She awoke with the taste of iron in her mouth and a splitting headache. Talia slowly opened her eyes, squinting against the harsh sunlight coming from the window over the bed. It took a moment for her vision to adjust. She didn’t recognize the richly appointed room, nor the bed.

“Well, that’s disturbing.” she mumbled to herself. She sat up and the sheet slid down her bare breasts. “So is that.” As she pulled up the sheet, she noticed her hands. They were stained with dried blood; her joints and fingernails caked with it.

She licked her lips and recognition of the flavor on them burst in her mouth and her brain.

Blood.

Her stomach rumbled at the tiny sample and her body demanded more. Talia didn’t know what was going on but she needed answers. She stood up, the sheet wrapped modestly around her nude body.

She shuffled to the door. As she reached for the doorknob, she realized what she thought was part of the wallpaper pattern were actually bloody hand prints covering the walls like large cabbage roses.

She held her hand up to one of the dark stains. It fit her palm perfectly.

“What the fuck happened last night?” Talia asked. She tried to remember the evening but she only saw bits and pieces of it in out of sequence flashes.

She sat in a nice restaurant waiting for someone, nervously playing with her napkin–she lay naked in bed with an unfamiliar man on top of her, kissing and caressing her while she writhed beneath him–she stood in front of a mirror, admiring the blouse and skirt she put on for the occasion–she’s in the back of a town car, the man seated beside her, his hand sliding under her skirt, while the driver watched in the rearview mirror.

She shook her head as if to make the memories clear. More images poured into her mind.

She tore his back with her fingernails as he arched above her, reaching climax with a scream–two men entered the room and removed the body–her teeth latched onto his throat, biting and tearing, until the hot rush of blood flooded her mouth and she shuddered with her own orgasm–a woman gathered the scattered clothing, praising her for her work–his body collapsed on top of her and she shoved him aside.

Nausea overcame Talia and she threw out a hand to support herself against the wall; it rested exactly where one of her bloody prints had been left the night before. She didn’t notice.

A sharp knock on the door startled her. She turned around, clutching the sheet tight to her chest as she heard the metallic scratch of a key in the lock. Until that moment she hadn’t realized she was being held captive. Her heart raced with fear.

“Yes?” she tentatively called out.

“Miss Lawton,” a masculine voice called out, “May I come in?”

She looked around frantically, “Um, I can’t find my clothes.”

“Yes, Miss Lawton, we had them cleaned last night. I will leave them outside the door. The family is waiting for you downstairs.”

She raced for the door, trying to catch him before he left. The sheet wrapped around her legs and she fell. By the time she untangled herself from the bed sheet and reached the door, the man was gone.

She found her clothing neatly folded outside the door. She picked them up and looked around her. She was on the second floor of a manor house. More flashes of memory surfaced.

The two of them walking unsteadily up the circular staircase, giggling–clinking glasses of red wine over a meal, smiles on both their faces–the town car driving through gates and pulling up in front of the grand house–she stumbled around the unfamiliar room, searching for the door and someone to help her–he handed her an envelope with confirmation of the wire transfer for one million dollars into an offshore account set up in her name.

She stepped back into the room, clutching her clean clothing. She needed answers and there were people out there who had them. She pulled open a small door in the bedroom and found a bathroom furnished with soap and towels. She sighed in relief.

She took her time in the shower, trying to scrub off the memories as well as the blood. She got rid of the latter but pieces of the former continued to coalesce until she had a clear picture.

After months of online negotiation and flirtation she finally met Zevach Feist for dinner and drinks. They came back to his family’s home and he asked only one more thing of her. She either had more wine than she thought, or the money was too enticing, because she agreed.

She shuddered and tried not to remember the rest. She got dressed in the clothing she wore the night before and descended the staircase.

She was met by the houseman at the foot of the stairs. He nodded to her formally. “Miss Lawton, if you’ll follow me, please; the family is waiting.”

Talia nodded in return, not trusting her voice. She followed him into the dining room.

The long table was filled with unfamiliar faces, all of them looking at her expectantly. A perfectly coiffed woman at the head of the table stood and walked over to Talia, “Miss Lawton,” she greeted Talia warmly, “I’m Zevach’s mother. We appreciate what you’re doing for my son. Please, dine with us.” She gestured to an open chair with a covered dish at its place setting. “We saved the best for you.”

The butler pulled out the chair. Talia slid into it, apprehension in her heart. The houseman pulled the cover off the dish with a flourish and revealed Zevach’s head; his dead eyes stared directly at Talia, a satisfied smile still on his face.

Talia picked up the knife and fork and cut a small piece out of the neck. She put it in her mouth, savoring the familiar taste. This is what Zev wanted after all, for him and their fetus now incubating inside her.

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