By: Rachel van Dyken

“The first cut,” he said smoothly, “Is always the easiest because you don’t expect it. But there’s always a second.” A slow burn trickled down my wrist and then severe pain hit me again, this time on my other forearm. “Even the second isn’t so horrible, because who only makes one cut? It’s almost more expected than the first. But the third…” He made another slice this time on my open palm. “Is the worse because that’s when you realize… it’s only just begun.”

“You can’t break me,” I hissed. “And I’ve done nothing wrong.”

“You’re right about one thing… you’ve done nothing wrong. Except, you were born, and that… according to your father… is a problem.”

“And second?” I asked in a calm detached voice, already trying to climb into myself so I wouldn’t feel the stinging sensation or the warm blood trickling down my arms.

“It takes experts seventy-two hours maximum to brainwash a person, to wipe their memory, to make them a whole new individual.”

“So?” I croaked, jerking against the chair.

“Ah, Maya… it rarely takes me twelve hours.”

My heart slammed against my chest.

Warm lips brushed against my ear. “The minute you were brought in… you were already broken.”

I woke up from the dream in a cold sweat. It was always the same. Someone slicing my arm, and a smooth voice taunting me. The message was always the same.

I will break you.

I shivered and looked at my clock.

It was time to call in a favor. I was tired of the nightmares, but more tired of putting my life on hold… I needed to finish my research if it was the last thing I did. So with dread, I picked up my cell and dialed my father’s number.

The Pier killer is at it again, claiming its first victim in two years...—The Seattle Tribune.

THE CLOCK IN THE CORNER CHIMED noon. I waited in anticipation for the doors to open. His secretary had said he’d be out in five minutes. It had been six, not that I was crazy OCD or anything, I was just a bit freaked out that I was about to meet the Nikolai Blazik. He was considered a god in the medical community.

And he was considered royalty if you asked anyone else.

Graduated with honors from Harvard at the ripe old age of fifteen, went on to get a degree in Human Sciences and Technologies, which basically meant he was a certified genius. His research on disease and its effects on the body gave him the freaking Nobel Prize at nineteen.

Which was naturally followed by a cover on Time Magazine, followed by Forbes, I think you get the picture. He was ridiculously smart and extremely hard to pin down for an interview.

The only reason he was even giving me the time of day was because my father had made a call, and my master’s thesis was based on Mr. Blazik’s newest research on STDs.

I exhaled and looked at the clock again.

Eight minutes.

He was three minutes late.

What if he wasn’t going to do the interview? I needed to finish my thesis in order to graduate—and I had to graduate in order to pay off my student loans. Regardless of how much money and power my father had, he was adamant that I make my own way.

Except in this particular situation.

I’d had to damn near sell him my own kidney in order for him to arrange the meeting. Leaving wasn’t an option. He’d told me no on several occasions and then finally, picked up the phone this morning and said to be at the Blazik offices downtown at noon.

I wasn’t sure why he’d finally given in after all these years of basically ignoring me. My family was dysfunctional. I stopped trying to figure them out years ago. My brother Pike had died a few weeks ago, leaving my mother heartbroken, and it was always rumored that my sister had been killed by another crime family when she was an infant, leaving just me.

I felt like the disappointment of the bunch, not that my father ever said a word about me being a disappointment. His words were always brittle, cold, and indifferent, I would have killed for some sort of emotion from the guy, but I had nothing but empty smiles and arched eyebrows.

With another sigh I tucked my dark brown hair behind my ears and drummed my fingertips along my black skirt.

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