Home > Dollars (Dollar #2)(17)

Dollars (Dollar #2)(17)
Author: Pepper Winters

Every snippet of interaction layered me with fearful hesitation. I couldn’t stop worrying as I’d wriggled from the cotton nightgown. Up until now, I hadn’t attempted to shed the gown even though the itch to fling it far away grew more intolerable every hour. I didn’t because Dr. Michaels expected a woman who needed to cover up after her ordeal. To camouflage her scars and pretend it never happened.

The opposite was true.

Nakedness had been used as a weapon against me. To strip me bare; to teach me I had nothing of my own—no value but the skin I lived in. My body was the only thing I would ever call mine, but in that simplicity I found power. I never had to suffer ropes or chains made out of silk or velvet. Never had to suffocate in elastic or zippers.

I was free.

As the muggy air licked my skin and the warm bubbles of the bath crept up my legs as I gingerly lowered myself into it, I found some sense of normalcy after so much strangeness.

I wished Elder had told me at lunch what he expected. Was it sex? Entertaining his friends? What would he make me do to pay back the delicious meals, vanilla-scented bed sheets, and pretty maids bustling around keeping my room—the room he’d given me—clean.

“Breakfast is on the table.” The girl brushed aside a sable curl that’d stuck to her pink cheek. “Porridge with brown sugar, I believe.”

I’d never had porridge in my life. The thought of opening my aching mouth and inserting food for my mangled tongue to push and swallow was too much.

I was hungry but not hungry enough to activate more pain.

Especially for porridge.

However, the maid didn’t need to know that. I smiled. I didn’t nod as that would be overstepping my communication guidelines, but I ensured she understood I was grateful.

She moved toward the door. “By the way, your wardrobe has a few sundresses and other nightgowns inside. Once we dock, I’m sure Mr. Prest will send one of his assistants to buy you more if you wish.”

One of his assistants?

How many does he have?

My gaze travelled to the walk-in wardrobe that I hadn’t ventured into. I smiled again, knowing full well I wouldn’t wear any of the given items while I was alone in this suite. If I explored the ship like Elder said I could, then perhaps I would cover myself for the sake of his staff, but the moment I was alone…

I might’ve killed Alrik, but he’d killed any reminder of the girl I’d been before I was his.

Hoisting her armful of laundry, the girl grinned. “You’ll like living on the Phantom. It’s amazing to wake up every day to a new view, new ocean, new port.” Cocking her chin at the unenticing breakfast, she added, “He told me to warn you to eat. The doctor, too. He sent some more painkillers; I put them in the drawer beside your bed.”

My arms ached from clutching the sheet. The mention of a new view had impatience siphoning in my blood for the girl to leave. I wanted to look out the window and see.

Silence fell; the maid coughed self-consciously. “Is there anything you need before I go?”

A question.

Those, I couldn’t answer.

However, despite myself, my chin moved left and right ever so slightly.

What the hell are you doing?

Already the steely resolve to remain mute was fading. Was I truly so weak that a few hours of unmolested sleep and a kind face had me abandoning my crutches so fast?

She beamed. “Okay, great. See you tomorrow morning!” She bustled out, leaving me in comforting silence and the freedom to kick off the covers and stride naked onto the balcony.

After living in an air-conditioned mansion for so long, the muggy heat was an aphrodisiac on my skin. I wasn’t cold. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t hurting from a fresh punch or kick.

The sensation was far too foreign and earned yet another lick of terror for what I would have to do to deserve such luxury.

Looping my fingers on the metal balustrade, I let the wind be my dress and the sun my shawl. The view of lolling swells and the occasional sequin of light glinting off the epic blueness granted my first unforced smile in years.

Payment for this would be astronomical.

But I might as well enjoy it before that day came.

* * * * *

Nine hours I was given.

Nine hours where I relaxed in my room, dozed in the sun, wrote a quick note to No One before tossing it into the swiftly passing sea, and did my best to ignore the swollen tongue pounding inside my mouth.

My other injuries took a backseat, barely noticeable after living so long with such agony. Even my broken hand didn’t bother me now it’d been properly strapped. I’d often wondered if I’d grown so used to pain that I would miss it. That if a time came when I had no black and blue contusions, I would no longer feel real.

I couldn’t remember a time when agony didn’t hunker inside like a gremlin ready to attack. Would Elder let me experience such a phenomenon or was he merely curing me of Alrik’s misdeeds so he could inflict his own?

The sun had set in a blaze of orange glory, setting fire to the ocean in a patchwork of golds and apricots just as a female staff member dressed in a smart navy dress entered my room.

It didn’t escape my notice the door had no lock and the staff attending to me were all women. Was that for Elder’s benefit or mine? Her gaze landed on my naked breasts where I sat curled up on a chair three times the size of me looking out to sea.

This suite was the epitome of luxury, yet there was no television, no laptop or key to the outside world.

Just the view.

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