of two evils.
The minions were working on my feet, and Vince continued talking in that soft, sing-song voice people use when they want to deliver horrific news. It was more about tests and expectations for my behavior, whatever that meant.
All I heard was: “You, Landon, are condemned to be tortured, raped and murdered. You will be confined to a 6×9 cell with a large bathtub until the time of your execution. Relax and enjoy your last minutes on earth.”