These men would die. Maybe not today, maybe not by his hand, but at his direction for sure.
“Mav!” Steph screamed as she flailed in her captor’s hold.
The desire to shut his eyes and avoid witnessing the terror in her gaze almost won, but he forced himself to watch every second of her futile struggle for freedom. The rage and impotence he felt would fuel him to endure whatever came next and find a way to save their asses.
“Mav, promise me!” Steph yelled as they dragged her off toward what looked like a freestanding garage.
He couldn’t do it. Even to ease the desperation on her face, he couldn’t make that promise.
It’d be a lie.
Because he’d do anything to ensure Stephanie’s safety and wellbeing.
Even at the expense of his own life.
STEPHANIE TURNED AWAY as the putrid stench of unwashed man assailed her nostrils. The man currently binding her legs to a rickety wooden chair, reeked like he was a solid five days past due for a shower. He looked like it too, with grease under his fingernails, a layer of grime coating his thick arms, and oily-as-hell hair hanging down to his scruffy chin. Someone had called him Digger. Fitting since it appeared as though he’d been digging around in the mud for days on end.
She breathed through her mouth, which had him booming out a laugh as he tightened the rope around her ankle. Missing and rotted teeth told a story of meth and poor dental hygiene. And his breath, well, that was almost worse than the pain of the too-tight ropes.
“What’sa matter, princess? Don’tcha like me?”
What the hell were the others doing to Maverick? With each passing second, her stomach twisted tighter. It’d been a solid five minutes since this smelly asshole dragged her into a dank garage lit only by a single halogen light.
What if they took Mav somewhere else? A second empty chair faced her about six feet away, but it wasn’t necessarily for Maverick. What if they were hurting him? What if she never saw him aga—
She closed her eyes and inhaled, nearly gagging from the stink.
Don’t think that way. Mav is resourceful as fuck.
He’d be okay.
He had to be. There simply wasn’t another option. And she had to keep herself grounded in the present and not fly down the road of what-ifs. Unfortunately, that path led to another panic attack. She couldn’t afford to be that vulnerable anymore.
“Hey!” The guy jerked on the rope, making her squeak in discomfort as the coarse cord irritated her skin. “Talking to you, bitch. Think you’re fucking better than us?” He cinched the rope even tighter.
She bit down. Shit, that burned.
“N-no,” Stephanie said through clenched teeth as she rode out the fresh pain. Though her natural inclination was to tell him that she didn’t think she was better than him, she knew it for a damn fact, she couldn’t piss him off. Not yet. Not until she found out where Mav was. “Don’t think I’m better than anyone.”
He grunted and then moved behind her, tying her already bound hands to the chair back. “Curly thinks he’s fucking better than us.” Another grunt. “Curly is us. Piece of shit gets out of jail, is given a shit ton of money, and suddenly doesn’t give a fuck about his real brothers.”
Club brothers who never visited him in prison. Brothers who let him go to jail for a crime he hadn’t committed. Brothers who forgot all about him and let their club collapse into dust the moment Curly’s cell slammed shut.
Once he had it so she couldn’t shift without ropes cutting into her flesh, he walked back around the front of her.
“Y—” She cleared her throat. “You want to be part of the club he’s formed? The Handlers?”
Keep him talking.
Maybe she’d get lucky, and he’d divulge something that could help her and Mav.
He snorted. “Be one of those pussies? Fuck no.” He leaned in until she could see the pockmarks on his cheeks and nose way too close. His yellow-toothed grin hovered only inches away. “I want what’s coming to me. Why the fuck should he be the only one to get cash outta this?”
Uh, because he spent thirteen years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit while you ran free and spent the decade smoking meth.
Thankfully, she had enough training in dealing with scumbags to keep that thought in her brain. “I, um, I could contact him for you,” she said, keeping her tone even and calm as physically possible with the terror and revulsion throwing a party in her stomach. “I’m sure he, uh, agrees that you deserve some compensation for what you’ve been through. Have you tried talking to him?”
That had him laughing. “The boss got in touch. Curly told him to go fuck himself.”
Stephanie’s heart sank. There went that idea.