Authors: Noelle Adams
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
“I was supposed to check in with my handler a while back. They’ll know something is wrong. They’ll be looking for me.”
I felt a little surge of hope. “Do they know about this house?”
“They should. We know most of the property that belongs to this clan. The gang’s reach is spread out all over the city, but my guys will be looking. They know what they’re doing.”
I let out a deep sigh and relaxed back against the wall. “So we just wait?”
“We just wait.”
Neither of us spoke for a few minutes after that, but I felt like I knew Gideon somehow. I didn’t know anything about him except a few random details of his appearance and his job, but something at the core of him felt familiar to me, like his deepest nature spoke to what I held dear.
I’d always believed in men like him. He had put himself in real danger to do something good in the world. He was a warrior, even with gang tattoos and bare feet.
“Why don’t you have shoes on?”
“They took them. They didn’t want me to have anything that might turn into a weapon.”
And even that just affirmed my understanding of who this man was. He made me feel safe, even in this bleak, horrible room.
I looked down at my pretty, designer ankle boots with three-inch heels. “You can have my boots, if you need them. For a weapon, I mean.”
He gave a huff of sound that was almost a laugh. “Thank you. I might take you up on that.”
He wasn’t as much of a fool as I was. Looking back, I’m sure he wasn’t protecting himself with safe delusions like me. He must have known what could happen, what would most likely happen. To both of us. After all, he’d walked through life with these men for eight months.
But he could smile anyway, and it comforted me. It affirmed my artificial vision of what the world was really like. The reassuring lie that we would be saved.
“What do you do with antiques?” Gideon asked, after another minute.
So I told him about my job and about where I’d gone to college and about how I spent half of my life at flea markets and secondhand stores. And he told me about growing up in Nebraska, where his father had been a sheriff, and about how, when he used to go fishing, his dog would try to help and would end up pouncing every time he saw a fish under the water.
“Poor little dog,” I said, shivering a little since it was darker outside now and colder in the room. “He must have been so disappointed to never catch anything.”
“One day he did. I think it was an accident, since he was never quick enough to grab the fish he’d aim for. But once he came out of the water with a fish flapping in his mouth. He was so proud of himself.”
I smiled and started to respond when another shiver ran through me, chattering my teeth.
“Come here,” Gideon said, stretching out his arm. “It’s getting cold in here.”
I went over to him because I trusted him now, and I huddled against his side, trying to get warm. He tightened his arm around me.
I don’t want you to misunderstand. It wasn’t any sort of cozy, romantic moment. I was still terrified and confused and uncomfortable and queasy, and the bruise on my face hurt horribly. This man beside me was a stranger, and we had nothing in common except the danger we were in.
It wasn’t a good moment. Nothing about the situation was good. It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. But I was still holding onto hope, and I felt better because Gideon was strong and he was beside me.
We sat in silence for several minutes until my teeth stopped chattering. My face was pressed against his shirt.
Because we were physically so close, I heard myself asking, “Are you married?”
“Nothing serious. Relationships are too hard to make work when you’re undercover.”
“I guess so.”
“Nothing serious. I was going out with a guy for about six months, but we broke up a few weeks ago.”
“What was he like?”
It was a casual question—like all of our other personal questions had been. A way to pass the time. A way to think about nicer things than what we were facing here. So I didn’t hesitate about answering. “He was a lawyer.”
“Ah, slick and smart. I should have known that was your type.”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing. You just seem like a girl who would date white-collar types.”
It was true. It was absolutely true. Never in my life had I gotten close to a guy with tattoos and rough edges like Gideon.
“I guess...” I trailed off, thinking about that, about whether it was even in me to feel close to someone like him under normal circumstances. “I guess we just go with what we’re used to.”
There was a pause before he answered. “Yeah. I think that’s right.”
I heard the voices again outside the room, and it made my body clench in fear. Gideon was listening, and his arm got tighter around me.
But it relaxed again as the voices faded again.
“What are they saying?”
“The guys who brought me here have been drinking.” Something about the terse words sounded ominous, and I shivered as I burrowed into his hard, warm body.
I don’t know why exactly, but I started to get scared again. I mean intensely scared, the way I’d been when I first got to the house, only without the fog in my mind. Maybe I sensed something in Gideon’s body, although it wasn’t something I could clearly identify.
He stopped making casual conversation, though.
We sat together for at least another hour, in mostly silence. Then the voices were close to the room again. I could hear them clearly through the door, although I couldn’t understand the Albanian words.
Gideon shifted on the floor, his whole body tensing up. He rearranged us so that I was even closer to him than I’d been before.
My heart was hammering so hard I could feel it in my eyes and ears, and I could barely take a full breath. He was nervous. That much was clear. And if Gideon had reason to be nervous, then I was absolutely terrified.
The voices were loud again—like there was a heated argument, right outside the door.
“What is it?” I whispered, when I finally couldn’t stand any more.
“They’ve been drinking a lot.”
“What does that mean? What are they arguing about?”
My teeth were chattering, but not with cold this time. I was clinging desperately to Gideon’s shirt, as if holding on to him would somehow keep me safe. “About
? Tell me.”
It was dark in the room. Not pitch black but with no light but what was coming in from the moonlight and streetlights outside. I could see his face enough to see how rigidly it was set. “About whether or not to come in here.”
I almost choked on a surge of fear. These men were ruthless, violent. And Gideon had betrayed them. They must hate him more than anything. “I thought they were waiting for the boss.”
“They are. They’re not talking about coming in here for
I made a helpless gurgle as the words processed. “But you said...you said they weren’t supposed to hurt me. They had orders or something.”
“They do have orders. The main crew here doesn’t want to let the other guys in. That’s what the argument is about. About whether...whether it counts.”
I knew what “it” was. Of course, I knew what he meant. I was stupid and sheltered and living with ridiculous, romanticized notions about how I would get through this, but I wasn’t completely clueless.
It felt like my blood had drained out of every part of my body except my heart, which was pounding everywhere, pounding with the whole world. “Oh, God, Gideon.” I clung to his shirt, twisting it in my hands. I was practically sobbing. “Please don’t let them hurt me.”
I know it was irrational, but instinct often drives us to such irrationalities. There was no reason to believe Gideon was capable of stopping what might be coming—one unarmed man in the face of who knew how many—but I had to ask him to anyway. I
to. He was stronger than me, and I needed strength. My conscious will had no power to overcome the instinct.
He wrapped his arms around me, either to comfort me or to still my nervous writhings. “I won’t. If I can stop them, I will.”
The voices were even louder now. Right outside the door. I buried my face in his shirt and tried to drown them out.
Something banged into the door, and I smothered a squeal in his chest.
Then Gideon was moving my head, raising my face to look up at him. His voice was low and rough and urgent. “Diana, try not to panic. You need to listen to me.”
I was shaking so helplessly I couldn’t see, I couldn’t think.
He held my shoulders and said, still roughly but with clearer authority. “Diana, look at me. Listen to me right now.”
I managed to control myself enough to meet his eyes. There was no way I could say anything.
“They’re not allowed to kill either one of us yet, and that can help us. There are some things they won’t be able to do.”
I gave a jerky nod, mostly to prove that I’d heard the words.
“If they come in here, you stay behind me. No matter what happens, you stay behind me.” He was holding my eyes with an intensity I’d never seen before, I’d never felt before. “Tell me you understand that.”
He lifted his hands from my shoulders to my face. It wasn’t a caress. It was more like a desperate attempt to force his words into my head. “If something happens...” he murmured urgently, his eyes searching my face. “If something happens, and I can’t stop it, don’t try to fight them. Your instinct will be to struggle, but try not to do it. There are way too many of them. There’s no way you’ll be able to get away. And a couple of them out there will want you to fight. They’ll
it, so they can hurt you more. You can’t give them what they want. Tell me you understand.”
Just a little while ago, the world had been cold and scary, but still with some sense of purpose and hope. Now it had turned into dark, bottomless pit of horrors, of demons. I just stared, blinded by the shock of it.
“Diana, tell me you understand.”
“I do,” I choked. The voices were still loud, and there was another bang on the door.
“Send your mind somewhere safe, somewhere different. That’s who you really are, and they can’t touch that.”
I was whimpering helplessly, and it would have been embarrassing, but I really think any woman in my situation—knowing what might be coming—would be in similar shape.
“Do you hear me?” he said, a little louder and rougher, since the voices had shifted to shouts outside the door. “Being strong doesn’t always mean fighting. We’ll fight to keep them from taking you. But if they do...” He was grabbing me now by the upper arms, squeezing so tightly it almost hurt. “If they do, then just get through it and don’t give them what they really want. Remember, the FBI and the police are looking for me right now, and they could get here any minute. Think about that. Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is just survive.”
I was shaking and crying and nodding all at the same time, but he must have realized I’d heard and understood what he was telling me. He used his thumbs to wipe a few tears off my face and said, more gently, “Let’s stand up.”
He had to help me to my feet, and then he moved us into the corner farthest from the door. The argument continued, but after another minute the voices seemed to move away. They faded, got softer.
I was still clutching his shirt with sweaty palms, but my panicked gasps slowed slightly as the voices moved away. “What’s happening?”
“Shh.” He was obviously trying to listen. He was still tense, primed, acutely alert. I could feel it in his body as well as see it on his face.
I could hear a vague murmur of voices through the wall or the door, but they didn’t sound angry anymore.
Maybe the better side of the argument won. Maybe they weren’t going to come in here after all. I wasn’t supposed to be hurt. Surely anyone—even a ruthless, mindless thug—would realize that raping a woman meant hurting her. They’d been ordered not to hurt me.
Maybe it would be okay after all.
See, I still believed in certain things—that human beings would make reasonable decisions, that salvation would come, even at the very last moment.
Then the door to the room banged open, and three of them came in. They carried guns and smelled like aftershave and alcohol and had the nastiest faces I’d ever seen.
Gideon eased me behind him, so I was in the corner and his body blocked mine.
One of them said something, harsh and slurred.
Gideon responded in the same language, his voice unwavering.
They said some more things. I knew what they were saying. They were telling Gideon to get out of the way. They were threatening him with their guns.
But they weren’t allowed to kill him, and he wasn’t going to move.
They came closer, and I had to fight to keep from grabbing at Gideon in instinctive fear, so I wouldn’t distract him or get in his way.
I couldn’t see clearly since his body was blocking mine, but I could tell that one of them got close enough to aim and thrust the butt of his gun at Gideon’s head.
Gideon blocked the blow with his forearm and then swung back with his fist. I heard the impact.
Then the other two came at him too, and I don’t really know exactly what happened after that. Gideon was fighting all three of them off. I felt helpless and bewildered in the corner of the room, so I took one of my boots off so I could have a little bit of a weapon with the heel.
Then one of the Albanians was on the ground, and Gideon had a chokehold on a second one. The third one aimed the butt of his gun at Gideon’s head, and I reacted without thinking.
I jabbed the heel of my boot as hard as I could into the back of the man’s neck. The man howled with pain and whirled around, swinging the gun as he did. It struck me in the shoulder, knocking me back into the wall, jarring me so much I couldn’t see for a moment.
I was aware enough to know that Gideon went after the guy with a sound of guttural rage and actually managed to wrest the gun away from him.
It should have been good. Gideon had fought all three of them off, and now he had a gun.