Finley O'Connell is a shy, reserved college student, who has no intention of ever trusting another man. At nineteen, Finley spends her Friday nights alone, studying clinical psychology to ease her mind of the abusive childhood she has yet to overcome. Her new professor, the young, charismatic Cabel Jones, begins to take an interest in Finley, whose first instinct is to run. But when an ordinary experiment turns to bloodshed, Finley must rely on Cabel, as the two hide away in a rustic, secluded cabin in the wilderness. Plagued by deception and fear, Finley soon finds herself in the arms of the one man on campus who can never truly be hers.
I didn’t want anyone delving into that part of my psyche. Ever.
As I got tangled up in my daydreams, the remaining students were called away for their own experiments. Before too long, I was the last one left. Again. An uneasy feeling flowed through my system, because the déjà vu felt all too expected, all too planned.
Sighing aloud, I carried my satchel over my shoulder and rose from my chair in the lobby. I trudged across the carpet with my head down, desperate to go back to my apartment and sleep. Nightmares of my past had tormented me the night before, but I didn’t want to revisit them now.
“Miss O’Connell,” a cheery voice called. I looked up to find Cabel with a pen and clipboard in his hand. “Ready?” He turned on his heel as I followed, letting him guide me down the hallway.
“For what exactly?” I searched for the nearest elevator, intent on heading home and curling into a ball on the couch. But when Cabel grabbed my elbow, I gave him a second glance.
“Your experiment,” he answered, furrowing his brow in frustration. “It’s today.”
“I know it’s today,” I snapped back, already irritated. “My experimenter didn’t show up.” I brushed past him and continued down the corridor, desperate to find a place to rest my head.
“I’m your experimenter.” The strength of his voice followed me, traveling down the hall.
I slowed my feet and turned back around, not believing a word he had said. “What?”
Cabel stepped towards me, his icy blue eyes dilating at the pupil. I thought that was odd, considering the bright fluorescent lights overhead. “Come with me,” he pressed, his steady gaze authoritative and haunting, “unless you want to fail.”
I forced myself to swallow, then followed Cabel down several long, winding corridors, until he finally led me into an empty room and shut the door behind us. Cabel flipped the light switch on, to reveal a small rectangular table with two wooden chairs on either side of it. I glanced around the room, spotting a couch against the left wall and a sink by the lone window at the back of the room. The blinds were drawn.
I flinched when Cabel shut the door, and then jerked one of the chairs out from the table. “Have a seat,” he ordered. Obedient, I tossed my satchel onto the couch and took a deep breath.
“Yes, Mr. Jones.” I sat down with my feet flat on the ground, my hands gripping the seat.
“When are you going to stop calling me that?” Cabel stood in front of me, hovering.
“When are you going to stop calling me Miss O’Connell?” I countered.
The edge of Cabel’s mouth lifted into a smirk, though he didn’t allow the smile to linger. I held his gaze, looking up at him through my eyelashes, playful and coy. Cabel narrowed his eyes at me in return, but not out of malice. He was thinking, wondering, considering.
“Roll up your sleeve,” Cabel instructed, staring at my black long-sleeved t-shirt.
“What?” I stared up at him in confusion, while Cabel merely sighed. All at once, he leaned forward, grabbed my left wrist with one hand, and pushed my shirtsleeve back with the other, until the fabric became a bunched mess around my elbow. I held my breath at the touch of his skin against mine, while Cabel rocked back on his heels and placed his hands on his hips.
“Put your arm on the table,” he said, alarming me further. I rested my left arm on the table beside me and turned my palm up towards the ceiling. When Cabel collected a black box from the TV stand and placed it on the table, I began to sweat.
“Don’t I have to sign a disclaimer first?” I piped up, questioning his order and method of experimentation.
“We’ll get to that,” Cabel confirmed.
Just as he unlocked the box and opened the lid, our eyes met with frantic delight. I forced myself to swallow, my gaze shifting from Cabel to the table. What was inside of the box?
Suddenly, an alarm sounded overhead, sending a violent ringing through my ears. Cabel shut the box and returned it to the TV stand, then jerked me out of the chair. Before I could react, an announcement came over the PA system.
“Attention all students, faculty, and staff. Please evacuate campus immediately. This is not a drill. Find the nearest exit and leave now. All classes are cancelled until further notice.”
The announcement played on a continuous loop, while the alarm rang on and on.
“Cabel, what’s going on?” I tried to swallow, but there was no more than a hard, relentless lump in my throat. Distracted, Cabel released me and moved to the door, deftly clicking the lock in place. “Cabel?” He grabbed the chair I had been sitting in and pushed it in front of the door, then snatched the table and remaining chair off the floor and did the same.
Cabel weaved his fingers through his hair, those blonde locks becoming disheveled and unruly. His head snapped back when someone began pounding their fist against the door. I looked intoCabel’s eyes and noticed that his soft blue irises had thinned around two deep circles of black.
Without any warning, Cabel grabbed my arm and steered me towards the window. He drew the blinds back, and then pushed the window open to reveal our only way out.
“No!” I protested, struggling against him. Cabel grabbed my shoulders and shoved me towards the window. I stomped his foot with my shoe and kicked him in the knee, but Cabel wrapped his arm around my waist and leaned his head on my shoulder.
“Climb down the railing and go next door,” he whispered. “Take the stairs to the third floor and wait for me in the second room on the left. It’s the janitor’s closet.” I felt his warm breath in my ear, his words more comforting than the vice-like grip he had around me.
“What?” I whimpered, tugging at his arm. “But, I don’t understand.”
“Trust me,” he pleaded in earnest.
The banging against the door only grew louder, as I tried to rationalize, tried to think, tried to decide what to do. I didn’t know if I could even trust Cabel. I hardly knew him. But in that moment, I realized how badly I wanted to.
“Is this part of the experiment?” I craned my neck around to look back at him, my eyes dancing across the planes of his strong, chiseled face.