I lock her in her room and close the door behind us.
“No, no, you don’t get to stay in here after what you just did!” she shouts, waltzing toward me. “Get out!”
She seems to forget that this is my house, my Family, and that she’s my wife.
But I’ll ignore it for now.
“I’m not leaving. We need to talk,” I say.
“Damn right, we do.” She taps her feet vigorously. Her dress is still torn, but she doesn’t seem to care, let alone notice. “But this is my room, the room you banished me to the moment I stepped foot in this temple, and you have no place here.”
“You want another room?” I ask. “There are ten to choose from. Have your pick.”
“I don’t care about rooms!” she shouts.
“Then why are we talking about them?” I say. “If you’re that upset about your bed, you can sleep in my room.”
“In your dreams,” she hisses.
“Well, then, glad we cleared that.” I sigh, pacing around the room. “Any other complaints?”
She folds her arms. “Stop. You know exactly what this is about. You pulled me away from my mother’s grasp. You humiliate me. Dominate me. Use me.”
“I do what I have to so we can both survive!” I yell back.
I never yell, especially not at her, and it shows. She’s immediately taken aback, her feet planted into the hardwood floor as though she’s being sucked into an endless pit of despair.
“I’m …” I take a deep breath. “I’m doing my best to make sure everything goes according to plan. And you speaking with your mother was not part of it.”
Her brows furrow. “What plan? What are you talking about?”
I rub my lips together. I thought Natalie would just run off to be alone for a while, not that she’d run into Marsha. I misjudged the situation thoroughly, and now I’m paying the price. I wonder how much Marsha told her.
“There’s a reason you were out there, beyond these walls. And there’s a reason you’re back too.”
“Oh, yeah, I know,” she says, making a face. “She told me all about you putting me in a giant suitcase to smuggle me out of here.”
Well … that’s interesting information.
“But I don’t believe it,” she adds.
My nostrils flare. “It’s true.”
She frowns. “What? That you took me out of this community?”
I was not looking forward to this conversation, but I guess it had to happen eventually. I was hoping it could wait until after she was settled in. But Marsha spoiled my plans by inserting herself into the situation. I should’ve prepared for such a scenario.
I grab the bottle of rum from the table, pour myself a glass, and take a sip.
“Are you saying you ignored the rules?” Natalie asks. “You? Noah, the patriarch, ruler of the Family?” She makes quotation marks with her fingers, as though she can’t take our family seriously.
Too bad for her … I’m more than serious about her.
I put down the glass. “Yes. To get you to momentary safety.”
“Momentary …?” she repeats.
It’s exactly that word which bears so much power, and she knows it.
“Momentary … because you were always supposed to return.”
“Why?” Her teeth barely separate as she speaks, and it’s so damn sexy it makes me want to kiss her, but she’d probably bite me if I tried.
“You’re cute when you think you have power over me,” I reply with a smile.
She almost bursts right then and there, and I have to admit it looks amazing. My eyes can’t help but gorge themselves on her ripped dress and those tits that beg to be released underneath that push-up bra. I wish I’d ripped it off in the fields too.
My peeking is cut short by her immediately grasping the shreds of the dress and pulling them together. “Stop looking at me like you want to eat me up,” she says.
I shrug. “I’m sorry, but I do.”
“Control your urges then,” she says.
I step closer. “Why? Give me one good reason.”
“Because I’m not your personal plaything,” she answers as I stand right before her. “I’m a human with feelings, with needs, wants, and wishes. You want me to be your wife? Then be a proper husband.”
“It’s amusing to me that you think you know the rules of our Family,” I reply, and I put a single finger underneath her chin. “Make no mistake … I may be your husband, but I am still your patriarch, and you will do exactly as I say.”
“Over my dead body,” she hisses back.
My eyes twitch. I both hate and love her tenacity.
“You think you’re the only one who can play games? Wrong,” she says. “I’m not going to be easy. I’m not going to be quiet. I’ll never be the good wife you so desperately seek.”
“I’m not asking you to be,” I reply, caressing her cheeks. “I simply want you to behave. And speaking with that woman is the opposite of that.”
Her face darkens. “You’re afraid of her, aren’t you?” She slaps away my hand. “She knows what you did, and you don’t want the others to know.”
“What she did is what any mother would do for a child.”
Her eyes widen. “So she is my mother.”
I close my eyes and sigh. I wish I didn’t have to admit it.
“C’mon, give me something, anything to work with. I can’t do this without information, Noah. I need the truth,” she says, playing at my heartstrings.
I pinch my forehead. “Fine. Yes, she is your mother.”
“And you knew all this time and didn’t tell me,” she says.
“If I’d told you, you would’ve gotten hurt,” I say.
“She’s my mother! I deserved to know.” She points at me. “You kept me away from her on purpose.” She taps the side of her head near her sleep. “You made me think I was losing my mind.”
I close the gap between us. “I did it to keep you safe. Knowing this information only puts you and your mother in danger. Don’t you understand? The other patriarchs aren’t as forgiving as I am. They’d do far worse things to you than I ever could.”
She puts on some attitude. “Oh, like putting me in that suffering hut?” she retorts.
“No,” I say, leaning in so I can whisper. “They’d cut off your head.”
It’s true that the patriarchs employ cruel punishments for those who don’t obey. And I’m sure they’d cut off the head of any random girl who would defy them.
But she isn’t any random girl … She’s the daughter of a matriarch. And if they find out I’ve found her, a riot of epic proportions will break out.
I don’t want them finding out about her yet. Not until she’s completely on my side … and pregnant. Then and only then will we be able to survive this unscathed and come out on top.
Her eyes have turned completely cold. Her body trembles in place.
“What do you think happened to the guard who tried to touch you?” I ask, tipping up her chin. “Or the elder wife who hurt you in ways I never thought would happen? You never saw them again, did you? They never walked around the premise, never came to any of the breakfasts or lunches, never attended any of the events. Now you know why.”
Her lips quivers. “So that’s how you uphold the rules …?”
I release her from my grip and walk away. I don’t enjoy seeing her in pain … like she’s terrified of us. Of me.
“This is the price of our community,” I say. “The price of perfection.”
“Perfection? People are forced to do things they don’t want to,” she rebukes.
“The people out there follow us willingly,” I say, looking at the window. “They know the rules, and they live by them. We didn’t force them to do anything. They chose us to lead them a long time ago.”
“Not me. I didn’t choose any of this, and neither did my mother,” she spits back.
Marsha told her more than I anticipated. Interesting.
“What else did she tell you?” I ask.
She looks like she’s about to break. “My father … Is it the president?”
I hesitate to tell her. I wish it wasn’t true, wish I could erase his mere existence from her mind. But I nod instead.
She sinks to the floor. “No, no, no, no, no!”
She covers her face with her hands and buries herself in the remainder of her dress. “No, not him, anyone but him.”
“It’s the truth, Natalie. He’s your father, whether you want it to be true or not.”
“I’m nothing like him, nothing!” she yells, looking up at me with eyes that almost spit fire.
“You can want that to be true, but you are his daughter, and you were born here.”
“So what? That doesn’t mean I belong here,” she claps back.
“We’re betrothed. You’re my wife. You belong here now more than ever,” I reply.
“This community is wrong, and the Family is vicious. I want no part in it,” she says, averting her eyes.
I come closer and go to my knees in front of her, and I grab her face. “You know what I see when I look at you? Your mother. Not your father.” When I say this, her face lights up just a tiny bit. “I see the same free spirit, the same tenacity, the same will. And I see potential.”
She shakes me off. “All you see is a birthing machine.”
“That’s what you tell yourself so you can keep living your fantasy of escaping this place,” I say. “It’s not happening, Natalie. You’re my wife now, and with my guidance, you’ll become a queen. You were born for this.”
“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I don’t want any of this. I never asked for this.”
“We don’t always decide our own fate, Natalie,” I say.
“All I wanted was to find my mother. That’s it. I recognized your tattoo from my scarf because it was her scarf. Because she draped it around my neck the day she pushed me to that hut where you were preparing that giant suitcase. She saved me. Not you,” she spits.
“It was my idea, my plan, and I was the one who gave you the freedom,” I say. “But I can take it away again all the same.”
“You already did,” she hisses back, and she stomps off out of her room.
I contemplate following her, but I doubt I can reason with her right now. She’s upset and rightfully so. What she just found out would shake me to my core too if I was in her shoes. I thought the least she would do was to try to kill me, but maybe I misjudged her hatred for me. Maybe she’s more attached to me than I thought … and that’s killing her now.
I groan to myself and rub my forehead, trying to wrap my head around all of this. I never intended for her to find out that the president is her father this soon. If she goes to talk to him, all my plans could be foiled, especially if he sides with her over me. I have to make sure that doesn’t happen.
She has to get on my side; it’s the only way to make this work. And there’s only one road to conquering Natalie’s heart … Her mother.
I immediately waltz to Marsha’s room and burst in uninvited.
“You son of a bitch.”
My sudden entrance doesn’t go unnoticed. Good. “We had an agreement. You knew everything that would happen, and you didn’t fucking commit!”
She stares at me with a sour look on her face. “I changed my fucking mind.”
I normally never swear, and neither does she, but for this occasion, we’re making an exception. It’s worth it.
She marches straight for me and pushes my chest. “This place is no good for her, and you know it. How could you bring her back here?”
“This was our deal,” I say. “You knew the minute you surrendered her to me that this was going to happen.”
She folds her arms. “I thought things would be different by now.” Her face darkens. “I would rather burn in hell than let you keep her here.”
After all these years, this is how she still views us.
Even when she herself fell for the president’s charms when he took her a long time ago, she’d still berate us for trying to do the same.
“Change takes time,” I hiss back. “You intervened. You talked with her without my permission. You put everything I hope to achieve at risk.”
“Permission to talk to my daughter? From you?” she scoffs. “You have balls, Noah.”
“A deal is a deal, Marsha,” I say through gritted teeth. “You can’t just go back on your end.”
“I don’t believe you anymore,” she says. “My daughter was innocent, and you brought her into a world she’s not prepared for. Nothing will ever change.”
My fist balls. She has no fucking clue, yet she jeopardized everything. “You know what? I bet you thought after I freed her, I would let her stay there. That she wouldn’t attempt to seek you out and that I wouldn’t find her. Well, you were wrong about both of us.”
“She was looking for me, not you,” she claps back. “You wouldn’t recognize a mother’s love if it was staring right at you.”
A mother’s love … how dare she speak of my mother …
Rage overtakes me, and I slap her in the face.
She covers her cheeks, which turn red instantly, and I immediately regret my decision, lowering my hand.
“You’re a bastard,” she says, eyes filled with tears. “Get out.”
I take a step back and swallow hard. She pushed me to the brink, making me question my choices and even the love my own mother had for me … and now I’ve gone too far.
I slapped the mother of my wife, the woman who is married to the president … that same man who could have me killed for touching her.
I shake my head and stumble backward. “I’m sorry.”
“GET OUT!” she screams.
And I do, for my own sake … and hers.
Because if the president finds out someone else was in her room and touched her … he’ll hurt her too.