Beyond Ransom (The Ransom Series) (5 page)

BOOK: Beyond Ransom (The Ransom Series)
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Tears I didn’t know I was crying move
silently down my cheek as I nod.

When Leo seems to push past the shock
of this discovery, a look a fury overtakes his face.  He’s absolutely pissed

I wonder if he’s going to punch a hole in the wall behind me.

Instead of a fuming outburst, his
expression softens and he takes a deep breath before speaking to me again.
 
“Can I make sure you’re okay?” he asks hesitantly.  “I’ll
need to touch you, though.”

Shivers run through my body at just the
thought of Leo’s hands on my bare skin, but I give him permission with a nod
anyway.

He rolls up my shirt just enough to
expose my stomach.  I catch one glimpse of the black and blue color that seems
to have overtaken my skin, and that’s all I need to see.  My eyes squeeze shut
and my senses are consumed with the ache in my head, the silence around us, and
the soft touch of Leo’s hands against my skin.

His fingers start just above my hip,
tracing over my stomach to my other side.  He stops to put pressure on a few
places with just enough force to reactivate the sharp pains, causing me to suck
in a breath.

“Sorry,” he whispers.

His hands linger on my skin for just a
few moments longer until they let go of me and I feel my shirt fall back into
place.  When I hear him back away, I finally open my eyes.

The fury that was in his face before is
back again, but it’s more subtle and controlled.  “It’s only bruising. 
Nothing’s broken.”

“I can think of a few things that are
broken,” I reply.  My dignity, my pride, my confidence.  It was meant to be a
joke, but Leo clearly doesn’t find it funny.

With my failed attempt at humor, I move
over to the sink and turn the metal knob to start the flow of water.  It’s
freezing cold and there’s no soap, but I do what I can to scrub my hands clean
anyway.  I want desperately to splash water against my face to help calm the
pounding in my head, but given my bandages and healing wounds, I opt to turn
off the water instead.

I turn around while wiping my hands dry
on my shirt to find Leo standing there staring at me.  It’s like I’m a puzzle
he’s trying to figure out, but he’s completely dumbfounded and doesn’t even
know how to approach me.  I don’t know what to think of it.  I wonder if I’ll
ever understand what it’s about.

He breaks his stare to look out of the
bathroom and into the hallway.  “We should go.”
 
His
hand reaches for my shoulder for just a moment before he draws it away, seeming
to think better of the move.

Before I even realize what I’m doing,
my hand reaches out for the one he withdrew and I grasp it tightly.  I feel him
tense through our touch.  I see the confusion on his face as he looks from our
connected hands to my eyes, but I don’t know how to properly explain myself.

“I want to hold on to you
for
as long as I can,” I admit, heat flushing my face at my own words.

His lips turn up in a slight grin and
he reciprocates my hand squeeze.  “Keep holding on.  You’ll get through this.”

I hope to God he’s right.

5

 

Honesty

 

It takes
almost ten
minutes to get from the bathroom to the heavy metal door that is
the entrance to the main room.  This prison must be enormous, a realization
that only further dwindles my hope of rescue.  Even if my parents and the
police are able to find me, there’s too much ground to cover in here.  Mark
will have me long gone from this place by the time anyone has a chance at
finding me inside.

Leo pauses with me for a moment outside
the door, leaning down close to my ear.  “I’m going to have
to
put on a bit of a show here.  I may be a little rough, and I’m
sorry for that.”

My pulse begins to race.  I don’t want
to enter this room.  I wish Leo would take me far away from this place and hide
me from Mark forever.  I wish he could protect me all the time the way he has
helped me and sheltered me the few chances he’s had.

I grasp his hand still holding mine and
try to steal some amount of the comfort and warmth I feel from his touch. 
“Okay,” is all I can manage to say.

In the time it takes for Leo to swing
the door open, his demeanor completely changes, and I’m almost scared of him. 
He grabs me viciously by the shoulders and pushes me into the room with such
force that I lose my balance and collapse to the floor.

Laughter fills the room around me at my
stumble.  I look up to find several men seated at the tables on e
ach
side of me: one set of them playing cards, the other set sitting
back smoking cigarettes.

“Where is Hutchinson?” Mark bellows
from somewhere else in the room.  I can’t see him, and that scares the shit out
of me.

“He’s getting a fucking grip on
himself,” Leo says from behind me.  “He needs to learn to keep his hands to
himself.  If he goes off protocol one more time, I’m going to beat the shit out
of him.”

I’m frightened by Leo’s rant, unsure of
whether he’s just a great actor or if this is reflective of how he really is.

I feel a sharp kick to my shin.  It’s my
cue to get my ass up.  I push myself back up to standing, knowing that it’s not
something Leo or anyone else is going to help me with.  Leo nudges me in the
direction of the familiar chair that I occupied during my first conscious
moments in this hell.

When I sit down in the chair, I’m
almost glad for a reprieve from the events that have happened since I was
thrown out of the cot this morning.  I close my eyes and take a moment to calm
down.

Hot breath sweeps across my ear,
sending shivers throughout my entire body.  “Did Mr. Hutchinson get a little
touchy
-
feely with you, Ms. Whitford?” Mark whispers in
my ear, and my eyes shoot open.  “Was he touching you like this?”  He reaches
his arms down my shoulders from behind and slips his hands past the neckline of
my shirt.

The moment he grabs my breasts with
each hand, my body reacts.  I grasp his wrists to push them up away from me
while trying to slink the rest of my body down the chair and away from him.

My plan backfires.  As I’m trying to
slip out of his
grip,
I set myself up for the perfect
chokehold.

He holds me there
,
compressing my already bruised neck in the crook of his elbow tight
enough to lift the rest of my body off the chair at least a few inches.  I
count the seconds that pass by and only get to eight before he releases me and
I sink back
onto
the chair, gasping for breath.

“I hope you’ve all learned something,”
Mark says loudly as he turns toward the other men in the room.  “No one will
touch her unless I say so.”  He directs his attention back to me with fiery
eyes, grabbing my chin to force me to look at him.  “If I decide to touch you,
you won’t resist.  You’ll do as I say.  Do you understand?”

I nod, unable to speak as I’m still
learning
to breathe again
, but it’s clearly not enough for him.  He
grabs for my crotch, pinching it with his fingers hard enough to cause a wave
of pain and pleasure to flow wildly through my body.  I half-gasp, half-moan at
his sudden touch and immediately wish I could take back the sound that came out
of my mouth.  Every set of eyes in the room is on us, and I can only imagine
what my reaction has just done to all of these men.

My attention returns to the man
touching me where he shouldn’t
be
.  “I understand,” I
whisper.

He pinches harder for a moment before
letting go of me and walking away.  “Tie the bitch up.”

Leo is already approaching me with the
same corded rope that I was tied up with yesterday.  I feel my cheeks burning
with the embarrassment of what just happened.  I can tell he sees it in the
look all over my face.

He secures my
ankles
to the legs of the chair before tying my hands together behind
it.  When he’s finished, he gives one of my hands a little squeeze.  I take as
much comfort from his gesture as I can, knowing that I’m going to need it to
make it through this day.

The men get back to what they were
doing, and a steady hum of background noise fills the room.  I think I might be
lucky, that Mark’s departure from me means he’s done with me for a
while, but of course I’m wrong.  He
returns to me with a chair and places it directly in front of me before taking
a seat.

I look away from him only to have my
face turned forward again by his strong hands.  “You will look at me,” he
instructs.

“Okay.”  My throat still hurts from his
chokehold.  I don’t really feel like speaking, but I’ve learned that Mark
expects a response when he says something to me, so I’ll give him his goddamn
response.

“We’re going to play a little game
today.”

I don’t like the sound of where this is
going already.  “Okay,” I say warily.

“I want to see how much your father
told you about me.  I want to know if he flaunts his greatest conquest to his
family and friends.  I want to see how prepared you really are for this
predicament he’s left you in.”

My nerves are getting to me, slowly
picking away at the tough exterior I’m trying to portray right now.  My body is
yearning for Leo’s comforting touch again.  I glance to the back of the room
and quickly scan the men seated around the tables for where Leo’s gone off to. 
I find him seated alone in the far corner, flipping a pocket knife open and
closed repeatedly with an unaffected look on his face.  He makes no
acknowledgement that I’m looking at him.  He doesn’t seem to have a care in the
world.

A quick slap connects with my face, and
the quiet hum of the room ceases.  “Look at me, bitch.”

“Sorry,” I say automatically.  I s
hut
my eyes
for a
brief
moment, wishing
I was back home or at least back in my cell.

“Do you know who I am?”

“Mark Castili.”

“No.  Do you know
who
I am?”

I pause a moment, evaluating my
response carefully as I find myself afraid this is a trick question.  “You’re
the leader of one of the largest crime rings in the Southwest.”

“Good girl.”  He’s smiling at me,
clearly pleased.  It does nothing to ease my worry over this little game.  “Do
you know why your dad put me away?”

The truth spits from my mouth like
fire.  “You murdered people.  You put weapons and drugs on the streets and
destroyed families.  You broke the law.”

“I was running a business,” he
interjects.  I can see it on his face that he’s irritated with me and my lack
of understanding.  “I was doing what I had to in order to preserve my family’s
legacy
.  I did what was necessary to survive, to pay my bills, to take
care of the men most loyal to me.”  He gestures behind him to the men seated on
the other side of the room.

I don’t know what the hell he wants me
to say, so I stick to the truth.  “I never looked at it that way.”

“Of course your father never told it to
you that way.  All he ever cared about was finding me.  He wanted to take my
family’s
legacy
and everything I’ve done and crush it
within his palm, and he almost succeeded.”

I don’t dare say a word.  I’m an
unwilling participant in his game, and I don’t know the rules or goals.  I
don’t know if there are rewards or punishments, and I’m not sure I want to find
out.

Mark readjusts himself in his chair. 
“Do you know what happened after he caught me?  After I ended up in prison?”

This I don’t know.  Dad tried to
shelter me from the media coverage as much as possible, from hiding me away
from the news crews to
disconnecting the
TV and
internet for a few months until the story died down.

I pray that I’m not about to lose this
game.  “I don’t know what happened to you.”

“Not to me,” Mark growls back.  I can
hear
the escalation in his tone as he becomes progressively angrier. 
“To my family.  Do you know what happened to my family when I was no longer
there to protect them?”

“You lost them?”
 
My choice of words wasn’t meant to be perfect for vague
interpretation
,
but it plays to my benefit.

“Exactly.  I lost my fucking family. 
My daughter–my beautiful, sweet Stella–was taken from this world.”

For a brief moment I forget the monster
that lurks inside the man in front of me and see him for what he truly is: a
grieving father.  “What happened to her?”

Mark twists his hands around in his lap,
his
anger seeming to find its outlet there.  “She was waiting
at the end of the driveway outside our home for a ride.  A truck driven by one
of my enemies plowed into her, ramming her into a parked vehicle.”  He pauses a
moment before speaking again.  “She was crushed between the car and the truck. 
Her neck snapped from the force of the
impact
.  She
died instantly.”

I look down to my lap for a moment,
conflicted by the feelings within me.  “I’m sorry,” I offer, quickly returning
my gaze to Mark’s face where he instructed me to keep it.

“My wife Elise saw the whole thing out
the kitchen window.  I couldn’t even be there to comfort her.  I couldn’t be
there to grieve with her.  I was separated from the only love I had left in
this world, all thanks to your fucking father.”  Behind his lips I can hear his
teeth grinding.  He’s more upset about discussing this than he’s even showing
on the outside.  “She didn’t even make it long enough for the funeral.  She
took her own life two days later, and in the end I buried them both.  I buried
my entire family.”

I don’t even know what to say.  It’s
tragic and awful, the worst possible pain I can imagine going through, but
their deaths weren’t directly caused by my dad.  Mark’s placing blame where he
shouldn’t.  He’s finding a scapegoat to put this on to make himself feel
better.

My face whitens.
 
Leo’s words reverberate in my mind. 
This is about revenge
.

He’s going to kill me.

“Of course your father never told you
any of this,” Mark continues.  “You see now why I have to do this.  I can’t let
such actions go unpunished.  I must get justice
for
my
family.”

I can’t sit in silence.  He’s looking
at me, expecting me to say something, so I do.  “I’m truly sorry for your
loss.  I’m so sorry.”

“You’re such a sweet girl,” he says,
inspecting me and smiling at me.  He runs his hand through the strands of my
hair, and I can’t help quivering slightly at his touch.  “It’s a shame your
father had to ruin your life for you.”

“I don’t want to die,” I say nervously,
my honesty from earlier still pouring out of me.

“Who said I was going to kill you?”
Mark
whispers
with a malevolent smile.  “I have even
better plans for you
,
my dear, you just wait and see.”

I don’t know whether to be thrilled or
terrified at this revelation.  What can be better for him than my death?

Mark pats my knee, my body
automatically flinching at his touch.  “You’ve done well, Morgan.”  He stands
up in a towering stance over me.  “We need food and water.  Someone get th
e
girl some sustenance,” he calls out behind him.

I find myself strangely grateful to the
man, though the moment is short-lived.  He touches my hair again, running his
fingers through it as he peeks down the cleavage showing from my shirt where he
touched me before.

As hungry as I am, I’ve suddenly lost
my appetite.

BOOK: Beyond Ransom (The Ransom Series)
4.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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