“It’s done,” he said.
“Fuck you,” she spat.
Anger surged and flared on the heels of his guilt. He had promised her, but not in the way she proposed. “I mean to teach you how to survive this. I have always intended to arm you with what you’ll need. In that way, yes,” he hissed. “I’ll keep my promise. But I’ve made other promises as well – to someone who has earned my loyalty.”
“Am I supposed to earn your loyalty, Caleb?” She sneered at him. “Why? What about my loyalty? What have you done to earn that?” Caleb clenched his jaw. “You’re worse than those bikers,” she spat, her body tense and coiling, ready to attack. “At least they knew they were monsters. You’re pathetic! You’re a monster who imagines he’s something else.”
Heat surged up Caleb’s spine and radiated down toward his fingers. He held the steering wheel in a white-knuckled grip. His first instinct was to hit her, to release the wheel, and slap her across the face, but what would it prove? Only that she was right, which of course, she was. Only a monster could do the things he’d done. Only a monster would have the instincts he had, and only a monster would feel indifferent to his nature, or try to rationalize it.
“I know what I am,” he said, calmly. “I’ve always known.”
He gave her a quick up and down look. She slouched back in her seat, as though his gaze were venom.
“It’s you, who thinks otherwise,” Caleb said. He watched Kitten flinch. His words apparently hurt her feelings, but they were the truth. The truth stung them both. She had seen him as something else, something she deemed better. For a little while, he’d shared her imagination. He had never realized how much it meant to him, until it was no longer true. No one had ever seen him as someone capable of being more and he had just hurt the one person who did.
It was just as well. He wanted to return to the time before he had ever known she existed, a time when his life was black and white, and the gray didn’t matter. He ached for the simplicity of his life, free of moral quandaries, guilt, shame, overbearing lust, and the worst sin of all, longing. He wanted to go to bed at night and know exactly what to expect when he woke up. He wanted Kitten out of his life and out of his head.
The space inside the vehicle was silent, but loud and clear. Caleb was glad to stare out of the windshield as stretches of road disappeared under them, taking them thousands of kilometers from that shower, their confessions, and all the possibilities of what might have been between them.
After a while, they finally ventured onto paved city roads. Civilization surrounded them. Caleb didn’t miss the way Kitten sat up straighter in her seat, her head turned to view everything passing her window. She raised her uninjured arm and pressed her palm to the window.
Caleb swallowed and ignored her, eyes front.
The sun was shining brightly, burning off what was left of the morning chill. Caleb reached for the air conditioner and set it low. He would roll down the windows when there weren’t quite so many people around to hear Kitten’s impassioned pleas for help. He had to get rid of the vehicle as well, just in case the doctor didn’t keep his word and the Federales were already looking for them. He had a few hundred U.S. dollars on him, and a few hundred pesos, courtesy of the doc. It wasn’t enough to bribe a cop, but plenty for your average trouble maker. Regardless, the sooner they arrived in Tuxtepec, the better. Caleb pulled into a roundabout and took the exit leading toward Chihuahua. He’d have to stop and get everything he needed near the city.
“I can’t change your mind, can I?” The soft spoken words pulled Caleb back into the car. He didn’t want to do this anymore. He didn’t want to talk. “This is all really happening. Isn’t it? And you’re going to let it happen…aren’t you?”
“Try and go to sleep, Kitten.” His voice was detached, wooden. “We have a long way to go.”
She wouldn’t relent, though her manner was casual and airy, as though she were only speaking aloud, not expecting an answer, “I admit…at first I thought…” she shrugged. “I thought you really were my ‘knight in shining armor’. Stupid, I know.”
Her ironic sadness, as she repeated Caleb’s words tried to make him feel guilt. Instead, he worked to ignore her. He didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of badgering him into an argument.
“I was so shocked when I saw you again. Shocked to discover…I thought you were a monster then. You terrified me. But now? Now, I don’t know how I feel about you,” she whispered.
Caleb gripped the wheel tighter with one hand and flipped on the stereo, flooding the vehicle with loud Banda music.
Kitten turned to face him, the once far-away look gone from her face and replaced by narrowed eyes and a mouth set into a stern line. She reached for the knob and switched the radio off. “So that’s your answer?”
Caleb took a deep breath and tried to control his anger, “You think you’re so fucking clever, don’t you?” He gave a mirthless, condescending laugh. “Do you honestly believe for one second I’m not aware of what you’re doing? You’re trying to make me feel guilty, trying to make me believe you have feelings for me.” She winced, her jaw clenching. “You know you’re trapped and you’re trying to find a way out. Trying to seduce me with your show of caring and sharing won’t work on me.” He scoffed when he saw the way Kitten feigned surprise and hurt. “You can drop the act. I’m not impressed. You’re attempts are laughably transparent.”
He anticipated her rage, braced for it, but he hadn’t given her enough credit. Instead of invective, Kitten attacked him with cold and resolute reason.
“You’re right, Caleb. I am trying to seduce you. I am trying to find a way out of this fucked up mess you’ve gotten me into. What else can I do? What would you do in my place?” There were no tears in her eyes, nor was there anger. There was only truth, and the truth was always more powerful. And painful, too.
Caleb knew exactly what he would do in her place, because he’d done it. There were times when he had tried to get men to help him, free him, and deliver him from Narweh’s treachery. He’d listened to the men who bought his body swear they loved him. He’d allowed himself to put stock into the endearments they whispered in his ear. But when it was over, when they’d taken all they could from him, they’d betrayed his trust to Narweh. He remembered the way his heart had broken when Narweh had used his own words to taunt him as he was beaten.
“I’m sorry I’m so bad at it. I’m sorry you find my attempts laughable, but I don’t know how to do it any better. You’re all I know. For what it’s worth, I’m not trying to make you believe anything. I’ve never lied to you. When I asked you to make love to me, it wasn’t a ploy, and it hurts like a bitch to hear you think otherwise, because –” her voice finally broke, tears bursting past her façade.
Caleb felt panic. He had no idea what to do. Her words, her presence, and her pain, affected him. He hated it. His memories, the ones he worked so hard to push deep into forgotten recesses of his mind, banged on the door of his consciousness. They connected with Livvie, they connected to her suffering, and together, they threatened to undo him.
A shuddering breath and Kitten seemed in better control of herself. She wiped at her eyes, took another breath and retreated to her side of the vehicle, her eyes once again focused on the world passing her by. Every now and again her chin trembled and she would take another breath to will her tears away.
She had more dignity than even she was aware of and Caleb decided, he would never again say otherwise. He wished he had never said it in the first place. His heart was racing, banging harshly in his chest and creating a thumping in his temples that made his head ache. His stomach was also affected, a strange kind of tingling pain churning in his gut.
He had an impulse to offer Kitten comfort, to tell her the truth: her attempts were anything but laughable. However, he knew telling her would be putting himself at an incredible disadvantage. Just acknowledging how much he wanted to comfort her was disconcerting. Still, the thought of hurting her any more than he already had, was too much – too much by far.
“Kitten, I –”
She leaned over and twisted the knob for the radio and the annoying voice of the announcer cut Caleb short. She avoided his eyes as she returned her focus to the window.
Caleb sighed in relief. He had no idea what the hell he had been about to say. The important thing for him to focus on was there would be no more talking for the moment. He wished he could say the same for the next twenty-four hours they would spend together on the road.
It had been an exhausting day. What should have been a nine hour drive had turned into twelve because Caleb had had to stop for Kitten every so often. With her bruised ribs and collarbone, she needed to stretch frequently, so he stopped along scouted roadways. When they reached the city of Zacatecas, Caleb had breathed a weary sigh and decided he could finally stop for the night and get some much needed sleep.
Kitten had spoken very little during the drive, which proved to be a great relief to Caleb. He had traded the doctor’s luxury sedan for a sturdy, but dented farming truck, and some groceries. It would offer quite the profit for the farmer, so he asked as few questions as possible, going so far as to pointedly ignore Kitten and her bruises.
She slept most of the way. The drugs in her system seemed to numb her pain, though it left her drowsy. Caleb made sure to keep a bottle of water next to her and also, that she drank from it whenever she was awake.
Zacatecas was a full-blown city, filled with hundreds of thousands of people, many of them tourists. Caleb took great care in finding a motel for them to spend the night. Kitten had said she wouldn’t run from him again, but the look in her eyes, whenever they passed American tourists with families, spoke differently. She would run again, given half the chance. Not that he could blame her. “I need to take a shower,” Caleb said into the silence of the room. “You can either sit in the bathroom with me, or I can tie you up. Option’s yours.”
Kitten stared at him hard. “Don’t trust me?” she taunted.
“Not when you’re looking at me like that, no.”
She sat stiffly on the edge of the bed, her anger emanating off of her like a toxic fog intent on choking him. “I told you I wouldn’t run. Go take your fucking shower and leave me alone.”
Caleb closed his eyes and took a deep breath to settle him. They were back to this. Well, he thought, this was just as good a time as any to reestablish the rules between them. When he opened his eyes, a warm tingle drifted down his spine and he finally felt like himself again. His gaze fell on the girl and he smiled when she flinched.
“Get up,” he said calmly, the threat in his voice muted but still present. The girl looked at him for a moment and swallowed harshly. It was obvious her anger had quickly turned to fear.
“Caleb?” Her voice was small, meek.
“Get up. Now.”
Slowly, Kitten cast her eyes toward the floor and stood on trembling legs. In fact, her entire body trembled. Caleb, at last, felt no remorse, no pity for the girl in front of him. She was his to do with as he pleased. The thought was an aphrodisiac on its own.
“Strip,” was his command and the girl flinched though his words had been softly spoken. A whimper escaped her lips, but she didn’t hesitate to follow his command. Slowly, she reached for the waistline of the flowing skirt Caleb had selected for her to wear and pushed it down over her hips until it pooled at her feet.
She ignored the panties and slid her trembling fingers to the top button of her blouse, there were more whimpers, but Caleb ignored them. He watched, painfully aroused by the adrenaline coursing through him as she gingerly let each button slip through its hole until she reached the bottom. The fabric parted, exposing a tantalizing line of flesh between her naked breasts. She looked up at him briefly, eyes pleading.
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