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I just glared at her, lips compressed into a thin line.

“The hard way, then.” She shook her head and tisked as if scolding me.

She moved off me and put on a purple silk dressing robe that was hanging over the back of a chair. For the first time, I noticed two large black plastic buckets, a silver pitcher, and a stack of white towels on the floor near the door. Gina placed the pill on the nightstand, glancing at me meaningfully. She then unfolded a towel and placed it beneath my head. Next, she carefully dragged both buckets across the floor, the effort needed to do so making it clear they were both full to the brim with water. Finally, she took the pitcher and scooped it full of water, then set it on the nightstand beside the pill.

“I will ask you again, Valentine Roth. Will you take the pill, or no?” I lifted my chin, wrapped my fists around the chains of the handcuffs. “Very well, then. The hard way it is.” She laughed, a merry little giggle. “Hard for you, I should say. Fun for me. I’ve always rather enjoyed this particular little game.”

She lifted the pitcher in one hand, slid her other palm over my forehead, and buried it in my hair, a brief caress, and then she took a fistful of hair and jerked viciously. Holding my head tipped backward, she tilted the pitcher so a few drops of water pattered on my nose, mouth, and eyes. I tried to turn my head to the side, but her grip on my hair was immoveable. She was strong. I felt roots give way, and then she was pouring a little more water onto my face. This time, some went up my nose, and I gasped, snorted. While I was coughing, she poured more water onto me, this time directly into my mouth. And she kept pouring. Panic surged through me. I shook my head, not even feeling the hair being ripped out of my scalp, and she kept pouring, hitting my eyes and nose, jerking my face back into place so the slow and steady gush of water hit the back of my throat. I was drowning, drowning. Just when I thought I would surely succumb and die, she righted the pitcher and ended the stream of water.

I coughed, gasped, arched my back, and tried to breathe. My mouth was open wide as I choked, fighting for breath. And that was when she placed the pill on my tongue, poured a tiny measure of water into my mouth, and then pinched my nose shut. I had no choice but to swallow or die, and my body wouldn’t allow me to die. I tried, seeing Kyrie’s face, tried to keep my esophagus closed as darkness weighed down, panic a raw and bone-deep horror inside me, the need to breathe, to live, to keep fighting winning out.

I swallowed, and gagged as the pill went down, and resumed coughing the water from my lungs.

For the next hour, Gina tortured me with the pitcher of water. She would refill, sit beside me, and pour water onto my face. A little, just enough to make me sputter, and then she’d wait, let me catch my breath, and when I had, she would slowly empty the pitcher into my eyes and throat and nose, always stopping when I was moments from drowning.

I’d already swallowed her pill, so this was just for fun.

I felt the chemicals begin to burn inside me, a slow, distant warming of banked coals deep in my blood and bones.

A fist pounded on the door, and Gina barked a question in Greek. A young man burst through the door, spitting out rapid-fire Greek, clearly panicked.

Gina, still holding a full pitcher of water, swore softly in English: “Shit.” She sighed, hesitated, and then upended the pitcher onto my face. “It appears as if your little whore is coming for you. She’s caused me no end of trouble, you know. I’m going to have fun peeling the skin from her bones once I’ve caught her.”

I shook the water from my face, spat, coughed, and watched as Gina waved the young man away. When he was gone, she tossed the now-wet purple robe aside and dressed in a pair of white linen slacks and matching shirt, then slid her feet into a pair of red sandals.

“I’m going to kill her slowly, Valentine. I’m going to have her raped, and I’m going to kill her.” She pulled her pistol out of her purse, checked the load of the clip, and then glanced at me. “She killed Alec. Or someone did. Shot him in the head. I had a lot of fun with him. It will be hard to replace someone as eager to please as him. He liked to give me cunnilingus, and he was rather skilled at it. Now I’ll have to train someone else.” Despite the icy calm with which she said these words, there was a gleam of maddened rage in her glittering black eyes.

She left the room, the lock clicking behind her. A silence descended then, which stretched out for a time I couldn’t measure, and then hell broke loose.

7

ASSAULT

I ran behind Harris, my lungs burning and my legs aching.

Harris had, in the end, decided the only real possibility was to just go for it. After some investigation and asking questions I wanted to know nothing about, he came up with a location for Gina Karahalios. She was living on an island about hundred and fifty miles southeast, in a place called Oia. We took the yacht from Athens across the Aegean and through a cluster of islands of various sizes, docking on the far side of the island from where Gina’s house, according to Harris’s information, was located.

We started out slowly, simply strolling through the countryside as if we were tourists like any others. We caught an ancient, rumbling bus and took it on a clattering, scary journey over hills and around cliff faces, eventually getting off at the outskirts of Oia. It was a picturesque place, square white houses with blue doors and shutters marching down to the sea, which glittered in the distance, far below. The sun shone bright, a few wisps of cloud drifting slowly here and there. Buses rumbled, a few cars passed here and there. An old man held on to the halter of a gray donkey pulling a cart full of fruit.

Harris pointed to a huge house high up on a hill, a sprawling estate with turrets and cupolas all painted the same blue as everything else. “There. That’s it.”

The road leading up to the house in question was winding and narrow and steep, and there was a wall surrounding the house, seven feet high and made of white-washed bricks with bits of broken glass twinkling and gleaming on the top edge.

Harris eyed the way up. “This is going to be rough. Stay right behind me.” He twisted a long cylinder onto the barrel of his pistol, dug three clips out of his backpack, and stuffed them into his pocket. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”

And he took off running up the hill, hugging the side of the road. There was no one on the streets this far up, this close to the estate. Curtains twitched and faces peered out, watching us, seemingly unsurprised to see a drawn gun. I followed him up the hill, ignoring the jelly-weakness in my thighs and the ache of oxygen-deprived lungs. We reached the last row of houses before the road curved toward the gated entrance, and then Harris stopped and ducked against the corner of a house. Even he was breathing hard and sweating. I was gasping and dripping sweat, and barely able to stand upright.


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