He took her hand across the table and she smiled at him even as her skin crawled. He asked her what she wanted for dinner and she answered in the way she knew he wanted her to.
He ordered her meal and she didn’t interrupt when he didn’t have the tomatoes removed from her salad.
When it arrived, she’d eat them despite the danger of getting kidney stones. She’d already dealt with them many times over the years.
She kept her eyes on him or in her lap. She didn’t speak to or look at the server. She didn’t let her eyes roam over the gorgeous view beyond the window.
She spoke when spoken to.
She chose her words carefully.
She didn’t fidget.
The salad arrived and hers didn’t have tomatoes. She was so surprised that she almost made eye contact with the server, almost thanked him, and that would have been a terrible mistake.
Inexplicably, there were tears in her eyes that she rapidly blinked away.
“Is there a problem, Nancy?” The way the question was phrased told her to tread softly.
“A bit of fluff in my eye. No reason for concern.” Lifting her face, she smiled warmly. “I love it here.”
“I know it’s your favorite restaurant.” It was not. “I don’t prefer it but I suppose giving you your way now and again keeps you happy.” He never, ever gave Nancy her way. “I like your dress. It’s so flattering on you now that you have your weight under control. I know green is your favorite color.”
Green was not her favorite color.
She smiled. “Thank you for buying it. The fabric is lovely.”
“Are you wearing the entire outfit I laid out for you?”
He held her gaze and her stomach hurt so badly that she wanted to vomit what little she’d eaten.
“Obedience is always rewarded.” It was never rewarded. “When we get home, you can remove it piece by piece.”
In her lap, she clenched her fist on her thigh.
She smiled. “Nothing would make me happier.”
For an agonizing hour, he toyed with her in public. She ate slowly, daintily, and left half of each item as he demanded a year before when she didn’t fit in a size 3 dress he bought her.
Before she met him, she was a size 12, sometimes a size 14, and she’d never really thought about it.
He ate every bite of his food.
Sitting back, he grinned at her smugly. “Would you like dessert?”
She smiled. “No, thank you. I couldn’t eat another bite.”
A lie. Before she met him, she used to enjoy a giant sundae with her best friend while they talked shit about all the people they worked with. Sweets had been her weakness.
“There’s an art exhibit tonight. I thought we could make an appearance. If you’d like.”
She adored art.
It had been her dream to one day teach what she loved in a small university. Surrounded by books and paints, hanging out with Katie, maybe finding a nice man to settle down with one day. How far away that dream seemed now.
He hated art.
She smiled. “I’d rather spend time alone with you.”
“If you insist.”
She knew she’d passed the test but there was no telling how many more there would be before the man gave her a few hours of peace while he slept.
“Let’s go home then.”
She waited for him to stand and move behind her chair, pulling it out like the perfect gentleman. He wrapped his arm around her waist to escort her through the restaurant to the valet station.
He frowned when his car wasn’t at the curb.
A young man jogged up and said, “Apologies, sir. We’re having difficulty starting your.”
Sighing in annoyance, he barked, “Clearly, you don’t know how such a vehicle works. Not a surprise. I doubt you’ve seen many.” Gesturing for the valet to lead the way, he added, “If you expect a tip, you can put that right out of your mind. I don’t reward incompetence.”
They walked around the building to the parking lot beside it. It was dark and she wondered why two of the streetlights were out.
One valet opened the passenger door. “Ma’am.”
She slipped into the seat and kept her eyes down. She didn’t thank him or even acknowledge his presence.
A second valet held open the driver side door. As the man who was her captor walked around the edge of it, the valets stabbed him from the front and back. They walked him backward and she realized they’d already unlocked the trunk.
The car moved a bit as they shoved his body in the back of the vehicle and slammed it shut.
She panted rapidly, quietly, and didn’t know what to do. Someone got into the driver’s seat and closed the door. The car engine started and they drove out of the restaurant parking lot.
She didn’t speak.
She didn’t know what might happen next.
“He took our sister just like he took you. It wasn’t easy to figure out where she went. We located her at the morgue one year after she went missing from her life as a medical resident.”
They stopped at a light but she didn’t turn her head.
“We got jobs at the restaurant. It was where our sister was spotted several times. I’m going to drive you to his house. Pack whatever you need and get out of there. He can never hurt you again. I imagine it will take time to get past everything he did…but you can. If we’d gotten to my sister in time, she would have beat it, too.”
She was dizzy.
Her heart slammed against her sternum.
She had never been so terrified.
Swallowing hard, uncertain if it might be another test, she managed quietly, “There were no tomatoes on my salad.”
“You either hate them or can’t eat them. I’ve seen him force you to do it three times.”
He drove fast but carefully across town and into a gated estate using the remote on the visor. He pulled into the garage but didn’t close it.
“The car will disappear and his body will never be found. I’m dressed like him. We both have dark hair and similar builds. Any traffic cameras will assume I’m him.” He unlocked the doors and said, “Enjoy the rest of your life, Miss Campbell.”
Taking a deep breath, she smiled.
© Shayne McClendon