Authors: Noelle Adams
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Noelle Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.
Content Editing: Kristin Anders,
The Romantic Editor
used to like books and movies where the hero rides in to save the day.
Sure, the stories were usually romanticized and over-the-top, but they still felt real to me. The world needs saving, but justice and sacrifice really
something. The person who lives them out should be able to make a difference in the world.
I stopped believing any of that on Tuesday, March 11 at about four o’clock in the afternoon.
I was twenty-three and had bought a gorgeous pair of designer boots during my lunch break. I was so excited about them that I’d immediately put them on to wear for the afternoon.
I still don’t understand how it happened or why it should have happened to me. There was never anything special about me. I’m not being humble when I say that. It’s the truth. I was kind of smart and kind of pretty and mostly liked by other people, but nothing ever stood out about me.
My dad worked at the executive level for a natural gas company with a global reach. He and my mom divorced when I was five, so I never really knew him. But, because of his position, my life was always privileged. I didn’t have to work in high school or college. I always had great clothes and a great car. He bought me a fabulous apartment when I graduated. Thanks to his connections, I got a cushy job with a prominent antiques dealer, one that combined both sales and interior design.
It was also because of him—because he’s swimming in money and he got involved in some sort of shady business deal in Eastern Europe—that I was targeted. He pissed off the wrong person, someone with ties to an Albanian organized crime family.
I’d never given a second thought to the Albanian mafia in my life. I guess I knew from television and movies that they existed and were active in trafficking of all kinds, but they weren’t on my radar as being relevant. To anything important in my life.
Not until I was walking back to the office from a meeting with a client on a Tuesday afternoon. It was just six blocks, the weather was mild, and my boots were comfortable for having such high heels.
I was thinking about stopping on the corner to a coffee for me and my boss when two men appeared out of nowhere and stuffed me in the trunk of a car.
I’m serious. Right there on the city street. One of them put his arm around me and covered my mouth and nose with a cloth. Maybe to the people around us it looked like he was giving me a hug.
I don’t know what the drug was, but it knocked me out pretty quickly. There’s not much I remember about what happened then, although I was vaguely aware for a while of being in the trunk of a car.
Maybe it was because I was drugged, but none of it really felt real. I guess I was scared. I mean, I
I was scared, but it didn’t really seem to be happening to me. There’s a strange kind of distance that hits you sometimes, where your life seems like a movie that’s happening to someone else. That was how it felt.
When the car stopped and the trunk opened, I was aware enough to try to get away. One guy was hauling me out of the trunk, and I got a good look at him. He was horrible. His head was shaved, and he had tattoos all over his arms and neck—nearly covering all the skin I could see except his face. He smelled strongly of a repellant aftershave. Just the sight and smell of him made my stomach churn, and I instinctively threw out my elbow, connecting with the general vicinity of his groin.
I didn’t connect hard enough.
He roared in outrage and struck me hard in the face.
Before that moment, I’d never been hit in my life, except maybe in some sort of childish slap fight when I was a kid. It shocks you—that sudden crack of pain, the way it jars your whole body. I fell to the ground, unable to see through the blur of water in my eyes. My stomach heaved, and I retched painfully—either from the drug or the blow. Maybe both.
I heard voices, speaking in a language I didn’t know. Then hands dragged me to my feet and made me walk.
I was dimly aware that I was pushed into the back door of a row house—from the alley—and that was so strange to me. I wasn’t taken to an abandoned warehouse or a sleazy drug den or some shitty apartment on the wrong side of town. It was an everyday, normal row house. Not in the nicest neighborhood, but in a neighborhood all the same.
It was so incredibly strange.
I still couldn’t see or think very well, but I know there were more scary guys in the house. Some were gross like the tattoo guy and some were decent looking. There was way too much aftershave in the room, and it made me queasy.
They were all speaking in the foreign language. I didn’t know then that they were Albanians.
I didn’t know
They took me down to the basement level and shoved me into a room, slamming the door behind me. I immediately tried to open the door again, but it was locked. Of course, it was locked. I’d heard the clicks of the deadbolts on the other side, but I couldn’t seem to make my mind work.
I turned around and just stood there, trying to figure out where I was and what was happening. There was a window at the top of the wall, letting in the late afternoon light, but there were bars across the panes of glass. There didn’t seem to be any furniture at all in the room. Nothing but cold, gray walls.
I’d managed to register all of that before I realized something else. Something far more important.
I wasn’t alone in the room.
A man had just gotten to his feet in the opposite corner.
He looked like them. Exactly like them. He wore jeans and a dark muscle shirt, and there were tattoos all over his arms. His hair was shaved close and, for some reason, he wasn’t wearing any shoes.
He started toward me.
I shrunk away, trying to huddle in a corner, as if that might protect me. There was nowhere to hide in the room, and I was trapped in here with this terrifying man.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay. I’m not one of them. I’m not going to hurt you.”
His voice was American. Familiar, unaccented English. And it sounded almost soothing.
I blinked up at him as he knelt on the floor beside me.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “Did they hurt you?”
One of them had punched me in the face, and my cheekbone was throbbing with pain. But I said, “I’m okay.”
I still didn’t know or trust this guy, but at least he wasn’t assaulting me.
He reached over—I think to inspect my damaged face—but I ducked my head away from his touch. He dropped his hand immediately.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
There didn’t seem to be any reason to keep it from him. “Diana.”
I nodded to acknowledge he’d said something, and I pulled my legs up to my chest, wrapping my arms around them as if the position could somehow protect me. I was wearing a pair of tailored trousers, and the thin fabric did nothing to keep me warm in the cold room.
“I’m not going to hurt you, Diana. I promise.”
There was absolutely no reason to believe him, but it felt like he was telling me the truth. Despite the shaved head and intimidating tattoos, there was something attractive about him—with his strong, lean body, chiseled features, and vivid blue eyes.
I finally said, “You look like them.” I stared down at a water-stain on the dingy floor.
“I’ve been undercover with this gang for eight months.”
I sucked in a breath and darted my eyes back up to his face. “You’re a cop?”
“Why are you in here?”
“They found out who I was.”
“They didn’t kill you?”
“They will.” He said it calmly, as if he were simply stating that today was Tuesday or grass is green. “They’re waiting for the boss, so he can do it himself.”
“Shit.” Sometimes, there’s nothing else in the world you can say.
We were both sitting on the floor, our backs to the wall. After a minute, he asked, “Why did they take you?”
“I have no idea.”
“You’ve had no connection to them at all?”
“I don’t even know who they are.”
“They’re part of an Albanian organized crime clan.”
I shook my head. “I work in antiques. I’ve never been involved in anything illegal. I don’t know any Albanians. I have nothing to do with them.”
“Are you connected to anyone who has a lot of money?”
I cleared my throat. “My dad.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s with a natural gas company.”
“Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s a ransom situation.”
“Oh.” My mind was clearing from the fogginess of before, and a deep chill was taking over my body. “You think they’ll ask my dad for ransom?”
“Maybe. I didn’t have many dealings with the crew who man this house, but I know they sometimes do kidnap-and-ransoms. If it’s a ransom situation, that’s good for you. They’ll probably release you when your dad pays.”
“You think they’ll release me?”
“If it’s just business, they probably will.” His voice was low, deep, confident, but there was something stiff on his face that made me scared, like he didn’t want to tell me the whole truth. “This particular gang traffics in drugs and weapons, but I haven’t seen them involved in...”
He didn’t finish the sentence, but he didn’t have to. He hadn’t seen them involved in human trafficking. I’d seen all the movies. I knew the possibilities.
“Do you think—” My question was cut off when voices sounded from outside the room, and Gideon put up a hand to silence me.
I couldn’t understand anything that was said, but it sounded like two Albanian voices were arguing. Evidently Gideon could understand them. He was listening intently.
When the voices silenced, I let out a breath and asked, “What were they saying?”
“It sounds like they are holding you for ransom. The main crew here were responsible for it. You’re not supposed to be hurt.”
I took a shaky breath. “What were they arguing about?”
“There are some other guys here too, besides this crew. Because of me. They brought me here to wait for the boss, since this room is secure. They aren’t exactly even-tempered. They’ll argue about anything.”
He had a strange look on his face, but I didn’t think about it much. I was too relieved at hearing that I wasn’t going to be tortured and murdered.
You see, I was still incredibly, stupidly naïve. Even then, after having been kidnapped off the street. I actually felt better that they weren’t going to kill me, that I wasn’t in this room alone, that I had this strong, decent guy—one who seemed to know what he was doing—to help me through this.
My dad and I weren’t close, but he would definitely pay the ransom. I could get out of here and go back to my normal, sheltered life, surrounded by smiles and pretty things.
We tell ourselves stories—over and over again—about how help comes just in the nick of time, about how we get saved at the very last moment, about how the bomb is defused with only a few seconds left on the timer. I was still scared, but something inside me believed that would be my story too.
This was bad. It was really, really bad. But I would still somehow be okay.
Then I remembered I wasn’t the only one in this room. “What about you?” I asked, looking over at Gideon. He was slouched against the wall with his face turned in my direction, his eyes resting on my face.
He blinked. “What about me?”
“They’re going to kill you?”
“That’s generally what they do to people who betray them.”
I started to feel sick again because I didn’t want that to happen. I scrambled to my feet and ran over to the window. “Are you sure there’s no way out of here?” I tried to reach up towards the window, even though there would be no way of getting through the bars.
The window was too high for me to reach.
“There’s no way,” Gideon said. “All the walls are reinforced, and there’s no way of getting out that window.” He walked over so he was behind me as I tried to get a foothold on the cement block wall.
He gently pulled my hands away and, in the process, showed me his. His fingers were bruised and bloody. He murmured, “I promise I tried.”
I drooped, believing the evidence of his damaged hands, if nothing else.
I slid back down to the floor, this time beneath the window. He lowered himself to sit next to me again.