Artemis was appalled.
Without assigning much brain power to her next action, she momentarily forgot about her fearful human facade and rammed her forehead against Ezekiel’s.
Ezekiel pulled back with a deviant smile. “So you’re one of those!” he concluded with a clap of his hands, looking anything but upset over her facial assault.
Artemis’ expression communicated her confusion.
“Oh, that’s just a little ritual of mine; kissing women to see their reactions. I’ve got to say that I prefer those with a spark in ’em” he winked.
Artemis could barely hold back the urge to spew her lunch in his face.
Sol had mentioned that Ezekiel was known as Lust. It doesn’t strain anyone’s IQ to hypothesize what he did to earn himself the lycan curse. It most certainly has something to do with cruelty against women. If his human trafficking business didn’t support that argument then his hobby of sexually harassing them surely did.
Although he gave off a careless, immature vibe, he was a snake. Between the smiles and the winking, a demon lurked.
“Anyway,” he drew the word out. “What brings you here? You realize that you could’ve used the front entrance, right?” he grinned and leaned in. “My door is always open to company. Especially company that looks as good as you.”
Her lips parted and the first lie she would weave together in unmercifully brief moments threaded out. “I’m here for my friend. I saw your men take her and I followed them.” She spoke faster than she would've liked. She sincerely hoped that "you are your worst critic" was a guaranteed truth and that her slip up wasn't flagged by Ezekiel.
He pouted. "So you swooped in trying to save the day? Quite brave but very dangerous!" He crooked his head in mock confusion, "Why didn’t you call the cops instead?”
It was transparently clear that he wasn’t buying her bullshit.
“Because I ran away from home and... I was afraid the cops would take me back to my parents.” She forced her lip to quiver.
To her uttermost terror, Ezekiel quit talking and simply stared for what had to be a full minute. “Well,” he started. “Let’s reunite you with your friend. Shall we?” He stood to his full height and offered a hand.
Artemis accepted it warily; on full alert for any more of his unexpected advances. She analyzed her competition as she walked past them. There was a total of five men and five women grilling her down. She dropped her eyes to the ground to diminish the risk of getting recognized as an alpha. The move worked in her favor by faking intimidation.
Ezekiel led her through the factory. The high windows were dusty and the lighting was cheap, making the inside gloomy. With a weathered eye, she studied how the panels of the factory intermingled.
She recently finished a book about infrastructure. She applied her hazy memories and deducted that the factory was built in the early 1900s. Silently, she began planning an escape route.
Ezekiel pushed past a rusty door, turned a corner, and led her to four young females huddled in a corner. They had no constraints other than fear.
“So, angel. Which one is your friend?” Ezekiel probed. His hand rested on the small of her back and she reflexively recoiled from his repulsive touch.
Think. Think. Think.
If she cherry-picked a girl that denied their association, she’d be facing an infuriated Ezekiel. He was giving a shot to being the nice guy but if he found out that she wasn’t cooperating with him then he’ll divert to less hospitable tactics such as torture.
Her body began to heat up as anxiety brewed. Ezekiel couldn’t see the angst that she was projecting to the girls. Meticulously, she raised her hand and prepared to point randomly.
Her hand stopped its trajectory and she locked eyes with the brown-eyed girl that burst out the name that certainly didn’t belong to Artemis.
“You’re here. Why are you here?” the stranger asked. It was then that Artemis recognized she was talking to her. For whatever reason, she was sticking her neck out for her.
“For you!” Artemis was quick to answer.
Ezekiel, who still stood behind her, hmmed when he finally accepted her lie.
He pushed Artemis by the shoulder, signaling her to get in line. Once she was seated next to the girl that intervened, he began to walk away.
“Wait!” Artemis interrupted. “What do you plan on doing with me?”
He turned and faced her with that skewed smile of his. “You can’t just barge into a burning house and not expect to get burned. You’re getting sold just like the rest.”
She expected as much.
She didn’t comment on the verdict, simply watched him stroll out of the room without the slightest idea of how blunderous leaving her untied would be.
Before Ezekiel got to disappear from her line of sight, his phone blared with life. He glanced at the device and swiped a thumb across the screen. “Sol?”
Artemis’ head craned back with so much momentum it was a wonder that it remained attached to her neck. If Sol was calling, it could only mean that he was making a move. She had no doubt that he would come armed with Wrath. A shudder rattled her bones when she imagined the heated pools of intensity that composed her soulmate’s eyes.
She almost felt pity for her captors.
The door clicked shut and Artemis turned to the three brunettes and blonde girl cowering in the corner. “Did they hurt you?” she asked compassionately, being mindful of any approaching footsteps.
“No. They don’t touch us other than to collect blood samples,” Artemis’ savior answered.
Her eyes widened when yet another problem joined the overflowing table. They wanted her blood, the suitcase of her genetic makeup? If a mere droplet was placed under a microscope, Ezekiel would demand her head.
She sighed irritably when she realized that she will have to ward off their examination until backup arrived.
Her eyes skimmed her surroundings. The room was bare of furniture and the door was undoubtedly locked. The group of girls was diverse, pretty, and young. The one who saved her had milky dark skin and richly curled hair. She was thinner than Artemis, but her size was natural and not shaped by malnutrition.
“Give me your hairpin,” Artemis directed her demand at the shortest girl.
“What?” the girl whispered back.
“Listen,” Artemis sighed. “As exciting as fighting bare-handed is, having some sort of weapon will make the job easier. Trust me, do as I say, and I’ll get all of you back to where you came from. Okay?” she smiled encouragingly.
They all stared at her with disbelief, maybe hope.
A few seconds later, she was offered a hairpin. She accepted it gratefully.
So far, her plan included the following: play the clueless human role for as long as she can. If anyone interested in her body fluids comes barging in, they’ll leave the room in a body bag.
If Sol and Wrath don’t make an appearance within the next three hours, then she will be forced to take matters into her own hands.
Come on, guys. She mentally urges.
— 15 miles south of the location —
I’m coming, Artemis.
My raven. My mate.