Oh, Stella Bleu. You are in some deep shit this time.
I’m trapped in the back seat between two of my three kidnappers: Broden and The Order member poking a gun into my side. I’d like to see how tough he is without a pistol in his hand. I’m certain I could kick his ass. But I’m pregnant. I can’t risk putting my babies in danger.
“You know, the gun does the same job if you simply point it at me.”
He rams it into my ribs a little harder. “Shut up.”
Despite the goon’s obvious lack of experience, this situation couldn’t be worse. My wrists are bound and I’m hooded. I’m concentrating on my breathing, talking myself down from a panic attack. In slow and deep. Out steady and gradual.
Broden and his thugs have made it impossible for me to do anything but sit, wait, and see what they have in store for me. None of which I’m good at doing.
Why couldn’t they have put me in the trunk? At least there, I could’ve busted the latch and made a run for it.
Right. That’s why.
My captors drive about twenty minutes before making a final stop. Broden grips my upper arm and plucks me roughly from the car. It pisses me off. I jerk my arm from his hold once I regain my balance. “I’m mobile. You don’t have to yank me around like a rag doll.”
“Damn, ye are a mouthy little bitch. I bet ye give Sinclair hell.”
He removes my head covering. We’re at an isolated warehouse. I don’t recognize my surroundings so I study the details, the ones that speak without words. A shiny metal fence, unoxidized by the elements, around the building’s perimeter. And the building’s new, which means this premises is probably recently acquired. This might be a problem except Sin has hired Debra to watch all moves made by The Order, including any new property they obtain. That’s reassuring.
The building’s exterior is well covered by security cameras. Whatever’s inside, they mean to keep it safe.
I’m ushered into the warehouse under Broden’s firm guidance. I study the wooden crates I pass as I’m steered through the building. They’re marked with a language other than English.
My final destination is a dark, tiny space in the corner of the warehouse. Probably originally a storage room. I don’t fight going inside. It would be useless.
I’m walking through the doorway when Broden delivers a firm shove against my upper back. I twist my body as I go down to prevent landing belly first. A searing pain ignites in my shoulder and hip.
I keep my mouth shut, despite the pain. To yell out would give them too much satisfaction.
The man called Reuben uses his foot to nudge me over on to my back so he can zip tie my ankles together. It’s terribly uncomfortable lying on bound hands but my complaints would only fall upon deaf ears.
“Can’t have ye running off. Mr. Grieve wouldn’t be at all happy about that.”
Broden stands over us, monitoring Reuben’s handiwork. “Tighter, ye fool.”
I roll to my side when he’s finished so I can regain sensation in my hands. “No attempts to escape, Mrs. Breckenridge. I can promise ye that we won’t hesitate to kill ye now instead of later.”
Kill me now instead of later?
My kidnapping is about more than a trade for bomb makings. They mean to kill me regardless of the exchange.
If I die, my babies die with me. That can’t happen.
Zip-tie restraints are useless on the wrong people. Most don’t understand that the tighter, the better for the one bound by them. Lucky for me, Reuben and Broden made mine exceptionally taut.
After they’re gone, I roll to my stomach and wiggle until I’m kneeling. I position the tie lock clasp between my wrists so it’s facing outward since it’s the weakest spot. I lift my arms and bring them down hard against my butt, spreading my elbows on impact. Once. Twice. Again and again, six times before the tie clasp finally breaks.
I stand and bunny-hop to the door. I lie down and lift my legs, slamming the ties against the frame until I break the restraints around my ankles.
I check the door. The knob turns but it’s barricaded from the other side. No surprise there.
I have no way out. There’s nothing for me to do but wait.
I sit on the cold concrete floor for hours before my kidnappers return with a fourth man I’ve yet to meet. But we need no introduction. Intuition tells me who he is. Torrence Grieve.
Tall and lanky, slightly humped with a dropped shoulder. His head is slick as an onion but he sports a black and gray goatee. It’s in need of a grooming.
He sneers. “My, my. Aren’t you the clever one?”
I don’t reply.
“Mrs. Breckenridge. I’m sure you’re aware that ten o’clock has come and gone.” I’m not wearing a watch but I suspected as much.
The bloody message on the wall stated I might survive the night if Sin returned the bomb makings to their warehouse by 2200. “Have you come to take me to my husband for the exchange?”
He shakes his head. “Your husband didn’t show.”
He’s lying. Sin would not leave me in the hands of The Order. “I don’t believe you.”
“Thane came in his son’s place. He tells us Sinclair encountered a bit of a mess on the drive over. Seems he ran into Detective Buchanan and got himself arrested for murder.”
“One of your own. Malcolm something, I believe.”
No. No. No. Sin can’t be charged with Malcolm Irvine’s murder. It was me. I’m the one who killed him.
“Your father-in-law made a hard barter for you. He was willing to trade everything The Fellowship has in exchange for his son’s wife. That has me wondering what makes you so special. So valuable.”
“And I have to wonder why you’d refuse his generous offer.”
“Thane isn’t the one I want to deal with.”
I was right. This is about Sin, how Grieve plans to make Sin suffer for killing his son, Jason. Torrence needs to understand what happened. “Jason stabbed Sin from behind. He fired on him before he realized his attacker was so young. He didn’t intentionally kill your son.”
Torrence appears unmoved. “Intent doesn’t change the fact that my only son is still six feet under. That’s unfortunate for you since your husband loves you. His affection gives me leverage. A lot of it. So you have the honor of dying for his mistake while he watches. And he gets to spend the rest of his life thinking about your death and how he caused it.”
I am the smartest person in the room with the biggest reason to live. My babies. That means I have to turn this around.
I’ve approached Torrence from the wrong angle. I see my mistake now. I hope he hasn’t. “You’re wrong. Sinclair Breckenridge despises me. Our marriage was arranged to unite our families. There’s little he would love more than to see me die. You’d be doing him a favor. Thane is the one who wants me back.”
“Because you’re valuable to The Fellowship?”
“So my father doesn’t come after him.”
“Who is your family?”
I was an FBI agent. As part of my career, I became fluent in US criminal organizations. I studied them intently so I could familiarize myself with common practices. That knowledge is about to serve me well.
I choose one of the most notorious Irish-American gangs in the US. One with a daughter my age. “I’m Cassidy Abban. Carrick Abban’s daughter. Everyone calls him Little Abbot. I’m sure you’ve heard of him.”
Derry Abban was the founder of The Four Families gang. Today, his son, Carrick Abban, is the leader. I’m certain someone in Torrence’s position would be very familiar with Abban.
“Your name is Bleu.”
“It is. Cassidy Bleu Abban. I prefer to be called by my middle name.”
It’s a good cover. One he can’t verify without doing quite a bit of digging. Should he decide to investigate, I’ll be long gone before he can figure out that I’m lying.
“If that’s true, I’m sure Thane will send his son for you. He has no intention of starting a war with Little Abbot.”
I hope that means Torrence believes me and doesn’t plan to start one, either.
Grieve waves his hand in my direction. “Plans have changed. Looks like we’ll be holding on to Mrs. Breckenridge for longer than expected since Sinclair isn’t coming for her until he’s released from jail. We can’t leave her here since she’s proven to be competent at removing restraints. We’ll move her to the cottage with Lainie until her husband is free.”
Torrence’s plan has been thwarted by Sin’s arrest. I think I may have just evaded death. For now.
The head covering is replaced and new zip ties are placed around my wrists. “Break these a second time and you’ll lose your hands.”
We drive about twenty minutes before the hood is yanked from my head a second time. I’m taken into an old stone cottage. Again, I’m shoved through the door. Same story, second verse. Except this time I maintain my balance.
The room we enter is vacant of furnishings. The walls are white and veined with cracks and chipping plaster. Aged planks of wood cover the floor, many rotten and buckling.
It’s cold despite the burning fire. The air reeks. Reminds me of decomposition. I hope it’s a dead varmint and not a body.
Broden comes toward me, pulling a knife from his pocket. Most people would be afraid. Maybe I should be but I’m inclined to think he would’ve killed me already if that was his goal. “Hands.”
He pushes the sharp edge of the knife between my skin and the zip tie. In one fluid motion, he frees my wrists. “Mrs. Breckenridge. Meet your companion, Lainie Grieve.”
Grieve. She must be Torrence’s daughter. Except I was unaware he had one. I thought Jason was his only child.
None of the men say another word before leaving. The clicking sound from the other side of the door confirms I’m locked in.
They’ve left me unbound with this woman to guard me?
The woman’s a small blond with childlike facial features. Round face. Big brown eyes. Thin and frail, maybe even sick. She doesn’t appear to have the physical strength to fend off a mosquito. She has no weapon that I can see. I’m almost offended they think she’s capable of wardening me.
Go ahead, Grieve. Keep underestimating me. Continue making mistakes like this and see where it gets you.
At the same time, it isn’t wise for me to underestimate this woman. Just in case. She could be a chameleon.
One of the first rules of abduction: make your abductor see you as a person so it makes it more difficult for them to harm you. I need to develop a rapport with Lainie. “Hello. I’m Bleu Breckenridge. But I guess you already know that.”
“Why would you assume I know who you are?” Lainie continues eating her sandwich without looking up. Her voice is monotonous and deadpan.
Something is off about this. “I assumed Broden or one of the others told you ahead of time that I was coming.”
“You’re Mrs. Breckenridge. I know because that’s what Broden called you and you just told me the same. With a name like that, I would assume you’re Fellowship. Beyond that, I’m clueless.”
This woman doesn’t appear to be on alert at all. I could attack and kill her with my bare hands right now.
“They didn’t tell you anything about me?”
“Why would they?”
“Aren’t you here to act as my guard?”
She bursts into laughter. “No. I’m their prisoner, same as you.”
She’s related to Torrence because they share the same last name. I would expect her to be the top of the hierarchy instead of the bottom. “But you’re a Grieve.”
Her laughter disappears. “Don’t remind me.”
This woman clearly isn’t pleased to call Torrence family. That could work in my favor if I play it right. “What turn of events made you a prisoner here?”
She shrinks into herself and looks away, saying nothing. Within two minutes of knowing her, I can read her body language and plainly see that she’s been abused. “What have they done to you?”
“I’m sure you’re aware Torrence’s only son was killed.”
“Yes.” Very aware.
“Torrence’s wife, Cordelia, had difficulties carrying babies. She lost many pregnancies before she gave birth to Jason. She almost died having him and was told by doctors to never become pregnant again. Because she had done her duty and provided Torrence with a son, it wasn’t a problem … until Jason was killed. Torrence was left without an heir and with a wife who couldn’t give him another. That became a huge problem fast. So he killed Cordelia and replaced her with a young, fertile wife. Me.”
“My parents arranged our marriage knowing he murdered Cordelia for her inability to provide him with another son. I wonder what they think he’ll do to me if I can’t give him one either.”
“I’m sorry.” I really am. Doesn’t matter if this woman is part of The Order. No one should be subjected to such treatment.
“I’m nothing more than a breeding machine for his next heir. Believe me when I say he reminds me on a regular basis.”
“Are you pregnant?”
She shakes her head. “Unsuccessful two months in a row.” I can’t tell if it’s relief or regret I hear in her voice.
“Two months can’t be considered unsuccessful.”
“Try telling him that. He’s impatient and angry. Says he could get Cordelia pregnant any time he tried so it must be my fault it’s not happening. I’m fearful of another failure. I don’t know what he might do to me.”
She probably should be fearful of what he might do to her if she doesn’t conceive.
Torrence is aging so he must be desperate to produce a son as soon as possible. Even if this woman becomes pregnant now, the child would have to grow into an adult to take his place as leader of The Order. Doesn’t make sense. He should choose someone else as his successor.
“I don’t want his spawn inside me but I almost wish I would get pregnant. At least then he’d stop coming here and forcing himself on me.”
Lainie is tiny. I’m sure he easily overpowers her. That’s likely one of the factors to sway his decision in choosing her. A wife with strength would be more difficult to subdue.
I feel nauseated.
Torrence Grieve is a monster. I have very strong opinions about what I believe should happen to his kind. “Why are you a prisoner in this place? He took you as his wife. The very least he should do is care for you in his home.”
“I knew him for the devil he is so I ran after my parents traded me to him. He was furious so this is my punishment. No contact with my friends or family. I’m stuck here.”
What has happened to this woman is a tragedy. She’s so sad, and it makes me want to save her. But I must concentrate on saving myself—and my babies—first.
“Would you run again if you had the chance?”
“Without a doubt. And I’d do a hell of a better job next time. But I won’t get another chance. Torrence has made sure of that.”
He’s beaten her down. “There’s always a way out.”
“If there is, I haven’t found it in the two months I’ve been here.” She goes to the window and pulls back the dated floral drapery, revealing planks of wood covering the glass. “It’s dark so you couldn’t see this when they brought you in. They’re boarded up from the outside. There’s no getting out.”
She goes to the front door, turns the knob and pulls. “Padlocked from the outside. Trust me, I’ve tried. There’s no opening it from this side.”
Lainie is an Order member but I can’t see her as my enemy. If anything, this tortured soul is my ally. I’m neither afraid nor ashamed to use that to my advantage. “We have the same goal: to get out of here alive. Are you willing to put aside your loyalty to The Order if it means escaping?”
“I have no allegiance to The Order. None. Any obligation I felt was terminated the day my parents traded me to a man who would repeatedly rape me and consider killing me if I’m unsuccessful at conceiving his child. I want out of here and I’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
She may be broken but she’s angry. I can use that. “All right, then. Tell me about their routines.”
“Broden or Reuben checks in every two days. Deacon brings food and supplies every four.”
That’s a new name. “Who’s Deacon?”
“My brother’s mate. He’s kind. Not like the others at all. Has a soft place in his heart for me.”
Ah. That has potential. “Is this soft spot big enough to free you?”
“No. He isn’t willing to die so I can escape.” Not the answer I was looking for.
“How often does Torrence visit?”
“Only when I’m ovulating.”
He should burn for what he’s doing to her. “When will that be?”
“I have four days left until he’ll come for me five nights in a row. And just so you know, I don’t fight him because that can get me killed, but that doesn’t make it consensual.” Her eyes become distant while staring at the white cracked plaster wall. “I can’t go through it again. I’ll kill myself before I let him touch me again. I even have a plan on how to do it.”
Her threat isn’t empty. If she’s formulated a plan, she’s a serious contender for suicide.
She needs reassurance, to know there is a way out. “My husband is coming. I don’t think there’s going to be a peaceful trade so we can probably expect guns blazing. Either way, I won’t leave you behind.”
She comes to attention, her head jerking in my direction. Her sunken eyes enlarge. She places praying hands against her lips and mutters something I can’t decipher before dropping her hands to her lap again. “Swear to me.”
“I swear I’ll take you with me.”
I fully expect an all-out war when Sin comes for me. We should be prepared.
“My father-in-law tried to barter for me but Torrence wouldn’t agree to a trade. Thane offered him everything we had and still Torrence refused to hand me over.”
“Something bigger is going on. Torrence loves money and power too much to refuse a bountiful offer,” Lainie says.
“He wants revenge for Jason’s death more than he wants those things.”
Lainie lifts her brows and nods. “Aye. Now this makes sense.”
I pray Sin suspects the same thing when his father tells him Torrence turned down the deal.
“Why didn’t your husband come to negotiate for your return?” she asks.
“I was told he was taken into custody. After tonight’s events, I suspect his arrest might have saved my life. I’m hoping Sin won’t contact Torrence for a trade.”
“What would he do instead?”
“I hope he and the brothers will rush this place as soon as he’s released. We need to be ready to move in a hurry.”
There’s no time to waste. “Do you know how to fight?”
She snorts. “Do I look like a brawler?”
Appearances can be deceiving. She doesn’t look like she could punch her way out of a wet paper sack but even the smallest person can be taught to deliver powerful blows. “I’m going to show you some defense and attack maneuvers.” I get to my feet. “What’s his signature move?”
“Show me how he usually restrains you.”
She comes forward and places her hands around my throat. At five six, I’m looking down on her several inches. “He chokes you?”
I look at her neck and see the faded yellow remnants of his last attack. Fucking bully.
“Watch my motion.” I lift my arms over my head and rotate my body. I bring my left arm down slowly over her wrists, forcing them from my neck. I use my right hand to grab her wrists and demonstrate how to hyperflex them.
“Show me again,” she says.
I demonstrate several times before reversing roles with her. She gets a feel for it quickly.
“It takes twice as much energy to swing and miss as to swing and hit. Are you right-handed?”
I pat my right shoulder. “Reach across my body and put your hands here. Pull me down diagonally to your right.” I bend at the waist to show her what I mean. “You’ll bring your right knee up to kick his face. Do it fast and hard.”
“When do I stop?”