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Authors: Eve Vaughn

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Chapter
One

“Give me one reason not to rip your fucking head off!” Foster tightened his grip around West’s neck, daring the other man to even think about fighting back. He had enough of the guy’s evasiveness and wanted
,
no needed answers. This was a matter of life and death.

West simpered like the piece of shit he was.
“I swear I didn’t have anything to do with her disappearance. I haven’t seen her since you and O’Shaughnessy took her away from me. I didn’t even complain when I wasn’t compensated for her, even though I had every right to.”

Foster applied more pressure, making the other man’s eyes practically bulge out of his head, but much to his annoyance no information was forthcoming. He had been certain a spineless little weasel like West would have broken down by now. The fact that he wasn’t
talking
could possibly mean that he really didn’t know of Macy’s whereabouts, even though Foster’s sources had led him here.

Foster had tapped into connections that he long since believed he was done with and it angered him enough to take his frustrations out on his closest target. It wasn’t as though Peter West didn’t have this coming. The man was a slime ball, rumored to have killed his wife for access to her fortune. It was also whispered that he’d murdered several of the women he’d kept in his so-called harem, though no one could prove it.

The only thing that stopped Foster from actually killing this son of a bitch was that he wasn’t interested in bein
g involved in any investigation.
West was still after all considered among the Elite in their community despite his sullied reputation. Attention from the law was the last thing Foster needed to deal with. He had the funds to grease the right palms and could afford a top-notch attorney, but it was a messy business he wanted no involvement in. Of course, there were ways to take care of this bastard and go undetected, but dead men couldn’t talk and he needed some information.

“Then why do my sources tell me you know something?”

“I don’t know
who these so-called sources are.
” West gasped for breath as he spoke. “I swear on my dear deceased wife that I’m telling the truth. I don’t mess with the traffickers anymore. You have to believe me. The last time I saw that girl was when she was taken out of here.” Tears streamed down the bastard’s face and suddenly a foul stench slammed into Foster, offending his nasal passages. He looked down to see his red-faced prey had shit his pants. Foster immediately released his hold, sending West crashing to the floor in a heap at his feet. He really was a disgusting piece of vermin. A slimy worm like him would have broken by now, so Foster could only
assume he was either telling the truth,
which put him firmly back at square one
or that West was scared of who he was trying to protect
.
Foster suspected the latter.

Although West might not have anything to do with Macy’s disappearance directly, Foster sensed he was hiding something. The longer his friend was missing, the less chance he had of finding her. She was no longer on the grid, which meant her vitals chip had been removed. Not only did the little implant read a person’s health and could be used to spend and receive credits, it could also track a person almost anywhere in the world. It was one of the government’s worst-kept secrets.

Though the citizens knew that their chips could lock on to their coordinates when necessary, most of them believed it was a matter of public safety or to track criminals. The tracking devices were extremely expensive, which was why not many people had access to them. But for the very rich, obtaining one of these machines wasn’t very hard. His best friend had access to a couple of them which is how Foster had learned Macy couldn’t be tracked. There was no telling where she was. For all he knew, she could be out of the country. And if that were the case, there weren’t too many avenues he could pursue.

It was nearly a month since Macy had disappeared and the guilt was tearing him apart. He’d made a promise to protect her and he’d dropped the ball, all because he could no longer look her in the eye and be the man she believed him to be. What he saw in those big violet eyes was trust and adoration, two things he definitely didn’t deserve. It had become evident to him that she had developed feelings for him and while he was flattered, they were emotions he was incapable of returning.

How he’d become her sort of protector had happened completely by accident. Macy had been a participant in a game called The Run, where women volunteered to be hunted by wealthy patrons. Though these women were handsomely compensated, most of them were basically at the mercy of their captors until they were formally released. As a patron who had participated in several runs, Foster saw it as a sport. Most of the women he let go. Some he kept for a few weeks to warm his bed, but they were never more than a pleasurable pastime for him, baring his one slip-up. He was, however, aware that there were several patrons who viewed The Run as a way to build their harems or to use these women as their personal toys.

It was rumored that many of these hunters never let the girls go, while it was also said that many of these volunteers died in custody of their patrons. There were laws against murder, but most of the patrons were so wealthy they could buy their way out of a messy situation by bribing the right authorities. West was one of them. He had been the center of much gossip regarding exactly this, which is why it was no surprise that Foster’s sources had landed him on West’s doorstep.

West had been Macy’s patron and she probably would have died under his care had it not been for Aya,
his best friend
Dare’s girlfriend, who had also been a participant. Apparently, the two
women
had bonded over the game and it was at Aya’s insistence that Macy was tracked down. Going along with his friend as a favor, Foster was shocked to see the state the girl had been in. Covered in bruises and cuts, Macy had been
missing a few fingers and several teeth
. She had been so thin
to the point of emaciation.
Foster could tell that Macy had not been properly fed. Her face had been severely scarred. It was clear she’d been beaten to within an inch of her life and this asshole cowering at his feet was responsible.

Seeing the pathetic heap that Macy had been had brought out Foster’s protective instincts, not to mention she reminded him of someone who still haunted every single one of his dreams. He couldn’t quite put his finger on why. Both women had similar bone structure but where one was petite and pale, the other was tall and bronze
, not to mention different ancestry
. Yet every time he glanced into Macy’s large violet gaze, he was reminded of a pair of hazel eyes that made him toss and turn at night.

Macy had clung to him because she viewed him as her rescuer s
o he’d taken her under his wing. He saw to it that
Macy had
gotten the proper medical care that she required by getting her teeth replaced, scars healed and fingers grown back. Within months, she looked nothing like the shell of a woman she had been. She started to smile more. The woman who had seemed afraid of her own shadow when they met had shed some of her timidity. But with her recovery, the resemblance between her and his ghost had become even stronger and he began to distance himself. He saw Macy’s disappointment when he didn’t come around as often or check in when he said he would.

And now because of his selfishness, she was gone. The last time she had been seen was leaving the bar she worked at, which happened to be owned by Aya’s uncle. Apparently, no one knew where she was. It was as if she’d vanished into thin air. Foster was certain she wouldn’t just run off, not when she had younger siblings to look after while her father drank himself into an early grave.

The only explanation was that she’d been taken but he had no idea by whom, at first. And then, he remembered. There was a legend about an organization that snatched women and children off the street in broad daylight, never to be seen again. Because it was so shrouded in secrecy, no one knew how to even become a part of the network unless they were already a member, and none of them were talking. This secret group was a tale people would use to tell their children in order to keep them
on their best behavior. B
ut since he’d begun his search he realized the stories might very well be real. He prayed Macy was not somehow entangled in that web because if she was, she might be lost to him forever.

“Please, I’ve told you all I know,” West groaned from the floor.

Foster looked down at the piece of crap who also smelled like it. “If you’re lying to me, I will be back and I will end you.” He pulled his leg back and delivered a hard kick to West’s ribs.

The cracking sound was followed by a loud scream, but Foster felt zero remorse as he thought of all the times this man had hurt Macy for his own sick enjoyment. When Foster was about to step over him and leave, he paused. Something that West had said suddenly registered. Foster hadn’t brought it up, but now he finally understood why his sources believed that West knew something regarding Macy’s disappearance.

Bending over he grabbed West by the collar, who was now clutching his side. “You mentioned traffickers. I didn’t say anything about that. What do you know?”

“Please! I can’t say anything or they’ll kill me.”

“If you don’t tell me, I’ll kill you. What do you know, you rat bastard
?
Start speaking before I break the rest of your ribs!”

West was bright red as he panted for breath. It was clear he was in a lot of pain, but Foster had no compassion where this man was concerned. “Most of my money is tied up in the business and this house. Sometimes, I need some credits to play around with.”

Foster gritted his teeth. “Get to the point.”

“Sometimes, I would sell the girls I got from The Run to them. They paid handsomely. But, I wasn’t the only one. There
were a few other patrons who fe
d them a steady supply of the women. They only wanted the cream of the crop. They didn’t want attention drawn in their direction so this was the ideal way to get what they wanted. Now that The Run is shut down, they’ve been finding other means of getting the girls. I hear they’re snatching them off the street, but from what I understand, they’re only taking woman who won’t be missed. Since you’re looking for your friend, maybe it wasn’t them. Just please….that’s all I know.”

“Who were the other suppliers who used the cover of The Run to sell women?”

“I… oh God, I need medical assistance,’ he whined. By now, tears streamed down West’s face.

“Did you give medical attention to all the women you hurt and tortured? Did you offer to get help for your wife before you killed her?”

West’s eyes widened. “I loved Diane. I would never harm her. Those were just vicious rumors.”

Foster delivered a
nother
blow to West’s injured ribs, making the man howl in what sounded like pure agony. He wanted to do more than make the weasel scream. Foster wanted to rip his spine out. “You keep telling yourself that lie. Everyone knows you’re a lying, murdering piece of shit. Now start naming names!”

“Please don’t make me.”

Foster rammed his fist into West’s tender spot and then dropped him to the ground. He stood over the crying man once again ready to strike. “Talk.”

“George Neville. Randolph Hutchins. Carline Davidson. That’s all I know. Oh, God. I think I’m going to die if I don’t get to a medic soon.” And without warning, West stopped moving.

Foster leaned over and checked the man’s pulse. It was still beating and strong. He probably just passed out from the pain. Pussy. He probably dealt out much worse to the women who were once under his care, but now that he was on the receiving end, he couldn’t take it. Scumbag.

At least now, Foster had more leads which he intended to follow up on. His friend’s life depended on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

As consciousness slowly seeped in, Tori opened her eyes and immediately closed them against the bright light of the stark white room. She squeezed her lids shut before gradually opening them again, giving herself a chance to adjust to the brightness. As she took in her surroundings she saw that she was in a part of the mansion she’d never been in before. Normally, she was kept in the basement for ‘instruction’ and only brought up to the main room for entertainment. Sometimes she was taken to Mr. X’s bedroom but she’d never stayed there for more than a couple hours at a time. It was strange that
he’d decided to chang
e up the routine after all this time.

Every muscle in her body ached as Tori forced herself to move. The last thing she clearly remembered was experiencing the most excruciating pain in her life. She’d been beaten, whipped, chocked, kicked and even stomped, but she would have taken any of those punishments over
that last punishment she’d endured
. Knowing there was torture far worse than anything she’d gone through before scared the shit out of her. At least with the other things, she could somehow transcend to another plane and push through the agony.
With that she couldn’t.
Mr. X had spiked her water with things he called microbots which meant that any food or beverage served to her would need to be eyed with caution.
Being scared of food was another level of psychological warfare.

Tori
recalled screaming until her throat burned. Even now it felt dry and scratchy, and her skin felt as if she’d been scorched, but at least most of the ache had subsided. Forcing herself into a sitting position, Tori realized she was on a bed. She hadn’t had the luxury of a real bed for longer than she could actually recollect. It was nice and soft and the temptation to roll around on the fluffy comforter was strong, but she didn’t dare. This could be some trap set up by Mr. X.

She studied the room and wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it. Besides the bed,
the room was sparse
. There were no windows, and everything was coated with the brilliant artificial lights hanging from the ceiling. There was a table by the bed, white like the sheets, blankets and walls. Everything was so sterile. No door seemed to be present. It was as if she was inside a big box, like some kind of sophisticated prison.

Swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, she touched her bare feet to the c
hilly
surface of the uncarpeted floor. A burst of co
ld
air shot through the room, possibly from some central cooling system, making
Tori
aware of her nudity. That didn’t bother her much considering she’d spent the majority of her time in Mr. X’s care in the buff. He preferred to have his woman ready to “serve his needs” as he’d put it.

Grabbing the top cover from the bed, she wrapped it around her body to stave off the chill that seemed to have seeped into her bones. Was this a new form of torture she wondered? Not knowing what
to expect
was part of the cruelty of the punishment.

As different scenarios ran through her mind, she heard the whoosh of an opening panel. Startled, Tori turned around to see that a portion of the wall had opened up to reveal a hidden door. A rail thin woman, dressed in black from head to toe with cat-eye glasses walked in. Her iron gray hair was pulled back into a tight bun, highlighting the sharp angles of her face. The red lipstick that decorated her thin, pinched lips looked like an angry wound. Tori could tell she was a tall woman, but she wore what
appeared to be
six inch stilettos that made her
seem
larger than life.

Tori took a step back as the woman
walked
further into the room. It was then she noticed the newcomer was not alone. She was flanked by two men also encased in all black, with sunglasses that made their expression unreadable. They didn’t appear overly large or intimidating size-wise, but Tori sense the danger in each man.
She was sure they were hired with good reason
.

Tori returned her attention to the woman who now eyed her dispassionately. Her dark eyes looked like mean little raisins behind those glasses. It was rare to see someone who was clearly privileged sporting any kind of visual aid. Laser eye surgery was so common among the people who could afford it hardly anyone wore glasses except for fashion reasons. This woman didn’t strike Tori as the type to make such frivolous choices.

“It’s a good thing you were awake. You’ve been out for quite some time.” The woman’s voice didn’t quite match her appearance. In fact
it
sounded masculine.
The
voice
wasn’t the scratchy tone of one who partook in too much tobacco, but a natural deep timbre.

Tori looked the woman up and down and noticed her figure was more square than gently curved, and she sported a codpiece over her tight leathe
r pants. Perhaps she was born
as a man and now identified as a woman, or it was quite possible she was into gender experimentation. For a while, it was a trend among some of the edgier Elite to go through gender body modification. Men would sport breasts, women would have a penis added, and men a vagina. Some people would have both organs. Though she wasn’t sure if the person standing in front of her had any enhancements, it did appear that she was sporting a little something extra.

“Are you finished staring?” The woman inquired.

Tori blinked and nodded, not sure whether the question required a verbal response. Flashbacks of all the times she’d been smacked for speaking out of turn entered her head.

“Good. I’m Zee. I will guide you through the next several days you’re here until it is your time to go up on the block. You will be given a thorough medical examination where any
physical ailments
you may have will be taken care of. Afterwards, you’ll be groomed and then briefed on how you will conduct yourself. Failure to comply with any part of this process will result in punishment that may or may not include death. I would so hate for that to be you because I think you will bring us a lot of money.”

Tori wrinkled her forehead in confusion. The block. Bringing in money? Where was Mr. X? Curiosity getting the better of her, she couldn’t stop herself from
asking
her questions out loud. “I don’t understand. Are you trying to tell me I’m being sold? What about my patron? Once he releases me, I should be free to go.”

The two men each took a step forward but Zee held up her hand to halt them. “You don’t know the rules yet so I’ll allow you this one faux pas. You will not speak unless an answer is required of
you and I will tell you when that
is. If you speak out of turn again, I will have your tongue removed. I’d rather not do that because it would de
preciate your value
. Our research shows buyers prefer their women with tongues. It’s better for oral pleasure. Even still, we’d make a nice profit from you. Exotics always go for a little extra
, since they’ve become so rare in the last few decades
.
People always pay more for things out of the ordinary.

Tori flinched at that word. She hated being referred to as an exotic like she wasn’t a human being. Sure she had more melanin in her skin than most but she was still a person.

Zee stepped forward and ran a sharp nail-tipped fing
er down the side of Tori’s arm.
Tori braced herself not to flinch away in case it earned her some kind of demerit.

Zee gripped Tori’s face in her hands and gave her an examination. “Yes, you’ll do quite well. Your eyes really pop out against all the pretty brown skin. Hmm, you’ll last a
long
time
with your buyer
because of it. And should your owner ever get
tired of you, he could always
sell you to the harvesters. Your natural melanin is a valuable commodity, what with this blazing sun of ours. People burn so easily around here. You look to be of mixed breeding, though. Shame. You’d go for more if you were full-blooded.” It was almost as if Zee was talking to herself instead of to Tori. She could have been talking to an inanimate object.

“Drop the blanket,” Zee requested gently, although there was no doubt in Tori’s mind that the other woman could turn ugly if her order wasn’t immediately obeyed.

Tori let the comforter fall in a pool at her feet and kept her arms rigid by her side.

Zee palmed
Tori’s
breasts and squeezed
her
nipple until she gasped. “Hmm.” Making a twirling motion with her finger, she directed Tori to turn around. “Nice backside. Breasts are a little on the small side, but this rear more than makes up for it. Good curve in the back. These whip marks we can heal along with the other cuts on your body. Seems your previous owner liked a bit of rough play. Perhaps your next one will be a bit gentler but there’s no telling. Yes, you’ll fetch top money. What do you think boys? We could probably get a half a mil for this one depending on how we can market her.”

“Yes, she’ll do well on the block.” One of the men who had been silent responded.

“I think so too.” Zee seemed quite pleased with herself. “I’ll leave you now. Someone will be in here shortly to groom you and then you’ll be served a meal.”

Without another word, Zee turned on her spiked heels and strode out of the room with her lackeys following close behind. The door closed, leaving Tori standing alone and wondering what the fuck had just happened.

 

<><><><><>

 

Foster stepped into the bar called
Arthur’s
reluctantly. He could have contacted his friend by holophone but felt she deserved to hear his news face to face. Sighing heavily, he glanced around him. The bar, which had been fixed up in the last few mont
hs was still not a place most
people
in
his circles would step foot in, but he liked the welcoming atmosphere where hardworking patrons came for a drink to take their minds off of the everyday grind of life. He was sure some of his so called friends would refer to these people as Dregs. To his shame, not very long ago, he would have done the same.

He spotted Aya laughing with one of the c
ustomers
. When she raised her head, their eyes locked. She smiled before walking over to him. “Hey, I haven’t heard for you in a couple days. I was beginning to wonder when you’d check in. Why don’t you grab a seat and I’ll get you a drink. Whiskey on the rocks, right?”

“Actually, I don’t want to drink right now. But we need to talk.”

The smile that Aya had sported only a few seconds ago fell. “You sound serious.”

“This is serious.”

“Okay. Give me a second. We’re training another girl while Macy…well you know
,
until her return. She’s getting the hang of things but I’ve never left her on her own before. I just have to tell Uncle Arthur to keep an eye on her.”

Foster nodded. “Sure. Take your time.”

He watched as Aya disappeared into the kitchen behind the swinging wooden doors. Foster wished he had come with
good
news but it was better than keeping Aya in the dark.

When
Aya
returned, she gestured for him to follow her. Aya lead him through a door at the side of the bar which led to a flight of stairs. He’d never been in this section of the b
uilding
before and he was almost certain his friend Dare wouldn’t approve of him being in his girlfriend’s home. Aya placed her thumbprint on the identification pad until the indicator turned green. It then triggered the door to open.

Aya’s apartment was small, but neat.

“Please have a seat.”

“What do you think Dare would say when he finds out I’ve been in your place?”

Aya waved her hand dismissively. “I don’t know, but he has to realize that the two of us would never do anything to betray his trust. So even if he doesn’t like my entertaining you in my home, he’ll get over it.”

“Or he’ll punch my heart out.”

She threw her head back and gave a boisterous laugh. “Don’t tell me you’re frightened of Dare. You two are best friends.”

“That doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to you. Dare can be quite possessive.”

“True, but I very much doubt you have cause for concern. Besides, behind that playboy persona of yours, something tells me that you’ll be able to hold your own. Anyway, Dare’s bark is far worse than his bite.”

Foster raised a brow. “I wouldn’t let him hear you say that. He might take that as a challenge.”

“Well, we just won’t tell him then, will we?” She winked. “So tell me what it is that put that ferocious frown on your face. It’s about Macy, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Uh, I did some asking around and it looks like there has been heavy trafficking activity around here lately. What I learned was that some of the patrons who participated in The Run were capturing girls to sell them off to groups, which places them on something called a market, which is basically a code word for an illegal auction.”

Aya shook her head. “No. Not Macy. How can you be certain that she’s involved in this? Did you visit that Peter West character? Maybe he’s upset because he had to release her. He could have kidnapped her and has Macy hidden away somewhere.” She scooted closer and gripped his arm as she stared at him pleadingly.

We both know that he’s no good and probably has something to do with her disappearance. Can’t you make him talk?”

If Foster told Aya exactly what he did to get West to talk she’d probably get away from him as quickly as she could. Instead he tried to
choose his words
with as much finesse as possible. “I did follow up with him, actually, and she was nowhere to be found.”

“But I’m sure he has secret rooms his house. Servants that might be bribed.”

“I thought about that. There were
still
a few women
he had under his care who I questioned.
They said that
Macy hadn’t returned since she left that house. I convinced West to set them free so they had no incentive to lie. As for West, he was able to give me some helpful information. I got the name
of
the other patrons who served as go-between
s
for the market. One of them was very forthcoming.”

Foster left out the part where he had broken the guy’s arm to get the
info
he wanted. Hutchins had squealed like a wild animal. “He told me that they were being paid handsomely to get these women because going through that route wouldn’t raise suspicion. Now that Dare has shut down the Run, their supply has been cut off. It’s forced them to scout disenfranchised neighborhoods like this. It’s likely that Macy was taken by one of their operatives and without her chip, there’s no telling where she is now.”

“Oh no. What about her siblings? They’ve been worried sick about
her
.
I know you have taken the responsibility of supporting them
financially while she’s gone but they would rather have her than the money. After what she went through with that rat-faced bastard, I don’t know if Macy can survive another ordeal like that. She’s my friend and I feel that there’s something I can do for her rather than sit here and wait.”

“There’s nothing you can do, and if I got you involved in this, Dare would have my head”

“I am my own woman and he can’t order me around. Please tell me what I can do.”

Foster shook his head.
“There’s really nothing you can do without putting yourself in the line of danger. You have to realize that the people involved in this are not only wealthy, but their heavily connected and extremely dangerous.”

“I don’t care. My friend is out there and if we don’t find her, maybe she won’t survive. Macy helped me during The Run,
and she has become
very dear to me. It
’ll
weigh on my conscience if I sit back and do nothing.”

“Aya, now isn’t the time to be stubborn. I know you want to get involved but I don’t want you to go missing as well. I couldn’t live with myself if something were to happen to you too.”

Aya looked as if she wanted to argue the point but Foster held his hand up to stop whatever it was she was about to say. “No Aya. It’s for the best. If you want to help, just be here to support her when we do find her. Keep your ears open in case you hear something.”

Her dark eyes gleamed with newfound hope. “So you’re saying there is a way to get her back?”

Foster sighed. “Yes, there may be a way to track her down. I’m not giving up on her yet.”

“How? What’s your plan?”

“I’m going on the inside.”

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