When Stockholm Syndrome meets Lima Syndrome.
He is a freedom fighter. She's the dictator's daughter. When his organization kidnaps her, he is the only one to show her kindness. In this world of chaos, she is the gentle beauty that tames his wild heart. But is it enough to stop him from murdering her father? And does she even want him to?
Depending on who you ask, we’re either freedom fighters or we’re terrorists.
I considered myself a soldier in the fight for justice. After twenty years of dictatorship, my brothers and I had had enough, and so we’d banded together and made a military of our own, training farmers and freed slaves to shoot guns and beat the opposition in close combat. We were a lethal bunch, and for six long years, I’d been proud of what we’d been doing. We were liberating a nation, saving millions of people from slavery, and bringing order back into the world.
But then the day came when we crossed a line, when we did something so horrible that we were no better than the dictator who terrorized us.
We kidnapped his daughter.
In the news she always looked larger than life, so well put-together, her nails manicured, makeup impeccably done, hair sleek as an otter’s tail, and a cold smile on her lips. I had expected a prissy princess, a woman with a heart as cruel as her father’s, but she surprised all of us, me most of all, with her quiet grace. Her eyes were honeyed and amber, soft and kind, and when I first walked into her cell, she rose to her feet and greeted me with a handshake.
“I expect you’ve come to kill me,” I remember her saying. It had been a deeply disturbing comment, one that bothered me more than anyone else because out of all of the other commanders, I’d been the only one who’d opposed this kidnapping.
“No. I’m just here to see that you’re being treated well.”
The shock had been evident on her face.
“I, uh—I could use some privacy,” she admitted. “I can’t use the bathroom in front of the guards. They stare.”
“I will arrange for more comfortable ... accommodations.”
I had her moved into a luxury room without bars, but it was a jail cell all the same. Soldiers guarded her door, but they were no longer allowed inside. For a while, this suited her just fine, but after a few weeks, I heard from somebody that all she did was cry. The poised woman from TV had shown her true colors—she was scared and human, just like the rest of us.
I visited her.
“You’re unhappy here.”
She’d laughed through her tears. “I’m unhappy anywhere.”
That surprised me. “Weren’t you happy in your palace?”
“My prison, you mean? It was no better than this place.”
Well, that sure made me feel like shit.
“What can I do to make it better?”
Those honeyed eyes had looked up at me, puffy and rimmed red from all the crying.
“Just kill me already,” she’d said suddenly.
“I thought you were comfortable here,” I said, gesturing to the luxury accommodations. I’d put her up in the nicest room on base, one usually reserved for admirals. Everyone thought I was fucking crazy.
“A gilded cage is still a cage,” she said.
I left with my heart stuck like a hard candy in the center of my throat. For the first time since joining the resistance, I felt ashamed of what we were doing.
I began to visit her after drills and combat training every evening, sweat and dust stuck to my body, my face often bloodied and bruised from sparring. She became used to seeing me that way, and I got used to the sad emptiness in her eyes.
“Sit,” she said one evening, gesturing to a chair. I took the seat, a book in hand. Every evening I’d bring her a new one, and every evening, she’d return the finished one from the night before. Hundreds of pages, she’d read in a day. There was nothing else to do.
With gentle hands, she took a wetted rag and dabbed my injuries, cleaning them. I sat there, stunned by her kindness.
“Your training is barbaric,” she said. “Must it always end in blood?”
It was quiet for a moment.
“I heard you sent a ransom to my father,” she said, avoiding my gaze.
“What was his reply?”
“He’ll pay the price.”
“Will you make me go back to him?”
“Make you?” I repeated, confused. “You’ll be freer with him than with us. You can return to your humanities work and your studies.”
“I don’t want to.”
Her eyes glanced at my lips. I resisted the urge to think about what was doing to my heart.
“I—I like it here,” she said, but her body language said otherwise.
“Tell me the truth. Would he harm you?”
She shook her head. “It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
She finally met my gaze, her eyes searching mine. I didn’t know what she was looking for.
“Don’t you get it?” she whispered.
Not until a moment later.
“Men,” she said, sounding a little amused, and then pressed her lips to mine.
My heart burst into flames. I curled a hand around the back of her neck, pulling her closer, kissing her back. Our mouths moved together, and with my skin burning, with my heart on fire, I felt worse than ever. She was my prisoner, and there was an imbalance of power here.
This wasn’t right.
And yet it was.
“Don’t send me back,” she said.
I looked into those honeyed eyes, the sadness replaced by something I hadn’t expected to find there. Hope.
“It isn’t up to me,” I told her. “And even so, I can’t keep you here. A military base is no place for a politician’s daughter.”
“I’ve been here for months,” she reminded me.
“You don’t belong here. There is nothing here for you.”
“There is you,” she said softly.
I shook my head. “Your father is willing to pay a ransom that our organization desperately needs. I have no control over what happens to you. How can I damn our cause?”
“So you damn me instead,” she said. “You intend to return me as if I am property.”
“You don’t understand—”
“I do,” she replied angrily. “You are just like the rest of them.”
“How could you think that?”
“You’ve never even called me by my name before. I am just your prisoner.”
“Desta,” I said. Ethiopian for joy. I’d been ten years old when she’d been born nineteen years ago. I remembered what the media had said about her name, how she was the only girl in a family of six boys. She was their miracle, their joy. At the time, the only thing on my mind was the daunting prospect of having to kill a dictator and six sons to bring down the regime. I hadn’t thought much else of Desta, the joy of a family of slavemasters and terror.
“And your name?” she said. “I don’t even know yours.”
She was quiet, her eyes filling with tears.
“What is it?” I asked.
“You killed my brothers, didn’t you? You’re that Kellan,” she said, her lips trembling. “I read
about you, in the papers. They call you the Prince Slayer.”
“Your brothers were not princes. They were a part of your father’s military, responsible for the deaths of millions.”
“Leave me,” she said. She turned around and walked across the room, seating herself on the edge of her bed. My heart ached as I watched her put her face in her hands and cry.
I could not ease this pain.
The next day, she refused to see me. The day after was the same. And the day after that.
Eventually, I stopped trying.
Her father had agreed to pay handsomely for her return, all but begging us to leave her unharmed. He loved her, and it was easy for me to see why. She was a gentle beauty, a kind, innocent soul who brought light wherever she walked. She kept her light locked away in her room now, but she shone all the same.
I remembered what she’d said, about how her father’s palace had just been another prison. If I could, I would set her free. I’d free her from the resistance, and I’d send her far away, somewhere that even her father couldn’t reach her. She was too young to be what she was—a political pawn.
To me, she wasn’t that. She was a girl who deserved so much more.
“It’s me,” I said. I was standing outside of her door. There was no reply.
“Tomorrow, you return to your father.”
Another moment of silence passed, and then finally, I heard a small voice say, “Come in.”
I gestured to the guards to unlock her door.
“Desta,” I said, entering her room. It was the same as before, except she looked different now. She was skinnier, almost frail. It shouldn’t have surprised me; I’d known for a while that she’d been refusing her meals, but I was still shocked by the sight of her. Her hair had lost its luster, and her face was pale.
And those eyes. Dead inside.
“Why have you come?” she asked.
“To say goodbye, I suppose.”
“Goodbye then,” she said stiffly.
“This is out of my hands. That much, you must know.”
Her gaze pierced me, like a sharp icicle spiking my heart.
“I do,” she said. “You are a coward.”
“Don’t you think I fought for you? Don’t you think I tried to put a stop to this deal?”
I had. I’d done everything in my power. Pulled every string, made every argument, and yet, it had not been enough. The money had been too great of an amount to pass on.
“You all disgust me,” I had said. “You claim to oppose slavery, and yet you sell this girl like cattle.”
The room had been quiet as I’d stormed out.
Now I stood before her, and it was as if it was the calm before the storm. This time tomorrow she would be back in her father’s arms, and I would continue slaying his men. She belonged in her world, and I belonged in mine.
“You killed my brothers,” she said. “They were cruel murderers, but they were still my brothers. I suppose you don’t think I should blame you. They deserved it. Even I know that.”
“What are you saying, Desta?”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m saying that I’m a traitor. You are my enemy, and still I love you.”
My heart burned for her.
“You don’t know what you’re saying,” I said, my voice hoarse. My mouth had gone dry.
“You killed my brothers, but that is not who you are.”
“You don’t know that.”
She crossed the room, grabbing the shirt of my uniform in her fists, looking up at me with anguish in her honeyed eyes.
“Tell me you are not compassionate, and I will tell you that the sun does not rise in the east,” she said. “Tell me you are not kind, and I will tell you that the sky is not blue. Tell me you are not brave, and I will tell you that the world does not turn. Tell me you do not love me, and I will tell you that I am not human.”
This time, I was the one to kiss her.
I claimed her mouth as if I had any right to it, kissing her hungrily as she whimpered against my lips. My hand slipped into her hair, and the other found its way to her waist, pulling her closer as I deepened the kiss. She tasted of sadness and youth, her hands tightening on my uniform, tears streaming down her face.
I did not deserve her.
But I took her to bed anyway. I undressed her, my hands exploring her thin body, my heart thirsting to make her mine. She was small beneath me, her hair splayed out on the pillow, eyes darkened with lust.
She gasped my name when I took her innocence.
It was—heaven. She was tight, her body burning like wildfire, so hot that I almost couldn’t take it. I moved in her slowly at first, drawing out every last one of her breaths from her lungs, and then I showed her what pleasure meant. The friction was an addicting drug, and we both chased the high, clawing for our climax. Her fingernails dug into my back, and I gripped the sheets as I pounded into her.
When we came, we came together.
In the aftermath of the destruction of my heart, she was in my arms, tracing her fingers over the scars on my body. I held her for hours, and that afternoon, we made love twice more. I spent myself in her body, giving her pieces of me until there was nothing left of me that didn’t belong to her.
The next day when they loaded her up into the car, I stood and watched, feeling pain unimaginable course through my body. Then they drove away, taking away the gentlest creature that had ever stepped foot on this base. For a long time, I looked to the distance where the car had disappeared and fought the urge to pick up a rifle and gun down anyone that dared to stand between us.
But I was still a freedom fighter, and I would not stop fighting until her father was dead.
There was blood smeared all over the walls. I looked around the room. I was no longer just the Prince Slayer.
Today, I’d slain a dictator.
“Kellan,” the man repeated. He was a brother, someone I’d fought alongside for the last ten years. The place was swarming with the resistance, freedom fighters running left and right, securing every room in the palace.
“What?” I said, putting down my knife. I’d killed the dictator the old-fashioned way. Blood was on my hands, but I was not ashamed; I was proud.
“She is here in the west wing,” my brother said.
“Tell me she is not harmed,” I said, terror spiking in my veins.
“We have not touched a hair on her head,” my brother replied. “Go. She waits for you.”
She waits for you.
Five years had passed since I’d last seen her.
The freedom fighters in the west wing guided me to her room. I burst through the doors, breathing harshly, my eyes searching for her.
And then I saw her.
Beautiful as the day I’d met her, she was older now, grown into all of her delicate features. Her cheeks were sharper now, and her body had all the curves of a woman—but it was still her, my Desta.
We closed the divide, embracing one another, falling into each other’s arms, exchanging burning kisses. She said my name, and I might’ve said hers, and the earth might’ve stopped turning, and the sun might have risen in the west that morning, and maybe the sky was no longer blue, and maybe—maybe we weren’t even human anymore.
It didn’t matter.
She was mine and I was hers, and everything else ceased to exist.
Finally, we were free.