Warning: this excerpt contains vulgar language and violence! Read at your own discretion!
“Oh my gosh! You’re still here?” Crissy pops her head into my office, her brown eyes wide behind the rectangular glasses.
“Yeah.” I sigh with a nod, looking up from my computer. “I’m finishing up the edits for the autumn column and then I’ll be out of here. Just two more images to go.”
Crissy’ hair is frizzy and unruly like it always is at the end of the day. Though I wouldn’t consider this the end of a usual day. We’re working overtime.
We both usually work together to get a few tasks done for our shithead of a boss, Mr. Welder, so we don’t have to work on weekends. I swear, I can’t wait to be able to invest more time in my photography business. Once it kicks off, I won’t have to take photos for anyone else and I’ll be able to create my own schedule. I call my little side hustle photography business Spirit Shoots, because having a free spirit is fucking liberating.
Unfortunately, I just started really getting into building my own brand last year. I don’t have many clients yet, because I spend so much time working for this magazine. I have a few repeat clients who always need images or selfies for social media, but it’s not enough for me to run free just yet, hence the reason I work for this shitty e-magazine. One day you’ll get there, Nova. One day.
“Yeah, well when you’re done, you should definitely go home and get some rest,” Crissy says, walking into the office and plopping down with a clipboard in hand. “You’ve been nonstop this week.”
“Yeah. I know. I renewed the lease for my apartment last week and the rent increased by two-hundred dollars, which means I need more money. It’s probably because they built that shopping center down the street. More attraction to the area, unfortunately.”
Crissy groans, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes. “That’s so shitty.”
“I think you’re the one who needs rest,” I laugh, placing my pen down. “Welder still giving you shit about the typo in that column?”
She breaks out in a laugh. “Oh, for sure. It was one damn typo and he knows it’s his fault. There was no way I could edit that piece in an hour. He totally rushed that job and all because he forgot to email it to me.”
I huff a laugh as I glance at my phone. Silas will usually send me a text to let me know what time he’s getting off and where he’ll be, but he hasn’t yet. I know damn well Omar isn’t going to keep picking him up, and Silas’ job is over fifteen minutes away from the apartment by drive, so walking that late at night is out of the question. I try not to let it bother me. Maybe he picked up another shift.
“You know what, I’m going to call it a day.” I minimize the photo-editing software on my computer, and then transfer the files to my USB. “I’ll finish this up tonight or first thing in the morning before I come in.”
“I hear you. I’m about to do the same.” Crissy stands with me and after I’ve grabbed my bag and my folders, I follow her out of my office. She collects her bag and a few papers, and we walk to the parking deck together like we usually do.
At this time of night, we have to walk together, especially with that stupid biker gang around now. You never know when one of them will pop up and cause trouble. There have been so many reports of missing girls.
A lot of people think the girls have been abducted and turned to the club life, or abducted by some of the other gangs that are around. There was a news report that the FBI was looking into why so many girls were missing, and that the Sherriff cracked down on the gangs, but there is still a lot of shady shit that happens here.
“See you tomorrow, Nova!” Crissy calls out to me when we make it to our cars. “We still on for Friday night? Drinks and karaoke at Dusty Tavern?”
“Oh, you know it! First round is on me! I’ll see you tomorrow!” My phone buzzes in my back pocket as soon as I’m inside the car. After dumping my items on the passenger seat, I pull my iPhone out and check it. It’s a text from Silas. I start to text him back, but then he calls.
“Yes, Silas?” I sigh into the phone.
“Nova!” he breathes. “I—I need you to pick me up.”
I frown, confused. He sounds off. “From where? What’s wrong?”
“I’m at the arcade downtown. I’m hiding out here for now.”
“Hiding from who?” I ask quickly.
“Look, Nova, can you just stop asking questions and pick me up? I’ll explain everything when you get here.”
“Oh my gosh, did you and Omar do something stupid again, Silas? I swear you two are asking for it!” Why do you always have to get yourself into a mess? You know what—don’t even answer that. I’m on the way.”
“Wait, Nova—make sure you bring a we—”
I hang up on him and start the car with a shake of my head, leaving the parking deck and driving the opposite way of home to get downtown.
I make it downtown and a surge of dread hits me right in the gut. It’s not like me to worry, but there’s something off about this moment. In fact, things have felt off since last night, after leaving Ellis’ place. For starters, it’s raining, and it hardly ever fucking rains in Arizona, especially in July. When it does, a lot of random shit happens and most times it’s not for the good.
Not only that, but when I started driving, Silas’ voice from his phone call kept replaying over and over again in my head and I recognized what was wrong. He sounded panicked, scared. He has most likely gotten himself into some really deep shit.
I can’t figure out what he was going to say and now I feel shitty for hanging up on him. It’s almost like he told me to make sure I bring a weapon, but that can’t be what he was trying to say…can it? That would be absurd.
I turn into the parking lot of Richie’s Arcade and park in front of the building. Bold neon lights flash on my face as I look through the windshield, hoping to see Silas is inside and safe, and is just being the annoying little asshole he is.
“Ugh. Where the hell are you, Si?” I pick my phone up from the cupholder and give him a call. He doesn’t answer. What the hell? I can’t believe he’s going to make me get out in this damn rain.
With a huff, I push out of my still running car and rush to the entrance. The arcade is completely vacant. Not even Richie Jr. is standing behind the counter. Most of the lights are shut off and one is even flickering above one of the racing games. I have no idea why Silas even comes to this run-down arcade anymore. Half of the games don’t even work.
“Silas?” I call. No answer. I call his name again, but there’s still no response. I call his phone again as I stand beside a Sonic the Hedgehog game, but then I hear something buzzing behind me.
I spin around, lowering my phone and focusing on the pool table. My heart drops to my stomach when I spot Silas’ phone on the green table. I rush toward it and pick it up, sucking in a sharp breath as I stare down at the screensaver. It’s a picture of me and Silas when we went to Upper Red Rock.
A door slams in the back and I spin around with a gasp.
“Silas!” I call again. I rush to the back, where the employee lounge is. There is no one in the back, but there is an exit. I shove the door to the exit open and burst out, stumbling right out in the rain.
My heart booms like the thunder in the night sky when I spot a man gripping the back of my brother’s neck.
Oh my God! Silas!” I scream. The man sloshes through the rain and some of the puddles, dragging Silas to the gas station across the street with one hand still on his neck. Parked right under the shelter of the gas station are five motorcycles and a black vehicle.
“Silas!” I run after him, not giving a damn about the weather. The water gets in my eyes and my curly hair becomes wet and heavy, but I keep running. “Silas!” I yell again, and he manages to look back at me when the man gets to the door of the gas station.
“Nova!” he screams back, and then he’s dragged out of sight. I run faster until I’ve made it under the shelter of the gas station, and then I suck in a breath, taking a hard look at my surroundings. The bikes are almost like guard dogs. I’m surrounded by them. It would only take one to mow me down.
I don’t care. Fuck those bikes and fuck this gang. They are not about to hurt my little brother. I walk slowly toward the entrance of the gas station store—that is until I hear Silas wailing again.
“Nova!” he cries again, and I gasp, lunging for the door and snatching it open.
The gas station is like any other convenience store would be—lined up with shelves and freezers chock full of salty snacks and sugary drinks.
I shudder a breath, water dripping from my hair and running over my lips as I stand in place and look all around me. All I hear is my thudding heart now, slamming against my rib cage. Not a single Lord is in sight.
I look at the man behind the counter. He’s sitting casually, flipping through a stack of papers.
“Where did they take him?” I ask.
“To the back,” he says, as if absolutely nothing is going on. He has to be on their payroll.
I look ahead, at the only door that leads to what I assume is an office. Then I charge forward, forgetting about the block of iron in my belly.
Silas is in there and I’ll be damned if something happens to him on my watch. I grip the doorknob and push it open, and my heart nearly sinks to my stomach when I spot Silas sitting in a chair with someone’s hand capping his shoulder. Blood leaks from the corner of Silas’ lip and I gasp.
“Silas! Are you okay—” I start to move toward him, but a thick arm lifts in the air out of nowhere and my chest slams right into it. The arm pushes me all the way back until my back hits the door. I lose my breath from the impact, taking notice of the man who steps in front of me. His bald head is covered in dark ink. His dark eyes bore into mine as he flares his nostrils and looks me over.
“Shouldn’t have come here, princess,” he snarls.
“Get the fuck off of me!” I snarl back, shoving his arm away. Even though my heart has revved up several notches and my belly is in knots, I won’t let these fuckers intimidate me. Fuck with my family and you fuck with me.
I steal a glance past the man, to the hand still squeezing Silas’ shoulder. I can’t make the person out, but from the size of his hands and his split, bloody knuckles, I know he’s the one in charge, not this bulldog in front of me.
“Why the hell do you have my brother?” I demand, purposely ignoring the bald man in front of me.
“You don’t get to direct your fucking questions to the Prez. You got a question, you fucking ask me first. Now you better tell me why the hell you’re back here, or I’m going to have to drag your pretty little ass back out in the rain and do something to you that you might not like.”
“He’s my brother!” I snap. “He called me and asked me to pick him up, and that’s what I’m trying to do, but I don’t understand why you fuckers have him!”
“Well, let’s just say your brother here owes the club a debt.” The man smiles and bumps against me, pressing a palm to the door right above my head. “He didn’t pay up on time, so now we’re settling that debt.”
“Settling it? How?” I demand. “By kidnapping and torturing him?”
“Nah. It won’t be that fucking simple.” The bald man sneers.
“You hurt a hair on his head again, and I will call the fucking cops on you!”
The man bellows his laughter, and then there is a deep eruption of laughter all around me. There are two other men who walk from a shadowed section wearing leather vests. I bite into my bottom lip as they look my way.
“Last bitch who called the cops got her ass handled,” the bald man says. “Unless you want to end up in a ditch with your pussy torn up like she did, I suggest you keep your little mouth shut. That, or I stick something in it to make you shut the fuck up.” The man moves closer. I grimace up at him, even though my heart is beating a mile a minute.
“That’s enough.” A deep, gravelly voice carries across the room and the man in front of me sneers before peering over his shoulder. Whomever it was that had his hand on Silas’s shoulder has now removed it.
Slow and heavy footsteps come closer to me, and all I can make out is his silhouette. He’s purposely walking away from the only light in the room—the flickering lamp above the table Silas is sitting at—just so I can’t see him.
The man finally steps out of the darkness to reveal himself and seeing him makes me shudder a breath. It only takes the mere sight of him for a burst of goosebumps to break out across my skin.
It’s not that I didn’t expect him to look this way—not that I hadn’t imagined he would be so…big. It’s the fact that he is so much worse than my imagination that trips me up.
I thought the man in front of me was intimidating, but this man? He’s otherworldly.
Dark, shoulder-length hair.
Thick, scruffy hair on his jaw and around his mouth, and eyes that pierce right into mine.
Dark tribal tattoos on his forearms.
He’s rugged, yet there’s something about him that proves he didn’t grow up to be who he is now. I can’t tell what color his eyes are from the horrible lighting in this room that’s creating shadows on his face.
He’s wearing a leather vest and the patch on the right side of his chest reads Wolf. Above it, on a separate patch, is the word President. There is one patch on the right side of his chest of a white wolf head. My stomach drops as he walks past the man who was in front of me and stands there, his shoulders squared, and his fists clenched.
“You should’ve ran the other way.”
“Fuck you,” I spit back. “I’m not going anywhere without my brother.”
Unmoved by my words, he simply stares down at me before saying. “You’re talking about that pussy sitting in that chair back there?”
I swallow hard, refusing to pull away.
“That ain’t your brother. That’s a motherfucker who owes me a big fucking debt.”
“How does he even owe you? H-how do you even know him, Silas?” I ask, looking around the President to my brother.
I’m sorry, Nova. I—I swear, I was going to give it back, I—I just needed more time to come up with an alternative plan!” Silas cries out. “I didn’t want to take the money! He made me!”
“Shut him the fuck up!” The Wolf man booms and in an instant, the inked, bald guy is behind Silas and is gripping the back of his neck. Silas cries out my name and I gasp, about to rush around the President, but he stops me with one of his arms.
“No! Please!” I howl. “Please, don’t hurt him! He’s just a kid! Whatever he did, I’m sure it can be fixed! W-whatever he owes, I can pay it back! Just—just stop hurting him, please!”
“You got thirty thousand dollars with you right now?” the Wolf man asks.
“W-what?” I stare up at him through blurry vision.
“Thirty thousand dollars,” he repeats, head cocking. “Say you got it right now and I’ll let your brother go, no problem.”
“I—what? No! I-I don’t have that kind of money with me right now, but I can get it! I’m sure I can!”
“No, see, you’re not understanding how this works. I want my money right this second. Not later. Not tomorrow, not a week from today. Right now.”
“But I don’t have it today! No one can have that kind of money in a day unless they’re rich, and I’m not rich!”
He looks me over before peering over his shoulder at the man who is still gripping Silas by the back of the neck. The Wolf man nods and the bald man punches Silas in the ribs. Silas cries out again.
“No! Stop it!” I scream as Silas whimpers my name. A tear skids down the bridge of his nose and my chest feels tighter than it ever has before. Oh, God. He isn’t kidding. “Okay—look! Listen! I—I will pay his debt! I will get your money! I’ll do whatever it takes to get it back, I swear! Just—just give me time to get it—at least twenty-four hours!”
“That’s not gonna cut it. I told you I need it right now. Anything past that is a waste of my time.” The Wolf man turns his back to me. “Get her out of here, but don’t let her get away. We’ll take care of her after we deal with him.”
“No—please! I’m begging you! Don’t hurt him! I can fix this!”
The Wolf man ignores me.
I scream as one of his men marches my way. “Please! Okay—look! Take me! You can take me—do whatever you have to do to him, to me, okay? I don’t care what it is, just don’t hurt my brother! He’s just a fucking kid! Please!”
That catches the president by total surprise. He’s standing right beside Silas, but he turns back to narrow his eyes at me.
“No, Nova—don’t be stupid!” Silas hollers. “Just run!”
I ignore him. “You can take me—let my brother go and I will go with you willingly. You want to hurt someone? Let it be me.”
“Nova!” Silas cries. “Stop. Please, just go. This was my fault!”
I’m blinded by tears, but I keep my chin up, staring at the Wolf man’s back. On the back of his cut is a lopsided, rusty-ish crown on top of a wolf’s head. The wolf has a bloody snout and bared teeth that are bloody too.
I have no idea what the hell I’m saying. All I know is they can’t hurt Silas. They just can’t. After all we’ve been through, I won’t let that happen. I promised to protect him and look out for him and I’m keeping that promise, even I wind up dead.
The Wolf man finally turns around, looks down at Silas, and then up at me. It’s almost as if for the first time, he’s looking at me like I’m a human being—like I’m actually worth more of his time and that he’d sadly misjudged my tenacity.
His eyes roam my body, and even though I’m still dressed in a soaking wet tie-top shirt and skirt, I feel exposed, vulnerable, and completely naked beneath his hard stare.
Shit. Forget what I said about the actual human thing. Now I feel like a piece of meat, not only to him, but to all of his men. All of them are staring at me now.
“Alright,” the Wolf man says. “You’re coming with me then.” He nods at the bald, inked man, who quickly returns the gesture. The bald man comes to me in swift steps, grips me by the throat, and slams the back of my head against the wall.
The blow to my head is so hard it knocks me out, and the dark room becomes even darker.
The flickering lamp fades.
The deep voices grow louder, and then become muffled to me.
Then, all I see is black.