Page 15

“Ma’am, ma’am!” Another guy appears from the back of the carousel with my ticket in his hand. “I’m sorry but we checked and we delivered it to the wrong address.”

“Urgh. To which f**king address?!” I pull out my phone and write down the address, then track it on my phone and see it’s only a few blocks away. “Do you have the correct delivery for them so I can make an exchange?”

The man nods. “But I can get in trouble.”

“My dear sir, you’re already in trouble and I’ll make a shitload of trouble for you if you don’t just give me what’s theirs so I can go get my dress. Call them and tell them I’m on my way. Please!”

Reluctantly, he hands over a suit and a floral dress, and I grab the clothes on their plastic hangers and hurry down the street, and up several flights of stairs, where I knock on the door and say to the man who opens it, “Excuse me, there was a mistake over at Green Dry Cleaners, and I believe this belongs to you, and you have something that belongs to me, which I need desperately for tomorrow.”

He stands there holding a beer and looks me up and down like I’m some escort sent to pleasure him.

I repeat exactly what I just told him and use his damn clothes to shove between us so he stops looking at my legs.

“I don’t check this shit, my wife does, and she’s not in.”

“Please just take this in and verify if it’s yours, and check your closet or somewhere for a recently cleaned red dress. This here must look familiar to you, does it not?”

After a huge hassle with the suspicious man, I finally get my dress and breathe when I realize it’s still hung up and in plastic. Thank god.

I head back to where I had to park my car two blocks away. These little alleyways have zero parking spots and I’m skipping around puddles, taking care of my shoes, when I hear a whistle from across the alley. I stop and look up, and a man stands there, right in the middle, his stance menacing, wide. One of my eyebrows flies up, and then the other.

What the?

My heart picks up speed as a flicker of alarm flutters through me. I turn around when I hear footsteps behind me, and I see two men. A ball of anxiety knots within me as I scan the area. A dark car is parked near the end of the alley where I’m headed. I think I see one man behind the wheel, and the passenger door is slightly ajar, as though the single man before me just got out of the vehicle.

Some sixth sense in me flares awake and keeps ratcheting up my heartbeat. My dress, my shoes . . . all of a sudden nothing matters but getting out of here. I duck my head in caution and continue walking straight ahead, not even caring about the puddles anymore, only intent on gripping the hanger, which may be the only thing I can use to . . . to what? Wild animals will chase prey if they run the other way, and everything about these men screams Predators, Melanie!

Fear pulses like a live thing in me. Every step that takes me closer to the one lone man at the edge of the deserted alley gnaws away at my confidence.

I’m about to pass him when he takes a step forward and I meekly whisper, “Excuse me.”

One hand grabs my upper arm, clenching like a manacle. “You’re not excused,” he growls.

I flinch and retreat a step when I see his frightening expression, but he yanks me tighter against him, the scent of sweat and cigarettes mingling in his breath as he repeats, looking down at me with red-rimmed eyes, “I said you’re not excused, bitch.”

Panic like I’ve never known wells in my throat as I swing my dress in an effort to jam the tip of the hanger into some part of his face, but before I can make the hit, another pair of strong hands grabs hold of my arms and jerks my elbows back by force.

“No!” I cry, my dress falling to the ground with a clatter, and suddenly I’m kicking in the air as a third man grabs my thighs and the second keeps his hold hooked on my elbows as they start carrying me toward the car. Icy fear wraps around my heart as I twist my body even harder, gasping and panting in terror when I can’t get free, their fingers digging into the flesh of my wrists and calves now.

There’s a man behind the wheel of the car telling them, “Quiet the bitch down,” as I keep struggling. One seems to try to cover my mouth and I use my free leg to kick his knee. “NO!” I keep saying. “No! NO!” A rag is pressed to my nose and for some reason I hold my breath because I know it’s meant to knock me out; I’m fighting my own urge to breathe. I land a kick in the nuts and hear him yelp, then they both shove me into the back of car. “HEEEEEELP!” I yell when they pull a black hood over my head and pitch black darkness descends.

My breath leaves me from the shock as they shut the doors. I feel one of the men tighten the bag lightly around my throat, securing it. My panting breaths echo in my ears, blackness engulfing me as the reality of my situation begins to sink in and my eyes begin to sting. Hands start cupping my br**sts and kneading while another jams a hand to feel me up under my lovely summer dress, and I start fighting with renewed vigor, screaming and hearing the lonely, muffled sounds of my own screams dying inside the hood covering my face. I can’t hear things they’re saying, whispering, as I start to flail with my arms and legs, gritting my teeth as I try hitting them, hitting anything I can.

“. . . little feisty one . . . let’s have our fun with her before we deliver . . .”

My dress is pulled high and I kick and squirm as they start the car, whimpering when a pair of hands grabs my thighs and forces them open.

“Just drive, we’ll stop on the way there and take turns with her.”

The car seems to jerk forward and, just as immediately, it stops.

“SHIT.”

I hear this word clearly.

“What?”

I also hear the alarm in that question very, very clearly.

“FUCK, MAN.”

The hands stop touching me, and for some reason I fall still, sensing that something is happening.

“Who the f**k is he? One of Slaughter’s men?”

“There’s two.”

Before anyone can answer that, there’s the sound of a tire popping, then another tire wheezing out air. I hear three clean shots, then another to my right, which seems to pop open the door handle. Hinges creak as the door seems to be wrenched off. The only hand that remained on my breast, frozen from the shock, is yanked away and I hear a scared yelp and a crunching sound, like bone breaking.

“Hoooooly shit, it’s really you!”

I hear a crack, a howl, then the sound of a body hitting the ground.

“I’ll take him somewhere nice and cozy so we can have a little chat,” a Texan voice drawls from farther away.

Panicked, I’m feeling around with my hands and just as I find something hard and metallic in the jeans of the dead weight next to me, a pair of hands reaches out for me. As I feel new hands start curling around me, a bolt of adrenaline kicks through me. The hilt of a knife—I seize it and swing, and, miracle of miracles, I manage to plunge it into hard male flesh with a sickening jerk on my end. He growls over the top of my head and as he lets go of me to remove it, I push and stumble out of the car, finding my footing on the ground. The knife clatters to the ground the second I start running, trying to pull off the ties on my hood, hoping I’m running in the opposite direction from the new arrivals.

“You got a live one all right, Z,” the Texan drawls.

I squeak when I realize I’m heading straight for him and swing around when I’m swept up in a pair of strong male arms. My fight starts instantly but this guy won’t have it. He grunts when I kick his nuts, then starts to secure my hands and my legs with some sort of rope material, swiftly, so that I can’t escape. I kick in the air but he’s strong and fast, and what several men couldn’t do to subdue me, this one does in less than a minute.

Binding my ankles and wrists, then binding my knees together and my elbows together, he holds me against a chest that feels muscular and broad as he carries me somewhere. Adrenaline rushes through my body with nowhere to go and I’m seized with tremors when I realize I’m so f**ked and I have no way to get free.

I think I cut the man, and his blood is dripping on me. I squirm in my last futile effort to get free but I’m crying too, the sound of my own sniffles echoing inside the hood.

And suddenly I know what this is. It’s that debt.

It’s so real now, these men are so real. They wanted their money. But supposedly I have a month and a half left. Did they grow impatient? Did they plan to kill me or just use me? Were they delivering me to that one-eyed guy and the skinny one who offered to give me an “extension” of their dicks when I asked for more time to pay?

“I’m . . . I’m getting the money,” I say, catching a sob in my throat.

I must be going into shock because I can’t seem to fight him, to fight for my life, am trembling uncontrollably. I feel a new soreness in my thighs and calves when I feel a leather glove against the bare skin of my back. I whimper and I am so shocked when I remember Greyson and my Brazilian wax and my spa day, now I smell like pig, and like blood, and other men, and I start choking back sobs that all this could really be happening to me.

“M-my car is . . .”

He keeps walking, and I can’t talk well, am panting for air and sniveling.

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