Hannah stared at the television. Her vision swam. Chet pushed her head between her knees. “Relax. Shooter situations are usually patrol. Brody doesn’t work patrol.”
The scene shifted to an aerial view of a field and outbuildings.
“Shit. That’s his car.”
Chet’s phone buzzed, and he answered it. He exhaled, his chest deflating with relief. He covered the speaker with his finger. “He’s OK.”
Chet ended his call. “Apparently, Brody and another officer went out to a kennel to ask some questions, and some guy started shooting at them.” He scanned her face. “You all right now?”
“Yes.” Mostly. But, obviously, Brody meant more to her than she’d realized. How did she feel about that? “Someone else was shot?”
“Yeah. Patrol officer. Good guy. He’s at the hospital. Doesn’t look good.” Chet went quiet.
“I’m sorry. You knew him well?”
“It’s a small force, and I’ve been on it a long time.” He paused. “I was on it for a long time,” he corrected, as if his retired status was hard for him to believe. “We all know each other well. Brody is on his way to the hospital. Apparently, he has a very minor injury. Every other available cop will be looking for the scumbag who did this.”
Hannah needed to see him. She needed to put her hands on his body and assure herself that he was intact. “Want to ride over there?”
Chet paused. “I do.”
“Then let’s go.” Hannah took the dog outside for a two-minute walk. “Do you mind if I leave the dog here? She’s not destructive.”
“Not at all.” He lifted his keys from a rack on the wall.
In five minutes they were on the road headed for the local hospital. The fifteen-minute drive seemed much longer. One woman in uniform and Brody sat in the ER waiting room. Hannah’s stride faltered as she took in the bloodstains on Brody’s clothes. He’d taken off his jacket and rolled up the sleeves, but Hannah could still see that his cuffs were stained rusty brown. His gray suit pants were bloody at the knees. A square of gauze was taped to his forehead.
“Are you all right?” She touched his cheek.
He put his hand over hers. “I’m fine. It’s barely a scratch. Two stitches.”
“How is he?” Chet asked.
Brody didn’t take his eyes off Hannah as he answered. “They’re stabilizing him here and medevacing him to the trauma center in Albany.”
“Lance is a fighter,” Chet said.
Another man motioned to Chet, and he crossed the room to sit in a plastic chair next to him. The low murmur of muted conversation followed.
Hannah took Brody’s hand and led him into the hallway. She stepped closer, until they were toe-to-toe, and ran her hands up his arms, over his shoulders, to his chest. His heart beat under her palm. Sliding her arms around his waist, she pulled him close and leaned her head against his chest.
She reveled in the movement of his chest beneath her face. Every breath that passed in and out of his lungs reinforced the fact that he was alive.
People she cared about tended to end up dead.
Brody tried to back away. “I’m covered in blood.”
She tightened the grip of her arms. She would have waded through a river of blood to touch him. “I thought you were dead.”
His arms folded around her. “I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. “Not your fault. You were doing your job. Do you have to go back to work?”
He shook his head. “Not right now. I’m going home to change and shower. Come with me?”
“I brought Chet here.”
Chet waved her off. “I’ll get a ride home. Go.”
Hannah went out to the truck and followed Brody back into town. They stopped at Chet’s and picked up the dog. Brody parked in front of a large three-story house on a quiet side street near the business district. By the time they arrived, rain was falling. She got out of the pickup. The sky opened up, soaking her to the skin in seconds. They ran up the walk onto the porch.
The porch light and the rain brightened the bloodstains on Brody’s clothes. He had a dangerous job, and she couldn’t bear to lose another person in her life. She hadn’t recovered from Lee’s death.
But was it too late to make the choice? What did she feel for Brody?
The truck rumbled to a stop. The engine shut off, protesting with a series of metallic knocks. Jewel straightened, fresh fear bracing her spine. Though they’d spent the night in the truck, she doubted they’d traveled far. They’d picked up two more girls, but much of the time, the vehicle hadn’t been moving.
Other girls stirred around her. There was no chatter, no hushed conversations, just apprehension simmering in the stale air. Jewel pressed a hand to the center of her stomach, where an anxious ache replaced hunger.
The rear door rolled up. A man climbed into the truck and started unlocking handcuffs. One by one, they clattered to the metal floor. A male voice outside shouted, “Everybody up and out.”
Jewel stood, rubbing her wrists. She led the way, shuffling to the edge. A man standing behind the truck took her hand and helped her down with a rough hold on her bicep. Cold concrete chilled her bare feet. He waved her forward and reached for the next girl. The truck had pulled into a warehouse. Two other men hung back, their gazes assessing the girls as they lined up. A fifth man stood with his back against the closed overhead door. He held some sort of rifle across his chest. Or was that a machine gun? Jewel’s head swiveled. Her eyes stretched wide as she took in her surroundings. Another armed man stood on the other side of the receiving bay.
I’m never getting out of here.
The column of girls filed out. They went through a set of doors into a makeshift locker room. Shower heads lined the far wall. Water swirled into drains.
One of the men stepped to the front. “Drop your clothes into the garbage can. After you shower, you will be issued new clothing.”
The air was hot, but the girls were shaking.
“Where are we?” Jewel asked.
The man stepped up to Jewel and slapped her across the face. She fell backward a step, then willed her skeleton to straighten. She lifted her chin and stared back at him. With a smile, he moved to the pregnant girl and, without taking his eyes off Jewel, slapped the girl hard across the face. She fell to her hands and knees, clutching her swollen belly.
Jewel got the message. She stripped off her tank, strode to the trash can, and dropped it in. Her shorts followed. Naked, she moved into the shower. Cool water sluiced over hot skin. The other girls followed Jewel.
How the hell did she end up being their leader?
Gallon-size containers of shampoo, conditioner, and antibacterial shower gel sat on the floor. Jewel made use of them. Sure, she’d been whored out to hundreds of men, but showering in front of these men still seemed like an invasion of her privacy. As much as she hated their intrusion on such an intimate act, she had to admit that being clean felt good. She shampooed her hair with angry energy. They were instructed to use conditioner. Safety razors were handed out. No hairy legs or armpits allowed.
Jewel emerged from the spray and grabbed a towel from a rack. She dried off and wrapped the damp towel around her body. They filed into the next room. Clean shorts and T-shirts were stacked on shelves and sorted by size. She found extra-smalls and dressed, then wrapped the towel around her dripping hair and waited for the rest of the girls to finish. Twenty minutes later, the girls were herded through another door. Shock stopped her feet, but a hand on her back propelled her forward.
The door opened into a long corridor. Doors lined both sides. They were marched down the hall. At the end, five rooms stood open.
“Two girls to a room,” a man ordered. He pushed the pregnant girl through the first doorway and pointed at Jewel. “You, in there.”
Pressing a hand to the small of her back, the pregnant girl shuffled in. That was the one person Jewel did not want to get to know better.
As Jewel passed by, the man blocked her path and whispered in her ear, “I heard about you. You’re the troublemaker. Just remember, every time you act up, I punish you both.” He stepped away and closed the door, leaving Jewel alone with the pregnant girl.
“What’s your name?” Supporting her belly, the girl lowered her butt onto one of the cots. “I’m—”
“Don’t say it. I don’t want to know.” Jewel crossed to the opposite cot, sat on it, and closed her eyes. She’d counted six armed men and twenty doors. With two girls to a room, that meant forty women could be held in this warehouse. This was no pimp and a few hos. This was big business.
“Penny. My name is Penny. And that’s my real name, not the ridiculous one they gave me.”
Jewel opened her eyes. Across the tiny room, Penny folded her arms over her belly and shot Jewel a Screw you look.
“What’s that?” Jewel regretted the question, but it was too late to pull it back into her mouth.
Jewel snorted. “That is ridiculous.”
“What’s your real name?” Penny asked.
“We’re not doing this.” Jewel remembered Lola’s betrayal. She couldn’t trust anyone. People did what was best for themselves, and she’d better learn to put her own needs first.
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