Broken Queen

Page 59

For a moment, everything stops. But then that clock ticks, and I hear myself repeating the same words over and over. Muttering them. It’s the language of the insane.
My left arm has gone numb, and my cheekbone throbs. I’m lying with my full weight on my arm, and my face hit the concrete floor when I toppled. I don’t remember it happening, though. Can’t remember when I fell over. All I know is what I kept seeing. The gruesome images plastered to the walls. I don’t know if it was the same one or not. Blood and brains and the inside of someone’s head.
I squeeze my eyes shut against the nausea that makes my stomach spasm. I’m not struggling. I stopped a while ago. I’m lying here instead remembering the endless ticking of another clock. The blinking of another set of lights.
The smell of bleach permeates my nostrils, and although I know it’s not real, I swear I can still feel the burn as I scrubbed my hands raw. But it was either that or blood.
Suddenly, the light blinks on. It’s blindingly bright and jolts me from my thoughts. My eyelids fly open, and I stare straight ahead at the images stuck to the wall. A whine that doesn’t sound like me comes from deep inside my belly, and I close my eyes, even as I hear the footsteps descending. Even as I know my assailant is coming for me. I keep them closed when he stops within inches of me. I don’t want to look. I can’t see. Because what if that’s not all I see? What more is plastered to those walls?
“Shit,” a man mutters. I know the voice, but I keep my eyes sealed shut as the chair is abruptly righted. Pins and needles prick my arm making it sting as blood begins to circulate. All the while, I keep my head down so I don’t see those photos.
“Vittoria,” the voice says.
I shake my head. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, princess.” I say it again, realizing what it is I’m muttering, the words I’m repeating in an endless, mad loop.
Princess. I was my dad’s princess. And then this happened to me. A basement. Me in a cage. Me on a mattress. The cage was better. They didn’t touch me when I was locked in that cage. I remember the smell of it. Of them. Old sweat. Cigarettes. Beer. Fear.
No. That last one was my smell, the fear. They should bottle it. It’s an aphrodisiac to some men.
I can still feel their hands on me now. Mouths kissing me. Them inside me.
“Vittoria,” the voice says again. There’s an urgency in his tone, and this time, he’s crouching down in front of me, slapping my face lightly. Amadeo slapped me that night in the basement. Was I muttering the same words then, too?
He was inside me when I took his gun. Moving. Grunting. Taking what I didn’t give.
His body felt so heavy on top of me that I almost couldn’t breathe. He was still inside me even after he wasn’t moving anymore. When he wasn’t breathing anymore. I don’t think the splatter on the walls was his, though. It was the other one. The one watching, recording my rape on his phone. Something to jerk off to later, I guess. There was no later for him, though. And I smashed that phone against the wall until it lay in so many pieces no one would ever be able to see what was on it.
“Fuck, Vittoria!”
I blink and look at the man crouching down in front of me, his head coming into focus and then blurring out again. Dark eyes, almost black. Dark blond hair. His beard is growing, and it’s grayer than it was. Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen his beard because he’s always clean-shaven.
“Snap out of it,” he says, taking my face with both hands and making me look at him. “We have to get out of here.”
“What doesn’t kill you,” I start, then stop because suddenly I can’t remember what comes next.
“Christ. Focus. We need to get the hell out of here. Do you fucking hear me?” Lucien asks. “Where’s Emma?”
Emma? Why is he asking about Emma?
“Emma?” I call for her, looking around the basement, trying to blur the images in my periphery. “Emma?” I try again.
“She’s not down here,” he says irritably. “Where is she?” He unlocks one of the cuffs around my ankles.
I blink, focusing on the top of his head. Has he seen the pictures? Does he know what I did? How can he look so calm?
“Do you see them?” I ask in a voice I don’t recognize.
He looks up at me like I’m fucking crazy. “See who?”
I shake my head. “The pictures. On the walls.” My voice breaks.
“What pictures?”
“There. On the walls?” I won’t look at them, but I gesture with my head.
He looks over, then back at me, and shakes his head. “Jesus. You’re fucking losing it. Where’s Emma?”
Slowly, I look up. Are they even real? But there they are.