They never expected her to fight back…
Eighteen-year old Charlotte Reyes ran away from an abusive home only to end up tricked, kidnapped, and taken across the country by criminals. Charlotte manages to escape with the help of a reluctant former soldier named Mace Peterson, but she can’t seem to shake the gang or the crooked cop paid to bring her back—alive or otherwise. With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, Charlotte realizes she only has one option. She has to fight.
Set in the Virginia, Maryland, D.C. triangle, The Unrepentant combines page-gripping action and black comedy, and provides a no-holds-barred, necessary examination of the dark corners of the human mind.
Praise for THE UNREPENTANT:
“A gut-wrenching crime thriller. Readers who appreciate depth of character alongside gritty nonstop action will be rewarded.” —Publishers Weekly
“Savage, nuanced, and infused with Aymar’s signature dry wit, The Unrepentant is an enjoyable hard-boiled tale that pulls no punches.” —Jennifer Hillier, author of Creep and Wonderland
“Gritty and fleet, The Unrepentant takes an unflinching look at things that aren’t to be forgiven. Aymar’s storytelling is timely, thoughtful, and well-informed and will stay with you long after The End.” —Jamie Mason, author of Three Graves Full and Monday’s Lie
“Brutal, dark and disturbing, Ed Aymar’s The Unrepentant packs a punch not easy to forget.” —Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlie Fox crime thriller series
“The Unrepentant is a powerful, darkly evocative story that features an unforgettable protagonist in the wily Charlotte Reyes. These elements combine to make for a thrilling revenge tale peppered with sharp humor and feeling both timely and timeless. E.A. Aymar has arrived.” —Alex Segura, author of Blackout and Dangerous Ends
“Aymar tackles a horrific problem with unflinching courage and wit. The Unrepentant rewards readers with crisp prose, relentless thrills, and characters you’d want on your team in what is, at its core, a modern-day brawl between good and evil. I couldn’t put it down.” —Wendy Tyson, author of Rooted in Deceit
“The Unrepentant is a gripping and unnerving tale about the sex trade, American justice, and what it means to be a hero. E.A. Aymar takes on a taboo subject with honesty and courage.” —Allison Leotta, author of The Last Good Girl
“A tale of unflinching brutality, told with dark humour and bursting with empathy for both victim and hapless criminal alike, The Unrepentant is an action-packed, fast-moving thrill ride sure to leave readers breathless.” —Owen Laukkanen, bestselling author of The Professionals
|Publisher:||Down & Out Books II, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.74(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Mace Peterson expected to see silhouettes of trees, a surprised deer or two, the smudge of a shadowed moon, maybe even a startled snake slithering away at midnight in the woods of Baltimore County.
What he hadn't expected was some man pulling a struggling woman out of a car's trunk.
Another man emerges from the passenger side. Mace shrinks back into the trees on the other side of the road, hoping he doesn't snap a twig.
The second man flips on a flashlight, gathers the woman's legs under one arm. They carry her into the trees as Mace crouches in the shadows. He can hear their grunts, and he hears something else. Her voice, desperate, cracked with fear:
"Stop. Okay? Please? I'll be good. I promise. I'll be good."
And then her voice is muffled. Her words turn unintelligible, but the panic filling them increases as they disappear into the dark.
Mace wants to run back to his apartment building for help, but it's over a mile away and he can't leave this woman with these men. He thinks about trying to stop them but shakes off the idea. Four years in the Army may have taught him how to fight, but that was close to a decade ago. And these men could have weapons. He doesn't.
Mace nervously rubs his arm.
And follows them.
He watches the flashlight's beam bounce through the quiet night, one arm in front to feel for branches, squinting in what little light the moon provides. It's hard to keep quiet, but the two men are walking heavily, and the woman is still making pleading sounds through whatever is muffling her.
Mace worries about his breathing. Either exertion or fear has left his lungs shallow, and he wants to stop and greedily, loudly, suck in air. He reaches under his shirt and presses down over his heart, as if the pressure will calm it, and is surprised to discover his chest is cold with sweat.
The flashlight's beam stops moving.
He hears a thump.
Mace kneels behind a tree, peers into a pear-shaped clearing. One of the men is bent over, hands on his knees. The other man, taller and thinner, is glancing around. The woman's body is curled like a dying fish between them, her hands tied together.
The tall man reaches down, pulls something from her mouth.
Her words rush out like water released from a dam. "I'll be good, I promise. I'll be good."
The tall man kicks her in the stomach. She rolls over. Mace is surprised she doesn't make a sound but hears her gasping after a few seconds and realizes the wind was knocked out of her. She struggles into an arched position, her knees and forehead pressed into the dirt, coughing.
He closes his eyes, tries to control his breathing. Thinks again about running off for help, but he's so close, these men might notice if he moves.
The shorter man, whose body reminds Mace of a thumb, tosses something and the tall man catches it. Mace leans forward, struggling to see what it is.
The man lifts his arm.
A small axe.
Mace's stomach is tightening like a towel being wrung of water. He's still unsure of what to do, what he can do.
"Wait," the man shaped like a thumb orders. The tall man lowers his arm. "We forgot the plastic sheets."
"Shit and fuck."
"I'll get them from the car," the Thumb says. "Relax. It'll take a second."
"I'll get them," the tall man replies. His rough voice sounds like a chainsaw warming up. He throws the axe into the ground and walks off, passing so close that Mace can smell cigarette smoke on him.
The Thumb picks the axe up. He hefts it in his hand, kneels next to the woman.
Mace rushes into the clearing.
He's not exactly sure what he's going to do.
But the Thumb seems less dangerous than his counterpart, probably because of his exhausted, bent pose and chubby build. Mace isn't a model of physical fitness either, and he barely remembers the hand-to-hand combat he learned in the Army. Only one thing comes to mind, and it's from years ago, when he played safety for a season on his high school football team.
The Thumb turns as Mace's shoulder smashes into the man's face.
The Thumb is too surprised to do anything but grunt as his body sails back. Despite everything going on, and somewhere deep inside, Mace is proud of the hit. His old coach would have liked it. All six feet, two hundred pounds of him had gone into the impact. He takes the axe and tosses it into the trees. Then he grabs the woman, pulls her up.
They rush out of the clearing.
Thoughts dart through Mace's mind like scared fish.
Who is this woman?
Who were those men?
Is he going to die?
Where is he going?
That's the important one.
Mace stops running and the woman stops with him. He listens to hear if they're being followed, but can't hear anything but his own breathing. He strains to stay silent.
Then he does hear something, a low whisper from the woman.
"Can you cut my hands free?"
Mace shakes his head. "I don't have anything to do it with."
"Why'd you throw away the axe?"
"I didn't want them to get it?"
Mace is a little put off by her attitude, considering he just saved her life. They run again, crashing through the woods. Mace doesn't care about being quiet anymore, he just doesn't want to get caught. He changes path frequently, randomly turning right or left. He has no idea where he's going and is more than a little worried because she's following him faithfully. There's nothing but night around him, two violent men somewhere in it, and he's lost.
Branches grasp at his clothes. Shadows rush and recede. In the dark, the woods seem deep and impenetrable, a vast wilderness. But Mace knows this isn't the case. Baltimore County is a mix of city and nature, as if the two are constantly warring, and everything from the forests to the Chesapeake Bay is being pressed by buildings and roads and other new construction. He knows if they keep running they'll eventually emerge, and they do, onto a dark road.
He doesn't see any cars. "We need to get the cops."
"No cops." It's too dark for her to be anything but a silhouette. All he can see is that she's short and thin, slight even.
She just shakes her head.
An idea occurs to Mace, and immediately shames him.
He could abandon her.
This woman is in a world of trouble, and he doesn't want to join her in it. It's easy to imagine returning home and never seeing her again. He's already helped her. There's really no reason for him to do anything further.
But he doesn't leave. He knows the guilt will be too great. Something drew him to her. It was in her voice, the helpless, childlike way she begged.
"My name's Charlotte," she tells him.
"Do you have a phone?"
"It's at my apartment." He pauses. "I got into a fight with my ex-wife and left. Thought about going back for it, but I couldn't. Not after storming out."
"So you don't have a phone?"
"Let's stay on the side of the road," Charlotte says, decisively. "That way we can see if someone drives by."
"My apartment's somewhere around here. I just need to get my bearings."
"Get them while we run."
Charlotte hurries down the road.
He follows her, their footsteps softer on flatter ground. His adrenaline seems to be fading; the run is starting to tire him. He's not nearly in as good a shape as he was back when he enlisted, or even when he was married. A lot of sleepless, couch-sitting, Netflixbinging, potato chip-eating nights will do that to a person.
He and Charlotte round a corner. She stops.
Mace doesn't, and nearly knocks her over.
"What?" he starts to ask, and realizes he needs to catch his breath. He puts his hands on his knees, bends over.
When he looks up, he sees a car in front of him.
The car she was held in.
The tall man is standing next to it.
"What are you doing back here?" the tall man asks. "And who's that guy?"
He starts walking toward them.
"Did we just run in a circle?" Charlotte whispers.
The tall man reaches down, lifts his pants leg. Pulls out a long knife from an ankle sheath.CHAPTER 2
Charlotte Reyes wants to run off, but she can't abandon this guy moments after he saved her life. And he's staring at the tall man, seemingly rooted to the ground. She looks around for some type of weapon. Sees a hand-sized rock.
The tall man goes after Mace first. He lunges, the knife even with Mace's eyes. Mace stumbles back into a tree, slips and falls.
The blade ends up quivering in the tree just above Mace's head.
The tall man is staring at the knife. "Shit and ..."
Charlotte holds the rock tight between her bound hands.
Uses all her force to smash it into the back of his head.
The impact is sudden and violent, like the sound of someone slamming the soles of two boots together. The tall man goes down to a knee. Charlotte smashes the stone down again, knocking him flat.
She lifts it.
Mace catches her arm.
"Don't kill him."
Charlotte stares at him, confused. "What?"
"He's out. And we need to leave before the Thumb comes back."
"We need to go."
Charlotte drops the rock.
A hasty search doesn't reveal the tall man's car keys. Charlotte follows Mace down the road to a trail, relieved the entrance isn't easily visible in the dark. They move as fast as they can without making unnecessary noise. Charlotte stays behind him, fighting the urge to turn and leave, the urge to spare Mace the violence she just escaped.
She knows it will come after her.
Charlotte's not sure how long they spend on the trail, but it seems like a half hour passes before they emerge into a narrow grassy field. Three identical buildings stand across the field from them, each one wide but only a couple of stories high. Mace points to the closest.
"My apartment's there."
A beat passes.
"Maybe we should go in?"
"Oh," Mace says. "Right. I'm trying to figure out what to do. I'm guessing I shouldn't be seen walking into the building with someone tied-up."
Charlotte turns to let Mace undo the knots. The rope cuts into her wrists, into the sores left by handcuffs. She tries to ignore the pain.
"I can't loosen the rope," Mace tells her.
"Can you just pull one of my hands out?"
"Maybe." Charlotte feels his hand over her wrist. He tugs. The rope bites into her skin until she cries out.
"Why'd you stop?" she asks.
"I don't want to hurt you."
She closes her eyes, grits her teeth, feels Mace's hands around her wrist. There's a moment of pain so intense that the insides of her eyelids turn white. She drops to her knees.
But her hands are free.
Mace helps her stand.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Charlotte tries to rub the raw paths cut into her wrists. They're too painful to touch.
They cross the field to the building's back door. Mace unlocks it, holds it open, leads Charlotte up a flight of stairs. The second-floor hall is dark, narrow, quiet and, fortunately, empty. Mace stops outside his apartment. He turns toward Charlotte, opens his mouth to say something, freezes.
He's staring at the bruises on her face, the scabs and dried blood.
She pulls her curly black hair down, looks away.
"Sorry," Mace says. "I just, I was surprised ..."
"Can we go inside?"
He unlocks the door, pushes it open. Charlotte enters first. Mace follows and closes and locks the door behind them. She watches him do it.
The apartment is small and dimly-lit, very much a bachelor pad. The walls are all white and Charlotte only sees one picture hung, a framed black and white movie poster for some depressing-looking movie. A tiny square kitchen with the absolute basics — dirty stove, thin refrigerator, old toaster, outdated microwave on a crumb-covered counter — is to her right. The front door opened into the living room, and the only furniture is a black leather recliner facing a wall-mounted television. Closed doors bookend either side of the room. There's a scent of mustiness in the air, as if the room is rarely opened to the outside.
"Eve?" Mace calls out.
"Your ex lives with you?"
"She came over to talk."
Something about that doesn't make sense to Charlotte. She doesn't show it, but suspicion tightens her body. "Why'd you leave your own apartment?"
"I just needed to get out of there." Mace has his own questions. "Who were those men?"
She stays guarded. "They were holding me. Doing things I didn't want them to."
Mace shifts his weight. "And we can't call the cops?"
Charlotte ignores him. "Can I use your bathroom?"
Mace wants to ask again about the cops but decides against it. He nods.
Charlotte walks quickly, enters the bathroom, closes and locks the door behind her. She sees a sink, toilet, cramped standing shower and, inside the shower, old grooming supplies. A hand towel hangs on a hook near the door, a small frosted window is set in the wall tiles. She tries to open the window. It won't budge.
Charlotte sits on the closed toilet seat and rubs her eyes.
She wants to keep running.
She can't end up back in that basement, blind in the dark, her body jerking whenever a man's hand touched her skin. Begging for them to stop or let her go, that helplessness when they'd ignore her. Weight pressing down, suffocating Charlotte until she was finally free to gasp and cry.
She stands, turns on the faucet, gingerly touches her face with warm water. She tries to notice how much blood and dirt are swirling down the drain. She's careful not to look at herself in the mirror.
Charlotte turns off the water, softly pats her aching face with the hand towel. She spots a small pair of curved scissors in Mace's grooming supplies, digs them out, touches the tips.
Charlotte slips the scissors into her pocket.
She opens the bathroom door. Mace is still standing in the living room.
"Are you being honest with me?" he asks. "Why can't we go to the cops?"
"One of the men who had me was a cop. He said they'd help him get me back if I told."
"Oh." Mace swallows. "I'm sorry."
She can't completely let her guard down, but something about Mace seems trustworthy. Maybe it's because all the men Charlotte's come across recently have been cruel and Mace, somehow, seems softer.
"Are you Native American?" she asks.
"Because I knew my way around the woods so well?"
That makes her smile. "I was just wondering where you're from."
"Maryland. But my dad was black and my mom was white, if you're really asking about my tan."
Charlotte looks at him more carefully. "Wouldn't have guessed that."
"No one does. What about you?"
"I thought so because of the accent but ... Charlotte's a Mexican name?"
"It's not, I am. Is Mace short for something?"
"That's your real name?"
He looks sheepish. "My real name's Marcus but, when I was in high school, I was sitting in the back of a class playing with pepper spray and sprayed myself in the face. After that, everyone called me Mace."
Charlotte stares at him, then briskly shakes her head. "What were you doing in the woods?"
"I wanted to be alone after the fight with Eve. She's a lawyer. I never win our arguments."
"How long has Eve been your ex?"
"We were together a decade. Been apart a year."
"A decade?" Charlotte squints at Mace. "How old are you?"
"You are?" He sounds surprised. "You don't look that young."
"I'm starting to see why she left you."
Charlotte can't remember the last time she saw a man smile.
But then he walks toward her and she backs away. Her hand digs for the scissors in her pocket.
Mace lifts his hands. "I'm just going to sit in this chair. Okay?"
"Yeah." The tension is back in her body, like a cat readying itself to jump. Mace walks around the wide recliner and settles into it.
Charlotte's hand stays in her pocket.
"If you want to talk about what happened," Mace offers, "you can. That's all I wanted to tell you."
"I thought maybe you were going to hug me, say 'it's not your fault' over and over."
Mace laughs, and his laugh is nice and low and rhythmic. It surprises Charlotte, but not in a bad way.
After what's happened, the idea of a comforting man seemed impossible. But there's a kindness in his caution toward her, in his smile and eyes and laugh.
Mace rubs his chin, the beginning of a beard more careless than intentional. "Well, it's not your fault, but I wasn't going to tell you that. Just wanted to sit."
They're quiet for a few moments.
"You only have the one recliner?"
"Yeah. And a microwave. Want some mac and cheese?"
"That's okay. I'd have to toast it. Microwave's busted."
Charlotte almost smiles at that, even if she suspects it's true.
"You got family nearby?" Mace asks.
Charlotte studies him. "Not sure I want to go into that."
"Okay." Mace scratches his unkempt hair and a few gray strands blink out of the black. "I just meant, is there anyone nearby who can protect you?"
"I should get going."
"Where?" Mace asks, startled. "You just said you didn't have anywhere to turn."
"I can't put you in danger. And you're in danger as long as I'm with you."
"There's no way anyone followed us here," Mace assures her.
Their conversation is interrupted by a knock on the door.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Unrepentant"
Copyright © 2019 E.A. Aymar.
Excerpted by permission of Down & Out Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Author,
Also by the Author,
The Down & Out Books Publishing Family Library of Titles,