“He’s hot.” My best friend in the world is drooling over a mugshot, shoving her phone under my nose so I can appreciate the chiseled jaw, cheekbones to die for, piercing green eyes, and of course, the height indicator showing he’s all of six foot three. The man she’s showing me is famous in our circles. No, famous is the wrong word. Infamous. Legendary. But not my cup of tea.
“He’s a criminal. And a murderer,” I point out.
“Lots of men are,” Blaze shrugs. “At least he looks sexy doing it.”
I roll my eyes. “You have got to develop better taste in men, or we’re going to find bits of you in a dumpster one of these days.”
“Not a dumpster, Kitty,” she says. “The rich ones never use dumpsters.”
“What do they do?”
“Roll you up in a Persian rug,” she smirks. “Pure wool, so it’s okay.”
“It’s okay to be dead in a rug as long as it’s a nice rug?”
“Sure,” she shrugs. “Gotta go sometime, right?”
Nobody looking at us would guess this is our topic of conversation. We’re two average looking girls in our early twenties. Blaze has one side of her short, dark hair shaved in an undercut. She looks rebellious and stylish. She’s both. In contrast, my hair is blonde and long. I worked it with a flat iron for half an hour this morning, got rid of all the wave and curl. Now it’s shiny and glossy and probably being ruined by my efforts to make myself look as basic as possible. I wear contacts so nobody remembers the girl with the glasses. My makeup is generic. Winged eyeliner is in right now, so I have little wings. My lips are glossy. I’m wearing leggings as pants, even though they’re definitely not pants, and a long shirt over the top. My feet are clad in fuzzy boots. I look like every sorority girl ever, even though I’ve never been to college. My attire is wishful thinking on my part, I guess. Blaze is dressed similarly, though she’s gone for a short skirt with tights instead of leggings.
We’re sitting outside a cafe with a couple of iced latte monstrosities, having conversations that most young women don’t have. Like this one. How we want to die, and who we want to kill us. It’s almost inevitable that someone will take us out one day unless we get out of this line of work.
Blaze is my best friend in the world. I don’t know her real name and she doesn’t know mine. It doesn’t pay to know names in our line of work. When we get caught, we have a bunch of identities to choose from. Right now, I have a driver’s license which says my name is Caroline Carter. Blaze is Dorothy Rose. Tomorrow we’ll both be somebody else. Only one thing stays the same: the work. We’re delivery specialists. Black Market Couriers.
“Seriously, I worry about you.”
“Don’t worry about me,” she laughs. “Worry about yourself.”
“What do I have to worry about?”
“You have the worst case of DVS I’ve ever seen.”
“And what’s that supposed to be?”
“Dried Vagi…” she trails off and makes a gesture toward her nethers, “syndrome, because you never get laid. You’re like a virgin…”
“Okay, I have a delivery to make,” I say, ending that line of conversation abruptly. I love Blaze, but I cannot deal with another ‘just sleep with someone already’ lecture. “I’ll see you later.”
“See ya.” She waves me off and resumes scrolling through her creep shots of bad guys. That girl uses the FBI most wanted list like Tinder.
I said I had a delivery, but it’s a lie. Today is actually my day off. I’ve had a lot of them lately. I’m losing my taste for this business. I don’t have Blaze’s temperament or capacity for chaos. At heart, I like to play it safe. That’s made me exceptional when it comes to being discreet and successful, but it also means it’s taking its toll on me.
I’ve made enough money this month to pay my rent for years. I’m seriously thinking about retiring and going to college. Getting a degree. Going legit. Real legit, like, into law. This latest conversation with Blaze has only increased that urge. Unlike her, I don’t want to end up dead before my thirtieth birthday.
I’m walking without really thinking. I usually change my routes every other day. Never go the same way twice. You never know who is watching. I have a habit of not keeping habits. Sometimes I make mistakes. I just made one.
I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to the contents of the alley to my left. I don’t notice the van sitting with the door open. I do notice the men, but by the time their hands are on me, it’s too late.
It happens so quickly, I almost don’t know it has happened until it is all over. I am hauled into the back of the blacked out van. My hands are pulled behind my back and cuffed with a plastic zip tie. My mouth is gagged with a cloth. Professionals are doing this to me. I can tell instantly by the way they handle me. Smooth, quiet, calm. There’s no shouting. It happens almost silently. I don’t have a chance to scream or to resist.
In broad daylight, in the middle of the city, I am taken off the street. This shouldn’t be happening. This is a good area of town. I’m three feet away from one of the best eateries in the city. There are people everywhere, but when I look out the tinted window to try to see the commotion that must have ensued when I was grabbed, there’s none. Nobody is doing a thing. Either nobody saw what happened, or nobody cared.
“People in New York just don’t give a damn, do they?” A male voice drawls the question. He has been sitting quite calmly in the back of the van the whole time while his henchmen wrestle me into submission.
The first thing I notice about him is the fact that he has an English accent. Some women might find that sexy. It makes my blood run cold. This is almost too much of a coincidence. I’m reluctant to look at him, but I force myself. I lift my eyes to a man wearing a neat, crisp, black suit. He has handsome features. Features I’ve seen very, very recently.
“You want to say something, don’t you,” he says sympathetically leaning down to pull the cloth from my mouth. “Just don’t scream. Nobody will take any notice, but I’d rather not hear it just the same.”
“It’s you,” I splutter.
“It is,” he agrees. “I am certainly me.”
“W… why are you doing this? I don’t have any business with you…”
“Now that is where you’re wrong.” His smirk widens as he leans down and gives me the full benefit of his green gaze. “We have business, Kitty. A whole lot of business.”
“Shh. We’ll talk later,” he says, his tone gentling me as if I am some errant child. He puts the cloth to the side, undoes his tie and uses that to silence me, wrapping the length of it around the back of my head and slipping it into my mouth. I could fight. I could squirm. I could bite for the brief moment his fingers are between my teeth, but I don’t. Fear is my constant companion in this line of work. It keeps me alive. Right now, it is telling me not to resist. He snugs a knot behind my head and the moment is gone. I bite down on his tie, trying not to drool. It feels like silk and tastes like man.
A blindfold follows the gag.
A little whimper escapes me as I lie on the floor at his feet. It’s barely audible above the rumbling of the tires over New York streets, the occasional pot hole jolting me, the van swaying and sending me sliding across the floor when we go around corners. Large hands steady me. Are they his? Or are the people who work for him keeping me from slamming my head into the sides of the van? Why does it matter? My mind is searching for some context. Why is this happening to me? I can’t think of anything specific, but almost anything is possible.
Breathe, I tell myself. Just breathe.
Right now, my breath is all I have control over. I try to slow it, stop it from being panicky and fast. I try to make it deep, from the belly. I need to be calm. Calm is the only way to survive.
I’m also trying to time how long the trip takes. It’s hard to keep a sense of it, but I still have my phone on me. It’s tucked into a little band inside the waist of my leggings. That could make all the difference later on. Even if I don’t know where I am in the end, I may be able to tell people how far I’ve been taken.
About twenty minutes after being taken, we stop. I’m dragged out of the van and carried somewhere. They don’t say a word, but I can hear gravel crunching beneath their feet, then going silent as they step onto firmer surface.
I’m put into a chair. The zip ties come off, but new bindings are wrapped around my wrists and ankles.
The gag is unwound from my mouth. Then the blindfold is tugged free. I find myself looking into Vicious’ face. He’s close for a moment, and I see every hard line, every dimple, the scimitar curve of his smile. The breath goes out of me. He is stunning.
He steps back and the rest of the room rushes in. High ceilings. Plain white walls. Nothing about it gives me any clues as to where I am. The windows are covered with Japanese style paper which lets in a little light, but cuts out the world behind.
This is bad. Very bad.
I am trying to not be so frightened that my brain shuts down, but I can’t help it. I’m terrified. This is not the man to be taken by. His reputation is legend, and his methods are as brutal as they are original.
I know him by one name: Vicious.
He’s in his late thirties. He has those green eyes which are infamous among the female members of our community, that dark hair which looks like it curls when it's wet, a bit like mine. Right now it’s slicked back. He likes control, and every inch of his body reflects that.
Handsome is a word for models and television stars. He’s more than handsome. He’s enigmatic. Magnetic. Every inch of his body is worthy of attention, and I can’t stop staring.
Beneath that suit of his, I can only imagine the state of his body. Blaze says he’s tattooed and scarred. If she were here right now, she’d be drooling for him, because he’s every bit as impressive in person as he is in pictures.
His appeal is more than superficial. I get the impression that the world moves around him. My kidnapping shows it. I was walking down a relatively busy street. He shouldn’t have gotten away with anything that brazen - but he just did.
“It’s nice to meet you, Kitty,” he says, giving me a bright smile. His dimples seem somewhat incongruous with the rest of his persona, but they add to his charm. That hard jaw, those masculine lips, that straight nose and those green, expressive eyes ringed with long dark lashes. His shoulders are broad, his hips are powerful. He’s an animal with all the vicious intelligence of a man.
I should be replying. I should have something intelligent to say. But I don’t. I’m made temporarily stupid by the suddenness of it all - and by the charm he exudes. The one mistake I’m not making right now is giving in to that charm. I’m still smart enough to know I’m in danger. It doesn’t matter how attractive he is, he has just abducted me.
“You’re a quiet kitty,” he notes. “I thought you’d have more to say.”
I stay silent. Make him talk. I need to find out why the hell I’m here and I won’t find that out by talking myself.
“You are interesting, aren’t you,” he smiles, cocking his head to the side and fixing me with a piercing, curious gaze. “I take it you know who I am.”
“Tell me, so I can know what you know.” He stands in front of me, his feet shoulder width apart, his hands in his pockets.
“And what does that mean?”
“It means you’re…” I struggle for words. The question he just asked me is far more complex than it seems. “You’re a criminal, but more than a criminal.”
His smile broadens. He likes that description.
“You’re a murderer.”
The smile fades.
“You’ve killed people.”
“People die,” he shrugs. “They tend not to when they’re smart and compliant.” His voice dips suggestively on compliant.
Vicious has me and he is threatening me. I am wracking my mind as to why, but I can’t think of a link. I stay clear of men like him. I do work for some scumbags, but not on Vicious’ level. Blaze worships him, but I’m not as romantic as she is, or as fucked up. I know better.
“What do you want from me?” I chance a question.
“I want you to work for me.”
“No.” The refusal slips out of my mouth almost before I have time to think about it. His expression becomes stormy. It’s a frightening sea change, and I don’t like it. “I mean, I’m very busy. I don’t have time for any new clients.”
“Don’t worry about that. You’re only going to have one client from now on.” The smile is back and it’s broad as he spreads his hands in an expansive gesture. “Me.”
“I don’t think my other clients would like that.”
“It doesn’t matter what they’d like.”
“Well, Mr. Vicious, I have a reputation to keep. If I go around dumping my clients, that’s not a good look.”
“I’ll pay you twice what they do.”
“Thank you, that’s very generous of you, but…”
He makes an impatient motion. “Kitty, you’re making this difficult.”
It’s not a good idea to piss this guy off. I think about saying yes just to get the hell out of here, but that’s just going to kick this can of shit down the road. I have to get out of this situation with diplomacy and charm and a bunch of other skills I don’t actually have. Most of my job involves being nondescript and generally basic. I don’t talk to people, for the most part. Looking at Vicious, I know I’m not equipped for this conversation. He’s going to get what he wants.
He lights a cigarette and lets the smoke curl out the end of it. Smoking is a disgusting habit, but it’s probably the least disgusting thing about him all things considered. He looks like an angel, but this man is the devil incarnate.
“If it’s the killing you object to,” he says. “It might help to know I kill for money, not for pleasure.”
“You kill women.” I’ve heard the stories. I’ve even known some of the casualties. No matter how much charm he turns on, it won’t erase his past.
“I kill, Kitty. I don’t make distinctions between men and women. That wouldn’t be fair.” He smirks and exhales, smoke curling from his nostrils. “Not in this day and age.”
Subtly, I tug at the bindings keeping me in the chair. He’s used cloth ties. They’re much softer than plastic, but just as effective as titanium because every single one of my extremities is bound.
“And if I say no to this business offer of yours, you’re going to kill me?”
“If I was going to kill you, I wouldn’t be having this tedious, bloody conversation with you,” he snaps. His eyes flash with irritation and he drops the cigarette, mostly unsmoked. It lies there on the floor smoldering a moment before he crushes it with the toe of his shoe. I feel fear spear through me again, but this time it doesn’t make me silent. This time it spurs me to action. He has a good point. He wouldn’t be talking to me if he wanted to kill me. I learned a long time ago that strength respects strength. It’s time to push back.
“Then untie me and let me go,” I snap, gathering all my courage. “And, just a hint… if you want people to accept job offers from you, try not to kidnap them first. It sort of sours the deal.”
He gives me a cold glare and for a long moment, I am sure I just made a huge mistake. This room has concrete floors and what look like wipe down walls. This is pretty much a kill room. He could make a very big mess of me here and never be caught.
“You’re scared.” It’s a statement.
“Well, yeah,” I shrug as much as I can while being bound.
“You’re scared, but you’re still saying no to me. And that means you’re brave.” The smile returns to his eyes. I get the impression that he’s amused by me, though I don’t know why. There’s nothing funny about this. He’s toying with me, that’s what he’s doing. He’s testing me.
“Killing is an unfortunate side effect of my business, but it’s not the main part of it. I’m sure it’s the part which generates the most gossip, but you shouldn’t listen to gossip, Kitty. I have a great deal of business I need to conduct, and I need your skill set.”
“There are other couriers. I can put you on to one who dreams of working with you.”
“I don’t want anyone else. I want you.” There’s a charming intensity to his English tones, and for a split second it’s almost as if he has romantic intent. The moment passes quickly as I come to my senses. This is a man who makes women’s brains melt. He’s the incarnation of bad choices. He is 100% Mr. Wrong. I can’t give in to him, and I certainly can’t indulge any kind of feminine fantasy.
“Untie me then.”
“Do you agree?”
“I don’t, but if you keep me tied up, I can guarantee the answer will stay no.”
A smile crosses his handsome face. “You’re a smart one, Kitty. I like that. It’s going to get you into trouble. It’s going to get you hurt. But it’s also why I want you.”
Again he says he wants me, and I am drawn into that fleeting fantasy world where this dangerous, powerful, enigmatic man desires me in some way other than just as another worker bee in his operation. I have to make an effort to clear that nonsense from my mind. I know how men like this function. There are always more women than men around them. They collect female flesh like trophies. Blaze would gladly be one of Vicious’ women. She’d be screaming yes right now. But for me, the answer has to be no.