She turned and looked at the small window, it was night again. How long did that make it? A month, longer? She’d lost count. The only thing she was thankful for was no one else was down here with her. That was good for the other women. Did they ever have more than one locked up at the same time? She couldn’t be sure.
Emersyn sat up and tugged on the collar around her throat. She should be used to it by now, but it still felt like it was choking her, even though it wasn’t. After wearing it for years, you would think it would feel like it belonged there. She closed her eyes and shook her head slowly, how could anyone get used to that?
The reason it was there was enough to constantly remind her that her life was not her own. It had not been hers since she was a child. Over the years the images and memories of freedom had faded. She remembered the boat trip and the excitement of being in a new country. Her parents, she remembered them dancing to be there. She knew she used to run outside and play, knew that somewhere out there she had a mother, father, and two older brothers, but she could no longer see them inside her head. There was just an emptiness where those memories with family should have been. She’d held onto her mother’s smile the longest, but now with it was gone, there was only a void left behind.
Getting up, she lifted the chain that weighed down her ankle and moved slowly toward the window. It was the only thing she had to focus on. The lights were off, and the basement was dark through the night, the only thing she could do was look out the small window, level with the ground, and hope to see something. Anything.
The pain shot up her leg from the swelling caused by the cold metal rubbing against her ankle bone. The throbbing was endless. She didn’t know why they kept it on her, where was she going to go? The door was bolted shut, and the window, even if she could reach it was too small to get out. Of course, if she hadn’t attacked her captors on more than one occasion, they would probably allow her more freedom. There was some part of her that made her fight back, even though she knew the consequences of doing it.
There was snow falling tonight. She inhaled a shaky breath. Another year had passed. Winter was on its way. Aspyn’s fifth birthday would be soon. Putting her hand over her chest, she clutched the fabric covering her heart while she silently asked the universe to watch over her baby. If she closed her eyes, she could see her pale blue eyes and a cheeky little smile. She had to be okay. It was the only thing that got Emersyn through each day. Her baby was the only reason she had to keep breathing. Born into a life with no freedoms, yet when she smiled all the terrors faded away.
She was okay, she decided. There was no other possible outcome in her mind. Her little girl was a fighter with an attitude much bigger than her little body. A tear rolled down her cheek as she remembered when Aspyn had punched that man, her father, in the face for upsetting her Mommy. She would survive the cruelties of their world; of that she was certain. Aspyn didn’t know it yet, but she was guided by the spirit of her animal. Emersyn’s mother used to say that and now she had no choice but to believe it was true.
Opening her eyes, she blinked, had someone just gone past the window? She started to move closer only to stop when the chain reached its end too soon. She looked around, there was nothing in the room to throw at it to draw their attention. She considered yelling, but that would only alert her guards upstairs and she didn’t need that.
How long had it been since he’d come and shown her pictures of her only reason to live? She couldn’t be certain but thought it might have been longer than his normal taunting visit. She bit her lip, not even sure if it was a good or bad thing, but she desperately wanted to see the pictures proving that their daughter, she scowled—no, her daughter was well.
Without blinking, she stared at the window, hoping to see someone outside it again. Anyone that could get her out of here. Away from this world, she’d been stuck in for far too long. Other than the first few years of endless houses, she’d always been here. Many women had come and gone from this house in that time, but Emersyn was still here. She didn’t know where they went or what happened to them, this was the only place she could loosely call home. She cut off any further thoughts when she saw more feet moving by the window.
“You be brave, Aspyn, Mommy’s going to find you one day, and no one will separate us again.” She whispered in a soft breath.
The sound of footsteps upstairs had her turn and look at the door. Was he here? Did he bring her daughter back? Each time she heard movement up there, she thought the same thing. Maybe he realized that holding their daughter hostage and trying to force her cycle to come back was impossible. If a woman had that power the world would be a much different place.
The sounds grew louder, there was something wrong. No one in this house was ever that loud. Grasping the chain, she rushed to the back corner of the cold-tiled room and crouched down beside the cot. In the darkness, she focused on where she knew the stairs ended, waiting. Were they moving the women? It wasn’t unusual to do it at night. Would the others get to keep their children? The sound of the lock opening on the door at the top of the stairs echoed like a hammer on metal in the silence.
She closed her eyes and dug deeper for the courage to stay quiet as heavy boots hit the stairs. If she could just pretend to be compliant, just once—maybe they’d let her keep her daughter with her.
Opening her eyes, she watched in the dark as the outline of a large man appeared before her. A light hit her face and then moved around the room. She was momentarily blinded by it and unable to see who it was.
“One in the basement,” his tone was low, and frightening in the dark space, “chained to the fucking wall. Do we have bolt cutters?”
Her heart started pounding in her chest. Bolt cutters? What was going on?
“Send him down here.”
She listened as he moved around the room, afraid to speak.
“Watch your eyes. I’m turning the light on.”
Noah bolted upright and freed his legs from the blanket. He was covered in sweat and his heart was racing so fast he couldn’t breathe. Wiping his hand over his face, he blew out a breath. Just a nightmare. I’m not there anymore.
Swinging his feet to the floor, he breathed slower and rested his face in his hands. He was glad this op had allowed him to have his own room. Rubbing his jaw to ease the tense muscles, he looked around the tiny space. Okay, so his room had been a closet at one time, but it was just him and he didn’t have to worry about waking others as he fought the demons in his sleep and woke up ready to run—or fight
Grabbing his shirt, he yanked it over his head and jammed his arms into it. There would be no going back to sleep now. There never was. Once they started, they didn’t ease up and allow any sort of rest. The only thing he could do was take his body to the point of exhaustion and hope for a few hours of dead sleep before they returned. Thrusting his legs into his jeans, he stood up and zipped them. Coffee and fresh air and he’d be ready for the day.
He moved down the stairs silently, making sure not to wake anyone else in the house. Being part of this team had given him purpose, one he was proud to have. They also ripped off all the scabs on old wounds and made him relive it all again, over and over.
Glancing at the door, he made sure it was closed and he wouldn’t wake Illias—if in fact the man ever slept because it didn’t seem like he did. He used his phone to light the way into the kitchen and found a coffee pot already on and almost full. Someone else was anxious for the op to start too. They were supposed to go in last night, but the other teams weren’t all in place. Four hits at the same time spread out all over the map, was a logistical nightmare, or so they’d been told. He left all the planning to those with minds for it. His mind was filled with fury, hate, and violence—all hidden beneath the torment.
Taking the cup, he went out the back door and looked toward the woods. He was more comfortable with this location than the last few. Fenced-in yards brought back too many memories of closed-in spaces. It was also nowhere near where they were going, but the planners had decided it was safer to stay further away, so here they were.
As he was raising the cup to his mouth, he heard something coming from the bush at the side of the property. He held his breath until Blair and Kobie stepped out of the trees. At least he knew who else was up. He moved away from the back of the house, not caring if he was barefoot in the light snow on the ground.
Blair motioned to the cup, “you didn’t drink all our coffee, did you?” He grinned.
Noah shook his head, “just starting now.”
“He’ll drink the pot before you can get your cup out of the cupboard,” Blair informed his mate.
Kobie swatted Blair’s arm, “you don’t exactly share it with anyone either.”
Blair faked a hurt look, “hey with all the bodies in the house now, I’m lucky if I get half a cup.”
Noah grinned, he didn’t envy Blair, having all those people around him all the time. He did feel a few pangs of jealousy, however, at the thought of having that many of your own around you. Taking a sip, he relished the burn on his tongue. He couldn’t think about his own family right now, not when he needed to stay alert and functional.
“I’ll sneak in and get you a cup.” Kobie kissed his cheek and then walked away.
Blair looked down at Noah’s feet and raised an eyebrow. “Nightmares again?”
Noah nodded. The problem with sharing a bunkhouse with the men at Ed’s meant there had been no way to hide it from them. “Just being back here—” he shrugged one shoulder, “there’s no way to escape them.”
Blair nodded, even though his expression said he could never fully understand. “The delay has me antsy.”
“Yeah. Better to follow the entire plan than a piece of it I guess.” He took a sip and watched the snowfall from the branches of one of the trees. “Good area to run?”
“It’s not home, but it’s all right.”
They both turned when the door opened, and Konner Flores came out. He carried a cup in one hand and a water bottle in the other. When he was closer, he held the cup out to Blair, “Kobie was on the phone and asked if I’d bring this to you.”
“Thanks.” Blair took it and glanced at the house. “I wonder who is having what crisis now?”
Noah noticed Konner smirk, then take a drink so it wasn’t obvious he did. “At least you’re not there trying to delegate tasks with the building.”
“I’m thankful for that.” Blair smiled, “so many women overseers.”
Konner pulled out his phone and looked at it. “Speaking of crisis,” he held up the phone, “if you’ll excuse me.”
Blair pointed to the trees, “nice deep section of river that way if you need it.”
Konner followed where he pointed, “good to know.”
They watched him walk back toward the front of the house, the phone against his head. “I can’t believe he left his mate at home.”
Noah turned to look at him, “bringing her back here wouldn’t end well.”
“That’s true.” Blair looked at the house again, “you going to be all right?” He jerked his chin in the direction of the house, “I should go see what drama is happening now.”
“I’m good.” He smirked, “have fun with your drama.”
Blair rolled his eyes in a playful manner, “it’s not drama that scares me now. Quiet is apparently bad with that many females and kids.”
Noah chuckled, “I’m sure Daisie will wrangle those boys and keep them in line.”
Blair started walking backward away from him, “that’s what scares me.” He laughed and turned toward the house.
The amusement on his face faded as soon as his friend went into the house. He turned back to the trees. Even the thought of shifting here, in this area, and going for a run had his muscles tense and his mind screaming not to. He had to wonder if that inner voice was ever going to go away. If he was ever going to feel safe shifting into what he was meant to be.
He turned around to see Calum standing at the door. “We’re going to make breakfast, most of the house is moving now.”
Turning around, Noah started back. The sooner they went over the plans meant they could get back on the road and get to where they needed to be. Tonight, couldn’t get here fast enough for him. He looked forward to breaching another holding house that belonged to Aiden Tomas. Somewhere inside he knew it wasn’t his fault, the things he’d been forced to do, but he felt dirty like he had a lot of sins to atone for. That conflict alone was what made him decide he would be part of this team until they ended Tomas. After that, he didn’t know, he couldn’t see past it to think in the terms of the future or living.