"I see you do close your thighs long enough to climb out of bed, then?" he says when he sees me. I want to grab that cane off him and smack him around the head with it. His eyes follow mine, glancing down at the cane in his hand. He smiles. "Oh, child, I wouldn't even bother planning on stealing this. It’s not real gold, you see. All of my household's valuables are locked away until my event this evening. I shall know who has taken any of my property should it go missing."
"What makes you think I'm planning on stealing anything that belongs to you, Louis?"
His eyes flicker, his mouth pulling down at the corners. He looks away from me, over the handrail of the banister that sweeps down the staircase below us. "Most guests address me as Governor Aubertin when they're residing in my household."
"Oh! Pardon me." I press my hand over my chest, feigning embarrassment. "You've accused me of being a whore and a thief more times than I can count this morning. I didn't think I was a guest."
Sharp, narrowed eyes fix on me. Louis pulls back his shoulders, standing with his chest proud. "You are a rude young lady."
"And you're a rude, obnoxious, likely impotent old man," I reply. "I like this game. Wanna keep playing?"
He doesn't appreciate me answering back to him. He doesn’t appreciate it one bit. If this were a cartoon, there'd be steam coming out of his ears right now. He steps forward and lifts his cane, pressing the capped end of it directly in between my breasts, right up against my sternum. "If James thinks he's bringing you to my gathering this evening, he has another thing coming. I may need him to play happy families for the sake of appearances, but I do not need you propositioning my peers."
"Oh, believe me, I won’t be attending," I snap. "You couldn’t pay me to stick around here."
A smug, unbearable smile spreads across Louis' face. "I knew it. I told him as much this morning."
"Told who what?" I growl.
"I told my son not to expect you to stick around much longer than a week. I thought maybe I'd underestimated your staying power, that maybe you'd make it to two weeks, but it seems I was wrong. You aren’t even going to last a day. How delicious." He taps his cane against the top of my arm—condescending motherfucker—and then he saunters down the stairs, leaving me with my mouth hanging open. I have to stop myself from running after him and pushing his ass down the remaining steps.
I’ve never felt so angry in all my life. It’s all-consuming, the rage pumping around my body with each solid thump of my heart. I hate it. I hate how it makes me feel so unlike myself. Jogging down the stairs, swearing profusely under my breath, I manage to find the kitchen. And I also find Rebel. He’s sitting at a kitchen island, apparently washed and changed already, and he’s eating a sandwich.
He tenses when he sees me, placing his food down on his plate and leaning back on his stool. “I was wondering how long it would take for you to come find me.”
“I haven’t come to find you. I’ve come to find food.”
He pushes his plate toward me across the marble kitchen island, his expression flat. “Help yourself, sugar.”
He probably thinks I won’t eat the other half of his sandwich, but the guy is mistaken. I accept the food, taking a decent bite out of it—cheese and pickle—before convincing myself to look him in the eye. “So I met Leah.”
“Oh, you did, did you?”
“Did you tell her to come talk to me?”
“Why would I do that?”
“To convince me you’re a good guy.”
A dangerous smile spreads across his face. “But I’m not a good guy.”
“Then why would you go around buying up women who’ve been kidnapped? Finding them safe houses? Creating new lives for them?” I have to know. My mind won’t rest until I can figure out how this side of him fits in with the rest. Rebel scowls, angling his shoulders away from me so he’s facing the large bay window—it overlooks what seems to be an extensive herb garden.
“Someone really has been talking, huh?” he says. “I helped those girls because human beings aren’t meant to be bought and sold as property. I was looking for someone. A friend. I’ve had to go to these places—the darkest fucking places on earth—trying to find her. And I’ve been in a position to help the girls that I’ve found in the process. Sue me.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
He cocks his head to one side, looking at me out of the corner of his eye. “Because you wouldn’t have believed me.”
“I might have.”
He doesn’t say anything. I keep eating the other half of his sandwich, thinking really hard. Wondering if what I’m considering is actually madness on my part. It probably is, but after him telling me he’s going to let me go, my conversation with Leah and the subsequent encounter I had with his father, I’m beginning to…oh god, I’m beginning to trust him.
“Are you going to take me to the bus station now?” I ask.
He pulls in a deep breath, bracing himself against the cool marble. “I guess so.”
And so he does. Carl brings the Humvee around, and Rebel drives me back into the closest town of Grove Hill. He’s silent as he drives. Outside a café called The Sweet Spot, he pulls over and kills the engine. My heart skips a beat when he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a roll of money.