I glance at the large screen in front of me that reads: London Heathrow. I stare out at the runway of the South Carolina airport as I wait to board my connecting flight to London. I anxiously fiddle with the strap of my bag... Jude's bag. The contents of this bag are all I have left in the world. I have a new identity, one I don't want. I just want to go home, to see my sister, to live my life, but I can't. It's all gone. Everyone I ever cared about believes I am dead, except Jude. The only person I have left. Had… the only person I had left.
I won't pretend I'm not bitter. I am. I've been kidnapped, tortured, shot at, threatened more times than I care to remember, and finally rejected by the one man who I came to trust, despite all of this. The last few months of my life have been shitty; there's no other way to put it.
"Boarding pass please.”
I nervously hand my passport to the woman at customs, and can only hope Jude is as good as I think he is. I didn't ask how he managed to get a passport forged so quickly. I've learned with him not to ask questions. My heart clenches at the memory of him handing me the documents. It was all so easy for him, and I hate myself for hurting over him. I hate that I love him, and when I think back, I cannot work out how the hell that even happened.
She glances over it quickly and gives it back to me. I smile politely before moving away. I barely take two steps when someone stops me.
"Excuse me, ma'am." A guy in a dark blue uniform steps in front of me. "Can you please come with me?"
"Of course." Fuck! They know the passport is fake. I'm going to go to jail, or worse; they'll find out who I really am. They'll find out I'm supposed to be dead, which will lead them to wonder why, when a body has already been found, am I now here trying to leave the country under a different name? Joe will be the least of my worries if I'm suspected of having something to do with that poor girl's murder. Shit.
I'm led through the airport until we reach a door that reads 'staff only.' The officers show me to a small private office, where I'm told to sit. Two guys stand on either side of the door blocking my exit whilst the guy behind the desk taps away on a keyboard. He doesn't look up at me and barely acknowledges my presence. The phone on the desk rings and he picks it up but doesn't speak. In the silence of the room, I can hear the muffled sound of someone talking on the other end. When he hangs up, he glances up at me. "There's been a problem, and we're going to need to take you to the station to clear it up." A problem?
"What problem?" I ask, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
His lips pull into an almost sympathetic looking smile. "We can't discuss it here." He signals towards the two guys standing behind me. "You need to go with these officers."
I nod as I take a steadying breath and stand. The two security officers lead me outside the airport. There are two men in suits standing next to a black SUV, who greet me. This is some federal shit, it must be. They look like agents. Maybe they know about Jude? Maybe they want to use me to get to him? My chest tightens as a wave of panic comes over me. Of course there are people after Jude. It was naive of me to think there wouldn't be somebody watching and waiting. The thought of Jude being locked up makes me feel sick. I shouldn't care. He brought it on himself. He's a criminal, a bookie, a murderer... but I love him, and betraying him would feel like a betrayal of myself.
"Place your hands behind your back." One of the men says, holding a pair of handcuffs.
"What? Am I under arrest? I've done nothing!" I protest as he grabs one of my wrists and yanks it behind my back, pressing me up against the car. He snaps the cuff around my wrist and grabs my other arm, fastening the metal tight enough to cut into my skin. He then pushes me into the back of the car, and the door slams behind me. My pulse hammers in my ears as full-scale panic starts to set in. I'm going to jail. I'm going to be forced to choose, throw Jude under the bus or spend my life behind bars. Shit, the rational option is clear, but my damn heart is treacherously loyal to him.
The two guys get in the front of the car, and we pull away from the airport. I try to calm my breathing. It will be fine, it will be fine, I repeat to myself over and over. I'm so busy freaking the fuck out, I don't realise where we are going, until the car rolls to a stop on a private runway, next to a plane.
The guy in the driver's seat hops out and opens my door. "Step out of the car," he orders. I climb out of the car gingerly; a frown etched onto my face.
"Where are we?" I ask the guy holding the door. "What is this?" My heart is in a dead sprint, my breath faltering in my lungs as I suddenly realise the danger I'm now in. These are not agents.
He wordlessly uncuffs me, a permanent scowl on his face. He then shrugs, turns toward the plane, and leans back against the car. I stand here, my wrists and shoulders aching from the handcuffs. My eyes flick up when I catch movement in the doorway of the plane, and I watch a well-dressed older man descend the steps. He moves so slowly, smiling when he reaches me. "I'm sorry about all the fuss, Victoria. Turns out you're a hard woman to track down."
"Who are you?" I whisper. Of course, I already know. There's only one person who would have both the inclination and the resources to track me and have me detained like this, a man with more reach than even Jude.
"Ah, now, I think you know who I am." He grins sadistically, his eyes dragging over my body. "You and I are going to have such fun, Tor."
Bile rises in my throat. I want to scream, I want to run, but I can't, because this is it. This is the moment that was inevitable. This was the risk I ran when I left Jude, and this is the risk I told myself was worth taking. I thought I would rather risk being caught by Joe than love Jude. I was wrong. One look at his flat, lifeless eyes tells me this is a new breed of monster, one with no limitations, no line he will not cross, and one that is so hungry for revenge, he will destroy anyone in his quest to get to Jude. I know he's going to kill me. My breath seizes in my lungs, and my gaze flashes around, quickly taking stock of the situation. There are two guys near the car, and Joe is at the top of the steps. If he gets me on that plane, I'm screwed. I whip around and run in the opposite direction. I don't think, I just react, like prey running from a predator, this is a pure survival instinct. Adrenaline courses through my veins as my heart hammers against my ribs. I head for the tree line, pushing my lungs until they burn. I'm so close when I hear the bang of the gun go off, and blinding pain rips through my thigh like a hot poker. My leg gives way underneath me, and I go crashing to the ground hard, my palms splitting open. I glance down at my leg and watch the skirt of my sun dress turning bright crimson. I grit my teeth as I grip my thigh to try and slow the bleeding. My vision blurs as tears from both pain and frustration fill my eyes.
A shadow looms over me before the butt of a cigarette is tossed next to me.
"That was stupid." Joe crouches in front of me and reaches out, gripping my jaw between his thumb and fore finger. His lips pull up in a smile, and my eyes focus on the gun in his other hand. I close my eyes, trying to take even breaths, trying not to panic. "I do love a fighter though." I feel him lean forward, his breath blowing over my face and making my stomach turn. "It makes it that much more satisfying when they break. I'm going to break you, little bird, and I'm going to make sure he sees it."
He pulls back, and I open my eyes in time to see him raise his gun, right before he hits me over the head with the butt.
Everything goes black.
I wake up with my face pressed into a cold, damp surface. Groaning, I push up on my hands. My head is pounding, and my vision is blurry. My leg is throbbing and feels like it's on fire.
I manage to sit up and lean back against the wall. The room is pitch-black, freezing cold and smells of mildew.
I have no idea where I am, what day or time it is, or how long I've been here.
The last thing I remember is Joe. I know for sure this is it. I'm going to die. Jude warned me, and I knew the threat was very real, yet I decided the risk was worth it. I put my pathetic heart before my life, like a lovesick idiot.
I freeze when I hear footsteps. I can't see anything, so I have no idea where they're coming from. A heavy click reverberates around the room, and a door creaks open, smashing against the wall. I hold my hand up, shielding my eyes from the sudden bright light. Spots dance across my vision as a pair of heavy boots come into view, stopping in front of me.
"Get up," a gruff male voice barks at me. My head is still spinning as I struggle to scramble to my feet. A rough hand wraps around one of my wrists, yanking me forward. I bite back a scream as pain shoots up my leg. I glance down and find it's bandaged. Why do that? Why not just let me bleed out?
"Walk." He shoves me through the open door, and I stagger, falling against the wall in the hallway. I'm half dragged, half pushed down the hall, and up a short set of stairs. There's a doorway on the left; he pushes me through it into an office. There's barely any furniture: a desk and chair, a window on one wall, and an open fire on the other side of the room.
There, sat at the desk is Joe. He appears to be a normal guy, smartly dressed in a suit, clean shaven. His slightly greying hair and a chiseled face lend him towards looking quite distinguished. He looks very respectable until he glances up at me with eyes so dark; they're almost black. There isn't an ounce of mercy or kindness to be found within the dark depths of his irises, only cold, feral depravity.
He watches me for a moment, like a wolf eyeing up a newborn lamb. "You should know that this isn't personal." He flashes me a nasty smile.
"What isn't?" I breathe, as it feels like icy water is creeping through my veins.
Joe rises, moving around the desk to stand in front of me. His eyes trail over my body, and I want to douse myself in bleach. He reaches out, taking a piece of my hair in his hands and leaning in to smell it.
"Everything," He snarls, before throwing his fist into my stomach. I double over, coughing violently as my knees slam into the ground. I hold my stomach, trying to drag air into my winded body. He drops to a crouch in front of me and grabs a fistful of my hair, yanking my head back. I cry out as my scalp burns.
He pushes his face to mine, his smoky breath blowing over my skin. "I'm going to destroy you, and he's going to listen to it." He says coldly. "He's weak, and his weakness will lead him to you, and in turn me. I'm going to kill him slowly. By the time I'm done, he will beg me to kill him," he spits in my face, before throwing me to the ground violently.
No. He can't. My heart splinters at the thought of anything happening to Jude. I made my choices, but I still love him.
"We're going to call dear old Jude." He smiles. He puts the phone on loudspeaker, and the rings echo around the room.
The phone rings and rings until the machine picks up. Joe grabs a handful of my hair again, yanking me to my knees. "Leave him a message," he growls in my ear.
As soon as the beep rings out, I shout, "Jude..."
Joe slams his hand over my mouth, silencing me. I fight against him. I have to warn Jude. He can't come after me, he'll be walking into a trap, and for what? Some misplaced loyalty for a girl he didn't even want.
The phone clicks, and then I hear his voice. "Tor?" He sounds controlled, but I know him. I can hear the edge of panic in his voice.
Joe laughs, clearly thrilled with this little moment. "You fucked up, Jude, and now I'm going to fuck her up, just like I fucked up your whore of a mother." He slams the receiver down and releases me. I fall forward onto my hands, tears streaming down my face.
"You know..." He stops right in front of me, his shiny shoes in my line of vision. "I couldn't have planned this better if I tried. When I told Euan to get you into Jude's house, I never thought it would actually happen. That his guy would be stupid enough to take you, and then when he did, I assumed JP would send you right back because he's Jude Pearson; chivalrous, lover of women." He turns and paces in front of me. "I thought he would send you back to Euan, and I could pluck information straight from your pretty little head." He laughs and drops to a knee in front of me, grabbing my chin roughly and forcing me to look at him. His cold eyes trail over my body. "But then he was stupid enough to fall in love with you. I commend you, I really do. You must have a pussy of gold," he sneers.
"Jude doesn't love me." My voice is strangled, barely audible.
He smiles. "Oh, but he does. You see, I've been watching, Tor."
"Oh, yes, sweetheart, I've known where you were this whole time. Trust me, Jude Pearson is very much in love with you, and you know what they say about love... it is the greatest of weaknesses. You just became the weapon I need to destroy him."
I feel like I'm going to throw up.
"I'm going to destroy him, by destroying you, and then, finally, when I allow him to find me, I'll put him down like the dog that he is." He rises to his feet. "So, we're going to make JP a little video."
Oh, my God. No! I start shaking immediately.
Joe snaps his fingers. A man I hadn't noticed before moves out of the shadows, grabbing me by the throat and hauling me to my feet. I try to fight him, but it’s pointless. He's enormous, and he throws my body around like a rag doll, slamming me onto the desk as Joe laughs behind me. My shoulder blades crunch against the hard wood, and I claw at his wrist as my lungs scream for oxygen.
"Don't kill her before we've even started," Joe says casually. His grip loosens slightly, and I heave in lungfuls of air. "Now, I want you to tell me everything you know about JP." He paces slowly in front of the desk. Another guy appears out of nowhere. He's holding a phone up in front of him, videoing.
"Fuck you," I choke, through my hoarse throat.
"I so hoped you would say that." He draws back his hand, and this time he punches me. Pain explodes across my cheekbone and my right eye. I lift my hand, holding my face. Joe grabs my wrist and yanks my hand away. "Oh, no, we want JP to see my handy work."
The guy takes the phone and shoves it in my face. Joe smiles and moves to the desk, pulling something out of a drawer. I can't see what it is.
"This is what happens to those who are loyal to you, JP," he snarls at the camera as he walks away from me. I can't see what he's doing, only that he's in front of the fire. My heart is pumping so hard it feels like it's going to explode through my rib cage. Fear and adrenaline course through me causing my body to shake violently.
"Turn her over," Joe orders over his shoulder.
I'm pulled up by my hair. The man twists me around, slamming me down on my front, so I'm bent over the desk. I cough as I'm winded again, and try to steady my breathing, but it's no use. I can't see him. I'm vulnerable and completely exposed, not that I could fight off three of them either way, but this feels worse somehow.
I feel the heat from Joe's body as he moves up beside me again. He grabs my head and crushes the side of my face into the desk. "I want to know everything, and one way or the other sweetheart, you will fucking tell me," he breathes in my face.
I say nothing. I will give him nothing. He sighs, as though this is such a hardship for him and brings the object in his hand into my line of sight. It's a type of steel rod, and the end is glowing a bright red. Oh, God, no! I squeeze my eyes shut, and tears trickle down my temple.
"Last chance," he prompts. My mind tries to block out my surroundings, but fear and survival instinct keep me rooted here. He rips the material of my dress away from my back, and I feel the cool air touch my skin.
"You see this Jude... I'm going to brand her, one a day, for every single day you don't save her." He laughs. "Not sure you'll want her by the time I'm done with her."
His knee digs into the centre of my back, pinning me down before he presses the brand to my skin. Burning is the worst kind of pain, the most intense. I can smell my flesh singing. I scream, my God, do I scream. I can't breathe. I can't see through the tears that blur my vision. He takes the brand away, but the pain doesn't stop, and I choke on my sobs.
"I'll start with an easy question. I want names. Tell me who some of his clients are, Victoria, and I will make this stop."
It won't though, it never will. I would rather die here than give this bastard what he wants, because no matter how many times I've told myself Jude's a monster, he's not. These men are the monsters, the monsters he tried to protect me from, and I owe him the same thing. As soon as I tell Joe what he wants, we both know he will kill me. I'm not telling him shit, and when Jude finds him because he will find him, I only hope he kills the bastard slowly. Even as I think this, my instinct to survive is screaming at me to just fucking tell him.
My silence angers him, and he growls, throwing the poker across the room and flipping me back over. He grabs me by the throat, his fingers digging into my skin as he brings his face close to mine. "This is nothing, girl. I will break you. I will ruin you, and then I will send your body back for him to see."
I hear a rip and feel the cold air touch my stomach as he tears my dress from my body. Not that! A small voice screams at me. Anything but that. They want to torment Jude, so, of course, they're going to rape me. They think he is in love with me, and with that in mind, nothing would hurt him more. I vow not to scream because I refuse to give them what they want.
Joe laughs at the camera, tracing his fingers down the long scar running between my breasts and over my stomach. "Looks like JP already had his fun with you. Let me guess, he worked out who Euan was?"
I can't respond to him. I can only moan as the pain radiates down my spine.
He glances to the camera again. "I can definitely see why you like her, JP. I fancy a taste myself. See what all the fuss is about." He grabs my underwear, yanking it down my legs aggressively. A sob threatens to break from my throat, as I hear his belt buckle being undone. I clench my teeth, forcing back my want to scream.
He grabs my thighs, pulling them apart and yanking me to the edge of the desk. His fingers press against the bullet wound in my leg, whilst the burn on my back drags across the surface of the desk. The pain makes black spots dance across my vision. My eyelids flutter closed as my head swims, but a sharp slap across the face pulls me back from that blissful brink.
"Oh, no, I want you awake for this sweetheart. Let dear old Jude see what he's missing."
My mind snaps back to reality and screams at me to fight. I can't give up. I lash out with my legs, kicking wildly at him as I try to sit up. The massive guy appears from behind me somewhere and places his hand on my chest, slamming me back down on the desk. I grab at his arm, trying to get him off, but I might as well be trying to move a brick wall for all the good it does me. I choke out a ragged cry of desperation as I realise Joe is going to rape me, and I am completely helpless.
"I do so love a fighter," Joe sneers.
With that, he wrenches my legs apart and forces himself inside me in one thrust. I flinch as pain tears through me, and he smiles manically. His fingers grip my hips, his nails breaking the skin. Tears stream down my temples as he pounds into me violently, taking everything from me as he does.
I turn my head to the side, focusing on a spot of flaked paint on the wall. I think of another time, another place, a place when I was happy. I think of my mother, my sister, and then, I think of Jude. I remember the way he made me feel safe, the way he would smile at only me. I think of him, and I hope he doesn't come after Joe because I know in my heart that Joe will kill him.
"I think she likes it, Jude." Joe gloats at the camera. The other two men don't even blink. These aren't men; they're fucking animals.
The torture seems to go on forever. He fucks me until I feel like I'm being split in two. He eventually stiffens on top of me and grunts before pulling out, taking the last shattered pieces of me with him.
I will never come back from this. Even if he doesn't kill me, I gave up my life for love. I just hope it was enough.