Title: Twenty-One (21)
Author: Clarissa Wild
Publication Date: October 7th, 2015
Genre: Dark Romance (18+)
On her 21st birthday she’s taken. Collected by a rich family as an unpaid debt. Her body sold. Her mind his. 21 weeks
For 21 weeks she carried a burden no girl should ever have to carry. Now she loses her freedom to a man born to destroy her. 21 days
His name: Angel DeLuca. His mission: to break her in 21 days before she sees through his lies. But she won’t give up without a fight. 21 minutes
It takes only 21 minutes for their lives to be forever entwined. 21 seconds
21 seconds to spill. Time is running out.
Secrets ruin them … but not all truths are worth the price. This is a STANDALONE Dark Romance novel.
WARNING: contains explicit situations, dubious consent, graphic violence, drug abuse, and other disturbing content.
(Copyright 2015 Clarissa Wild. Unedited. Subject to change.)
A never-ending darkness shrouds me, the surrounding void like space, swallowing me whole. Eyes open or eyes shut, it doesn’t make a difference to the vast emptiness around me. It seeps into my bones like poison, clouding my mind from the memories that I had.
Where am I?
My body feels cold, and my limbs solid, like they’re not mine. I notice myself breathing, however. The only thing I hear is the steady, rhythmic beating of my heart. The only sound in this dark hole. Thud, thud … thud.
For a moment I doubt my own existence.
Who am I, even?
A drop of water falling onto a surface pulls me back into reality. I’m here, but how?
My fingers tighten and relax in an attempt to regain control. My muscles feel stiff, but slowly the sensation is returning to the tips of my fingers, giving me a small bit of hope that I might find out what happened to me.
With slow movements, I let my hand slide only a few inches, but it’s enough to determine that I’m lying on a concrete floor. My head begins to hurt and every passing second the pain increases. I move my fingers to my head and touch the back of my scalp. The searing pain stops me and tells me I’m wounded.
When I touch my face I gasp. There is a bag over my head with a hole near my mouth and nose through which I can breathe. For a second, I contemplate removing it, but then I realize they might be watching me.
A buzz moves through my body, bringing life back to my limbs. And even though I’m regaining my sense of touch, my vision is still impaired. However, my eyes feel fine as I touch them, so it must be the lack of light.
I push my elbows underneath me and lean up. A sudden queasiness overtakes me, causing me to buckle and heave. I puke on the floor beside me, which surprises me, because I hardly ever puke.
I tally up the sensations that I’m feeling. Nausea, loss of motor skills, buzzing nerves, botched memory … it all leads to one conclusion: I was drugged.
Stabilizing myself on the floor, I focus on regaining control over my body before moving again. This place is unfamiliar to me, and I dig into my mind to find clues as to how I ended up here. The pain that’s slowly creeping to the surface of my skin distracts me, but I still manage to catch a glimpse of a memory in the back of my mind.
Men with black masks and fire weapons dragging me out of a room. A cloth with a sharp odor pushed against my mouth. Drowsiness engulfing me. A big SUV, also black, doors sliding to the side. A blow to the back of my head. All lights went out.
My skin pricks with anxiety, and I shiver to shake off the fear. It doesn’t help, because I know deep down that there is more to come.
There is one question in my mind that can’t help but repeat itself. Why me?
This is the single question every victim of abduction asks.
Except, I already know the answer.
It was only a matter of time before they came for me.
My papa once told me that goodness always comes at a price. Now more than ever, do I realize the truth in his words. However, I don’t regret making the decision for even a second.
Now, I’m here in a darkness so deep it consumes me whole.
And still the light of rebellion sparks inside my heart, fueling a fire I haven’t felt before. An uncontrollable need to defy whoever is keeping me here.
But I will wait. Lying in the cold, harsh, emptiness of this space, I will await my captor’s arrival and take whatever he’s going to give me. Punishment. Pain. I’ll endure it all.
Because that’s what a good person does when they’ve made their choice.
They bear the burden of their choice, because it’s the only thing they can do.
I don’t know how many hours pass before a noise wakes me. I can’t remember when and how I fell asleep, but I must’ve been very tired from the ordeal. A metallic door is slid open, a crack of light splitting through the opening. The burlap bag over my head makes it difficult to see, but when I narrow my eyes and focus I can still determine where I am.
Only now do I see how small my cell really is.
The vast emptiness I thought would overwhelm me, turns out to be not much more than a bedroom-sized cell. A quick look at the walls reveals iron rings of all shapes and sizes, used to hook a chain around and snare whoever needs to be contained and subdued.
In other words; me.
Squinting, I watch as a man steps inside, and I focus solely on his presence. Even though the door is open, and freedom is luring me on the other side, I stay put and watch. No matter how much I’d try, I’d never be able to flee. Not like this, with my muscles weak and my body aching. There are probably a bunch of guards waiting outside, wondering whether I’m going to try anything.
So I won’t. I’ll sit right here on this cold, hard concrete, observing my captor as he walks into the room with a certain aloofness. His feet are bold, his body brawny, his face hiding behind a Guy Fawkes mask. If I weren’t so scared, I would’ve pondered why he chose that specific mask to conceal his identity, but now is not that time.
His footsteps sound more like sand scraping off a harsh surface as he circles around me like a snake ready to attack its prey. The door is left open like a silent seducer, a tool to entice me to run. I look up at my captor, giving him a deadly stare, and even though I can’t see him, I know he can feel the determination in me.
I won’t let myself be tempted to flee like a wounded deer.
Not when I know that this is merely a distraction, like a lollypop being dangled in front of a child while the adult knows full well he’s never going to give it to the child, and the child knows he can never reach far enough to grasp it.
I refuse to be that child.
My captor walks some more, and then returns to the door to close it.
His experiment failed.
I control my emotions.
He doesn’t know who he’s up against.
In the darkness I hear him come closer, the only sound being his steady breath and soft steps. He’s still testing me. Seeing if I’ll give in to the fear. Alone with him, the predator, in a cage filled with blackness. But I’m not afraid of the dark.
My soul has already been tainted and defiled. Nothing he does can hurt me. I already went past the breaking point once … and I survived.
The sound of his voice suddenly breaking through the façade makes me take in a breath. It’s familiar and yet so unknown, the way he speaks to me with full authority, resoluteness resounding in every spoken letter, even if there are few.
I crawl up from the ground, slowly, steadily, maintaining my posture. My aching back and pounding head won’t stop me from attempting to keep my dignity as I stand up straight and stare ahead.
My captor’s steps are everywhere, resounding in the darkness like echoes that disappear into the night. He’s confusing me, and I try not to concentrate on the sound, but on my own heartbeat instead.
Suddenly, he’s right in front of me, and the air is sucked out of my lungs. I struggle not to let my breath come out in short gasps, but I won’t let his tactics work on me.
His breathing sounds like that of a bull, short and loud, as if he’s readying for charge.
But he doesn’t move. He just stands there, gazing at me.
“Do you know where you are?” he asks with a low, gruff voice that brings goose bumps to my body.
I compose myself before I answer. “No.”
I can hear a faint smile behind that word, but the second my eyebrows move, he puts his hands on my chest and shoves me. I fall down backwards on the hard floor, bruising my groin.
After a while, he says. “Do you know why you’re here?”
I don’t answer. I refuse to. Why would I? He is only here to intimidate and hurt me. There’s no benefit for me in answering his questions. As a matter of fact, I think he owes me some answers instead.
“Why am I here?” I ask.
He’s silent for a few seconds, and then a smug laugh is dulled by the mask.
“Bold. I like that.”
“Who are you?” I ask, putting emphasis on every word as if they’re the last that’ll come from my mouth.
He muffles another laugh. “Who am I? I am the man who will break you.”
I shake my head, still lying on the floor as if I’m taunting him. Maybe I am. I want him to speak, and for that to happen, I have to be the one asking the questions, not the other way around.
“Where am I?”
“Where you belong,” he growls, and then he takes a step forward, grabs my arm, and pulls me up from the floor.
Smack. His hand hits my cheek, silencing me.
“You do not talk unless spoken to.”
My head is still to the right, as I refuse to look at him. I will not bow to his violence. If he hits me, my body will remain rigid, unmoving. Not an inch of pain will exude from me.
“You may be wondering why you’re here, but you’re forgetting the most important question. What have you done to be here?”
My lip quivers, so I force it to stop. I can’t show weakness. Not now, not ever.
He grabs my chin. “You don’t seem to remember, so let me refresh your memory,” he says. “You stole something. It’s time to give it back. You have twenty-one days to come up with an answer.” He pulls me closer with a pinch. “Lie and I’ll know. Do you understand?”
I nod while blankly staring at his mask. If I’m to obey to survive, I’ll do just that, but no one can take away my pride.
He let’s go of my chin and pushes me away. “It’s time for you to pay back what you owe.”
Fear ripples through my veins. “Pay what back?” I say, taking a step forward.
He shoves me so hard my back hits the wall and the air is ripped from my chest. I sink to my knees against it.
“Don’t think I will go easy on you. Just because I know about you, doesn’t mean I won’t rip you apart if you don’t tell me the truth.”
“What truth?” I gasp. “What do you know about me?”
He turns around, but waits, standing still in the darkness with only the sound of ragged breaths filling the room.
“You tell me,” he says, his voice softer than before, almost as if he himself doesn’t know the reason.
Frowning, I look up at him, and for some reason the way he cracks his knuckles feels so familiar.
But then the feeling immediately disappears as he starts walking toward the door.
“Wait, you haven’t told me why I’m here yet. How am I supposed to know what to tell you?”
I can hear him knock on the door. Then there’s a pause. “Oh … you’ll now soon enough.”
The forewarning brings chills to my skin.
The door opens with a squeak and in comes the blinding light again. It’s so bright, my captor’s clothes almost look pale as snow. But then I realize that’s only because I haven’t seen light in such a long time … and I won’t be seeing it any time soon.
The last words he speaks remain with me for the rest of the day, echoing in my mind over and over again. “Welcome to your own personal hell.”
Clarissa Wild is a New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author, best known for the dark Romance novel Mr. X. Her novels include the Fierce Series, the Delirious Series, and Stalker. She is also a writer of erotic romance such as the Blissful Series, The Billionaire's Bet series, and the Enflamed Series. She is an avid reader and writer of sexy stories about hot men and feisty women. Her other loves include her furry cat friend and learning about different cultures. In her free time she enjoys watching all sorts of movies, reading tons of books and cooking her favorite meals.