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Copyright ©2018 Harley Wylde/Jessica Coulter Smith
My lungs felt like they were on fire as my arms pumped and my legs ran as fast as they could go. The slap slap slap of my shoes hitting the pavement filled the air around me, along with the huffing of my breath. I didn’t dare take a moment to even look over my shoulder as I charged through the darkened streets. I was in Nowhere, Alabama, some small town my supposed boyfriend had brought me to, promising an awesome party. Little had I realized, I was the entertainment. Thank God I hadn’t swallowed the pills he’d given me! If I had, I might not have survived what they had planned for me.
I seemed to be on the outskirts of town, with hardly any businesses or homes surrounding me, but I could see lights and a neon sign in the distance, and I prayed that I would find help when I got there. When I’d taken off, I’d heard them running after me, the charge of their steps spurring me on. Thankfully they were too stoned or stupid to realize they’d catch me faster in their cars, and in their bumbling attempts to catch me, I’d managed to get away. Or so I hoped. They could still be there, coming for me in the darkness, waiting until I weakened.
A huge gate came into focus with what looked like a bar behind it. I’d never seen a bar behind a fence topped with barbed wire before, but I didn’t much care what the place looked like, as long as they would help me. Maybe let me make a call, even though I didn’t know who to reach out to. It wasn’t like I had an abundance of friends, and I had no family that I knew of. I collapsed when I reached the gate, my hands sliding down the bars as my knees hit the pavement. My breath sawed in and out of my lungs, and spots danced across my vision.
“What are you doing here, sweet thing?” a male voice drawled from behind the fence.
I tried to look up, but I was too damn exhausted. Whatever adrenaline rush I’d experienced, it was waning, and intense fatigue was settling into my body, making it damn near impossible to stay upright. I didn’t know how far I’d run, but it had to have been several miles or more, and for someone who wasn’t very athletic, that felt like a ton. My hands slipped from the bars, and I fell onto my back on the pavement of the driveway and stared up at the starry sky.
The man cursed, and the gate opened, then booted steps came my way. The face peering down at me was obscured by the darkness, but he’d sounded young. Maybe late teens or early twenties? Old enough his voice had already changed. Whoever he was, he made no move to touch me.
I heard the roar of an engine from down the road, and soon a single headlight washed across me. I turned toward the light, straining to see whoever was there, my eyes squinting at the brightness. The headlight shut off, and I blinked a few times, trying to focus.
“What’s going on, Johnny?” a deeper voice asked, sending chills down my spine. There was something about that voice, something I liked. It was powerful, commanding.
“I don’t know, Bull. She came running up here like her life depended on it, then just fell on the ground. She won’t talk.”
I heard an engine shut off then heavy footsteps came toward me. The first thing I saw was long, blond hair, then a darker beard came into view. Piercing eyes peered down at me, with concern etched on the stranger’s face. In the dark, I couldn’t guess his age very well, could barely make out all his features, but he was close enough I caught his scent — leather with a hint of something warm and spicy. And what kind of name was Bull?
His touch was gentle as he brushed my hair back from my face, my long locks close in color to his. With infinite care, he scooped me up into his arms and rose to his full height. The world spun a moment, and when I looked around, I realized I was really far off the ground. He was incredibly tall, definitely over six feet. I looked back up at the man holding me, wanting to speak yet not knowing what to say. I should say something. I knew that much. He was a stranger, and for all I knew, I was in more trouble than earlier. His gaze left mine to settle on the guy he’d called Johnny.
I felt bereft without him looking at me, as if something had been taken away that was rightfully mine. Maybe I was losing my mind and going crazy. The run must have scrambled my brains as well as my insides. I definitely wasn’t thinking rationally. Never in my life had I reacted to a man like I was reacting to Bull.
“Bring my bike through the gates. I’ll come back for it later,” Bull said.
So the rumbling engine had been a motorcycle. Wait. Come back for it? Where were we going? I should have panicked, but all I felt was this soothing calm. It was almost like being in his arms was enough to make me feel safe. That’s ridiculous, Darian. He’s a stranger. What if he’s a rapist or a murderer? But ridiculous or not, that was how I felt. Even though I didn’t know where I was, or who he was, I felt like I could trust him. There was this feeling deep in my gut that the man holding me would never hurt me. I’d trusted that instinct often enough over the years, and had I listened to it when Leo had asked me out, I wouldn’t be in this mess now. It had never steered me wrong before.
He didn’t say anything more, just started walking down what appeared to be a road. Had they fenced off part of the town? Why was there a road behind that massive gate? The building we passed, the one I’d assumed was a bar, said Dixie Reapers across the top in neon lights. That still didn’t tell me anything. The road he was walking on wound around the building, and soon I saw houses. There had been a row of motorcycles parked outside the bar, and I saw more in the driveways of the homes we passed. I was getting more and more confused. Why would there be a business and a bunch of houses behind a fence topped with barbed wire? Where the hell was I? Were they some kind of cult? And what was with all the bikes? Did they not believe in vehicles with more than two wheels? It almost like being on a set from that show… what was it called? Sons of Anarchy?
We passed quite a few homes before he walked up the steps of a one-story house with a wide front porch. The color looked gray, but without a porch light on, I couldn’t tell for certain. He somehow managed to open the door without dropping me, then carried me inside, kicking the door shut behind him. He didn’t bother to lock it, but I doubted anyone was getting past their guarded gate. I just didn’t know if that gate should make me feel safer or more afraid. Despite Bull’s gentle touch, I had no idea who he was or what kind of place I’d landed in.
Bull didn’t hesitate when he entered the house but strode into the living room and eased me down onto the couch. He flicked on a lamp, and as the room flooded with light, I was surprised to see that he seemed much older than my twenty-one years. There were lines at the corners of his eyes, but he was a very handsome man. As I took in the details of his face, I felt this intense pull toward him. I’d seen attractive men before. Well, mostly boys. But there was something about him, something different. The look in his eyes said he’d seen shit I couldn’t even fathom, and yet the way he watched me…