I fell into the counter behind myself hoping that I remained on my feet as images flashed through my head at an alarming rate. The man before me said nothing as he watched everything flicker across my face. Outside the door I could hear as people arrived at the release. The music was soft and haunting muffled by the door. Laughter and clinking glasses could be heard but it all sounded so very distant from where I was. There was a general rush in my ears almost like white noise that only added to the pain in my head.
I couldn’t stop the images. They came more powerfully, affecting my vision. I grasped my head trying to alleviate the pain. A hand grasped my arm as fingers roughly pushed my chin up to face the man who haunted my dreams. I couldn’t concentrate on anything he was saying and simply tried pushing him away from me needing distance to come to grips with everything going through my head.
“Glad to see you finally remember who I am. I knew you had to be faking all that shit. I figured coming in without my mask on would push you into admitting the truth. Now that I know we’re going to have some fun in here for your slut men to find later. I wonder how they are ever going o want you after what I have planned. Don’t worry. It’ll be just like old times.” His menacing words finally penetrated everything going on in my head.
My breathing increased with my panic. There was no way I could let this man touch me again after all of this time. I had to get back to the people outside. I would be safe in a crowd. I knew screaming would do me no good as there wasn’t anyone close enough to hear me and Jackson would only result to much harsher means to silence me.
I had to think fast. I had been taking self-defense but I honestly couldn’t remember the first thing I was supposed to do to protect myself. His fingers tightened on my jaw so tightly that a whimper escaped my lips. Begging would never work it would only make him that much happier. Think Scarlet. Damn it there has to be something that will throw this son of a bitch long enough for me to get out the door safely.
I felt his fingers roughly grasp my breast making pain shoot through me. I knew exactly what he wanted which gave me an idea. Try something I had never done before. I slid my arms around his neck pulling him close. “You know it’s occurred to me that you have never, not once in all these years actually kissed me. I wonder what that would be like Jackson. How would it feel to have your lips pressed on mine, my dress pulled up so I can feel you between my legs?” My breath was stuttering out of me quickly causing my words to stutter.
I hope he takes it for desire. If he figured out what I was up to I would never be able to pull it off. I simply had to hope he would play the game long enough for me to get to the door. I just needed to get to Gabe and Ryder and I would be safe. They would never let anything happen to me. Self-defense be damned. I couldn’t remember it anyhow. I held my breath waiting as he took in my actions and words. Off balance was exactly what I got. He looked confused.
Suddenly his features became hard and resolve hardened his eyes. “Ok Scarlet let’s see just what kind of game you’re playing with me. Those men really have turned you into a slut haven’t they? Let’s see just how much of me you can take before you change your mind.” As he said all of this menacingly he sunk to the floor grabbing the bottom of my dress. He made sure to scratch all the way up my legs as he rose pulling the dress with him.
I could feel blood ooze from several spots he pushed harder into my skin. I didn’t as much as flinch. I needed my dress up. It was truly the only way. Once he was standing again I leaned more into the sink pulling Jackson into me waiting for my moment. He didn’t seem suspicious simply curious. I pressed my lips to his trying to control the nausea rolling through my stomach. When he finally opened his lips to mine letting out a little groan I knew I had this. His slimy tongue slid into my mouth threatening the slim control I had over my stomach.
I slowly slid my hand down his stomach waiting for just the right second. When my hand closed over the bulge in the front of his jeans and his eyes closed I knew I’d never get a better chance than I had right this very second. I tasted blood seep into my mouth as I bit his tongue hard enough to almost sever it. At the same time I grasped his erection twisting hard enough to drop him to his knees. I quickly grabbed my skirt before it fell, punched him squarely in the nose causing him to fall sideways as he continued to grasp his dick. Quickly I lifted my foot before bringing it down as hard as I possibly could into the exposed area between his legs hoping I nailed him again buying myself a few desperately needed moments to get out of there.
Without looking back I rushed to the door unlocking it with shaky hands, faltering my first couple of tries. Finally the door came loose and I flung it open before running full out back to the deck. I scanned the crowd. There was every color dress before me. So many people had arrived since my short trip to the bathroom. I scanned every one of them looking for Ryder and Gabe as hard as I could. I moved into the crowd knowing if I couldn’t be next to their side at least burying myself into the crowd was much safer than standing on the edge of it.
I pushed past owl feathers, peacock feathers; feathers died in every imaginable color, women in short and long dresses. Men in gray, pinstripe, black, navy, green suits. Every face covered in a mask causing my panic to ratchet up. If I didn’t know who was behind the mask I couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t Jackson. I flinched every time someone brushed against me or made to stop me so they could talk. My eyes scanned rapidly over everybody in the room coming up short when I saw both men at the bar.
I quickened my pace hoping to get to them before Jackson came for me. Their conversation died instantly as they took in my disheveled appearance. They instantly surrounded me, their questions hitting me so rapidly that I had no chance o answering let alone knowing what they were asking me. I fell into Ryder’s chest holding him as if my life depended on it.
“Jackson...in the bathroom.” The words whispered out of me against Ryder’s chest. I wasn’t sure they heard me until I felt Gabe move from behind me. I tried twisting to see where he was going but Ryder’s arms tightened around me pressing my head into his chest. His arm around my waist was like a band of steel. I couldn’t move if I wanted to. After several minutes I was lifted off the ground and could feel that I was being carried somewhere but I couldn’t bring myself to lift my head.
My entire body was shaking. I wasn’t quite sure if it was from shock or from my memories still playing back in my head. They had shut off for a short time while I dealt with Jackson and the immediate situation but now they flowed freely through my brain once again. How could anyone treat a child as they treated me? Their animals were treated better. I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I was that abused as a child. That they had once again found me beat me yet again. I remembered my fights with Gabe and Ryder. I remembered running to Cammy. I finally figured out why the girl in my dreams was so very broken. These people were little better than monsters.
I didn’t deserve anything they had done to me. How could I deserve it when I was simply an innocent child? As more memories floated through my mind I realized that for the first time in my life I had people who truly loved me. Ryder, Gabe and Cammy had become my family and I loved them more than anything in this world. How could I have been so closed off, so scared to let anyone in if the result was people like them?
I had no sense of time or movement. I was too lost in my own world as everything flooded back. The riot of emotions ricocheting through my body was so overwhelming that there wasn’t room for anything else. Slowly I became aware of Ryder gently calling my name. The images slowed before coming to a halt but I still couldn’t stop the shaking.
“Baby, what happened? I need to know that you’re ok.” His worried eyes captured mine as the fog slowly lifted my vision bringing him into focus. I looked around for a moment realizing we were in a cabin in one of the lower decks. I was in Ryder’s lap, cradled gently to his chest. I was safe but Gabe was nowhere to be seen.
I quickly told Ryder everything that happened from the time I left his side until I found him again. With each passing word his hands tightened around me until I was worried that I would bruise where he grasped me. I was quickly dumped on the bed with my skirt raised to my waist so he could inspect the damage done to my legs.
“Don’t move.” His stern tone let me know not to cover myself, not to move an inch from where he left me. He stalked into the attached bathroom with a scowl that would make most people cower. I briefly worried that he was mad at me for initiating contact with Jackson. I wouldn’t have if I could have thought of any other way to throw him off balance. I was still disgusted and wanted nothing more than to throw up from having his hands on my body.
Before I could delve to deeply into those thoughts of self disgust Ryder was back carrying a box that looked like a first aid kit. Did this place keep one in each bathroom? How had he known it was there? He set it down by my hip before revealing a washcloth in his other hand. He gently washed every inch of my legs before dragging the box closer to him. He pulled out alcohol wipes and a little tube of what I assumed was antibiotic cream. I knew they quit bleeding rather quickly but I still felt better having him clean them.
Methodically he cleaned each scratch before smoothing the cream over each area with the gentlest touch. The look in his eyes changed from pain to rage rapidly altering between the two. I couldn’t describe the emotions that clogged my throat. As I watched the emotions flit across his eyes I knew he wasn’t disgusted with my actions. He was angry that I had been put in this position and he felt pain for the fact that I had yet again endured something from my past.
“Do you remember everything now Scar? I mean like everything including our fight before you left?” He sounded worried that this would cause me to leave again but I knew there wasn’t much that he would ever do that would cause me to leave him.
I slowly leaned up grabbing his face in my hands. I wanted to reassure him that the things I remembered wouldn’t send me running. My time without my memory had caused me to grow in so many ways. “I remember everything and I’m sorry for not trusting you. I love you Ryder just as much as I do Gabe and nothing is going to cause me to run from you again. I’m done running. With you and Gabe by my side I don’t have anything to run from. There isn’t anything I can’t handle because I know you both will be there to support me through anything.” I made sure to speak slowly so he had time to absorb everything I said to him.
I squeaked as a noise came from the door. I hadn’t realized Gabe had joined us. “I’m glad to hear that love. There was no one in the bathroom when I finally got there. Where the hell is your security detail? Ryder can you call them in here so we can discuss the events of the night?” His face seemed to be set in stone. I wasn’t sure what to say to ease the stress that emanated from him.
I watched his features slowly soften as he approached me his eyes sliding down my legs that Ryder had been tending. “What happened Love? There looked to be a serious scuffle in the bathroom. There was blood in the floor but no one was in there. I can see the marks on your legs and there is a bruise forming on your jaw. I’m going to kill that son of a bitch when we find him. Are you ok?” I melted at the tenderness I saw in his eyes as his arms slid around me supporting me against his chest.
He seemed as shaken as I felt. Slowly I related the same events as I had to Ryder. He didn’t tense the way Ryder did, nor did he make any outward show that my story affected him in any way but I could see the storm brewing in his usually serene blue eyes. Just as with Ryder I kept talking until I had purged the entire thing tensing at the part where I came onto Jackson. I knew I was being silly for worrying that Gabe would look at me any differently but it didn’t stop the thought from crossing my brain as I explained how I had gotten away from Jackson.
Finally silent I leaned into his chest simply waiting for his reaction to everything I had related. Gentle fingers lifted my chin until I was staring directly into Gabe’s eyes. “Stop whatever you’re worrying about. I’m not angry that you kissed him nor that you touched him in any way. I’m so damn proud of you that it’s not even funny. Even though you forgot your self-defense moves you still quickly came up with a plan to escape. You couldn’t have forgotten everything if you nailed him the way you did. You made him bleed Scar. You nailed that son of a bitch right where it counts and brought him to his knees right before knocking him over. You did what you had to do and kept enough semblance of your mind to know that you would be safe once you got back to us. Hell the fact that you thought so highly of us, that you loved us enough to come running to us instead of away from the entire scene. We could have been looking for you for days and out of our minds with worry not knowing what had happened. You have come such a long way since we met you. Instead of running from us you now run to us and nothing could make me prouder than that fact right there.” His lips came to rest against my temple as he sat there just holding me waiting for the security team to arrive.
Several minutes later there was a knock at the door. Ryder let in the security team, his face instantly taking on a truly fierce scowl. I shuddered as I looked up to see the same look on Gabe’s face. Without looking down Gabe slid his hand down my arm in a soothing manner letting me know they were simply upset that the security people had obviously flaked in doing their jobs.
“Do you see that woman over there? She is the only reason you have a paycheck right now. Does one of you want to explain to me how a man can enter a restroom where she is and assault her without at least one of you knowing what is going on? Hell when I called you none of you even knew not one of us was on the main deck. Is there a reason I should one continue to pay any of you and two actually pay you for the time you have been employed by us? You are paid to fucking protect her not be lazy and just hang out where ever we happen to be at the moment. What if the bastard had killed her? Do you even take any of this seriously? There is a woman’s life on the line here. I trusted her in each of your hands and she got assaulted in the bathroom!” Ryder paced away seemingly unable to say anymore without punching someone.
“One of you is missing. Where is he?” Gabe’s words were deathly quiet as he stared at the group of men meant to protect me.
“I’m not sure sir. George was meant to be the woman’s shadow tonight while we scouted the perimeter. We didn’t see anyone that looked out of character but it’s a masquerade ball. We were unable to see the faces of the men and women who entered. We probably should have sent a second man in with her but we were short handed tonight when Cody called off with the flu. I’m truly sorry you were hurt mam. We’ll not only find out how that is possible but we will make sure it never happens again. I may be over stepping my bounds here but can I ask if you’re ok? I’ll need as many details about the man who assaulted you as you can give me as well. I need to know what he was wearing, the mask he had on, approximate height and weight, and any distinguishing marks that are visible things like that. My name is Carl by the way Miss Scarlet.” Carl looked down as if he was ashamed of the fact that I wasn’t protected as I should have been. He must have been the team leader and seemed to be taking this issue as a personal fail.
“I’m ok Carl now that I’m with the twins. I’ll tell you as much as I can about him but the biggest thing you’re going to notice is his nose. I hit him hard enough that he was bleeding pretty badly. I truly hope I broke his nose.” My soft words brought his head up and as I finished talking pride gleamed in his eyes. It really was sad that these men had been shadowing me for months and I had yet to learn any of their names. I should have gotten to know the men that were taking care of my protection but I simply wanted to ignore the fact that I needed them when I couldn’t remember why I needed them.
I sat for the next twenty minutes answering every question they had. One of the men slipped away in the very beginning but just as I finished relating everything he shouldered his way back in with a man slumped over his shoulder passed out cold. As he was set onto the small sofa against the wall I saw blood oozing down his temple. “Is he ok? Is he the missing guard? Is there anything I can do?” The entire time I spoke I jumped up not waiting for any answers from anyone and made my way to the unconscious man on the couch. I gently moved his hair away from the bleeding area revealing a large cut on his head. It was long but the blood must have slowed down because it was just a slow trickle. “We should call an ambulance.” I didn’t even look over my shoulder as I spoke. I walked quickly to the bathroom grabbing a clean washcloth getting it wet before returning to the room and grabbed the first aid kit Ryder had used for my injuries.
I quickly washed away the long cut on his head removing all the blood that I could. When I started washing it with alcohol the man I now knew as George moaned softly. I blew on the area thinking it must sting which is why he’s moaning. I smoothed first aid cream onto the line just as Georges eyes opened.
“Am I dead? I didn’t think my head could hurt this much in heaven but you look just like an angel.” His words were slightly slurred as if he was having trouble focusing. I turned to look at the men in the room with worried eyes. Maybe the hit was hard enough to scramble his brains.
I must have said that out loud because everyone in the room chuckled as Ryder and Gabe came to wrap their arms around me. “He’s fine love. Anyone being tenderly touched and tended to by someone as beautiful as you would think you were an angel and make them question whether they had died and gone to heaven or not.” I felt my face get warm and a blush creep over my entire face causing the men in the room to laugh once again.
George moved on the couch to sit up causing my attention to be brought back to him. “What the hell happened? One minute I was standing in the hallway waiting for Miss Scarlet to get out of the restroom and next thing you know I’m here and have a raging head ache and she’s standing over me looking like an angel brushing some goo on my head.” He looked to Carl as he said all of this confirming my earlier thought that Carl was their team leader.
“The son of a bitch must have hit you from behind and followed her into the bathroom. From now on we work in pairs. If we’re short we will still have to make sure she is covered from all angles. It’s time to restratagize and form an impenetrable shield around Miss. Scarlet for the rest of the evening. That is if they wish to stay for the rest of the release party.” He looked towards us as if waiting for us to decide what we were going to do.
While Gabe and Ryder started talking at once about taking me home and calling the police to report the incident I truly considered what I wanted to do. I could go home. Hell it sounded so good right now to just hide behind the protection of its walls with these two men holding me until I forgot the entire evening. But hadn’t I just said that I was done running? I wasn’t going to let Jackson or anyone else run me away from something in my life ever again.
“I’m going back out there. I’m not going to let him control my life any longer. I’m not going to let anyone force me to hide in my home away from life. If you two have taught me anything it’s that you will protect me and that I have to quit running from not only my past but everything else as well. The question is will you stay as well? I can face anything as long as you are by my side.” My words though quietly delivered stopped everything in the room. Every single pair of eyes focused on me with intensity as if they were trying to see just how serious I was about staying and seeing the rest of the release happen.
“Are you sure Baby? Of course we’ll stay but we don’t want you to get hurt again. We want you where it’s safe but if you’re determined to stay we’ll be right there by your side the entire night.” Gabe simply nodded his agreement to what his brother was saying.
“I’m sure now let’s go finish your book release so we can get home and you two can hold me for the entire night.” At my words the entire security team gathered into a circle planning how best to protect me for the rest of the evening. When they had finished Gabe grabbed my hand pulling me to the top deck where several people were dancing. He gently maneuvered me into his arms and cradled me to him as he moved me across the dance floor. He didn’t say anything but he really didn’t have to. I knew he just wanted to hold me close and assure himself I was ok while lending me his strength.
As the song ended he pulled back from me looking at me with such intensity that I was shaken to my core. “I am so damn proud of you tonight. I promise we won’t let anything happen to you.” As he finished speaking I was knocked to the floor. Ryder was on top of me as everything seemed to move in slow motion. I heard someone in the distance yell the word gun and swung my eyes around the room until I saw Jackson standing there pointing a gun right at me.