Instead of taking the elevator, the men found a stairway toward the back of the building. Iziah had hoped they would be stupid enough to get themselves caught, but they had come into the situation well-prepared. At this hour of the morning, there was no one to see them in the halls. The stairway was cold, lit only by the gray light coming through the windows. Their footsteps and strained grunts echoed, and they spoke in hushed tones. Iziah’s heart pounded fast inside his rib-cage. The men were struggling with Nick. Two of them held his arms, pulling them around their shoulders, and a third gripped his legs. The three half-carried, half-dragged him down the stairs, looking disgruntled. Nick’s head lolled, leaving drops of blood on the floor.
Two others walked ahead, scanning ahead and keeping an eye out for early-waking patrons. Iziah doubted they would have any trouble. Even if someone was awake this early, they would be taking the elevator. Not the stairs.
Iziah jerked his wrists against the tape, his face pressed into the back of Ian’s leather jacket. He felt small and stupid and helpless, thrown over his captor’s shoulder. The added weight didn’t seem to be giving Ian much trouble. One arm was locked across the back of Iziah’s legs, and the other gripped the railing. Iziah’s hair hung into his face. He wanted to thrash and struggle, but he knew it wasn’t any use, and he was afraid the man might throw him down the stairs. The concrete steps passing beneath him looked hard and unforgiving.
Iziah twisted, trying to see past his captor’s back. The tape around his head ripped at his hair and sealed his mouth. Sweat streamed down his forehead as his mind raced. There had to be a way out of this! He couldn’t let Nick die!
Defeated, Iziah went limp on Ian’s shoulder, closing his eyes. They would have to bide their time, wait for an opportunity. Otherwise...
They were just passing a landing with double doors and the number two etched in the wall. Iziah heard voices beyond, as if someone was walking past the doors. He thrashed desperately, letting out panicked, muffled grunts. His heart pounded wildly inside his chest.
Ian gave him a jerk, hissing, “Shut up!”
Iziah kicked with all his might, trying to yell through the tape, but the voices were beginning to fade. They couldn’t hear him.
Growling, the yellow-eyed man walked to the next landing and abruptly dumped Iziah on the floor. Iziah winced as he landed on his rump, unable to catch himself. Ian crouched down and backhanded Iziah hard, making his head snap to the side. “Knock it off, or I swear I’ll beat you until you can’t move!” he snarled. “You understand me? I’m done putting up with your shit!”
The other men stopped part-way down the next flight of stairs, waiting for them, groaning with irritation.
Iziah glared at the man, his cheek heated. He was desperate for some form of control over the situation. But it was obvious by looking at his captor that he had a temper. Ian’s eyes were narrowed to thin slits, and rage, barely reined, writhed just under the surface.
Ian suddenly lashed out again, punching him across the jaw. The blow nearly knocked Iziah over, and a wave of nausea washed through him. Tears welled up in his eyes. As his vision cleared, Ian’s smooth fingers clamped down on his jaw, pushing Iziah against the wall. The man leaned toward him until he could feel his breath caressing his face. Icy shivers ran down Iziah’s spine as he stared at the man, wide-eyed, revulsion coursing through him.
“Do you really want to test my patience?” The words were soft, a mere whisper. But that was enough.
Iziah squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the flood of memories, trembling in the man’s grip.
Ian didn’t reply or move an inch, just breathing Iziah’s air. Iziah squirmed, but his grip tightened. After several long, agonizing moments, Ian leaned forward, opening his mouth and running his warm, damp tongue across Iziah’s cheek. Iziah shuddered, issuing a muffled whimper. His skin crawled. Panic shot through his body, but he didn’t dare move.
“Ian!” one of the thugs snapped. “We have to go, unless you want to get arrested.”
Finally, Ian pulled back, snarling, “Fine.” He stood and threw Iziah over his shoulder.
Iziah was frozen, his eyes wide, shaking violently. He couldn’t think. Couldn’t make a sound. His jaw throbbed, and it felt as if an iron was pressing against his cheek. A track of moisture clung to the side of his face. Everything in him screamed.
He couldn’t let it happen again. Not again. He would kill himself first.
Ahead, he heard the doors creak open. Then, they emerged into the cool morning air. The floor changed to pavement, and Iziah saw several trash cans to the side. He lifted his head, looking around. They were in an alley behind the apartment complex. To the side, he saw the distant street where cars were zooming past. His eyes widened. Maybe someone would see him and call the police! But it didn’t seem likely. They were going too fast, and he was deep within the alley. To one side, he heard the thugs carrying Nicolas grumbling complaints. There was a sound like a van door sliding open. They must have parked back here. A lump lodged in Iziah’s throat, and he wriggled, knowing it wouldn’t do any good.
They were done for. There was no way they could escape.
He heard several thumps, then Ian climbed into the van, dumping him on the floor. Iziah’s head struck the floor, and his vision blurred. His captor’s large boots stomped around him. Then the door slammed shut, shutting him into darkness. After a moment, he lifted his head, squinting. Two of the men sat on a bench and a third was settled in the back, looking bored. Iziah glanced toward the windshield. Rain was streaking the glass and creating patterns on the interior. The remaining men were in the front seats. After a moment, the engine growled to life, and he felt the van move beneath him.
Iziah turned his head. Nick lay on the floor nearby, listless, several nasty, dark bruises forming on the man’s forearms. His head was turned away from Iziah. Nick’s body rocked as the van pulled out of the alley, and, for a moment, Iziah thought he might be waking up.
But he didn’t move after that.
Iziah rested his head against the floor, closing his eyes and breathing deeply in an attempt to calm himself. If he was quiet, maybe they would just leave him alone.
He wondered if Gray would kill him or if he had other things planned. Iziah didn’t quite understand why Gray was after him, but it was obvious that he wanted something. After all, if Gray simply needed him dead, the thugs would have killed the two of them in the apartment rather than going to all this trouble.
Iziah shifted. His legs cramped, and the bindings were numbing his feet. He opened his eyes and looked toward the window again. From this angle, all he saw was the boiling gray clouds above and the pounding rain. Ian looked toward him with a grin, and Iziah turned away, shivering.
An eternity drifted past, but Iziah only saw twelve minutes pass on the clock. Then the van pulled to a stop. Iziah’s chest heaved with panic, and he felt himself beginning to tremble. Nick hadn’t made any sign of waking up. The men had tasered him multiple times even after he collapsed.
After a moment, the engine went silent. He heard the front door open as the driver climbed out. The thugs sitting in the back stood, one of them opening the sliding door. They were parked in a large lot, and Iziah saw a nearby warehouse. Rain darkened the pavement and sent rivulets of water across the concrete.
They’d brought them to the Crimson Serpents’ hideout.
Ian moved over and grabbed Iziah by the hair, wrenching him to his knees. Iziah let out a muffled cry as pain lanced his scalp. Gray and a man Iziah didn’t recognize appeared in the door of the van. By the looks of them, they hadn’t been standing in the rain for very long.
Gray wore a satisfied smile on his face as his eyes wandered from Iziah to Nick’s fallen form. Iziah glared. Pearls of moisture beaded on Gray’s greased hair and ran down his forehead. Then he glanced at the other man. “That him?”
The other man seemed familiar to Iziah, dressed in a dark coat with a thin, gaunt face. Then it dawned on him.
Iziah thought back to that night when he accidentally killed the Crimson Serpent. This man had been there, carrying a briefcase. He’d been meeting with the other thugs. It was then that Iziah realized he’d really stepped in it. This wasn’t just about the man he’d killed.
The man stared at Iziah for a long moment, then nodded. “Yeah, that’s him.”
“Good.” Gray looked to Iziah’s captors. “Bring them in.”
Ian jerked him to his feet and hauled him out of the van. Another thug grabbed his other arm, and they lugged him between them, his bound legs dragging on the ground. Iziah struggled against them, looking around wildly. Beyond the large, empty parking lot, there were just more warehouses and industrial buildings. Rain splattered down on them in a wild torrent, making it hard to see. Iziah heard the remaining men haul Nick out of the van. Ahead, Gray and the other man slipped through the open doors of the warehouse. Beyond that, Iziah saw only darkness, the waiting maw of their doom.
The men dragged him inside.