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If only she had known the course of her journey six months earlier...
Captive in a world without a future, women like Emma Thompson do whatever is necessary to survive. The laws are harsh, and the only means of survival is either conforming to an impossible system or rebelling against it.
Emma has been given a choice- homelessness (and eventual incarceration) or move to the Appalachian forests to be a domestic worker for an acquaintance of her vindictive aunt. She chooses the latter: after all, nothing could be worse than being on the streets and losing what little freedom you have to begin with, right?
Wrong. After Emma arrives to the isolated cabin home of Professor Jack Robbins, she discovers the truth. Never knowing what waits for her with each passing day, she struggles to maintain what little power she has- the power of her mind.
She becomes his plaything, subjected to any whim that crosses his thoughts. She tries to hate the feelings he stirs within her, yet is powerless to stop them. He is creative in his discipline, almost as much as his love-making, and suspends her in a world of confusion, desire, fear, and overwhelming need.
The discovery that Jack is the creator of the C-spill, the biochemical weapon responsible for ending the war, introduces Emma to a window of opportunity. She bravely asks for him to teach her all that he knows, appealing to his arrogant pride, even while knowing that to be anything other than the perfect student would result in discipline like she had never known...
It is a risk she is willing to take if it means her escape. But then, he throws a wrench into her plans and makes it impossible for her to return to a society that judges based on personal appearance. She faces two choices: continue to live in the nightmare or take the chance that people are more accepting than she believed.
Warning: this book is a continuation of the Darkness Series. It is NOT a romance. It is extremely dark, involves harsh BDSM elements, dubious consent, body modification fantasy, and graphic sexual content. It contains elements of the erotic horror genre. DO NOT PURCHASE if this type of material disturbs you.
Bleakness swept over the colonies post World War IV. Men were scarce after the able-bodied had been killed during the useless battles that scourged the earth, leaving so many women alone and without fathers, brothers, and husbands. Men were a desired commodity now, and only the well-to-do women were 'blessed' with the privilege of being allowed to select one as a permanent mate, with the purpose of rebuilding the population. The term 'blessed' was a misnomer, however, for the majority of remaining men were either past their prime, injured, or of questionable character. Despite the limited number of eligible men remaining on Earth, many were still dismissed by those women who had the money, and power, to be discriminating. These men were known as the Rejected.
The Rejected had little recourse but to seek a wife through a State-run penal system. Desperation had driven many a woman to steal, kill and maim to survive, and those caught were sentenced to life behind bars with limited food, water and heat. There also existed private institutions for the less corrupt�and more eligible�girls, who were determined to be adequate breeding stock by the government officials. These academies, financed by families and sponsors, and supervised by the State penal system, promised to 'mold' the unfortunate girl to be a perfect, submissive wife and mother. These couplings not only required State approval, but pregnancy required a permit.
The only hope of escape from a lifetime of incarceration was to be selected by one of the Rejected, and submit to being the warm body he required to rebuild the shattered civilization. The monetary cost of this acquisition was high for him� but not as high as the cost paid by the young woman unfortunate enough to be noticed, and trapped, in a system without hope. This is their story�.
Tick tock... tick tock... the droning of the ticking clock that sat on the top of the bookshelf echoed through the room. Emma swallowed, watching as the hands moved to a straight line like a soldier standing at attention. It was six o'clock, and time for Penance. Her stomach turned as the sound of her tormentor's heavy footsteps approached. He was, if anything, unfailingly and depressingly punctual. He was also terribly predictable. As another day of misery crept upon her, Emma squeezed her eyes closed in anticipation of the long, upcoming hours of unrelenting mortification and anguish. She had nobody to blame but herself. She could have had a different life, but pride got in the way.
If only she had known the course of her journey six months earlier�
Emma Thompson stood at the back of the crowd, watching the court proceedings projected onto the large screen on the wall. The staff of the infamous Strictland Academy were being presented for trial; their exploits and cruelty exposed to the world. One by one, the women accused of torturing so many innocent girls were pronounced guilty and sentenced to decades of incarceration in the Federal Penitentiary. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that they would not live to see the end of their term, for they would come face to face with dozens of women who had survived their torment. Poetic justice existed in the penal system. The young 'students' who had been cast out of Strictland Academy and sent to this particular prison, would now have the chance to face their oppressors on equal ground.
She glanced around at the faces of the hundreds of women who stood in silence, watching the broadcast. Like her, they struggled to survive in a wounded world devoid of honorable, acceptable men. The ones that existed were few and far between; ones like Dr. Wells, the psychiatrist who'd exposed Strictland's methods of human cruelty and flesh peddling and brought truth to the public eye. Because of him, every official in law enforcement and the judicial system was now carefully monitored to ensure that no more payoffs were conducted between families and private reform facilities. The corrupt were publicly exposed and replaced with honest, future-minded leaders. Dr. Wells's story also helped raise public awareness, and a nationwide search was raised for girls who had been illegally 'purchased' through Strictland by the Rejected�and had, subsequently, disappeared.
She shuddered as she listened to the stories told by the victims. Molly, a slender redhead, shared the details of her molestation and named those who had participated. Her face was devoid of emotion, like someone who sat back and repeated the scenes of an over-watched movie. Patricia, whose escape had made the raid upon Strictland possible, shared her experience�all the while clinging to the arm of Dr. Wells, her new husband. Even April, the tiny blonde girl who was 'purchased' by an agent disguising himself as a member of Strictland's Board of Directors, testified that she would have continued to be repeatedly beaten, accosted and raped by the female attendants and their proxies if not for his protection. Since her 'purchase' was not sanctioned by the courts, she was given the option to dissolve the relationship between her and her 'owner'. April adamantly refused, and declared that she had found love and happiness in the care of the kind and generous man.
Many others testified as well, each with a story of terror that bordered on the implausible. Emma shook her head, unable to listen any longer. With the fear of ending up in places like Strictland removed, she could focus on her own future. She had big plans, a way to escape the anguish that awaited a young woman in a society bereft of resources. She was considered one of the fortunate ones. Although she had lost both parents during the war, she lived with her wealthy aunt, who could afford to send her to study through the university. She was going to be a computer engineer, leave the depressing, gray walls of the shattered city, and rebuild her own world. A world that she could be happy in�with or without a man by her side.
The only problem was that self-indulgence and popularity were Emma's priority, and she'd failed out of her first semester. Her aunt informed her twenty-year-old niece that she was a waste ofprecious resources, and that no more money would be thrown away on her. Emma was instructed to immediately seek employment and pay rent, as though she were a boarder. She would learn the value of a dollar once and for all, even if it meant her being hungry and homeless. The girl argued, accusing the older woman of being greedy and selfish, saying that she was the one who wasted precious resources by hosting extravagant parties and indulging in unscrupulous forms of recreation. With a final flare of her temper, Emma stated that the money was as much hers as it was her aunt's, and that she would make certain to obtain what she was owed�even if it meant exposing Barbara to the government for hiring consorts to provide sexual entertainment for herself and her guests.
The following day, an attorney showed up at their door and laid the accounts before Emma's shocked eyes. She had nothing. Everything that had been her parents' was now her aunt's. She had no claim to any of it, nor did her aunt have any legal obligation to support her, since she was no longer a minor. Her situation worsened a week later when Emma developed a flirtatious relationship with her aunt's much younger lover (and prospective third husband). Barbara was disinterested in the fact that the man had approached the younger girl and boldly initiated the interaction, and punished her by raising the cost of rent to an unachievable level. In a spiteful fit of anger, Emma succumbed to the seduction of her aunt's paramour, only to be caught right before they consummated.
Instead of reporting Emma to the authorities for engaging in sexual acts without a license, Barbara cut her off from all expense accounts and gave the girl one month to find work, save some money, and then leave her home. It was an impossible task. Emma found herself laboring endlessly in minimum wage jobs just to pay for the ridiculous rent declared on her room, preventing her from saving more than a handful of dollars. There was no question in her mind that her rancorous aunt would abandon her to the streets�even after Emma begged for a second chance, with promises to excel in her studies and isolate herself from all of Barbara's male visitors. Barbara responded with the statement that Emma could not be trusted in a world where 'functioning' men of breeding and intelligence were so scarce. However, the surly woman did offer a proposal that would benefit both of them.
She referred Emma to an old personal acquaintance, who was seeking domestic help in the form of cleaning and cooking. His name was Jack Robbins, an allegedly well-to-do and self-confessed mountain man, who lived on private property in the back woods of the Appalachians. According to her aunt, Jack had some minor 'issues' that she, a wealthy woman, found distasteful, and which made him ineligible for marriage. She did not expound on the problems, but then, manners of society forbade the discussion as to why a man was declared one of the 'Rejected'.
Emma did not care. She needed 'out' of the wretched environment where her every movement was controlled by a bitter, hateful old woman. All she needed at the moment was decent employment and a roof over her head, not a husband, so she agreed to contact the man. Barbara informed her that Jack's rural location prevented him from obtaining a phone and ordered the girl to write a letter, requesting his assistance.
"Be humble and optimistic," Barbara sneered over her cigarette, "he does not care for insipid, whiney or impertinent children. He doesn't go for whores, either."
"I am none of those, Aunt Barbara," Emma spoke back, narrowing her eyes with hatred equal to that of her aunt. "Nor do I spread my legs for every man that comes through my door."
"Watch out, girl. You are playing with fire and are about to get burned. Make certain that you emphasize that you are coming of your own volition, and that no-one is forcing you. He likes his privacy."
"Trust me, it is of my own volition. As for getting burned, I'm sure that is what your lovers say about your cunt," Emma snapped back, hatefully. She carefully composed a letter, emphasizing that she desired to do housework and cook in return for room and board, and that she was willing to completely comply and adhere to any house rules he desired, out of respect for his hospitality. Not wanting to lead him on in the belief that she might be interested in exploring a 'romantic' relationship, Emma emphasized in this introductory correspondence that her intent to impose upon him would be limited to the time needed for her to save the necessary expenses so that she could return to school, rent a place of her own, and explore her independence.
Jack's return letter arrived in a matter of days. She was surprised to find the correspondence articulate, open and pleasant; clearly written by someone who had been educated and raised in an environment that demanded some sort of etiquette. His response to her predicament also appeared to be welcoming and understanding. He commented that he would be very glad to have the company, and would welcome any amount of cleaning or cooking she might want to do, but particularly desired human companionship. He asked her to consider her options before making a decision, explaining that he lived a very isolated existence and had few visitors, and feared she might find the lifestyle lonely�especially with the oncoming winter season. He also stated that he was very particular about certain things, and wanted her to be certain she consented to following the rules he had enacted to ensure his privacy, safety and security.
The comment that he would respect whatever decision she made was a relief. He emphasized that, if she decided to join him, he would provide a room and bathroom for her comfort, and he was also open to discuss approaching her education online to save her both time and money. The letter ended with a description of how beautiful she would find the forest, especially after being in the city all of her life�with air so clear that she would even see the sun shine and feel its warmth on her face�a rare experience in a post-apocalyptic world!
His response sounded too good to be true, and a desperate Emma ignored the alarms that went off loudly in her head. First, she really had little choice. It was either working for this recluse or being homeless�and the latter would inevitably put her in jail or one of the state-funded reformatories where she could be legally 'paired' with a potential husband. Being that he was an acquaintance of her aunt, she was momentarily concerned regarding his character. Jack supposedly had his own wealth, so money would not be the issue. It certainly could not be for sexual attraction, for her aunt was far from visibly appealing. She had not met anyone with his name at her aunt's depraved parties, so she was certain he did not engage in her type of promiscuous (and illegal) endeavors. In a nutshell, the positives outweighed the negatives, and Emma believed a solution allowing the immediate pursuit of her independence had dropped in her lap. Nothing else mattered. If she did not escape this prison, it would eventually cost her any hope of having freedom in the future.
She received a second letter two days later, emphatically suggesting that, if she consented to joining him, she needed to present before the weather changed. It was late September, and he cautioned that snows frequently blew in early in 'his part of the world'. The risk of being stranded in an unexpected blizzard was legitimate, since the wars had drastically altered the environment to that of a pre-ice age. Seeing the opportunity to escape her aunt's tyranny and the ugly walls of the city, Emma seized the chance and agreed, quickly returning the letter with a statement that she would do whatever he needed her to in order to make this work for him, and that she was forever grateful for his concern and generosity.
Jack had offered to pick her up, but she stubbornly refused in an attempt to not appear too needy. She purchased a bus ticket, boarded with nothing but a small suitcase and old backpack, and did not look back as her new, exciting adventure began. Hours crept by, and Emma was lulled into a deep sleep, filled with dreams of the wonderful life she would have away from the cement walls and icy streets of the gray, heartless city.
She was jarred awake by the announcement of her arrival in an alarmingly small town, and immediately regretted her decision to turn down Jack's offer for a ride. Her hands trembled as she fished around in her bag to find the directions he had sent, suddenly second-guessing her decision to come in the first place. She recalled her other options and swore to herself that she would not allow her anxiety and over-active imagination to determine her future as she set off down the paved road. Minutes, then hours, ticked by as she walked, lugging her suitcase behind her. The rough concrete became gravel, and then gravel transitioned to dirt. Emma paused to study the road as it faded to that of an old tire track. She lifted her chin, pulled back her shoulders and continued onward to a trail that was no wider than a footpath.
Dusk was setting in, along with the icy cold of night. Panic arose as she stood in the center of a dense, ancient forest that had miraculously been left untouched by the war and fall-out of pollution. She had meticulously followed Jack's directions, yet there was no house in sight, or any way to contact him. Even if he'd had a phone, she was unable to get a signal on her limited cell service. Swearing under her breath, she turned around and desperately searched for some familiar landmark that would bring comfort in knowing that she was not hopelessly lost. There were none.
The temperature of the air dropped as a blustery wind whipped through the trees, and Emma felt the tears threatening to spill from her eyes. Was this to be her end? At least it would be quick, and less painful than the slow, torturous death of her spirit brought forth by the grimness of the city. She sank against the trunk of a tree and huddled herself tightly into a ball. Sobs caught in her throat and she began to rock, trying to soothe her own fears. Several minutes later, she suddenly held her breath, sensing that she was being watched.
His features were dimmed by the falling light, but his silhouette was clear. This bear-sized man, with arms and legs that reminded her of the massive tree trunks that surrounded them, approached her slowly, and turned the flashlight on himself so that she could see him. Dressed in an unsoiled flannel shirt, sporting an orange hunter's vest, a pair of jeans, and heavy work boots, she was surprised to find him very attractive. He was also much younger than she'd assumed�perhaps in his mid to late forties, with thick, black, collar-length hair sprinkled with a touch of gray, framing a clean shaven face.
Her eyes drifted to his well-muscled arms, one of which cradled a rifle. Nervously, Emma asked, "Are you Jack Robbins?"
He slung the gun behind him, anchoring it to the back of his left shoulder with the strap before he took a step towards her. He smiled, offering an enormous paw of a hand. "Don't worry about the gun, honey. There are still bears in these woods. Call me Professor. It's what everyone calls me. And you must be little Emily Thompson."
Emma's hand was completely engulfed in his firm grip as he helped her to her feet. He gently pumped up and down twice, and then let her go.
"Amazing. You look so much like your mother," he observed, giving her a less than a casual once over before he silently picked up her suitcase and began walking down another path.
"You knew my mother?"
"Yup. We courted a long time ago. Then she met your father and that was that."
Well, Emma thought, as she silently trailed behind him, that explains why Aunt Barbara had been interested in him. It was well known that the older sister was incredibly jealous, and hateful, of the slender, blonde beauty who had caught the eye of every handsome man that came near. It would be just like her aunt to try to rival her late sister's popularity. It also explained the vindictiveness in her aunt's behavior after Emma 'stole' her young lover away. But why send her to this man? He'd obviously rejected Barbara's advances, not the other way around. It made no sense.
"Actually I look more like my father. He had a darker complexion and brown hair. I didn't get any of Mom's good looks."
"Yes, I knew your father," Jack stated impassively. He turned around abruptly, causing Emma to collide into him. "You have her face and eyes, and the same long, sooty lashes. And those are her lips, too. They're just on a different canvas, but they're no less striking. You are a very beautiful girl."
"Aunt Barbara said I was an ugly toad."
"Your Aunt Barbara is a simpering old cow. Come."
Emma was grateful of the dwindling light that hid the color of her blush. She found herself at odds regarding how to respond to the unexpected compliment.
Jack cleared his throat. "Hearing women put themselves down doesn't sit well with me. Every last one of them is beautiful, as far as I'm concerned. I'd make sure to remember that, if I were you. Capisce?"
Emma simply nodded, unaware that the first of many rules that he would expect her to follow had just been laid down. They walked in silence for another half an hour or so before they arrived at his house.
"My word, when she said you lived in the back woods, she wasn't kidding! This place is awesome," Emma exclaimed, staring at the large, high peaked house with a white picket fence surrounding a neatly groomed yard.
Jack turned the knob of the front door and opened it, stepping aside for her to enter before him. "Who said that?"
"Aunt Barbara. Remember? She was the one who suggested I get in contact with you."
Jack nodded. "Barbara. Of course. What else did she tell you about me?"
Emma thought it wise to avoid telling him that Aunt Barbara had labeled him as a Rejected. "That I was to be optimistic and humble, and that you don't like�" she thought back to the words used. Her face brightened. "Insipid, whiney or impertinent children or whores"
"It doesn't seem like your aunt has a very positive opinion of you, does it?"
"No, sir, she does not."
"Well, we'll show her how wonderful you really are, won't we? Would you like for her to visit and let her see what you've accomplished?"
"No. I don't know how close you two are, but if I never see that woman's face again, I will die a happy girl."
"I see. How about you go wash some of that road dust off while I put your stuff in your room? Bathroom is down the hall on the right. Fresh towels are on the rack." Without waiting for a reply, Jack gathered up her suitcase and knapsack, and headed in the opposite direction.
Their first night together was fairly normal. While she admired the drawings and detailed artwork that covered his walls, he prepared a lovely roast with sliced red potatoes, carrots and onions swimming in a delicious, rich gravy. Desert was a single bright red apple, and honey with cinnamon. It had been a long time since she had tasted fresh food, for the cities sold only processed, canned and dehydrated items. Blissful was the word she used as it crunched delightfully in her mouth. The flavors were ambrosia to her palate, and she closed her eyes as she relished every bite. Jack watched as she happily devoured the meal, commenting on how a little fresh air and exercise did wonders for the appetite. He also warned her several times not to speak with her mouth full, chuckling that he 'knew a little girl' who needed to learn table manners
He was a good conversationalist, and Emma was enthralled as he revealed himself to be the artist of the paintings she was admiring, and that he had also constructed every piece of furniture in the house to his own specifications. He succeeded in making her laugh as he shared some stories about his life 'off the grid', and the disastrous attempts to cultivate food in the greenhouse built behind his cabin. She laughed as he described his 'black thumb', and his discovery that 'yelling' at vegetables did not make them grow any faster.
Overall, she was pleased with her new home, despite it being a considerable distance to town, so she voiced her intent to purchase a beater car or a scooter to use when she wanted to go out and socialize. Jack shook his head and reminded her of the goals she had set, urging her to withhold from partying for a while and save her pennies. Once again, his words made sense, so she agreed.
Addressing the problem that Jack lacked a phone was another obstacle, and he adamantly refused to use anything other than his old broadcasting radio if there was an emergency. With a sigh, Emma redirected the conversation towards the internet. Post-war renovations included providing the internet to anyone who owned a computer. Emma had found an old, but working, tablet in a consignment store, so she suggested initiating the service. Jack reassured her that survival was possible without access to email and chat (to which she ardently disagreed) and said he would consider limited service after she could show him that she was ready to try school again. He reminded her gently that her primary reason for being with him was because she had wasted time and money during her first attempt at college, adding that he was looking out for her own good by placing this temporary restriction. Emma made one last dramatic effort to convince him that death was surely imminent if she did not have some sort of connection to the outside world. He smiled, shook his head and simply said no, with a cheerful reminder that she'd promised to follow his rules.
Besides him being a 'hermit' in every sense of the word, there had been one thing in particular that disturbed her�his earnest, considering stare. She had caught him studying her multiple times, and had chalked it up to just not knowing him well enough to feel comfortable. She reminded herself about how he had 'courted' her mother, and thought that perhaps he was just jarred by those features that he found similar. Either way, his expression was not what she considered psychotic, or even violent, nor did it set off a personal alarm regarding her safety. It was just... intense.
Emma stifled a yawn as the clock struck nine. Jack stood and held out his hand, saying in a less-than-casual manner, "It's getting late. You ought to be in bed, young lady. You have had a full day and you need your sleep. I'll see you to your room."
Emma raised her eyebrow, considering that perhaps Jack was ready to retire for the night, and did not wish to appear to be a poor host by leaving her alone. Without arguing, she rose with a gracious, "I am fine. Good night and thank you for everything."
She flicked on the light in her room and stared, perplexed. Did Jack have a friend with a child, or a child of his own at one time who had occupied this room? Either way, there was something that felt... off. Fortunately, she was petite, and would fit comfortably into the small, twin bed. What confused her were the rails that ran from the mid-portion and down the length of the frame. Had he been worried that the previous usual occupant might fall out and hurt herself?
Whatever it was, she could not put her finger on it. Emma yawned again. She had plenty of time to figure it out. As was her habit, Emma settled back on the bed after changing into her PJs, and opened her computer to resume her favorite game before she went to sleep. Less than ten minutes had passed when a tap on her door was heard, followed by the appearance of the hulking man. Emma stared at him in disbelief. He had not even bothered to wait for an invite!
Jack entered the room and faced her. His voice was quiet, but firm, with no mistaking his intent. "I thought I made it clear. I want you in bed and lights out by nine. Give that tablet and your phone to me." He stood still and waited. When Emma finally opened her mouth to protest, he preempted her by saying in the same calm, implacable tone, "My house, my rules. Hand them over, young lady. This second."
The raising of her eyebrows was the extent of her confrontation about his unexpected high-handed attitude. She was just too tired to fight. Expelling a loud sigh, Emma closed the cover of her computer and then put the devices into his waiting hand. He gently tucked the blankets around her body after she scooted down under them.
"Are you all set for the night? Do you need a glass of water?" His tone was soft.
"No, thank you."
"Good girl. See you in the morning, then. Emma? I'm glad you've come to me. Sleep well, my dear."
"You, too. Night."
"And Emma? No wandering around. There are too many things around here that can hurt you."
He smiled before shutting off the light, his stare pointed and immeasurably uncomfortable. Emma struggled to keep her eyes open as she listened to him leave the room and close the door behind him.