CHAPTER 4: Muck & Memories

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A sticky discomfort sizzled through Flora and she looked down the thin stretch of space lined with gated backyards. She felt like a rat trapped in a cage.

She cleared her throat. "Sergould." There were two ways to play this, cool as if he didn't make her feel like an ant under a magnifying glass in the desert sun or take her chances in the mucky, vile canal that flowed behind her.

She could see the predatory gleam in his eyes. Like that of a man she'd seen before when she was up to mischief with Mel.

"I always wonder but I never have the chance to ask." He pushed off the gate and strolled over to her. Could she make a break for the open gate? She might make it. Mel might have been a better climber than her, but she could run surprisingly fast. "When I pick up strays, where are they from? What life did they live before to come across my path?" He gathered some of her hair in his hand and pulled it from behind her shoulder letting the fine strands fall through his fingers. He held some of her hair up to his nose and she stiffened uncomfortable with how close he was. She swallowed and felt her bare skin brush against the potato sack's coarse fabric. "You have to be some high end whore you do. You stand so straight, eat so proper."

She glanced up at him and he smirked his bright blue eyes combing over her.

"How did you fall so far?" He grabbed her arm and pulled her against him. "I bet you wonder that everytime y--" Flora was snatched from the man and tossed back toward the gate. She stumbled back catching her fall on the sturdy gate. She was so shocked that she struggled pulling together the series of events as they happened so quickly.

"THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!" Zigh yelled, holding Sergould over the canal by the collar of his shirt. The man's legs kicked and he held tight to Zigh's rather strong arm.

"I-I-I--"

"DON'T YOU EVER TOUCH HER AGAIN! UNDERSTAND?"

"Y-y-yes. I-I-I g-g-ot it. Sh-she's yours. I g-g-got it."

Zigh's frown deepened and he glared into the man for a moment past comfortable then set him on the ground near the edge of the canal.

"I don't want to have to have this conversation again." His voice low and gravelly, rough yet soft. She shivered. "Are we understanding one another? Or do I need to emphasize what will happen if we are not on the same accord?"

The man shook his head frantically. "N-n-no n-n-n-ot at all. We're clear."

"How clear?"

"C-c-crystal."

Zigh stood upright. "Good." He turned away from the man who looked relieved yet put out. Zigh headed toward Flora but her eyes held Sergould's glare. Zigh stopped beside her and she looked over at him uncertain how to express what just happened. "Come on." He said and walked inside the gate with her hurrying to follow him with her bucket in tow.

She dropped the bucket in the kitchen and scurried after the man to keep up with him. They went up the stairs all the way to the attic where her room was and he turned on her.

"YOU HAVE TO BE MORE ATTENTIVE! MORE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS."

She shrunk away from him and he exhaled and started to pace.

"There are men like Sergould everywhere in Shaharamore, worse in fact. You have to b-be paying attention, always vigilant, always thinking, planning to escape because you never know when you'll have to. You won't always be behind these walls or under my protection. A pretty woman has little value around here if that's all she is."

She looked down at the sack she was wearing. She didn't feel pretty, but it made her chest tighten for him to use that language. He frowned and reached out toward her. She dodged his hand and he paused.

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