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1

 

 

Harlow Sweeting was ready for bed. Her first Saturday shift as the on-call family support officer had ended a couple of hours ago. Though that hadn’t meant any reprieve for her exhaustion. In her line of work, time became fluid. Leaving the family she’d been helping just because the clock had run out wasn’t an option.

So, being ready for bed had little to do with being able to curl up and close her eyes. Instead, she found herself trailing down a cold, dark street in the small hours of the night, making her way home one step at a time.

Her profession was more of a lifestyle than a vocation. No timecard could switch off its importance. There was no getting up and walking out just because she’d completed her allotted number of hours. People’s lives were more important than clocking out.

Social service work was hard. Harlow had ventured onto the path of her current profession in high school. At a career fair, she’d discussed her interests with one of the advisor’s who’d told her that social work suited the “confluence of her needs” and was a “natural evolution of her interests.”

Following the advisor’s suggestion, Harlow had done some research and decided it was an occupation where she could make a difference. After college, she’d joined a suburban division and stayed there until her recent move.

No one chose social work for its simplicity. But suburbia had not been a hotbed of need.

The last thing she wanted was a job that only required her to go through the motions. More. Harlow wanted more and had been ready to leap out of her comfort zone… no matter how big the challenge.

A challenge was exactly what she’d been ready for when she made the decision to move from the easy, less demanding suburban department to the tough inner city. Much as she’d loved her colleagues and many of her clients in her previous position, there had been nothing to sink her teeth into. In short, she’d gotten bored. Transferring to a deprived urban area and taking up a post with child and family services made sense. To her anyway, her family were less understanding.

The last thing that she wanted to do was concede that they might have been right. Harlow had thought she was ready for more. Truth was, she’d had no idea how difficult it would turn out to be. Reading about desperate scenarios in books was nothing like facing them in real life. Sometimes it felt like her heart was breaking every day.

Working with vulnerable children drove her. Protecting those who couldn’t protect themselves was a worthy cause. No matter how difficult she found witnessing or hearing about what they endured, she reminded herself that they were the ones enduring it. All Harlow had to do was listen and care, not live it every minute. Supporting the youngsters in their time of need, giving them a chance to realize their potential, was the least she could do.

Urban kids were savvy and street smart, even more so than her. Experience showed her how important it was to be confident, even when she was horrified. Being in the field, dealing with people hands on without fear, taught her more than she could learn from textbooks.

That didn’t mean she’d given up the book learning. Harlow was a strong believer that there was always more for everyone to learn. In addition to her day job, she was doing an online criminology degree in what little spare time she could scrape together.

Harlow hadn’t had the time to go back to traditional college. It hadn’t helped that her parents had refused to pay for a second degree, probably because they didn’t support the first one she’d chosen. And, they weren’t the only obstacle either. The man she’d been in a relationship with at the time saw her decision to study as a hobby rather than a way to challenge or better herself.

But, it turned out that she didn’t need anyone’s support, just her own resolve. Her first degree allowed her to work and pay for her continued education herself. Doing it on her own meant she could be proud of the achievement no one had helped her attain.

Completing the course online took twice as long as traditional channels. Relief had come when she entered her last year. At last, she was on the final stretch. The extra work had been worth it.

Looking back, she could see that embarking on the course had probably been a prelude to her move into the city. Her need for something more challenging and dynamic hadn’t come from nowhere.

Although, studying was a half-measure.

The course allowed her to read about and research dramatic, often tragic, situations full of thrills and excitement. Exactly the kind of stimulation that had been missing from her daily life.

Life had gotten harder after making the choice to move to the city. No doubt about that. Her parents hadn’t supported her breaking her engagement or making so many life changes and had vowed to cut her off. Even though they hadn’t paid her any sort of allowance for a long time, Harlow had lived in their house until moving in with her fiancé, and again after that relationship ended.

Leaving Rupert, and the safe suburb where she’d grown up, to strike out on her own was an achievement in itself. This was the first time in her life she was doing it all on her own. She could only rely on herself, and was proud of her financial independence, which wasn’t something her sibling could boast.

Walking down the dark street in this dilapidated neighborhood, there was no one around, but Harlow couldn’t say she was sorry to be by herself. Colleagues had warned her not to walk down certain streets alone, and this was one of the ones they’d named.

Still learning her way around, Harlow hadn’t meant to come this way, but had been too tired to pay attention to the direction of her feet. Getting home was the only thing on her mind and her apartment was six blocks away.

Much as she wasn’t paying close attention to her route, her autopilot had been smart enough to steer her away from Floyd’s, a bar that was notorious for its less than savory clientele and numerous dodgy dealings. That was at least one small mercy.

Harlow smiled.

Her parents and sister wouldn’t be able to comprehend what her life had become. Sometimes she couldn’t comprehend it. No one in her family would be caught dead on a deserted street in the middle of a crime-ridden neighborhood well after midnight.

The odd thing was, Harlow didn’t feel fear. Empowerment was what flowed through her. She was proud of herself. Shunning her upbringing hadn’t been easy; few people would understand why she had done it. But, on nights like this, when she was filled with a sense of purpose and pride, she remembered why the difficult path was so attractive.

Breathing in, she sighed into the calm of this beautiful night that was just perfect for a walk, even if the setting wasn’t serene or romantic. Losing herself in her thoughts, Harlow took stock of where she was in life and where she might want to be next. She didn’t get too far into that train of thought.

Everything that happened next, happened fast.

Crossing the mouth of an alleyway, drifting on her mental distraction, she didn’t hear the rush of footsteps that must have preceded the impact of the body that hit hers hard.

Someone had burst out of the alley and crashed straight into her. Whoever he was, he only just managed to catch her as they went into a tumble onto the sidewalk. Somehow, he had the presence of mind to twist them in the descent so she landed on top of him.

But, he didn’t pause. Flipping them over, he put her on her back and pounced onto his feet in a crouch.

“Get him!” someone called.

The menacing voice bounced off the walls of the narrow alley making her assailant steal a quick glance over his shoulder to check the route he’d just travelled.

Lying stunned on the pavement, Harlow couldn’t breathe or compute until somehow she noticed there was blood soaking through his shirt. “Oh my God, you’re hurt,” she said, scrambling up.

The moment she found her feet, the stranger pulled her down again just as a series of bangs reverberated from the alley. Gunshots. That sound. It could only be gunshots.

In the cocoon of his crouch, nestled between his bent legs with his body sheltering hers, Harlow couldn’t register how fast her night had become a fight to keep her life.

“Got a weapon in that purse, Trinket?”

The bass of the deep voice shook her before she could figure out that it had come from the man bracing himself around her. “I… I… a… no.”

The click, click sound of an empty weapon came closer. “Good thing he’s out,” the voice said. “Ditch the heels and bolt.”

The stranger. Her attacker and protector. Was he telling her to run? The man was alone and possibly bleeding to death while his enemies bore down on them, and he was telling her to split? That didn’t gel with her instinctive urge to help those in need.

“You’re hurt,” she said, trying to see the blood on his shirt. The way his form was guarding hers left her in shadow and too close to see his injury. “You’re bleeding.”

“Bolt.”

Certain as he sounded, Harlow was more certain that she wouldn’t leave anyone alone in danger. “Like hell,” she said, shoving away to free herself from his shielding crouch.

Thrusting to her feet, she skirted around the stooped man, putting him behind her. It was her turn to protect him. Facing the alleyway, she prepared to confront whoever might emerge from it. The stranger could have been right about the gun being empty, but the people who faded from the darkness into her view weren’t unarmed.

Five guys strode from the shadows, mean and impatient. They wanted something from the bleeding man who’d sunk onto his knees on the asphalt behind her.

“Move, lady, we’ve got business to finish,” one of the alley guys said.

The stranger had shifted onto his knees. Seeing the movement had made her twist her head, so she hadn’t spotted which of the men was the speaker.

Whoever the man behind her was, he wasn’t in a good way. Harlow wanted to offer comfort, to call for help. Except, that was impossible while this threat was still looming.

Putting thoughts of the stranger’s possible demise to the back of her mind, she steeled herself to challenge the gang. “Not a chance,” she said, raising her chin with a defiant hair flick. “You’ve hurt him already. You’ve made your point.”

“Long as he’s breathing, I’ve got a point to make.” One of the alleyway gang moved closer to spearhead his group. “I’ve got orders to end him.”

“And I’ve got a point of my own to make.”

The alleyman sneered, probably thinking about how easy it would be to move her aside. “And what’s that?”

Now she had to come up with something. “If you want to end him, you’ll have to end me too.” Maintaining her defiance, Harlow didn’t so much as blink. Strength was crucial. “And, believe me, sir, people will notice if I go missing. You do not want to screw with the people who’ll come looking for me.” This was a battle of wills and she would not lose. She would not. Tilting her head to the side, Harlow showed more determination. “Do you have orders to end me too?”

Though he did his best to disguise his concern, she could tell she’d pressed one of Alleyman’s buttons. Ignoring her hammering heart, Harlow kept her eyes locked on his. His tense lips moved in a show of frustrated aggravation. A breath later, she felt him stand down.

“Your girl’s got your back, asshole. She won’t be around to save you next time.”

Whoever Alleyman was, he spat on the ground beside her and turned away, spinning a finger, indicating to his posse that they should head back the way they’d come.

Harlow kept watching until the shadows had taken them again. The moment they were gone, she whirled in a descent, ending in a crouch. Examining the man who hadn’t stood since she’d left his shelter, Harlow feared his injuries could be grave.

Flopping forward, he barely managed to brace the weight of his upper body on his hands. It took him more than a few tries to lock his elbows. Scraping his palms on the asphalt, he crawled on all fours to the wall just on the inside of the alley. Wilting, he slumped against the brick and rolled on his shoulder until his back made contact with the structure.

Rushing over, Harlow scooped a hand around the back of his head. His eyes were rolling in his skull, unable to focus. Feeling the pulse in his neck increased her concern. It was there, but it wasn’t strong or steady.

“Oh, God,” she exhaled, letting him go to dig around in her purse that was hanging across her body, resting in her lap. “Don’t worry, I’m calling 9-1-1, I’ll get help—”

His hand shot up. The weight of it landed on her purse, pulling it down, and crushing her hand inside. His heavy eyes still weren’t focused. “No, no calls,” he grumbled, his voice weakening. “Floyd’s.”

Her lips parted in a quiet gasp. “I… I can’t go in there, it’s dangerous.”

A feeble smile touched his lips at the same time his eyes closed. “You just stood up to Hagan’s goons,” he said and coughed, his teeth gritted in a tight grimace of pain. “You can handle Floyd’s.”

There were too many thoughts to comprehend; she couldn’t focus, couldn’t make a choice. How could she get this guy who had to be at least six three up onto his feet and to a bar that was a block and a half over? Who was Hagan? Would he or Alleyman be back?

Forgetting about the people who’d done this, she triaged the problems. No matter what, she couldn’t leave this stranger here alone, not when he was seriously hurt. The most pressing matter was his life; that had to be her only focus.

He hissed, trying to pull himself into more of a seated position. “Shh,” she said, stroking him from his face to his shoulder. “Don’t move.”

The red stain on his tee-shirt was growing into a darker hue. Swallowing hard, Harlow moistened her lips a few times, gathering the gumption to pick the fabric up so she could see the state of what was beneath.

The moment she did, she wished she hadn’t.

“Fuck,” he grumbled and winced in a recoil.

Just above his hip was a gash that was still spouting new blood. “Oh my God,” she said, tugging off her scarf to scrunch it and push it hard against the wound.

She had no idea how he’d got hurt like this, though she had an idea about who was responsible. It frustrated her that he was refusing to go to hospital and she couldn’t begin to figure out why someone would want to avoid the place that could save them.

Despite all the unknowns, one thing was clear as day. The time for speculation and indecision was over. If she left him there, he’d die either way.

“That good, huh?” Doing a double take, Harlow realized the stranger was reading the seriousness of the situation from her expression through his scarcely open eyes. “You’re hot, Trinket. Does a guy get a last request?”

“Not tonight, Crash,” she said, shifting closer to loop his arm up over her shoulders. “I can’t believe you’re on the brink of death and trying to put the moves on me.”

She struggled to pull him from the wall. It took a few attempts and to get more traction, she had to press his hand onto the scarf to give him responsibility for stemming his own bleeding.

The stranger hissed again, holding the scarf against his wound. “I’m a guy with the right priorities.”

He might be able to make jokes, but she didn’t find this situation funny at all. “You’re going to be alright,” she said, putting his mischief down to the effects of blood loss. “We’re going to get you to Floyd’s. But you’re going to have to help me. I can’t do this alone.”

That made him breathe out. “Up?” he asked, bracing, despite the obvious pain behind his clenched expression.

“Up,” she said, pleased that she’d managed to focus him. “On three.”

Getting him onto his feet was only the first obstacle. Harlow learned fast that muscle weighed a lot more than it looked. This guy was no quarterback, but his body was solid, athletic in its ability, and definitely muscular.

His being healthy would work in his favor; he’d need all the help and luck he could muster to get out of this.

Guiding him out of the alley, they spanned the sidewalk and managed to get across the street. One step at a time, Harlow counted each as progress. This was the right block, but they still had to get to the corner and walk to the furthest end to get to Floyd’s, which, if she remembered the pictures she’d seen in her research of the neighborhood, was on the opposite corner.

The stranger’s shuffling steps were slowing. “What do I get?” he grumbled, maybe as a way to stay conscious.

“Get for what?” she asked, spitting her hair from her mouth, trying her best to keep her legs straight though his weight was beginning to crush her.

“Helping you out.”

“Helping me out?” she said, and realized he meant getting him to his feet and moving. “You get to live.”

He groaned. “Not good enough.”

Keeping him talking was a good idea. The uncertainty of his slowing walk was less concerning than the slurring of his speech. His head drooped, lolling on his shoulders; he wasn’t even looking where they were going. Each of his movements was blind. It seemed he trusted that she was taking him in the right direction. Though, in this state of vulnerability, he couldn’t put up much of a fight against any threat.

She’d say anything if it would keep him conscious; Harlow couldn’t do this without his help. “What is it you want, Crash? Because it doesn’t seem you’re up to the challenge of a woman like me right now.”

The faint mumble of his laugh became a grunt of pain. “Feel free to take advantage when I pass out.”

“No,” she said, pulling his arm further around her. “You’re not going to pass out, Crash. Stay with me.” All the wishing in the world didn’t prevent the inevitable. Her stranger slumped further, making her stagger to the side. “Shit, you’re heavy.”

Sweat dampened her forehead. She could feel her hair sticking to the back of her neck where it wasn’t being pulled by the leather of his jacket.

“You…” he slurred. “I…”

Determined to traverse half the block, they got around the corner but were still the length of this full block from the bar. Supporting him was getting more difficult by the second. The weight of his body shifted.

Blowing out the strain of his burden, Harlow struggled just to stop without falling over. “Crash,” she said because she didn’t know what else to call him. He’d crashed into her, so the moniker seemed appropriate. “I can’t… are you…”

Falling against the wall of the building next to them, he didn’t spend any time leaning and instead slid down onto the sidewalk.

The sight of his loose body crumpling filled her with dread. It was obvious he had little control. If he was unconscious, that was it, there would be nothing else she could do.

Desperate and terrified, Harlow dropped down beside his slumped figure. With a hand on his chest, she shuffled nearer and scooped his head up. His stubble was rough on her palm, but when she relaxed her hand, his head flopped.

His eyes were closed.

Picking up his head again, she tried to give him a shake. “Hey,” she said, slapping his cheek.

Getting no response, she hit him again, a little harder. It was useless. He was no longer conscious.

Unwilling to give up, she grabbed his shirt and pulled him forward, shaking him. Nothing happened. There was no sign of life.

Snatching her blood stained scarf from the ground next to him, she pressed it to his wound.

Panic surged through her. This man was going to die right there on the concrete if she didn’t do something. “Oh, please,” she whispered, crawling closer to stroke his face. “Please. Wake up, please.”

The stranger didn’t move, didn’t respond. His pallor set fear alight within her. That spark of emotion ignited her fortitude. Harlow wouldn’t let this happen. She wouldn’t sit whimpering while he slipped away. Without fail, she’d always let fight win before she thought about giving in to fear. Resolve consolidated the mess of emotions warring within her. Action. She had to do something. She had to take action.

Surging to her feet, she left him there and ran down the rest of the block at full speed.

Shoving into Floyd’s, she burst into the busy room, immediately drawing the attention of all those sitting around drinking. Looking left then right, she didn’t even know who she was seeking, adrenaline drove her forward.

The bartender was already turning toward her. Dubious concern and suspicion gathered on his face as he scanned her. She could feel thick blood drying on her hands and was sure her clothes were covered in it, but she didn’t care.

Panting, Harlow tried to catch her breath and gather the energy to speak. “Please,” she said, beseeching the bartender. “Please help him.”

His chin rose slowly. “Him? Him who?”

“Here,” she said, taking a backward step and gesturing for him to follow. “Please, he’s outside. Help him.” In reverse, she retreated all the way to the door. Though there were more people out of their seats, and more looks of confused doubt, no one was following her. Frustration became anger. It erupted from her chest. “Get your fucking asses out here now!”

The desperation of her furious plea was enough to snap the bartender to attention. He disappeared around the corner of the bar, but reappeared at the same corner a moment later, this time on the customer side. Coming toward her with determination in his gait, two others materialized to flank him, matching the pace of his stride.

Harlow didn’t loiter. Rushing outside, she hurried back down the sidewalk. Relief infused her when she found her patient where she’d left him. Crouching beside him, she put pressure on his wound and was stroking his face when the men from Floyd’s joined her.

The first she became aware of them was a voice cutting through the night air. “It’s Ryske,” the voice said. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the bartender on the phone. Of the two men who’d been with him, only one remained. The other had disappeared. “Definitely blue.” He lowered the microphone from his mouth. “Is he out?” She nodded. “How long?”

“Less than five minutes,” she said, feeling so protective that she twisted to prop a shoulder on the wall next to her unconscious friend. Easing Crash away from the cold concrete, she caught his deadweight and cradled his head against her chest. When she peeled her scarf from his wound, he didn’t even flinch, which scared her even more. “He’s lost a lot of blood. He wouldn’t let me call 9-1-1. I tried. I wanted to, I…” Biting her lip, it didn’t matter that she knew her sudden emotion was irrational, she couldn’t control it. Harlow didn’t even know this guy, yet grief was gripping her. “I should’ve done it, shouldn’t I? I should’ve called 9-1-1.”

The second man was about a half inch taller than the bulky bartender but was much leaner. Both were fit, leaving her to wonder if everyone in this neighborhood hit the gym.

“No,” he said. “Definitely not. You did the right thing bringing him here. No 9-1-1… Let’s see it.”

Both men came in closer and the bartender lowered the mouthpiece of the phone again. The leaner one nodded toward her hand that was holding the scarf to the wound. Though it pained her to peel back the fabric again, Harlow wanted these men to help. Revealing the injury to the bartender and his companion, she blinked up just as they winced. The bartender turned his back to keep talking into the phone.

Harlow held the patient close, stroking his hair away from his forehead. “You’re going to be okay, Crash. You’re going to be okay.”

The second guy hunkered down next to Crash, wearing an odd kind of smirk. “Asshole,” he mumbled and socked Crash’s knee with a light punch. “Even unconscious you snag ‘em.”

The act was peculiar. Although she couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to punch or taunt an unconscious person, it made Harlow more protective. Holding Crash close, she used her body to block as much of him as she could. Whispering words of comfort, she tried to ignore the man crouched close to them.

Just as she was about to throw him the evil eye in hopes of getting him to back off, a car came skidding around the corner. Harlow tightened her embrace, praying this wasn’t anyone coming to finish the job they’d started.

The bartender and the punching guy weren’t concerned when the car came to a screeching halt in front of them. They opened both doors on the passenger’s side, front and back, while the driver climbed out to come rushing over to her. Punching Guy stuck with the driver while the bartender stayed by the vehicle.

The bartender was off the phone and apparently the one in charge. “Get him up.”

The driver and Punching Guy did as they were told, jostling her aside to pick up Crash from the sidewalk. Punching Guy hooked his forearms under Crash’s arms, while the driver took his legs.

“You have to maintain pressure,” she said, moving with them to press on the wound for as long as she could.

It pained her to back off. The driver put Crash’s legs into the backseat and ran around to open the opposite door to pull him inside. Punching Guy kept control of Crash’s upper body. Harlow couldn’t tear her eyes away. She feared what would become of the stranger once they took him.

“Don’t worry about that, Nightingale. You’re going to be there to keep our boy going,” the bartender said, putting a heavy arm around her shoulders.

“What?” she asked, but was given little choice.

The bartender urged her toward the vehicle and Punching Guy stepped aside once Crash was bundled into the backseat.

“Get in the car.”

Punching Guy went around them to get in the front passenger seat while the driver leaped back in his side.

Putting a hand on her head, the bartender pushed her down, crowding her into the back. “But, I…”

Almost sitting on Crash, Harlow had to grab his head up just to stop herself from landing on him.

“Keep him alive, Nightingale,” the bartender said, pushing her in and slamming the door. “He’s counting on you.”

The second the door was closed, the bartender hit the roof twice and the car sped off, giving her no choice but to scoop up her patient’s shoulders to lay his head in her lap.

Harlow was no nurse, except she was sure that if the bleeding hadn’t at least slowed by now, the patient probably had no chance of making it. But for lack of anything else to do, she put pressure on the wound and looked out the window, wondering where the hell she was going and what could possibly happen next.

(C) Scarlett Finn 2019

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Hide & Seek Chapter One

Posted: February 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

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one

 

 

Aurora Maguire was looking for her last hope, so it made sense that the bar she’d been told to find him in was called Last Resort.

Even while riding in the back of a cab to get there, she kept her heavy coat pulled around her body and her hood over her head in a feeble attempt to protect herself. Last Resort was located in the center of the worst part of town making her fearful of what she might find when she got there.

The first four cabs she’d gotten into had refused to bring her to this district. The driver of the one she was in now had agreed to take her only after she gave him a hundred-dollar advance tip and she proved to him that she was armed. Pepper spray was feeble, but it was all she had to protect herself.

Her last hope. All she knew was his alias. One of them at least.

Venturing down this path was beyond dangerous, crazy most people would say. But she wasn’t crazy. Not crazy. Just determined… and desperate.

The cab stopped in the middle of an unlit block. Rain battered the window and the usually comforting sound of raindrops on the roof made her edgy.

Though she couldn’t see anyone or anything other than the narrow space between two dilapidated buildings leading to an alley even darker than the street, she knew that she was in the right place. The only man capable of helping her save Benjamin was right down there.

He could say no. He could tell her he wouldn’t help and if he did, she had nowhere left to turn.

The cab driver twisted to rest an arm over the chair beside him to look through the scratched screen between them. “Want me to take you back uptown, miss?”

“No,” she said quickly, but swallowed just as fast. “No, I… I’m fine. Thank you.”

Giving him the fare on the meter, Rora, as she was known to her friends, licked her lips and steeled herself. She’d known this wasn’t going to be easy, but she hadn’t fought this hard for this long, just to give up at the first bump.

Not that this was the first. It seemed that since she’d started this mission, all she’d hit were bumps. If anything, she hoped this fear was going to be one of the last. Best case scenario, she went down there, found this guy without any trouble, and he agreed to help. If he was as good as his legend told, she could be back out of there in minutes, on the street, clutching an address and embracing a glimmer of light at the end of this arduous tunnel.

“Word to the wise,” the cab driver said, sorrowful when their eyes met. “At the first sign of trouble, turn, run, and don’t look back. Even the cops don’t venture into these parts.”

Good to know. That knowledge didn’t ease her anxiety, it reinforced her determination. “I passed the first sign of trouble a long time ago, sir,” she said, and didn’t let herself take the time to appreciate his sympathetic smile.

Rora opened the cab door and got out. Taking a few steps forward, she waited for the cab to speed off, but it didn’t.

So, holding her hood over her face, she kept going, crossing the sidewalk to venture into the narrow alley. The further down she got, the greater the darkness became. It closed around her, consuming and polluting her with its intensity and hunger. But she didn’t stop.

Her skin began to vibrate and the vague sound of heavy rock music met her ears. There was something down here. Something she couldn’t see. The rain got harder. It was a wonder it managed to penetrate this enclosed alley at all, but she felt it on the back of her hands that clasped the edges of her hood.

When she heard the spin of tires, she paused to glance over her shoulder; the end of the alley was little more than a slit, giving a sparse view of the dark street beyond. The cab driver must have been making sure she wasn’t going to change her mind and flee. Either that or he’d seen something, or someone, approaching that made him nervous. Whatever the reason, he was gone.

But she was here now. This was it. There was no backing out.

Venturing forward again, Rora zeroed in on the grimy brick wall up ahead. In it were two doors, painted black, neither more appealing than the other. Having no idea which to choose, she wondered if it made a difference, one could be locked, or maybe they led to the same place.

Her eyes were darting back and forth between them, trying to make a decision, when the one on the left opened. The flare of music and the escape of smoke gave her the only clue she needed.

Hurrying on, Rora meant to catch the door before it closed. She did manage to catch it and was grateful that she had because the smooth surface didn’t appear to have any handle. What she hadn’t counted on facing were the two mammoth-sized bikers who came out, almost knocking her onto her ass.

The first, chewing some kind of stick, glared at her, but stepped aside, more confused by her presence than intrigued by it. The second seemed to be the same; he clucked at her and followed his buddy to the right, without saying anything to her, but mumbling something to his friend.

Few people knew this place existed; she never had.

Holding the door, she had no choice except to round it and go inside. The bass of the music hit her. It wasn’t too loud that she couldn’t hear the susurration of conversation—some pleasant, some questionable—but it was turned up so high that it knocked her heart from its rhythm.

There was so much to take in that her senses almost overloaded. It was dark, so dark that her eyes couldn’t adjust for a clear minute. When they did, she could that she was at the top of three stairs, with the room laid out beneath her.

Lewd graffiti graced the walls along with posters of naked women, heavy rigs, and choppers. The vague lighting came from random neon signs dotted on the walls around the room. One stated, “Girls! Girls! Girls!” But she didn’t see any girls.

It was man after man, at least sixty of them, packed into this space probably meant for less than half that number. But the fire code wouldn’t be the main concern of this establishment. She didn’t know if this kind of place had any concerns.

The Last Resort wasn’t on any map or in any phone book.

The room smelled of beer and weed. Smoke hung in the air, and just about every patron held something in their hand that shouldn’t be there. Guns, spliffs, chains, everyone was prepared for fun or violence, and she’d guess these guys would consider both a good time. The smoking ban had been in place for years in this state, but she supposed that wasn’t a consideration either. Like the cab driver said, cops didn’t venture near here, and God help anyone who tried to hand out a fine in here.

Fearful of drawing attention to herself, Rora knew she should move from her slightly elevated position. Though at only five foot five inches tall, she wasn’t towering above any of these guys, most of whom seemed to be six foot tall and then some, and all appeared to be over two hundred pounds.

With her heart pounding in her chest, she took a step forward, still scanning the room. The darkest corner, that’s where she’d been told to find her last hope. The bar was in one back corner, the restrooms in another. The third corner was probably the best lit in the place and the fourth, over her right shoulder… there was no light, but there was a booth… she was almost sure there was… something…

Squinting to see if there was a person seated there, she saw a brief flash of red light. It didn’t come from a person, it came from a… laptop. Yes, on the table was a laptop, as black as the night she’d left behind the door, that’s where the red light had come from.

Figuring he had to be there, she hurried down the stairs thanking her lucky stars. He was right there, twenty feet from the door, she didn’t have to go deep into the place to reach her last hope, she could—

A hulking form stepped in front of her making her gasp and come to an abrupt halt so she didn’t run right into him.

Tipping her head up slowly, Rora inhaled again when she registered his narrow eyes boring into her. This guy had to be seven feet tall. Twice the width of her, with room to spare, he was the epitome of what she imagined mean would look like if it morphed into a person. His massive, bare arms were adorned with chain link bracelets at the wrists and a length of actual chain hung around his shoulder, swinging over his tattooed bicep.

Though it wasn’t just his bicep that had ink, it appeared to be all over him, down to the backs of his hands that rose when he folded his arms across that impressive chest. Color of some sort adorned his neck, creeping right up to the beard on his chin.

This was no accident, he hadn’t just happened to cross her path, he was blocking her way, and she had no idea how to deal with him. Rora couldn’t fight. She could run, but that meant giving up, and she had no intention of doing that. Not that running was any guarantee of escape, she’d passed a few tables already, if this hulk called out and told his buddies to stop her, she’d be trapped in an instant.

“You’re in the wrong place, tiny,” he said, his voice so deep it was almost inaudible.

Snatching her shoulder, he spun her around and began to haul her back toward the door. “No,” she said, but fighting was useless. Her resistance was insignificant and though she tried to turn back, and to pull away, he just kept on going. “Please, no! I need to—please!”

He hauled her up the stairs, grabbed the door and tossed her out. “Don’t be coming back, crazy kook!”

Oh, that was one button no one was allowed to push. “Hey!” she said, grabbing his wrist in both hands before he could go back inside. “Don’t call me crazy! I am not crazy!”

Bending, he scowled into her. “Any woman who walks through that door is crazy. We got a no-woman-allowed policy.”

“That’s sexist bullshit,” she called out, determined to hold on even when he tried to shake her off. “I am coming in there! I am going to keep on coming back until I do what I came to do!”

“And I’ll keep throwing you out,” he said. “Don’t matter if it’s once or a hundred times, I’m here every night, knock yourself out, keep me entertained. And we don’t bar women by choice; we do it for their safety.”

Again, he tried to turn and walk away. Rora bent her knees, pulling him back harder, using all her weight to make her point. “Please,” she said. “I just need to talk to someone. Let me talk to him, after that, I’ll leave, I won’t cause any trouble. I won’t come back. I promise.” Considering her, he was probably trying to figure out why she’d put herself at risk like this, but that should prove how serious she was. “Please, would I be here if I had any other choice? I’m desperate… please.”

“Who you looking for? I’ll go bring him out.”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, that would be amazing. Thank you!”

“He didn’t knock you up, did he?” he asked, holding up two hands, each twice the size of her face. “ ‘Cause I ain’t getting my hands dirty in any bastard’s personal shit like that.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, nothing like that. I need to talk to Exile, that’s it. Just him.”

His slightly parted lips closed causing his teeth to clack together. His expression didn’t change and for half a beat, she wondered if maybe he didn’t know the guy she was looking for. That would be just her luck. But before she could recount what she’d been told about where to find Exile, the guy dropped the door, letting it close hard behind him.

His burst of laughter hit her hard. Rora was still stunned by its force when he slapped his belly, laughing so hard that she thought there might be moisture in the corners of his eyes. Well so much for him being mean. Displaying this kind of hilarity made him lose his edge.

“Did I say something funny?”

He breathed in, arching his back and tossing his chin toward the wet sky. “Oh, I was right, you are loopy-loo,” he said, sighing out a high-pitched sound of humor.

“Excuse me? I don’t appreciate you calling me names. All I want to do is talk to the guy, what’s so funny about that?”

“Yeah,” he said, trying to recover from his laughter. Once he’d managed to straighten his face, he took another breath. “There’s no one here by that name.”

He tried to turn away, but she grabbed his wrist again. “No one has a reaction like that to someone they’ve never heard of. You know him. It’s obvious that you do.”

“Tiny, you’re insane,” he said, tugging his hand away from her with enough force that she stumbled forward. “Exile doesn’t come out and talk to strays. He doesn’t talk to no one.”

“I’m not a stray… and I can pay.”

His brows rose. “You say that to any other guy in there and he’d bite your hand off. Ex doesn’t give a damn about money.”

“What does he give a damn about?”

He folded his arms, returning to his intimidating pose. “Best I can tell? Not a damn thing,” he said. “But he’s not a big talker.”

“But, I—”

“Look, lady, I don’t know what you think you read on some website or what your nutso friends told you, you don’t play with Exile. No one plays with him. And the guy’s got no sense of humor, about anything. What do you think you know about him?”

“He has skills,” she said and he bobbed his head in agreement. “Skills that I need him to use to help me.”

Instead of the pity the cab driver laid on her, this guy was incredulous, but not in a sympathetic way. He seemed to be getting more annoyed by the second. “You don’t have a fucking clue what you’re inviting into your life if you talk to him. You know they say his only goal in life is to break every law there is. Do you know why they call him Exile?” She shook her head. He came closer. “Because they say he has no nationality, no country. He doesn’t come from anywhere. He has no parents. No family. And he sure as hell has no friends. They say he was spawned by the devil, some say he isn’t even human.”

“A fairytale,” she said, recognizing exaggeration when she heard it.

“Maybe,” he said. “But I can tell you he’s wanted in every state, by every major agency across the world, and Interpol couldn’t track him. He’s impossible to hold. Evidence disappears. Information vanishes… People die… He doesn’t exist.”

“Yet he’s sitting in that bar right now,” she said, nodding past him.

He shrugged. “Maybe. We’ve been out here talking for a few minutes; he could be out of the country already.”

“I’m not law enforcement. I don’t care about what he’s done or where he’s wanted. All I want is help.”

“He won’t help you. He’s not for hire.”

“I heard he likes a challenge,” she said. “And that he has an interest in the Black Jewel.”

This time when he scowled at her, Rora read ignorance; he didn’t know what she was talking about. She didn’t expect him to, she hadn’t heard of the Black Jewel before she started this journey. Rora still didn’t even know what it was.

The door opened, hitting her associate in the back. Anger made him tense as he spun, but when a guy in jeans and a leather jacket came out of the bar, her new acquaintance relaxed.

“Strike, you out?” he asked.

“Sure am, Buddy,” Strike said, glancing at her. Buddy lifted a fist, Strike bumped it with his. “Little vanilla for you, isn’t she?”

“You want her?” Buddy asked.

Her mouth fell open.

“You paid for the privilege?” Strike asked.

Rora inhaled her shock, but they carried on discussing her like she was deaf.

“Not yet, but I might be able to make a deal. I know what she wants.”

Strike’s chest expanded. “They all want the same thing. The last fucking shred of our dignity.” He turned up the collar of his jacket, scanned her figure one more time and then went the same way the other guys had gone, down the perpendicular alley. But he wasn’t done. Without slowing or turning, Strike called out to them. “Let her in, Bud.”

She smiled, feeling triumphant, figuring that guy was the owner or manager or someone who had authority at Last Resort.

Buddy twisted and stepped back, hooking a finger into a hole at the top of the door she hadn’t seen. It was a good thing he was here to open it for her because she’d never have reached that notch herself. No wonder they had a no woman policy and every guy in there was so tall, the only way in was to reach that tiny groove, all the way up there.

This time because she knew what to expect, she didn’t let the place shock her. Rora also didn’t spend any time loitering on the stairs. Hurrying down them, she ignored the music and the smell and the patrons and went straight to the table in the corner.

The bubble of her optimism that had been infused with adrenaline and hope, burst in one devastating moment. There was no one at the table, it was empty. No one sat on either of the two seats fixed against the corner wall. There was no computer. No drink. No sign anyone had ever been there. Had she imagined the computer? The red light? The shadow seated in the corner?

A small rectangle, paler than the rest of the tabletop, drew her closer. What was that? Peering at it, she tilted her head and leaned down to inspect it. Except… Rora gasped when she recognized her own face on her driver’s license!

In a panic, she dug her hand into her pocket to tug out her wallet. She’d known better than to carry a purse tonight, thinking she’d hold onto her possessions if she kept them on her person. Apparently, even that hadn’t been a guarantee because when she opened her wallet, sure enough, there was an empty slot where her driver’s license usually fitted.

How had he done that?

Grabbing it off the table, she scrutinized it, but saw no notes or clues he may have wanted to pass to her. It was the same as it always had been with a nick in one corner and a glue smudge in the other.

It was her driver’s license.

How the hell did he get it? And why would he want it?

“That you?”

Slapping the card to her chest, Rora peeked up to see Buddy looming over her shoulder. “He stole from me.”

Buddy stuck out his bottom lip and nodded again. “I heard he does that.”

And if he took that, what else did he steal? Searching her wallet, nothing else appeared to be stolen. She had her phone in her other pocket and inside the case was…

Rora gasped. “Oh no.”

(C) Scarlett Finn 2018

 

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Branded Chapter One

Posted: February 20, 2017 in Blog post, Sneak peek
Tags: , , ,

branded-fbcover-v1

 

Sexy young woman with black hair in a white shirt undressing in front of a window

Warning: Contains explicit language and imagery. Suitable only for ages 18 and over.

ONE

 

After a long night of shaking her ass in Sizzle, Nya Yorke was ready to go home. Wiping down her workstation behind the bar, she was the most conscientious of the employees because she was the manager. Responsibility for cashing out and locking the takings in the safe was hers, meaning she had to keep her head on straight until the last second of her shift, even when exhaustion had other ideas.

The muted blue lighting of the vast nightclub space was perfect for shady dealings and intimate encounters. Drugs and loud music accompanied the partiers in this place where nothing was off-limits. No one batted an eye at the amorous, the lines of white powder cut on the booth tables, or the concealed weapons some customers carried.

The night was over. The strobes and the music were off. She and Jamie were the only two bar staff left. Three security men were doing a last sweep, and once the place was confirmed secure they’d lock up and get out of there.

“Anything else you need me to do?” Jamie asked, flopping her arms on the bar from the patrons’ side.

The cute blonde with the pixie cut drew plenty of attention with her bubbly personality. Most of the people who worked, or frequented, this establishment were jaded, cynical, and in need of oblivion. Jamie was none of those things. The youth smiled with ease, she laughed, and could turn anything into a positive. Men loved her because she exuded innocence that they wanted to corrupt. Nya had nothing against her colleague, there were times her optimism was grating, but she got her work done without complaining.

If they were in a better neighborhood, she’d have sent Jamie home by this time. Except at three thirty in the morning, no one was safe on the streets around here. After herding the customers out, the rest of the staff were sent home in couples and groups. No one was confident about leaving alone. Policy didn’t exist to protect them; there was no staff policy around here except to show up on time.

Jamie stayed draped over the bar, awaiting instructions. Nya had none. “No, I’m finished,” she said. “Tell the guys we’re done.”

Turning toward the main floor, Jamie began to walk away. Nya guessed she’d head for the break room that was accessible on the opposite wall by a door marked, “Employees Only.” Containing a few couches and a stained beanbag, none of the lockers were functional, but it gave the others a place to stash their things while they were on shift. Not Nya; she didn’t leave anything of hers in a place she couldn’t see at all times.

Nya ducked down to get her purse from the lowest shelf underneath the bar where she kept it in a secret corner. She didn’t have anything valuable in her long-strap, leather slouch bag, and there were no more than a few bucks in her wallet. Defending her privacy was the only thing she strove for every day, and her purse was sort of a symbol of that.

Instead of going to the breakroom, Jamie went toward the corridor that bottlenecked the entrance, either to shout what Nya had said to the bouncers or to make her way out. Before she got there, a shout and a scuffle reverberated down the hallway and echoed into the cavernous club.

Nya surged to her feet in time to see five masked men burst in. The first grabbed a screaming Jamie and pulled her to his chest, trapping her wrists in his hand between her breasts. Shuffling forward, to allow his cohorts to swarm in behind him, the assailant raised the mass of a silenced gun barrel to Jamie’s temple.

Her colleague’s screaming drowned out the specifics of the men’s shouted conversation. The one with ahold of Jamie was trying to give out instructions and wasn’t being heard, so he clamped a hand over Jamie’s mouth to stifle her panicked shrieks.

Being the only other one there, all spare guns were pointed at Nya, and she raised her hands on instinct. Her duties around here didn’t extend into giving up her life to tweakers. “In there, go!” the man holding Jamie ordered Nya into the breakroom.

With weapons waving at her, Nya kept her hands up and came out from behind the bar to do as directed. Sizzle wasn’t the type of place to die for; she worked there, but didn’t benefit from the takings beyond her wage. If these guys wanted a windfall, she’d open the safe, but they’d regret it. The club owner wouldn’t take kindly to being robbed by disorganized chancers like these guys.

They were wearing ski masks and carrying guns, but their movements were frantic, proving that they were ill-at-ease. She was swept into the circle of men and squeezed through the breakroom door, with two in front of her and three behind.

Before the door closed, one of the men grabbed her. Struggling to get loose, she was rushed to the furthest wall and thrown against it to be pinned by two men. The lump of her purse, shielded her from his hips when the one in front tried to grind closer. That action suggested a different ballgame and one she would fight against.

Giving up the company cash would be easy. Relinquishing her body to them? No. She’d rather die. Trying her hardest to lash out, Nya pushed and kicked, but these guys were bigger than she was and her might didn’t match their capabilities.

Being so petite, she’d learned fast that she didn’t physically trump many people, and although she’d taken self-defense classes, her strength was feeble. Her body just wasn’t built to carry muscle.

Jamie was screaming again. The gut-wrenching sound of terror was unsettling, but at least it told Nya that the woman was alive. Shaking her hair away from her face, she stopped fighting to look beyond the men pressing her to the wall. Their tight hands bruised her limbs and their body weight restricted her breathing, but she tried to ignore the implication of their intrusive conduct.

Checking on Jamie was meant to reassure her, to give her a distraction that would help to focus her own mind. Instead what she saw was Jamie being thrust onto the couch and felt up by two of the other men. The last man was at her ankles, pulling them apart, rubbing his way up her legs and giving his friend access to wrench up Jamie’s skirt.

“Hey! Leave her alone!” Nya exclaimed, forgetting for a second that she had her own problems.

A quick reminder was unwelcome; she tried to push away from the wall, but was quickly shoved against it again. The impact knocked the wind from her lungs and her shoulders were grabbed to pull her forward and slam her back once more.

Any lingering illusion that this was a simple robbery was erased when the assailant spoke with purpose. “You’ll get yours once you tell me where he is,” one of the grotesque molesters snarled in her face.

Hands on her breasts had to belong to the second man, because the first still grasped her shoulders. But she closed her mind to the assault, switching into a survival mode she’d used before.

“Who?” Nya asked. “Who are you talking about?”

Jamie kept screaming. Nya’s wavering view allowed her to see her co-worker being wrestled onto the floor after she’d kicked out at the man on top of her. Pleased to see the youngster fighting back, Nya smiled, maybe that girl wasn’t so innocent after all.

Payback came quickly when another of the men knelt over Jamie to punch her face and chest while another grasped his groin and swore in pain. Good for Jamie, she’d hurt the bastard; from his watering eyes and red face, Nya would say she’d got him good. The third wasn’t amused and wasn’t put off either, he scrambled up the floor between Jamie’s legs and began to thrust his arm in a stabbing motion at the apex of Jamie’s thighs. His fingers at least would be inside her and his manic movements would be agonizing for the kid.

The screaming stopped and the puncher climbed off Jamie to stand up and wipe sweat from his upper lip. When he noticed the blood on his knuckles, he bent down and ripped Jamie’s top from her body, exposing her to use her apparel to wipe the blood from his hands and face.

Concern iced Nya’s organs, Jamie’s head flopped one way and then the other. God, Nya hoped there was still life in the woman. The groin-clutcher snatched his friend from between Jamie’s thighs and tossed him aside, leaving him to clamber onto his feet. He kicked Jamie between her open legs and yanked open his jeans, pulling his dick out before dropping to the floor to lie over the unconscious Jamie.

Each of his violent thrusts into the junior pushed bile from Nya’s stomach. Ominous red bubbles popped from Jamie’s mouth in a foam. They could be breaths, Nya hoped they were because there were no other signs of life. Jamie wasn’t conscious or moving, she couldn’t be, not after the assault of blows to the head rained upon her by the other.

The other two men jeered as the third raped the lifeless woman on the floor, and Nya had to come to terms with the knowledge that she was next.

“Like the show?” the man holding her asked, slapping her back to her own predicament. Propping an elbow on the wall over her shoulder, he seemed to want to watch what was going on with Jamie, which had to be what caused the delay in his interrogation. But he couldn’t suspend it all night, so got into her face again. “Tell us where he is!”

“Who!” Nya screamed, tormented by the torture of her friend and the prospect of her own fate. “Who do you want!”

“Taggert!” he demanded, spittle and halitosis cascaded over her face until she wretched. “You know! You know where he is! Tell me!”

The one answer she couldn’t give. Wouldn’t give. Jamie was enduring a second man on top of her, and when she began to whimper, got a kick to the head and went quiet again.

“I don’t,” Nya said, knowing she was going to anger these men more. “I don’t know where he is!”

Two more masked men burst in, drawing the concerned attention of everyone except the man on top of Jamie who was pumping hard and fast, grunting with each forward invasion. “He’s not here,” one of the new men said without blinking an eye at the ongoing rape.

The man with a hold of her was in charge because the two new entrants were awaiting instruction from him. His distraction gave Nya a chance to assess Jamie’s chances. While being fucked by one man, the second waited his turn. The other, who’d been the first to take his turn on top, spat in Jamie’s mouth then knelt over her to force his dick between her lips.

Jamie wasn’t moving, her face was a bloody mess, her eyes swollen, but when he pushed in hard, Jamie’s body expanded and lifted in a gag reflex. She was still alive, for now, though after enduring this at the hands of these letches, she may wish that she wasn’t.

The one standing, waiting for a chance to have his fun, unbuckled his belt in anticipation, like he was excited about the prospect of his turn to assault the defenseless woman who was only a fraction more responsive than a corpse.

Nya’s chin was grabbed and her assaulter forced her to look at him. “Look at me, you’ll get your fun time, soon as you tell me where he is.”

Anticipation wasn’t what made her watch, and if the point of this exercise was to scare her with the show then it was working. But it wasn’t just fear burning inside her, it was anger too. “When he finds you, he’ll kill you,” Nya snarled. “Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with?”

“We know it and we want him. He doesn’t scare us.”

Either this guy was ignorant or had an army larger than the one present. If he wanted to take on Taggert, he’d need one. “He should scare you,” Nya said. “He’ll torture you and your men for weeks. He’s going to make you suffer before he kills you. No one crosses Taggert.”

“A lot of spunk for such a little thing,” he said, pulling his gun from his waistband to step back and press the cool circle of the barrel tip to the center of her forehead, rendering her immobile.

Closing her eyes, she waited for the shot. Fear receded to an odd peace that was shattered when a fresh pair of hands, probably belonging to his partner, grabbed her shirt to pull it open. Flattening her hands on the wall on either side of her, she could do nothing but let him fondle as much as he liked. The weight of the gun was heating as it dug deeper into her, pinning her head between it and the wall.

Opening her eyes, Nya burned her fury into the eyes of the man with the gun whose perverse smile sickened her further. Two men closed in behind him and after feeling her up, one crouched to pull up her skirt.

These were the two men who’d just come in, and she guessed the other three were still with Jamie; because she couldn’t shift her skull an inch, the barrel was bruising her forehead. “Pretty girl like you could show my boys a good time; would that persuade you?” the gun-bearer asked.

Narrowing her gaze in defiance of the invading hands roaming her body, Nya didn’t want to show them how their violation curdled her blood because it would only goad them on.

“Tell us what we want to know and we’ll leave you alone.”

She didn’t believe him, but she wouldn’t answer his question even if she did. The door opened, though Nya couldn’t see through the mass of men, so she didn’t know what was happening. Holding her breath, she waited to find out what would happen next.

“You fuck everything up, Jonno.”

The hands left her body when the men whipped around. The gun at her head fell away too as the man holding it twisted to look toward the door on the opposite side of the room.

Just inside was a dark-haired, scruffy-faced thug. Whoever he was, he didn’t wear a mask like the others, his hands hung loose at his sides, carrying no weapons, no care in the world. The three men on Jamie hadn’t been disturbed by anything until this; in her peripheral vision she saw no movement, and the noise of their jeering and grunting had ceased.

“Fuck off, Archer, we got this.”

The gun was pushed into her ribs until the pressure became an uncomfortable pain and she winced.

“That her?” the new guy, who she now knew was called Archer, asked.

Glancing past the gunman, she watched Archer swagger up to them. One slow step followed another, like he was a guy sauntering over to a bar for a drink and not one who’d just walked in on a despicable crime taking place. He kept on coming until he was hanging over Jonno, the one holding the gun.

Archer was much taller than the man who threatened her with his weapon; she’d guess he stood at six-four. His broad shoulders weren’t bulky, but there was a strength in them, a tension that made her insides recoil.

Tapered brown eyes met hers for half a second, then dropped to her exposed breasts. “Copping a feel more important than getting the job done, Jonno?”

Lunging past Jonno, Archer grabbed her forearm and hauled her forward, through the other men. The pain of his grip didn’t decrease when he pulled her along, but he didn’t get far. Jonno grabbed her other arm to halt her and the other men closed in.

“You’re not taking her,” Jonno snapped. “Not until we know.”

Jonno and his buddies had manhandled her, hanging threats of violence and rape over her head to scare her and they’d worked, though she did her best to conceal her terror. Without physical strength, she’d learned to project confidence. Being fearless, and facing adversity head on was the only way she got through life.

But the guy trying to steal her from the crime scene was better than her at remaining aloof, he didn’t bat an eye at Jonno’s fierce attitude. “Has she told you yet?” Archer asked.

The two men were growling at each other, sneering and annoyed, but they didn’t make any direct threats of physical confrontation, suggesting this was the proverbial circling of the prey. Being right in the middle, if one chose to attack, she’d be caught in the crossfire.

Some of Jonno’s bluster deflated. “We were getting there.”

“Sure you were,” Archer said. While she fixated on Jonno to judge his reaction to Archer’s nonchalance, her nipple was flicked through her bra by Archer’s rigid fingertip. Gasping at the unexpected action, she tugged her body back, but neither man let her go. “You had your chance, Jonno, now it’s my turn.”

He pulled again, Jonno pulled back. Archer’s chin moved forward and his eyes went up like he was pissed off that this guy was testing his patience. “She stays with us,” Jonno asserted.

Archer strode in close to Jonno, keeping her between them as the meat in the distressing sandwich. “You left those fucking bodies lying in the street,” Archer snarled. “Tick, tock, little man, how long you got ‘til the cops show up?” As if on cue, sirens sounded and all of the men in the room tensed. All except Archer. Nya’s back was to Jamie and her assailants, but she heard them scramble. “This bitch is our one link, our one lead, who’ll get what we need? You or me?”

That was enough of a prompt. For some reason, Archer’s question clinched Jonno’s decision. The men shared another brief glare, then Jonno released her and stepped back with his hands up. The others backed off too and the sirens got louder.

Without waiting, Archer hauled her toward the door and she pulled back, trying to delay him as long as she could in hopes that the cops would arrive before he could get her out of here. But he wasn’t slowed down.

Picking her up with one swoop of his arm, he tossed her over his shoulder and clamped a hand on her ass. The other pinned her legs to his torso to prevent her from kicking.

Resorting to using her core, she tried to buck away and punched at his back. But he didn’t slow down, didn’t flinch, he just kept shrugging her back up with the powerful shoulders she’d done well not to underestimate.

His athletic body had strength from the tips of his hair to the depth of his bones. He carried her out of Sizzle’s front entrance, over the bodies of the security guards that were dead in the street just as he’d described.

“Stop! Please! Help!” she called out at the top of her lungs.

“Hush,” Archer said and paused.

Just when she thought he might put her down and give her the chance to run, she heard a click then she was tossed onto her ass. The hard landing made her bounce and she hit the back of her head on something cold and solid. Blinking through a daze, she clocked that she was in the trunk of a car, just as he covered her mouth with a length of tough duct tape.

Hooking his hands on the edge of the trunk, he leaned down, the sirens were blaring now, but she saw no lights. “Don’t be naughty, Squirm. Obey and we’ll get along great.”

Chucking her chin with the swipe of a knuckle, he winked, stepped back, and slammed the lid on her.

 

 

© Scarlett Finn 2017

 

 

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Raven

Posted: August 6, 2016 in Uncategorized
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Raven FB

Raven

He’s mysterious and alluring,
Dominant and powerful.
He keeps her grounded,
And lets her fly.

After a date ends in disaster, Zara Bandini is drawn into a conspiracy of dark lies and hidden motives. Bidding farewell to blissful ignorance, she must betray those who trust her to prevent evil from murdering innocent civilians.

Raven guides her, shields her, and seduces her…
Now Zara has to protect her heart while saving the world.

Warning: Contains explicit language and imagery. Suitable only for ages 18 and over.

 

First Raven

Raven Teaser2POSS

 

She boosted herself up using the bed as a support and encouraged him on by opening her mouth on his jaw to rasp her teeth on his stubble. She wasn’t afraid of him. She wanted to provoke him. To unleash the truth of his darkness that he tried so hard to hide. But before her tongue could meet his skin, he grabbed her face and urged her away.

He scowled, aiming his hostility toward her mouth. “You’re my plaything now. My house means my rules.”

Shoving her jacket and her shirt down her arms, he twisted her elbows to yank the apparel off and cast it aside. Unsatisfied with what he’d revealed, he ripped the fabric strip connecting her bra cups to expose her breasts.

He bent his knees to collect up her half-naked body and closed his mouth on one breast while perching her on the frame of his bed. Hooking her feet on the plank that supported the mattress, she opened her legs around him to arch herself into his imploring mouth. He sucked and licked one breast, and took the other in his palm to fondle it. Then, sucking his mouth free of her bosom for long enough to lick his fingertips, he swirled and circled her nipples between them, alternating his fingers and his mouth, until the cramp in her belly made her hiss.

Massaging her nipples with the pads of his thumbs, he kissed the corner of her mouth. “Oh, she’s pretty,” he said with perverse pleasure. “Knows just what that hot body can get her.”

Her constricted lungs barely allowed words to seep from the threshold of her mouth. “There’s only one thing I want,” she ground the words out through her gritted teeth.

Zara combed her fingers into his hair as he moved south to kiss her chest again. When he snagged her nipple in his teeth, she coiled her digits tight against his scalp.

Pulling the taut peak in his mouth with him as he retreated, he only released it when it would come no further. “You think you’ll find it here?” he asked.

Sliding her hands through his tresses, to his jaw and up to his face, she compelled his head up, away from its task, so that she could look him in the eye. “I already have,” she said and wrapped her legs around him.

As her ankles locked, he reached around to grab them and wrench them apart. Using his hold on her limbs, he yanked her forward, forcing her to stand. One of his strong hands drove itself beneath her waistband and sent her skirt fluttering to the floor, before he stepped back to get a better view. Left in only her panties and stockings, she was fired up by being on show for him, and from the reaction in his jeans, she’d say he liked what he saw.

“She’s naughty,” he muttered as though to himself. “Do you like dressing dirty?” With one arm, he lunged forward to capture her. He yanked her body onto his so tight that she struggled to breathe. But she loved the way he held her, how his strength could overpower her. Despite what he was capable of, he could never use that strength or his lethal skills against her. Having immunity from him was a thrill in itself. “You dress to drive men wild?”

“I dress for me,” she said, trying to push away from his embrace simply because she knew she couldn’t.

Using his mass, he crushed her against the end of the bed. She was lost in the intensity of his eyes, but yelped when he snatched her panties and ripped them away from her fizzing skin before he let his other arm enclose around her.

When he bowed nearer, she tipped her head back to avoid his kiss, because riling him enlivened her. But he opened his mouth and sucked the neck she’d exposed for him.

The bite of power in that kiss made her yelp. “Oh, God…”

 

 

FREE ON KU!
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Find chapter one on Scarlett’s website at: www.scarlettfinn.com

 

Writer of the Explicit Series, Scarlett Finn has published over a dozen romance novels.

Finding her solace in books, reading and writing have been her eternal companions through all the highs and lows of life.

Be it romantic suspense or contemporary romance, she loves to explore the mystery of love and is guided by the complex heroes and strong heroines who lead the way.

Writing what she loves to read, her raunchy novels jump into action from page one and keep the reader on their toes all the way to the end.

It’s an adventure and you’re invited along for the ride!

 

 

LINKS

 

Website: http://www.scarlettfinn.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/finnscarlett

FB: www.facebook.com/scarlett.finn.9

Blog: scarlettfinn.wordpress.com

GR Author: https://www.goodreads.com/ScarlettFinn

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Scarlett-Finn/e/B00J9S1QJ8/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/scarlett-finn

 

RavenTeaser3POSS

FREE ON KU!
BUY NOW!
Amazon US
Amazon UK

COME AND JOIN THE KINDRED MANOR!

PromotionalServices

Howdy!
After the rousing success of my last blog post. I decided to supplement it with some specific promotional services available to indie authors. There are a lot of choices out there and we never know which ones are worth pursuing and which should be ignored.
But the first step is having the right information. So below are a series of links to various promotional services for you to look into, research, and make your own decisions. I personally have not used all of these services, so please do your research, no guarantees for sales and/or reviews can be given.

Melissa Tapp – Free Blog Tours
Monark Design Services
Sweet n Sassy FacebookSweet n Sassy Website
Book Heathens Website
Anything But Vanilla Book BlogAnything But Vanilla Promotional Services
Book Rhythm
Pure Texuality PR
Ashley Wheels Promotions
Honest Book Reviews
The Literary Whisp FacebookThe Literary Whisp Website
Like A Boss Book Promotions
Raven PA FacebookRaven PA Website

We didn’t get quite as many responses to this request as we did for the last one. But these are some of the choices available all in one place. I wish you all success!

Good luck on your adventures,

xSx

Love of darkness and light…

i+love+indie+authors

As an extension of my post yesterday I have decided to compile a list of services that are available to indie authors. Sometimes it can be really difficult, especially when you’re starting out, to know what you’re looking for. Even after you decide to do something it can still be tough to find those out there who can facilitate your project.
So I asked on Facebook for those who provided author services to share links so that I could make a list. Some of these service providers I have used some I have not. It’s up to you to use this list as a starting point. It’s a resource for your research. Some of the services offered will be free and others you will have to pay for, but you will have to create a contract with the provider before you commit to services.
So, check out the websites, do some reading and some chatting, then make decisions and move forward. Good luck!

 

Book Blogs – Reviews & Promotion
Book blogs can open up your work to a world of readers. Some provide book reviews only. Others provide cover reveal events, blog tours, release blitzes and much more!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions so that you know exactly what to expect from the blog.
NOTE: Sales and/or reviews are NEVER guaranteed, so be wary of those who commit to figures.

BitN Book Promoters
BB’s Book Reviews
EDGy Reviews FacebookEDGy Reviews Website
Honest Book Reviews
Madelynn Hill
United Indie Book Blog
the SBB Girls Facebookthe SBB Girls Website
Summer’s Book Blog FacebookSummer’s Book Blog Website
SBB Promotions
Ultimate Fan Blog FacebookUltimate Fan Blog Website
JJ Book Bangers FacebookJJ Book Bangers Website
Melissa Tapp – Free Blog Tours
Anything But Vanilla Book Blog
Smutty Book Friends FacebookSmutty Book Friends Website
Books According To Abby
Dympna’s Book Blog
Book Heathens FacebookBook Heathens Website
Trust Me 2 Forget

PR
PR companies provide a range of services and each should be researched to find the best one for you. Talk to your PR agent in depth to ensure you are comfortable with them before committing.

Indie Sage
Pure Texuality PR
The Hype PR

Editors
You’ve all heard that every book needs an editor and boy is that true. Again, talk to your editor to be sure they understand your vision. Many editors offer beta reading services too. But there is a range of readers out there who can be reached through GoodReads or Facebook who will beta read for you for no fee!

Alchemy And Words Facebook Alchemy And Words Website
Mickey Reed Editing
Editing For You
Edits by V
Starfire Press FacebookStarfire Press Website
Kims Editing Services

Book Covers/Graphics
Check out previous works from book cover artists and get chatting to them. They can help you hone your ideas and produce something that you’ve envisioned, or they can work from scratch and surprise you with their talent!

Mirishka’s Artwork FacebookMirishka’s Artwork Website
Rio Book Cover Art
Bee Graphica
Novel Needs – also provide PA and editing services

Formatting
Formatting is essential. It will be noticed even before a reader picks up on a typo. All authors should present a professional product and to do that you need to get your formatting exactly right.

Formatting Done Wright
Shanoff Formats

 

This is not a full-comprehensive list. There are thousands of websites and service providers out there for authors. Please email me with any questions you have or if you would like to leave your own recommendations I can add those to the list too. Hopefully, this will guide those who are starting out on their indie journey or be useful to veteran authors looking for a new infusion of blood into their work.
Enjoy!

Good luck on your adventures,
xSx

Love of darkness and light…

support-indie-ebooks

 

Despite what the title suggests it is almost impossible for indie authors to conjure an army of fans. Sure, it starts with writing a good book, but it doesn’t end there. The adage that the work is “never done” has never been more true than it is for an indie anything, not just authors.
I’ve been playing with an idea that I can’t quite form into a plan about how to bring readers and authors together. Often the most used ways of communication lack cohesion and an initial contact doesn’t always lead to a lasting relationship. The truth is there are too many other options out there.
Recently I’ve spoken to a number of newbie indie authors who are looking for advice and guidance. It’s surprising just how much knowledge one gains in such a short period of time. In this game you have to learn quick or you’ll find yourself alone and swimming against the current.
It doesn’t help that there are so many people offering author services who are inexperienced or lack the professionalism required to do good work for an author. You can throw all the money in the world at your book, but if you don’t throw it at the right person you’re just going to find yourself poorer and no better off.
We need to come together, to build a platform where new authors can be helped along by more experienced authors and readers need to be a part of that process. If a reader knew just how much time and effort went into not only writing a book but trying to get people to notice it, then I think we would begin to see a movement of readers towards a more committed behaviour.
And newly published writers who work with practised writers would immediately have access to the gathering of readers that followed the latter.
Maybe I’m dreaming of a utopia that will never exist. But I refuse to believe that the knowledge built by one should not be utilised by those who come after.

Good luck on your adventures,

xSx

Love of darkness and light…

images
The title above is sort of intended to be ironic, so please don’t assume that this is a pep talk for the masses. If there was some secret formula for encouraging motivation that worked every time then whoever figured it out would be a billionaire.
Self-help is a massive industry and many people who contribute to it don’t necessarily have professional credentials in the area that they address. Does that matter? Not always. There are people who have a genuine desire to help people and often experience is more valuable that book learning, as it were.
I’ve known people who were big advocates for self-help and I’ve been recommended several products in this area by people who have found it a really helpful tool.
The difficulty I have is that often by the time I’m in a place where these products might need to be called upon, I’m often so far gone that the cynic in me rules all of my thought processes.
I am neither complete pessimist or optimist. I try my best to remain in the latter mindset as often as possible, but sometimes I do slip into the former and for a person like myself that can be a very taxing experience.
Once my thoughts slide into the negative they can often remain there for days becoming increasingly obsessive until I’m ready to jack the whole lot in. I mean why the hell do we bother? What is the point in all of this? Why not take the easy route that seems to work so well for so many?
Those inbetween the two states are often seen as realists and this is always where I identify myself. Working hard is necessary because no one gets anything for nothing; there is always a price. Coasting along is easy, but on that route nothing truly incredible will ever happen and you will remain unremarkable.
So what is the point in all of this? The point is just this, whoever we are, at whatever given time it may be, you have to accept one thing: you are who you are and you control your own destiny. Often things don’t work out the way that we expect them to and if anyone can find an avenue of help to make their life easier then they should grasp that chance. But self-help, no matter how expensive it is, needs one valuable component. The most important central component has to be in place, and receptive, before it has any hope of succeeding: you.
If you have family and friends around you cheering then that’s great, congratulations. But none of them can achieve your dream for you. The work must be yours and you have to want it, breathe it, visualise it. See your goal, keep moving forward, and begin to consider your next goal.
Giving up is always an option, but it leaves you with a what if…? Winning and losing, failing and succeeding, it’s all a state of mind propelled by you. With every breath you take you are succeeding in living, but is that enough? Do you want to survive and nothing more, or do you want to strive for greatness?
Neither choice is right or wrong but it is just that, a choice and only you can make it for yourself.

Good luck on your adventures,

xSx

Falling Angels by Jen Winters

Falling Angels by Jen Winters

Hey guys!
Today we have something very special going on. We have the privilege to reveal the cover for Jen Winters next novel, Falling Angels.
If you haven’t read the first in the series, Kissing Demons, you can do so by clicking here or click on the image of the new cover above. It has an Amazon.com rating of 4.2 stars! The reviews are definitely worth checking out!
The wonderful and talented Julie Nicholls is Jen’s cover artist and she can be contacted through Facebook or you can email her to request that she works her magic for you too.
So on to the good stuff 🙂 the book, Falling Angels, will be released on the 17th of June, so mark that day in your calendar! And here’s what you have to look forward to:

What’s worse than losing your job? How about losing your life, your home, and everything familiar? I just wanted to work. What did I get in return? A long fucking fall with a sudden stop.
Stranded on earth with little hope for survival and an eternity of banishment ahead of me, I did the only thing I knew—I worked the jobs I could. Until I realized I’d been replaced. Then I got mad.
Eleven thousand years of fighting for my destiny had me broken, bitter, and ready to just give up. And then my best friend blew up Fort Worth and screwed the entire universe in the process. Now I have to save his ass from everyone including the Guardians.
I hate Guardians—those intrusive vixens replaced me, took over my job, and left me utterly useless. But this one, Lavinia, she’s almost as old as I am and she is starting to get under my skin. I can’t concentrate when she’s around—everything about her mystifies me and why the hell do I remember her from before? She shouldn’t even exist! And certainly not in my memory.

Want to know a little more about Jen? Here’s her bio:

Jen Winters fell in love with paranormal romance after her daughter was born and she needed a way to escape reality for a few minutes a day. She loved it so much she decided to take her own pen to it. The world of the Guardians was developed through deeply irreligious conversations with her father who likes to misinterpret scripture as often as humanly possible and a good dose of did-I-just-read-that-! when looking into ancient near eastern mythology and scripture.

Clearly she’s a gal who knows her stuff! More can be found on Jen’s blog and she’s on Facebook too.

This is one not to be missed guys. I own her other works and you’ll want to check those out too. Jen is a great girl with a big heart and she’s going to be an author to watch. So everyone mark June 17 in your diary and pick up Falling Angels as soon as humanly possible!

Good luck on your adventures,

xSx

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