She woke in darkness.
It surrounded her, so complete that it felt as if she was being crushed by its weight. As if she’d been dropped at the bottom of a well and left to wither away.
Margo Kagan’s mouth opened to scream yet she tamped down on it at the last moment, somehow knowing she should not make a sound.
The only safety she had left was silence.
A nightmare. Just a bad dream. If she kept her eyes closed, the frightening sensation of drowning in the oxygen-less space would abate. She just had to breathe through it. Shallow breaths. Quick breaths. Not unlike the ones she would have to learn when she had her baby—
She shot up straight and couldn’t stop a whimper from escaping at the pinch in her wrist. Not just one, but both. She was restrained. Shackled like a wild animal. Arms. Ankles. The chains rattled as she tugged and shifted, futile tears springing to her eyes.
Just stay calm. This is just a nightmare. You’re fine.
If she didn’t panic, she’d wake soon. She had to. This couldn’t be real.
Please, God, don’t let this be real.
It didn’t make any sense. She should be at home in bed with Simon.
Her fingers stretched toward where he should be, but he wasn’t. Instinctively, she knew she was alone. The bed felt cramped and utilitarian with the flat mattress underneath her.
How many other people had laid in this very place? Trussed up and waiting for…what? What was the purpose to all of this?
Robbery. Rape? She shuddered and shifted again, taking stock of her body. She was vaguely sore all over and hungry enough to eat a raw steak, but nothing else seemed wrong. Her clothes were the same she’d worn, and she wasn’t missing any that she could tell.
She wiggled her toes. Except one shoe.
Her eyes filmed over. The damn shoes she’d searched for while on the phone with her husband.
God, Simon was going to be so worried. He wouldn’t rest until he found her.
He would find her. She’d hold on to that with every fiber of her being.
In the meantime, she was going to calm her ass down and think logically. If she lost her mind, they—whomever they were—would win. And she wasn’t that woman.
If Jayne Reece hadn’t broken her, some nameless, faceless asshole who’d—
She swallowed and nearly coughed from the dryness of her throat. What had they done, exactly? Why couldn’t she remember what had happened?
There were patches in her memory. Bits and pieces remained. Flashes of sunlight. Music on the radio. Oblivion playing. Her band. Her husband singing, making her smile and shiver.
The beep of the phone. Simon, then Lila. Reaching to hit the touchscreen to accept her best friend’s call. Didn’t make it.
Screeching tires. Colliding metal. Shocking pain. The sound of the tires replaying in her head.
Simon yelling before the blackness came.
Before the radio and the sun and Simon, she remembered rushing around for her shoes. She’d been headed somewhere important. But where? Why couldn’t she piece the fragments together into the whole?
She shut her eyes tightly and remembered laughing at Simon. He’d called when she was getting ready too. Teasing her about apples and saying he should be there. It was a big appointment. A big day.
There had been an accident. A big black truck behind her. She’d barely had a second to see it before it came at her again. Had she hit her head? Hit her stomach?
She swallowed the metallic taste of fear and made herself take stock. Her right leg and knee ached dully, as did her head. Along with being hungry, she was vaguely nauseated. Maybe because she hadn’t eaten or from a touch of morning sickness, though she’d had little so far.
But that was a good sign, right? If she was still getting sick, the baby was okay.
Her eyes filled. He or she had to be okay. Simply had to.
She swallowed again, shoving down the panic. She couldn’t go there, not yet. There was no reason to believe the worst. Yes, she’d had an accident, and her pregnancy was early yet, but babies were strong. So much stronger than people gave them credit for. And hers had an extra dose of Simon’s stubbornness so she refused to even consider the possibility.
Rolling her shoulders to try to get rid of some of the tension lodged in her muscles, she realized the side of her neck was wet. Was she bleeding? Maybe she had a concussion. That would explain the memory issues.
Not that she wanted to remember what had happened. The vast space where the rest of her day should’ve been was a respite. She didn’t know what they’d done to her. Didn’t want to. Later, she’d have to live with what had happened.
Now? All she had to do was survive. Her and her baby.
So she—they—could get back to Simon and her band family, and Jules and baby Joshua—
Jules. She couldn’t lose anyone else. It would literally kill her.
Not going to happen.
Tears rolled down her cheeks, but ruthlessly, she battled them back. She had to stay calm and not dwell on what ifs. Simon would be looking for her. Of that she was certain. Until he found her, all she could rely on were her wits to protect herself and her child.
And she would. No matter what, she would make sure she survived to deliver her strong, healthy baby. To live her life with her husband in their perfect new house, the one they’d just found.
They’d just found so much.
The door cracked open, letting in a sliver of light. Margo immediately slid back to the bed, wincing at the flash of pain that arrowed through her scalp at the sudden movement. Yeah, concussion was seeming more likely.
Her heart sped up, thudding dully in her ears as she tried to take shallow, soundless breaths. No one was coming. Maybe the wind had opened the door? Or it hadn’t been fully closed?
Then a shadow crossed through the shaft of light, not completely filling the doorway, but enough to make Margo’s throat go tight. A second later, light blasted her eyes and she closed them, biting down hard on her tongue to keep from making a noise.
She tasted blood at the same moment she heard the woman laugh.
A woman, for fuck’s sake.
“Oh, there now, don’t pretend to be asleep. It’s too late now. I already saw you.”
Margo didn’t respond. Didn’t open her eyes. Barely breathed.
“My boys used to do the same thing when they were little. I’d turn on the bedroom light to make sure they were awake for school, and they’d always fake deep sleep. It didn’t work then either.” Footsteps crept closer, soft soles whispering.
Margo fought not to shiver. To not even give that much reaction.
“You must be hungry. You’re not one of those waif types, and I have to say, I’m glad for it. It would’ve pained me if Simon had chosen poorly.”
Margo’s teeth sawed into her tongue again, every cell inside her shrieking. What was this? Who was this? She had to open her eyes, to know. But she couldn’t give that much away. Not yet.
So, she stayed quiet and still and tried not to flinch as the woman’s sickeningly sweet fragrance assaulted her senses. Familiar somehow. Fruit of some kind? Not plums or peaches. Or maybe a flower?
“My mother got a tattoo when I was little. It was the first time I ever saw one. It was so pretty and I wanted to touch it, but she smacked my hand away because it was fresh and the skin hurt. Pink flowers on thin branches.”
“Like cherry blossoms?”
“Is that what they’re called? Yeah, yeah, now that you mention it, I’ve heard of those before.” Simon laughed harshly. “Maybe I tried to block them out.”
A tear snuck free despite her fight not to let it. Could this…
His mother wasn’t around. Somehow even with the day’s missing details, she knew she hadn’t forgotten anything there. Mrs. Kagan hadn’t been part of the picture for a very long time.
She’d just…gone away.
Yet now she was back. There was no other explanation.
“Don’t cry, sweet Margo. You’re among family.”
Margo’s eyes finally flashed open and she stared almost sightlessly at the woman before her. Her tears blinded her, but once she blinked them away, the vision came clear.
An utterly beautiful woman with dark hair in an updo and crystalline blue-green eyes smiled benevolently down at her, her features unlined by time.
With one glance, Margo knew. This wasn’t a mistake. Even never having seen her before other than in a couple old, wrinkled photos, she recognized her face. Had seen a variation of it every day for the last few years.
Loved it more than she’d ever believed she could love anyone.
“Simon,” she whispered, and it was all she could get out before the sobs inside her broke free.
The woman stroked her hair, continuing even when Margo recoiled. But there was nowhere she could go.
She was trapped.
“Yes, my dear boy. I loved him so. We both love him, don’t we?”
“You don’t love him. You don’t know what it is to love a child.”
Simon’s mother sighed wearily. “I’d hoped this meeting would be different. But I had to protect him, see? I couldn’t run the risk. I loved him then and still do. And I know how much he values you.” Her fingers tangled in Margo’s hair and her grip tightened. “A mother always knows what her son needs.”
“How could you do this to him? He needs me. Me and—” Margo cut herself off, but the grip changed.
It was all too late.
“And what? Come now, tell your mother-in-law your secrets,” Simon’s mother murmured. “We’re family, after all.”