Mick was a master at causing pain. He wasn’t going to forgive her this time, and if he ever learned what else she’d done . . .
Stupid is exactly what she was. All that risk for nothing. She’d thought she was smarter than him? That she could take him down? She shuddered. This beating was bad, but Mick could do much worse. But the worst thing was, despite her current misery, she could still envision escape. She didn’t want to die.
The cuffs dug into her wrists. She rubbed them in the dirt to move them to a fresh quarter inch of skin. The dog whined at the back of the shed. Jewel inched to the wall and stuck her hand in a two-inch gap between the dirt and the side of the shed. A wet nose sniffed her fingers. As the dog licked her hand, Jewel’s eyes filled. Too bad Butch couldn’t dig her out.
Footsteps outside the shed filled her with hope and dread. She wanted out of this shed, but Mick was pissed. Would it be better to die slowly of dehydration? If Mick did it, he’d make sure it hurt.
The door opened. Jewel tried to slide backward, to get as far away from her visitor as possible.
Lisa stood in the opening, a bucket in her hand, a plastic bag in the other. Behind her, Jewel could see Butch chewing on a large hunk of red and raw meat.
Walking through, Lisa closed the door. Jewel squinted up at her. Silhouetted against the sunshine, Lisa looked as pale as a cloud. The skin of her shoulders and arms were nearly glowing white. The sunshine rarely touched her skin.
“Stupid bitch. I don’t care if Mick kills you. How dare you fuck up my life?” Lisa squatted in front of Jewel, grabbed her hair, and lifted her head off the ground a few inches. “Last thing I want to do is go back to working. Did you actually think you could get away?”
With her head craned backward, Jewel’s throat was too stretched and dry for a response.
“Mick wants you clean, but if I was you, I’d drink this water first or you’re gonna be dead by tomorrow morning. Not that I care, but I don’t need Mick any madder than he already is. He wants you alive.”
Pain seared through Jewel’s scalp. Lisa opened her fist, and Jewel’s head smacked into the dirt. Lisa put the bucket within reach. Jewel got her knees under her body, lifted her shoulders, and stuck her trembling hands into the bucket. She lifted a palmful of water to her cracked lips. The cool moisture slid down her throat. It tasted of rusty pipes, but she didn’t care.
“Is Mick here?” Her voice creaked.
Lisa shook her head. “I ain’t never seen a girl piss him off as much as you, but this time, girl, you fucked up big-time.”
Lisa dug a bar of soap from her pocket and tossed it into the dirt. “Get washed. Put those stinking clothes by the door.”
For an ex-whore, Lisa had an OCD thing about being clean. She showered three times a day, as if she couldn’t get the scent of men and sex from her skin, even though she hadn’t worked in the whole time Jewel had been here. Sam made her do nasty things, but at least he was only one man.
Lisa took a key from the pocket of her ripped shorts. She unlocked the handcuffs on Jewel’s wrists. “You make one wrong move, and I’ll hurt you. After what you done to me, I’d like nothing better.”
Jewel rubbed her wrists, cupped another handful of water, and drank. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Why do you do what they say?”
“Because I have no interest in being dead, and this is the best I’ve ever had it. Unlike you, I appreciate three meals most days and a place to sleep at night. Now that you pulled this stunt, guess who has to do your hours?”
Well, that explained Lisa’s anger. Mick was making her work. Jewel wasn’t going to get any help from her.
Not wanting to be sitting in mud, she dragged the bucket a few feet away from her corner and began to wash. She stripped off her filthy clothes. The water cooled her skin. As she lathered her body, she took stock. She couldn’t see her face, but her lip didn’t feel too bad now that she’d had some water. Just a bit swollen and sore on one side. The big bruise on her ribs was the only mark Mick had left on her. How had he made her hurt so much over her entire body without leaving much evidence?
She shivered, goose bumps rising on her thighs. Best not to think about that. She used her cupped hands to rinse, making sure to keep both soap and dirt out of the remaining water in the bucket.
Lisa kicked the dirty clothes to the door. “Back to the corner.”
Jewel contemplated rushing her. Could she overpower the other woman in her weakened condition?
“Don’t even think about it.” Lisa reached into her pocket and pulled out a knife. She unfolded the blade with one quick, practiced flick of her wrist. The desire to hurt Jewel shone from her eyes.
Jewel went back to the corner. She was still hot and hungry, but she no longer felt like she was going to die at any moment. The bucket of water was still half full. She could save it for later.
Lisa reached into the plastic bag and took out a Styrofoam container and a change of clothes. She handed the items to Jewel. The water had nearly evaporated from her skin already. She tugged on the shorts and T-shirt, then opened the container. Half an order of fries. They were cold and nasty, and obviously someone else’s leftovers, but she ate them. Couldn’t afford to be too particular about her calories. The salt tasted spicy on her swollen lips.
“That’s all you get.” Lisa collected the dirty clothes and shoved them in a black trash bag.
“Thanks,” Jewel said.
Lisa flushed, her eyes turned angry. “Don’t thank me. You ruined everything. We lost a night’s income and a good location, plus Mick has to lie low. He’s pissed. And I sure as hell don’t want to go back to hoing. So don’t look to me for favors.”
And with that tender statement, Lisa kicked over the bucket. The remaining water poured into the dirt. A tiny rivulet wound its way to Jewel’s knees. No water for later.
Lisa gestured with the blade. “Put the cuffs on.”
Her chance for escape, as slim as it had been, was gone. With a sinking sensation in her belly, Jewel squatted and fastened the handcuffs around her wrists.
Lisa left the shed. The padlock closed with a metallic snap.
There couldn’t be more than a few hours of daylight left. She’d had enough water to keep her alive until tomorrow. But then what? What did Mick have planned?
Hannah blinked the airbag dust from her eyes. The dashboard light cast menacing shadows on the man’s lean face as he leaned into the car and dragged out the screaming girl.
“He’s gonna kill me,” she sobbed.
Terror rounded her eyes as she scrambled for a hold on the car seat. She reached for Hannah, panic stiffening her fingers into desperate claws. Hannah struggled to move, but her body was held fast by the seat belt. The latch refused to release her. The space between them grew as if being stretched.
“No!” Hannah’s fingers worked at the jammed belt release.
Jewel’s face blurred and shifted until it was little Carson being carried away, his small body kicking and fighting for freedom, his eyes pleading with Hannah to save him.
Fear squeezed her lungs in a vise grip. Her breaths locked down.
Hannah jolted. Her body jackknifed to a sitting position. Lightheaded and confused, she drew in a lungful of painful air. She put a hand on her chest. Under her sweat-soaked T-shirt, her heart rapped against her ribs like insistent knuckles. She’d been well and truly immersed in her nightmare. Despite her disorientation, she knew the dream hadn’t woken her.
Pushing away the confusing jumble of images, she focused on her surroundings. Moonlight slanted through the blinds onto the duvet, and a dull headache throbbed in her temple. Accustomed to waking in a different hotel every few weeks, she found the change of scenery no surprise, but the intimacy of the homey decor unsettled her.
A storm of barking erupted downstairs. Again? She checked the clock. Four a.m. Grant and the family had left in a flurry of excitement, and Hannah had gone back to bed only an hour before. But she was glad to have been woken. She didn’t need to experience the terror of that dream. She had enough anxiety. Today was Monday. Whatever end was going to come to Jewel would happen tomorrow, and the Las Vegas police were no closer to finding her. As if failing Jewel hadn’t been enough, her imagination had reconstructed the events of last spring until Carson hadn’t been saved either. Eight months later, the memory of the week little Carson had been targeted by Lee’s killer still haunted Hannah’s sleep.
She swung her legs out of bed. Out from under the heavy comforter, the chill settled on her damp skin. She snatched a sweatshirt from the foot of the bed and tugged it over her head. Barefoot, she crept out of the room and down the steps. Dog tags jiggled, and she turned her head to locate the sound. Her hearing was almost back to normal. More barking told her AnnaBelle was in the rear of the house. Hannah walked down the dark corridor into the kitchen. Light flooded the backyard. The hair on Hannah’s nape quivered. Something or someone had tripped the motion sensors. Her gaze swept the lawn. The grassy area was clear. She squinted into the dark beyond the light’s reach. Something moved near the creek. The dog growled, and fresh sweat broke out between Hannah’s shoulder blades.
“Shh.” She reached down and placed a hand on her head to silence her.
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