A flash of a memory unsteadies me as I pull free of his grasp. I have to catch myself with a hand on the bed. I straighten, pushing the image aside. Dandelions in a field. A cozy, small house. A family inside.
I blink, look back up at him to find him standing exactly as he was, watching, watching, fucking watching.
“You were young,” he says. “But I think a scene like that would have made an impression.”
“What do you want with me? Why did you bring me here?” I don’t ask him why he desecrated my father’s body. I can’t focus on that.
“Questions and demands are all I hear from you when you’ve been given one simple instruction.”
“I’m not getting naked in front of you.”
“You are. Question is more a matter of how. I can help you, of course.” He scans my body. “I wouldn’t mind.”
“I’ll fucking kill you if you touch me.”
“You’re welcome to try.” His arm shoots out, and he takes hold of mine, spinning me around. When I feel his hand at my zipper, I reach for the hidden knife, grab the handle, and twist back around to put the tip to his throat.
The zipper is halfway down, so the dress hangs on one side, baring my shoulder, but I don’t move to adjust it. I have his full attention.
“Step the fuck away from me,” I tell him, pressing the flat of it against his throat.
One side of his mouth rises in a smirk. He snaps his fingers, and the sound makes me look. The instant I do, he grabs my wrist with his other hand. It was a stupid distraction. I push the tip of the knife into his skin, breaking it, watching a drop of blood slide along the virgin blade.
He’s testing me like I wanted him to. And I’m failing. Because I may have grown up in a family heavily involved with the criminal underworld, but I’ve never so much as slapped a man. My father kept me well out of that side of life.
“I’m warning you!” I say as his hand tightens around my wrist. He’s not pulling the knife away, but he has control now. I’ve just handed it to him on a silver platter.
“Vittoria, let me teach you two things,” he says, dragging my knife along his throat, not even flinching when he slices a shallow line while I just watch like an idiot. “This here is the jugular. It’s what you want to go for to kill a man.” He presses the flat of the blade against the throbbing vein, and I swallow. He pulls my hand away, and even though I resist, it doesn’t seem to cost him any energy when it’s taking all of mine. He twists my arm behind my back until a whimper escapes me. Then he twists just a little farther.
My eyes water, and it takes all I have not to beg him to stop.
“Second,” he says calmly, his voice a low, deep timbre, vibration more than sound. “When you decide to act, act quickly. Any man here will easily overpower you.” As if to prove his point, he twists again, and this time, I do cry out.
As soon as I do, he shifts his grip, taking my wrists as if he was waiting just for that. For me to cry uncle.
My arm throbs. He was too close to breaking it. When he squeezes, the dagger slips from my hand. He bends me over the bed and leans over me, crushing me. His warm breath is at my neck, my cheek, and I hate that I feel a tear slide across the bridge of my nose.
He’s right, though. I could have done it if I’d moved quickly enough. If I hadn’t been too afraid to.
“Because really, if you do what you just did, you’re just going to piss off your opponent, and he’ll be forced to punish you.”
As he says it, his nails dig into the back of my thigh. He drags his fingers up, ripping my stockings as he goes, raising my skirt until he grips my ass cheek hard, then slaps it.
“That’s for earlier.” He raises his hand and does it again three times in quick succession as I push my face into the bed to wipe away the tears and muffle my sounds. “And that’s for now.”
He shifts his grip from my wrists to my hair and drags me upright. He turns me to face him, then drives me to my knees as he kicks my dagger just out of reach.
“Got all that, Dandelion?”
“My name is Vittoria.”
I try to pry his hand off. He’s pulling, and it fucking hurts. But he only squeezes harder.
“A dandelion is a weed. I think it fits.” He leans down so we’re nose to nose. “I asked you a fucking question.”
“Yes, I got it, asshole!”
He chuckles, releases me, then picks the dagger up off the ground and steps back.