“How are we supposed to get the money, Billy, without the Garda knowing who we are?”
“She will call that bastard and tell him where to deliver it. If she doesn’t, she’ll be hurting.”
The voices of men drifted into the darkness surrounding me. I slowly became aware that I was lying on something hard, but when I tried to sit up, I couldn’t move my arms or legs. I tried again and felt the pull of ropes around my wrists and ankles, and thoughts of my mother slammed into my brain. My eyes snapped open, and I panicked. I pulled against the restraints and tried to scream, but there was a dirty, foul-tasting rag in my mouth so all that came out were muffled shrieks. I continued to struggle, though, and the voices stopped.
After a moment, I heard a chuckle that sent chills through me. “She’s awake. Good.”
Heavy hands came down on my shoulders and held me down. “Stop fighting. You will hurt yourself.”
My eyes focused on the man in front of me, but I didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t the man who had taken me; I knew that. He was a much smaller man; if I had been standing next to him, he might have been only a few inches taller than me. His voice was almost kind, and I stopped trying to free myself. I looked into his eyes, and he gave me a small smile.
“I’m sorry about this,” he whispered as he pulled me up to a sitting position, my arms behind my back and my legs curled up underneath me. “This was not my idea; please believe me.”
I was trying to breathe through my nose, trying to get enough oxygen not to pass out again, but I was crying, and my nose was starting to clog. I sniffed loudly, and the man’s brow furrowed.
“Billy,” he said over his shoulder, his eyes never leaving mine, “She can’t breathe. I’m going to take the rag out of her mouth.”
“Whatever, as long as she doesn’t scream.”
He stared hard at me. “No screaming, understand?”
I nodded, and he reached behind my head and untied the gag. As he drew it away, I took several deep breaths, the burning in my lungs causing my tears to flow faster.
The man disappeared from my vision suddenly, and I looked around the room. I was sitting on a bare wooden floor, and it was so dirty I thought I might be sick. Not ten feet from me were a rickety table and two chairs. In those chairs were two men; one was the man who had grabbed me, and the other was William MacCarthy. They were staring at me with evil leers on their faces, and I quickly shifted my gaze away from them. It landed on an open door to my right, and I could see that it led to a small kitchen. Clanking noises came from it, and then the man who had helped me came through with a metal cup in his hand. He knelt down in front of me and held it to my lips. I tried to turn my head, but he said softly, “Don’t worry, it’s just water.”
“What you doing that for, Donnie? What do you care if she suffers?”
Donnie frowned as he gave me a drink, the cool liquid helping to ease the discomfort in my chest. When I was finished, he stood up and turned toward the men at the table.
“Kidnapping for ransom is bad enough, Billy. I’m not going to be part of murder, too.”
“Murder?” Billy laughed. “What are you talking about? We’re not going to kill her.”
“And if she doesn’t get anything to drink or eat? How long do you think she’s going to last? Letting her die is murder just the same.”
Billy’s grin faltered. “Fine,” he said, “do what you want with her.” His eyes fixed on me, and I saw something in them that scared me more than anything I had ever seen before. “Just as I will later.”
Donnie glanced down at me, and anger blanketed his face, and then he looked back at the others. “You will not touch her, Billy, nor you neither Quinn. You’ll get your money, but you won’t lay one hand on this lady.”
Suddenly, Billy’s chair flew backward and hit the wall as he surged to his feet. In three large strides, he was in front of Donnie and had his hand around the man’s throat, forcing him up against the wall next to me. He was easily six inches taller than Donnie.
“You don’t get to tell me what I can and cannot do, little brother. I’ll take her if I want to.”
The anger in Donnie’s face hadn’t diminished in the least. In fact, it seemed to have intensified. A low growl came from his chest.
“You will have to kill me first, Billy.” Then he smiled and chuckled darkly. “Try explaining that to Ma and Da.”
Fury showed on Billy’s face, and I saw his hand tighten around Donnie’s throat slightly.
“Do it,” Donnie hissed, his eyes narrowing. “That’s the only way you get to touch her.”
Abruptly, Billy dropped his hand and laughed. “Never seen you so brave before, little brother. Always thought you were a coward. Guess you showed me otherwise.” He looked down at me. “Find out how to get hold of her husband.” He spun on his heel, gestured toward Quinn, and the two of them left through the door to the kitchen.
Donnie rubbed his throat briefly as he watched them leave, and then he sat down on the floor in front of me, crossing his legs and resting his elbows on his knees and his chin on his fists.
“You heard him. How do we contact your husband?”
I swallowed against the lump that had suddenly formed in my throat, and frowned. “We’re staying at the Victoria Hotel.”
“The Victoria? Nice place. Were you planning on staying there long?”
I didn’t miss his use of the past tense. “No, we just rented a cottage in Ballycotton.”
“Why are you staying in Cork? Got family in the area or something?”
I bit my bottom lip to keep from sobbing as I shook my head. “Please help me,” I whispered. “I’m expecting a baby.”
His eyes flashed down to my belly and back to my face.
“Damn! That’s not right,” he said softly, his frown deepening. His lip curled in disgust, and then he said, “I’ll do my best to get you back to your husband soon, but Billy won’t let you leave without getting his money.”
“How much does he want?”
“He said a million dollars, but I think he’s crazy. You don’t have that much, do you?”
I knew that Erik would pay any amount of money to get me back, and I nodded slowly, watching for Donnie’s reaction. Just as I had expected, his eyes went wide, and he gasped.
“Yeah? Who are you? What’s your husband’s name?”
“Erik Desmond.” I paused to see if Erik’s name was known to this man, and he nodded.
“That’s why Billy’s so mad. Your husband’s the one that lost him his job.”
That made me angry. “No, your brother lost his own job when he was inappropriate to me!”
Donnie nodded and chuckled. “Yeah, that sounds like Billy.” He looked at me and frowned. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to sound disrespectful. What’s your name?”
“Sarah,” I sobbed. “Please, let me go.”
“Where?” Donnie said, flinging up his hands. “We’re in the country, and you wouldn’t get two kilometers before Billy found you. You’d be worse off if that happened, and he just might kill me for it. No offense to you, but I don’t want to die.”
Just then, I heard a door slam, and I jumped. Donnie laid his hand on my shoulder.
“I’ll do my best to make sure he doesn’t hurt you,” he whispered, and then he stood up and brushed his pants off.
Billy and Quinn came back in the room from the kitchen, and Quinn came straight to me. I shrank back against the wall, but all he did was put a blindfold over my eyes.
“They’re still at the Victoria,” Donnie said.
“Good. That’s easy, then,” Billy answered, and then my head was yanked back with a fist in my hair. Tears came to my eyes, but I stayed silent. “Listen to me carefully,” he hissed in my ear. “You are going to call him and tell him that I want one million American dollars tomorrow. Remember that I know who you are, so don’t try telling me he can’t get it. You’ll tell him that if he involves the Garda, he’ll regret it, and so will you. Tell him that you’ll call tomorrow with instructions on where to deliver it. And don’t even think about mentioning any names. Got all that?”
I tried to nod, but his hand tightened, and I just whispered, “Yes.”
“Good.” He untied the rope around my feet, and he trailed his hand over my calf.
“Billy! Keep your hands off her!” Donnie yelled.
“Don’t worry, little brother. I won’t hurt her. Much.”
Pain raced through my shoulder as I was yanked to my feet. I stumbled after him and found myself being tossed into a car. We drove for no more than five minutes, and then I was hauled out, and a phone receiver was held to my ear, and I trembled when Billy pressed his ear to it, too. I heard the number being dialed, and then a voice in my ear said, “The Victoria Hotel. How may I direct your call?”
“Erik Desmond’s room, please,” I said, trying not to cry.
“One moment, please.”
The phone rang three times before it was answered.
At the sound of Erik’s voice, I broke down completely.
“Erik! Help me!” I sobbed.
“Sarah! You’re alive! Where are you?”
“I don’t know. Someone grabbed me outside the restaurant, and Erik, they want money.”
I heard a growl over the line, and then Erik said tightly, “How much?”
“A million dollars. You’ll get instructions tomorrow on where to take it.”
“Sarah, are you all right? Did anyone hurt you?”
“Erik, I’m so scared. Please just do what they say.”
“Are you hurt!?”
“No, but they want their money, and they said not to involve the police.”
“It’s too late for that, but they don’t need to know that. Sweetheart, listen to me. I love you, and I will find you. I promise. Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” I said, tears soaking the blindfold.
The receiver was yanked away from me, and I heard it slammed down.
“Good girl,” Billy said. “What do you think, Sarah? Will he do as he’s told?”
“Yes,” I breathed. “Please don’t hurt me.”
The man laughed evilly, and I was dragged back to the car. I expected to be put inside, but instead, I was held against it.
“It’s too bad that the Garda are already involved, but I suppose it was inevitable. That is usually someone’s first instinct when you find an open car door and a missing wife, after all.” Billy’s tone was conversational, but then he punched me. It felt like he broke my jaw, and I screamed as I fell to the ground. My hands were still tied behind my back, so I couldn’t catch myself, and I hit the back of my head on the car as I went down. “I told you you’d regret it,” he snarled and grabbed me by the hair to throw me in the car.
Blood and saliva were running down my chin, and I huddled against the far door, as far away from Billy as possible. As we drove, he adopted the conversational tone again.
“You do realize that your husband owes me, right?”
I didn’t answer, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“I didn’t do anything to you, and he got me canned.” I flinched when he put his hand on my thigh, and I tried to pull away, but he squeezed hard, digging his fingers into my skin, and I cried out. “Donnie’s not here to protect you now,” he sneered, “and what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, right?”
“Please don’t,” I whispered. “I’m pregnant.”
Billy laughed. “Oh, I know. Doc O’Brien, remember? Don’t worry, I won’t do anything that could hurt it. It’s not the little one’s fault his father is an arrogant, uptight bastard. Besides, this way I don’t have to worry about knocking you up, do I?”
I turned my face into the car window as his hand moved, and I tried to escape into my head as I had often done as a child, but I felt everything he did. Then the car stopped and I heard Billy’s door open. I took a deep breath, glad that we would be back where Donnie could help me, but then Billy grabbed my foot and dragged me to the edge of the car seat so that I was lying on my back. When I realized what he was planning, I started kicking at him and screaming.
The back of his hand across my face stunned me enough that I stopped fighting. He wrapped his hand around my throat, and the pain and humiliation that came next was more than I thought I could bear.