Chapter 1

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Hot. That's the first thing that enters my mind as I come to gradually, my lashes fluttering open. Thirsty. That's the second.

"Hi," comes a whisper to my right, and I roll my head toward it. A blond-haired woman about my age holds a tin cup to my lips. "Water. Drink."

I do. Gladly.

"Where am I?" I croak, searching the crevices of my brain, trying to remember something. Anything. But my thoughts are foggy.

"I don't know. They haven't told us anything."

Us? It's then that I hear them. Whispering over to the left and quiet crying behind me. I'm lying on a shallow bed of straw on a coarse stone floor with rough wood beams stretching above me. Where am I?

"My name's Camille," the woman tells me. "I was assigned to care for you. They renamed you Valoria. They said you fought them and they had to knock you out. They think you had a reaction to the sedative."

"I'm allergic to most all medicines," I say more to myself than her. Wait a minute. They renamed me?

Suddenly it all comes rushing back—Miami.

My sister flips on some sugary pop music and we both slide into our own thoughts as I navigate us through Coconut Grove toward Vasquez's estate. I've never been outside of South Florida. I don't want to get too excited, but this job as a live-in maid could be the start to a real future for us. I might even be able to enroll in some night classes.

How long ago was that? Hours? Days? There was a prick in my neck.

"My sister." I struggle to sit up, frantically looking around the cramped, shadowed room, searching for her.

Blood surges through me. I don't see her! "Lena!" I cry out, and the sound resonates off the walls.

Camille slams her hand over my mouth. "Shut up," she hisses.

I claw at her hand, kicking up the straw, and fight to get to my feet.

"Shut. Up." She presses her palm harder against my mouth. "They will come in here. The last time they did, they took one of us out and she hasn't returned."

I bite down on her hand and she slaps me hard across the side of the head. "Calm. Down. Your panic is not going to risk the rest of us."

I don't know if it's the slap in the head, the horror in her eyes, or the fear in her voice, but I clench my teeth and nod my head.

Camille shoots me a warning glare before sliding her hand away.

My panting breaths fill the air around us and I look around again. There're only women in here—twenty or so—and we're all wearing matching brown tunics and leather sandals. They look about my age—late teens, twenties. Most of them sit huddled in clumps, clinging to each other, quiet, some looking at me and others staring off in a shocked trance. Silent terror fills the atmosphere.

We're in some sort of holding cell, like a dungeon, with stone walls and floors that have been weathered by the elements. A row of tiny windows along the top let in the only sunlight and fresh air.

Piss. The place smells like piss. I wrinkle my nose as my gaze drifts to the corner where a woman squats over a bucket. The smell hits me even harder, and my stomach pitches.

What the hell is going on? "How long have we been here?"

But before Camille can answer, the door to the dungeon creaks open, and a huge man dressed in leather and metal armor steps into our cell. He bizarrely looks like an ancient Roman soldier, but it's no costume.

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