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Shockingly, Brett folded me in his beefy arms and this was such a nice thing to do, I took advantage, circled his waist with mine and pressed in.

“This is all fixable, Gwen,” he said to the top of my hair and I nodded against his massive chest but didn’t reply so he went on. “And none of this is important. The only thing that might not have been fixable but is important didn’t take a bullet. Hold onto that.” Then his arms gave me a squeeze.

I was thinking Betsy was pretty lucky and because this big guy holding me made the unknown Betsy lucky and was also being so nice to me, I squeezed him back.

Fortunately I had just enough time to get myself together and wipe my face before the insurance guy arrived. He was just as stunned as I was. It was clear he didn’t often get called out to do estimations post-drive-by. Flood, yes. Fire, probably. Drive-by, no. He wasted no time in doing a tour, making notes, telling me the procedure, giving me some forms and he got out of there. I didn’t blame him. Lightning might not strike twice in the same place but a drive-by was a crapshoot.

Brett hung out downstairs while I went upstairs to peruse my closet for my outfit for the night. I also unearthed the big canvas bag that I used to drag my clothes in to the Laundromat when I didn’t have a washer and dryer. Hawk had a washer and dryer in the little paneled room in the space under the bed platform (this room also held a super deep bowled, huge sink that had a super-powered hose like spray attached and it was where I fancied he cleaned the blood off his weapons). I wanted to launder my caftan, wear it and assess Hawk’s response. I also planned a trip to the mall immediately after the Ginger trouble was over. My underwear was sexy in an understated way (or, at least, I thought so) but it was bought mainly for comfort, not style. It wasn’t out and out sexy and my sleepwear wasn’t sexy in any way. I was going to buy satin and lace and study the response.

I packed a small bag with my outfit, some jewelry and bits and pieces that would be nice to have around. I was zipping up the top and considering raiding my freezer for my Twix stash and adding it to my bag when I heard it.

Gunfire in the living room.

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I froze for half a second, that alert-alive feeling assaulting my system instantly, my skin tingling, my heart beating, then I dashed to the phone as I heard someone thundering up my stairs and I hoped it was Brett. I really, really hoped it was Brett.

I still went to the phone and had it out of the receiver but didn’t manage to dial 911. An arm locked around my waist, wrenching me backwards, a hand batted mine and the phone clattered away. I twisted my neck to ascertain if it was Brett but I knew it wasn’t.

It wasn’t.

Then I kicked, screamed, bucked, elbowed and scratched and the man who had me was having trouble holding onto me.

Then someone else entered the room, I heard a weird popping and crackling noise, something was touched to my neck and I went out.

Chapter Twenty-Three

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Patience

“You get the picture?”

Lying on a filthy bed in a filthy apartment, whereabouts unknown, with my mouth gagged and hands bound behind my back with hard, tight, plastic strips that hurt a lot and the same with my ankles but fortunately over my boots, I watched Darla, with a black eye, bruised cheekbone, busted lip and angry marks on her neck, talk into the phone. She’d taken a picture with her phone of me lying there and sent it to multiple someones, one of whom she was talking to on the phone.

“Yeah, that’s from me, bitch,” she hissed into the phone. “We got her and you can have her for two hundred large.”

Well, the good news was, I was worth two hundred large which was a lot. The bad news was everything else. Absolutely everything else. Including the fact I was gagged and bound, the plastic restraints biting into my wrists and I feared they broke skin, or at least it hurt that way. I was in a filthy apartment somewhere I didn’t know. I’d been transported there lying in the back of a filthy van which was uncomfortable and, at times, like when the van turned and I was powerless to stop myself from rolling and slamming into the walls, painful. I didn’t know what had become of Brett but I didn’t think whatever it was was good for I figured Brett had orders to protect me and he’d follow those to the letter and guns had been fired, furthermore, he had a baby on the way and he was nice. And, lastly, Darla wasn’t working alone.

There were three men with her. One was, at that very moment, bent over a mirror snorting coc**ne into his nose. Another was in the bathroom, the door open and I could hear him relieving himself.

But the third was sitting on a chair pulled up to the bed, his forearms, which I’d scratched and opened skin, were resting on his thighs, dangling between them held in his hand was a gun and his very unhappy eyes were on me.

Hysterically I noted he could have been hot if he wasn’t so rough, he wasn’t so freaking scary and he so obviously didn’t want to shoot me.

“Oh yeah, you’re right,” Darla went on and my eyes went from scary, murderous kidnapper to Darla. “I was your friend, until I got picked up and worked over because of your shit. Now, not so f**kin’ much.”

Your friend?

Oh God. She was talking to Ginger.

Ginger didn’t have two hundred large! And if she did, she wouldn’t give it up for me.

Shit, I was screwed.

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“Bullshit,” Darla snapped into the phone. “You got that and you got more. I know it, you stupid bitch, so don’t think I’m a stupid bitch. Now you get it together and call me and I’ll tell you where the drop off is. And, ‘cause we’re friends, I’m givin’ you a discount and first dibs. You don’t call me back in an hour, I shop your sister out to people who’ll pay a lot more and be a lot less gentle than me and Skull.

Instinctively I knew Skull was scary, murderous kidnapper. I knew this because Skull was the perfect name for him.

And scarily I grew even more concerned about what “a lot less gentle” meant considering Skull and his crew had not been gentle in the slightest.

Darla flipped her phone shut then flipped it open immediately and punched some buttons. She put it to her ear and I knew she engaged when she spoke.

“Yeah, Dog, you saw it, she’s with me and Skull,” she snapped into the phone. “You tell Tack two hundred and fifty Gs. He’s got an hour or we shop her out.”

She didn’t wait for a response, she flipped her phone shut. Then she glared at me a second, turned and walked to the coc**ne station.

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