After a while, I knew resisting was proving hopeless. I could not move. I had been trapped in the position that would very soon become all too familiar.

Breathing heavily, I remember I tried with all my might to stay calm. My eyes darted around the room. Then the girl next to me turned her head and caught my eye.

It was Bella. My sister.

At the same time, she realized it was me beside her. Tears dropped from her eyes and she mouthed, “Will be okay. I love you.”

Another wave of panic swept through me when I felt large, rough hands grip my hips. Bella’s eyes widened in empathy. I screamed and squirmed, trying to escape. Of their own volition, my hands clawed an inch forward, but the trap ripped at my thighs. And after a few short seconds of struggle, as Sister Eve foretold, it simply became too painful to move.

And that is when it happened…

My innocence had been lost forever and my duty as a sister had begun. Not once did I break eye contact with Bella. Both of us had been united through our blood bond. We supported each other, helped each other find Sister Eve’s recommendation: a good place to block out the pain. Bella told me she loved me over and over again, through every moment of the horrific act.

Then when it was over, I ran from the smoky room. I remember glancing back only to see Brother Gabriel sully Bella once again. I jumped over brothers taking their rest. And I will never forget how the sisters looked; so numb and unfeeling.

We all looked like ghosts.

After that, I ran into the forest. I did not let myself stop until I reached the perimeter fence. Five minutes later, I heard a rustling sound and a boy appeared on the other side of the high wire mesh. I remember thinking he could not have been much older than me, maybe only a few years. He was dark and tall with the most lovely hazel-colored eyes I had ever seen. He had been beautiful.

Spotting me lying on the forest floor, he walked over, moving his hands but he said nothing. He made me feel safe. He distracted me from the pain. He had been a light in my moment of darkness… He had given me a kind, soft kiss. Then he left, never to be seen again, until fifteen years later… when he gave me a fragile precious gift once more… renewed hope.

I could not help but reminisce as I sat still on the soft mattress in Styx’s quiet room. The mattress that smelled like him. I had been so young when I was forced to join with men and I hated every minute. What Styx had just given me was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was a fire, a burning fire at the bottom of my spine. It was a pressure, a pressure too intense for words. Then it spiraled into a frenzy, way out of my control.

I had gripped the headboard, pulling to escape the emotion yet at the same time pushing to bring the delicious feeling even closer. And then he touched me… there… and I exploded. I shattered into tiny fragments, my soul bursting with light—too much yet not enough. I was instantly addicted.

Greedy, needing more, I pressed harder against Styx’s hand. Prophet David had been so wrong—nothing this good could ever be a sin. Women should feel pleasure too.

Then it had been over. Styx regretted touching me. He recoiled in horror the instant he saw my scars—the inescapable and permanent link to my past. How swiftly he had left me, alone and naked in his large cold bed.

He had left me.

Left me here, confused, hot, yearning… wanting him.

I refused to let loose the tears threatening to break free. His rejection would not destroy me. I could not, would not, let another man break my spirit. Even if Styx might be the only man able to do so… irreparably.

Gathering my composure, I shifted off the bed, wincing as my feet hit the cold wooden floor. I walked into the washroom, switched on the shower to its hottest temperature and let the flow of hard water pound my skin.

Since my arrival, Styx had viewed me as weak, someone who needed constant protection. He had no idea of the life I had lived, of the tenacity of my spirit or the multiple horrors I had to endure on a daily basis. I am a survivor. The scars he found so repulsive were a testament to my strength. I cannot, will not, be ashamed of actions thrust on me by others.

As God is my witness, I was a child!

What troubled me most was that I knew Styx’s concern for me came from a good place. I knew his cold reaction and his abrupt departure was fed by his anger. His speech, his lifelong disability that prevented the words he so desperately wanted to say to me, was his burden. No doubt he would be in the bar, drowning his sorrows with the amber liquid I had seen him drink so much. I resolved to go to him, to demonstrate to him all was well, and to say that I loved what we had done together… and still wanted more, if he did too.

I dried off and ran Styx’s comb through my long hair, brushing out the knots tangled on the back of my scalp. Earlier, Styx had brought in the luggage bag from Rider’s room and I opened the zipper, pulling out a pair of black pants and a tank adorned with the Hangmen motif in the center.

Once dressed, I took Styx’s leather vest—no, cut—and inhaled the familiar scent—tobacco and leather, all Styx. My skin tingled and my scalp pricked. This unfamiliar sensation both frightened me and exhilarated me and I felt an increasingly familiar need building between my legs. Sighing, I slipped the large, warm leather cut on my shoulders and walked to the door, then out into the hallway.

As soon as I left the room, a high-pitched moan and a low growl grabbed my attention. The sound came from the darkened end of the long hallway. The sounds signaled exactly what was happening, exactly what I had been doing not too long ago.

Not wanting to intrude, I turned toward the exit door at the opposite end of the long corridor, then stopped dead in my tracks as I heard…