Authors: Lolita Lopez
Grabbed, Book Three
To escape her father's debt to a loan shark, Dizzy seeks refuge in the upcoming Grab. She’d rather belong to one of those terrifying sky warriors from the battleship
than to the sleazy criminal who wants her as his plaything.
The years of constant war haven’t been kind to highly decorated sniper Venom. Only the promise of earning a wife kept him going through deadly battles. Catching and collaring Dizzy fills him with incredible hope. Finally he has a woman of his own, a mate to love—and bind and adorn with his ropes.
After a brazen Splinter attack, the Shadow Force uncovers secrets about Dizzy’s late mother that entangle her in a web of deceit. To save Venom, her father and an operative named Terror, Dizzy digs deep and risks it all.
Venom refuses to stand idly by while Dizzy’s haunted past threatens the future they’re trying to build. He finally has a reason for living—and he’s not giving her up.
from Ellora’s Cave
“Your father did
Cringing at her best friend’s tone, Dizzy stopped folding the clothes she had chosen to pack. She turned her full attention to Ella, who gawked at her with wide eyes. With as much bravery as she could muster, Dizzy repeated, “Dad sold my lottery number to a councilman who plans to marry his daughter to some doctor from the colonies. I’m going to be Grabbed tomorrow.”
Stunned speechless, Ella plopped down on the small bed. Pain colored her voice as she asked, “Why would he do that?”
They’d never kept secrets from each other and Dizzy saw no reason to start now. “There was some sort of problem with a shipment of cargo. He didn’t share the details but apparently he needed a lot of money to make it right. Now he owes a huge debt to Fat Pete.”
Ella gasped. “The loan shark who launders money for the Splinters?”
She nodded. “I guess Fat Pete is threatening to collect me as collateral for a loan Dad can’t repay.”
“That miserable bastard!” Ella wrung her hands. “Maybe I could come up with the money to help you.”
Dizzy shook her head. “You don’t have this kind of money.”
“I bet I could get my hands on it,” Ella insisted. “Business owners pay a lot of money to put my face on their posters. They want people to see me wearing their clothes or using their products. Being a muse might not be the most respected job on this planet but it’s profitable.” Ella grasped her hand. “I can find a way.”
“Doing what? Posing in lingerie?” Dizzy hissed the words. “Sure, the guys who run
pay their muses a lot of money to take those pictures but it’s not worth the risk. You know what happens to girls who get caught by the censors.” She shivered with fear. “It’s not worth it.”
Ella rolled her eyes. “The pictures aren’t even that risqué. What’s so shameful about showing a woman in her undies?”
“Nothing,” she agreed, “but it’s not my opinion that matters. You know what the censor crews are like.”
“It’s The City.” Dizzy’s matter-of-fact reply ended their discussion. There wasn’t anything more to say about the hypocrisy of the planet’s capitol. With enough money, a person could get their hands on anything restricted by the government or buy their way out of trouble. Those without money? Well—they did without or went to prison.
Dizzy shoved aside the clothes and made a space to sit next to Ella. She made sure to sink down slowly, not wanting to aggravate the strange condition that plagued her with fits of dizziness and nausea and ear-ringing when she moved too quickly. Hands folded in her lap, she sighed. “Look, Ella, I’m just—I’m tired.”
Her friend frowned. “How the heck can you think about sleep at a time like this?”
“No.” She exhaled roughly. “I’m not sleepy tired. I’m emotionally exhausted.” Dizzy absentmindedly touched the gnarly scars running along the curve of her throat. The awful memories of the day she had been nearly obliterated by the terrorist bombing outside the Harcos embassy swamped her. She pushed them aside and tried to focus. “You know I’ve been talking about leaving The City for a while now.”
“Yes. We talked about getting you to the colonies, maybe Safe Harbor. That’s still a possibility.”
“It’s not and you know it. After that mess at the old battery plant with the Sixers and the Splinters and their stolen weapons and food, the Harcos have basically blockaded the planet to prevent any insurgents from escaping. The fees for immigrating legally to the colonies are too high for a girl like me to afford.”
Once upon a time nothing had been too expensive for Dizzy. She had been born into the lap of luxury and enjoyed the extreme wealth of her bank-owning father and successful businesswoman mother. The bomb that had taken her mother caused a panic and recession that ruined her father’s bank, leaving them penniless and homeless.
“You could go into hiding until we get the money together for a visa.”
Dizzy shook her head. “I can’t hide.” She glanced nervously at her window. “I swear there were two goons following me today.” Then, with a resigned shrug, she added, “Besides, the colonies want skilled workers for their visa programs. I’m just a seamstress.”
“Just a seamstress?” Ella scoffed. “You’re the best damned seamstress in the fashion district. Your work is beautiful. You’re committed to your craft. Don’t ever say you’re
Dizzy couldn’t deny that it felt good to have her friend, the most popular muse on Calyx, talk about her work that way. “It doesn’t change things, Ella. I’m never going to find someone to sponsor me for a visa. Right now, I don’t have the kind of money it takes to buy a visa or the connections to get one of the seats on the transport ships run by the Red Feather.”
“What about Danny? You know, my friend the fixer? He’s tight with the Red Feather.” Ella grasped her hand. “I could make it happen.”
“There’s not enough time. Fat Pete expects Dad to bring him the money or me by Friday. That’s two days from now! I’m not taking the chance.”
“So you’re going to let one of those awful sky warriors take you?” Ella shuddered. “They’re monsters, Dizzy.”
“They can’t be any worse than Fat Pete!” Dizzy swallowed hard. “The one that my mother…” Her voice trailed off as the sordid details of that assignation raced through her head. “Well…anyway. He seemed nice enough and he saved my life.” She touched the scar on her neck again. “Maybe I can find one like him.”
“I don’t know.” Ella nibbled her thumb. “They’re so overbearing and so controlling.”
“It’s a cultural thing, I think. Maybe it won’t be so bad.” Searching for a positive slant to her crappy situation, she said, “I’ve seen some Harcos men around the embassy downtown. They’re all big and scary but some of them are handsome in a rugged sort of way. I’ve heard they’re good to their wives.”
“If you call being leashed and collared
“I don’t,” Dizzy admitted, “but this is my only chance to get away from here. After the bombing, after losing Mom, I can’t stand it here. Dad is so far gone now that he’s wrapped up in the black market. I can’t let him drag me down. This place is suffocating me. I’ve got to get out.”
Ella squeezed her hand. “I know the nightmares are bad, Dizzy, but are you sure you want to trade all those problems for whatever the hell awaits you up there?”
“It can’t be any worse than this.”
Ella made a frustrated sound. “I realize you’ve been through a terrible, traumatic event, Dizzy, but you have no idea what worse really means.
know. I know what it’s like to be cold and hungry and homeless and terrified that strange men are going to take you and rape you. Please.” She gripped Dizzy’s hand so hard it hurt. “Please reconsider. You don’t have to do this.”
“I do.” Dizzy had settled her mind and there was no going back. “I’m going to run tomorrow morning and one of those sky warriors is going to Grab me.”
For a long moment, Ella simply stared at her. Finally she exhaled slowly and said, “Then let’s get you packed.”
Dizzy relaxed. “Thank you for not fighting me on this.”
“Oh, I want to fight you but we’ve been friends long enough for me to know when I can’t win.” Ella tugged her into a tight hug. “I’m really going to miss you.”
Dizzy didn’t even try to stop the tears that spilled onto her cheeks. “I’m going to miss you too.”
“I hear that some women contact their families a few weeks after being taken. You have to promise me that you’ll get a hold of me if you can.”
“I will.” Dizzy rubbed Ella’s back. “I’ll find a way to make it happen.”
After ending their embrace Dizzy stood carefully and returned to her packing.
“What are you going to do about that?” Ella pointed to Dizzy’s head. “You won’t be able to run very far if it acts up and makes you sick.”
“I know.” She chewed her lower lip. “Hopefully I won’t have to run long. I assume those men are rather fast.”
“Definitely,” Ella agreed. “You’re only taking one bag?”
“That’s all they allow.” Dizzy glanced around the small studio apartment and all the things she was leaving behind. “I told the two Karraway sisters who live next door that they can have all the furniture. The newly married couple upstairs is going to take all the cookware and anything in the cabinets and pantry.”
Ella eyed the closet teeming with colorful clothing. “Um…what about all that?”
Dizzy laughed. “You can have first dibs on anything in my closet.”
“Yes!” Ella popped off the bed like an overeager puppy and darted to the closet. “You have some of the best clothes in The City.”
Dizzy snorted. “Hardly.”
“Stop being so modest.” Ella pulled out a coral-pink dress and held it up against her body. She used the mirror mounted on the door to check out her reflection. “I always get the most compliments when I’m wearing your creations. I still think we should have started our own business.”
“If money grew on trees,” Dizzy replied a bit wistfully. Joining Ella at the closet, she flicked through the hangers and selected all the dresses that were too small for Ella. “I want these to go to the shelter. The girls there will get some use out of them.” She glanced at her workstation. “The fabric and supplies too.”
“I’ll make sure it gets there. What about your work? Are you taking anything with you?”
“My seamstress kit.” She pointed to the leather messenger bag she carried everywhere. “I assume it won’t be difficult to find fabric or thread up there. They must have a much better market system than we do. Hopefully I can find a store that will sell my designs.”
“I’m sure that won’t be difficult. One look at your sketches for your fall line and everyone will be clamoring for the chance to have your designs hanging on their racks.” Still hugging the pink dress, Ella leaned back against the wall. “Let’s go out tonight.”
“What?” Dizzy shook her head. “I can’t.”
“I have to pack.”
“I’ll help you when we get back. What time do you run tomorrow morning?”
“Nine o’clock but I have to be at the square by eight. They’re bussing us out to the woods for the Grab.”
Ella made a face. “It’s going to be ridiculously cold. Do you have anything suitable for that weather?”
“The paper they gave me at the registrar’s office said that I’ll be provided a uniform for running.”
She made a
noise. “It will probably be paper-thin and cheap.”
“Come on, Dizzy.” Ella begged with that high-pitched whine that she somehow made impossibly cute and endearing. “Please? We’ll just grab a quick meal and a drink.”
She frowned at her friend. “The last time I heard that we ended up at Hopper’s underground dance club and barely escaped a raid by the secret police. No thanks!”
Ella rolled her eyes. “Whatever! You loved it. When was the last time you had that much fun? You know, other than the whole running-from-the-police-in-the-abandoned- subway-tunnels thing.”
She checked her watch. “Look, it’s nearly eight. Let’s just listen to the Mouth and see what’s going on tonight. If there’s any chance that something might kick off we’ll stay inside. Okay?”
Unable to deny Ella anything, Dizzy nodded reluctantly and knelt down next to her bed to fish out the small homemade radio she kept hidden there. Because the walls were shoddy and thin and owning a radio was an arrestable offense they took the device into the bathroom and turned on the shower for background noise. Ella climbed up to poke the antenna against the window for better reception. It took Dizzy almost a minute to find the pirate radio station that alternated channels to avoid detection.
“…hear that the League of Idiots will be holding a rally at tomorrow’s Grab. Anyone who doesn’t want their ass kicked by a bunch of muscleheaded sky warriors should probably steer clear of those festivities. If there’s a book open on this, I’ve got ten bucks on the sky warriors, by the way.”
Ella shot her an amused smile as the female DJ known only as the Mouth from the South described the dustup that would likely occur between the League of Concerned Citizens and the Harcos. The grassroots organization billed itself as a group of men concerned about the increasing number of Harcos ships orbiting the planet but most people understood that they were little more than a government-approved front for Splinter activities on Calyx.
Dizzy had met a few members of the league and all of them were batshit crazy. They were the type of people who seemed to
anarchy—and she simply couldn’t understand it. The terrorist bombing that had taken her mother and nearly killed her had spurred intense rioting and chaos for weeks. She never wanted to experience true anarchy.
“We’ve also had reports from our friends by the sea that the big beasties in the sky have been scouting land outside Blue Shores. Maybe those rumors of a military base in our backyard aren’t so farfetched.”
“Ugh.” Ella made a face. “That’s all we need, right? Then the Splinter terrorists would have a real reason to cause more problems for all of us.”
Dizzy wondered if she was getting out just in time. The sky ships orbiting her planet were extremely safe—much safer than living down here where crazy people were blowing up buildings.
“Oh, and for all you night cats out there, I hear that a certain hopping spelunker is opening up the rabbit warren. First band starts at ten o’clock sharp. This one is a bring-your-own-booze affair.”
Ella lowered the volume and shot Dizzy her most pleading look. “Please?”
“Well…” She wavered. The “hopping spelunker” the Mouth described was a girl everyone called Hopper. Like a lot of street kids, Hopper had spent most of her youth living and exploring the tunnels of the abandoned subway system below The City. As an adult, she made a living organizing parties that took place literally and figuratively underground to avoid the morality laws of The City.
And they were such good parties! Dizzy loved to dance. She didn’t know when she might get the chance to do it again, especially not with some of the hottest bands on Calyx playing for a live crowd.