Authors: Nicolette Hugo
Nicolette Hugo Books, Sydney
Nicolette Hugo 2016
Copyright of Excerpt from Exhibition ©
Nicolette Hugo 2015
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior permission from the publisher.
A CIP record for this book is available at the National Library of Australia
Cover design by Hang Le
Edited by Hot Tree Editing
Proofread by Nerine Dornan
To report a typographical error, please advise [email protected]
Always and everything
As with any fiction, my books contain procedures, scenes and practices which in reality would be ill advised to replicate. These stories are not an introduction text or BDSM 101 Manual. If you do find these elements call to you, then connect with the BDSM community and learn. They only make it look easy.
To those who count themselves among the BDSM community, I am not, through my writing, advocating any particular type of rulebook, attitude, convention or relationship over another. My stories are just that; stories. They are stories about particular individuals in temporary, and hopefully interesting, circumstances. Enjoy the fiction and let me know what you think.
I want to know,
I need you to tell me,
what kind of endless spring,
what kind of fucking well
do you have for a soul
that you can love me
Ten months earlier …
Killian looked at his watch—twenty-four hours and thirty-two fucking minutes since he’d opened the envelope and found her severed finger. Before he’d even pulled anything out, he’d known the sky was falling. Everything had come crashing down the minute he’d felt her dead skin, such a foreign thing and instantly recognizable. He knew her; he’d always know her.
They’d given him twenty-four hours to save her.
Reading the note they sent, the demand had been as clear as the knowledge that he could never agree to the terms. If only it had been money. God, he would’ve given them all his money.
He looked at his watch again, but all the looking wasn’t going to change anything.
He was late.
Thirty-two minutes late ….
He wanted to laugh. He wanted to cry. Some fucking knight he’d turned out to be.
He sat in the back of the van dressed like a goddamn ninja. A loaded gun spun on his finger before he caught it in his palm. He spun it again and caught it. Spun it and caught it.
Except this wasn’t a game.
This was the most real moment he’d ever had, more real than Daniel’s death—the loss of him still so raw. And now this; it was too soon to lose another person he loved. He refused.
What the fuck were they doing out there?
He was late and now that he was here, he was forced to sit and wait. Maybe he should have gone to the police. Maybe … except they’d never been there for him before. He didn’t trust them. Didn’t trust their judgment, didn’t trust their bureaucracy.
Just like he didn’t believe the men who’d taken his wife. They were never going to give Scar back. Nothing in their letter had implied they would. The message had been clear: do as we ask and she won’t get hurt.
This wasn’t about a swap.
It was a demand for compliance, a lose-fucking-lose.
They were going to keep Scar as collateral to keep him in line. They’d already hurt her once; they’d do it again.
Jesus, the woman I love is disposable.
The knowledge sat cold and heavy in his gut as he stared blindly into the abyss of the van’s black rubber floor. His whole world had fallen into darkness; outside heavy clouds obscured the night sky. It was going to rain. He could feel the pent-up storm waiting to burst.
The tension so tight, his bones wanted to crack. And that goddamn voice inside his head, counting down seconds like falling water drops.
He wanted to scream, but if he started, he just might never stop.
It didn’t matter that he’d done his best to find her.
A truck had jack-knifed on the Hume Highway, blocking traffic in both directions. It had been his own trucking business that had landed Scarlet into this mess. The bitter irony was not lost on him. He’d sat waiting for the traffic to clear while staring blindly through the emergency services colors. The flashing blue lights, the neon yellow, the red fire-truck, nothing but surreal flickers of reality as his world spiraled helplessly out of control.
If you buckle, you fall—he’d learned that rule fighting. So he’d kept his shit together because that’s what he did best. He’d survived his childhood by learning to keep a cool head.
A tap on his shoulder made him spin round, gun pointed.
A man suited in black from head to toe raised his hands in surrender—same team. Killian nodded and lowered the gun. He’d been so in his head, he hadn’t heard the guy calling.
“We’re moving in.” The mercenary’s voice sounded hard and deadly.
About fucking time.
Killian climbed out the van and followed the man around the vehicle. He momentarily lost his bearings, a disorientation that had nothing to do with geography or the dark.
They were on the edge of Mittagong, an hour south of Sydney. So near to home, but for a long while, it had been as good as the other side of the world. Now, she was close, and she was still out of his reach.
His stomach rolled.
He didn’t know how Prophet had found her, but the man was known for getting any information you could afford. So here they were, looking for a girl in a grain stack.
Killian’s guide pointed to a tall, black line of shadows. Trees. His vision was starting to adjust. Google Earth had shown the trees running along the border of the property to the back of the abandoned silo. They could sneak up unnoticed.
His legs momentarily weakened, his sense of gravity dropped, and he stumbled.
A hand from behind steadied his elbow. “Sit this out.” The growl was low in his ear.
The leader of the team hadn’t wanted him to come. No military and no police training—Wolf had said he’d get in their way.
He shook his head and pulled his elbow free.
Him being here was non-negotiable.
The twenty-four hours, getting Scar back … all non-fucking-negotiable.
Wolf strode past him, and this time, Killian grabbed the man and hissed, “What are we waiting for? A white flag? Do you think they’re going to send us a fucking invitation?”
They won’t kill her; they’ll escalate. Their first course of action is to come up with a new plan. Kidnappers are very meticulous about their marks. You were picked because you have what they want, and they didn’t think you’d say no. Nobody expects a no. The no-plan is never as solid as the yes-plan. They’ll regroup their strategy on how to escalate. We have a small window of time.
Wolf’s earlier words had been intended to reassure Killian. Wolf knew kidnappings; Prophet had said the man specialized in retrievals. It didn’t take Wolf’s expertise to know that ‘escalation’ meant more than a finger. Scar’s chances were still seeping away with the seconds.
“We’re waiting for my scouts.” The calm tone was at odds with the alertness in Wolf’s eyes.
Killian drew a slow breath, the inhalation hurt. He couldn’t get enough air, the muscles across his chest strained as they locked tight.
Wolf turned as if he sensed something.
Two shadows moved out from the trees and morphed into the shape of men.
“All clear. No lookout.” Despite running all the way, the scout’s breathing was easy as he reached them.
Wolf swore under his breath.
“What’s wrong?” Killian didn’t like the response.
“No lookout either means they really didn’t expect us to find them or”—Wolf looked Killian in the eye—“they’re busy.”
The man wanted Killian to be prepared.
Sweat ran down Killian’s back even though he felt cold. An ache ran along his jaw, temples throbbing as he nodded his understanding.
He was late.
The ninja club grabbed their gear and started to move.
Four men were all that divided Heaven from Hell.
The men moved fast, but Killian was fit and kept up effortlessly. So in tune with each other, the team silently descended on their target. Just as fluidly, they fell into formation and kicked down the door.
A loud crack as the thick wood splintered and ripped.
Chairs fell and men scattered.
Bullets burst from guns like fireworks.
Killian looked around blindly, searching for Scar in the blurred chaos.
Her cry came from the far back corner.
Why didn’t she sound right?
His stomach tightened instinctively at her stress. It was getting hard to think.
Frantic, gun waving, he searched in the direction of one dark corner.
Knowing ran up his spine as he slowly turned to look over his other shoulder.
Scar was on an old cot in the shadows. A man with blood on his shirt and a gun in his hand stood between them. Killian knew without a doubt this was the bastard who’d hurt her.
Anger. Burning. Hot.
The pounding of his heartbeat obliterated the noise around him. His world narrowed in on one spot—that man.
The bastard was going to die.
There weren’t enough bullets in his gun to unload his rage.
The son of a bitch smiled at him as he pointed his at Scar.
A choice: try to shoot the man before he shot Scar, or try to negotiate. Either way, Killian didn’t like the odds.
He could taste lead. Taste the finality of it.
He looked past the kidnapper and into his wife’s wild eyes as he slowly raised his hands in surrender.
The man’s grin widened—everybody wanted to get out of this alive.
Hands still up, Killian took a slow, measured step toward them.
The gun swung on him.
The flush of relief was physical. Scar was no longer the target.
He ignored her muffled protest behind the kidnapper and carefully stepped forward again.
On me. Just stay on me.
A black car crashed through the large wooden loading doors less than two arms’ length from where the kidnapper was standing. For a moment, there was nothing but debris and quiet as the passenger door flew open and the driver called him.
Then guns exploded again.
Time twisted into slow motion, Killian’s limbs feeling stiff and heavy as he weaved through the hail of death; it seemed as if the bullets were flying indiscriminately. No matter how fast he moved, he was still too slow.
She reached out for him, one hand holding an awkward bundle of bandages against her cheek
He was almost there. He dived for her.
Something knocked into him and he fell onto the cot and into her arms.
He couldn’t breathe.
Couldn’t breathe because he could’ve lost her.
But she was alive.
Her arms grabbed him … held him.
She was screaming and she didn’t sound right.
He looked up; the car was getting away. The bastard was getting away.
Not happening. He was going to kill that man.
He wanted to tell Scar to stop screaming so he could think.
He wanted to beg her forgiveness for being late.
She clutched him, frantic hands grabbing and pulling at his shirt. Nails raked his chest …
Burning. So tight. He deserved the pain.
He looked down … blood. So much blood. Blood all over the bandage wrap.
Jesus, what have they done to her face?
Then the world went black.