Page 22 of Trust Game

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Angel could hear the shower running from Astrid's bathroom. He thought about joining her, but decided to offer her some space. She had a lot to process. In the end, Angel was who he was. He didn't believe in morals. He believed in power.

He believed in opportunism and taking what he wanted. If another power, be it the government or some other person or group could catch him and stop him and somehow punish or eliminate him, fine. Such a thing was fair play. But outside that, he would simply do what he would do.

Until he'd seen Astrid, he'd been able to convince himself that his moral reasoning wasn't entirely disconnected from the rest of the world at large. Now there was no longer any doubt. He saw her. He wanted her. He took her. Simple as that. There was no justification needed, though he'd attempted to argue with himself about that. He'd done what any natural animal in the wild would have done.

She was his, and she would simply adjust to that reality. Her body had already adjusted. How long would it take her mind? That was up to her. But it seemed she was already halfway there. Or more. It would only take time and repetition before she melted into his control over her... until she trusted it.

Angel spotted one of her suitcases lying open on the bed. She still hadn't put her clothing and personal items away into drawers and closets. He didn't know if it was because she hadn't had time yet, or if she hadn't been able to make that psychological leap. Putting her clothes into drawers in his home was an acceptance, however small, of her condition. It was one thing to be coerced into calling him master. It was another, to, without direction, simply start inserting her personal belongings into neat organized places inside his home.

It would be a concession that maybe she wasn't yet ready to give. Resting on top of the clothes still neatly folded in the suitcase, was a small plastic bag. A label on the outside read:Deliver to Sam. Inside the plastic bag was a thumb drive. Angel took the bag and retreated downstairs to his office.

He didn't need to defend going through her things. Anything that belonged to her was now his business. But when he'd seen that bag with the thumb drive, something dark had activated inside a more primal part of his brain—a part beyond reason and logic.

He was unsurprised to find the file encrypted. Angel wasn't a stranger to breaking WEP encryption codes. But even with a packet-sniffing program and all his acquired knowledge, it was a pain in the ass. This was a time where his curiosity overwhelmed his annoyance. It took about ten minutes to get everything set up and his program running. It would be an hour or more before he could unlock it.

Angel let the program run and went to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. He sat at the kitchen table with a separate laptop and checked his offshore accounts. The money for Callazaro had been deposited that morning. He was glad the client had decided not to be unreasonable.

Astrid came into the kitchen wrapped in a terrycloth bathrobe. Her hair appeared darker and longer wet and without the bounce and spring of curls. She looked away from him and sat down at the kitchen table.

Right. Food. It was common for him to forget to eat when he was wrapped up in a project, and Astrid was more distracting than most of his usual distractions. But she was obviously quietly waiting to be fed, like a timid house cat, intent on making her presence at least felt until there was food in her dish.

“Are you hungry?” He knew she was, but thought speaking about normal things might help her adjust after what had just happened between them.

“Yes,” she said quietly, staring at the table. She'd gone incredibly shy. Even more than she had at breakfast. He couldn't blame her. It was too new yet for her not to feel embarrassed and shy in his presence. Despite whatever things Callazaro may have done to her, Angel very much doubted she'd been allowed to revel in wanton pleasure. There was a whole different level of shame when you were getting pleasure out of the deal and not just trying to survive.

“Yes, what?” he prodded.

“Yes, Master.”

“Good girl. You don't have to be so shy with me. I'm not going to judge you for anything we do.”

She didn't reply to that. Not that he expected her to.

“I'm afraid pancakes, sandwiches, and ordering pizza is about the limit of my cooking skills. I usually eat out,” he said, resuming the normal talk tactic.

“I can cook.”

“Well make me a list and we'll get stuff tomorrow. For now you're welcome to anything in the fridge. I have a bunch of leftovers. I think there's some Chinese food in there. I've got some sandwich stuff. Soup. Probably a few other odds and ends.”

“You mean we both will go to the store tomorrow. Together?”

“Yes.” He fully intended to keep her forever. At the same time, he didn't want her to never get to leave the house. And he was quite sure she would seek his protection from the dangers that lurked in her former world long before she would try to run from him again. As long as he made her feel safe, there was no danger of that.

“But... aren't you afraid I might try to escape?”

He smirked. “It's the last thing I'm afraid of.”

She blushed and looked away.

He watched her get up and search through the fridge and cabinets and put together a makeshift dinner. “Do you want something?” she asked.

“Not right now. I'm fine.” He finished his coffee and went back to his office.

An hour later, the encryption finally unlocked.

After reading the contents on the screen, he rose calmly and went to find Astrid. She was in the fitness room, wearing shorts and a T-shirt and running on the treadmill. When she saw him, she slowed the treadmill and hopped off.

“Come with me,” he said.

She seemed uncertain and a little afraid. She was still processing the things that had happened between them and no doubt was afraid he was about to demand more.

“I want to show you something.” He turned and went back out into the hallway. He had no doubt she would follow. She seemed somewhat subdued after the day's events.

He led her into his office and gestured to the chair behind his desk. “Sit, and read what's on the screen. You don't have to read it out loud. I already know what it says.”

Angel stood a distance away, leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, observing her. He watched her face, lit by the screen, as she sat in the leather swivel chair and started to read. He watched her eyes widen in shock and horror. Her gaze shifted uncertainly to him.

“That's from the encrypted thumb drive you were supposed to deliver for Joey. You were never supposed to come back home.”

She looked up at Angel, a horrified look on her face. They were finally speaking the same language. She knew now, without doubt, that Angel was the lesser evil and her only hope of safety in the world. The document on the thumb drive was a bill of sale, and Astrid had been the merchandise. Somewhere out there was a very angry mysterious individual named Sam who'd paid a lot of money for a product that was never delivered.

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