Falling in deeper, p.30
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       Falling in Deeper, p.30
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         Part #11 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  did not extend to her. Lily had an inkling that whatever they had planned was far worse than anything she could conceive. She had to swallow down a lump of fear. What the hell did they plan to do to her that required a layer of plastic? Did she even want to know?

  “Good thinking,” Emma quipped. “And it’s clear, too. You’re awesome.”

  “I figured you wouldn’t want anything to obscure the color of her blood.”

  “No, totally. That’s going to be the best part, right? The pools of it?”

  Another wave of terror shuddered through her, stealing her breath. She bit her lip to hold in a scream. They sounded eager to make whatever they did as gory as possible.

  Oh, dear god.

  “So, what else . . .” Emma reached into the bag again and pulled out more items. “Heavy-duty scissors, pliers, handheld pruning shears. And they’re titanium!”

  “Superstrong. Only the best for my baby sister.” He smiled fondly.

  Lily watched in horror. They meant to carve her up, let her bleed out. She swallowed against a rising tide of panic and tried to keep thinking of ways out.

  “This could be the start of a whole new life for you, Em. Thanks for inviting me to be a part of it. I’m happy to help.”

  “Aww . . .” She kissed his stubbled cheek. “I can’t imagine anyone I trust more.”

  Lily watched, utterly stunned. As if torture and murder were somehow happy occasions, like a marriage or birth? Nausea whirled in her stomach. Discreetly, she tugged at her bonds again. But they still held firm.

  “We’re just waiting on the others now,” Emma told her brother. “Should we get set up?”

  “Yeah, we can do that. Kev isn’t far behind me.” He frowned, and Lily wondered if that was Emma’s husband’s name. It didn’t ring a bell. “What are you going to do with Isabel?”

  “She’s nearly due for her afternoon nap, so I’m planning to move her carrier into the bathroom and shut the door. I’ll put on the playlist of lullabies she likes. I think she’ll sleep right through it.”

  “Excellent.” Dan nodded his approval. “Why don’t you get her settled, and I’ll work on these preparations?”

  This room would get more crowded once another man showed up. Her ability to escape would dwindle. Lily had no idea whether Stone was trying to find her now. After everything that had happened, would he? The man had a wide protective streak but now that she’d refused to testify, did he really care what happened to her? Maybe Axel still had a bead on her phone, but since she’d turned it off back in the Walmart parking lot, he wouldn’t be able to locate her. If he checked, he would see her last location but have no idea she was barely half a mile up the road, surrounded by bloodthirsty savages.

  Emma moved to the back of the cheap, stale space, ostensibly taking the baby with her. The bathroom door clicked shut. The air-conditioning unit below the window rattled, but the faint strains of “Brahms’ Lullaby” bleeding through the thin walls rose above it. Then Dan added his own sounds as he shook out the plastic tarp designed to catch her blood.

  Lily scanned her surroundings again. What could she do? Say? Offer? Would anything persuade the man currently tearing the stiff sheets and threadbare blanket off the bed to let her go? As she watched him cover the stained mattress with the new tarp, she highly doubted it.

  “Don’t do this.” The pleading words slipped past her lips. “I never hurt your sister. I don’t even know her. I’ll give you anything.”

  He swiveled his head around to pierce her with that eerie gaze, colorless brows raised in challenge. “You’ve taken more away from Emma than you could possibly know, you selfish cunt. And there’s nothing you can give me that I won’t just take for the fun of it.” He leered, looking her up and down with a cruel half smile. “I hope you’re a screamer.”

  Terror exploded in her belly. He didn’t plan to simply kill her. No, he intended to extract a pound of flesh first by forcing himself on her. Lily swallowed bile. God, she knew what rape looked like, had a terrible suspicion how horrific the experience would be. She’d never forgotten the unspeakable violation Erin had endured before Canton and his goons had ended her life.

  In some ways, Lily wished Dan and whoever else Emma was waiting for would skip ahead to the quick death. At least then she’d find relief from the pain and humiliation her attackers plotted to heap on her while they forced themselves on her body, her mind. But death meant she would have lost her dignity and her battle with these animals. Lily refused to be a quitter.

  She wanted to live.

  Another pounding on the door sounded through the little room, and Dan straightened up from the bed with a jump in his step. He weaved around her chair and whapped her cheek with a mocking slap. It stung more than a little as he sprinted for the door and opened it a crack. “Kev!”

  He pulled the door wide, and the newcomer laughed. “Danny Boy, let me in. I’m ready to get this party started. Where is she?”

  Dan stepped back, and Lily got her first view of Kev. Toweringly tall, the guy had muscles on top of his muscles. His olive complexion and nearly black eyes made him appear Hispanic or Italian. He wore denim loose around his hips and a leather jacket with lots of zippers.

  “I also brought my favorite toy.” He pulled a blade from his back pocket, something wicked and serrated and capable of slicing flesh with frightening ease. Then he turned to her and held it up in her face. “What do you think, little girl?”

  Lily shrank back and couldn’t stop the whimpers that escaped her throat.

  Kev shut the door and pocketed the blade again, then rubbed his hands together as if he couldn’t wait. “You look pretty when you’re scared.”

  “She does,” Dan agreed as he came closer and dragged his fingertips over her chest, down the valley between her breasts, before he landed a surprisingly harsh slap on her mound. Despite his striking her through her clothing, the sting reverberated through her body and turned her blood to ice.

  Against her will, she cried out. She desperately sought to close her legs and cover her chest with her arms but Emma had restrained her well. Lily couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything to protect herself at all.

  The blonde poked her head out of the bathroom, hand on hip, expression annoyed. “Hey, no starting early. And try to keep it down for another ten minutes. Isabel is settling down.”

  Dan held up his hands. “Sure, sis. Sorry. But Lily is going to be loud. Did you say you booked the rooms on either side of this one?”

  “Yep. And the one directly below, too. Thankfully, a flash of cleavage and cash kept the old guy behind the desk from asking many questions. Finish getting ready and let me get the baby to sleep. Hi, Kev. Good to see you. It’s been a while.”

  “Yes, ma’am. You, too.”

  So Kev wasn’t Emma’s husband, either. Which meant they were expecting a third man to join their “party.”

  When the bathroom door shut again, Kev ignored her. Dan checked the tarp on the bed, smoothing it flat and tucking it under. Then he stripped off his tank top, exposing an expanse of pale skin riddled with scars, some from a blade, others round and symmetrical like bullet wounds. Along one side of his back, the texture of his skin was uneven and lined, as if he’d been in a motorcycle accident. He’d tried to cover most of the marks with ink.

  Beside him, Kev peeled off his jacket, revealing a fair number of open scabs. His teeth looked as if they were beginning to rot. She’d bet anything he was addicted to meth.

  Lily shrank back in her seat. She wanted to close her eyes and divorce herself from reality. She wanted to release her consciousness and soul from her body so she didn’t have to be aware of the awful end as it came. But to do that would be to accept that death was inevitable, and she refused to concede that. She might not have a lot to look forward to right now, but she had so much life left to live. She had laughter to share, love to give, things to learn, mistakes to make. She had heart and wit and compassion.

  Someday she would find a ma
n who would truly want to share all those with her. Deep down, past her hurt, she wished it would be Stone.

  But in order to have that, Lily couldn’t bury her head in the sand now. She had to wage the battle of her life. Maybe she didn’t deserve a future, but she would fight for hers until her very last breath. If Stone had taught her anything over these past few days, it was that fear of something was actually more terrifying than the thing itself. She had to stop being afraid of everyone and everything—even death—if she wanted to live.

  And if she somehow managed to escape, she would confront Stone. She would visit Regina’s grave. She would see every one of these people willing to torture her put behind bars, and she would testify against Canton, too. She would avenge Erin, her mom, and her little brother. She would be unwavering and fierce.

  The resolve gave Lily something to look forward to and made her feel stronger.

  The two men swept everything off the nightstand and began to line up the implements of torture on the dark laminate surface. A shiver rolled through Lily, but she focused on her breathing and shoved her terror into a compartment she’d open later. It would do her no good now. At the moment, she had to use her head.

  There was no way to escape this chair until they unfastened her restraints. If they were preparing the bed for the next phase of their plan, they would free her at some point. She’d have to make a run for it then. Yes, they had a row of sharp objects nearby, but Lily could grab one. She also spotted her purse strewn haphazardly on the chair near the door. If she could grab it and get to her gun, maybe she could shoot her way outside. Maybe someone would hear or see her and call for help. Or she could turn on her phone, dial 911, and hope that someone willing to help her was still tracking the device.

  If she could get her hands and feet free, she’d surprise them and fight to the death.

  A soft click at the back of the room sounded like the bathroom door. The faint sounds of classical music still filtered through the walls. Lily heard a feminine sigh of satisfaction.

  “Isabel is asleep. Since she missed her morning nap, I’m thinking we’ll have a good two or three hours with this bitch.”

  “Oh, a lot of fun, then.” Dan whooped with excitement as a big smile spread across his face. “Did you get booze?”

  “I did. Drink?” She bustled around in the background, then headed toward the two men, bottle in hand.

  Dan grabbed it from his sister, and Kev crowded in to wrench the cap off. Emma darted away again, then returned, this time with murky lowball-style glasses in hand.

  “Ice?” Kev asked.

  “I didn’t get any,” Emma said. “I was too busy with this whore. She was a lot of trouble to wrestle up the stairs, even half-conscious.”

  Lily had no memory of that and wished like hell that she’d had the presence of mind to struggle or run or cry for help. But everything was blank after the needle in her arm.

  “No big deal. I’ll drink it as is. It still burns going down, right?” Kev grinned.

  The men both poured liquid from the bottle, then set it down. Wild Turkey, according to the label. Lily only had the vaguest idea what kind of liquor it was, but it looked smoky and hard and more than capable of intoxicating a person. It would dim what few inhibitions these lunatics had.

  They both jumped when Kev’s phone buzzed.

  “Oh, shit, bro,” Dan guffawed. “That startled me.”

  “Right?” Kev pulled the device from his pocket and read whatever was on the screen. “Oh, sweet! My neighbor’s kid just got out of juvie. It’s probably his last trip since he turns eighteen in a few weeks, but Emma said she needed one more and this kid loves a piece of unwilling ass and some blood. So I invited him.”

  “Good job, man. The symmetry is perfect.” Dan clapped him on the back.

  Symmetry? Lily wracked her brain, but that comment didn’t make sense. All she knew was that the juvenile wasn’t Emma’s husband, either. She would be tied and helpless while four men, one just shy of eighteen, meant to rape and kill her.

  Just like Erin.

  The truth slammed into her just as the whoosh of the key card in the lock sounded and the door opened. A face from the past appeared, almost obscured under the blue bill of a Dodgers cap. His dark eyes zeroed in on her with a glaring smile of evil.

  Corey Gutierrez. Erin’s older brother. A guy she had once considered her friend.

  Now he was her enemy come to exact revenge.

  “There you are!” Emma said, shutting the portal behind her, then leaned toward Corey for a kiss. “Hi, baby. How was your trip to Iowa?”

  He was Emma’s husband. He supposedly suffered rage, PTSD, depression, and fits of violence. Because of Erin’s murder?

  “Successful.” He grinned. “Turns out Reaper was cheating on his wife when I found him. What an asshole. So I sent him to meet his Maker with a bullet between the eyes. Mom drove out to see me afterward so I could let her know about the progress I’m making with our plans. She sends her love, by the way. She wants to come down for Thanksgiving.”

  Renee knew about Corey’s murders and condoned them? Lily blinked, horrified.

  “Great.” Emma gave him a proud smile. “So how did it feel?”

  “To shoot Reaper? To see his shock and watch the life leave his eyes? Amazing. I can’t even describe . . . But this one will feel even better, more personal.” He glared at Lily, then took his wife’s hand. “You have the best ideas. Is the baby okay?”

  “She’s fine. Sleeping in the bathroom. We were just getting ready for the . . . festivities.” Emma giggled. “And waiting for you.”

  “Well, I’m here and ready to get this party started.” Corey’s smirk turned vicious. “Hello, Lily. This has been a long time coming. Ready to experience everything my sister did when you brought those killers to her bed?”

  Chapter Nineteen

  AS Stone raced toward Lafayette, he gripped the wheel tightly. He had been so focused on Timothy Canton that he hadn’t seen Corey Gutierrez coming. Hell, Erin’s brother being her tormentor had never occurred to Stone. But revenge made perfect sense. An eye for an eye. And since Lily knew precisely what Erin’s death had been like, she must be utterly terrified right now.

  He thought of all the times he’d held her as she trembled, as she struggled over mental obstacles, fighting assailants who hadn’t touched her and she could no longer see, but had scarred her psyche all the same. Now those men would be all too real. For years, Lily had been the sort to flee, not fight. She’d crawled into her shell, as if atoning for having survived that day. She’d let those monsters rob her of what might have been a bright future. Stone prayed she didn’t do that now. He hoped like hell that she clawed and bit and screamed—whatever it took to survive.

  If he’d helped her realize her mental strength and it gave her the confidence to retaliate so she could take another breath, Stone would count himself blessed. Even if she couldn’t forgive him for ever considering Bankhead’s deal. Even if she never spoke to him again. Even if he spent the rest of his life pining for her, he’d still be eternally grateful.

  At his side, Axel looked tense, staring out the window. “How much longer?”

  “Fifteen minutes.”

  In the taut silence, it was terribly clear that both men knew that fifteen minutes could be fourteen minutes and fifty-nine seconds too long. Stone pressed a little harder on the gas pedal.

  “I can’t sit here and do nothing.” Axel picked up his phone and began dialing. “Jack!” he barked when Cole’s voice sounded over the speaker. “Emergency. Lily has been taken. Get me everything you know about Corey Gutierrez. He’s probably somewhere here in Lafayette. Or he was less than an hour ago.”

  “He’s the one after her?”

  “Yeah. Heath and One-Mile both saw Canton leave her untouched and watched as a woman they’ve never seen drove away with Lily. The car was registered to Gutierrez. Heath was on foot and lost them. One-Mile followed, but we haven’t heard from him in a whi
le. He isn’t answering his phone, and I hope that’s not bad news. We need another way to catch this asshole before it’s too late.”

  “I’m still on it. I poked around at his background a couple of days ago but I’ll focus there now. Hang on.” Jack tapped a few keys. “I should hear something soon on that inquiry. The guy owes me a favor.”

  “I’ll send you the plate number. It’s from California. We’ve got to track that car down. It’s our best hope of finding her in time. Can you call the cops there in Lafayette?”

  Anxiety bit into Stone’s gut. He counted himself lucky that he knew people willing to help find Lily and bring her home alive. But he didn’t want to have to wait for Jack or anyone else to rescue Lily. He just wanted her safe and sound—preferably in his arms.

 
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