“They would’ve found me anyway. It was just a matter of time.” I’m convinced of that. “Do you know who they are or what they want from us?”
“I’m not sure, but I can guess,” she says, her hands clenching tightly in her lap. “I think they’re part of the Jihadist terrorist group that Julian told me about a couple of months ago. Apparently, they’re upset that he wouldn’t sell them some weapon that his company recently developed.”
“Why not?” I ask curiously. “Why wouldn’t he sell it to them?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know. Julian is very selective when it comes to his business partners, and it could be that he just didn’t trust them enough.”
“So they took us as leverage?”
“Yes, I think so,” she says softly. “At least, that’s what you’re here for. Someone at the clinic must’ve been in their employ because they knew who you were and what you meant to Julian. I was sleeping in one of the rooms downstairs when they found me, and they immediately went up to the second floor, to the room where you were staying. I think they intend to use you to force Julian’s hand when it comes to giving them this weapon.”
I draw in a shaky breath. “I see.” I can only imagine how men psychotic enough to kill innocent civilians would ‘force Julian’s hand.’ Gruesome images of severed body parts dance through my mind, and I push them away with effort, not wanting to give in to the panic that threatens to swallow me whole.
“It’s lucky that Julian wasn’t at the clinic when they came,” Beth says, interrupting my dark thoughts. “They killed everyone, all sixteen of Julian’s men who were stationed there guarding us.”
Beth nods. “They had insane firepower, and they came with a good thirty or forty men of their own. You didn’t see the worst of it, because they entered from the back. There were bodies piled six feet high in the other staircase, with many of the casualties coming from their side.”
I stare at her, trying to control my breathing. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. For them to sacrifice so many of their comrades, whatever they want from Julian must be a hell of a weapon. Would he give it to them to save us? Does he care for me and Beth enough? I know he wants me—and is concerned about my well-being on some level—but I have no idea if he would put me ahead of his business interests.
Of course, even if he gives them what they want, there is no guarantee that they will let us live. I remember what Julian told me about Maria’s death . . . about how she was killed to punish him for some warehouse raid. In Julian’s world, actions have consequences. Very brutal consequences.
“Do you think he’ll come for us?” I ask Beth quietly. The irony of it all doesn’t escape me. I now regard Julian as my potential savior, my knight in shining armor. He’s not the one I need rescuing from anymore.
She looks at me, her eyes dark in her pale face. “He will,” she answers softly. “He’ll come for us. I just don’t know if it will matter to us by then.”
The next couple of hours drag by. The men largely ignore us, though I’ve seen a couple of them looking at my bare legs when their leader wasn’t paying attention. Thankfully, the hospital gown is generally shapeless and made of thick material—about the least sexy outfit I can imagine. The thought of one—or several—of them touching me makes my skin crawl.
They also don’t give us anything to eat or drink. That’s not a good sign; it means they don’t care if we live or die. My thirst is getting so bad that all I can think about is water, and there is an empty, gnawing feeling in my stomach. The worst thing of all, however, is the cold fear that comes at me in waves and the dark images that flicker through my mind like a bad horror movie.
I try to talk to Beth to keep myself from freaking out, but after our initial conversation, she’s become quiet and withdrawn, responding in monosyllables at best. It’s like mentally, she’s not even there. I envy her. I’d like to be able to escape like that, but I can’t. For my mind to let go, I need Julian and his particular brand of erotic torture.
When I’m just about ready to scream from frustration, two more men enter the warehouse. To my surprise, one of them looks like a businessman; his pinstriped suit is sharp and tailored, and a stylish Strotter bag hangs messenger-style across his body. He’s also relatively young, probably only in his thirties, and appears to be in good shape. Smoothly shaven, with olive complexion and glossy dark hair, he could’ve been on the cover of GQ—if it weren’t for the fact that he’s most likely a terrorist.
He exchanges a few words with the men on the other side of the warehouse, then heads toward Beth and me. As he approaches us, I notice the cold gleam in his eyes and the way his nostrils flare slightly. There’s something vaguely reptilian in his unblinking stare, and I suppress a shudder when he stops a couple of feet away and studies me, his head cocked to the side.
I stare back at him, my heart pounding heavily in my chest. Objectively, he could be considered handsome, but I don’t feel even the slightest tug of attraction. The only thing I feel is fear. It’s actually a relief; some part of me has always wondered if I’m simply wired wrong—if I’m destined to desire the men who scare me. Now I see that it’s a Julian-specific phenomenon for me. I’m frightened and repulsed by the criminal standing in front of me now—a perfectly normal reaction that I embrace.