Chapter no 25‌ – The Diamond

Hunting Adeline

“Can I take you somewhere?” Zade asks. I’ve just stepped out of the bathroom from my shower, yanking a brush through my wet, tangled hair. I tear the bristles through a particularly brutal knot, uncaring of the way the strands tear.

“Baby, you’re hurting your hair. Let me brush it.”

Feeling defeated, I slump my shoulders, trudge over to him, and sit on the floor between his spread knees.

He takes the brush from me and gently starts running it through the sopping tresses, slowly detangling the mop on my head.

It feels nice, but I’m too tired to appreciate it.

Another two weeks have passed, and it’s a constant up and down battle. Turns out, one of the men did give me chlamydia, and it only cemented that feeling of filth ingrained deep in my bones.

I cried, confessed my diagnosis to Zade, and then cried even harder when he was nothing but supportive. It’s been treated, but that lingering repulsion lingers, sinking its claws deep into my membrane.

He’s probably used every word in the English language to assure me that I’m not disgusting or that he doesn’t see me differently, but it didn’t change how I viewed myself.

Zade was right. Happiness is fleeting, however, over the past weeks, he’s done everything in his power to help me hold on to any semblance of peace.

Finishing with the brush, he sets it down on the bed and gathers my hair together. I nearly choke when he begins braiding it.

“Where the hell did you learn to do that?” I ask. I’m tempted to twist around like a dog chasing its tail, just so I can witness this.

“Ruby taught me,” he answers quietly. “There was a young girl that I rescued a few years ago, and she wouldn’t let anyone else touch her but me at first. She loved braids in her hair, so I learned how to do them for her. Got pretty fucking good at it, too.”

My lip trembles, and I’m forced to suck it between my teeth to keep the sob in.

Bastard of a man.

Just when I think I can’t fall in love with him any more than I already have, he goes and does this shit.

There’s no denying that he’s going to be a great father one day, and though the thought scares me, I don’t want anyone else but me to have the privilege of seeing it happen.

“Oh,” I whisper.

“Let me see your wrist band,” he says. I raise my arm, and he drags it off my hand and ties off the braid.

“Thank you,” I murmur, standing and turning to face him. I’m in a weird internal war where I want to crawl onto his lap, but the thought of actually doing it makes me break out into hives. “Where did you want to take me?”

“I want to show you something—someone, too. But I thought maybe seeing this would… help you.”

My brows pinch, but I nod, curious about what he thinks could possibly help me. As far as I’m concerned, I’m a lost cause. Hopeless. Helpless. And all the synonyms for those words, too.

During the forty-five-minute drive, Zade tells me all about how he got suspended in high school and almost didn’t graduate. It was a senior prank

—he glitter-bombed the entire school, and they had to spend the rest of the year surrounded by pink sparkles.

One of these days, I’m going to have to make him show me pictures of his younger self. He says he’s always had heterochromia, and I can only imagine how much the ladies loved that.

Eventually, we pull up to a massive gate with several armed guards standing outside. As soon as they spot Zade’s car, they let him through without hesitation.

We drive down a long dirt driveway that leads to what appears to be a mini village. There’s a massive, long building in the center with several smaller one’s surrounding it.

There’s also an enormous greenhouse, which is where most of the activity is. People are milling about, carrying baskets of fruits and vegetables. A group of girls walk together, giggling and whispering to one

another as they make their way towards one of the smaller buildings. All of them are kids or women that I can see.

“Where are we?”

“This is where the survivors go if they don’t have a safe home to return to.”

My gaze snaps to him, then quickly turns back to my surroundings, taking everything in with a whole new perspective.

“Really? How many are here?”

“One hundred and thirty-two survivors,” he answers, and the fact that he knows the exact number does weird shit to my heart. Shit I didn’t consent to.

“How many people do you have room for?”

He shrugs casually, parking outside the largest of the buildings. “However many I need it to. I own hundreds of acres, so if I need to build another dorm, I do.”

I blink. “You really are stupid rich, aren’t you?” “Sure, but it goes back into my organization.”

Mouth open in awe, I scan the area, overcome with how… peaceful it appears.

“Are these the only safe houses you have?”

“No, they’re all around the country. Eventually, is going to expand to other countries, and I’ll start building there, too, and offer a safe place for survivors.”

“How do you keep it hidden from Claire?”

“I’ve gone through great lengths to make it impossible to trace any of my assets. Everything is under an alias and doesn’t tie back to me in any way. There’s also an incredible amount of security, and it’s a no-fly zone for aircraft. This is the safest place anyone could be, I’ve made sure of that.”

I shake my head, at a loss for words. I remember him saying before that he offers a home to those who didn’t have one, but seeing it just cements how incredible Zade truly is. Aside from his psychotic tendencies, he’s doing something that no one has done before.

“Come on, baby. There are a couple of people I want you to meet.”

I frown, unsure of who that could be, but follow him out of the car anyway. As we’re walking down a path, we see Ruby heading toward us, a

group of children running behind her, giggling as they try to keep up. When she spots us, she screams in excitement, quickening her footsteps.

“Oh my goodness, Addie baby, you look so beautiful!” she coos loudly. She immediately embraces me in a warm hug when she’s close enough, and for a moment, I’m too stunned to react. Eventually, I wrap my arms around her, and embarrassingly enough, I feel a little like crying.

She pulls away, crooning over me some more. “Are you coming here to stay, sweetie?”

“Oh no, he was just showing me the place,” I answer.

“Well, you’ll have to come visit more often. These little kiddos are good for the soul.”

I smile, peering down at the three little girls and one boy standing in a circle and babbling to each other. I think I believe her. They’re adorable, and I can see how a place like this would be comforting.

“I think I will,” I say softly.

Ruby lets us pass after that, and Zade directs me inside the greenhouse. I pause, losing my breath as I take it all in.

Mist clings to the air, coating the plant life with dew, while bright pops of color break up the never ending green.

It can only be described as a contained jungle, sans the wild animals. Though I almost retract that statement when two little boys go zipping past me, laughing wildly with huge turnips in their little fists. A woman chases after them, pleading with them to stop running.

Zade grabs my hand and leads me to where two young women dig at the soil, planting seeds.

“Katerina Sanchez,” Zade calls out quietly, and my heart stops when one girl’s head turns to the side, a familiar face staring back at me, though feminine and younger, and one eye is permanently closed.

“Oh my God,” I whisper, paralyzed as the girl’s brows knit, confused on who we are.

“Yeah?” she says cautiously.

Zade grins. “My name is Zade. I haven’t gotten the chance to introduce myself yet, but I—” He abruptly cuts off when the girl rips off her gloves and then proceeds to nearly tackle him into a hug. While surprised, he recovers quickly and wraps his long arms around her, gently patting her back.

“You’re the one responsible for getting me out,” she says into his chest, her words muffled. “Thank you. So much.”

He chuckles. “I think you should be thanking the woman standing behind you. She’s the one who told me to help you.”

Without hesitation, the girl turns to me and embraces me in a hug next, squeezing tighter than I expected. Try as I might to hold in the tears, I can’t. They break loose, and a whimper escapes as I hold her tightly.

“Was it Rio?” she asks softly, her voice watery from her own tears.

“Yes,” I rasp. She pulls back enough to get a good look at my face, her dark brown eye tracing over my features.

“How did you know him?”

I glance at Zade, but he doesn’t seem bothered by the conversation, even though he wants to murder her brother.

“He—he was in the house I was in when I was kidnapped.” I clear my throat. “He took care of me and helped me get out.”

Her lip trembles. “He’s not a very good person,” she says, and I’m so surprised, I laugh. “But he’s not a good person because he’s such a great brother. He’s sacrificed a lot for me.”

I nod, wiping my cheeks, although it’s useless when a few more tears slip free.

“I don’t think people are black and white, Katerina, but I do know that his love for you is.”

She smiles and nods, accepting that easily.

“They took my eye because he tried to escape from Francesca. I was ten years old, our parents had just died the year before, and he was trapped with that evil woman. He never forgave himself, and even though I haven’t seen him since, I know he’s done everything that’s been asked of him so I wouldn’t get hurt.”

“And did you?” I ask. “Did you get hurt again?”

She shakes her head, but there’s a darkness swirling in her eyes. “Lillian wasn’t very nice, but she didn’t hurt me anymore.” Something tells me that even though she wasn’t hurt anymore, other girls were.

She was trapped in that house for at least five years—I can only imagine the horrors she’s witnessed.

“Katerina, can I ask why they, uh, needed Rio so badly? Enough to use you as collateral?”

It’s something I’ve been wondering since Rio told me about her. Why would they go as far as holding his sister over his head just so that he would work for them? They could find plenty of men willing to do their bidding, if offered the right amount of money.

She swallows. “I think… I think he was Francesca’s… favorite.”

I frown, not really sure what she’s getting at. “Like favorite guard or—”

She shakes her head, her lips tightening. “I’ve heard Lillian say nasty things about them. About how much Francesca likes the way Rio… tends to her.”

My mouth pops open, realization dawning. “Oh.”

Then, my eyes widen, another realization hitting. “Oh.

Francesca was fucking Rio. But I have a feeling it wasn’t mutual. She was raping him, regardless of his compliance, and it sounds like she was quite attached to him.

My eyes drift to Zade, his expression tight. An overwhelming sadness washes through me, muddling my feelings toward Rio further. In a way, he became my friend while I was trapped in that house. And for over two months, I was being forced to do things against my will, never realizing Francesca was ordering him to do the same.

There’s a part of me that still clings to that hate, but it’s weakening.

He kidnapped me. Ruthlessly fed me to the wolves and stood by while faceless men repeatedly broke me. Yet, he picked up the pieces afterward. Gathered them in his hands and carried them to my room, where he meticulously placed them back together—as janky as it was.

I want to hate him. But I don’t know that I do. “Thank you for telling me that,” I say softly.

Her bottom lip trembles. “I know I lost an eye, but I think Rio has lost so much more than I have. I hope he’s okay, and safe, wherever he is.”

I blink back fresh tears and nod my head. “Me too.”

We let Katerina get back to her gardening after promising I’d visit again. Sensing my inner turmoil, Zade keeps quiet as he leads me to another part of the sanctuary. There are two girls tending to chicken pens, plucking the eggs from underneath them.

I gasp, coming to a halt when one of them turns, and I get a good look at her features.

“Jillian,” I breathe. She turns at her name, and her eyes bug from her head.

“Oh my God,” she says, her accent deepening from shock. Then, she’s hurriedly setting down the basket of eggs and rushing toward me.

We meet in the middle, our arms instantly wrapping around each other in a fierce hug.

Due to Francesca’s mind games, we could hardly stand to look at each other when she and Gloria were sold. But all of that immediately bleeds away now that we’re free.

My vision blurs, and when we pull away, I can see tears swimming in her eyes, too.

“How are you?” I choke out, chuckling when her nose wrinkles. “As good as I can be, which isn’t saying much,” she answers.

I nod, “Same. Kind of feels like a slow death.”

Her lips twist, and she shrugs, attempting nonchalance. “I feel that, too. I’ve been seeing Dr. Maybell, though. And all this—” she twirls her finger, gesturing to this farm— “has helped a lot, as well. Being surrounded by others with similar experiences and having something to keep me busy prevents me from spiraling. I was on the streets before, and part of me didn’t want to be rescued because I’d have to go back to that. So, this… this has really saved me.”

She glances at Zade, clearly uncomfortable with her admission, but she only straightens her spine instead of hiding. Sharing feelings is… hard.

“Happy to help,” Zade says simply, his face smooth but his orbs glitter with warmth.

He’s a cold-blooded killer yet easily melts beneath a survivor’s hopeful gaze. It impacts him as much as it does me because when you’re trapped and terrified, hope is the first thing you lose, and the most devastating. So, getting it back… that’s one of the best gifts we could ask for.

My lip trembles, and I can’t decide if I want to hug her again or turn and smack a large one right on Zade’s lips. I’m incredibly happy for Jillian, and it feels like some of the cracks in my soul mend just a little more.

We find a spot by one of the pens and talk for a good hour while Zade helps the other girl with the chickens, leaving us alone. She tells me a little

about her life before she was taken, and I tell her about mine. She made me promise to bring her a signed copy of one of my books, and it honestly tore my heart out as much as it mended it. I miss writing, but I know I’m not ready for that yet.

Eventually, we leave Jillian to her work while Zade shows me around the rest of the small village. There are classrooms for the children, workshops for the elder kids, and plenty of activities to give them all something to work toward. The adults are also taught skills and trades that will allow them to get jobs, along with teaching life skills and giving them the necessary tools to support themselves.

Of course, no one is required to leave, but the last thing Zade wants to do is strip people of their independence, so those who want to go out and experience the world and lead normal lives are able to do so.

There’s even a stable with horses, offering equine therapy for the survivors. And of course, there’s several on-site therapists, Dr. Maybell being one of them.

My memory is a little spotty from when I first came home, but I never forgot her warmth. The few times she visited, she helped more than I realized. And sometime soon, I plan on seeing her again and more regularly.

We spend hours playing with the children and speaking with other survivors. I even met Sarah, the little girl who is still very insistent on Zade becoming her daddy. His eyes were a warm gooey mess when they looked over to me while Sarah jumped all over him, and for one insane second, I almost said yes right then and there.

He’s going to make a great father one day, but that day isn’t today. Not when I’m still learning how to pick up the pieces without cutting myself.

By the time I get back in the car, I’m overwhelmed with emotion. From getting to see what Zade built and how fucking beautiful it is, to seeing Jillian and hearing about Rio—I’m a damn mess.

“Do you still want to kill him?” I ask, not bothering to clarify. He knows who I’m talking about.

“Yes,” he admits.

“Even after meeting his sister and hearing that he’s suffered, too?”

He’s silent for a beat. “One person’s suffering does not justify the pain they inflict on others.”

“You’re right, but he also didn’t have a choice,” I argue.

Zade sets his jaw, pulling out of the parking space and heading down the dirt road.

“Baby, there’s no good answer for this. If you want me to forgive him, that will never fucking happen. He’s directly responsible for nearly killing you in a car accident, kidnapping you, and bringing you into a place where you were repeatedly raped and abused. What do you want me to fucking say? He’s a victim, too, and all’s forgiven?”

I snap my mouth shut. Just like people aren’t black and white, neither are our emotions toward them. Rio caused me a lot of pain, and regardless of the person I came to know in that house, Zade didn’t experience that. He didn’t get to know Rio like I did, and the only thing he’ll ever see is the man who helped ruin my life. I can’t fault him for that. Especially when I don’t think I’d be so forgiving either if the roles were reversed.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

He sighs. “You have nothing to be sorry for, little mouse.” The gates open for us again, and he pulls out onto the road. “Can you take me to one more place?” I ask.

“Anywhere,” he answers.

I hold up my arm, showing him the barcode Rio tattooed on my wrist. “I want to get a tattoo.”

He smiles. “Of my name?”

I snort. “Keep dreaming, buddy.”

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