A young woman is swept away by a seductive stranger. She finds herself following him to his home in London, a place filled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, nightmarish apparitions—she discovers that her new husband is not who he pretends to be. –Written by Nadia Yusuf
Vanger looked straight at him.
“Since our phone conversation, we have reviewed your proposal several times and noticed that there appears to be a substantial amount of information missing from your financial history. It is unclear where you got the money to fund all these projects. From the looks of it, your company is not completely in the waters, but it’s barely holding on.”
Ian stared at Vanger, unsure of how to respond. Then he looked from the old man staring at him to the younger man leaning back in his chair and had to fight back his anger. The truth was Vanger looked down on him because he considered him inferior. “Look, I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but the revenues are growing, and the companies expenses are staying flat. And anyway, how I earn my money shouldn’t come in between our business.”
Vanger sat for a moment drumming his fingers on the desk before he started to speak. “Look, I understand your frustration, son. And I apologize for the abrupt change in direction, but my decision is final. We cannot finance your project. It’s just not what we’re looking for at the moment.”
Ian contemplated his thoughts before answering. Vanger was the only one who showed any interest in his vision and it was through a mutual friend that he was able to get the old man to agree to see him. Ian needed his financial backing if he was to gain any real capital. He couldn’t risk losing Vanger as an investor. Not over something as trivial as credibility.
“I thought you were on board.” Ian felt a chill inside. Even as he spoke, he knew Vanger wasn’t going to budge.
Vanger exchanged glances with Sam Beard. There was an understanding between the two that Ian couldn’t interpret.
“Look, it’s a great idea. I’m not challenging you on that. It’s just not for us.”
“It’s nothing personal,” Sam Beard interjected. “It’s too much of a risk.”
“Where am I supposed to find another investor in such a short time?”
Vanger walked over to Ian and placed his right hand on his shoulder. “You’re a smart man. I’m sure it will be easy for you to find someone else.”
Ian moved slightly back and watched Vanger’s hand drop. Then regarded both men with such hostility that it sent a cold shiver down Vangers spine. Quickly after, his expression changed and he met Vanger’s gaze.
“You’re making a big mistake.”
As Ian approached the elevators, he caught sight of a woman making her way towards Vanger’s office. She wore a grey dress that cinched at the waist and accentuated her curves. His eyes moved to her oval face, her high cheekbones, her narrow nose. And her mouth, full and pouty. He thought she had to be no older than 25. And in her hands was a pile of documents. Victoria glanced in his direction and gave him a warm smile. As she walked ahead, she tripped over her foot, and the papers fell to the ground. She looked up and found Ian’s gentle hands around her waist, helping her stand.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m so clumsy,” she muttered.
They both knelt to gather her belongings. “You should be more careful,” he said with amusement.
She held his dark gaze then bit her lip. “Actually, I’m in no rush. I was heading to my father’s office.”
Ian stood and stared at her for a moment. He could feel her regard on him, her nervousness, and he wondered if she were Vanger’s daughter? Neither spoke for a few minutes.
“My apologies, I’m Ian Buchanan. And you are?”
“Victoria,” she said shyly. “Where in the south of the UK are you from?”
“You’re very sharp,” he replied, his voice soft. “How did you know?”
“It’s your accent,” she said. Then she closed her eyes for a brief moment to inhale his cologne. It smelled sweet but also spicy. Could it be Amyris? She opened her eyes, and her cheeks flamed at the realization that he was staring at her.
“A-are you here for an interview?” she stuttered. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
He smiled. But it was a cold smile that did not reach his eyes. “No. I was here to meet with Mr. Vangar about a business proposal. Unfortunately, he had a change of heart and turned it down.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Her mouth suddenly felt dry and she wondered how he would react when he found out she was Vanger’s daughter. “My father can be a bit tough at times when it comes to his investments.”
Ian was stunned. Then he felt a fresh excitement over his luck. It dawned on him that she could come in handy after all.
He held her gaze, and then his lips curled. “Would you like to go out for coffee?”
“I’d like that,” she murmured.
Ian smiled and leaned in a bit. “let’s say, tomorrow evening?”
The next day, Ian and Victoria went to Avra Madison a restaurant several blocks down from Vanger Corporation. The crowd is mild today Victoria thought as the maitre d’ walked them to their table. They ordered coffee, then she sat back and stared at him as if mesmerized. He was wearing a fitted suit, and his white cotton blend shirt added to the intensity of his eyes. This man sitting across from her was perfection; he reminded her of Michael Fassbender.
Ian was amused. He caught her blushing and staring at him intently several times when she thought he wasn’t looking. She was very young and naive. Very attracted to him.
After some small talk, she told him she graduated from Harvard Law but secretly wanted to go into film, so she pursued a career in production. She seemed to like the way he asked her questions about her life and would respond with a blush to his probing. Then she would frequently look away to distract herself from his sexy stares.
He told her about his family and how they started up in the oil business and how he had veered off to pursue his own business ventures. She thought he was charming and that they had a lot in common. He mentioned his goals in life, and she heard the passion in his voice as she wondered why on earth her father would have said no to him. He was brilliant!
Afterward, they walked back to her place, in silence. At the door, she could feel Ian’s eyes on her. Her heart pounded, and she wondered if he was going to kiss her. Then he moved towards her. His lips quirked up into a half-smile. “I had a great time Victoria. I will call you.” She looked down at his sensual lips and felt her knees turn to Jell-O. There was something about his concentrated stare that made her want to throw herself at him, but she just stood there frozen. When he walked away, she was somewhat disappointed.
Back in his room, he thought about her and felt sure that they had made a connection. It was fate. There was something different about this girl. He remembered how open she was; the way she bit her lip every time she spoke. He wanted to take her back to his place and have sex, but it was too soon. Victoria’s image came to mind as she had been with him earlier that day, with a kind of innocents that he had never witnessed before, at least not with any woman that he had come across. She brought something out of him, something he had never allowed himself to acknowledge.
“And yet there’s something pathetic about her,” he thought.
A month had passed since their first date. Victoria invited Ian out to her father’s charity event at the old theater. Dressed in his best Armani suit, he held tight to Victoria and never let her out of his sight. The place was packed. It was your typical highbrow event. The guests stood out distinctly—the women all came with dates and dressed in Chanel and Versace as the place was bustling equally with people and noise. Victoria’s eyes eagerly roamed the room until she found her father; he was standing near the bar, talking to a tall man that vaguely looked familiar. She walked up to him and formally introduced Ian Buchanan as her date for the evening. Vanger glanced at Ian when she finished, didn’t smile, then looked back at her.
Vanger was enraged. He had never seen his daughter behave so recklessly. It was true that she was head-strong, but this time it was different. He could suddenly see his wife, five years earlier—telling him to stop being so over-protective. Well, Margo was gone, and he knew a manipulator when he saw one. Vanger asked no questions, instead he resumed his conversation with the tall gentleman. He decided now was not the time to have a family dispute. He would speak to her later.
Feeling triumphant, Victoria Vanger turned abruptly to Ian and placed a soft kiss on his lips. He was aroused and amused by her sudden brazenness.
Then Victoria grabbed Ian’s hand and they walked into the next room. She talked a great deal, firing off abrupt questions and listening intently to his responses. Victoria wanted to know everything about him, even if it took all night. Ian smiled. He could tell at this point that she was nervous. He reached over and closed his hand over hers. At once, she felt her entire body stiffen, and she could no longer hear the band playing in the background. They were both silent for a long time. But Ian knew how the night was going to end.
“I just want you to know that I’m glad you’re here with me,” she said softly.
Ian leaned in and whispered, “Let me take you home.”
It was a while before Victoria responded. Then she reached up to kiss his lips.
Her apartment was a large two-bedroom, Highrise—that she owned. She opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of water. When she walked back into the room, Ian saw that she was a little unsure of herself, and there was a feeling of embarrassment in the atmosphere as if someone had walked in and found them doing something wrong.
“I’m not so sure about this anymore,” she said. “I think we might be moving too fast.”
On the table was the bottle of water. Ian took a gulp. An awkward silence filled the room for only a moment before he got to his feet.
“I understand, Victoria,” he said. “I won’t rush you into anything you don’t want.” He had one hand around her, while his other traced the outline of her face.
Victoria’s gaze trailed to his lips. It was hard for her to think straight.
“I should have you know my father can be protective. He doesn’t trust anyone.”
“Is that so?” Ian said coolly. “So you don’t think he approves of me?”
“No. I’m afraid not. Father doesn’t like outsiders. He wants me to be with Sam.”
As she spoke, Ian turned to his thoughts, to the immediate problem—Sam Beard. He knew about the influence Beard held over Vanger, but he was not going to let anything get in his way. Nothing was going stop him from winning her over. He would marry Victoria.
She continued, “You don’t have to worry about Sam; we’re just friends. He would never come in between us…”
“Do you love him?”
“No. I can say that confidently now.” But as the words slipped from her mouth, she found herself questioning her feelings for Sam. Was I still in love with him? She hadn’t thought about them together in quite some time.
Victoria looked up and met his gaze, and something fearful started to pound within her. Her body was prickling with anticipation. She wanted to touch him, but she couldn’t move.
“Do you want company tonight?” He slowly lifted his hand until they cupped her face.
And then he kissed her.
“Good. I was planning on staying.”
After Ian left her apartment the next morning, Victoria went over to her father’s estate. She found Vanger in his office, sitting on his armchair reading The Wall Street Journal. Vanger watched her head straight for the machine as she made herself a shot of espresso. When she was finished, she walked over to her father and planted herself in front of him.
“Dad, I want you to give Ian a chance. Things are getting serious with us.”
Vanger put his paper down on the coffee table and gave her a long look. “I’m sorry darling, I can’t do that. I don’t trust him.”
“You’re not even willing to give him a chance. It makes no sense. You invited him here from the UK to invest in his business. Then you go back on your word?”
Vanger sighed and rose from his chair. Then he placed both his hands on her shoulder. “Victoria, trust me on this. There’s something about him that doesn’t add up. Promise me you’ll stay away from him.”
Victoria’s face dropped. She hated herself for going against her father.
“I’m afraid I can’t, Dad. I love him.”
Late that night, Victoria laid with her head resting on Ian’s chest, and her thoughts were on her father. “I told him I was in love with you,” Victoria whispered.
“And what did he say?” He reached his hand up and gently stroked her hair. He felt an overwhelming desire to protect what was his, regardless of her father’s displeasure.
“He wants me to stay away from you.” When he didn’t say anything, she pulled herself up and sat astride him. “I don’t know if he’ll ever come to terms with us being together.”
She started to move.
Ian gazed into her eyes, automatically putting his hands around her waist. He watched her hips circle, then closed his eyes. Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow I’ll deal with your father.
It was a chilly, Monday morning when Ian drove to Vanger’s office. Vanger appeared to be in a good mood and seemed willing to talk to him about his daughter. Ian started off explaining his feelings for Victoria, but then became outraged and deeply affronted when Vanger said the only reason he pursued his daughter was for her money. Ian saw red. Obviously, Vanger was not going to give him his consent. He was sure that if he reasoned with him, Vanger would eventually bend, but that was not the case. Instead, Vanger made out a check for a substantial amount and handed it to him. “Take this money and get the hell out of town,” Vanger said.
Ian looked down at the check and laughed. “I’m not going anywhere. In fact, I intend to marry your daughter.” He tore the check and stared boldly at the old man, he had no intention of backing down.
“If you think I’m going to let that happen, you’re really stupid.” Vanger said dryly.
That was the last thing Ian heard Vanger say before he walked off.
Ian was still fuming when he got to his car. He made some business calls, then went to Victoria’s home and made some excuse about needing to go to London on business and that he would be away for a few nights. Ian knew he needed some time alone; to get his head straight. Afterward, he packed up his things and left town abruptly.
While in London, he thought about Victoria and how much his feelings had grown for her. For whatever reason, she had gotten in his head, and there was a small part of him that wanted to trust her. However, he was astute enough to know that she would not be happy without her father’s consent, and this could jeopardize future plans.
Ian spent his days discussing his estate with his lawyers, and at night he went out to the bar to have drinks with the locals. Then he remembered calling Victoria that morning and leaving her two voice messages. She had not responded to either. Was she angry? Did Vanger get to her head? He knew it was time to leave and that it wasn’t wise to be away for too long. If he didn’t act now, the old-man would always be a thorn at his side.
When he got back to New York the next night, he didn’t go straight home. He parked outside of Vanger’s home. He knew that Vanger was working late because his office lights were still on. Ian got out of the car and used a small screwdriver to unlock the front door and walked down the corridor to Vangers office. Then he walked into the dimly lit room as silently as a ghost, and stood in the shadows inside the doorway, watching him. Vanger got to his feet, and Ian followed him into the restroom.
His cell phone beeped, when Vanger heard a noise outside the door. Something must have fallen, he thought.
“Who’s there?” Slowly he turned his head. He saw a dark shadow standing in the doorway, moving in his direction. When the man came into view, he could see that he was wearing a ski mask. Vanger’s heart skipped as the man pulled the mask over his head. When he saw who it was, he tried to back away, but it was too late. The man reached for his head and slammed it into the wall. Vanger’s body slumped to the floor almost immediately.
Ian got rid of the evidence then lay awake all night, thinking about Victoria. Then he went about the next day like nothing happened. He went out for a walk along the river to clear his head and thought about Vanger. They were never going to find out it was him. Ian was sure of that. He got back to his place just after 2:00 p.m. Then made himself coffee.
The next morning, it was Sam Beard who met Victoria at her father’s estate. When she arrived, an ambulance crew and three police officers greeted her. It was Sam who told her what happened. “The police found no evidence of foul play and considered it an accidental death. They said he slipped and hit his head.”
“What about the surveillance cameras? Did anyone see anything?”
“I’m sorry, Victoria. It didn’t catch anything.”
Sam caught her, cradling her in his arms. He had seen her shock. Understanding how much she loved her father, knew her pain. “I’ll make the arrangements for the funeral.” He stroked her hair. “Everything is going to be alright.”
After a while, Victoria wiped her tears and gazed up at him. “How can it be alright? How could something like this happen,” she said. “Let me see him.”
Sam Beard nodded and took her to her father’s office. Vanger’s body was on the floor with a white sheet over it. Sam gestured to the officer to show Vanger’s face. Once she saw the condition of her dead father and the ugly gash on his head, she put her hand to her mouth and started to scream.
Sam held on to Victoria then flicked his fingers against her smooth skin to wipe away the tears. It was clear that she was distraught and in no condition to drive, so he offered to take her home. As they walked to his car, he gave her a grim look. There was something not right about this, he thought. But he kept it to himself.
When Sam dropped her home she told him she wanted to be alone. Victoria locked herself in her room and sank into a chair. She was physically exhausted. Looking out the window, she could see storm clouds forming and wondered if Ian had called. It was then that she heard a knock at her front door. When she opened the door, it was Ian. He stepped into the apartment and immediately took her into his arms. “I came as soon as I heard.” He lifted her chin to meet his gaze. Tears filled her eyes. Then he stroked her cheek with one strong finger. “Victoria, please don’t cry. Your father wouldn’t want to see you like this.”
“I’ve been so unhappy since you left.” She buried her face in his chest. “I didn’t think you were coming back.”
“That would never happen!” He lowered his head and kissed her. “Marry me, Victoria. Let me make you happy once more. Take my hand in marriage and come back to London with me.”
Victoria was silent. Then looked into his glittering eyes, thinking, that there was something mysterious about him that she couldn’t quite place, then dismissed the thought. “Yes. I-I will marry you.”
The week went by quickly. After Vanger’s funeral, Victoria announced to her family and close friends that she was marrying Ian in a week. They were all upset and taken aback by the swiftness of the nuptials and tried to persuade her to give it more thought. But Victoria would not listen.
When Sam heard the news, he was furious. He thought it should have been him walking her down the aisle. Sam was in love with Victoria and hated losing her to another man. Not only that, but he was also concerned about her state of mind because he felt that it was not like her to make such a rash decision.
By evening, he drove to her place. Victoria looked at him quizzically and then brought him into the living room. He walked over to the window and stood looking into the courtyard for a long time.
“I’m sorry,” he said before she managed to say anything. “I should have called.”
“I don’t mind. Is everything alright?”
He took a step towards her, wearing a tight look on his face. “Victoria, you’re making a big mistake. You don’t even know this man.”
Victoria looked up at him and felt something pulling at her heart. He had the face of an angel, framed by a blond slicked back wet look. His expression was intense and strained, and there was no mistaking the hurt look in his eyes. “Sam, I’m in love with Ian, and he loves me. I hope you know that your friendship means the world to me. I’ll need your help to run my father’s company now that I’ll be living in London.”
“You cannot be serious! You’re uprooting your entire life for this man.”
Victoria’s eyes widened. Was it possible that Sam loved her?
“Will you be staying for dinner, Beard?” Ian walked into the room and smiled at him coldly.
Sam’s expression hardened. “No. I was just leaving,” he said tersely. He stared into Victoria’s eyes, pleading with her. Victoria’s heart sank. When she did not say anything, he turned and walked away.
A week later, Ian married Victoria at City Hall. Afterward, they decided to put off their honeymoon while she stayed in town for a few extra days going over Vanger Corporation with her father’s lawyers. Victoria was now the representative on the board and had put Sam Beard as the acting CEO. She explained that she would be available for conference calls and would fly down periodically to help put the companies affairs in order. When her business concluded, they packed up their things and set off to London.
On Saturday morning, they rode up to Hardwick Hall. When the Victorian house came into view, Victoria was shocked at its condition and instantly hated it. For a fraction of a second, she thought she was at the wrong place but realized soon enough that the dilapidating home was her humble abode. It was practically decaying from the outside. Everything around the land from the trees and murky ponds seemed lifeless. When they walked through the door, she saw that the entry hall was spacious but unwelcoming. There was a crystal chandelier that loomed above and an ornately tiled floor that had lost its color. To the left was a wooden curving staircase that led upstairs to the bedrooms. To the right closed double doors that presumably led into the living room. On the walls were medieval paintings and Greek sculptures placed meticulously around the entry hall that only added to its gloominess. The thick curtains were a dark burgundy color and blocked any form of sunlight from entering the room. There was a console table and a mirror flanked by a pair of chairs near the stairwell. Everything was old and in desperate need of repair.
As she strolled towards the double doors, Victoria got a whiff of a weird odor that seemed to permeate throughout the house. A foul smell that she could not quite place. Victoria asked Ian about the horrible odor; he said it was the rain that had gotten into the joints and cracks in the paint and that it had seeped into the wood.
“I’ll have someone come look into it later this week,” he said.
Victoria spent most of her time trying to put the house in order. She had to use her own money to rebuild some parts of the mansion since Ian was nearly bankrupt; he had invested practically all his money on his newest business venture. One day while Ian was away, Victoria took tea in the drawing-room and read over Vanger assets. Since her arrival, she was on the phone with Sam almost every morning discussing the state of the company. Victoria had a second cup and leafed through some of her notes when she noticed a woman inching across the room. Startled, Victoria sat up in her chair and thought her eyes were playing tricks on her. When the housekeeper, Rosario, came into the room, she asked with a very quiet voice if there was anyone else in the house—she looked up and gave Victoria a sharp look—asked her why she thought someone was in the house. Then said that it was just her and the cook and that she should have more tea to help calm her nerves.
After serval weeks in the gloomy mansion, Victoria fell ill. Ian came to her bedside one morning and saw that she was paler than usual and had lost a substantial amount of weight. He called for the housekeeper to make tea and to bring it to him at once. “Jesus, Victoria,” he said then took her temperature. “You have to take better care of yourself.” When the tea arrived, he made sure she drank most of it.
But after a week, her condition had worsened. Ian insisted that she stay in bed and that there was no need to call the doctor because he attributed her illness to homesickness. “Don’t worry,” he said. I’m going to take good care of you.” Then he walked off to get her more prescription pills.
One evening while Ian was away on business, Victoria had shown no signs of progress, so she called Sam Beard and explained her detriment. He said he would be there in a few days. When she hung up, she thought about how seldom Ian slept with her since they arrived at his home. So one day, she asked him about it. Ian explained that he owned a night-club and often worked late to support them. He said that he didn’t want to use her money to cover the house expenses and that he was planning on selling the club. He said that he was close to finding a buyer and that it would be all over soon.
She got upset. Ian tried to placate her, he made all this noise about being around more. But by that point, she didn’t know what to think.
That night, Victoria lay in bed alone and could not sleep. She heard creaking sounds coming from outside her door, and there was a draft in the room that made her blood run cold. Victoria slid out of bed and made her way down the hallway, hoping to find Ian in the kitchen. The lights flickered on and off as she walked down the hall. At the end of the corridor, she peered into the darkness and was about to turn the corner when a woman wearing a long black dress appeared.
Victoria froze. She squinted her eyes, trying to make out who it was.
When it turned its head to look at her; she saw that the woman’s skin was pale, and its hands were bloody; as if it had clawed its way out of somewhere. Victoria’s eyes adjusted to the image and could no longer feel her legs. The figure looked at her and slowly moved out of the shadows. The last thing Victoria saw was its mouth open as it shrieked the words, “DEATH, MURDER.”
The next morning, Victoria woke up in a panic at the horrible sound that filled the bedroom. It took her a second to get her bearings and realize that it was her alarm clock. It was nearly 8:00 a.m. She couldn’t remember what happened last night, or how she had gotten back to her room. Why couldn’t she remember? The only thing she could come up with, is that she must have fainted. Not wanting to face the world just yet, she stayed in bed until the housekeeper walked in with her breakfast tray. Afterward, she showered and went out for a walk. The sky was a pastel blue, and the air was chilly, so she threw on her coat and continued onto the gardens at the back of the house. She sat on a stone bench and spent a while looking at the sky, thinking about the woman last night. She wasn’t sure if it was trying to scare her or warn her about something. Victoria sighed. She decided not to tell Ian or anyone for that matter lest they admit her into a psychiatric ward.
It was in the gardens that Ian finally found her. “Good morning, Victoria. You look very energetic today.” He gave her a warm smile then came around to sit on the bench beside her. He took her hand and kissed it. Then there was a long pause. “I have to go away on business for a few days. Will you be alright while I’m gone?”
She looked up at him, then her eyes filled with tears. Never in her life had she felt so abandoned. “Don’t go. There are things in this house.”
Ian sighed. Obviously, Victoria was not going to make this easy on him.
When he hadn’t answered right away, she looked down at her hands. “I think something is after me.”
He blinked heavily. “Don’t talk that way,” he said and patted her hand. “I’ll have Rosario bring you more prescriptions for your anxiety. You’ll be fine without me for a few days.” He sighed.
She suddenly felt angry. “You think I’m lying?”
He waited a moment before answering, then he smiled. “No. I think you’re just a bit overwhelmed. When I get back, we’ll plan a mini vacation. I still owe you a honeymoon.”
Sam Beard sat looking at the folder on his desk labeled Ian Buchanan. He had ordered a background check on him and had a full report sitting on his desk by the next day. The first page revealed that Ian’s parents died in a plane crash five-years-ago in which case he inherited Buchanan Corporation. Ian owned a night club and had a serious gambling problem. Sam turned the page once more. There were photos of women. All taken with him at various locations. Apparently, he had been married three times in the last five years, all of whom were presumed missing. There was a police investigation and he was brought in for questioning, but it didn’t go anywhere. He had an air tight alibi. When Sam had finished, he closed the folder and put it in his briefcase, and having no idea how he was going to break the news to Victoria, went home.
When Sam arrived three days later to Ian’s estate, he was told by the housekeeper to wait in the living room. On the coffee table, there were scones and fruits and a pot of tea. Ignoring it, he looked at the peeling wallpaper and the holes in the ceiling and wondered how anyone could live in these conditions. When Victoria finally walked in, he noticed her sickly appearance: her once rosy cheeks and beautiful hair had lost all fullness, and her skin looked pale. He kissed her cheek then sat down next to her. Sam watched as she poured them both tea. He took a few sips before recognizing the odor that tinged it.
“Victoria, how long have you been drinking this?”
Startled by the urgency in his voice, her gaze flew to his. “For a few weeks. Ian prepares it for me when I’m feeling weak, and when he’s away, the housekeeper brings it up.”
Sam got up and yanked the cup out of her hand. She looked up at him and saw this crazed look in his eyes. “We have to get you out of here! Victoria, their drugging you!”
But Victoria was much too weak to leave that night, so he carried her to the bedroom. There was water in the pitcher on the nightstand. It was warm, and probably stale like the rest of this place, he thought, but it would have to do. He poured some water from the pitcher and brought it over to her. She dosed off for a bit. But when her eyes finally opened he gave Victoria a rundown of everything he had learned about Ian Buchanan.
“I think he had something to do with your father’s death.”
“No. Sam, he would never do that.” She shook her head.
Sam’s face darkened. “He had the motive to do it, Your father was in his way. And then there’s the missing persons report filed on all of his wives,” he said and raked his hand through his hair. “Their bodies were never found anywhere, Victoria. They were all wealthy, like you.”
“Are you saying Ian wants me dead?”
“Yes. And a few more days of those drugs would have done it.” He walks over to her and reaches down and touches her face. “Tell me you didn’t put anything in his name?”
Victoria shut her eyes, wishing that the room would stop spinning. She was in a state of mental shock—her husband was drugging her! Then remembered giving him access to her bank accounts, along with making him the sole beneficiary to her will. She felt stupid and didn’t like the feeling. She shook her head no.
That night she couldn’t sleep. Sam spent the night in a chair beside the bed; he was sound asleep. She was confused, restlessly looking into space. They had been friends for a long time and he had never made a move on her. Damn it, he had come all this way to London, and said nothing about having feelings for her. If only she knew how he really felt about her. Then she looked at his handsome face, and her heart sank. It was still hard for her to believe that Ian killed her father and wanted her dead. The only reasonable explanation she could think of was that Sam was wrong. Either he was genuinely mistaken, or he had an ulterior motive to take her away. He wanted to take her to the hospital but she wouldn’t go. She was still oddly loyal to her husband.
Not knowing what she was going to do, she slid out of bed and threw on her robe. Then stood by the window, restlessly peering into the dark. She stood there for fifteen minutes before she heard a sound that she could not identify. She turned around and watched the door handle turn and then open. Her first thought was Ian; had he come back? The sound came again. It was like a loud screech or scream—she couldn’t tell. Heart beating fast, Victoria watched the ghoulish looking woman glide by the door. Horrified, she tried to call out, but by then, the mangled figure vanished. “Sam!” Victoria whispered urgently, running over to shake him. “Sam, wake up! Please!
Sam would not wake up, and suddenly it came to her that perhaps he had been drugged. She kept a frightful eye on the door and thought that she should get help. Then she left the room and paddled to the staircase that led to the kitchen. On the far right, at the bottom of the stairs, she noticed a red door. Victoria watched it open.
She knew that something inside was waiting for her, watching. She knew it wanted her to come in.
In the room, there were no working lights, just the light coming from the fixtures outside. Victoria stood in the center of the room, looking around. Her first thought was that Ian had a secret that he had gone through great lengths to hide. Her gaze moved to the desk on the opposite side of the room. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary; there was nothing on it. She stood there perplexed, wondering if she should touch anything when the ghastly woman appeared by the window and pointed to a file cabinet on the floor. This time Victoria wasn’t as scared. She leafed through a few papers until she came across a pile of letters that were all addressed to Ian from different women. She had to strain her eyes to see the words. They were from women, all professing their love for him. Then she opened the top left drawer and found at least two death certificates. Both women had his last name.
Disturbed by what she had discovered, Victoria put the papers in her pocket and was about to leave when she noticed another door straight ahead. All she could see was the space in front of her. The woman was still in the room with her, directing her forward. She reached the door and placed her hand on the nob. Now her hand tightened, and her heart quickened. She heard squeaking sounds, and someone humming from someplace in the room. And as she continued to walk, the sounds got louder. She still went forward. She stood in the middle of the room and tried to make out her surroundings. Then she saw a rocking chair near the window. It was moving on its own. No one was sitting in it.
Victoria’s eyes widened, and she struggled to keep her composure. But she knew she had to continue. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was closing the distance between her. Then she saw it from the corner of her eyes and froze—there was a corpse of a woman propped up against the wall.
Sam woke up when he heard the scream. He did not have to look on the bed to know that Victoria was gone. Sam thought that she must be in some kind of danger and was almost out the door when a figure approached him. He scarcely had time to defend himself. The figure loomed over him and threw Sam Beard across the room.
When Victoria opened her eyes, she was back in her room. She had no idea how long she had been out and had a ringing pain in her head. She tried to sit up but stopped when she saw Ian watching her. And in his right hand, Victoria saw the reflection of dull metal.
Noticing her confusion, Ian got to his feet and put one hand under Victoria’s chin, lifting it so their eyes could meet. “Now, why did you and your stupid friend have to go snooping around?”
“What did you do with Sam?”
He put his hand down and grinned. “Don’t worry about your lover. I’ll finish him later.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because I need your money.”
He stared at her for a few moments, then smiled. He told her how he had almost fallen in love with her but knew that she could never fit into his world. How her father caused his death and how he hadn’t planned on killing him. He said that Sam was going to die a slow and painful death for meddling in his business and that he was sorry that he had to kill her. He said not to worry. That he would make her death swift and painless. “It’s too bad, though. It’s not like we can forget things and go on our honeymoon?”
Victoria closed her eyes and reminded herself that Ian was sadistic. He got a thrill out of killing people he thought was weaker. First, it was her father, and now her. She knew her only way out was to keep him talking.
“I’ve sent for my lawyers. They will be here tomorrow. What are you going to tell them when I come up missing. How many more accidental deaths are the cops going to believe?”
He dragged her up by her shoulders and placed his hand around her neck. She could feel the life being drained out of her. “I don’t believe you.”
“Hey, you fucking asshole, over here.”
Victoria heard Sam’s voice through a red haze. She managed to focus her eyes to see Ian turn around and aim his pistol. Blood seeped from Sam’s face as she watched him swing at Ian with a lacrosse stick he had hidden behind his back: striking him on the head. Ian stumbled over the chair, and his pistol fell to the floor at her bedside. Victoria scrambled out of bed and picked up the gun. She pointed it to Ian’s head.
“You bastard,” she yelled and pulled the trigger.