Thanks be to God for blessing me to pen my sixth published novel. It's been a journey that I'm thankful and grateful to have been chosen to travel.
Thanks to Alex and Nia for giving me all the love and support that I needed to pursue my passion of writing.
Thanks to my mom, Gwendolyn Fields, and my dad, Gary Abrams, for being in my corner. Thanks to my sister, Ireana, for making me laugh and helping me to stay current.
Much love to my niece, Carrington. Tee-tee loves you!
Thanks to my cousin, Omar Scott, for reading all of my books and keeping it real with me.
A great big thanks to Jessica Barrow-Smith for your tireless dedication and input on this project. You're a godsend, and I look forward to a lasting relationship.
Thanks to my editor, Joylynn Jossel-Ross.
Thanks to my writers group, Faith Based Fiction Writers of Atlanta, for the monthly fellowship.
A special thanks to all of the authors on the Nevaeh Publishing roster. You inspire me, and I'm looking forward to great things for all of us.
Thanks to Sheila Levine for having my back.
And a great big thanks, as always, to my readers.
Peace and Blessings,
A bitter, coppery taste filled his mouth, and his tongue felt like one huge swollen blister lolling around. Battering rams seemed to simultaneously slam against both his temples. He wasn't sure if his eyes were open or not, because whether open or closed, he seemed to be swimming in darknessâa darkness that was so utterly black, the fear of being blind constricted his heart. He tried to take in a deep breath, but it felt like slabs of concrete were compressing his chest.
“So, you finally decided to rejoin the land of the living?”
That voice. Female. Familiar. It wasn't a stranger's voice. He tried to place the voice, but the battering rams in his head banged louder. He gritted his teeth against the excruciating migraine and tried to reach for his head, only to realize that his hands were restrained at the wrists. Cold restraints. Metal restraints. He fought against the restraints until it felt like he had broken every piece of cartilage in his wrists. He felt the cold metal around his ankles too. A rough, coarse rope kept his knees firmly glued together, and the coarseness of the rope dug into the tender skin at the underside of his knees. Though he gave a good struggle, the most he managed to do was to scrape all the skin from around his anklesâbut the rope didn't give an inch.
“You should stop straining like that, Greg. You're going to hurt yourself.”
There was that voice again. Close to his right ear. Vaguely familiar. And she knew his name.
He tried to place the voice again, but every time he started concentrating, the battering rams became deafening and pain reverberated back and forth from one temple to the next. Opening his eyes as wide as he could, he strained to see through the darkness, and finally made out a pair of white eyeballs staring back at him. He licked lips that were Sahara dry and tried to wet his mouth so he could speak. Only squeaks came out.
“Water?” she asked.
He nodded, then instantly regretted it. The battering rams exchanged themselves for band cymbals, pots and pans, fork tines against metal.
Greg felt something cold against his lips, and he touched his chin to his chest, trying to sit up as much as he could to sip on the cool water. Each swallow felt like a ball of fire inching its way down his throat, and his tongue felt ten sizes too big for his mouth. He scanned his mind, trying to figure out where he was, why was he restrained, and who was this woman with the voice and glass of water? And how did she know his name?
When he spoke, it sounded like his vocal chords had been grated with sandpaper, and his swollen tongue made him sound funny. “Who are you?”
He heard the smile in her voice. “I could be your fantasy, or your worst nightmare. Which would you prefer?”
Her words chilled his soul and raised goose bumps across his skin. He wet his lips again. “Where am I?”
“Ocho Rios. How could you forget so soon that we're in Jamaica?”
As soon as she said the words, everything started coming back to him. The money from the will. The trip. His wife. His wife. His wife.
“Where's Shania? Where's my wife? Is she okay? What have you done to her?”
“Shut up and settle down,” the woman said, and Greg felt her fingernails start at the inside of his ankle and graze up his leg to his crotch area. She had stripped him of all his clothes. “That little mutt of yours is in good hands. She hasn't been hurt, and she won't be as long as you cooperate with us.”
“Cooperate with who? Who are you? What do you want from me?” Greg wasn't sure which beat louder, his head or his heart. But he knew this much; if they so much as harmed a hair on Shania's head, even though the Bible said thou shall not kill, God was going to have to forgive him on this one.
“You know exactly what we want, Greg. We want what you stole from us.”
Who was “us”? And what in the world had he “stolen”? He wasn't a thief; the only thing he could ever remember stealing was grapes from the local grocery store, and that was only because he nibbled on them throughout the store, so that when he paid for them, they wouldn't weigh as much. But other than that, what had he stolen? He wasn't a taker; he was a giver. They must have him confused with somebody else; that's what it had to be. Theyâwhoever
were must have the wrong person.
“You got the wrong person,” he squeaked out. “I swear. It's not me. I've never stolen a thing before in my life.”
Again, her demonic laughter filled the room. “You sure about that, Greg?”
How in the world did she know his name?
“Think long and hard about that.” He listened to her footsteps as she walked around the bedâthat's what he figured he must've been tied down toâand placed her lips merely centimeters away from his left ear. “You stole something from us. And you can either give it to us the easy way . . .”âher claws shot out and grabbed his testicles, and she twisted until a scream ripped from his throatâ“or the hard way. Whichever you prefer.” She let go of his precious jewels, and as bad as he wanted to hold himself, massage himself, shield himself, the restraints wouldn't allow his hands to move.
Despite the throbbing in his head, he racked his brain, trying to recall his last memories before waking up in this place of torment. He remembered arriving at the island; he remembered Shania and her horrible attitude; he remembered going to the bar, having a drink with two of the Jamaican guys he had met at the shore to relieve some stress. That was the last thing he rememberedâsitting at the tiki bar with those two men, sipping a virgin piÃ±a colada. Maybe those men had put something in his drink. Although this woman's voice sounded vaguely familiar, and he was sure if she turned on a light, he could identify her instantly, those two Jamaicans at the bar were complete strangers. He had never seen them a day before in his life. So why would they drug him? And that's what
to have happened. That was the only explanation for his swollen tongue, the sour taste in his mouth, and this cataclysmic migraine.
But why would they do such a thing? They didn't know him. Even though he was wealthy, he didn't exude wealth. He had worn a pair of sandals, khaki shorts, and a plain white T-shirt. No flashy jewelry or anything of that sort. And he and Shania had stayed in a lavish hotel. The hotel was breathtakingly beautiful, without a doubt, but it didn't scream:
The people who room here are rich!
So why had they singled him out?
“I'll give you time to think it over, Greg, but when I come back, you better be ready to talk business. You better be ready to agree to everything I ask for. Or else I will bring your wife's pretty little fingers to you one by one.”
“You touch her and I will kill you!” he screamed and ignored the pain in his throat.
“How? You're going to spit on me to death? It's not like you can move.”
Rage forced him to try his best to break through the shackles. He only succeeded in making his headache worse, scratching more skin off his ankles and wrists, and pulling a muscle in his left thigh. He screamed out in fury and frustration, frightened for himself, but even more frightened for his wife. What if they were lying? What if they had killed her already? And where were those two men? If they weren't in here with him, that meant that they were in there with her. What had they done to her? What were they
to her? His vivid imagination alone nearly sent him spiraling over the edge.
“Help!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “Help! Somebody help! Help me! Somebody help!”
Something long, hard, and cold muffled his screams. Even in the pitch black darkness, it didn't take a rocket scientist to know that she had jammed the barrel of a gun into his mouth. But was it loaded or unloaded? That was the question. He wasn't sure if he really wanted to find out.
“Pull another trick like that,” she growled, “and you'll live to regret it. That's
I let you live.” She shoved the gun deeper in his mouth, until the tip slid down the upper portion of his esophagus. He gagged, and his stomach heaved. She snatched the gun out his mouth, and he turned his head in just enough time to throw up.
“I'll be back in an hour or two,” she said. He heard her footsteps retreat. Next, he heard a door squeak open before slamming shut. Then he counted at least three dead bolts click into place.
He lay in the dark silence, quiet, listening, making sure he was completely alone while he strained futilely to make out his surroundings. Once he was sure he was in the room by himself, he fought against the restraints with every ounce of his strength, even attempting to twist his arm out of the socket just to get loose. Finally, he gave up and yelled out from the pits of his soul. He held his breath for fear that the door would come open and she would jam the gun in his mouth and, this time, pull the trigger. He held his breath in fear that the door would fling open and she'd be standing there, holding up one of Shania's fingers to show him that her threats were by no means idle. But when seconds ticked by and became minutes, and minutes dragged by for what seemed like lifetimes, he figured he was “safe” for now and prayed that Shania was okay as well.
As he lay there, his arms shackled to either side of the bed, his legs tied at the knees and shackled at the ankles, he felt like a reincarnation of Jesus, just without the nails. Hot tears slipped from his eyes and puddled in his ears as he stared up at the ceiling feeling utterly hopeless, and whispered, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me . . .”