BOOK 1 // ELEVEN: Custody

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            The cold metal, like ice against my skin, was what shocked me to my senses. One of the arms he'd yanked behind my back was twisted too far, and the pain laced right up toward my shoulder. "Wait," I said, "what are you doing?"

"Think you're being funny, do you?" His face was so close to mine I could feel his hot breath on my cheek. "This isn't a place for your stupid jokes. Now what's your real name?"

My lie had run the end of its short course; I knew the game was already up. If anything, the painful digging of metal into my wrists was enough of a reminder that I had nowhere left to escape. "A-Astrid," I managed to stammer. "Astrid Oxford."

"Well, Ms Oxford." I wished he would move away, if only so I could stop holding my head so far back it hurt. But he seemed to be enjoying it far too much. "You've just provided false information to the authorities, and that in itself counts as a criminal offence."

My heart leapt. "I didn't mean—"

Finally, he took a step back, glancing at the fair-haired officer behind him. "Check her pockets," he ordered. "See if she's got any ID on her."

Having the second man come closer was not any kind of improvement, especially when his grubby hands slid all over my lower body, taking far too long to locate the ID card in my back pocket.

"Seems like she's telling the truth," he said eventually. "The photo looks like her."

"I still think we should frisk her. See if she's concealing any weapons."

Part of me wanted to tell him how pointless this was; you could hardly make it through the entrance of campus with a metal belt buckle, let alone a knife slipped into the pocket of your coat. But the one lie had already erased all my credibility, and neither of them would be stupid enough to trust me again.

It didn't take long for him to find the brown envelope I'd folded and tucked into my pocket just minutes ago. Just seeing him withdraw it was enough to have me struggling against the cuffs. "Hey. That's private."

"Not any more." But, thankfully, he didn't seem overly concerned with the contents of the letter – instead handing it back to his dark-haired counterpart. "I think a UNL admission should be the last of your worries right now."

Suddenly, his hands were on me again, smoothing across my thighs unnecessarily slowly for someone who felt nothing underneath. I bit down on my lip to stop the protest when I felt him squeeze my arse, trying to ignore his hot breath on my neck. Only when a bare hand snuck under my shirt, and the skin-to-skin contact sent a jolt of repulsion right through me, did my tolerance disappear.

"Get the fuck off me," I snapped, trying to wriggle away. "Even if I am under arrest, there are still laws about groping the suspect."

But the outburst had barely left my mouth before I was shoved back against the wall, colliding so roughly with the brickwork that the cuffs stabbed right into my skin. "You listen here, little girl," he said, gripping a fistful of my shirt to yank my face closer. "You're in enough trouble as it is. If you know what's good for you, I suggest you don't make this any more difficult than it needs to be."

"Get off her!"

Suddenly, the officer was shoved aside, and my head only turned fast enough to see Henry stood with clenched fists. His furious look was miles off any usual confidence. "You're disgusting," he said. "There's no need to manhandle her."

For a second, the police officer was frozen with surprise: the few moments after he regained balance were filled with nothing but ominous silence. Then it was over, and his next action was reflexive: Henry's arms were twisted behind his back before the protest could even leave my mouth.

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