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By Haley Mae All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Other

Prologue

Just imagine waiting four years to hear news about someone who’d been lost. Four years of waiting to open the door and see them right before your eyes, and finally letting go of the thin string of hope as the thread continues to fray and slip away, day by day.

For Ivory and Stephan Patterson, the last four years of their life have seemed like hundreds. Each day they needed to remind themselves of the work they need to attend. Remind one another of how they and the rest of their family still needed them. Continuously needed to remind each other of their daughter. Of whom they need to stay strong for in case she comes back and needs them. Or so Ivory continued to tell herself. It was really the only thought strong enough to get her on her feet day after day.

It was almost a month ago her and Stephan had contacted a private investigator. Well, the most recent one, anyways. They had hired many throughout the first two years of Ryne’s disappearance, but every time it was frugal. No one came up with any answers.

“Ivory, sit down,” Stephan muttered from his place on the couch. His tired eyes watched his wife as she paced the room, once, twice, three times, before pausing to peer out the window blinds.

However, the woman didn’t answer. As though she had never heard her husband, and the routine began all over again. Her slippers scuffing against the worn carpeting as she continued. Stephan had counted about eight steps before Ivory turned, a different scuffle sounding, proceeding to take another seven steps, however, the turn didn’t come this time.

Stephan blinked slowly, lifting his head to gaze at Ivory who was peeping out of the window a pace too soon. “What are you-”

“He’s here…” she whispered, almost too quiet for her spouse to hear. As Ivory rushed from the room, Stephan sat up slowly. It was as though he had been waiting his whole life for this, and yet, it was coming too fast.

Every time the investigators showed up, he went through this moment. It was as though his mind was trying to protect him from the information he didn’t want to hear, or in most cases, never got.

“Welcome, thank you for coming, Mr. Evans.” Ivory’s voice drifted in from the mud room, in which Stephan attempted a slow step, as though afraid he would lose his balance.

“Please, just call me Landon. Now, I’ve brought the information you hired me to acquire,” Stephan wasn’t able to hear the rest of what Landon Evans was telling Ivory. In a flourish, it seemed as though he were falling. There was no way he had heard right. His mind was playing tricks on him, Stephan thought as his body found refuge in the cushions of the old overused couch he’d been seated on all morning. The slight creaking in the springs bringing him back to what was happening right before him. Landon and Ivory were there now, his shocked eyes lifting up to meet the calm orbs of the detective. Had he really found their daughter, after all these years of being given false hope?

Ivory moved to sit beside Stephan as Landon took a seat across from them. A small wooden coffee table separating the parties.

These meetings had always taken place in the kitchen before now, though, the room had always given bad news or no news at all. A change would be a nice swing, plus, even if they were going to move down the hall, Stephan had no idea if he would be able to keep upright long enough to get there.

As Detective Evans took a seat across from Ivory and Stephan, four files were placed on the table before the couple. Nothing indicated what would be found on the inside. Hesitantly, Stephan reached out and picked one of them up. Flipping the file open, he found himself staring at a picture of a woman, mid to late twenties. A scowl on her face as she was set to pose for her mug shot. Her hair was twisted in a wild, seeming untamable mane of platinum blonde. While her dark green eyes glinted back in anger and unjust.

“I don’t understand. Who is she?” Stephan’s brow furled. He had hired Landon to find his daughter, not this random woman.

“Her name, Mr. Patterson, is Diana Young. She ran a freak show for a number of years, until being shut down. When her...collection was to be removed by authorities, they found only mannequins dressed up like beasts. However, in the cages, there was the DNA of approximately sixteen different samples of hair, fingerprints, and other means of identification which gave away that there was, in fact, actual people who had once worn these costumes.

“However, authorities had never been able to identify any of these individuals.”

“You still haven’t told me how she’s involved with my daughter.” Stephan’s tone was beginning to hold a cross tone, however, Ivory gently ran her hand down his arm in an attempt to calm the man. She was still optimistic, and the woman slid another file over. Stephan sighed, and watched her open the file on a man who appeared to be in his late forties. The picture of him was not of a mug shot, in fact he seemed to be the average man. Even a little harmless looking. His hair was not yet graying, which gave the impression he was living an easy life, and or was constantly dying it. He even had a kind smile, with all around very easy to forget features. Trimmed and tidy dark chestnut hair, and nearly identical eyes made him look like the average cookie cutter person.

“Russell Davis. Wanted for the purchase, and reselling of illegal slaves.” Mr. Evan’s didn’t need to say much more, before Ivory closed the file, and stacked it with Diana Young’s matching folder.

With a shaky hand, she reached for a third. Handing the file over to Stephan, Ivory had to hold back a small sob. She couldn’t imagine her daughter being involved with either of the two named people.

Stephan opened the file, his heart sinking by the moment. He no longer wished to know where this meeting was going, and with a slow shake of his head, he was giving up just like every time before. There was no image with this file, so he set it down open, the limited information inside was typed on no more than half of a standardized print out page.

“This man is who we’ve been informed of only a name, and personality. Roy Write is reported to be a slave owner and auctioneer. No punishment is too brutal in his book, and our one witness to his crimes was a young lad who he had apparently let free. Telling the boy everything he himself wanted us to know. As though the only reason for keeping the boy alive as he had was to train him specifically for the task. Soon after, while being cared for in a hospital, the boy had committed suicide when going to the restroom.” Landon sighed deeply and pulled out a small envelope, not explaining further on the young boy.

“Our witness had given a small stack of pictures to authorities before he was taken away for treatment, prior to his suicide. We have six unnamed victims as of now, three pronounced dead by our witness, and one who we believe is your daughter.” Fingering through the pictures, Landon came to one near the bottom of the stack before handing the image over. There was a date on the bottom right-hand corner of the square image, for nearly a year and two months after Ryne had gone missing. In the image, was the figure of a girl, her hair cut off at an awkward angle, near the nape of her neck. But the real focus of the image, was more so the deep, bleeding wounds leading down the back of the girl. Many of the crisscrossing and intersecting lines along her spine and sides of her back.

A choked sob escaped Ivory as even from behind, she could make out the form of her daughter. Beaten and wounded, she knew it was her. It’s a horrible kind of fate, for a mother to know her child is out there. Hurt, and crying, and she cannot do anything about it.

Stephan took the image as he could see Ivory clutching and wrinkling it between her hands. Tears began streaming down her face, a few had landed onto the image. As he handed it back to Landon, he apologized for ruining it, though Landon waved a hand. They were copies of the originals anyways.

“I assure you this was the worst case file here,” Landon’s voice was a bit guarded, but he needed the last one to be overlooked as well. Ivory simply hung her head, she didn’t wish to open the last file. She didn’t want to know who these people were, or how they had any correlation with her daughter. So Stephan simply opened the last file. Not daring to pick it up, as though it could physically hurt him if he did.

Inside, a picture of a wealthy man. It appeared he was attending some kind of party, a champagne glass being lifted to his lips. Tie and suit adorned his tall slender body well. The image appeared to be a in a celebration of sorts, and did no fit the mood causing Stephan to close the file. Said man looked to Landon once more, who sat forward a bit.

“Terry Brown, a successful entrepreneur, who had enough money to live comfortably and retire by age thirty.” Stephan waited for more information, but none came, and looking to Ivory he pulled her closer with one arm. She was on the verge of breaking down.

“What do these people have to do with our daughter. I can understand one of them, we have a picture-” A soft whine rose from the woman in his arms as though mentioning the image would make it worse. As a reply to her, Stephan ran his large hand over her arm in a soothing gesture, before returning his gaze to Landon. “but what about the other three?”

With a sigh, the investigator closed his eyes a moment, as though gathering his thoughts.

“We have found evidence, and hints suggesting your daughter was sold onto the black market in the form of an illegal slave.” Taking a bit of a breath through his slightly crooked nose, Landon continued, his eyes not straying from Stephan’s as he spoke. “We estimate she has been purchased by five people-”

“Then why are their only four files?” Ivory demanded, her voice hysterical. “Or is that where she is now, with the fifth person!” The whine in her voice rising as she tried to stand from the couch.

“Ivory calm down,” Stephan hushed her gently. “You’re upset and confused. It’s making you think irrationally.” Though, deep down, Stephan had the same fears.

“No, she currently is in the possession of a seller. Mrs. Patterson, the fifth person is the man who bought her first. He didn’t do anything but train your daughter in how to behave and act like a slave. It is very likely she is still alive because of this.”

A few incoherent words slipped through Ivory’s lips, then, “Well, how in the world does that relate to this now. If he didn’t do anything to her, why-”

“Mrs. Patterson.” Landon’s voice was beginning to hold a bit of a snap to it. “This man,” He pulled out another file. “no longer purchases slaves to train them. More so the exact opposite.”

This had the couple blink in surprise. Their gazes landing on one another’s for a few moments before turning back to Landon Evans. Silently prompting him to continue.

“Levi Phillips used to do business in buying as many first time slaves as he could, training them, and turning a profit. Many people do not wish to spend time and energy on an untrained slave, and he saw this as an opportunity. It’s as though he placed a valuable item in an auction with only individuals who know it’s worth and hold a high appreciation for the item. He has a minimum price he wishes to get, but if the price is not met, he keeps the...merchandise...until he can get the price he would need to flip a profit.”

“How does this help us get Ryne back?” Stephan muttered a bit, as he sent a pleading look to Landon. His eyes holding a mixture of longing and hurt.

“I’m getting there Mr. Patterson, I was about to explain that part.” A ‘finally’ could have been heard from Ivory, though Landon pretended to not notice. “There is an organization which is very selective about their members, and recently many of them were found out, and killed, along with all of the young men and women who were in the households. These people were slave buyers, yes, but they didn’t buy a person to use them as a slave. The organization they belong too buys slaves for the soul purpose to rehabilitate them back into a normal lifestyle.” Ivory blinked a few times rapidly, though no one could be sure if it was to blink away her tears, or out of surprise.

“Then, we’re going to contact them right? To get Ryne back?” she sat forward farther to the point Ivory had to place her hands on the table to keep balance.

“Precisely, however” Landon signed, and finally help out the last file. “Levi Phillips is the only one in the organization who will be able to get into an auction house without being recognized as a member.”

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