Chapter Two - What do you want?
Lilah had loved the time she’d spent in the Smith household. Maria was everything you’d hope for in a little girl, bright, funny and SO endearing. She’d inherited warm brown skin and curly black hair from her mother Imelda, Gavin had met her when he’d been working in Zimbabwe ten years earlier. She already had malaria but had never told him, Maria was two when Imelda died. Lilah sensed a light had gone out in Gavin’s life then, his eyes seemed to gloss over whenever he mentioned her. And so Maria had become his everything, but despite that, she wasn’t a spoilt or overindulged child. She’d enjoyed doing things with Lilah; they’d worked through basic schooling, then celebrated with swims in the pool, TV, or walks around the secure compound. Another five families had adjacent homes, so they’d visited other children too. When Gavin was home he would take them out to dinner, but he wasn’t happy with them really being around the City, the recent unrest was still simmering and he was concerned that they may need to evacuate if things got any worse.
So why had he let her make her own way like this if things were so bad? Lilah was struggling to control the shaking in her legs, she’d never felt fear like this, never been this close to a gun, this close to death.
Quinn pulled her into his arms, his lips pressed to her head, but rather than a secure protective gesture, he was using this chance to talk to her.
“I don’t think this is random, they’re looking for someone, something. Do you have anything to hide blondie?” the whisper seemed to vibrate against her scalp.
She shook her head, “typical you think it’s me. It may be you.”
“Well it’s not the locals and the boys seem to have been given the once over already. Leaves me and you.” She looked across and saw that he was right; the men were making their way strategically through the group.
No sooner had he said that, the four assailants stood between the group and Lilah watched in dismay as the thirteen people got back on to the coach. No one knew who she was, no one could warn anyone.
“It’s a good sign they’ve let the others go...” he whispered as the driver with an apologetic yet relieved look started the engine. “Shit!” He shook his head, “they’ve just told the driver we left our hotel without paying a thousand dollar bill!”
Lilah snapped her head to look up at him, “what?”
“They’re making this seem justified, that this may be a little rough form of justice, but that’s not unusual here.”
“I’ve not been to a hotel!”
He shook his head, “me neither blondie, but it seems that they want one or both of us, without raising any suspicion.”
At that moment, three of the gun wielders came towards them, “What do you want?” Quinn asked them, “we haven’t got much money...”
The butt of a gun was embedded in his stomach and he doubled over trying to catch his breath.
A voice prattled in what she presumed was Arabic as she was separated from Quinn. The two men flanking her were the shorter two; they probably guessed she was ill equipped to defend herself. As they bundled her into the sports car, she looked back briefly at Quinn and her fear, the nausea, the panic eased a little as he mouthed, “We’ll be ok.”
In the car her hands were tied and some sort of coarse sack, stanching of petrol was tugged over her head. She slumped into the seat. She always thought she was a panicker, that at the first sign of trauma she’d collapse in a neurotic heap, but here she was actually wondering how she could escape, how she could get home.
The terrain was uneven and the car had little in the way of suspension, every bump pained her, and the petrol smell was starting to make her dizzy, the journey seemed interminably long, it could have been five minutes or three hours, she had no idea. So she started to log what she did know. It had been just after midday when the bus had stopped. She’d had a large breakfast ninety minutes before the bus, so hopefully hunger wouldn’t be an issue, though she was parched. Water sounded like heaven. She was dressed to handle the cool evening. Her long linen trousers and tunic weren’t as thin and insubstantial as they could’ve been.
Her bags were on the bus! All her belongings. At least they could trace her, they’d know she was missing, the bus driver could tell the police? The embassy? Would someone come looking for her? She’d not had chance to tell her family, her friends that she was coming home. So no one would be waiting for her. She phoned her mother most weekends, but today was Tuesday, she’d not be suspicious until Sunday, maybe Monday. That was a week. A lot could happen in a week. Then she remembered the kidnappers, because that’s what they were now, had told them she was a thief, would they believe armed men over her innocence?
She’d been brought up in such a novel way that she’d always felt she stood out in a crowd, Delilah Dawson was anything but a discreet name for a growing girl, and holidays at festivals and summers in gypsy caravans were, she was sure, desirable for some, but she’d longed for a week on a Costa in Spain like her friends. So she headed to Uni, conforming, being normal. But after toeing the line and being conscientious she found she was rebelling against the stiffness of the normality she’d craved for so long. Her trip to Australia via Asia evolved from a month to more than twelve. And even this job had been her chance to avoid entering the straight world of teaching.
Now she empathised with her parents, and appreciated every moment of her childhood. The way they’d followed their hearts, strived to live in a way they felt was natural and untainted. That was why she’d been surprised at their reticence over this job, this trip. Her parents were so un-conservative, and to think that a post unrest country would be such a bad choice of location to work was she thought out of character for them, but it seems as usual they were right. If she ever got out of here, out of this she would definitely listen to every word that her mother said.
Tears tracked down her face; stinging cheeks sore from the coarse sacking, how the hell had this happened? And where was Quinn? She laughed to herself ironically; this stranger was her only hope!
By the time the car stopped she had regained her composure. She responded to the single word instructions, “out”, “walk” and “step”, and the heat of the day gave over to coolness and dark, she could tell that despite the dense material over her head.
With a shove she was pushed down into a seat and the bag was pulled from her.Blinking madly ignoring the pain from the chafing against her cheeks and forehead, she looked around. The four men were still masked, but on the chair a foot to the right of her was Quinn, but his journey appeared to have been more problematic than hers, blood leaked from his right temple, his jaw was bruised and his shirt torn.Was it wrong in this precarious and dangerous position to note his rather toned physique? She smiled to herself despite it all and thoughthell if this is the end of me I may as well enjoy the little things I can!
The four men gathered at the far side of the room and talked in hushed tones.
“You ok?” Quinn asked turning to look at her. His eyes searching hers for signs that she’d been injured, damaged by these men.
She nodded, “better than you. That looks painful!”
“I’ve had worse!”
Worse? She looked around the room. This was some sort of derelict house, open window frames had been secured with metal bars, the exposed brick, so modern in Europe was no fashion statement, this was primitive. She doubted there was even running water here.
“Who are you Quinn? And if they’re after me why are you here?”
He laughed then winced, that jaw looked nasty, “let’s just say a leggy blonde like yourself in a country full of darker skinned women wouldn’t last ten minutes here.”
“I’m NOT a leggy blonde!” She interrupted her anger increasing as he laughed.
He shrugged, “you are from where I’m sitting! And you need help, and there’s a gentlemen in me who couldn’t resist helping!” She huffed,gentleman? Oh yes!“I understand Arabic, though they don’t know that. They’re talking about ransom or a political statement, or both. I have no one willing to pay a ransom for me. Do you?”
“My parents run a pottery school in Cornwall, object to taxes and meat eating, and make their own clothes. Hardly an untapped source of gold, my boss...” she felt her eyes fill with tears at the thought of Gavin trying to find her, how Maria would miss her. “Won’t the government help?”
He shrugged, “depends if they find out, they’re talking about calling someone, I’m trying to hear who they mean.”
As he strained to listen she studied him, so different from Gavin. The older man had beautiful skin, groomed hair and an immaculate appearance, even his moustache was trimmed neatly. He had long delicate fingers with tidy nails. She imagined Quinn’s nails would be like the rest of him, dirty and rough. He hadn’t shaved in days; his blue eyes were the only clean part of him and shone out from the grubbiness of his face, his shirt was worn and tattered before these men had ripped it. Saying that he could be some multi millionaire in disguise, he could so easily be the one they were after.
She thought back to the day she’d arrived, the day Gavin and Maria had met her at the airport. She’d been so optimistic, so happy. Within days she felt as though she’d taken on a new life. She almost felt like Maria’s mother, and when she retold their day to Gavin each evening, she felt even more like part of the family.
It had become even more true to life a few days later when she was having a midnight swim, trying to beat the dry heat that was keeping her awake. As she swam a few lengths, she felt the disturbance in the water of someone joining her, and stopping she turned to see Gavin swimming towards her.
Their coming together had been instant, mutual and explosive. Within seconds of him kissing her she was clinging to him as he entered her strongly. That night....she still sighed at the memory, they’d made love so many times in so many places, Gavin admiring her, complimenting her, she so overwhelmed she could barely speak.
Since then their meets had been secretive and too far apart for Lilah’s liking. The lack of company, the lack of interesting activities meant she spent most of her days and nights fantasising about him. He was more evasive after the first night, worried that Maria would discover them in some form of tryst, trying to keep a distance but she wasn’t good at holding back and did initiate so many incidents. He’d not complained though, he enjoyed it as much as she did. But she knew he wasn’t thinking long term that he didn’t want another woman after Imelda.
Did he miss her? She was still stunned that he’d told her to leave without organising a safe route home, she had a waft of nausea at the sudden realisation that he left her to this, he made her vulnerable. He’d not looked after her. But then how was he to know?
“Delilah?” a hissed whisper from her right caused her to snap around to Quinn. His jaw was even darker, the blood coursing down his forehead seemed to have eased a little, but he still looked dreadful, “Do you know someone called Gavin?”
With a heavy heart and more surges of fear and panic she nodded, “he’s my boss...”And lover!