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ENSLAVED BY THE OTHERS
By JESS HAINES
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Jess Haines
All rights reserved.
My mind was a fragmented haze, but I found the glue necessary to pull it back together as soon as a voice I hadn't heard in years—except in my nightmares—rang out.
"I know you're awake. Open your eyes."
Panic drove me to move before I was fully conscious of the decision to do so. Hurling myself off the floor and in the opposite direction of his voice, I hadn't made it two steps before cold, strong fingers wrapped around my wrist, jerking me back and into his arms. Cloth brushed against skin that hadn't been bare before I lost consciousness, heightening my terror. I quickly closed my eyes, not wanting to meet his gaze. Despite knowing it was useless to fight, I squirmed as much as I could against that iron grip.
"Calm yourself," he said, not unkindly. I made a small, helpless sound, squeezed out of me when his hold tightened. "I only wish to speak with you. I don't mean you harm."
"Liar," I wheezed, redoubling my efforts to escape. "Let go! Murderer!"
"It's cute when you say it."
I made a sound, half laugh, half sob. Oh, yeah, that was funny all right. Memories of a room full of dead kids on a dance floor, of slick gore gleaming under a strobe, of dead eyes and a woman in a blue shirt being drained of every drop of blood, assaulted me.
His grip tightened, choking off my panicked, nonsense noises. Once I quieted down, the vampire held me to him with one arm. His free hand grasped my chin and forced my head up and to one side, then the other. Inspecting. No doubt spotting the telling scars on my neck, tiny and faded as they were.
"Your fear of me is understandable but unnecessary. I need answers, Shiarra. That's all."
I didn't open my eyes, but I stopped struggling. My heart was still racing, and panic was still urging me to fight like a wildcat. It was the wash of helplessness that led me to weaken, stilling in hopes of finding some later opportunity to escape.
Captive. Kidnapped by a murderous monster who had every reason to want me dead. Oh, God. If I didn't figure out a way to get out of here, now, I was going to die. There was no maybe about it—this time there was no one around to stop him, and even with the Other-taint in my blood, I had no hope of overpowering or outrunning him. He had proximity. Eye contact might strengthen his hold on me, but when we were this close to each other he could exert some control over my will and body and there would be nothing I could do to stop it.
"You know very well what I can do to you. I'm too pressed for time to wring answers out of you right now. If I release you, will you sit and speak reasonably with me?"
When he put it that way, it was hard to think of him as a bad guy. He sounded accommodating, almost sensible.
Except he was the furthest thing from rational. Max Carlyle was crazy; a mass-murdering sociopath. Not only had he abducted me—was this the third time, now?—but this time he'd learned from his prior mistakes and taken away everything familiar, right down to my clothes. I had no idea if Sara or Devon were dead or alive. No clue if Royce knew what had happened to us or if any of my friends knew where to find me. Dragging things out might be the only way to get through this intact. If I gave Max what he needed, he might kill me. If I didn't, he might bind me to him by blood again and then kill me. At least cooperating—to some extent—meant keeping my sanity.
My voice came out in a dry croak. "After—will ... are you going to let me go after I answer you?"
He laughed, the sound a soft rumble in his chest that vibrated through my bones. "You should know better by now. I will go easier on you than originally intended. Fair enough?"
I couldn't answer—I was too busy shaking from the icy chill in the air and terror at the images those words conjured.
He loosened his grip on me, but only to slide his arm around my waist as he urged me to walk. Though I hadn't the faintest clue where he was taking me, I still didn't dare open my eyes in case I might inadvertently look into his own and be spelled into a mind-warping black enchant. Redundant, perhaps, since I'd forever be obligated to answer his call when in close proximity—like now—but I couldn't stand the idea of losing what scraps of free will I had left.
We stopped, his hands shifting, guiding my shaking frame like one might a broken marionette. He helped me into the seat, and I sensed him crouch down before me. A cold void where something warm and living should have been. I gripped the chair arms, my nails cutting into the fabric and a faint cry escaping me at the chill of his hand placed so familiarly upon my bare knee.
"Now, then. Do tell me how you came to be among Clyde Seabreeze's retinue. I was under the impression that you sought sanctuary with Alec."
My voice shook, teeth chattering as I forced out a few words. "Vacation," I lied. With Max it was a reflex to keep anyone connected to me safe from his wrath. "Just a vacation. He heard I was coming."
"A vacation." His tone was incredulous. "Alec allowed this?"
"Not his choice," I said, perhaps a little more forcefully than necessary. "I don't belong to him."
"No. Not anymore."
I didn't know what to say to that.
"Did Alec give you a taste of his blood?"
"Yes." The words were bitter on my tongue, made more so by the copper taste of fear.
"More than once?"
"Excellent," he said, and my skin broke out in fresh goose bumps from the slight stirring of air as he rose. "Lucky you, little love. You get to live to see another day. "
I couldn't help myself; some of the tension that had drawn me so tight eased.
"You're doing very well. Just a few more questions, pet."
"I'm not your pet."
He chuckled. "Quite the contrary. You haven't been permanently bound by Alec, so I just may keep you for myself. It might take a bit longer to break you in since you've gone through withdrawal, but I can assure you we've got nothing but time."
I couldn't help it. I surged to my feet, hoping against hope that I could outrun him, needing more than anything in that moment to escape.
His fingers scraped over my back, his laughter echoing through the room as I made a hectic, panicked dash forward. I finally opened my eyes, daring the risk to search for some way, any way, to get out of there.
There was a single door, which I made a beeline for. The handle wouldn't turn no matter how hard I twisted it, and my cry of frustration warbled into a scream of fear as his hand settled on my shoulder, shoving me around until my back was pressed against the door. Stunned, I stared up into his patrician features, forgetting momentarily to close my eyes as I met his pale gray gaze.
He looked exactly the same as he had the last time I had seen him. His dark brown hair was cut short, but not so much that I couldn't see the curls threatening to escape their gelled prison. Dusky skin was too dark for him to be taken as a vampire by a casual glance—not unless you already knew what he was. His tailored business suit didn't hide the solid, muscular build of his frame, or the shadow of a rabid, murderous predator lurking behind the mask of civility.
There was no pull of his mind overtaking mine. All he did was smirk and lift a hand to dangle a set of keys between us—unmistakably mocking me.
"Not yet, pet. I'm not done with you."
Gone were any thoughts of cooperating. Mindless terror drove me to shove and kick and scratch at him, screaming as I fought to get him off of me. He pulled me away from the door, only to let me go again—and I am not ashamed to admit that I ran like my ass was on fire, putting as much distance between us as possible. I didn't stop until I hit the far corner of the room, shivering as I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he stood there, contemplating me. I wasn't entirely naked, but I felt stripped bare.
He flicked through the keys, found the one he was looking for, and unlocked the door. Hand resting on the knob, he looked back over his shoulder.
"I'll give you some time to calm down. Come to terms with the fact that you're mine now."
I shook my head, denying it, arms wrapped around my stomach to keep the bile in. His voice softened, became almost kindly, making his next words even harder to bear.
"No knight in shining armor is going to save you. There is no escape from this place, or from me, unless I release you. The more cooperative you are, the better you will be treated. If you continue to fight me, I'll either bind you to me or gift you to one of my number like ... what was the name of my progeny you destroyed?"
He honestly didn't seem to recall Peter's name. The first vampire who had bitten me. The first vampire I had killed with my own two hands. I was too frightened to raise my voice to tell him. It didn't take him long to shrug it off as inconsequential and continue.
"No matter. I'm sure you remember what that was like. There are others like him who would be pleased to have the opportunity to break you. Choose wisely."
With that, he walked out, the door latching shut behind him.CHAPTER 2
I scoured the room for tools to use for escape. Max must have learned his lesson from the last time he'd thought he had me under his thumb. My purse, like my clothes—save for a bra, panties, and socks—was gone.
Fucking hell, my anti-Other mind mojo charm was gone, too.
Like the last place he'd imprisoned me, the damp, musty smell to the air told me I was underground. The room was small; four plain, white walls, with no openings other than the door that had locked behind him. Maybe six long paces from one end to the other, leaving little room to move around. Cold. Not freezing. Not so terrible that I couldn't stand it, but I was grateful for my socks. Even still, I rubbed my hands over my arms and legs periodically to warm them up. As for furniture, aside from a neatly made bed, the chair, and a chamber pot in the corner (ugh), there was nothing. No closet, no bathroom, no clothes—just the barest of essentials.
Thoughts of confinement and torture a la Christian Bale's plight in Rescue Dawn danced in my head as I examined the furniture for small nails or staples. The thought of being stuck in this room for whatever remained of my life made me sick. There had to be a way out. I didn't have any bobby pins in my hair and the contents of my purse weren't available, so my options for picking the lock were limited.
It took quite awhile, but I managed to pry off a couple of staples holding the fabric to the bottom of the chair. They were big staples, but the metal was thin enough to serve for a makeshift lock pick. I tore off most of my nails in my frantic efforts to dislodge the metal bits from the wooden frame.
I took a moment to feel gratitude toward my brothers for teaching me something useful when we were hell-raising kids—and that I had thought to keep those skills honed in case of emergencies like this.
Bending the metal into shape earned me a couple nicks that were made worse by the way my hands were shaking. I had to hold my wrist steady with the other hand while I worked on the first part of the lock, which left me unable to do much about the few drops of blood trickling from my torn fingernails or to wipe away the panic-induced sweat dripping into my eyes.
What normally would've taken me thirty seconds to accomplish stretched out into ten or fifteen minutes. It didn't help that the first staple broke and the second disappeared, flying away to land somewhere on the carpet.
When the lock finally turned over, I closed my eyes and said a brief prayer of thanks under my breath, along with a request to anyone listening that luck would stay with me long enough to see me safely out of this hell. Then I stuck my stinging, bleeding fingers in my mouth, because ow.
I hoped my work had gone unheard. Not knowing what might be on the other side, I slowly opened the door a crack and peered through, checking for any sign of Max or his cronies.
The small slice of the hallway I could see was empty. Emboldened, I edged out the door, taking in my surroundings.
Like the house in upstate New York where Max had once kept me trapped, the floors were a highly polished hardwood, this time accented with a gold design that glowed by the light of intricate gas lamps. I was unnerved to see that there were numbered doorways spaced evenly up and down the hall. Many were shut, but based on the uniformity and the outer locks on most of the doors I had no doubt these were all prisons identical to the one I had just escaped. There was a carpeted staircase at one end leading up, but I couldn't see what lay at the top. At the opposite end of the hall was a set of double doors, one open a crack, light shining through the thin gap. Both options were a long way off from where I currently stood. There were faint sounds of conversation coming from behind one or more of the doors—hard to tell which—but no one was in sight.
Since the damp chill and stale taste to the air made me pretty certain I was underground, I headed for the stairs, hoping no one else was trapped down here. I wasn't sure yet that I could save myself, let alone other victims Max might be exploiting.
The staircase was curved, so I couldn't tell how far up it went. I trod as quietly as I could, peeking around each corner before working my way up the next set of steps. Still, every whisper of my socks on the carpet, every gasped breath, sounded too loud to my own ears. I prayed no one was around to hear me.
I approached a landing at the top of the stairs but I couldn't see where it led. I waited, keeping quiet and still while I strained to listen for any company. It seemed clear, so I crept quietly up those last steps—and stopped.
There was another door all right, but this one didn't come with a lock I could pick. Next to the thick, handle-less security door was a numbered keypad. The pad had two small lights: a red one, which was blinking, and a green one, which was off. Cracking security codes has never been my forte, and I wasn't about to risk setting off any alarms.
The security camera staring down at me from the corner might have made my worry about alarms moot, though.
I had no way to know if I'd been spotted but, considering my luck, I was reasonably certain I was in for a world of trouble. The best I could do at this point was delay the inevitable.
I rushed back down the stairs, taking them two at a time. The door at the other end of the hall was still open, so maybe there was another way out.
Taking no care to be stealthy, I booked it, forcing deep, even breaths so I wouldn't develop a stitch in my side. The doors blurred by on either side, and I could have sworn I heard crying coming from behind one of them.
Bursting through that door was a bad, bad idea. I came to a screeching halt, nearly falling on my ass as I skidded in my socks on the smooth hardwood.
Max and several other vampires were lounging in an expansive room full of soft pillows, Greek statuary that depicted more sexual acts than a XXX-rated movie, and a few naked men and women chained between the figures who had the glassy-eyed gazes of people drugged or too apathetic to know or care where they were. No—not just men and women. There was a golden-skinned creature vaguely similar in form to a human that hung limp, unconscious in chains, right next to a doe-eyed wood nymph. That poor creature's leaves and bark were browning at the edges, all the flowers in its hair shuttered up tight or wilting. Dying.
It was like a surreal art show. The people—and otherwise—were on display as much as the statues, lit by tiny, soft spotlights that highlighted every asset they had.
One of the vampires turned to Max, a smirk curving his lips as he swirled his wineglass, the red liquid inside looking a bit too thick to be wine. His accent was a genteel Cajun drawl, somehow fitting perfectly with the unusual burgundy suit and thick dreadlocks. "You didn't mention anything about a redhead for sale."
"Have you been holding out on us, Euphron?" another chimed in, rising slowly to his feet. "This one seems more lively than the others."
Excerpted from ENSLAVED BY THE OTHERS by JESS HAINES. Copyright © 2014 Jess Haines. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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