The Mister by E.L. James

Prologue


            No. No. No. Not the black. Not the choking dark. Not the plastic bag. Panic overwhelms her, forcing the air from her lungs. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. The metallic taste of fear rises in her throat. I need to do this. It’s the only way. Be still. Be calm. Breathe slow. Breathe shallow. Just like he said. This will be over soon. It will be over, and then I will be free. Free. Free.



* * *





            Go. Now. Run. Run. Run. Go. She runs hard and fast but doesn’t look back. Fear drives her forward as she dodges a few late-night shoppers in her quest to flee. Luck is with her: the automatic doors are open. She flies under the gaudy holiday decorations and through the entrance into the parking lot. On and on she runs. Between the parked cars and into the woods. She runs for her life, down a small dirt path, through brambles, small branches slapping her face. She runs until her lungs are bursting. Go. Go. Go. Don’t stop.



* * *





                         Cold. Cold. Too cold. Fatigue fogs her brain. Fatigue and the cold. The wind howls through the trees, through her clothes, and into her bones. She huddles beneath a bush and gathers the fallen leaves to build a nest with numb hands. Sleep. She needs sleep. She lies down on the cold, hard ground, too tired to be afraid and too tired to weep. The others. Did they get away? She closes her eyes. Did they escape? Let them be free. Let them be warm…How did it come to this?



* * *





            She wakes. She’s lying between trash cans, wrapped in newspapers and cardboard. She’s shivering. She’s so cold. But she needs to move on. She has an address. She thanks her nana’s God for the address. With shaking fingers she unfurls the paper. This is where she needs to go. Now. Now. Now.



* * *





            One foot in front of the other. Walk. It’s all she can do. Walk. Walk. Walk. Sleep in a doorway. Wake and walk on. Walk. She drinks water from the sink at the McDonald’s. The food smells enticing.



* * *





            She’s cold. Hunger claws at her stomach. And she walks and walks, following the map. A stolen map. Stolen from a store. A store with twinkling lights and Christmas music. She holds the scrap of paper with what little strength she has left. It’s worn and torn from so many days hidden in her boot. Tired. So tired. Dirty. So dirty and cold and frightened. This place is her only hope. She raises her trembling hand and presses the doorbell.



* * *





            Magda is expecting her. Her mother wrote and told her. She welcomes her with open arms. And then backs away quickly. Jesus, child. What’s happened to you? I was expecting you last week!





Chapter One


            Mindless sex—there’s a lot to be said for it. No commitments, no expectations, and no disappointments; I just have to remember their names. Who was it last time? Jojo? Jeanne? Jody? Whatever. She was some nameless fuck who moaned a great deal both in and out of bed. I lie staring at the rippling reflections from the Thames on my ceiling, unable to sleep. Too restless to sleep.

            Tonight it’s Caroline. She doesn’t fit the nameless-fuck category. She’ll never fit. What the hell was I thinking? Closing my eyes, I try to silence the still, small voice that is questioning the wisdom of bedding my best friend…again. She slumbers beside me, her sleek body bathed in the silver light of the January moon, her long legs entwined with mine, and her head on my chest.

            This is wrong, so wrong. I rub my face, trying to erase my self-loathing, and she stirs and shifts, waking from her doze. One manicured fingernail skims down my stomach and over my abdominal muscles, then circles my navel. I sense her sleepy smile as her fingers slip toward my pubic hair. Catching her hand, I bring it to my lips. “Haven’t we done enough damage for one night, Caro?” I kiss each finger in turn to take the sting out of the rejection. I’m tired and disheartened by the nagging, unwelcome guilt that gnaws at my gut. This is Caroline, for heaven’s sake, my best friend and my brother’s wife. Ex-wife.