Lindsay opened and shut her eyes, but it made no difference. Wherever she was, it was pitch black. And cold. She shivered and tried to sit up. Pain gnawed through her leg, spread across her torso, and made her wrist throb.
The beast within responded to her panic. Her senses sharpened momentarily, bringing new information; the smells of blood, sweat, dirt, and fear; the sound of her blood coursing through her veins, her harsh breathing, and the slow, serene breathing of several unconscious people nearby. Her skin began to itch, indicating that the fur residing just beneath was pushing its way to the surface. Lindsay grimaced when her teeth ached and her muscles twitched.
It was hardest to return to herself on the days leading up to the full moon. The beast was strongest then, hungry, longing to spring out and cause all kinds of devastation.
Hearing the voices of her old sensei and yoga instructors, Lindsay pictured the cabin in Fort McDowell, Arizona. Her safe place. She visualized every minute detail: the rough, ridged bark of the trees, the plain, birch walls of the cabin, the metal fire pit with smoldering ashes, the smell of clean, pine-scented air, the crunch of the dirt and pine needles beneath her feet, the sound of her own laughter, the sound of his calm, steady voice. Before she knew it, the beast had receded back into her innermost being and she was herself again. She slowly rose into a sitting position, sticky with sweat.
“Hello?” croaked a voice from the darkness. “I-Is someone there?”
“Kyle?” she sputtered, looking around.
“Lindsay?” her brother replied, his pubescent voice cracking with emotion.
“Where are you?”
“I don’t know. Try to follow my voice. Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m fine. They put a sack over my head and injected me with something.”
She heard shuffling from somewhere to her left—he was coming.
As he spoke, Lindsay remembered. The men in the masks, the assault, the dog barking, the bat. . .her head throbbed. She shut her eyes tightly against the pain, exploring the side of her head with her fingers until she found the sensitive lump.
“Are you okay? Talk to me! I can’t see you.”
She lowered her hand, wrestling with panic and anger. He’s barely thirteen. Who could’ve done this to him? Why was he targeted? She immediately thought of her father. Has he made any enemies?
The thirteen-year-old stumbled over something and fell. “Oof!”
Surprise jolted Lindsay out of her thoughts. “Kyle?”
“I’m okay, I’m okay. I think. . .Holy crap! Lindsay, there’s somebody else in here.”
Lindsay nodded grimly to herself. I know.
“I don’t remember there being anyone else with us when they came.” He gasped in alarm. “Brody! Brody was with us. Do you think they took him, too?”
Lindsay remembered that first swing of the bat and the shriek of the Yellow Lab.
She shuddered. They would never see that dog again. “I think he would’ve woken us up earlier if they had.”
“Oh, right.” He paused. “Um. . .”
“What? What is it?”
He sounded uncomfortable. “Well. . .I know it’s a guy. . .”
She laughed, but stopped when pain stabbed at her ribs.
Kyle’s hesitant footsteps came closer. “What’s going to happen to us?”
“They can’t keep us in here forever, munchkin.”
Kyle stumbled on her ankle. With a shout of triumph, he threw himself down by Lindsay and wrapped his arms around her.
“Gently,” she grunted.
“I thought you said you weren’t hurt.”
“I’m not. Not very badly, anyway.”
“Lindsay.” Kyle brushed a hand across her face. “Why’s your cheek wet?”
She wiped her skin and brought her fingers to her nose. Blood? It can’t be mine. I’d recognize the scent. . .I think. “It’s blood, but it’s not mine,” she told Kyle. “I don’t have any cuts on my face.”
“You must’ve been lying near someone who was bleeding. Maybe it was that guy I tripped over. No, wait, he wasn’t bleeding. . .”
“There must be a fourth hostage,” Lindsay concluded.
Kyle’s grip around her tightened. “I’m glad you came back.”
“I should’ve visited sooner. I’m sorry,” Lindsay said, giving his shoulder a squeeze.
Her brother shifted his weight, suddenly gruff. “That’s okay.”
“There were a bunch of things going on between me and Dad. It had nothing to do with you. I—” Lindsay tensed. “Did you hear that?”
“Shush.” There was movement somewhere across the room.
“God, that hurts!” a man groaned. “What the—? Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”
A mixture of emotions coursed through her at the sound of his voice: familiarity, longing, frustration, and exasperation.
“This doesn’t make any sense. I’m freakin’ broke, people!” The air around Kyle and Lindsay was disturbed as he walked right past where they sat, and ran into something solid. After grumbling more curses, he pounded what sounded like a cement wall. “I don’t have any money for you!”
“Before you start yelling again,” Lindsay said, causing him to yelp in alarm, “just know that you’re not the only one down here.”
“Don’t you have a sexy voice?” the man purred, recovering quickly from his scare. “What’s your name and what you in here for?”
“Shut up and back up, Avery, before I do something stupid,” Lindsay snapped.
“Oh, great,” Avery Mackenzie said, dropping the act. “I’ve finally been sent to hell, haven’t I? If this is the first stage, I’m never going to get through the rest.”
“Didn’t I tell you to shut up? What are you doing here?”
“I’m obviously being tortured by one of my other exes. All right, I’m a jerk! I’ve learned my lesson.” He started pounding the wall again. “Get me out of here before she eats me alive.”
“You know this guy?” Kyle asked.
“Unfortunately, I dated him for ten months,” Lindsay muttered.
“You still love me. They all do,” Avery said with an audible smirk in his voice.
“Why I didn’t recognize your voice earlier I have no idea. Maybe it’s because you weren’t yelling at me or screaming under me.”
“I swear, Avery, you say another word and I’ll—”
“What’s he talking about, Linds?” Kyle squeaked. “Did he hurt you?”
“Repeatedly,” Avery said. “Not that she complained, of course.”
Lindsay kicked out with her good foot and made contact.
He fell with a grunt. “Often. She didn’t complain often.”
“Ignore him, Kyle. He’s just an idiot.”
Avery chuckled. “So you’re Kyle. Nice to meet you, kiddo. Your sister told me lots about you. Don’t be too hurt that she’s never mentioned me before. She swore I didn’t exist after she ended it.”
“You ended it,” Lindsay said. “Seriously, who in their right mind would pay a ransom for you?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, toots. I’m broke.”
Lindsay snorted. “Big surprise there. Don’t call me toots.”
“Whatever you say, sweetheart. All I know is that one minute I’m walking this really cute girl home after a lame party, and then I get hit on the back of the head. I woke up here.”
“We were attacked,” Kyle chimed in. “Three dudes in masks appeared out of nowhere and put a sack over my head. Lindsay tried to fight them, but I think they hurt her to keep her quiet.”
“What?” Avery said, concern changing his voice.
“I’m fine,” Lindsay said, irritably. You have no right to be worried about me.
A feminine moan sounded in the distance. “What’s. . .How. . .Where am I?”
Avery lit a match and held it up. “That’s what we’d all like to know.”
In the flickering orange glow, Lindsay got her first look at her ex. His strong jaw and blond shoulder-length hair were just as hot as they had been the day she’d met him. His lip piercing momentarily drew her eyes to his mouth. How many times had she kissed those lips? His long, lean body, sculpted by years of pedaling on a bike and shooting hoops, still made her chest ache with longing. It was so unfair.
“You’ve had matches with you this whole time?” she grumbled in an attempt to stay angry. “Why didn’t you say so before?”
Avery stuck his tongue out at her. “You didn’t ask.”
“You’re so immature.”
“Who are you people?” the girl whimpered. “What’s going on? Where’s my mom?”
“We’ve all been kidnapped,” Kyle said, looking around for the source of this new voice. “Are you hurt?”
“I-I don’t know. I don’t think so. . .”
“Don’t worry. We’ll come to you.” Lindsay struggled into a kneeling position.
“Help me, Kyle.”
He took her arm. Kyle had a smudge of dirt across his pale face, his blond hair had a sleepy, rumpled quality, and his clothes were disheveled, but Lindsay was relieved to note he didn’t have any injuries.
Avery rolled his eyes and put the match out. “Here, kid. Move out of the way.”
“Don’t touch me,” Lindsay said, recoiling.
“For God’s sake, the boy’s half your size. You can’t expect him to carry you. Quit whining and hold still.”
Lindsay bit her tongue and reached out to find his hand in the darkness.
“I can’t see anything, shoogs. Where are you?”
“Don’t call me shoogs.”
“Well, what am I supposed to call you then?”
“Lindsay is fine.” She brushed his hand with her fingers and held on tight.
“Ever thought about ditching your first name and sticking with your middle name?” he teased. “I like Juliet better.”
The warmth of his breath kissed the side of her face. Lindsay swallowed past the butterflies dancing around her stomach and fluttering up her throat. How can his nearness affect me this way even now?
“This might come as a shock to you but I don’t really care what you like.
Lindsay’s my name, so call me Lindsay.”
“Nah. I think I’ll call you Jules.”
Lindsay suppressed a frustrated groan.
Avery’s voice was aimed away from her when he spoke again. “You know how to light a match, little man?”
“Uh, not in the dark,” Kyle said.
“That’s okay. I’ve got a lighter in my pocket somewhere.”
“Right. Pyromaniac. How could I have forgotten?” Lindsay huffed. But she hadn’t. Not really.
“Yes, shame on you for forgetting my most prominent trait.” Avery helped her stand and held her close to his side. “Man, I’ve forgotten how great this feels. . .” His other arm came around her torso.
“Avery,” Lindsay warned, even though her heart was palpitating and her skin burned where he touched her.
“Damn, girl! What’re you wearing?”
“Be a gentleman or I’ll kick you,” Kyle warned.
Avery snickered. “If you can get to me before your sister does, I’ll be very impressed.” He took one of his hands back and rummaged through his pockets.
It took a few tries, but Kyle finally managed to get the lighter on and led the way to the sobbing girl in the corner. Much to Lindsay’s chagrin, she had to lean a lot on Avery.
The three of them knelt around the crying girl.
“You’re going to be all right,” Lindsay said soothingly. “What’s your name?”
“Bailey,” the girl said with a sniffle. “Bailey Dune.”
“Daughter of Kelly Dune, the pop singer?”
Bailey nodded. She looked like a teenage version of her mother with her ebony skin, round face, and black hair pulled back in a ponytail. Besides a lump the size of an egg between her brown eyes, she seemed to be all right.
Where did the blood on my cheek come from then?
“Okay, calm down.” Lindsay placed a steadying hand against the wall beside them, grimacing in pain. “We’ll figure this out.”
Avery took the lighter from Kyle. He moved it from her head to her toes and whistled. “That definitely doesn’t make any sense. Why would I break up with a girl who’s as sexy as her voice sounds?”
Lindsay glared at him.
Kyle shoved Avery, who lost his balance and fell on his side. The lighter clicked shut when it hit the ground, enveloping them in darkness.
“Quit being a sleaze ball,” Kyle said.
Avery patted around the ground until he found his lighter. He sat up and flicked it back on, his frowning face appearing as if from nowhere. “I was only trying to lighten the mood.”
“Th-there’s blood on your face,” Bailey said, pointing at Lindsay with a quivering finger.
Lindsay rubbed at the blood with the back of her hand. “It’s not mine.”
“So there’s someone else here.” Avery rose to his feet. “I’m going to take a look around. You guys wait here.”
“Where else would we go?” Kyle muttered.
Avery wrinkled his nose at the boy before he wandered away. The light moved with him, momentarily illuminating the cement walls and packed earth floor before the dark swept in. Bailey sniffled.
“Hey,” Lindsay murmured. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Why are they d-doing this to us?” Bailey sobbed.
Lindsay reached out to place a comforting hand on the girl’s back. “Once the kidnappers get what they want, we’ll all be going home. I’m sure of it.”
The girl continued crying softly, her hunched body shuddering with every breath.
Lindsay rubbed her back, unsure what else to do.
Avery’s light flickered out on the other side of the room.
Lindsay looked up. “Avery?”
“It’s fine, Jules. I found the other hostage and I’m bringing her with me.” He came loping toward them. “Keep talking so that I can follow your voices.”
“So, um, do you dance, Bailey?” Lindsay asked.
“I noticed you’re wearing workout clothes. Does that mean you dance?”
“N-No. I do Zumba.”
“Oh. . .That’s not the same thing?”
Bailey laughed a little. “Not even close.” There was a pause before she murmured, “I know why they chose to snatch me. What’s your story?”
“Our dad owns the five biggest billboard companies in Phoenix,” Lindsay said, “and he’s recently started purchasing smaller advertising companies. Our mother’s the most sought-after lawyer in the county. Let’s just say they live comfortably. I’ve been going to school in California for the past three years but I was visiting my little brother when some jerks in masks decided to ambush us. I’m thinking he was their original target and I just got in the way.”
Avery’s footsteps stopped. “I’m not too close to anyone, am I? I’ve got a body.”
The whisper of cloth against the ground told Lindsay that someone was scooting away. “I think you’re good,” Kyle said.
“Good. We’re in a tornado cellar, by the way.”
“How do you know?” Lindsay asked.
The lighter came on again and Avery inspected the person he’d brought. “If it was a regular old basement, there’d be boxes full of someone’s crap or a furnace or stairs or something.” He held the lighter up and casually looked around. “This place looks like it was cut out of the ground for long visits a few times a season, not for everyday use. I’d say these kidnappers have us in one of the tornado states.”
Lindsay raised her eyebrows.
“What?” Avery asked.
“Oh, nothing,” she said. “I’m just shocked and amazed at your powers of observation.”
He smirked. “Thanks. I try.”
“So who’s this?” Kyle asked, gesturing to the woman on the floor.
She was very pretty, with short brown hair, creamy white skin, and a splash of freckles across her nose.
“Don’t know,” Avery said. “She looks familiar, but I can’t think of a name.”
The light fell on the woman’s leg. It looked like someone had shot her knee and tried bandaging it in a hurry. The gauze, heavy with blood, was beginning to unravel and expose the torn flesh around the kneecap.
Avery looked away, his face pinched. “God, that’s disgusting.”
Lindsay pushed herself off the wall and crawled closer to the body. “Move over.”
Very gently, she got to work unwrapping the crude bandage and rewrapping it tighter around the lady’s injury.
Avery grinned. “That’s so hot.”
Lindsay tightened the bandage with a yank. “Shut up.”
“What? It is. I think you’re the only ex I’ve ever had who doesn’t faint at the sight of blood.”
“What?” she snapped, whipping around to look at her brother.
Kyle flinched and averted his gaze. “I have to go.”
“All right. Let’s see if we can find you a private corner or something.”
Avery stood, suddenly all business. “You can’t walk, Jules. I’ll go with him.”
Kyle looked to Lindsay for approval. She nodded and then he scurried after
Avery’s retreating form.
Bailey whistled once they were left in darkness again. “This must really suck for you.”
Lindsay scowled in Avery’s general direction. “You have no idea.”