Lillian was tied down on a wooden chair, in the middle of a darkened room. She had just woken up; her head was spinning like it had spent the last few hours dancing the polka. Ugh. What had just happened? She’d been talking to that weird hooded stranger in her bedroom, and then he’d shown her his face, and then… and then…
With a start, Lillian realised that she couldn’t remember anything that had happened after that. She must have been knocked out, she decided with sudden resolve. Hopefully with chloroform, rather than a blow to the head- because a blow to the head might leave a mark, and she was supposed to be meeting Kai in…
Wait. What time was it now? She’d been supposed to meet Kai, her boyfriend, in twenty minutes- except Lillian had no way of knowing how long she’d been out for. Kai was probably standing outside her apartment now, wondering where she was.
Blinking woozily, realisation dawned on her as she noticed that she couldn’t see a thing. She caught her breath in horror. Had she been blinded? No, no… She could feel scratchy material against her cheeks- blindfolded, then. And gagged. The rag that had been stuffed inside her mouth tasted awful, like someone had died in it.
She shuddered, despite herself. Maybe someone had died in it.
Lillian Olivia Hampstead-Jones had never been particularly bright. In school, she’d always scraped by with minimum effort, laughing off her low marks. But right now, her fear an acrid, bitter urgency that curled itself around her heart, Lillian was positive of one thing.
She had to get out of here, and she had to get out of here soon.
Her ears pricked up at the sound of footsteps. They were heavy, thudding firmly against the ground- probably a man. Lillian bit her lip, wondering if she could somehow work loose the rope that bound her to the chair. And if she could, did she even have a hope of overpowering this guy in a fight?
She realised, with a sense of overpowering terror, that she didn’t even know how many men there were in this room. She could be facing a whole army. 7ft tall giants, maybe- probably with guns. Around the gag between her teeth, she whimpered.
Cool hands brushed through her hair as they untied her blindfold. She blinked, unaccustomed to the slightly brighter dark than she’d become used to.
The face she looked up at belonged to Alexander Rhys. It wasn’t smiling.
Lillian screamed as loudly as she could, though most of the sound was muffled by the gag. This was him. This was the man that had trespassed into her apartment, threatened her, and, it was apparent, knocked her out and kidnapped her.
He was also an international singing phenomenon, and until a couple of hours ago, Lillian’s celebrity crush of choice.
Lillian screamed again in indignant outrage.
Unfortunately, because she was still wearing the gag, the sound came out as more of a barely-audible squeak and made her uncomfortably red in the face.
“Oh. Yes, I’d forgotten about that.” Alexander nodded in comprehension, leaning forwards to ease the rag from Lillian’s mouth. “Sorry. Now, isn’t that better?”
Lillian gasped for breath, swore for a couple of seconds, and then had to gasp for breath some more.
Alexander tapped his foot impatiently. “I said I was sorry, didn’t I? Look, I had to bring you here like that. It’s not like you got hurt or anything. And the boss said you’d appreciate the dramatic effect, in the end. He… uh… There’s something he wants to say to you.” Alexander paused, ruffling his hair ruefully. “Though the gag and blindfold were my idea, actually. Also for dramatic effect. But I am still really sorry. Really.”
For a second, Lillian didn’t say anything- just glared at Alexander in cold scathing. Then, because she couldn’t think of anything else to say and the situation called for it, she swore again very loudly.
If Erica was here, thought Lillian, what would she do? Erica, Lillian’s best friend, was more intelligent than people gave her credit for. Although she was always late for everything, and came across as quite unapologetically disorganised, she was both logical and shrewd. She was good, decided Lillian, at actually thinking about stuff.
The problem was, Lillian had always made it her policy to avoid thinking like the plague.
Alexander tutted under his breath, exasperated. “I’m telling you,” he whined, like a dog fed up with being a dog for much longer, “this wasn’t even my idea! Look, you gotta believe me-”
There were hurried footsteps, and then a voice sounded from behind them both. “Jon? You’re not pleading with the captive, are you?” It sounded vaguely amused, and it was a voice that Lillian inexplicably found strangely familiar. “I was pretty sure that wasn’t how kidnappings worked.”
The author mentioned in the previous chapter that Alexander Rhys was not the real name of the pop-singing international sensation. Nor, it is safe to disclose, was Jon- but that was still a name he often went by. Alexander went by many names to many different people, though only he knew the one that his parents had given him at birth.
But Alexander didn’t mind. He liked it that way- by choosing his own names, he felt like he was choosing his own destiny.
“Jon? Step aside, would you?” said the voice again- and then suddenly, the voice wasn’t just familiar. Lillian recognised it beyond a doubt. A short, blonde haired figure stepped into view, confirming her thoughts.
“Ethan?” she choked out, speaking the name of her ex-boyfriend- the one who’d stolen all her shampoo.
“Surprise,” drawled Ethan, shaking his hands dramatically. “I brought you flowers,” he told her, dropping to one knee and extending a bouquet of roses. He was wearing a long, flouncy cape, and he swished it in time to his words.
As kidnappings go, this one was becoming a tad overdone.
“She can’t take the flowers,” butted in Alexander helpfully, “because she’s still tied up.”
Ethan glowered at him from behind his mess of blonde hair. “I know that, Jon. Obviously. Here, Lillian, let me help you,” he told her, walking round to the back of her chair and untying the bow that had been holding her in place. (Neither Ethan nor Alexander could tie knots.)
Lillian’s eyes bugged out of her head. “What the hell, Ethan? Where am I? Is this some kind of joke? Am I on some kind of meet-Alexander-Rhys TV show or… Or…”
Yes, thought Lillian rationally. That must be it. This is some big, dumb TV show, and currently I’m the punch line.
“This isn’t a TV show,” said Ethan.
“Actually,” said Ethan, handing Lillian the flowers, “this is more of a… uh… Business proposition.”
Lillian gritted her teeth. “Okay, so, one, I already have a job, and two, I would never, ever enter a business with two stupid jerks who kidnapped me not even for a TV show and three-“
“Okay, okay,” muttered Ethan. “I get the point. I’m sorry we kidnapped you, but I didn’t know how to get to see you otherwise. You don’t answer my calls, I can’t get within fifty feet of your apartment without you setting off an alarm or something… What was I supposed to do?”
“Um, how about not kidnap me?”
“It was a romantic gesture!”
“Kidnapping is never romantic, you messed up son of a-”
Ethan swished his cape, stopping her short. “When we were going out, you used to love the theatre, right? The Phantom of the Opera, remember.” He nodded, grinning almost manically. “That Phantom guy kidnaps people, right? And he wears a cape, right? I was trying to be romantic and appeal to what I know you love.”
“The Phantom of the Opera isn’t real! I don’t- I don’t-” Lillian cut off, shaking her head. “How in hell did you ever think this was romantic?” She pointed a finger at Alexander accusingly. “You! Why didn’t you stop him? Why did you go along with him?”
Alexander shrugged unhelpfully. “Um. Ethan’s the boss. Not me.”
“Yeah,” said Ethan nodding. “Yeah, I’m the boss.”
Lillian pressed her hands to her temples, staring in bemused horror at him. “So… That weird cape thing is, like, a tribute to me liking the Phantom of the Opera?”
“And you kidnapped me in the name of a romantic impression? Seriously, like, this is why I dumped you.”
“Actually, uh…” started Ethan, mumbling something about him stealing all her shampoo. He looked up hopefully, smiling at Lillian. “So, you’ll listen to my business proposition now, right?”
Lillian rolled her eyes. “What else am I meant to do? I have no idea where I am, and you’d probably stop me if I tried to, like, leave, right? Right?”
Ethan nodded assent, then rubbed his hands together gleefully. “Brilliant, Lillian. I just know you’re going to love this!” He lowered his voice, bending down to look directly into his eyes. “You’re friends with Erica Woods, aren’t you? Best friends, I’m pretty sure of it.”
He paused, arching one eyebrow. It got lost under his thick fringe of luxurious blonde hair. Lillian wondered absentmindedly whether he’d got it looking so smooth with someone else’s stolen shampoo. She wouldn’t be surprised.
“We – that is to say, Jon and I,” continued Ethan, nodding his head at Alexander, “need Erica Woods to murder four of her little party planning friends. You’re going to help us convince her.” He paused, tilting his head to one side so his hair cast a shadow across his face. All that Lillian could see was the rich curve of his lips.
“If either of you don’t co-operate,” said Ethan slowly, his voice hardly a murmur, “we’ll kill Erica. And you can be there to watch her die, don’t worry.” He laughed harshly, his mouth settling into a smirk. “Any questions? Except for who-what-why-how, of course. I’ll answer those for you in due time.”
He laughed again, and Lillian gazed at him in undisguised consternation.
Just as she had been deciding that maybe this whole kidnapping thing had just been an elaborate misunderstanding, her ex-boyfriend threatened to murder her best friend. For Lillian née Gertrude Olivia Hampstead-Jones, life had most definitely taken an irregular turn for the worse.