God, am I just making excuses for him? I don't even know anymore.
All I do know is that when he kissed me, I was shocked and momentarily overwhelmed, but I didn't want to stop him. I only pushed him away at the end because things were moving very quickly and I knew...I knew if I let it go any further, I would have been the one pushing it even further. I sit on the edge of the bed I just slept in, staring down at my hands, not seeing them properly. Wishing I could call my dad and ask him what the hell I should do.
I know what I should do, though. Rebel said he was going to let me go this morning, and that's exactly what I should do. I should go, run for the hills and not stop running until I'm safe in my father's arms.
A knock at the door startles me from my panic. Rebel wouldn’t knock—this is his room—so it can’t be him. That leaves a number of possibilities, none of them particularly good. Carl? Rebel's dad? I don't answer. Whoever it is, I don’t want to see them.
I don’t get much choice, though. The door cracks open and a short blonde woman, maybe late twenties, stands in the doorway, a broad smile on her face. "Oh, Carl was right. You are beautiful."
I suddenly feel like I'm back at Hector's odd little house and Ramona's come to prep me all over again. I swallow down the urge to scream at her to leave. She takes two small steps into the room, wringing her hands in front of her, a nervous look on her face. "I'm sorry to bother you. I just...Rebel told me you'd had a slight misunderstanding."
"You could call it that." I laugh coldly, not sure how to take this woman. She seems anxious.
"I'm Leah," she says. "Forgive me if this is wildly inappropriate, but...are you like me? Has he brought you here to hide you?"
"Y'know. Is someone looking for you? Did they..." She struggles with her words, wrestling each one out like it causes her physical pain. "Were you taken?"
My eyes go wide. So, this woman was kidnapped too? My heart lurches, my stomach rolling, like I'm about to be violently ill. After all that crap I was just telling myself about him, Rebel is a monster. I'm not the first. He's taken women before. How utterly, terribly stupid of me to have fallen for his bullshit. "You didn’t come here of your own volition?" I ask, my voice breaking a little. She doesn’t look like she's been abused but that doesn’t mean anything. Sick men who like to hurt women find innovative ways of not getting caught. They also don’t like being faced with the ugliness of their sins. Keep their women's faces pretty, while underneath their clothes, they're black and blue.
The woman, Leah, jerks back, confusion on her face. "What? No. I was glad when he brought me here. Grateful. He kept me safe. Hector's men fed me a cocktail of drugs each morning, kept me compliant. They did...they did terrible things." Her face turns white, losing the healthy pink glow she had in her cheeks a moment a go. "Rebel came to the house where they were keeping me. He was looking for someone, a girl called Laura. I was the only girl in the house at the time and I fit her description so he demanded to see me. I could hear them arguing downstairs—they didn’t want to let him come up, but in the end they did.
"He saw me, saw that I wasn't his friend, but he paid them twenty thousand dollars to take me, anyway. He gave it to them in cash right then and there, picked me up, naked and covered in my own vomit, and he carried me out of that place. He took me back to his place. Not in New York. The other place. Said I could stay and work for him, as a cook or I could train to do tattoos, but Hector found out where I was and came for me. He was pissed that his men had let Rebel buy me, and he wanted me back. Cade and Shay hid me 'til he was gone, but by then it was pretty clear I couldn’t stay after all. So he brought me down here. I have a boyfriend now, Sam. He's sweet to me. I don’t drink. I don't smoke. I make enough money working here to pay my bills and put food in my fridge. I have a good life. I'd never have had that if he hadn’t done what he did."
"So...Rebel didn’t take you?"
"No, of course not. He saved me. He brought a few others through here after I was settled in. Found them work in the surrounding towns. Figured out new identities for them. Not anymore, though. He sends the girls he buys all over the country—Texas, Florida, Chicago. Doesn’t want his father working anything out, I guess. Where is he sending you?" she asks.
"Home," I whisper.
Leah's eyes begin to fill with tears. "Then you're one of the lucky ones," she says. "Go easy on him, okay? I know he's a jerk and you just wanna wring his neck sometimes, but his heart is in the right place. He does shitty things sometimes, but he does his best, okay?"
Leah gives me a watery smile, and then she turns around and walks out the door, tucking her hands into the small pockets of her servant's uniform. I sit there in silence, unsure how I'm supposed to react to what just happened. Completely at a loss as to how I'm meant to process the fact that Rebel is some kind of fucking hero to the woman who just walked out of here.
A cold, hard awareness dawns on me as I think this. Technically, since Rebel did buy me and whisk me away from Raphael’s evil attentions, he did the same thing for me as he did for her.
Should that make him my hero, too?
I shower in Rebel's en suite and get changed into a clean pair of jeans and a thin maroon sweater, and all the while I'm thinking about what Leah told me. Hunger motivates me to go adventuring, but it takes me a solid hour to pluck up the courage to step foot outside of Rebel's room. I'm hoping to find Carl—he was incredibly friendly last night when we arrived—but the first person I run into is Louis James Aubertin the second, pacing down the hallway with a gold capped cane in his hand. From his steady gait, he carries it for aesthetic purposes and not because he needs it. His salt-and-pepper hair has been slicked back, displaying his high forehead and prominent cheekbones. The cheekbones are the only thing he's passed onto his son. I can see nothing else of Rebel in him. His eyes are almost black, unlike Rebel's piercing blue coloring.