Last Breathby Jessica Clare
Regan: I never really knew what misery was until the day I was kidnapped and sold for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two months later, I’m at a brothel in Rio when I meet/i>/b>/b>/i>
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From the bestselling authors of Last Hit comes the next in the steamy series that explores the exquisite power of our darkest passions . . .
Regan: I never really knew what misery was until the day I was kidnapped and sold for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two months later, I’m at a brothel in Rio when I meet Daniel Hays. He says he’s here to save me, but can I trust him? All I know of him are his sarcastic retorts and his tendency to solve every dispute with his gun. He’s also the only safe thing in my world, and I know it’s wrong to fall in love with him, but I can’t seem to help myself. He says he’ll protect me until his last breath, but I don’t know if I should believe him or even if I can.
Daniel: For the last eighteen months, one goal has dictated every action I’ve taken. I’ve left the Army, turned paid hit man, and befriended criminals all across the globe to find my kidnapped sister. In every brothel I raid and every human trafficking truck I stop, I hope the next face I find is my sister’s. In a hidden brothel in Rio, I find Regan Porter, bruised but not broken, and still sane despite her weeks in captivity. I should leave her behind or send her home, because the last thing either of us needs right now is to get involved. But with every passing minute, I find I’m less able to let her go.
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THE MAN ABOVE ME PUSHES into me with a grunt, his weight heavy on my back. I stare at the wall and think of zombies and play a mental alphabet game. I’m a horror movie aficionado, but I can’t recall if there are any zombie movies that begin with the letter A. Attack of the Living Dead, maybe? It’s a probable title, but I might be making it up.
The man fucking me squeezes my ass and bites out something in a foreign language. Portuguese, maybe. I ignore him and mentally continue sorting through my list of zombie movies. There’s Dawn of the Dead, of course. Night of the Living Dead. Shaun of the Dead.Land of the Dead. But I can’t think of a single movie that begins with A. Arrival of the Dead? Anarchy of the Dead? Surely someone’s had a movie called Arrival of the Dead, haven’t they? Pretty sure there’s a Return of the Living Dead out there, so if they’re returning, they have to arrive at some point. Right?
Someone should really get on to the whole A title thing. I shift my hands on the floor, thinking. Okay, now I can’t think of anything with the letter B either. Jeez. I suck at this game.
The customer squeezes my hips painfully, drawing my attention back to him. “Cadela,” he snarls out, smacking my skin hard enough to sting as he drives into me again. He’s deliberately trying to hurt me, but in the last few weeks, I’ve become amazingly good at tuning men out.
At least from this angle. When they shove their rubber-covered dicks into my mouth, it’s harder to push the world out and keep my mental narrative running. That’s usually why I bite. Most have learned not to stick their dick in the American girl’s mouth because she’s a biter, but occasionally, I have to remind them.
The man shoots an angry stream of words at the back of my head and pulls on my hair, but I still ignore him because I know it will piss him off. The men that buy my time want a girl that struggles. One that weeps and cries. Pussy is a dime a dozen in Rio, or so I am told by the brothel madam, but fucking a captive American girl that will fight you and weep? That is something special, and they pay extra for that.
And because they do pay extra, I do my best to ignore them, even when they’re hurting me.
He saws into me, slamming his body into mine so roughly I tumble to the thin, dirty mattress that has been my home for the last few weeks—ever since I went to sleep in Russia and woke up here in Rio, nursing a hangover from shitty roofies. Now my owners speak Portuguese instead of Russian, but they still chain my ankle to the wall so I can’t escape.
Some things don’t change.
Grimly, I press my cheek to the mattress and let him pound into me, ignoring the hand tangled in my hair that pulls a little too hard. He wants me to cry and weep and beg for mercy, so I won’t give him the satisfaction. I go back to my mental game instead. Where was I? B? Oh wait, Bride of Reanimator. That’s a B movie for sure. I move on to C. C is an easy one. Children of the Living Dead. D is easy, too—
The man pulls out of me and drags me up by my hair, shouting at me, now. He wants my attention, and I’m not giving it to him. When he pulls me up to his face, screaming, I give him a thin, pained smile and shoot him the bird. Fuck you, I think. You’re not getting tears from me.
I cried a lot in the beginning. I never understood what was happening, really. What I had done to somehow get kidnapped and sold like I was nothing.
All I knew was that I’d driven my roommate Daisy to work one afternoon and I’d settled down to study. I’d borrowed her phone because mine was lost, and I had it on me. Daisy was supposed to call me when she was ready to leave work.
An hour after I dropped her off, two men had showed up at the door. Two tall, frightening strangers in suits with cold eyes. One was blond and enormous, and the other one was slim and ugly. They both had thick Eastern European accents, and I immediately regretted opening the apartment door. By then, it was too late. They’d forced themselves into the apartment, bound and gagged me, and then dragged me into their car. Thirty minutes later, we went to the gas station where Daisy worked and they grabbed her, too.
Later, I was told that Daisy’s boyfriend was mixed up with the wrong people, and that was why she had been taken.
Me? I had been taken because I had Daisy’s phone . . . and because I had a pretty mouth.
Me and Daisy were hauled onto a private plane, and before long, I was dragged in the back and raped by the ugly one. Yury. I fought him a little, but he drugged me into a stupor. I guess he didn’t care if his girls struggled or not.
That was about all I remembered. Then, two days later, I came out of the drugged stupor and realized that I was sore all over from Yury’s attentions. I was in a small hotel room, and I was alone with one of Yury’s new friends, who also raped me.
I loathed myself for letting him do such horrible things to me. I wasn’t a virgin, but I wasn’t all that experienced when it came to sex. I’d had sex with my boyfriend, Mike, but no one else. Now here I was, having sex with two men against my will.
Yury never came back. His friend did, though. And after he raped me again, he put a bag over my head, shoved me into a car, and drugged me. It seemed that I had been stolen twice now. Once from the States and now this man was stealing me from my original kidnappers. The shit just kept piling on around here.
The next thing I knew, I’d woken up in a Russian brothel, chained to a wall.
I was terrified, not only for myself, but for poor Daisy, who was utterly sheltered and innocent. She was somewhere out there, likely living through the same hell that I was. She could be dead, even.
In the beginning, I told myself that someone would find us. That Regan Porter, all-American college student from Minnesota, couldn’t fall off the face of the earth and not have someone looking for her. Not the girl who once thought her biggest fear was driving into a deer in the middle of the night.
Finding me and Daisy would take time, I told myself. The police were bound to come looking for a pair of American girls that vanished, weren’t they? My boyfriend Mike wouldn’t give up on me. Neither would my family and friends.
So I clung to hope.
I cried all the time the first week in the brothel, and I hoped. I cried every time a man touched me, each rape felt like it was the first one. I cried every night, biting down on my knuckles to stifle my sobs. And I fought back when they touched me because if I gave in, it wasn’t rape, right?
I stopped crying once I realized two things.
I realized no one would be coming. No Daisy. No Mike. No one. They left me here to rot. I had vanished and no one would find me, ever.
I realized, too, that the men that paid to fuck me? They liked it when I cried and fought. They got off on that just as much as they got off on shoving their dicks inside me.
After that, I learned to mask my emotions a bit more. I learned to mentally shut out what men were doing to my body, protecting my mind. They could have my body all they wanted, but that would be all I would give them. So I distracted myself. I rewrote horror movies in my head. I re-cast roles of my favorite films, switching out actors and actresses and replaying scenarios in my mind. I made up games, like the alphabet one, naming films I had seen and characters from B movies.
I did everything I could to distance myself from what was happening to my body.
Eventually, it wasn’t so bad. I guess. If I didn’t pay attention, I wouldn’t remember faces. Wouldn’t remember men slapping me in the face and yelling for me to put up more of a struggle. I almost forgot that my ankle was chained to a beam in the wall and that I was a prisoner. I lived inside my head.
And I don’t let myself think about the men. They are nothing to me.
If they like fighters, I don’t give them a reason to be rough. The new Regan won’t fight. Won’t even pay attention.
Sometimes, though, they are tougher to tune out. Like now.
The man grabs my hair and drags me to my knees, yelling obscenities in my face. He slaps me across the mouth, and I taste blood.
I want to claw his eyes out, but he’d like that too much. He wants me to fight. I am always at a disadvantage when it comes to these men. If I fought, I’d end up with my cheek pressed to the wall as they raped me harder than before. Fighting is never the answer.
The man leans in, his face ugly and lined from too much time in the sun. His brows are thick, and he smells sweaty. “You,” he says in halting English. “Eat my dick.”
“Didn’t they tell you?” I say. “I bite.” And I click my teeth. I’d bitten two men before they got the idea and started warning clients. “Your loss.”
The man gives me an ugly grin and reaches behind him. He pulls a gun out, cocks the hammer, and holds it to my temple.
My breath hisses out of my lungs in terror.
He’s not supposed to have a gun in here. He’s not supposed to have a gun, and I’m not supposed to get damaged by the customers. Of course, it’s a bit too late for anyone to argue.
“You scared now?” he asks. “Eat my dick. No bite. I paid good money.” And he pushes the gun against my temple, harder. His hand twists in my hair and drags my face downward.
I still want to live. The tears I hate pool in my eyes and stream down my cheeks. “Please don’t kill me.”
His smile grows broader, and he directs my face toward his condom-sheathed dick again.
I don’t fight.
• • •
AFTER HE IS GONE, I vomit the contents of my stomach into my piss-bucket and curl up on my mattress, staring at the wall and crying. I always cry after they leave. It’s my release. I try to think of zombie movies—I never got past D earlier—but my mind is in shock at the moment. The gun flashes through my mind, and I swallow hard, thinking of the click of the hammer.
Swallowing reminds me of his taste, the mix of sweat and latex that seems burned in the back of my mind, and I lunge for my bucket again.
Someone comes to the door a few minutes after I finish puking for a second time. A knock and then the door cracks open. “Regan?”
It is one of the workers here. Alma. She’s nice to me. I sit upright, pushing my hair out of my face. “Hi.”
She looks around anxiously, then smooths her gray maid’s uniform. She wears it every day, and it, along with her nervous demeanor, tells me that she only works here in a cleaning capacity. “Senhor Gomes sent me. He says you will see a very special friend of his after you clean up.”
“Oh goody,” I say in a flat voice. I know what that means. It’s the man that I see even in my nightmares.
I don’t know his name, but I first saw him in Russia. I’d been at the brothel for a few weeks and was still working on tuning out my “clients” when I’d met Mr. Freeze.
Mr. Freeze was different.
At first, I was excited to see him when he came in the room. He looked American and, better yet, spoke with a nasally accent I attributed to New England. If he was American, he was here to save me, right? The fact that he was pale, ice-blonde, and remote-seeming didn’t bug me. Nor did the fact that he was wearing such an expensive suit and was followed by a rather frightening bodyguard with a massive form and hooded eyes. I didn’t care who he was hanging around with as long as he got me out of here.
He’d entered my room, a flicker of interest in his eyes as he regarded me from my place huddled in the corner. “Stand up so I can look at you.”
My heart had sunk all over again. Those weren’t the words of a man who was here to save me.
So I’d ignored him. Scared or not, I wasn’t performing tricks for any man.
It had been a mistake. The bruiser had immediately charged forward, grabbing me by my hair and hauling me to my feet. I’d screamed, but no one came running to see what was wrong. No one cared what happened to me when Freeze had me.
I soon learned that no one approached Mr. Freeze. Everyone was terrified of him.
He dragged on plastic surgical gloves and then proceeded to examine me like a racehorse. As his bodyguard held me upright, his hand moved down my legs, checked my thighs, my pussy, my ribs, and my breasts. And then he made me open my mouth. To my surprise, he pulled out a flashlight and examined my teeth.
“Are these your real teeth?” he asked me. “Do you brush twice a day? And shower?”
He slapped my face and grabbed my chin, careless of the blood dribbling from my split lip. “Answer me.”
I didn’t answer. I tried to bite him instead.
He slapped me again, and this time it left me reeling. “Answer me. Do they shave you or have you had laser treatments?” He lifted my arm and examined my armpit, then bent to study my pubic hair again. “Natural blonde. That’s good.”
It was like I wasn’t a real person to him. I was a doll he was checking out to purchase. Or a car. “You want to kick my tires before you take my ass around the block?”
He pulled back and gave me a look so cold that I knew immediately that I’d made a mistake. Now I was dead.
It had been a good run . . . for a while, anyhow.
But Freeze only looked at his bodyguard and nodded, and the man released me. I sank to the floor and wrapped my arms around my body, waiting for the inevitable rape.
It didn’t come. Freeze and his guard talked for a long minute in Russian, the words sounding strange in his mouth, though I noticed that no one dared to correct his pronunciation. Then the bodyguard left, and Mr. Freeze stared at me with those cold eyes, watching me.
The Russian housemother came into the room a few minutes later with the bodyguard, and she was clearly nervous.
“This one,” Mr. Freeze said in English. “I like her. I will take her.”
“Fuck you,” I spat from my corner of the room. He wasn’t here to save me at all. He was here to fucking groom me. What an asshole.
“Very well,” the housemother said. “You know her price.”
“It is a rather high price for one that bites,” he said in a chilling voice. “She nearly took off my finger.”
The housemother stopped in place, and then she shot me a killing look. I was going to be punished, I knew it.
“You know how I like my girls,” he told her. They’re still speaking in English, which means he wants me to hear this. “Clean and broken. This one is not clean, nor is she broken.”
“We will keep her clean.”
“And?” He waited.
“I know where we can send her,” the housemother said quickly. “Give Senhor Gomes a month and he will have her gentle as a kitten.”
“A month,” he agreed. “Until then, I want you to have her brush her teeth three times a day. Vitamin supplements with her food. Bathe her daily and make sure someone shaves her twice a week. No hitting her in the face. Condoms for every client. And no drugs. Not even if she asks for them.”
The housemother nodded.
Mr. Freeze got back to his feet and left the room. “I will return to check on her.”
I figured out after that night that Freeze had a blonde fetish of some kind and he liked me. Lucky, lucky me.
He returned once more while I was in Russia, checking my teeth and body and tsking when I tried to bite the fingers he put in my mouth.
The next week, though, everything changed. After three weeks in the brothel in Russia, men came after me with needles full of drugs and a sack they shoved over my face. I’d been terrified, thinking that I’d outlived my usefulness as everyone’s favorite captive American pussy, and now they were going to kill me.
I’d fought, but they’d drugged me before I knew what was happening.
When I woke up, I was in my current room, my ankle chain locked to a new wall, and a dirty mattress in the corner for me. The room was no bigger than a walk-in closet, with a cracked tile floor that slanted toward a drain at the far end of the room and a nice corner bucket for me to shit and piss in. An industrial size box of condoms was set at the foot of the bed. There were cracks in the ceiling and no windows. I hadn’t seen the sun in weeks. I wondered if I’d ever see it again.
My new owners had given me clothing, though—an American flag string bikini covered in beads and itchy sequins. And they talked loudly in a different language. By listening at my door, I figured out that I was now in Rio de Janeiro.
And the Rio brothel was run by Senhor Gomes. I remembered that name—Freeze had mentioned it.
Being Freeze’s new little plaything had apparently gotten me sent here to Rio. But captive blonde American pussy was as hot in Rio, and neither Gomes nor Freeze cared who fucked me as long as they didn’t mess me up.
Freeze has visited me once while I’ve been in Rio. I bit and fought and spit in his face. It was like he didn’t notice, though. He simply watched me with those cold eyes, checked my teeth, insisted that they wax my eyebrows into shape, and left.
He’d wait for me to be broken.
The customers in Rio are no different than the Russian customers. They like to rough a fighter up. They like to hit and smack around a girl before they fuck her. I’m sure there are nice men out in the world that just want to screw and cuddle, but that’s not who come to the whorehouse of Senhor Gomes. They’re here because they like to be rough with girls, and I’m here because Freeze wants to break me. But I’m not broken yet.
I sit upright, and Alma comes to me with a towel and a shower cap. We’ve fallen into habit already, and I move to the corner of the room, above the drain and as far as the chain will let me go. Today isn’t shaving day, so I pull my hair into the shower cap and she turns on a water-hose that is connected to the sink in the room. Like an animal, she hoses me down, and I feel a little more of my humanity die with this ritual.
Paying customers don’t want to touch a dirty whore. Everyone uses condoms, not just because Freeze says so, but because they don’t want to catch anything I might have. Fuckers.
Once my awful shower is done, I towel off, trying to ignore the fact that the towel smells like someone else’s perfume. I don’t want to think about how many other whores have used it before me. I let down my hair, and she hands me my American flag bikini again. It’s faded and grimy, but I never get to wear it for long.
Then, I’m given a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, and I brush my teeth obligingly, then spit into the grate. Ironic that now I get to spit instead of swallow.
Alma gives me an apologetic smile and grabs the towel, refolds it, and leaves the room quietly.
I curl up on the mattress, hugging my legs to my chest and waiting. There will be another man soon enough, and then Freeze, so I enjoy the moment of silence while I can. My lip hurts, a bit puffy from where the last man hit me, and I touch it with my fingertips, wincing.
Then, I lay my head back against the wall, thinking. My mind is filled with the gun and the man I was forced to service, and my stomach roils uncomfortably again. I swallow hard and force myself to think of zombie movies, instead. E. I don’t know what movies begin with E. This one will require some thought. Maybe something with “Enemy” in the title.
I ponder this for minutes, staring at nothing, when there is a knock at the door again. I get to my feet automatically. God, I hope it’s not the man with the gun again. I don’t think I could stomach seeing him twice in one night.
But when the door opens, it’s not Freeze.
The man that steps in is unexpected. He’s accompanied by Senhor Gomes, the master, a man I have only seen once but hear about all the time. Gomes looked me over when I arrived and then left, as if I were an uninteresting piece of property.
The man with him is tall, good-looking, and wears a casual suit. He’s got nice brown hair, sharp eyes, and I can tell immediately from the cast of his features that he’s American.
What the fuck. Not again. Not another American jackass. It doesn’t matter if he’s American—he’s here to rape me like all the others before him. Except this time? I’ll know all the nasty, shitty words he yells into my ear.
And later, when he’s done with me and leaves, I’ll feel even dirtier because he’s only made things worse.
He looks me over, his gaze sliding to my star-spangled bikini, and I can’t help myself. “What’s the matter,” I ask, “international pussy not good enough for you?”
SHE’S A BITER. THAT’S THE warning given when I point to the blonde with the glazed green eyes in Senhor Gomes’ book of whores. He shakes his head and says that he has access to dozens of others that are better and all willing to engage in whatever perverse activity I want. He brags that there isn’t a sick sex act I can think of that Gomes can’t fulfill. I like home cooking, I tell him. A Texan in Rio sees a lot of beautiful Brazilian women, but sometimes you want a little star-spangled banner in the rotation.
He nods as if this makes sense to him, but I think it’s the money that I’m flashing that he understands. We walk up to the second floor and down a narrow hall toward the back, a windowless part of this brick and metal building. I can’t call it a home or even a brothel. It’s a dingy place where men with deep perversions but shallow wallets can get their rocks off.
I don’t want to have sex here, I’ve explained to Gomes. I have a thing against hellholes and having sex in them. I wave around a lot of cash, and Gomes nodded and asks no more questions.
We’re a strange parade—Gomes, me, and some house mom trailing behind. He stops at the second to last door and removes a key.
I’ve seen pictures of Regan Porter before, and not in Gomes’ look book, but nothing prepares me for her full-fledged, magazine-quality beauty. She hasn’t been eating well; her delicate bones are beginning to look sharp in places—at her shoulders, ribs, and hips. But there’s no denying her breathtaking looks. Her blonde hair is damp and small strands stick to her perfect skull. Her oval face, with its pink cheekbones and lush lips and eyebrows that look like wings, stands out like a piece of fine china at a flea market. Though she’s thin, there’s a delicious curviness in the slope of her side as it dips into the waist and flares back out to form a cuppable roundness at the hip. And those endlessly long legs.
Shit. I close my eyes and swallow. No decent man would be standing here thinking about those legs wrapped around his waist. But then again, I’m not decent. I’m no longer army sniper, Special Forces Daniel Hays who may have once been lauded as a hero for killing insurgents in Afghanistan. Now I’m Daniel Hays, mercenary who kills people for money and spends all his spare time in brothels and flesh dens like this one. Decency is a word I don’t even know the meaning to anymore.
It’s been too long since I’ve had a woman. That’s my only excuse. That and I’m becoming the monster that I’m hunting. I focus on the bruises on her knees that are scraped red and raw from time on the floor and the manacle around her ankle. Any feelings of arousal are jettisoned by the obvious signs of abuse.
Glancing sharply at Gomes, I wonder how he’s come to possess a beauty like Regan Porter. Gomes is a small-time flesh peddler, stuck up here in the slums, with a house full of females—half of which are missing their teeth or are too old or too broken.
He usually gets what the market calls second-hand goods, the girls that no other house wants. But Regan Porter is gorgeous, and while she looks a little rundown, she’s still model beautiful with big pink lips and wide green eyes.
“Nice tits,” I smirk for Gomes’ sake and her shudder of disgust only feeds into my growing belief that I’m as dirty as the flesh trader beside me. The dark edges of the world that I now inhabit are seeping into my skin like an oil slick covering an ocean. I shouldn’t want to touch her. And if I have to fuck her in front of Gomes to get her out of here—I don’t even let myself finish that thought.
There’s still life in her eyes. If she’s biting and spitting out acerbic insults, there’s spirit left in her, and I don’t want to be the one to snuff out that last flame. Her eyes convey her hate, and if she had a knife, I’d be sliced from my throat to my belly. I stare back, not because she’s fucking beautiful, but because she’s still standing. I’m not sure I would’ve been as strong. I don’t know if she sees my admiration or whether she can only interpret varying degrees of lust and degradation, but she sees something. An invisible string spools out between us and her eyes widen when it hits her like an electrical shock.
For months I’ve swum in a pool of blood and death and ugly deeds, and to hold onto my sanity and maybe my soul, I’ve told myself that saving these doves balances the scale. For every life I take, if I save one then it’s all a wash in the end. Don’t think it’s tallied that way at St. Peter’s Gate, but that’s the lie I tell myself so I can sleep at night and look at myself in the mirror the next day. Regan Porter will either be part of my attempt at salvation or the bloody stone that etches out the words He Failed on my headstone.
“She looks like a live one,” I say to Gomes, playing up my role as the asshole merc who’s just been paid for some godforsaken deed and needs to plow his victory lap into some unwilling broad.
He squints at Regan, tallying up her worth. She’s valuable now because I’m willing to pay so much for her, and Gomes doesn’t really understand why. “Twenty-five thousand could buy you a harem. Her pussy isn’t lined with gold. Let me hook you up with someone different,” Gomes whines.
Don’t know why he wants to hold on to her so bad, but I can see that he’s torn between wanting my money and wanting to keep Regan in the whorehouse.
“I prefer to eat domestic,” I say. Gomes doesn’t really expect a response, or at least he shouldn’t. Buying and selling human flesh requires some discretion, even here in Brazil where prostitution is legal but houses like these aren’t. Gomes and I stare at each other while the spangles on the dirty American flag bikini tinkle in the background. Don’t draw attention to yourself, I silently command the girl.
The urge to beat Gomes until his own mama won’t recognize him washes over me in a red, violent haze. My fist in his mouth, the heel of my boot crushing his dick would be phenomenal. I’ve been in and out of these houses of horror for the last eighteen months looking for my sister. She went on her first and only spring break trip and never came back. I was in Delta Force, playing sniper, when I got the news. I arrived home to find my mother distraught and my dad . . . fuck, I’ll never forget the look on his face. Dad was a hardened rancher who’d held onto his family legacy by the repeated sacrifice of his blood to the land. He’d seen shit and done shit, but the loss of his baby girl had hollowed him out. His eyes looked empty as if the news had sucked his insides dry.
I stayed one night and in the early morning hours of the next day, he walked me out to my truck and told me not to come home until I’d found her. And I haven’t found her and I haven’t been home. There won’t be anything to go back to unless I bring her home.
In the months since my sister was kidnapped from Cancun, I’ve rescued hundreds of girls either in the sex trade or headed for sale. They’ve been grateful, traumatized, and tearful. I’ve never once encountered a mouthy one. Not until Regan. She looks like she might bite off my hand if I try to reach for her.
It took me nearly two months to find her after she was sold from Russia. And that snaps me back. Killing Gomes in a black rage isn’t going to keep Regan safe or help me find my sister.
Gesturing toward Regan, I try to get him to speed up this transaction. “We’re done talking now. Get me a coat for her. I can’t take her outside in that getup. Shit.”
Gomes leans out the door and yells to someone to get Regan a coat. “Depressa! Vai-me buscar um casaco.”
I cross my arms, looking like I’m seconds away from walking on this deal, when really I have my fingers close to the guns inside my coat. I could shoot Gomes right now, and I kind of want to, but hasty decisions like that would only hurt my situation. I learned that early on. You can kill a Gomes but a dozen others like him will rise up from the sewer like an army of rats. If you want to stop something like this you have to find the source of the rats and cut off the damn head and then cauterize it. But I’ll be back for Gomes. I won’t be able to sleep at night until I know the only hole he’s plundering is the asshole of a demon in the underworld.
The house mom appears at the door and hands Gomes a tissue-thin jacket that won’t even cover the tops of Regan’s thighs. I rip the thing out of Gomes’ hands. He’s not touching her again.
“Let’s go, sweet cheeks,” I command, snapping my fingers toward Regan. She lets out a low, feral growl. I want to laugh in Gomes’ face at this—that she’s withstood his treatment—but I can’t let any approval for her show. Gomes gives a jerk of his head and the house mom scuttles over to unlock the chains around her ankle. As the iron falls away, I see that the skin is scabbed all over. I’m surprised it’s not infected. Suddenly the contents of my stomach are at the back of my mouth, and I scrub my hand over my lips to disguise my reaction. I want to throw a blanket over her, shoot everyone, and carry her away.
This is such a goddamn travesty. My tone is sharp and angry. “Put this on.” I throw it to her and she catches it almost reflexively, but she’s slow as molasses putting on the coat, as if she’s weighing whether I’m worse than the devil she knows. Gomes motions for the house mom to hurry Regan up, but I put up a hand to stay the house mom’s actions. Regan doesn’t want to be touched by anyone. You can read that aversion in every line of her body, which is why I threw the coat to her. I don’t need a fight from her. And truthfully I feel sorry for her. God, she is barely a woman—around the same age as my sister, who was twenty when she was taken. Regan is twenty-two or so, Nick had told me. Nick, who sent me here to retrieve her.
“I don’t got all day.” I point to my wristwatch. It’s a reward, I’ve told people, for killing some family who had the nerve to tell me no. Half the time a badass reputation gets you out of tight spots better than two guns and a dozen magazines. Although I’d take those too. I glance over and Regan is still taking her sweet time. “You can either stay here chained to a wall or come with me.”
It’s no kind of alternative, but I’m banking on the fact that she’s currently thinking about a million ways she can escape me once she’s outside of this place. She gives a little nod, not really to me, but acknowledging some decision she’s made in her mind. I step out and walk away, pretending like I don’t care for a minute if she follows. Gomes doesn’t move but instead exchanges sharp words with the house mom in Portuguese, thinking, I guess, that I won’t understand him. But I do. The ability to pick up different languages and quickly is almost a requirement of being part of Delta Force, and I’ve spent time in both Portugal and Brazil.
“Faz com que ela veste o casaco!” says Gomes, ordering the house mom to help Regan put on the jacket.
“Eu não posso. Ela vai me arranhar,” the house mom responds. The house mom refuses, fearing that Regan will scratch her. Regan’s a terror even chained to the wall. Her fierceness is metal as fuck, and that almost cranks my chain as much as her legs. Some of the girls I’ve taken from these places are so broken that they don’t see anything but their abuse anymore. Some fall back into the business, working on their own or as part of someone’s stable, because they can’t function normally. Although what the hell is normal, I have no goddamned idea anymore.
A shuffling sound occurs behind me, and I pause. The steps are light, so they don’t belong to Gomes or the heavier house mom.
“You aren’t going to like owning me,” Regan hisses quietly at my back. If I really were an angry john with a taste for home, I’d backhand her, but my response isn’t one of anger but of resignation. I want to shake some fucking sense into her and beg her to make it easier for both of us for one hot second. Instead I grunt because deep down, part of me wants to show her how wrong she is. In different circumstances, if we were alone in a dark corner of some bar back home, I’d back her right up to the wall and tell her that not only would she like being owned by me, but she’d fucking beg for it.
But we’re not alone. She’s not some college girl slumming it in a hole in the wall outside of Fort Benning, so I don’t back her into a corner. I don’t slip my leg between her golden thighs, and I don’t start sucking on the tender skin at the base of her neck. I don’t even turn around to look at her, and I guess this makes her even angrier. “I bite and I don’t cry and I’ll vomit and pee all over you.”
Jesus Hermione Christ. This girl has balls of freaking steel. “Can’t wait, baby doll,” I say, trotting sideways down the narrow stairs. And for all her threats, Regan is close behind me. I can hear Gomes and the house mom making up the end. I can see the front door and our potential freedom beyond.
“You still want this whore?” Gomes calls out. “I have so many others. This one’s too much trouble for you.”
I laugh, a sour sound so Gomes knows I’m not really amused. “You took my money, Gomes. I’m not into international pussy, so I’m taking this girl and you’re going to be happy with the quarter I dropped for her.”
We’re at the front door now, and Regan has stopped hissing insults at me because she’s stunned into silence by the prospect of escape. “How long you think you will keep her?”
Turning to face Gomes, I place my hand on the door. Down here in the entrance, it’s actually more dangerous. Gomes has guards at the door, inside and out. He’s having trouble processing that I don’t want to fuck in his little shithouse.
“You think I’m paying a quarter for her and that I’m going to just trot her back after an evening?” From Gomes’ frown it’s clear that he thinks she is coming back tomorrow. I shake my head. For the money that I’ve given him, he should’ve assumed that Regan would be fucked until she’s dead. “She’ll be back when I’m good and ready to return her. I didn’t pay that kind of coin for one night.”
“What will you do with her?”
“What do you care?” I ask impatiently. Regan is shivering beneath the jacket, the bangles beating a faster rhythm. Her feet are probably cold on the red clay tiles. Outside she’ll be warmer though, and as soon as we’re out of the favelas I’ll get her some shoes.
Gomes looks a little ill. “I need her back.”
I shake my head. “You let me worry about the disposal of this one. You should worry about the fact you’ve been spreading the tales about your wares into some dangerous places. Places where policia federal might have to take notice. Don’t be a shithead and ruin it for the rest of us.” And by the rest of us, I mean you, asswipe.
I look at the two hired muscles standing inside the front room, which serves as Gomes’ office and show room. It’s got a deep red carpet that has stains all over it. I don’t know whether it’s cum or blood, but I’m glad I was wearing shoes when I made that transaction with Gomes thirty minutes earlier. With my hand on the door knob, I give everyone a leveling gaze. “We’re done here.”
Gomes looks at his goons and then at me. There’s something about me Gomes doesn’t like, or maybe it’s because he thinks he’s losing a valuable piece of property. Second thoughts are all over his face, and I ruck up my suit coat on the side so I can have ready access to my gun, just in case. The goons move toward the door of Gomes’ front room and the tension becomes heavier, like dense smog descending over the slums. I calculate my next course of action. Gomes does not look armed. He’s wearing a thin cotton Panama shirt and linen pants, wrinkled and splattered with liquid around the ankles. The cotton would reveal any hidden guns at his waist or back. He could have an ankle piece, but I’m a good enough shot that he’d be dead by the time he bent over. I dismiss the house mom. The two muscled guys are my only worries. The entry way is narrow, like the stairs, and we are packed into the foyer like little sardines in a tin can. If a firefight breaks out here we are all toast. I know Regan doesn’t want to be touched, but I need to signal her, somehow, to get behind me.
“I worry about you in the favela,” Gomes says. He waves his hand and one of the goons step forward. “Ricardo will escort you out, to be sure that you get back to your hotel safely.”
Or he’ll shoot me in the back and take your blonde American prize back to the stable. No, not happening, but I’m anxious to get out of the house. Ricardo can be taken down once we are outside. No doubt there are several other thugs along the way that Ricardo intends to meet up with, but we have way better odds outside.
“Whatever,” I answer and then throw open the door, hard. It hits Ricardo in the nose and he curses. Behind me I hear a muffled snort.Good girl, I think, and then I walk outside with Regan close on my heels.
I CAN’T TELL IF I’M happy or numb with panic. For the first time in almost two months, the horrible, horrible chain is off my ankle. I’ve been given a coat to wear. It’s not warm, but it covers the ridiculous bikini and makes me feel almost human. We’re heading outside. I should be ecstatic.
But I can’t quite shake the feeling that I’m in bigger trouble than before. They never let me out of my room. Never. The fact that they’ve unchained me and are letting me walk out with this smooth-talking American who sticks out like a sore thumb can mean only one thing:
He’s bought me.
And that could be very, very bad. No one wants a whore for longer than a night. I glance over my shoulder at Augustina, the housemother, and Senhor Gomes, but they look mildly unhappy. I see fear flickering on Augustina’s face, and that panicky tightness returns to my stomach.
This man is worse than the place I have just left. I know this. I am starting to suspect, that from the look Augustina’s wearing, I am a dead woman walking. I swallow hard. I’ve longed for freedom, but never to the point that I wanted to die. I want to live. Always.
The American continues to spit rapid-fire Portuguese at Senhor Gomes, and they argue over something as we go down the stairs. I walk, ignoring the fact that the floor is cold on my bare feet and I’m barely dressed. What is going to happen to me now that I have been sold again?
Nothing good, I am sure.
If I want to live, I need to escape this man. I need to get away from everyone—Gomes, Augustina, this new American in the suit. Somehow I need to get away and run. Run until I find someone that will take me to the closest American embassy.
Gomes says something else, and Ricardo steps forward, a big bruiser who works at the brothel. I’ve had to service him before, and I hate his guts. He isn’t coming with us, is he? But it appears like exactly that; he follows us closely. The American asshole doesn’t look pleased, either. He slams the front door of the brothel open and smacks Ricardo right in the nose.
I can’t help it. I snort with a stifled laugh. I like seeing these jerks get hurt. It soothes my soul. I’d scratch all their eyes out if I could.
The American turns to me and raises an eyebrow, and I give him a challenging look. “Are you going to kill me?”
He glances at the others standing close nearby. They are listening to every word he says to me. “Not today,” he says.
That’s not reassuring.
I cross my arms tighter across my chest. “Where are we going?” I don’t step through the front door even though I can see the dirty street outside, and every instinct screams for me to bolt out there and make a break for it.
“It’s a great little place I like to call Shut the Hell Up and Quit Asking Questions. Now, come on.” He gestures at the wide-open door. There’s a hard tone in his voice. “Stay close to me. You won’t like it if I have to chase you.”
Ominous words, but I’m not scared of him. What’s the worst that could happen? I get stuck here sucking the dicks of strangers? End up in a shallow grave? I feel as if I’m out of choices as it is. You can’t really threaten someone with nothing to lose. An hour ago, I would have feared for my life, but if I go with this man, I’ve lost it anyhow. The scared looks Augustina shoots in my direction are real. She thinks I am already dead.
I need to do something. The open door, so close, is a challenge I can’t resist. I take a few steps out, following the man in the suit. He’s tall and clean cut. I’d find him handsome enough if he wasn’t here in a Brazilian brothel purchasing me. Since he is, he’s clearly a deviant.
As soon as I step outside of the front door, a barrage of sensations hit me. The streets are narrow, a tight cluster of haphazard slums. The night air is cool and crisp and carries a hint of garbage. But I feel a breeze ruffling my hair and nearly choke on tears. I am outside. Escape and freedom are so close that I can feel them in my grasp. I tremble all over, my toes curling on the dirty, cracked pavement lined with trash.
“You cold, sweetheart?” The American puts a big hand on my shoulders, urging me on. At the end of the street, I see a taxi waiting, and he gives me a little push toward it.
I stumble forward, my legs stiff, and jerk away from his hand, whirling around. “Don’t touch me.”
As I turn, I see that Ricardo is moving ahead, too, and his hand is in his jacket. But the American has obviously used me as a distraction. Before I fully realize what is happening, the American’s hand is already on his gun and it’s pointed at Ricardo’s forehead.
“Nope,” says the American quietly, his intense focus on Ricardo’s face. “Don’t even think about it unless you want your brains on the pavement. Drop it on the ground.”
I freeze in place, watching the men. The first thought that flashes through my mind is that if I had a gun, I’d have all the power. A gun can make a person do anything, by waving it around. And I’m so tired of being on the other end of the gun. One day, I’m going to be the one holding the weapon, and someone else is going to weep and beg for me not to hurt them. And I’ll think about it.
I’ll have to be quicker to get the drop, though. The American man is so speedy with that gun, so deadly. He moved faster than I could imagine.
I’m so dead if I go with him.
Ricardo slowly reaches into his pocket and lets his gun fall to the ground, gaze on the gun barrel pointed between his eyes. As I watch, the American stoops to grab it, does something with the gun, and the entire magazine of bullets drops to the ground. Two more swift motions and the barrel is separated so the entire thing looks like a dissected animal in pieces on the pavement. Just like that, Ricardo has been disabled.
I stare for a moment, and then I run. I bolt like all the devils in the world are at my feet. Not toward the taxi and where the American wants me to go—down the street, into the slums themselves. The houses here are narrow and tight, and the streets equally so. I will lose myself in the maze, get away from both brothel and American psycho. When it’s safe, I’ll emerge.
I dart down an alley, my bare feet slapping on the broken concrete of the street. “Hey!” the American calls after me. “Wait!”
I don’t wait. I’m not stupid. I turn down a trash-strewn alley and slam away, running like I never have before. I’m free, my brain calls with every beat of my feet on the pavement. I’m free. I’m free.
Rough arms grab me at the waist, hauling me aside so roughly that my entire body flails and a man’s arm slams the breath out of my lungs. I choke and gasp as a big, sweaty-smelling man presses my body against his, his hand moving to my neck and pinning me against him. I start to fight. A moment later, there is a gun pressed to my forehead.
It’s not the American. It’s someone new.
Two guns to my head in one night. If I was in a horror movie, I’d be screaming at the screen at how stupid the heroine is. A laugh chokes from my throat and ends up as a sob.
The man holding me strokes a hand down my throat in a way that makes my stomach revolt. He murmurs something in Portuguese, and then says something to a friend that emerges from the nearby shadows. I catch the word “Gomes” in their foreign chatter. These men work for the brothel. They are retrieving me.
I’m not free after all.
A loud pop sounds in my ears. Behind me, the man slumps and falls to the ground. A second pop, and I turn. His friend falls to the ground, too. I blink in shock, chest heaving as I try to pull air back into my lungs.
The American strides forward from the far end of the alley and gives me an irritated look as he reloads his gun, a long, skinny barrel-looking thing on the end of it. A silencer, perhaps. “I guess I should thank you for flushing them out, but all I really want to do is choke that skinny neck of yours. Can we quit with the bullshit and get out of here, already? As much as I love the atmosphere of the favelas and all, I’m tired, dirty, and hungry, and I’d really like to call it a night. So can we do that, please?” His voice is laden with sarcasm. “Or did you have any other blind alleys you wanted to charge down, half-naked and barefoot?”
I stare blankly at him for a moment, and then I shake my head. “I-I’m good, thanks.”
“Any other genius plans for escape?” he asks, pulling the silencer off his gun and tucking it back into his jacket. “Because I’d really prefer not to spend all night chasing your ass, Regan.”
A bitchy retort rises to my lips, and then I snap it back as I realize—“How . . . how did you know my name?”
“I know a lot about you. What, you think I like trolling the slums of Rio de Janeiro for blondes because I can’t get laid?” He gestures back where I came from. “Come on. The meter’s running.” The man reaches for me again.
I sidle away so he can’t touch me, tugging the coat closer. I look at the two dead men at my feet. I should feel something for them, right? Some sort of horror that they died right in front of me? That this man shot at them while I stood here? But all I can think is that they were this close to dragging me back to the brothel.
And this man knows my name. He was looking for me. My heart thuds in my chest. Once. Twice.
Maybe I’m not forgotten after all.
“Who are you?” I ask as I step over the lifeless body of one man.
“Call me Daniel.”
REGAN IS LOOKING AT ME like I’m going to kill her or, worse, take her to someplace that will make Gomes’ brothel look like Disneyland. Not that I blame her. If I was in her shoes I’d be running in the other direction too. She doesn’t know jack about me other than the shit I spouted off in front of Gomes, which was essentially that I was taking her to my hotel room where I’d pound her so hard that there wouldn’t be anything left but a corpse. She’s unlikely to believe that the only place I’m taking her is to the U.S. Embassy, so rather than waste time arguing with her, I start walking. Actions over words and all that.
The taxi is likely long gone and even if it wasn’t, bringing Regan back into Gomes’ reach isn’t an option. He’s too interested in her return. Why he’s having second thoughts about selling her for the night doesn’t add up for me. It’s not like Regan’s the only blonde in a hundred-mile radius. I’m not even convinced she’s the only star spangled pussy around. She’s damn pretty though, and maybe if I were a half-rate, back alley brothel owner I’d think a girl like this could elevate my reputation amongst the expats who like a taste of home. But I’m not paid to think about why. I’m paid to do.
I’ve located Regan after running around Russia like a fool, freezing my nuts off until the head of the Petrovich Bratva, a powerful Russian criminal family, learned that she had been shipped down here. By accident, Vasily Petrovich told me. That’s some kind of accident. Vasily had stashed her in a Petrovich house, only someone stole her from there and sold her to some rich dude in Rio. Then when I arrived in Rio, she wasn’t with the rich dude but was in Gomes’ place. Another week wasted. I just need to get her to the Embassy, and then I am on to the important part of my task: Finding my sister. Vasily gave me a tip in exchange for retrieving Regan that there was a stream of blonde girls from the United States being funneled down to some guy in Rio. One of those blondes might be my sister.
Petrovich should’ve known I’d come for Regan anyway since Nick was kind of a friend and Regan was his girl’s best friend but instead he gave me two pieces of information. I’m supposed to be looking for some hacker that Vasily wants called the Emperor, but his little task will be put on the back burner until I find my sister.
Wary of me, Regan walks a half step behind. Or rather, I let that distance between us exist. She’s more afraid of bogeymen jumping out of the houses or back alleys than she is of me right now, but that could change at any moment. Fear is a good thing. It makes you sharp and aware. Complacency makes you dead.
“How do you know my name?” she repeats.
“Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies,” I quip.
She curls her lip at me, telegraphing disdain for my humor. But I’m not telling her anything. Who knows what she will tell the folks at the U.S. Consulate? If she’s smart, she’ll tell them everything—including how a tall guy with a black suit and big black guns killed two Brazilians in the slums—and then I can add U.S. military to the number of people who want to see me captured or dead. The list is long and varied, but I’m still alive and most who’ve encountered me are not.
Fighting the urge to stare at her is more challenging than I expected. As we walk down the hill, several boys make hooting calls that cause her to flinch and drive her closer to me. I take her in surreptitiously. Only the lights from the homes and the occasional street light illuminate our path. The dirt and poverty looks more like quaintness than squalor. And Regan Porter looks like the shiniest rock in the diamond mine. I can’t fucking take my eyes off her.
Maybe she’s been sent to me as karmic punishment. You can look but don’t touch. Or worse, you shouldn’t even be looking.
Despite all that she’s gone through, Regan is magnetic. Her blonde hair has dried in a cloud around her face, and neither the dirt nor the trauma can disguise the oval perfection, high cheekbones and full lips. My hand rises of its own volition to tuck a few strands of hair behind her pretty pale little ear. She jerks back from me, wide eyed, nostrils flaring like a scared wild Mustang I’ve brought in to tame.
And then my dick takes over and my thoughts go on an inappropriate detour thinking about all that pale pinkness riding me and that long blonde hair brushing my bare chest. And those plump lips making a perfect circle for my—oh fuck. I am such a fucking asshole. Clenching my hand, I force myself to back off. Time and place, Daniel, time and fucking place.
“Hurry the fuck up,” I bark out. She flinches, and that helps to suppress my ill-conceived desires. I’m not into chicks who don’t want me and particularly not those who are scared of me.
But I’m not the only one drawn to her. I should’ve asked for a paper bag to place over her head, but you’d still see those long legs, the sexy indent of her waist and the thrust of her tits against the tissue thin coat. It’s a good thing the night air is warm because between the swimsuit and the napkin that we’re calling a coat, she doesn’t have much protection from the elements. I can’t even take off my suit coat because I have a brace of guns underneath, but I can do something about her lack of shoes.
What People are Saying About This
“Claire and Frederick have penned a sexy, thrilling romantic suspense with a strong heroine and a to-die-for hero. Romance readers won’t want to miss their latest.”—Smexy Books
“Clare and Frederick knocked this one out of the park.”—The Book Pushers
“I’m seriously at a loss for words to describe to you how good this book is. . . . I cannot stress enough how much I think you should read this series and particularly this book. It’s one of a kind and you won’t regret it.”—All Romance Reviews
Meet the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jessica Clare writes erotic contemporary romance, including the Billionaire Boys Club novels and the Bluebonnet novels. She also writes under two other pen names. As Jessica Sims, she writes fun, sexy shifter paranormals. She also has a third pen name, because three is more fun than two. As Jill Myles, she writes a little bit of everything, from sexy, comedic urban fantasy to fairy tales gone wrong. She lives in a teeny tiny town in North Texas that has no Starbucks, which is a cruel and unusual punishment. She spends her time with her husband, pets, and Keurig. Because, coffee.
Jen Frederick is the USA Today bestselling author of the Woodlands series as well as the Hitman series. She lives with her husband, child, and one rambunctious dog. She's been reading stories all her life but never imagined writing one of her own.
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If you like these book check out "Solitary" by new author melissa copeland...
Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick have done it again! Daniel and Regans story is gritty and hard but oh so good! Can't wait to read the next book!!