Chapter 1: Stolen

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Through the haze of sleep, I felt hands on me. Cold and rough. I thought for a fleeting moment that it might have been Kyle.

Then, I remembered our break up.

It had happened weeks ago, but maybe that part was the dream. My memory was fucked and I couldn’t latch onto a thought long enough to ride it out of the fog.

“Did you make a decision?” Kyle asked.

I rolled over and pulled the comforter up to my neck. I had decided that I didn’t want to make a decision—mostly that I didn’t appreciate him trying to force me into a decision when I had told him time after time that I didn’t want him moving into my apartment even after six months together.

“You can barely afford the place anyway since your sister moved out. I don’t get why it’s such a big deal unless you don’t want to be together.”

I did, and yet, the threat of him leaving seemed like a relief….

Hands groped and pulled—rough against my skin and digging into muscle and bone. Too many hands. The bits of memory faded as I tried to retreat from the onslaught. My back pressed into a hard surface beneath me, and my nostrils filled with the smell of musk and damp stale air.

I had no idea where I was, or how I’d gotten there.

I kicked and gasped, trying to get back to the surface where reality lurked. It shimmered in the distance, just out of reach, like the sun on the surface of the water during a dive.

A hand latched onto my hair and held my head back. My eyelids were finally freed from the sticky muck that held me in semi-consciousness, and I opened them to find myself staring up into unfamiliar eyes.

I only held his gaze for a few seconds—if that—but it seemed like it lasted for hours as my brain fought to categorize the details. Its useless attempt to understand what was going on.

The man clutching my hair had vivid green eyes, but they may as well have been black given the emotionless void they displayed. His hair was shaggy, brown with a mix of grey, the same colors that stood out in his unkempt stubble.

As if he needed any help looking rough.

He exhaled and his breath settled over my face, reeking of booze and cigarettes. The smell made me queasy, but I didn’t have time to dwell on that, as another set of hands tugged at my jeans.

My gaze traveled around the room, taking in the small crowd. At least half a dozen men surrounded the table where they had me spread out like a holiday feast. All dressed differently, from ragged tank tops to well-fitting dark button-down shirts, they all projected an air of unchecked danger. Necks marked with tattoos, hands covered in callouses and scars. Scruffy faces accented their sneers and smirks, as they stood above me staring down with eyes starved of humanity and full of lust.

Apparently, they didn’t expect me to put up a fight, because aside from the hand tangled in my hair, no one seemed concerned with keeping a tight grip on me. Probably because they outnumbered me, and I assumed they would have no problem beating the crap out of me if I struggled.

They’d downright enjoy it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t fully consider how that scenario would play out. I bucked and managed to knee the one pulling on my waistband in the face. He grunted, but I can’t imagine I inflicted as much pain as did his retaliatory blow to my ribs. I sucked in air and rolled, curling around the injury and gasping for each painful breath as the sickening throb exacerbated my confusion.

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