Author’s Note: I asked on Instagram and Twitter if I should post this first chapter as a preview for my book NOCTURNA that will be available for preorder on Amazon.com September 1 (to be released December 1). Hope you enjoy it!
Terror spiked in my veins as arms wrapped around me, caging me, stopping me from escaping. A large cloth-covered hand clamped over my mouth, muffling my screams. Then I was dragged backward into the shadows of an alley. The man who held me shifted his grip. His narrowed eyes flamed amber, and a wicked grin twisted about his lips.
“Sweet dreams,” he chuckled, his voice low and gravelly, as I slumped into his chest. A few weak shoves did nothing but make him laugh. My heart began to beat loudly within my chest, echoing through my ears. The surrounding noises, soft, yet blaring all at once, began to slip away, and my jaw dropped open in one last desperate move.
“Help me,” I whispered in a raspy voice barely heard even by me.
He murmured in my ear, “No one can save you now,” before hoisting my body over his shoulder. I dangled off of him, limp and boneless as a rag doll. The world spun more with each step he took as he carried me out of the alley. My vision faded to black as my kidnapper reached his car, opening the trunk with a click of his car keys.
~ * ~
I stopped the timer, breathing heavily as I looked down at the dark numbers on the bright screen. “Eleven minutes, twelve seconds! That’s twenty seconds better than yesterday!” I cheered, pushing my round glasses up the bridge of my nose. I took a swig of water from my water bottle then looked up at the sun that was high overhead. Shit. Mom wanted me home by one so I could grab a quick lunch before going over to Sara’s. She hated that I stayed out so late every day preparing for my school’s track and field team, especially since it wouldn’t even start again until next spring.
It was Saturday, and my friends and I had made plans to go to the video game store. A new zombie game just went on the market, and my friend, Nick, was set to buy it. Aw, who am I kidding? I was dying to buy it too. Thankfully, Adalyn Hall, the private secondary school located here in our hometown, had just let out for Thanksgiving break the day before, giving me more than enough free time to beat my friends’ asses in the new game. Since Adalyn Hall was ranked number one in the country for its rigorous studies, we didn’t usually get much free time. That’s why I intended to relax as much as possible. Even better, it was finally my last year at that miserable place.
I jogged down the sidewalk, grabbing a quick pick-me-up at the nearby gas station, and then walked back to our modest, two-story home. My mom preferred to live and raise my sister and me humbly, still not quite used to the wealth from my dad’s job as the governor of New York.
I grinned, seeing my mom as soon as I walked in the kitchen door. I held up the made-to-order sandwich I got from the shop when my mom opened her mouth. “Grabbed something on the way back,” I told her.
She sighed, shaking her head with a fond grin as she turned back to the sink to clean off her brushes. She still wore her rumpled apron over her sweatpants and tank top, making me chuckle. Once again, her apron was covered with paint.
“Well, welcome home, Valon,” she said instead, wiping her hands on a dishcloth.
“Ah, honey, you have paint on your cheek again,” my dad said, standing up from the kitchen table where he worked on his computer, and walked over to her. He grinned, wiping off the blotch of blue with his thumb. My mom giggled like a school girl, a bright red blush on her cheeks that my dad leaned in to kiss. I rolled my eyes, gagging at my little sister, Kylie, who was rooting through the pantry. She snickered back. With three long strides, I captured her in my arms, laughing as she squirmed in my grip, and then gave her a noogie.
“Stop! You’re ruining my hair!” the thirteen-year-old complained, trying to smooth down the same chestnut curls as my own. I grinned at her unapologetically and she scoffed, turning back to the shelves of food. I reached high above her, grabbing a couple of her favorite snacks before she could reach them. She scowled, elbowing me in the stomach, making me grunt and curl in on myself. That gave her more than enough time to snatch the snacks out of my hands, dancing away from my grip before I recovered.
“Kylie, Valon, no fighting,” Mom said, not even turning around to look at us. “Kylie, did you find the sugar you needed?” she asked, stirring the peanut butter cookie mixture Kylie had probably started.
“Shit!” Kylie exclaimed, darting back to the cupboard and making me laugh. “Quiet, shorty,” she snapped. I glared back.
“Language!” Mom admonished. I tossed some other snacks and water bottles into my ratty backpack for my walk to Sara’s house. I was supposed to meet her before we all went to the mall, and it was easier for us to carpool, considering we only lived a couple blocks away from each other. She went to Adalyn Hall with Nick and me. She was cool, a gamer as well.
“Bye, Mom! Bye, Dad! Bye, Brat!” I yelled at them from the doorway, running through a mental checklist to make sure I had everything. Keys, phone, wallet, food. Yup, all set.
“Hey!” Kylie shouted at me indignantly, and the rest of us laughed.
“You’re not going to change into pants? It’s chilly out,” Mom said, glancing down at my gym shorts with pursed, disapproving lips.
“I’ll be fine, Mom. It’s not that cold out,” I replied with a roll of my eyes, stuffing my hands in my sweatshirt after pushing my glasses up the bridge of my nose once again.
“All right, then, if you’re sure. Bye, honey. Don’t stay out too late. You’re coming home after you buy that one game, right?” she asked, looking away from the mixture for just a moment. I watched Dad swipe some of the dough when Mom’s back was turned and chuckled under my breath.
“Yeah, though we may go to a few other stores too.” I shrugged.
“Don’t have too much fun with your girlfriend!” Dad said sternly, though his eyes lit up with amusement. I barely held back a flinch, chuckling nervously instead.
“No problem there,” I muttered lowly. “Bye!” I said again, firmly. I walked out of the door without looking back.
I jogged along the sidewalk, smiling at old Mrs. Winters and her corgi as they sat on the porch of her house. Her very attractive grandson had just come to visit her over break, and I had gotten my first eyeful last night when he mowed the lawn, shirtless. Too bad he wasn’t single, or gay. I smiled to myself and then moved on.
About a block later, I pulled my jacket closer to me. I didn’t remember fall breezes being this chilly. I froze mid-step, staring at the nondescript navy car parked directly across the narrow street. A man sat inside, his eyes boring into mine. A flick of his hand started the car, and I flinched at the sudden noise though neither of us broke our gazes. I watched warily, backing up a couple steps as he stepped out of his vehicle and crossed the road.
The man was handsome. Golden blond hair fell to his chin, partially hiding his sharp, amber eyes. He had a nice build, muscular and tall, but his smile was weird. Though it was a pleasant smile overall, it didn’t seem natural, and he bared his eye teeth in such a way that it came off menacing instead of kind.
“I’m sorry for holding you up, but can you help me find 1016 Revane Street?” he asked. I shook my head, giving him a shrug. “Really? Well, thanks anyway,” he said, going back to his car and driving away without a single look back. I watched, confused, then sighed. Jeez, I’m too paranoid. Not everyone is out to get me. I’ve got to stop listening to my dad’s stupid horror stories.
~ * ~
My eyes shot open and I lurched upward, bashing my head against something metal. I swore under my breath, clutching at the throbbing spot as I looked around. Darkness surrounded me. Hesitantly, I reached out and felt the area around me. Small, compact. Almost like… the trunk of a car. I clenched my jaw as I recalled what happened to me. Tears filled my eyes but I forced them back, taking a few long, deep breaths to keep myself calm. Okay, think. What did those kidnapping movies always say to do? No, what did my old self-defense teacher say?
I shifted, feeling for the tail lights. I backed away and turned around slowly, vaguely wondering if my kidnapper would hear me over the rumble of the engine. I kicked at the tail light, wincing when the heel of my foot hit it awkwardly. Nothing happened. A few more kicks produced the same result, maybe a crack or two at the most. I searched the floor of the trunk, desperate to find something that I could use. I gasped when my hand gripped a cold, long object, carefully pulling the item up into the dim red light. A crowbar? Could the guy really be that careless? Without a second thought, I rammed it into the light, letting out a relieved sigh when it finally shattered.
I peered out of the hole, seeing a straight expanse of road. No cars were in sight. No buildings were around, just rows upon rows of evergreens. I could see a few turnoffs in the distance.
I heard the rumbling on the asphalt before I saw it. A car came into my sight, its wheels bouncing on the uneven road as it gained on the vehicle I was trapped in, moving to pass it. I shoved my hand through the hole, waving frantically. I cried out in despair when the car passed, not even slowing down. More cars filled the road soon after the first and I waved again, praying someone would see me.
Biting my lip, I switched to my other hand when the first one got tired. Shouldn’t have someone seen me by now? Would cops come? What would happen to me if I wasn’t found? Tears slipped down my cheeks as I reluctantly pulled my hand back in the trunk, and I curled my arms around myself, trying to hold myself together.
The driver made a sudden sharp turn, and my head smacked against the trunk’s side. I bit my lip harshly to keep from crying out, instead causing my lip to bleed. The car jerked to a stop.
“Finally! This is my time of night!” my kidnapper exclaimed, standing near the trunk. “Did you bring the money?”
I paled. No way. Human trafficking? In America? I peered out the busted tail light but wasn’t able to see much in the darkness. One dim light flickered on and off every couple of seconds, illuminating the rusted gas pumps beside the car. The men stood off to the left of the car, so I could only hear them.
“Of course I did,” a lower voice replied. “Did you get the right one?”
“What do you take me for? Valon Wess. Age nineteen. Located in Laris, New York,” the first man rattled off. “I’ve been trailing ‘im for weeks! I should know who he is by now!” he finished angrily.
“All right, Parker. You got him; I get it. Now shut up,” the new man said. He walked closer to the car and then chuckled. “Looks like we’ve got a fighter.”
“What?” Parker asked, confused, then groaned. “Not my car! I just got it the other day! It’s a classic!”
“Well, here’s a lesson: don’t use a new car next time.” So I wasn’t the only person that creep had kidnapped and sold? “If you didn’t have that spell on your car, I’m sure the police would have found him immediately.”
“Damn kid,” Parker cursed. I sat straighter when the trunk sprung open, shuffling myself to the back. Parker and another man peered inside. I scowled at them to hide my terror. The new man wore a black pinstripe suit and a dark blue tie. He had raven-colored, slicked back hair. Thick sunglasses covered his eyes even though it was nighttime.
“I’m surprised you did it right, mutt. They don’t usually entrust your level with such an important job,” the new man said surprised, almost sounding disappointed. “You could have been issued a more recent picture, though.” He tossed the photo he held into the trunk carelessly, but his covered gaze followed its path, ready to catch it if it fell out.
It was a picture of my first day of middle school at Adalyn Hall. My parents stood behind me with broad smiles on their faces, imitating my own white, straight one thanks to the braces I had removed before the picture was taken. My green eyes shone in the sunlight, and I clutched their hands in my own. The photographer had snapped the photo while our arms were mid-swing, because I had been too excited to hold still.
“Shut the hell up, you cold-blooded bastard. You couldn’t do what I just did!” Parker yelled, clenching his fists.
The stranger with the sunglasses snorted and reached into the car to pull me out. I smacked his hand away, glaring. I snatched up the picture, crumpling it in my fist, and then shoved it into my pocket. He scoffed and gripped my outstretched wrist, making me yelp as he yanked me into his arms. Two burly men in suits stood a bit further back, just out of reach of the dim light. I supposed the new guy was the one who brought them.
“Of course not, I have an image to maintain. You’re just the delivery boy,” the man who held me said, smirking. I struggled against him, but his grip was as hard as stone.
“Damn you, Marc,” Parker hissed then looked at me, grinning cockily. I gasped at the enlarged canine teeth poking out of his mouth. How did they get like that? “He does smell delicious though. A virgin, too. Boss will like that.” I blanched and then blushed a bright red. How the hell did he know that? “Not many of the humans we take are like that anymore.”
Marc chuckled, turning around. My stomach twisted at the sudden, sharp movement, and then I shoved away from him, landing crouched and sprinting away. Halfway across the deserted gas station, the main man Marc still hadn’t called for his goons to go after me. I allowed myself one glance back, my smirk fading as I saw Marc just standing there, grinning at me. I faced forward and pushed myself faster, hoping to reach the street. I let out a strangled gasp as I ran into a hard body and fell back on the asphalt.
“Are you finished?” Marc asked, bending down and clutching my shoulder in an unyielding grip, dragging me to my feet.
“Let go of me, you son of a bitch! My father is the governor. Do you know what you’re even getting into? If it’s money you want, he can pay you, I swear,” I said quickly, trying to pull away as we walked back to his small entourage. With each tug, his grip only got tighter.
“Pay him,” Marc ordered, nodding to Parker. The two other men came forward, and I peered around Marc’s shoulder as one opened a large briefcase. It was filled to the brim with stacks of bills. Parker salivated, almost ripping it out of the man’s arms, and I paled again. Well, he certainly didn’t need me for money.
“Do you understand now?” Marc asked, turning to me. His lips twitched upward amused as I began to tremble. Then I clenched my fists, straightened my back, and looked him square in the eyes. Sure, I might almost be pissing myself with fear, but I’m not going to show him that. “Hmm. You’re a curious one. Kali,” Marc said sharply, turning around. I followed his gaze, seeing a young, timid-looking man sitting beside a hulking mass of metal. A black van. Marc must have brought it with him. I gulped, staring at the ominous vehicle. There were no windows in the back, only small, barred slits near the roof of it to keep air circulating. It reminded me more of a SWAT van than anything else.
The small man, Kali, hopped up and with a quick, low bow, he opened the back double doors. My eyes widened, seeing three girls slouched on benches inside the van. Their clothes and hair were caked with dirt, and their cheeks and stomach were caved in. The oldest of the trio, a young woman, fixed a determined expression on her face, her head held high, though her eyes showed sympathy when she spotted me.
Suddenly, the poor, shaking man was backhanded across the face. The girls and I gasped.
“Did I tell you to open the doors, Kali?” Marc asked, glaring at the cowering man.
“N-no, M-My Lord,” Kali stuttered, keeping his gaze on the ground and his head ducked submissively.
“This man is to become His Majesty’s concubine. He is not to be held with lower slaves such as them,” Marc said, sneering in the other girls’ direction. I stared at Marc, shocked. What did he mean by that? A king? A concubine? He does know I’m a guy, right?
Kali gasped, his face pale and worried, and his body rattled with terror. “Forgive me, My Lord! I didn’t know!”
“Useless human,” Marc muttered, and Kali flinched. Parker drove by, saluting Marc and grinning wickedly at me. I grimaced, disgusted. Marc pulled me past the back of the van and Kali began to close the doors, making me shout out without thinking.
“No! I want to stay with them!” I struggled in Marc’s grip as the words fell out of my mouth. I wasn’t going to stay with that monster! Kali paused with the doors still partly open, waiting for Marc’s order, and I saw one of the girls frantically shake her head.
“You will sit up front with me,” Marc stated firmly. I struggled harder.
“No, I won’t! Let me go!” I yelled. With a dark chuckle, Marc let me fall back onto the ground. I winced as I scratched my palms on the pavement when I caught myself.
“Fine. Let the spoiled brat learn how we treat ordinary slaves,” Marc told Kali with a grin before looking down at me. “No take backs,” he said with a cocked head and a broad grin, his voice mockingly childish. I gulped.
Kali helped me off the ground as Marc walked past without a care. The timid man led me to the back and then, biting his lip hesitantly, closed the door behind me.
Silence echoed deafeningly. Only one light came from the roof, casting eerie shadows across the girls’ haggard faces. They looked at each other, and I shifted nervously. I stumbled as the car moved, having still not taken a seat. The eldest girl caught me, sliding over on the wooden bench-like seat to make room. The makeshift seat stood bolted to the ground, barely keeping it from falling to pieces.
She handed me the end of a leather strap. “For buckling yourself in,” she explained quietly when I looked at her confused. I nodded and hurriedly strapped it around me, wincing when the driver made a sharp turn.
The young woman, who had been scrutinizing me since the car started, spoke again, “Looks like we’re in for a long night.” The two girls across from us were nodding off. “You might as well get some sleep. You’re going to need it. I’ll introduce you tomorrow,” she promised. I nodded hesitantly, shifting a bit to hopefully find a better place against the cold, metal wall. She soon fell asleep as well, leaving me to my thoughts. What was I going to do now?