Authors: Berengaria Brown
Freedom Be Damned 1
Trevellyan's cousin Aurelia got a job in a call center and hasn't contacted him in six months. With his partners, Merrick and Vaughan, he goes to visit her but isn't allowed to see her. With their concern rising, the three men hire Evelyn, a sexy motorcycle courier, to deliver a parcel to Aurelia and find out whatever she can about the call center. Evelyn discovers that things are hardly what they seem and that Aurelia could be in great danger. She collects a message from Aurelia, then helps the men by sending them to friends of hers, an IT specialist, Mas, and a retired Marine, Niall.
Evelyn becomes invested in saving Aurelia—and in spending time with Trevellyan, Merrick, and Vaughan. While they are all determined to rescue Aurelia, they can’t help but act on their growing attraction to one another. Can their relationship flourish in the face of such danger?
Contemporary, Ménage a Trois/Quatre
Freedom Be Damned 1
Siren Publishing, Inc.
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IMPRINT: Ménage Amour
Copyright © 2012 by Berengaria Brown
E-book ISBN: 1-61926-547-8
First E-book Publication: April 2012
Cover design by Jinger Heaston
All cover art and logo copyright © 2012 by Siren Publishing, Inc.
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To Randy. I love you.
Freedom Be Damned 1
Copyright © 2012
The ten women had just finished an eight-hour shift at the call center. They walked into the communal dining room, rolling their shoulders and stretching their arms and legs, but still moving forward purposefully. Their meal would be ready and waiting for them, and none of them wanted it to get cold or to risk their fellow workers eating their share. The food was adequate and nutritious, but not overly abundant, and they all generally ate every bite.
They filed past the cook, who served each woman two scoops of rice and a scoop of mixed vegetables. They ate almost in silence, accompanying their meal with water from the jugs on the long table. As each woman finished, she took her plate, fork, and glass into the kitchen, washing it in the sink of hot, soapy water, drying it, and replacing each item on the cook’s counter.
One by one, the women used the bathroom and lay down on their bunks. In less than half an hour, they were all asleep. They worked eight hours on, eight hours off in the call center, and all personal chores had to be completed in their time off. There was no room in their schedule for idle chatter.
“I think you need to go to the police, or a private detective, or someone like that. I’m a motorcycle courier. I know nothing about looking for a missing person,” Evelyn explained for perhaps the fifth time. But these three men weren’t listening.
“We’ve already tried to go to the house she’s staying at. The fence is twelve feet high and electrified. We’ve each tried to get in, and they recognize us now, so we have no hope.”
“Not only that, but we’ve talked to the police, and basically they said Aurelia is over twenty-one, has committed no known crime, and just because she hasn’t communicated with us doesn’t mean she’s in any danger. She’s not obliged to keep in touch with me. I’m her cousin, not her guardian or anything.”
Evelyn’s mind was still slightly scrambled by these three men turning up in her tiny office, not to drop off a parcel for her to deliver, but to ask her to get inside a secure house and speak to Trevellyan’s—the one with brown hair and blue eyes—cousin, Aurelia. Vaughan was the oldest one, likely fortyish she thought. He had brown hair, too, but with the slightest touches of gray around his forehead. Merrick had black hair and eyes so dark they could be black, too. Also his skin was very tan as though he had an outdoor job.
Evelyn shook her head, signifying “no” but also trying to clear her mind of the pressure to do as they asked.
“Watch my lips. I’m a motorcycle courier. I deliver letters and parcels anywhere in the city, 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday. I do not ride out into the countryside to a secure house, just to ask if your cousin wants to talk to you. Pretty obviously, if she did want to meet you, she’d have done that some time in the past six months.”
“You don’t understand. Aurelia had tried and tried to get a job. She couldn’t find anything that paid more than minimum wage. She was so excited when she got this work at the call center. It’s not huge money, but it’s an acceptable wage, and they live in dormitories onsite, so effectively, accommodation and meals are included in the salary, making it even better. But she always e-mailed or texted me every week. Not to have heard from her in six months is beyond understanding,” said Trevellyan, his voice cracking with emotion.
“Yeah, what if she’s wandered into some kind of cult? What if they brainwash her into weird ideas about serving some man they revere or turn her into some kind of slave? It’s a big house, well, out into the country. I know, I walked the fence-line right round the damn thing, and it took me an hour,” added Merrick.
“She’s a pretty woman, with long blonde hair and big blue eyes. I can see some man wanting to keep her,” added Vaughan.
“I get that you’re worried about her. I understand that. But I can’t help you.” Evelyn stood up, took the three steps necessary to cross the room, and opened the door.
Merrick reached out a long, muscular, tanned arm and pushed the door shut. “Ten thousand dollars,” he said firmly.
“We’ll pay you ten thousand dollars if you’ll spend a month getting into the house and finding out all about it. For that you’ll need to give us a good idea of how to break Aurelia out, unless she truly wants to stay.”
“If you get her out yourself, we’ll give you an extra five thousand as a bonus,” added Trevellyan.
“But what about my business, my clients?”
“I’ve got a motorcycle license. I’ll do your deliveries while you’re working for us,” said Merrick.
“I don’t—I can’t—” Evelyn was very tempted. Her little, one-person courier business was doing okay. It paid the bills, and she was getting more and more repeat business from satisfied customers. But ten thousand dollars was a whole other ballgame. With that money, she could move into a real apartment of her own, instead of the share arrangement she had currently with a couple of art students who tended to get home at three in the morning while she needed to be at work at six.
Then again, her chances of success weren’t good. What kind of skills did she have to get into a gated house? If she wasn’t delivering a legitimate parcel…One that had to be signed for by the recipient…
“If you bought Aurelia something you know she’d really appreciate and want, something that was valuable enough the parcel had to be signed for only by the named recipient, then I would have a reason to go to this place,” she said, thinking through the possibilities.
“Yup. I’ve already thought of that. I’ve gotten a reprint of a photograph of her parents and mine at a family wedding, when she was a tiny baby, and I was about five. Vaughan’s bought a really nice frame for it, and we’ll get it wrapped and sent to you here tomorrow for next day, signed delivery,” said Trevellyan with a grin.
“I really can’t promise anything. I can’t believe that I’ll be able to speak freely to her if she’s being kept away from you. But I guess if she’s perfectly happy, I may find that out.” Evelyn shrugged and pulled a notepad over to her side of the desk. “So describe this house and its exact location to me.”
An hour later, Evelyn had a dozen pages of notes and a clear picture of the house, the land, and the high electric fence in her mind. “In one way it makes sense to have a call center in the countryside, away from all the noises and distractions of the city. Living on-site means the workers are always available for extra shifts and so on. But on the other, why bother? Since the pay is better than average, finding willing workers in this poor economic climate wouldn’t be a problem.”
Vaughan filled out her standard client paperwork, gave her a one hundred dollar deposit, and smiled. “I like you, Evelyn. You’re a smart woman. You saw a niche market and have made it your own. I’m confident you’ll bring us news of Aurelia.”
“Yup. Me, too,” added Trevellyan.
“We’ll be seeing a lot more of you,” promised Merrick, shaking her hand vigorously.
* * * *
A buzzer sounded in the dormitory. Two of the women were already awake, one sitting on her bunk toweling her hair dry, the other just coming out of the bathroom. Seven of the women got out of their bunks and began getting ready for the day. The eighth pulled her pillow over her head, evidently hoping for a few more minutes’ rest.
When the buzzer sounded again, all ten walked down the hallway to a spacious, almost empty room, with a few armchairs against the walls and a large TV bolted to the ceiling. One woman picked up a remote control and clicked it, and an exercise video began playing. It was obvious they were all very familiar with the tape, as they moved easily with the instructor, knowing the routine and keeping up with the fast pace.
The exercise class lasted about fifteen minutes, after which they proceeded into the dining room. This meal was spaghetti bolognaise, and unlike the previous meal, there was some chatter as they ate.
A third buzzer sounded, and the women quickly washed their plates and went into the call center. Each one stood silently beside her work station while the woman on duty there finished the call she was on. Then, with machine-like smoothness, the operator stood to the left and handed the headset to her replacement, who slid into the chair from the right. In less than three minutes, the shift change had been completed.