Authors: Heather C Leigh
Copyright © 2016 Shelbyville Publishing, Inc.
for Heather C Leigh
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental
Cover design by Mayhem Cover Creators
Editing Stephanie Parent
Photo by Wander Aguilar
Model Ben Pugh
the readers who like to walk on the dark side.
, musty, damp—those were the first things I noticed.
Next came the pain. Excruciating, skull-splitting, breath-stealing pain. Sitting was not an option. Even rolling from my back to my side sent a tidal wave of nausea crashing over me, rushing up my throat along with bile and the meager remains of the last thing I ate. Vomit continued dribbling from my mouth as I lay on the hard floor, the sharp stabbing pains forcing me to take quick, shallow breaths. My body continued purging until I was empty and even then, dry heaves kept wracking my stomach over and over again. Each spasm sent a white-hot knife through my head.
Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore, the violent vomiting settled into dull queasiness. It didn’t feel good, but it was tolerable. My head was a whole other story. The pressure inside made it feel as if my skull had shrunk two sizes too small for my brain. I had no clue how long I lay on the floor, in a heap like a limp rag. Minutes, hours, days… I drifted in and out of consciousness. Each time I woke, the suffocating nausea sent my body into another long round of useless, excruciating dry heaves. I think I might have blacked out once or twice from the torturous agony that accompanied the vomiting. My entire existence narrowed down to waking to insufferable pounding in my head, which brought on a bout of vomiting, after which I’d thankfully pass out when the pain flared to levels no human could withstand.
It was a vicious, unrelenting cycle.
At some point, I roused and stayed awake long enough to scoot into a semi-sitting position against the wall without the added benefit of my brain trying to break out of my skull. Eyes shut, I panted like a dog, swallowing down saliva until the urge to vomit finally, thank God, went away. When I managed to keep my eyes open longer than a blink and you missed it moment, my head became the pole in the middle of a tilt-a-whirl, the world spinning off its axis while I was stuck watching it go by. I forced back the bubbling bile and waited for the nausea to pass. For the first time since I regained consciousness, I was able to look at my surroundings.
And immediately wished I hadn’t.
The rest of my senses dulled while I slumped helplessly back to the floor, everything drowned out by the nonstop cycle of pain and nausea. I hadn’t paid attention to my environment before now, and once I did, the horror of my reality smacked me like a backhand to the temple by the devil himself. Suddenly, I was freezing, shivering from bone-chilling terror. Unable to get warm, I wrapped my scrawny arms around my legs, pulling them to my chest. The room was lit by a single dim bulb recessed in the ceiling, no doubt to cast a super-creepy shadow of my slumped over form across the walls. Liquid terror, pure and black, pumped in and out of my heart. Every single wall, including the floor and ceiling, was dull, gray, unbroken concrete. No windows, no furniture, no blankets—not a single other item in the maybe six-by-six-foot space.
Panic slithered up from the base of my spine, coiled its slimy tendrils around my neck, and slid into my mouth, down my throat. My lungs protested the intruder as it constricted the flow of air, my poor, overworked heart hammering in the tightening confines of my ribcage. Hot tears stung my eyes and flowed uselessly down my face to drip off my chin. Sniffing in a sob, I was hit upside the head from the overpowering scent of urine. Oh my God. The crotch of my cotton sleep shorts was wet. At some point, I must have pissed myself.
Left like a filthy animal in a cage. A stark, barren, freezing cage.
I had to get out of here.
Head throbbing, nausea welling, and every muscle trembling, I staggered to my feet and dragged my ass to what had to be the exit. The only interruption in the lifeless room was a single narrow door breaking the uniformity of one dull gray wall. Vertigo threatened to knock me down the second I became stood, vision spinning wildly. I stumbled against the door, nails scrabbling to keep my balance. Weak, my skull exploding with pain, I slapped my palm against the door. Holding down the nausea, I tried the knob. Nothing. Locked. Sealed tight.
I was so hoarse my voice wasn’t anywhere near the level needed to be loud enough for anyone to hear. The effort, combined with a dry mouth, had me choking and I began to cough, my throat and vocal cords stripped raw from the vomiting. Coughing, of course, brought on a fresh bout of vertigo, which resulted in another agonizing fit of dry heaves. Cold, but sweat-slicked, my hand slipped off the knob and I collapsed to the floor. The crack of my skull hitting cement sent a shockwave of pain radiating through my head, piercing the backs of my eyes until thankfully, I passed out to blessed nothingness.
, you are awake.”
My fuzzy eyesight became clearer with each rapid blink. Once focused, a sharp, radiating pain blinded me, as if a rubber band was snapped around my head and left in place to cut off circulation. The accompanying nausea brought back the horrific memories and with it… reality.
Trapped. Injured. Captive.
Desperate for answers, I slapped my palms on the cold concrete, braced my arms, and shoved my upper body off the ground. Immediately, I gagged from the queasiness that arose. My brain quadrupled in size inside my skull, an overinflated balloon ready to pop. Desperate to get some sort of idea of where I was, I ignored the pain. Rolling my eyes side to side, my blurry gaze locked onto two men—one a normal height and weight, the other an enormous monster, both with the russet skin indicative of Mexican descent, and deep brown eyes that glittered with lethal darkness. I was no longer alone. Panicked, my pulse skyrocketed and I scooted on my ass to the furthest corner.
“Raoul,” the smaller man said, his voice and demeanor that of one who was used to being obeyed.
One word spoken and the giant erased the distance between us with two long strides. Without warning, he lifted me by my arms, spun us both around, and shoved me to my knees in front of his boss. My kneecaps cracked on the cement and I cried out. My stomach did a stop, drop and roll, forcing me to bite back tears and nausea. If nothing else, I’d rather be dead than show weakness in front of these two fucking assholes.
Months ago, I stood up to Jag, and he was way, way more intimidating than both the daunting boss and the beast using his huge hands to keep me on my knees. Of course, I was high on heroin when I challenged Jag, but still. These guys had nothing on Jag at his worst.
“Wha—” My throat seized up, larynx shredded. Probably from the nonstop vomiting.
The bastard in charge smirked and I couldn’t stop from flinching at the predatory gleam in his eyes. He barked out an order in rapid Spanish.
agua y una cilla
The door to freedom opened and a young man, also of Mexican descent, placed a polished wooden chair behind his boss and handed him a plastic cup. The boss sat in the chair and offered me the cup.
Parched, I instinctively swallowed at the thought of drinking something cool. A thousand razor blades tore at the delicate skin of my throat. No matter how badly I wanted the drink, I couldn’t bring myself to take the cup. What if it was poisoned? Or drugged?
Caught between the overwhelming desire to quench my thirst and the need to protect myself, the brute holding me down grew impatient and an open palm struck the back of my head. Stars burst behind my eyes and the room spun like a top. As I was gagging from the blow, the thug grabbed my chin. Huge, thick fingers dug into my face, holding my head in place.
Once more, the boss extended his hand.
“You will drink.” A dark eyebrow rose in challenge and he waited for me to take the cup.
Trembling, I lifted a hand. Fuck. I didn’t want them to see me shaken. No matter what, I was determined to maintain some shred of dignity even if I was kneeling on damp cement, wearing clothes soaked in my own vomit and piss, while two bastards regarded me as nothing but trash. I wouldn’t, I
, let them break me. Not like this. The last few years were tough, but if I learned one thing during my six months with Mason, it was how to wade through shit and keep on going, no matter what.
I took the cup and brought it to my lips. It was colorless and odorless. Water. Yes, the thought that it might be drugged still niggled in the back of my mind, but I was desperately thirsty, and if the Sasquatch with the big mitts had anything to say about it, the water was going in my mouth whether I liked it or not. It was better to do it on my terms.
I tipped the cup and the second the first drop hit my tongue I couldn’t stop. A balm on my ragged throat, I greedily sucked down all of the cool liquid. I could have easily drunk four more cupfuls, but none were offered. No, the asshole boss snatched the empty cup from my hands and tossed it aside.
“Do you know why you are here,
?” I knew enough Spanish to understand the insult and frowned.
“I’ve been called worse than an asshole.”
The man laughed. “I am sure you have, seeing as you are also a whore, no?”
Despite the clammy, frigid air in the room, my skin pricked with heat. A flush of anger rippled down my body and I stared right into the fucker’s eyes when I spoke.
“No, I am not a whore.”
Who is this guy to judge me? He’s a kidnapper and he’s trying to shame me by calling me a whore?
The man leaned forward from his chair and reached out to touch my face. I jerked back in revulsion. The thought of his hands on my skin made my insides crawl. The brute behind me, Raoul, squeezed the back of my neck with his massive meaty paws until I yelped. Subdued, he held me firmly in place at the man’s feet. I watched in horror as a slender finger skimmed across my cheek and trailed down my neck.
I wanted to throw up. The water I drank threatened to make an encore. The guy literally made me sick to my stomach.
“Who are you?” I asked, done with this bizarre game of threats and posturing. I was damn ready for some answers.
“I was told you were a feisty one,” the man said with a chuckle. That fucking finger stayed on my skin, tracing along one of my collarbones to my shoulder. I swear, if it came close enough to my mouth, I’d bite it off.
My throat tightened as my gag reflex got ready to join the action. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you don’t,
. You are
una cusca estúpida
. A stupid slut. You know nothing of importance to me.”
Internally, I bristled at his insult, but didn’t give the bastard the satisfaction of an outward reaction.
“Then why am I here if I’m so useless?”
Like a viper’s strike, the man’s arm darted out and his hand wrapped around my throat, squeezing until I began to choke. He leaned in until I could smell his hot, rancid breath and get an up close look at the sadistic gleam in his nearly black eyes.
“You are here because you are
to someone I wish to destroy.” He shoved me away by my windpipe and I fell back, retching and choking. Raoul caught me by the shoulders and replaced his boss’s hand with his own, cupping it loosely around my throat to keep me on my knees while I continued choking and gasping for air.
The boss stood, tugged on the cuff links of his pressed dress shirt, and skimmed a hand down his perfectly tailored suit. The move reminded me so much of Jag, tears pricked my eyes. The little prick lifted his chin and sneered as if I were a pile of shit left in the middle of an expensive Persian rug.
“I am El Cuchillo, and I am going to kill your boyfriend, the Boss of Austin.” He bent down until we were eye-to-eye. “And you, puta, are the key to making it happen.”
“Son of a bitch! I want you to find that motherfucker, Cuchillo. Right. Fucking. Now. That piece of shit dared to take Miri out of my own arms. I want the piece of shit delivered to me alive so I personally have the pleasure of slowly chopping off every single fucking one of his body parts until he begs for death.”
El Cuchillo would soon wish he never fucked with what was mine. Especially when I began to cut off pieces of him, one at a time. His screams will be music to my ears.
“Boss, I know it’s the easy conclusion to make, but we don’t know for sure it was El Cuchillo’s men who took her.” Milo received a withering glare for his comment, and promptly shut his mouth.
Every one of my high-ranking men was seated at a long table in one of my warehouses. I, on the other hand, was too wound up. So I paced the floor at the front of the room, bristling with rage alternating with complete and utter terror. Afraid of what they could be doing to Miri right this very minute.
With the exception of Milo, my men stared at me, wide-eyed, palpable tension rolling off them to create a thick cloud of stress that hung over the table. With very few exceptions, I take great pains to stay in control in front of my men, save Milo. Since Milo was my second in command, he usually bore the brunt of my fits of anger simply because he spent more time with me than anyone else in the organization.
Now, everyone would witness me losing my shit and I could give a fuck less.
“It was Cuchillo. I know it and I know him. No one else has a reason to kidnap her, let alone directly attack me and steal her from my arms.” I stopped pacing and slammed my fists on the table. The bang echoed off the exposed metal beams that spanned the twenty-foot high ceiling.
A new voice broke in before Milo could respond to my outburst. “If it was Cuchillo, why would he leave you alive, Boss? It could be Brick, a pissed-off supplier, any of our wholesalers, or a shit ton of other people we do business with. There are a lot of guys out there who would love to see you gone.”
I flicked my attention to George, one of my other top men. His tone was even, but the man’s face was a deep shade of red and his mouth was pulled into a deep frown. George emanated rage, as if he were eagerly waiting for a chance to take his own pound of flesh. After El Cuchillo assassinated his best friend, Jimmy, George was itching for a chance at revenge. Yet somehow, the man was able to keep a level head and run through every possible suspect despite the fact he would love nothing more than to fire a bullet between Cuchillo’s eyes.