Chapter 1

Echo of footsteps

Cold on stone

Captured and beaten

No mercy shown

The door slammed sending a chilling echo along the corridor that they had just been dragged along. Mira’s knees were bruised and bleeding where she had been thrown onto the concrete floor, a punishment for struggling against her captors. Her hands were tied behind her back and a hood of some sort still covered her head, her world in darkness again in more ways than one. Whimpers from behind reminded her that this time she was not alone in the darkness and she felt a tear escape as she wondered how the hell they were going to get out of this fix.

The recent turn of events had left her reeling in shock. Only a few hours ago she was hoping to be re-united with Ryder. Now, Griff was dead and Ryder would be going crazy knowing he had lost her yet again.

She was dimly aware of the other two women as they were unceremoniously thrown forward. Trying to rise she felt a cold wall of bare brick and realised they were now in a room of some sort. Thankfully they had all been put in the same room as she could hear the girls’ whimpers of discomfort all too clearly. How had events turned so dire? She had barely had time to enjoy her escape from Rafe when she was thrown back into his dirty and dangerous world once more. The only difference now was that she had managed to get her two friends mixed up in it too.

The sound of crying brought her to her senses and she shuffled over to the sound.

“Amber?” she whispered. Amber stopped crying for a moment.

“Mira, where are we?” she cried through hiccoughing sobs “What are they going to do with us?”

“I don’t know but we need to stay strong if we are going to get out of here.”

“I don’t care anymore. They killed Griff. Why did they do that?” she started weeping again.

Mira felt something brush against her. It must be Dee, she thought trying to get her bearings on where Amber was. She struggled with her hands, trying to free them but the cord only dug in deeper. “Shit!” she muttered.

“Nice words for a lady” Dee said and Mira felt two hands pulling at her wrists. Dee was sat on the floor back to back with her and after some struggling and a few curse words Mira felt the cord around her wrists fall away.

She immediately pulled off the hood and went to work freeing the other two. Soon the girls were hugging each other for comfort while trying to figure out how in the hell everything had turned to shit in such a short space of time.

Dee went to the door and tried the handle “I suppose it was just wishful thinking that they would leave it open.” She muttered giving the metal door a hard bang. Silence was the only reply.

“Do you think anyone is outside the door?” Amber said shakily.

“I don’t know hun. Maybe, although if the door is locked there would be no need.” She banged the door again in frustration.

“You’ll just hurt your hand doing that.” Mira said “Believe me when I say it doesn’t pay to fight back in some situations. We have to wait for the right opportunity and not resist too much. That will only invite retribution which may put one of us out of commission. If that happens then we are all fucked.”

“What do you know that we don’t?” Dee sat down on the floor with her back to the door. She wondered what Calder would think of her complete stupidity. Her determination to act on her own without the guys had landed them all in the shit and left Griff dead. She looked over at Amber who was still buried in her grief and made up her mind that she would get Amber to safety. It was the least she could do for Griff, God rest his soul.

“I was with Rafe for two years before and I saw enough to learn that a struggle is exactly what they want so they can manhandle you. Trust me; we need to keep our heads down until we know what they have planned for us. Then we can work on getting out.” Mira put her arms around Amber who was still whimpering and gathered her close, whispering soothing words in her ear.

“Well they could at least have given us something to sleep on” muttered Dee. Mira smiled at her head strong friend but worried that she would get them all into trouble if she couldn’t control that temper of hers.

“At least we are still alive. Let’s just count our blessings for now” she hugged Amber tight.

“Yeah” Dee leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. They would need all their wiles if all of them were going to get out unscathed.

The door swung open and a couple of goons (well there was nothing else to call two less than intelligent mountains of muscle) came into the room carrying a tray of food.

They placed the paper plates on the floor along with three plastic bottles of water and left without a word.

“Great” sighed Dee, “no cutlery and paper plates. They’ve obviously heard about my killer skills at fork fighting.”

Against all odds the three girls burst out laughing. There wasn’t much else to do but make the best of the situation for now.

Scooting over to the food Dee passed it around and they ate in silence, each woman deep in her own thoughts. One thought they all had in common was that they hoped the two Detectives, Ryder and Calder would find a lead on their whereabouts.   If they had lost the trail then the situation was dire indeed.

Mira leaned in towards Dee in order to whisper “Do you really think they are looking for us?” she asked.

Dee smoothed Mira’s hair out of her eyes. “I’m positive. You didn’t see the state that Ryder has been in since you disappeared. It was all we could do to stop him from ramming his car straight through the gates in order to get to you.”

Mira smiled “I can imagine him doing something foolish like that.” she said, her heart warmed and then she thought of that last time with Rafe and the tears started flowing. “Oh Dee, how can I ever face him after what happened?” she sobbed. Amber stirred and muttered in her half conscious state. Her earlier upset had left her drained.

Dee looked at the two broken women in front of her and wondered if they would ever be the same again. She steeled herself to remain strong for them. “Ryder is determined to get you out of here, and trust me, he knows a little of what you were putting up with. It didn’t make any difference to him.” She reassured her.

“I hope so, I really do.” Mira closed her eyes trying to picture the last time she had seen Ryder and imagined his kisses and arms around her. It felt good to take herself back there to a place where hope was alive and well. “I have to have hope” she muttered.

“Yeah, and we need to help Amber through this. She’s lost her man remember.”

Looking at Amber’s small body curled up on the cold floor she couldn’t imagine how she would feel if it had been Ryder’s body they had seen fall to the ground. She shivered at the thought. “Yes, we need to stay strong for Amber and for each other.”

The girls pulled Amber towards them and lay her head across their laps. All three fell into an exhausted and uncomfortable sleep.

Chapter 2

The taste of regret

A bitter pill

Aftermath of terror

The satisfaction of a kill

Rafe put down the phone. That was it then. Miranda and the two other women had arrived at the warehouse that was to be their home for the next few weeks. Their training would begin in preparation for the Auction in 3 months time.

His new business contacts in New York were very pleased with their merchandise apparently. They had just asked him if he could supply more stock of the same quality. Unlikely, Rafe thought, unless he was prepared to start kidnapping suitable women off the street. That was much too high risk, even if he had done it before.

No, the next consignment would have to be from the dregs of the backstreets, hookers, addicts and runaways. Respectable women came with family, friends and annoying boyfriends who would come looking for them. He didn’t need that crap turning up on his doorstep, let along having to dispose of any who got too close.

He sighed. He would have to begin on the next lot now so that Johnson could get them rehabilitated and trained to meet certain standards. It would eat into his profits but was a necessary expense. He called Johnson and told him to begin scouting for another four candidates.  

As he gazed out at the garden his eyes lighted on Miranda’s favourite bench where she often sat enjoying the sun. His conscience pricked but he tamped it down swiftly. Miranda’s actions and betrayal could not be forgiven. She had had her chance to beg his forgiveness and she had chosen to stay with her companions. He could not understand why she would prefer her present fate than to return here with him and live a life of luxury.

He had surprised himself that he had even offered her a choice. His mind had been pretty set on sending her away but when it came down to it he still wanted one more chance to bring her home.

He frowned and stood looking out over the garden. The changing winter landscape a reflection of his mood.  A frost was beginning to form on the grass as the temperature dropped outside. He wondered if Miranda was cold. Shaking his head, he stomped over to the sideboard and poured a large brandy, swigging it back in one go and refilling his glass.

He was getting soft. Miranda was gone and the sooner he got used to that, the better. He didn’t like these sentimental feelings. In the two years when Miranda had been gone there was always the chance she would come back to him. This time there would be no coming back and it was that finality that was bothering him.

“Haha, Rafe, you’re an asshole.” He said to himself. He decided to head off to the club. A little work would take his mind off things.

When his car pulled up at the club an hour later he was still in a foul mood. He swept through the bar area and noticed that the staff were quick to get out of his way. Good. He was in no mood for their crap tonight. He went straight to his office and slammed the door against the thump thump of the music beat as the dance floor filled up for another evening of revelry.

On his desk were a pile of job applications. It was time to find a replacement for Griff. He was not altogether happy with his current security arrangements, not trusting his New York ‘buddies’ one little bit. He would need to hire someone with a track record in loyalty which meant no-one that had previously worked in his line of business.

Glancing through the candidates he smiled. Every one of them had some Special Forces experience which meant they were used to talking orders without question. He began sorting them into Yes and No piles. He intended to interview each one personally. He wanted to look into each man’s eyes before he took him on.

********

A knock at the door interrupted him as he placed the final application to one side. He had three solid candidates and if they turned out to be as good as they looked then he would employ them all.

“Come!” he shouted. The door opened and two of his security staff manhandled a man into the room and three him on the floor.

“What’s this?” Rafe stood and inspected the dishevelled man, noting an already swelling eye and a split lip. Obviously it had taken some effort to subdue him. He smiled at the hint of a bruise on Sol the doorman’s cheek.

“He was trying to sneak back of house Boss.” Sol informed him “We are pretty sure he’s one of George Penn’s men.”

Rafe raised an eyebrow “Is this true?” he asked the man.

“Fuck you” was the reply he received. One of his men kicked him in the ribs and he went from his knees to his stomach, winded.

“Much as that is an interesting offer, I would prefer to get to know each other a little better first. How about telling me who you work for and why you were sneaking around?” Rafe moved around his desk and leaned against the front. “Alternatively I can let my two employees here take you somewhere a little less comfortable.” The man looked up and shivered at the cold look in Rafe’s eyes. He had heard about his ruthless streak but hearsay was nothing compared to being witness to the chill first hand.

Rafe considered the man. If he did in fact work for the late and dearly departed George Penn then someone wanted to open up that can of worms. He had not quelled the rumours of his involvement in George’s disappearance as it served his reputation well. However, if someone was actively snooping then that was another matter. The last thing he needed was Police interest in him and his business. His new trafficking enterprise had the potential to raise him to even greater heights of power and wealth and he was not about to let some concerned busy body put that in jeopardy.

He looked the man in the eyes. He was afraid but there was a hint of strength and determination in his look that made up Rafe’s mind. Nodding to Sol he gave the silent but very clear message that this little problem needed to disappear. Sol smiled grimly and nodded.

They bundled the man out of the office and towards the rear exit of the club. It would not be the first time they had doctored the camera tapes for the rear car park to hide someone’s exit from the building.

Rafe sat back down, pleased. That would be the last he heard of that particular problem. He grabbed up his files and went in search of the Club Manager. After ensuring the door would be covered in Sol’s absence Rafe headed home. He needed to check his diary and schedule in some interviews.