One week, six days and thirteen hours ago is when my nightmare started. How one bad decision can turn into a lifetime of regrets is beyond my realm of thinking. Your twenty-first birthday is supposed to be the best birthday, the most monumental, the most unforgettable birthday ever. Well, it was, just not for the reasons people would think.
Naked and terrified of them returning, I glance at my watch once again. Why they stripped me of everything I own but my watch baffled me at first. Now I know that this is how they have chosen to break me. Every minute, every hour and every day or week that passes with no rescue in sight has me losing hope for any rescue at all. When hope is lost, people tend to accept their lot in life for what it is.
During the first week, I stared at the second hand on my watch as it went around and around until my vision went blurry. Singing “Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock,” over and over again, sent my guards into a rage. That day, they took my cushion, my water and food and left me alone for twelve hours, still with my watch. Dying of thirst and discomfort was the first step of my undoing. I have never been uncomfortable in my life. I have a great home with a wonderful father and the best sister anyone could ask for. Having trustworthy friends and surrounding myself with nice boys has made my life easy. Not being prepared or taught, but being forced into learning that there is this kind of depravity in the world, is the second step to my undoing.
The door opens and Sir walks in. Scrambling to my position on my knees, legs spread wide with my hands palm up on top of my thighs and eyes cast down, pleases Sir.
“Very good, Pet. You are going to please your master greatly.”
Maria Anna Branson is whom I used to be until the day my stepfather, Thomas Jones, sold me to Sully Vrennikov, the head of a human trafficking organization. Now, I am Anna Smith, and I am sure Thomas did not expect me to survive, or that I would comeback to be his worst nightmare.
Weakness is not something I’ve allowed myself to feel since before I was sixteen. The vision of standing in my family home covered in blood crashes into my mind buckling my knees. I couldn’t save them no matter how many years we begged her to leave; we were just little kids. None of us expected it to turn out like this. Our lot in life was not of our choosing,but we were forced to be a product of our environment−my mom and brother a casualty.
Jim’s voice snaps me out of my head and back into real-time. The thought of women locked in a house having their rights violated is giving me flashbacks of my childhood.
“Snake, do you think they’re going to make it?”
I was only twenty-three when my father and mother were murdered in their own home. It was made to look like a random robbery. The police say when my parents came home from the country club and surprised the robbers, no witnesses was their motto. They were bound, gagged and shot execution style in their bedroom. After two years of no leads and the case getting colder by the minute, I decided to go hunting myself, which led to Mason PI. With the help of my friend Jax, who is an agent with the FBI, we were able to put two thugs away for life. Flipping on the bike lights to show me the way through the thick evergreens up to my home, the beam highlights the dirt road up ahead, but what catches my attention is not normal for my neck of the woods.
“What the hell!”
As I get closer, I see the crumpled and bloody body of a child about two feet from the roadside. Stopping my bike, I angle the headlights toward the small form. From the looks of it, a wild animal was planning on a meal and I may have interrupted. Holding my breath, I listen for sounds to give it away. The forest is eerily quiet like it’s trying to warn me that something is out there. Hopping off, I grab my .45 from my shoulder holster and rush forward. I reach down to touch a cold bare shoulder and she moans.
“Son of a bitch!”
The pounding in my head is excruciating. Something thick and wet slides down my face with a faint drip to the hard surface below. Trying to open my eyes to see where I am seems impossible. They feel glued shut. My arms feel weighted down and no matter how hard I try to move, I can’t raise my hand to my face. I think I’ve died, but where am I? Who am I? What happened to me that I feel this much pain? Hoping to be a good enough person to make it into Heaven, but not really sure that is where I want to be if I feel this much pain. I can’t see any bright light that everyone always waxes poetic about or feel the sense of peace.
The pain in my head has taken over every thought so I don’t hear the approach of footsteps but feel the light touch of a calloused hand on my shoulder. A rumble of a deep voice reaches my ears but I can’t make out what it is saying. A large hand slips under my neck and one under my knees and I open my mouth to scream out from the pain but nothing comes out. Tears slide down my face to mingle with the wet thickness there and I am mad at myself for being so vulnerable. Then I feel nothing.
What happens next is shocking, even to me. I have never believed in love at first sight. I mean come on, what guy would? Especially for one like me who grew up in the foster care system with no family to call my own. I was taught at a very early age never to want or ask for anything because more than likely you would not receive. Wanting only left me disappointed and heartbroken. My refusal to end up a statistic had me working my ass off for everything I have: a career, a home of my own, financial security and vacation time. At twenty-four years old, I finally feel stable.
My partner, Jax, is the typical badass FBI agent and we get along great. His career began with the Navy Seals and mine with the Police Academy. Even though we started out differently before joining the FBI, we think alike; both of us determined to rid the world of terrible people. The last few cases we have been on together involved abuse in foster homes, and it hit too close to home for me. Knowing this, Jax asked our boss to put me in for an early one-week vacation, so I am headed to Miami to stay with my childhood friend, Tag.
With views to die for on Miami Beach Boardwalk and nights of endless pleasure to be had with no commitments, it’s just what I need. The ocean water is blue-green, and the beach is dotted with women who dress in very little, making the views all around spectacular. Miami is the ideal place to go if you’re single.
Tag and I walk down from his condo, and neither one of us can look straight ahead. Our bobble heads giving me whiplash as we gawk at the women in all directions.
“Shit! Dude, I have lived here for six months, and I’ve never seen the beach this crowded.”
“I have two words for ya, Tag. Spring Break.” Tag and I were in the foster care system together, and we stayed in touch after high school. He was the closest thing to a brother I’ve ever had. From the age of twelve to eighteen, we were neighbors, both of us in foster families. Six years was the longest amount of time that either one of us spent in one home. I honestly believe that if it weren’t for him, I would have spent the last six years of my childhood in many different homes. We kept each other grounded and out of trouble. Hell, half of our neighborhood families had one or more foster kids living with them, so it was dubbed Foster Lane.
After high school, I headed to Boston in search of familial roots and Tag headed to Miami in search of a surfers dream, but we have always stayed in touch. He purchased a condo right on the boardwalk claiming his revolving door policy is working out well for him.
“Holy mother nature! Would ya get a look at that?”
Stepping down onto the sand, I glance at Tag to see that he has pulled his glasses off and is staring intently at the water. Turning my head in that direction, it is not the ocean that captures my attention, but a blonde in a red bikini that is barely covering her perfect rack. “Dibs.”
“Goddammit, Bro, I saw her first.”
“You shoulda called it.” I know it sounds childish, but Tag and I have the same taste in women, and the only way we kept from beating the shit out of each other was to call dibs. It is an honor code we live by and the reason we have remained friends to this day. To both our disappointment, an overly tan, steroid freak with dark blonde hair strolls up and plants one on my dream woman. Steroid Joe moves the blonde to the side so he’s not squinting into the sun and I get the perfect view of a perfect ass. “Holy mother nature is right.”
A wave of jealousy slams into me as Steroid Joe slides his hand down to cup said perfect ass, then dissipates when she slaps his hand away. He throws his hands in the air and begins a heated conversation with the perfect blonde. Anger swamps me as I watch her shoulders curl in like she’s trying to make herself seem small and insignificant; less of a target. Before I know what I’m doing, I am marching across the beach to put this jackass in his place, but the last of their conversation stops me in my tracks.