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After Our Kiss by Nora Flite (1)

- Chapter One -

Georgia Mary King

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I awoke abruptly to the sight of myself overhead.

A mirror? I wondered. It was full length, scuffed from top to bottom. There was a section near the top, right over my face that I swear was covered in claw marks. In a heartbeat I recalled everything.

The figure entering my bedroom.

The astringent scent that knocked me out.

The hard, violent arms that pulled me from my sheets.

My reflection showed that I was lying on a pale mattress, wearing the same clothes I'd gone to sleep in; gray sweatpants, a black tank top, no bra. I'd been low on clean pajamas. No matter how many times I told mom she didn't need to wash my things, she insisted. But she rarely followed through.

I wondered if this was her fault, in a way. Had her lack of focus meant she'd forgotten to lock our front door? Had she naively let someone inside? She'd been so lonely without Dad—so lost. She could be hurt, too. There was no guarantee that I was the only victim. Oh, god, Mom. Please be okay.

My eyes mirrored the stillness of my heart. I did not breathe, I didn't beg—except to ask my body to remain strong. I didn't know where I was or what waited for me. I was only sure of the tragedy of it.

“You're awake,” a voice said nearby.

My impulse was to look. Instead, I shut my eyes, scrunching them so they couldn't be pried apart. The stillness went out of me. My lungs thrummed, forcing air between my tightly clenched teeth. Someone is here! Was it the person who'd taken me? I couldn't remember anything about them, my brain heavy as a loaf of bread in the rain.

He—and it was definitely a he—asked, “What are you doing?”

Should I answer? What do I do? I'd been cautioned against danger all my life, but never told what to do once I was deep in it. The closest training I had was seeing an action movie or three where hostages were held at gunpoint. Usually, the kidnappers had demands. The hostages often ended up dead.

Flexing my body, I tested my bonds. Some kind of strap was keeping my wrists locked over my head on top of each other, my feet crossed at the ankle, bound the same. I could wriggle, but nothing more.

I was powerless.

No, I corrected myself. I can't move, but he can't make me talk to him. I don't have to look at his face. Small as they were, those little rebellions gave me a flash of strength.

And then the bed shifted with the weight of the stranger. His shadow fell over me, a hand—warm and rough—brushing over my forehead. “Are you feeling sick from the chloroform?” he whispered. His breath was gentle where it stirred across my cheek.

My eyes shot open.

Skin whiter than a lily, and irises the same shade as a lion's claws. This man... no, a boy—surely not far from my own age—was pretty in a subtle way. All long fingers, longer limbs, with thick, dark hair that swept over his brooding eyes. I'd never known someone in real life who was this handsome. There was sympathy in the subtle tilt of his eyebrows. But I wasn't stupid enough to fall for that.

He'd hurt me.

He'd yanked me from my bed.

I looked at him point blank, and I spit on him.

Jerking back, he released me. “What the hell was that for?” Wiping at his cheek, he stared dubiously at his own palm, then back at me.

Something about his surprise infuriated me. What was that FOR? How could he have the balls to even ask! Thrashing in my bonds, I inhaled, preparing to scream.

His hand slammed over my lips. “Shh!” he hissed, his inky eyes shooting towards one side of the room. It was the first time I actually looked around. The walls were an oatmeal-gray, some spots covered in peeling bird wallpaper. There were no windows, no rugs - nothing but my bed, the ceiling mirror, and a single door with a bolted lock.

“Seriously,” he said, his voice low enough to miss. “Stay quiet. Please. You don't want my dad to come in here sooner than he plans to.”

In the liquid depths of his mysterious eyes, I caught the hint of something swimming. Not anger; the slippery fin of fear. This boy was afraid...for himself, for me?

Lifting my eyebrows, I nodded my head. He understood that I understood, because he slid his hand off of my mouth. Swallowing around my rising nerves, I asked, “Who are you? Was it your dad who kidnapped me, where am I?”

Glancing again at the door, he sat on the edge of the bed—next to my hip. “I'm not supposed to tell you anything.” I opened my lips to argue, but he got there first. “But I'm going to because you deserve to know. The other one, she didn't. Now she's dead.”

I dug my nails into my own palms. The other one? I wasn't the first girl to be taken by this mad man. “Please, you have to help me get away.”

The pity in his stare gutted me. “I wish I could.”

“You can! Please, you can, just untie me. I'll leave and never ever say a word about this. I promise. My name is Georgia. Georgia Mary King.” It was how my mother always addressed me. She'd said my full name made it clear I was no joke, and that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I should state it with pride. “I'm all my mother has. She already lost Dad, she can't lose me too, please!”

He didn't disguise the sympathy in his eyes. But I think he wanted to.

There was a sound from just behind the door. Together, we both twisted to stare. The lock was grinding, the knob shifting. Someone was coming.

“Please,” I whimpered.

He stood, and with his weight gone from the bed, I felt myself fading. “Don't fight him. It'll be easier.”

A pathetic, strained sob floated out of me. I didn't recognize the sound of my own voice. “No. No, please, stay. Help me! Just help me!” He wasn't looking at me anymore... like he couldn't manage it. I realized with a cold jolt that he hadn't told me his name.

Then the door opened, and I saw him.

He had to duck in order to enter the room. The shirt that bulged over his torso was unsettling in its angelic whiteness; it belonged on someone in a laundry detergent commercial, not on the man who'd dragged me from my bedroom in the middle of the night. But this was surely him.  I knew it the way you remembered snippets of a nightmare, except I wasn't waking up.

Soft, baby blue eyes rested on me. They bounced over to the young man, then they were on me again—too hungry to be gone for long. “Good,” he said, “You're awake. I was worried when you slept through the tenth hour. Thought I'd used too much stuff on you, but looks like everything turned out right as rain.”

I wanted so badly to be brave. Instead, I trembled on the bed, too limp to yank at my bonds like I had before. And speaking, yelling? Moving my tongue was as likely as me moving the planets in the sky.

In the corner, the teen stood taller. “I was only checking on her, Dad.”

His father motioned to the open door behind him. “Get out. Right now.”

The nameless boy scanned my face. I willed him to save me... to do something to keep this horrific stranger from hurting me. I had the most insane idea that as long as this kid was here, his dad wouldn't touch me.

Then he was gone, shutting the door as he went.

No. No, no, no. I repeated the word internally until the man was beside me. He cocked his head like a giant bird, allowing the ever lengthening quiet to form spider-silk strings that cocooned me into paralysis. I hated anticipating what he'd do or say. My imagination was vibrant with wicked horrors.

He sat on the end of the bed, making the springs squeak. He brushed his fingertips over my naked toes. Marbles rolled through my guts; I dry heaved, and he just laughed. “My name's Facile Adams. I'm very much looking forward to getting to know you, Georgia Mary King.”

That he knew who I was left me stunned, but it wasn't what surprised me the most. Why did he tell me his name? It was an amateur move—I'd be able to use this information to help the police track him down. In fact...was that why his son hadn't told me his name? Was he playing it safe, hoping he'd avoid being found out if I couldn't identify him?

Facile smiled at me. His teeth were pearly, but they still reminded me of rusty saw blades; weapons that wanted to slice me up and expose what was under my flesh.

Then I understood. I knew exactly why Facile was so quick to tell me his name.

This man...he had no reason to fear me telling the world what he'd done.

Why would he?

Dead girls can't talk.

He said, “I've been watching you for a week, paying attention to how you drag your feet on your way home every day. I wondered if you were having a rough time. Your mother is a single parent.” His lips pulled across his face in a poor imitation of a smile. “She should know it takes a happy home to raise a perfect family. Love your husband in sickness and health. What did she do that drove your father away?”

The sharp knock on the door made me gasp. Facile's peaceful features contorted into fresh rage. Pushing off the bed, he stormed over and opened the unlocked door. “What?” I heard him growl, though I couldn't see who he was talking to.

Whoever was outside murmured something.

“Shit,” Facile spit the word. “Alright. I'll go take care of it.” He peeked at me, and then he shrugged his huge body through the doorway.

The door was splayed open. It taunted me.

From the darkness just outside, the boy entered. The sight of him filled me with relief—would he get me out now? “Hurry,” I hissed. “Untie me while he's gone. You led him away, right? That was on purpose?”

“Yes,” he said flatly. He looked at me; his eyes were more defeated then mine. “But delaying him is all I can do.”

Then he shut the door, sealing us in, cementing the fact I wasn't escaping.

He wasn't saving me.

He was never going to save me.

This guy was terrified of his father. How could someone like that help me at all? “Tell me your name,” I said, and to my shock I laughed. Was I already losing it? “It's not like I can squeal on you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, come on.” I strained in my ropes. “Your dad is going to kill me.” I saw his bottomless eyes sharpen. Emboldened, I spoke louder. “So tell me who you are. Unless you're scared I might actually get away and you'll have to face some fucking consequences?”

“Conway,” he said, never once looking away from me. “My name is Conway. And I hope you do get to use my identity against me. I'd be thrilled with that. Prison is the least I deserve.”

Stiffening, I tried to make sense of him. It could have been a lie but Conway's words rang with a depressing truth. I sensed his self-hatred. I recognized it because I'd worn the same uniform for years.

One of his hands splayed over the left side of his face. “I want to help you, Georgia. Trust me. I hate all of this. It's not as simple as getting out of this room, though.”

I leaned a hair closer, as much as I could. Information was better than food and I was starving. “What's stopping us?”

He looked at the ceiling, perhaps wondering if it was a bad idea to tell me more. Were we really on the same side? Could he be an ally? “This house is in the middle of nowhere. There's no one around for miles. Dad has the only car, he keeps it locked up in the garage, and Lonnie is always watching.”

“Lonnie?”

“My younger brother.” His arm fell to his side. “He worships our father. He'll make sure no one escapes. Georgia, the best we can hope for is to keep my father from harming you. If you don't do anything stupid—” He stopped himself, recognizing that what he was saying was ridiculously offensive.

I kept my expression steady. “Okay. If we need time, then let's create time.” I swallowed, wanting my voice to come out with levity on the next word. “Conway.” It worked.  His name from my tongue made the boy lock up and stare at me. “Tell me how to stay alive.”

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