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CHAPTER THREE

The second time I came to, it was like being woken up


with a twenty tonne punch to the head, slamming home
recollections of Lauren, the water, and the man.
My eyes popped open and my body jolted, my head
jerking about while I grasped my surroundings.
High stone walls and a stone ceiling formed a large
rectangular room around me. I was in a king-sized, four-
poster bed and the wooden faces that had swirled about my
head earlier were carvings of fishes, mermaids and mermen
all twisting and spiralling around the bed posts as if being
pulled upwards by a current. My eyes followed them right
up to the roof of the bed, where gleaming pearls encrusted
in smooth wooden panels winked at me through strips of
white silk.
Although my body was damp with sweat, I shivered
convulsively. Nothing made sense—this room, this fairytale
bed. I needed to find Lauren. I needed to get back to the
shack. Slowly, I inched myself into sitting position, the act
making my head thump.
Somebody across the room cleared their throat.
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It was a guy, seated in a wooden chair a few metres away,


his features shadowed by the dim lighting. He yawned
and rubbed at his face, his hands making a scratchy sound
against  his jaw. Then he raised his head to glance in my
direction and sprung from the chair, as if somebody had
tipped a bucket of cold water down his back.
‘Who are you? Where’s Lauren?’ I asked, hot blood
pounding in my ears. My hands instinctively formed fists,
which I kept at my chest, ready.
‘You’re okay,’ he said breathlessly, and with relief, as he
rushed to my side.
The stranger was tall, had wavy, light-brown hair and the
sort of face that made me want to trust him. But something
about his overall appearance wasn’t right. Although he
seemed healthy enough—his chest was broad and I could
see the outline of huge biceps below his shirt sleeves—his
skin was abnormally chalk-white, as though he hadn’t seen
the sun in a long time. Like, never.
Goosebumps prickled my skin.
When he leaned over me, I caught the stinging scent of
sea salt.
‘I’m just going to have a look at you.’ His voice, although
deep, had a gentle undertone. But it did little to put me at ease.
‘Who are you? Where am I?’
‘This will only take a minute,’ he said, ignoring my
questions, before peeling back the covers to expose my
bather-clad body.
I gasped and shrank back into the pillow, my hands
fumbling to shield as much as they could.
His dark-brown eyes, the pupils dilated in the dimness of
the room, swept from the tips of my toes up to my face in
an almost doctor-like manner, not even bothering to linger
on the parts most boys would spend an extra second or two
VANESSA GARDEN 19

on. But when he met my eyes, he held his breath and stared
into them for what seemed an eternity before he exhaled
softly and drew back.
I clawed at the bedcovers until they were up to my neck
again.
‘Where’s my sister? Who are you?’
‘Just one more thing left to do, then I’ll leave you to rest.’
He grimaced apologetically, rubbing his hands together.
‘Sorry, my hands are cold.’
‘Don’t touch me!’ I scurried backwards, bedcovers
clutched to my chest, until my spine hit the wooden
headboard. ‘I don’t need rest. I need to get back to my sister
and my grandparents. Right now!’
The mattress groaned beneath his weight as he sat on the
edge of the bed and slowly inched forward. ‘This will be
quick, I promise.’
By now my back had almost fused with the headboard.
I squeezed my eyes shut and held my breath, but gasped
when warm fingers pressed firmly against the pulse in my
neck. My eyes snapped open.
His lips were moving. He was counting.
‘Your pulse is fine,’ he said after a pause, sighing as though
genuinely relieved. ‘You’re perfectly healthy.’
I slapped his hand away. The stranger’s eyes widened but
he said nothing. He seemed nervous and unsure of what
he was doing, or what he planned to do next. After an
agonisingly long half a minute or so of silence, he brushed
his palms against his thighs and leapt to his feet.
‘Would you like some water to drink?’
Though the inside of my mouth felt like carpet, I didn’t
respond—I was too busy leafing through what little self-
defence I knew. Just because he hadn’t harmed me yet
didn’t mean he wasn’t going to.
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‘You’ve slept for a long time. The drugs should wear off
soon, if not already.’
At the mention of drugs, my stomach clenched. I’d
heard the horror stories about girls having roofies slipped
into their drinks, and knew exactly what went on while
those poor girls were passed out. I reached down and
groped my bare flesh for any kind of bruising, but my
arms, the insides of my legs and stomach felt okay as far
as I could tell.
The guy paced the floors for a few minutes before he
stopped at the foot of the bed and rested an arm against one
of the ornately carved posts.
He drew in a deep breath and studied the wooden
mermaids, somewhat reluctantly resting his eyes on me,
the corners of his mouth twitching in a possible attempt at
smiling as he exhaled.
‘So, what’s your name?’ His low voice came out an octave
or two higher, as though he was trying to sound pleasant
and unthreatening. But I remained silent and didn’t move a
muscle, not even to breathe.The only conversation I wanted
to have was of the get-me-the-hell-out-of-here variety.
He bowed his head and swore to himself, retreating
into the shadowy corner of the room where he’d sat
earlier.
I watched him, my eyes travelling down his broad back
and following the length of his denim-clad legs right
down to the long black boots he wore—boots with daggers
strapped to them. Although he seemed roughly the same
age as me, give or take a year, he outdid me in height and
weaponry.
Despite my resolve to remain silent, a question burst
from my lips.
‘How long have I been here?’
VANESSA GARDEN 21

‘Nearly a week.You’ve spent most of the time in and out


of sleep. The maids have had to assist you in the bathroom.
Unfortunately, the drugs didn’t quite agree with you.’
A week? Panic closed in like a tight wall, squeezing me
until it was hard breathe.
‘Where’s my sister?’ My eyes darted intermittently
between the door and my captor.
‘I didn’t take her; just you,’ he said in a quiet voice, which
croaked at the last word.
A strange combination of elation and crushing guilt
twisted my insides. Lauren was safe and I was beyond glad,
but I couldn’t believe that it had taken me this long to feel
true, heartfelt concern for her wellbeing again. Digging
my nails into my palms, I closed my eyes. My sister’s
stricken face floated about in my mind, quickly followed
by the faces of my grandparents, my parents, my good
friend Zoe, and Aiden—all those I had ever loved. Perhaps
this is what dying people meant when they said their lives
flashed before their eyes.
I sucked in a deep breath and took mental stock of my
situation. I wasn’t dead yet. If the guy had wanted to hurt
me, then surely he would have done so already. This was
possibly some strange mix up. He’d gotten the wrong girl…
or maybe he thought I’d been drowning that night and had
‘saved’ me?
I sat up and tried to make eye contact, but he was leaning
forward, elbows on knees and head in hands.
‘Where am I?’ I asked, trying to control the tremor in
my voice.
From the darkened corner he sighed and left me
hanging for a while, answering with a cryptic, ‘You’ll find
out soon enough. Sylvia will arrive shortly and explain
­everything.’
22 CAPTIVATE

‘Who’s Sylvia?’ I raked my fingers through my hair,


trying to recall anybody I knew by the name of Sylvia.
‘Keeping me here is illegal. You need to take me home
right now.’
Silence followed, only to be broken by chair legs scraping
against stone when the guy stood up and strode towards the
door—my only way out.
I leapt out of bed and ran towards the exit, but before I
reached it he slipped through and locked the door behind
him.
Beating against the cool metal with my fists, I shouted,
‘Come back!’ and ‘Let me out of here!’ over and over again
until the words cut into my throat like razorblades.
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