The loud knocking on his door woke Gabe a few minutes after eight the next morning. Wincing at the way his back muscles seemed to be cramped up, seeing how he'd fallen asleep on the couch, he nearly hobbled his way to the door. He found his siblings and Dora on the other side and blinked blearily at them.
"Uh, in case I've slept through the entire week—which I don't think I have—I'm not quite sure what the three of you are doing here on a Tuesday morning." He frowned at Dora and his sister. "Aren't the two of you supposed to be in school, and" he looked at Kyle "aren't you supposed to be at work?"
Before the other two could speak, Dora stepped forward and, with a hand on his chest, shoved him back and followed him into the apartment. "Listen, Gabe. Do you really think any of us could sit in class or at a stupid cubicle at work while my sister is out there somewhere with a crazy psychopath?"
"No," Anna chimed in. "No, we couldn't. So we came down to help you with whatever you're doing today."
"Besides, you've gotten to take care of all of the search efforts so far, and we've done nothing but twiddle our thumbs," Kyle pointed out. "It's not right nor fair, and, since we love Zanny and are freaking out about her being missing, we need to do something to help. Anything."
Gabe studied each one in turn, noting the determination and worry that swirled in their eyes. They were right, he thought. Dora was Zanny's sister, and Anna and Kyle may as well have been her siblings as close as they were to her. "Okay." He nodded. "Let's do this. But first," he continued, causing Dora to close her mouth, "I need to brush my teeth."
"I can't believe you managed to sleep," Anna said, lifting her brows a little. "Dora and I have been up all night and can't sleep because we keep thinking of the worst case scenarios that could have happened."
"Well, don't," Gabe replied sharply. "It's just better all around if you don't think of those worst cases and just concentrate on the fact that she's fine. Wherever she is, she's fine. Don't you think we would've known, in our hearts, if she wasn't?" That said, he stalked out of the room, leaving the other three to stare after him.
Anna looked from Dora to Kyle and shook her head. "I can't believe he doesn't know yet."
"Know what?" Kyle frowned at his sister, the frown deepening when she shared a small, mischievous smile with Dora. "Know what?"
Dora sighed a little, her red-rimmed eyes still bleak. "That Gabe's in love with Zanny."
"Oh." Kyle shrugged. "Please, he won't know it until it hits him in the face." He waved it aside. "Whatever goes on between the two of them is totally their business. Today and tomorrow and for however long it takes, our priority is finding Zanny, no matter what it takes."
"I'm glad we're all on the same page here," Gabe remarked, hurrying back into the room, having changed and washed his face. "How are the parents holding up?" He glanced over his shoulder at Dora as he checked his voicemail. "How are your parents?"
Dora shook her head, her dark red hair swinging in its long ponytail. "Not good. They wanted to come, but it's hard for them. Especially Mom. You know how close she and Zanny are. She and Dad are just calling up the politicians and feds they know to look into Zanny's disappearance for us."
"Good." Gabe nodded approvingly. "That's really good. We just need to keep getting the word out, raise awareness, and she'll be back before you know it." Or so he hoped. He didn't want to discourage or dishearten his siblings and Dora by admitting his worst fears aloud. As each day passed, he knew Zanny's chances of returning home safe and sound decreased, but he still did not want to say that out loud.
Anna leaned close to her brother and sniffed, making a face. "Gabe. When's the last time you showered?"
"What? Anna." He scowled at her as Kyle smirked. "That's not even on topic here. I'll shower later."
She shook her head and pointed towards the bathroom. "Seriously, Gabriel. You're almost a lawyer. You should know how important appearance and presentation are. If we're going to be making trips to see some important people today about Zanny, then you need to look the part. We did."
Gabe hated that his sister was right, and, in fact, all three of the younger siblings were well put together. The evidence of sleepless nights had been handily covered up by the two girls, and even Kyle, surprisingly for his usually messy brother, had worn slacks and a polo. "Fine," he said finally with a scowl. "Give me five minutes. In the meantime, I need you guys to make a few phone calls. I need to talk to Zanny's graduate advisers and the dean of the law school. Plus, I need to come up with some way of setting up a mass gathering on her behalf." He held up a piece of paper where he'd scribbled names and numbers. "Start calling. I'll be right back."
Anna followed him down the hall, making sure he'd gone into bathroom and turned the shower on. When she came back, Kyle and Dora were squinting at the paper and mumbling curses. "What? What's going on?"
"Gabe's got chicken scratch for handwriting," Dora complained with a roll of her eyes. "I mean, seriously. I know he's going to be a lawyer, but that doesn't mean all of his notes have to be done in shorthand."
Taking the paper from her brother, Anna squinted at the practically illegible scribble. "Well, this looks like 'David' and 'Fontaine,'" she suggested after a moment. "The number's legible anyway."
Kyle shrugged and grabbed the phone. As Anna read aloud the number, he dialed. In no time at all, they'd made immediate appointments with the law school advisers, the dean of the school, and, even the lawyer for the school and the University of Pennsylvania police department. Just as Kyle finished up a conversation with the secretary for the dean of the law school, they heard Gabe yell and storm down the hall into the living area.
Half dressed in just a pair of pants, his face was a mixture of horror, worry, and fury. "Call Ava," he demanded in a voice that seemed to tremble ever so slightly. "Call her right now!"
"Gabe, what's going on?" Kyle tried to place a comforting hand on his older brother's shoulder, but Gabe shrugged it off and glared at Anna who continued to hold the phone and stare at her oldest brother. "Will you just calm down and tell us?"
"Dial the fucking number and call Ava, Anna!" Gabe repeated, shoving a hand through his wet hair. As Anna dialed, he paced, ignoring Dora's questions about what was going on. When Anna got hold of Ava, he snatched the phone away from her. "Ava, it's Gabe. Listen, I think you need to come over to the apartment and bring one of your forensics teams with you. Why? I'll tell you why." His eyes swept over the other three standing at attention beside him. "Zanny's things are missing. I'm telling you seriously. All of her stuff is gone."
Gabe stood by the window, aware of the activity going on behind him. Half the apartment had been dusted and swept for fingerprints, and he knew there would be a layer of white covering his things until he'd found Zanny. He knew he wouldn't be bothered to clean up or care to until she was found.
It made him smile just a little at the thought of the look of horror on her face and that snippy tone of voice she'd have when she saw the mess.
The smile disappeared when Ava came to stand with him, concern etched into her expression. "How you holding up, Gabriel?"
He shrugged. His hair was falling into his eyes, but he couldn't be bothered to swipe it aside. "I'll be fine once Zanny comes home."
"Look, I know it's hard to wait and worry, not knowing what could or has already happened-"
His head whipped around, his eyes searing into hers. "Nothing has happened to her. Nothing. She's fine, she's fine." He shook his head, pressing his fingers to his eyes. "She has to be," he whispered now.
Ava slid her arm around his shoulders. "Gabe, Zanny wouldn't blame you, so why are you blaming yourself for this? It wasn't your fault."
"Someone came into our apartment and stole her things," he pointed out. "Someone came in after she'd been taken. I should've known, I should've been more aware of what was going on."
"How? How could you have been more aware?" She stepped back from him and folded her arms. "How much time have you actually spent in this apartment in the last few days, Gabe? I'm willing to bet that the answer to that is not too big. That gives anyone plenty of time to get in and do whatever they wanted."
Gabe shook his head, his eyes drifting over her shoulder to find Kyle and Dora talking to another cop. "This building has a security system. How'd they get past the guards?"
"I've already sent someone down to check out the tapes for the past two days," she told him. "If there's anything to find, it'll be on the security tapes. They'll tell us what happened." She studied him for a moment before taking out a recorder and switching it on. "What made you realize that Zanny's things were missing from the apartment today?"
Flicking a glance at the recording device, he turned to stare out the window. "I don't know. I don't even really notice her stuff anymore because we've been together-" He frowned at himself. "I mean, we've been living together for over two years, so it's just habit to see her things lying around."
"So you just noticed that her soaps, lotions, and other toiletries were missing because you didn't see them?" Ava asked, trying to clarify his explanation.
"No, I—No. It's just-" He broke off, shaking his head at himself. "It's stupid. It's not really important."
Ava lifted a brow. "Nothing is stupid or unimportant. What made you realize her things were gone, Gabe?" she repeated.
Sighing, he turned back to her and scratched his chin, looking slightly sheepish. "Don't laugh or anything, but Zanny has always gotten on my case about using her shampoo. She gets so angry because, apparently, it's this special organic blend that she gets from this place on South Street." He shrugged a little as if to say Weird, right? "I don't know, I guess I just liked the way it smells, so I use it. Anyway, I was taking a shower and reached for it, but it wasn't there, and, when I went to look for the bottle, I realized that none of her stuff was there or in her room."
"Look, I know this is hard for you, and I need you to not freak out," Ava began carefully. "But her closet and dressers have been emptied out as well."
His face drained of all color, and he had to sit. "All of her clothes are missing, too? This doesn't make sense, Ava. What kind of freak kidnaps someone and her stuff, too? Why?"
She knelt next to him so they were at eye level. "It's more common than you think. Plus, you know what this tells me?"
"That he's not planning on hurting her. At least, not anytime soon. If he's taken all of her things, it means that he wants to make her comfortable, at least for the time being."
Gabe shook his head, trying to understand. "Wait, so you're saying that this guy took her stuff to make her comfortable? He kidnapped her! How fucking comfortable do you think she's going to be with that?"
"I know it's hard to understand, but that's exactly what I'm saying. He's gone to a lot of trouble to abduct her, which means he's not going to harm her. The worst-case scenario is becoming less likely," she pointed out.
"So you're not going to start dredging the Delaware River for her body," he said slowly.
He held up a hand. "Please, I know how basic police work in this situation goes. If there had been no sign of her, no clue as to her whereabouts, are you telling me that you wouldn't have started looking for her body?"
"It's procedure," she informed him before one of the forensics team members came over to where they sat.
She stood. "Found anything?"
"Looks like there was a disturbance on Sunday night, approximately eight forty-five, at the back entrance to the apartment complex, and the guard left his post to go check it out." The officer glanced at Gabe and found him listening closely. "Anyway, the second the guard disappeared from view, this big, bulky guy slides right by the security booth and into the building. Seven minutes later, he comes back with a couple big bags and is gone about fifteen seconds before the guard comes back to the booth."
"Slick and clean," Ava murmured as she scribbled a memo to herself. "Find anything yet?"
The look on his face was grim. "Not yet. The security cam wasn't clear enough for me to tell if the guy wore gloves."
"I'm betting the bank that he did. Guy pulls off a grab that slick, he's not going to slip up and get caught because of some fingerprints." She glanced over her shoulder at Gabe, who'd gone back to staring out the window. "Okay, well, let's get the tape down to the station and start running his face with the system. Something has to pop."
"Unless he's international," the officer pointed out.
"In which case, we'll run it through the international database," Ava replied simply. "Either way, we're going to find this guy. And, when we do, we'll find Zanny."
The day was overcast and cool, reminding Gabe that it was the end of September. Fall was slowly showing its presence as the leaves were beginning to turn to bronze, fiery orange, and pale yellow from the dark, brilliant green they'd been since spring. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he led his siblings and Dora towards the administration building where they would be meeting with the dean of the law school as well as the school lawyer and a commanding officer in the Penn police department.
Though it had barely been twelve hours since he'd been out of the apartment, it felt like years had passed since he'd breathed fresh air. If it hadn't been for the reminders from his brother, sister, and Dora, he would've entirely forgotten about the meetings that they'd set up before he'd discovered Zanny's things had been missing and called the police over to the apartment. The cops had done all they could and had left just minutes before Gabe had to get going as well. Ava had promised him that she'd call him as soon as there was any update on the case. He was planning on holding her to it and knew she'd make good on the promise.
He could hear Kyle, Anna, and Dora chattering away behind him. To his ears, they sounded unconcerned, though he knew they were the furthest from unconcerned. He wondered why or how it was that Zanny's disappearance seemed to be affecting him far worse than any of the others. After all, hadn't he always told her that he'd be much better off without her cluttering up his life?
Not that it was the truth. In fact, if he really thought about it, he'd actually enjoyed having her around. It had only been after they'd moved in together that things had started going south for them. He'd be the first to admit that he enjoyed more than his fair share of women throughout college and hadn't bothered to curb those habits in the past two years of law school. In college, he hadn't really thought about how that might affect anyone else, but, after moving in with Zanny, it had been quite the shock to realize that he had friends out there, who wouldn't necessarily approve of it.
Well, he'd gotten over Zanny's indignation and started treating her fury as a joke. Getting perverse pleasure out of her facial expressions every time another of his lovers had left the apartment in the morning, Gabe hadn't been stingy in teasing her or infuriating her.
"I was a bastard," he muttered to himself under his breath as he led the group up the steps to a large, weathered building. Well, he'd change. If Zanny was found and came home, he'd change his ways and be more mindful of her feelings. She'd been one of his oldest friends and certainly hadn't deserved the way he'd been treating her.
A lot of things were going to change.
"Gabe!" The sound of his name made him stop in mid-step and look around. "Gabe! Honey!" When he recognized the voice, he wished he could melt into liquid and drain away. Instead, he made himself stay in place, even as he heard his siblings and Dora burst into fresh murmurs. In moments, he found his arms full of woman, and his ears full of her high-pitched voice. "Oh, I've called you so many times! I heard all about Zanny, and I thought you might need someone, but you never called back."
He heard the complaint in her voice and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Instead, he looked—really looked—at the first year law student whose arms were currently twined around his neck and whose big, baby blue eyes were sympathetically watching him. Despite sounding like a Valley girl and looking like she'd walked out of the Playboy mansion, he knew she was intelligent, although not quite as caring as she seemed at the moment.
She'd been a whirlwind in bed.
Stifling that thought, Gabe forced a smile. "Hey, Jess. I haven't really had time to check my voicemail lately, but thanks for the concern. I've been busy, you know."
"Oh, of course!" One manicured hand reached up to stroke his cheek in a move that was meant to be both soothing and provocative. "I completely understand. I hope you know that if you need any sort of comfort, you'll come to me."
Gabe ignored the snort of laughter that Kyle turned into a cough behind him. Instead, he gently pried Jess off of him and patted her shoulder. "Yeah, I don't think I'll have time for that either. Listen, Jess." He hated this part and didn't know of a better way to do it. "I don't think I'm really going to have much time to spend with you until we find Zanny, you know?"
"Oh, well, of course, I understand," she replied, though her eyes had darkened with a touch of annoyance.
"Right. Great. I just don't think it'll be fair to you if I'm never around, so I think we should put the brakes on this thing between us." When her expression turned angry, he hurried on. "I'm just thinking of you first, babe. How about I call you when all of this is over, and then we can really concentrate on just us?"
For one horribly long moment he thought she might actually claw his eyes out, but then, a sunny smile bloomed on her face, and she leaned up to kiss him in a way that, had he not been so focused on Zanny, would have made the blood drain from his upstairs brain to his downstairs brain. When she stepped back, she shot him a sultry smile. "Don't forget where we left off, Gabe. I'll see you soon."
As she walked off, Kyle let out a low whistle while Anna and Dora rolled their eyes before Anna smacked the back of Gabe's head.
"Ouch." He rubbed his head and scowled at his sister. "What the hell, Anna?"
"You dated her? Jeez, Gabriel. I thought you had taste. Zanny was totally right." Anna exchanged looks with Dora, who nodded in agreement.
"Well, you can't really blame him," Kyle began with a tiny shrug. "I mean, she's pretty smoking."
Gabe's scowl deepened. "Shut up. Look, I ended it, didn't I? Don't I get points for that? And, besides, what the hell is Zanny doing telling you about Jess? Did she tell the two of you about all of my…uh-"
"Sluts? Ho-bags? Whores?" Anna supplied, earning a giggle from Dora. "Yeah, pretty much. She thought you could do better. You can."
Not wanting to spend more time than necessary on the current subject, Gabe folded his arms over his chest and frowned hard at his sister. "Well, while I'm sure it would be oh so fun to dissect all of my prior relationships, we have more important things to take care of. We have five minutes before the meeting, so I suggest we table this until a later date." Or never, he thought to himself.
Dora lifted her brows and clapped lightly. "Wow, Mr. Counselor. You've already got that lawyer speak down. But," she continued when he opened his mouth to retort, "you're right. My sister is our priority, so let's go."
Escaped that one, Gabe thought as they hurried into the building and towards the nearest elevator. He knew that his relationships—if they could even be called that—weren't exactly with the most substantive of women. Mostly, he'd always and only been looking for sex, and so had the women he'd hooked up with. He was a law student with a hectic life already, and he'd rationalized that an actual relationship would take more time and effort than he had or could afford.
And, really, he thought with a small scowl as they stepped off an elevator on the third floor, what was Zanny doing discussing his personal life with their siblings?
When Hobbs had come in that morning to bring her breakfast and announced in his gruff voice that she was to be dressed and ready to dine with the "Master" at precisely six sharp that evening, Zanny had ignored him. She'd kept her back to the door and curled herself into a tighter ball, not wanting to come into contact with anyone or anything. The sounds of a tray clinking on wood and the shuffling of Hobbs' feet had been followed by the sound of the door shutting and locking closed.
Only when her stomach had seemed as though it would devour itself had Zanny crept over to the tray perched on the bedside table and nibbled on a piece of toast. The tray had been loaded with luxurious breakfast items, but she'd chosen the plainest one. She didn't want to eat anything unless she absolutely had to, and she was determined that the toast would sustain her.
As for dinner…She had no desire or intention to dress up and play nice with Sebastian or whatever his name was. He'd abducted her and then expected her to play his game by his rules?
"I don't think so, buddy," she muttered aloud in the ornate bedroom. Instead, she'd spent the majority of the day plotting ways to escape from her prison, each one more fantastic than the last. And all hopeless, unless she could find some sort of weapon.
That was when it had occurred to her.
Hobbs seemed almost surprised—if his stony face was capable of showing surprise, Zanny mused—that she was impeccably dressed and groomed when he arrived at five minutes to six. She'd found a low-cut royal blue gown that left her back bare and fell to her knees. Her curls cascaded down her back, and she'd put on a set of sapphire jewelry that she'd uncovered in the large armoire.
It appeared that "Sebastian" had furnished her room with more than just luxurious furniture. There was a small fortune in jewels, gowns, and lingerie in the armoire, the dresser, and hanging alongside her own clothing in the closet. It made her skin crawl to think that he'd bought her underwear and probably expected to see her wearing it, so Zanny chose not to think about it.
Instead, she inclined her head and sailed out of the room with Hobbs' arm tightly gripping her elbow. She knew better than to try to tug out of his grasp. He looked as though he could break her in half without any effort at all.
She struggled not to gape at the lavish furnishings and artwork throughout the house. As Hobbs led her from the third floor, down a spiraling staircase to the first floor, she glimpsed exotic pieces of art, ornate carvings, and more ostentatious everything than she'd seen anywhere. Considering she'd grown up in one of the wealthiest areas on the east coast, that was saying something.
Hobbs guided her into the dining room where the utter brilliance of the chandelier blinded her for a moment before she registered "Sebastian" rising from a chair at the head of the enormous table.
"Ah, Alexandra. You're right on time." He stepped towards her and, despite her resistance, lifted her hand to his lips. His eyes gleamed with avarice, and she forced herself not to punch him. Not that she had a good punch as Gabe had never gotten around to teaching her how to punch "like a dude". The thought of Gabe made her knees weaken as she thought of how, if she died, she'd never get the chance to tell him how she felt about him. Then, "Sebastian" spoke again, and she was shoved back into the present. "You look exquisite tonight. Please, have a seat."
She didn't miss the way his eyes roamed over every inch of her skin, but she managed to smile at him as she took a seat across from him. "Your home is beautiful. It's more beautiful than any I've ever seen."
"Why, thank you, my dear. Of course, you've yet to see the best part of the house." There was pride in his words, and Zanny reminded herself to keep fluffing his ego. Perhaps, if she was lucky, it would distract him. "Where I keep my treasures is more wonderful than any place you can imagine."
"You're like a king, and this is your palace," Zanny said in what she hoped was an awestruck tone. "I never thought anyone could have such a remarkable home."
As "Sebastian" began to wax on about his home and belongings, Zanny shifted her gaze ever so slightly over his shoulder to the windows ranged along the wall. Her heart fell when she saw that there were only more trees on this side of the house as well. Were they so far removed from the rest of the world that no one would hear her even if she managed to escape?
Because he was still talking to her as the first course was laid in front of them, Zanny brought her focus back to the task at hand. As she reached for her soup spoon, she saw the heavy, silver knife in the place setting and bit back a shout of joy. Instead, she calmly dipped into the soup, barely tasting it on her tongue, and continued to fawn and flutter in all the right places.
"I'm delighted to see that you've gotten past your initial hesitance to be here," he told her as their dishes were being cleared away after dessert.
Zanny forced a smile to her lips as she clutched the knife in her hand, hiding it against her arm as she leaned across the table towards him. "Well, you must have expected me to be reluctant and resistant to the idea of being kidnapped," she pointed out. "But then, I realized that there were a great deal of benefits to this arrangement. Not the least of which is this lovely home of yours." Fighting revulsion, she trailed a finger down her neck and between her breasts, noting that his gaze dipped greedily. "Of course, it doesn't hurt to spend time with such a handsome, well-educated man such as yourself," she added with a flirty laugh she hadn't thought herself capable of possessing.
He stood and moved around the table to her, dragging her out of the chair. One arm locked around her waist, holding her tightly against him as his free hand stroked her cheek. "You'll never want for anything at my side, darling," he told her possessively. "The entire world is at your disposal, whatever you want."
She hoped he'd misinterpret her racing heart as excitement instead of stress. Keeping the hand holding the knife tucked close to her side, she fluttered her other hand over his face and feigned coy as she slid a finger down his lapel. "That sounds so…exhilarating," she murmured. "I've always wanted the entire world at my fingertips."
"Your wish is my command, Alexandra," he replied genially before gripping her chin and tilting it up so he could press his lips to hers.
Zanny tried not to panic. She'd known that this was a possibility, so she stifled any resistance and revulsion, letting him do whatever he wanted. Long moments passed before his lips lifted from hers and curved in a satisfied smile. She managed to smile back as his arm tightened around her.
"I knew I'd made the right decision in choosing you, Alexandra Jamison," he murmured smugly as his hand trailed from her face to her shoulder. His smile widened when she shuddered under his touch, though she hoped he mistook it for desire instead of fear.
"I'd hate to disappoint you."
He let her go and stepped back slightly. "I don't think you will. Not even if you somehow managed to execute your plan."
Before Zanny could react, he'd jerked her hand behind her back, causing her fingers to go limp. The knife fell, and she was sure he'd kill her. The pain in her hand was horrific, and she bit her lip to keep the cry from slipping out.
His head lowered to her ear, and his voice made her blood run cold. "I may be willing to give you everything you desire, Alexandra, but do not forget that it is only because of my graciousness and generosity that you remain alive even after this foolish stunt of yours. Do not cross me again. Understood?"
Zanny nearly cried out when he shoved her away, her wrist burning with pain. Words dissolved on her lips when she saw the expression on his face. This, she was sure, was a man who wouldn't flinch a bit if he had to kill her. In fact, he'd probably enjoy it, seeing it as his own form of justice. Cradling her aching arm, she struggled not to tremble.
"Hobbs, take her back to her room," he ordered, and the loyal butler moved from his post to grip her arm and drag her out of the room.
The last glimpse she had of "Sebastian," he was standing in the middle of the elaborate dining room, watching her go with both cold fury and deep desire in his eyes. The combination made Zanny shudder as her hopes crumbled.
AN: Thanks to everyone who reviewed the past couple chapters and everyone who's been waiting patiently for this chapter. It's taken longer than I thought to write it, but, finally, here it is! I finally found time as I was recovering after a surgery last Friday, so I hope it makes sense and is up to par with everyone's expectations. Enjoy and let me know what you think!