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Discovering Zhara: Bad Girl Training, Page 2

Jessica Sorensen

  “I don’t ever want to wake up from this,” I admit as I stick my hand out the open window.

  Wilder scoots forward and brushes my hair away from my shoulder. “Then don’t.” He dips his head and places a soft kiss on my neck.

  The most wonderful shiver tickles across my skin and I angle my head back.

  “You feel so good…” He murmurs. “But your skin is so cold.”

  “That’s not weird, though…” I sound dazed and faraway, lost in dreamland.

  Maybe that’s exactly where I am. Lost. Perhaps I’ve been lost and dreaming since the night of Benton’s party. Maybe none of what happened afterward was real. Part of me is relieved at the idea. That I didn’t meet Axel, the drug lord. That I didn’t hear him say he knew my mom. That I didn’t vaguely recognize his colleague. That I didn’t get tranquilized. But the other part of me is disappointed. Because if I did dream everything, then that means I never met the Bad Boy Rebels, which is quite possibly the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me. And as scary as the last twenty-four hours have been, I’ve secretly kind of enjoyed the excitement. Have I been terrified? Absolutely. But I also liked the feeling, the adrenaline rush, the thrill of doing something out of the ordinary. What that says about me, I’m unsure. But I’m not about to over analyze myself while I’m hanging out in one of the best dreams ever.

  Wilder places a kiss on my neck again, before chuckling and dropping back down in the seat. Then he smirks at Benton, who’s sitting in the seat beside him.

  Benton rolls his eyes. “What? You think I’m impressed. I’ll show you impressed.” With a wicked glint in his eyes, he pushes Wilder out of the way, leans over the console, and seals his lips to mine.

  My heart flutters in my chest like a cracked out hummingbird as he parts my lips with his tongue.

  “Hey, I want to play,” Jackson whines.

  I feel the car slowing down and my pulse quickens. Oh my Gosh, is he going to kiss me too? Is this part of the job? Or just part of the dream? Do I even care?

  Before I arrive at an answer, the car gives a harsh jerk and Benton’s lips leave mine. When I open my eyes, I’m alone and the car is spinning out of control and heading for the river.

  “Tell me, Zhara, have you ever tasted the poison of the devil? Because your mom sure did.” Axel’s voice flows through the car, like a haunted memory.

  “You don’t know my mom,” I whisper as I fumble to open the console so I can pop out the shoulder straps before the car crashes. But the big, red, for-emergencies-only button isn’t inside. “No.” I panic as the car starts to slide over the edge and toward the river. “This can’t be happening.”

  “Yes, it can,” Axel’s voice echoes around me. “Look at you. You’re so much like your mom. I bet you liked the taste of the devil’s poison.”

  “No!” I scream, throwing my hands over my ears. “Just shut up—”

  The car tumbles sideways and lands in the water. Metal bends. Glass shatters. A piercing pain stings my leg.

  “No…” My voice sounds so far away. “I don’t want to taste it. I don’t want to—”

  “Zhara, open your eyes.” A soft, welcoming voice slices through the water rolling over my body. “Come on. You need to wake up.”

  “I’m trying,” I whimper as water rises to my chin. “But I can’t breathe…”

  “Yes, you can,” the voice whispers. “Just take a deep breath and open your eyes.”

  I do what the voice says, inhaling and exhaling, over and over again and then will my eyes to open. But my eyelids are too heavy, the water’s too deathly cold, and my body is too exhausted.

  “I’m dying,” I whisper and then the water carries me out of the car.

  I’m not sure if I’m dreaming anymore…

  Returning to the Land of Confusion

  I bolt upright and suck in a sharp breath, fighting to breathe. Water. Water, everywhere. I flail my arms around, trying to swim, but a hand touches my arm and confusion douses over me. Wait, if I’m in the water then why is someone touching me? And why can I breathe?

  I force my eyelids open, but my vision is blurry, making it nearly impossible to tell where I am. I blink several times and attempt to calm down.

  “Good, now take a deep breath,” someone says from beside me.

  I can’t make out their face, but the deep voice has to belong to a guy. Maybe one of the Bad Boy Rebels? Or did Axel get ahold of me? Is that why I heard him in my dream?

  I try to recall the last thing that happened before I was sucked into dreamland. Standing on the side of the road. In the dark. Wilder and Jackson beside me. That’s where everything gets hazy.

  “Where am I?” I croak, continuing to blink my eyes. “And what time and day is it?”

  “You’re at Benton’s. It’s been a few hours since you passed out,” the soft, deep voice says. “Don’t worry, you’re safe.”

  Gradually, my vision comes back into focus. I realize I’m sitting in a bed in an unfamiliar bedroom with dark blue walls. “Who’s room is this?”

  “It’s Benton’s bedroom.”

  My head snaps to the right and I find Ridge sitting in a chair beside the bed, his eyes full of concern.

  “Oh.” I rub my forehead then wince from the pain. “Why does it feel like I’ve been run over by a truck?”

  Keeping his gaze glued to me, he slants forward and rests his elbows on the edge of the bed. “Just how much do you remember about what happened?”

  My shoulders feel heavy as I shrug. “I don’t know… Being on the side of the road with Jackson and Wilder. That’s about where my memory cuts off.”

  “From what Wilder told me, that’s about when you passed out.” He scoots the chair closer to the bed. “Do you remember why you passed out?”

  My gaze falls to my leg and I lift off the blanket covering me. I’m still wearing the cut-off shorts and the tank top Wilder tore, but the plaid jacket I had tied around my waist is MIA, along with the ring Axel gave me—thank God. “I was tranquilized by a crazy drug lord, right?” I frown at the gnarly bruise on my leg. “That’s gross.” I can’t even remember the last time I had a bruise, which seems a bit strange when I really think about it.

  “The bruise is from the injection,” he explains. “But it should go away within a few days.”

  I start to relax when another thought occurs to me. “Wait, what time is it?” I cast a quick glance at the window, noting the stars and the moon are shining in the sky. “Crap, Loki’s going to be so worried about me. I need to call him.” I reach for my pocket to get my phone, but it isn’t in there. “Crap, I must have dropped my phone somewhere.”

  Ridge gently places a hand on my knee. “Relax. Benton used your phone to text Loki and told him you were spending the night at Taylor’s. And I’m sure he probably accidentally took your phone when he left.”

  “Oh.” I exhale in relief. “I’m glad he did that. Loki isn’t used to me coming home late and I’m sure he would’ve freaked out.” I search for a clock to see what time it is. Why I find one, my gratitude for Benton doubles. It’s after one o’clock in the morning. He definitely would’ve been worried. “I just hope Taylor doesn’t try to text me for a ride. I was supposed to call her a cab if she needed one. I’m sure by now, though, she’s probably gotten one herself. She’s probably going to be mad at me, for letting her down.”

  “That doesn’t really sound fair.”

  “Well, I told her I would pick her up or get her a cab, so…” I shrug. “It was sort of my responsibility.”

  He nods, but doesn’t seem convinced.

  He runs his fingers through his messy brown hair, seeming stressed. His jeans and t-shirt are a bit wrinkled, and through his glasses, I spot bags under his eyes.

  “You look tired,” I note. “Is everything okay?”

  He stares at me with his brows knit. “You just woke up from getting tranquilized and one of the first things you say is I look tired?”

  I give a shrug, unsu
re whether he’s complimenting me or if he just thinks I’m crazy. “I’m just worried maybe you stayed up too late keeping an eye on me or whatever it was you are just doing in here.”

  “I’m fine,” he assures me, fidgeting with a tiny hole in his jeans. “I’ve actually been running on about three hours of sleep for the last three days or so, but that has nothing to do with you.”

  “Oh.” I tuck a few stray strands of my hair behind my ear. “What does it have to do with then?”

  “The job, mostly. But I’ve also been dealing with some family drama too.” He frowns. But then straightens and pats the bed. “How about you scoot over here so I can check you over before Benton texts again.”

  “Okay.” I slide to the edge of the bed and lower my feet to the floor. “Where did Benton go anyway?”

  He opens the top drawer of the nightstand and retrieves a thermometer and a pulse and oxygen meter. “He had to go do a work thing, but he’s been texting about every five minutes to make sure you’re okay.” He takes my hand and his fingers slightly tremble as he positions the pulse and oxygen meter onto my finger.

  Is he nervous? Why? Does it have anything to do with me mentioning Axel knowing my mom? From what I recall, I blabbed that detail to Jackson and Wilder before I passed out.


  My mom.

  Axel knows my mom.

  The mantra fills my head, making my brain throb and my heart twinge. But I tell it to shut the heck up, that it can’t be true.

  “I need you to try to breathe as normally as you can.” Ridge pushes to his feet and slowly leans in toward me with the thermometer in his hand. “I’m going to put this in your ear and take your temperature. Try to hold as still as possible, okay?”

  I nod and do as he asks, again noticing the unsteadiness in his movements. And again, questioning if his nervousness has to do with Axel saying he knows my mom. Then another concern occurs to me. Are the guys going to kick me out over the possibility that my mom had a connection with a drug lord?

  Stop thinking that! It’s not true. Your mom wouldn’t ever associate with a man like Axel.

  But no matter how hard I try, I can’t forget the memory of me driving in the car with my mom and a man I’m pretty sure works for Axel.

  I swallow the lump wedged in my throat. “Ridge… Did Jackson or Wilder mention anything I said before I passed out?”

  He positions the thermometer in my ear. “They said you passed along a message from Axel… And that you said something about him mentioning your mom.”

  “Oh.” I don’t know what else to say, so I keep my lips sealed and stare at my hands.

  My heart hurts. My head hurts. Even my soul hurts a little bit.

  “Zhara, you need to understand something about this world.” Dipping his head, he catches my gaze.” A lot of crazy stuff happens. People you thought were your friends end up betraying you.” He swallows hard, as if recollecting a painful memory. “Even your family can stab you in the back. And there are a lot of liars. And these liars will destroy weak people to get what they want, so you never know what’s true and what’s not.”

  “You think I’m weak?” I ask then shake my head. Of course he does, because I am. Always have been.

  He firmly shakes his head. “Not at all and that’s why I’m telling you this—so you can learn what to watch out for.” He uses his free hand to brush a few strands of my hair out of my eyes. “After what happened on your very first day, I’d be a complete idiot if I thought you were weak.” He offers me a small smile. “You’re a lot braver than most people and way braver than I am.”

  I shake my head. “I don’t think that could possibly be true.”

  “Don’t doubt it. I kickass with anything that has a computer chip for a brain, but put me in a situation where I actually have to talk to a person and I lock up.”

  “You mean, you get stage fright?”

  “Yeah, I guess you could look at it that way, but I’m not really on stage.”

  “Well, technically no, but you’re acting, right? At least that’s how I felt when I was in the car with Axel—I didn’t even feel like I was Zhara anymore.” Honestly, I don’t feel like her now, but that might be the drugs lingering in my system.

  “Yeah, I’ve heard some of the guys say something similar.” He removes the thermometer from my ear as it beeps. “I think looking at it that way makes it easier for them to do some of the shadier things the job requires.”

  “What sort of shady things?” I ask, partly curious and partly worried. What if they’ve killed people?

  “Nothing as severe as what you’re thinking,” he says, his lips quirking.

  “Hold on, how did you know what I was thinking?” I cover my mouth with my hand and let out an exaggerated gasp. “Wait? Was that really a mind reader doohickey you just put in my ear?”

  He chuckles, glancing at the temperature on the thermometer. “Nah, I left that at home today.” His brows dip. “Huh? So, it didn’t go up?”

  “What didn’t?”

  “Your temperature… It’s 97.5, which is slightly out of the normal body temperature range.”

  “Oh, I’m always like that,” I tell him with a dismissive wave. “I have been for as long as I can remember.”

  He meets my gaze, a crease visible between his brows. “Have you ever talked to a doctor about it?”

  “No, but I also haven’t been to a doctor since I was like six.”


  “Yeah, I don’t get sick very often. In fact, I think the last time I was actually sick was when I was six.”

  He scratches his forehead. “And did the doctor mention you having a low body temperature?”

  “I can’t remember. But I do remember my mom mentioning it a few times and telling me that if anyone ever said anything about it to tell them it was normal and that I was okay.” I pause, noting how puzzled he looks. “Was she wrong? Am I not okay?”

  “No, you’re fine.” His gaze descends to the pulse and oxygen meter. “Your pulse looks great, along with your oxygen level.”

  “That’s good then, right?” Because it doesn’t seem like he thinks it’s good.

  He forces a smile as he fixes his gaze on me. “Yeah, that’s a good thing.”

  “Okay.” I may not know him well, but I swear he’s keeping something from me.

  Before I can press for details—that is, if I could even figure out how to press someone I barely know for details—Wilder strolls into the room. He’s wearing different clothes from the last time I saw him, now sporting a pair of dark jeans, a grey t-shirt, and clunky boots decorated with thick buckles. His blonde and blue hair is a tousled mess on the top and as always, his long eyelashes make him appear as if he’s wearing eyeliner.

  When his gaze falls on me, a smile lights up his face. “You finally woke up.”

  I plaster on a fake smile and nod, but the movement feels like a lie. The truth is, while I know I’m awake, I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, I feel like I’m wandering around in a confused, sleepy dreamland where nothing makes sense because nothing is real.

  Devil’s Poison

  After Ridge is finished playing nurse—which, as it turns, out his mom is the real deal and that’s how he has all the medical equipment—he instructs Wilder to go get me something to eat. Wilder has a few choice words to tell Ridge for trying to boss him around, but eventually he heads out of the room to, as he put it, “go whip me up a lovely feast.”

  Before he walks out of the room, though, he shoots Ridge a dirty look. “I’m only doing it for Zhara, though. Not because you bossed me around.” He smirks. “And now you owe me a favor.”

  “Sounds good,” Ridge replies calmly, like a freakin’ patience wizard guru or something.

  After Wilder exits the room, I turn to Ridge. “I can do the favor for you,” I tell him. “He’s getting the food for me.”

  Ridge’s lips quirk as he puts his doctor tools into the top nightstand drawer. “Thanks for the
offer, but trust me, you don’t want to owe Wilder a favor.”

  “Why? How bad are his favors?”

  “They’re not necessarily bad, but they’re not necessarily good either. Like one time he made me pose for him for a still life, art project he was doing. He made me hold my computer while I was doing it too, in the air, like a torch.”

  I giggle at the mental picture in my head. “That doesn’t sound too awful.”

  He takes a seat in the chair, sitting right across from me. “I had to stand still for over four hours. He wouldn’t even let me have bathroom breaks. I seriously pissed my pants a little bit.”

  I try not to laugh, but the image of Ridge standing like the statue of liberty for four hours and trying not to pee his pants while Wilder paints him is sort of funny.

  Ridge sighs, but a trace of a smile graces his lips. “Go ahead and laugh. Everyone else did.”

  I bite down on my lip. “I’m not trying not to laugh.”

  He gives me a really look. “Then why are you biting your lip so hard?”

  I shrug. “I’m hungry and I have cherry lip gloss on, so I thought, what the heck, maybe chewing on my lip will help my hunger.”

  Yep, and there’s my awesome lying skills making a grand appearance. Jeez, after having to lie to a drug lord, you’d think I’d be able to lie like a pro by now, but nope.

  He gapes at me momentarily then starts laughing. “You’re kind of a little weirdo, aren’t you?”

  “You really think so?” I question. “Because I’ve always been told I’m rather ordinary and boring.”

  He shakes his head. “No way. I’ve only been talking to you for about twenty minutes and you already got me to laugh. I don’t do that a lot.”

  “Well, that’s just sad,” I say. “I think I’ll try to get you to do it more often.”

  He smiles, but confusion resides in his eyes. “You’re different from what I was expecting.” He dithers, chewing on his bottom lip. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but considering who your friends are, I thought you were going to be stuck up and kind of ditzy.”