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“If you do this, there’s no going back. I’ll kill you.” I told Vauxhall, trying to kick him with my foot.

Faultlessly, he dodged and went back to tying my remaining hand to the headboard. “Really?” He said, with a chuckle. “Because you don’t strike me as someone in a position to be making threats.”

He drew back to examine his handiwork. It seemed to satisfy him.

“I told you mum wouldn’t mind if I made a mess in the kitchen.”

Since it was useless to attempt to free myself with him watching, I tried to kick him again. Unfortunately, he was standing at a safe distance.

“You’re not going anywhere,” he said. “You’re losing blood from the wound on your arm, I got you pretty good in the stomach and you still have a fork sticking out of your cheek. When you calm down I’ll stitch you up, but until then try not to move too much. There’s a chance you might bleed out.”

He left the bedroom, closing the door behind him. The lout even shut off the light, leaving me in darkness. I contemplated shouting after him, demanding that he return immediately and let me go, but it’d be a waste of breath. My best option was to take stock of my injuries, recuperate as best I could, and wait for an opportunity. If I compromised my health by freeing my arms, there was a chance I’d never leave this room. My body had reached the point where it was done with my shit.

For want of a better option, I lay still and took stock of my injuries. Blood trickled from my stomach onto the bedding, down my right arm, and down my neck and throat. I could feel the fork in the flesh of my face. It felt weird, like teeth had burrowed too high out of my gums and broken free of my mouth. My arm pulsed. Everything above my elbow was numb, and I couldn’t feel my fingers, no matter how much I tried. The whole thing was white, too. I had a sinking suspicion I’d have to amputate if it wasn’t treated soon. My stomach, on the other hand, was bruised and sore but not life-threatening, although every time I breathed in something gushed inside, like a balloon with its air being let out.

I couldn’t even console myself with the blows I’d landed on Vauxhall: they amounted to a punch to the mouth, which had knocked his head back and done little else, and a probing around his eyes when I’d attempted to blind him. Unfortunately, he’d combated that approach swiftly and I’d been left weak and weaponless. The majority of my injuries were from my attempts to escape him, rather than fight. I was surprised he hadn’t pinned me down and stolen my blood right there in the kitchen. I was suspicious as to why he hadn’t. He’d confessed, told me that was his intention, so why hadn’t he? Was it because his mother had been a witness to our fight?

The door opened, and Vauxhall came inside with my first aid kit, towels and a bottle of water. I glared at him throughout his approach, throughout his setting up of the supplies and his cursory examination of my injuries. I hissed (not quite sure why, but it felt right) when he came at my bleeding forearm with a wipe. I got an amused look for my efforts, but it didn’t stop him from cleaning the wound. He used his other hand to angle my arm the way he wanted, turning it so he could see the edges of my wound. I let him stitch it up without complaint, but I kept a close eye on where his hands were. Not once did he lick my blood off his fingers, or pocket one of the wipes. Finally, my observations bored me.

“Are you going to steal my blood or not?” I asked him. “You wanted a second dose of Fortis in your bloodstream, and here I am, gushing blood.”

“I already took some,” he said. “My hands were covered in it.”

I bit my lip. “And?”

“I feel the same as before. Fearless and pain-free, but nothing else.”

“Don’t sound so disappointed. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

With steady hands, he cleaned my newly stitched arm and the area surrounding it for a second time, and enclosed it in a thick, sterilised bandage. Then he gripped the handle of the fork and yanked it out. I knew it was my imagination, but I swear I felt a jolt of pain when one of the prongs got stuck in my skin and had to be torn loose.

Vaux chucked the fork onto the floor, and spread my wound with two fingers to look inside. I didn’t realise what he was doing until he picked up a pair of tweezers.

“It was dirty, wasn’t it?”

He cringed the littlest bit. “Sorry.”

I let him pick crumbs, dried food and God knows whatever else out of my wound, and sat there like an obedient schoolgirl as he made a second attempt to home his stitching. My face would be scarred, guaranteed.

“If you’ve taken my blood already, why am I tied up?”

“Because I’m not an idiot. I know that you’ll bugger off at the first opportunity, probably after murdering me and my family, and I don’t want that. I don’t want you to go.” It had to be the weirdest confession a guy had ever shared with me, and I’d once dated a pervert who'd offered to do things during sex that still unsettled me.

“I can’t stay here, Vauxhall.”

“Why? No one knows you have a connection to me, and even if someone makes that leap, they’re not going to come all the way here searching for you. The world’s in too much chaos.”

“You don’t get it. I don’t want to stay here. I don’t want to stay with you.”

His eyes darkened, literally darkened, and I almost felt the need to gulp. Whatever affection had been in his expression disappeared in an instant. He was suddenly feral.

“That’s too fucking bad you priss bitch, because you’re staying anyway. You’re going to lie on that bed like the dirty girl you are and you’re going to keep me satisfied and if you don’t, I’m going to make you cry.”

“I don’t cry,” I said, and something in him snapped.

He lunged at me, clamped his hands around my throat, and squeezed. I fought to free my arms, to kick him, to bite him anywhere if it’d loosen his grip, but I couldn’t close the distance between us. Spittle dangled from his mouth, hovering over my face like a bad omen. His eyes were bright and manic, with no sign that he recognised me, or what he was doing. I stared right into them, and waited. I went limp, and hoped that he’d snap out of whatever rage he’d spiralled into. Alas, he didn’t.

But it helped that a strange man, probably his father, opened the bedroom door, saw what was happening, and got him off me before he could finish the job. Vaux went mental; punching, kicking, growling at the arms that restrained him, but his dad hung on tight. Thank God, he was a big man. He was dressed in a police officer’s uniform. I could see handcuffs on his belt, but he wasn’t in a position to reach them. He must have realised it too.

“Heidi, get up here!”

The primped housewife stumbled into the room a minute later, a glass of wine in her hand. Most mothers would have pounced on the scene immediately, but she only stared at her husband and waited for him to speak. She didn’t so much as acknowledge Vaux, who was foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog.

“Take the cuffs from my belt,” the dad told her, and she obeyed. He wrestled Vaux towards the wardrobe, which had two vertical, skinny handles, and Heidi cuffed Vauxhall to them, one wrist to each handle. As soon as it was done, they both stepped out of reach, and not a second too soon. Vaux went for them, but he could only go so far. The wardrobe was attached to the wall, and the doors were made of strong stuff. He drew up short, stopped, stomped his feet, and looked behind him with aggravated impatience.

His father came over to me and put a gentle hand on my chin, tilting it left, then right, to check on my injuries. It felt unpleasantly tight when I swallowed, or breathed.

“It’s ok. You’re safe. He’s not going to hurt you anymore. Don’t be afraid. I’m a cop – see?” He pinched part of his uniform and smiled. “We’ll get you home, and I’ll see that he never hurts anyone again.”

I frowned at him.

“How old do you think I am?” It came out croaky, and God was it painful to speak, but at least I had a voice.

“That doesn’t matter. No one, no matter their age, deserves to be treated like you’ve been treated.” That I agreed with, but at the same time, it was hypocritical of me to pretend to be the victim. How many people had I hurt, or killed? I’d never strangled someone with my bare hands, but I could see that changing in the near future. Vauxhall deserved it.

“Do you seriously not recognise me?” I asked the cop, making direct eye contact in the hope it’d jog his memory. I had no idea why I was trying to land myself in the crap, especially if he was going to let me go, but I couldn’t resist. He was one of the people chasing me, and he didn’t even know who he had tied up in his house.

“I know exactly who you are,” he said. “A young girl who tried to stop my son from kidnapping a child at a motorway services. I’m sorry that this happened to you when you were trying to do a good deed.”

“And that’s it?”

He shook his head, as if he were disappointed with me. “I know who you are, Sasha, but I can’t overlook the fact that you chose to save a child, despite everything you’ve done. I believe that that’s who you are. You need a cure to this stupid drug, not prison.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I broke down in gut-wrenching laughter with no end in sight. To have a cop, the very person I’d been running from, endorse my innocence and good heart was laughable. Weren’t they supposed to uphold justice?

“I am not a victim. Untie me and you’ll find that out for yourself.”

With a chuckle of his own, he tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “I never said I was a fool.”

A trainer sailed past his head and landed on my chest. We both stared down at it, then over at Vauxhall. How he’d managed to get it off his foot was beyond me, but he looked pleased with himself.

“You can let me go. I’m in control again, I promise.”

With a pat on my leg, Vaux’s father went over to his son, maintaining a safe distance, and folded his arms. “You’ll forgive me if I make certain of that. Why did you attack her?”

“I don’t know. I saw red for a second. It won’t happen again.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Vaux nodded earnestly. “I swear.”

“Don’t let him go.” I said. Something in his eyes wasn’t right. There was an absence in them, as if he were looking out at us from behind a mask.

His father took a step back, and gestured to Heidi. “Go downstairs, and phone the number on the fridge.” Off she went, gulping from her glass and ignoring her husband’s disapproving look. I heard her voice a second later, and the words ‘infection’ and ‘quarantine’. When my name echoed up the stairs, logic crashed and instinct kicked in.

“You need to let me go,” I told Vaux’s father. “If people come with the intent of taking me away, I won’t be able to stop myself from hurting them.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “You won’t hurt anyone, Sasha. I won’t let you.”

Hardly a rousing endorsement. I tested the strength of the ropes latching me to the bed, and was sadly disappointed when they held firm. I twisted my wrists and squeezed my fingers, trying to wiggle loose. A crack stopped my efforts.

“Give yourself another injury,” Vauxhall snapped. “Great plan.”

“Shut up.”

“Or what?” He slumped against the wardrobe and skidded down the doors until he was on the floor.

His father moved to the bedroom’s doorway and leant against the wall next to it, so he could watch both of us simultaneously. My chances of escape were minimal with a guard, especially a capable one, but I couldn’t lie here and do nothing. If I let the men his wife had called take me away, I’d never see the light of day again, regardless of what he promised. They wouldn’t release a murderer back into the world, even if they cured me.

“What’s your name?” I asked the father.

“Connor. Connor Everett.”

“Do you like your job?”

He smiled. “I like helping people.”

“Of course you do.” The impulse to roll my eyes was unbearable. “I want you to consider something, if you’re so dedicated to helping people. There are two people out there like me: Cole and Thomson. We’re all psychopaths, all three of us, but they’re not like me. They like hurting people for no reason. They don’t act for survival, or for safety, or in defence.”

“It’s not my place to judge.”

“I’m not asking you to judge them, Connor, I’m asking you to understand. The only way the police or the army are going to be able to deal with them is by shooting them point blank in the forehead.”

“That’s what sedatives are for, Sasha.”

“But if you let me go after them -”

“You can do what? Die at their hands, or from your injuries?” He shook his head. “You’re not in a position to become a vigilante, and even if you were, I wouldn’t allow it.”

“You wouldn’t have to allow it, Mr Everett. I make my own choices.”

“Maybe, but you’re making them tied to a bed at the moment.”

I kicked my legs and groaned in frustration. “I don’t want to spend my life locked up in a cell.”

“We don’t always want what’s best for us.”

“Connor!” Heidi’s panicked voice came from below, followed by the clack of high heels. Connor’s eyes went wide and he disappeared from the doorway. I heard his footsteps retreating, then shouting. One voice was deep – too deep to be Connor’s. It reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t put my finger on who. That was a bad sign.

“We need to get out of here,” I said to Vaux.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have a knife on me.”

“Didn’t you lift anything off your father before you were handcuffed?” His look was answer enough. “God forbid you think ahead,” I muttered, before straining against my bonds again. I had the best chance of slipping away, since my ties were only rope, but I’d probably have to break something else to manage it.

Gunshots halted my efforts, but they empowered Vaux.

He bucked against the cuffs. “Dad? Mum? Someone, answer!”

“I’m afraid mama and papa can’t come to the phone right now,” Cole said, appearing in the doorway. His white shirt was stained with fresh blood. His eye holes were empty. It was a horrific sight. I didn’t blame Vauxhall one bit for screaming, even if it let Cole know exactly where he was.

A bullet in the head shut poor Vaux right up.

I bit my lip to keep myself from crying out and alerting Cole to my location, but he seemed to be aware of my presence regardless. He stepped into the room, his free hand spread in front of him to check for obstacles.

Thomson, the rat, appeared in the doorway after him. He was spotless. “She’s on the bed, Cole,” he said.

“I know,” Cole said. “I can smell her.”

I snorted. Guess my self-preservations instincts were rusty. “Here I was thinking you couldn’t be any more of a creep, Cole.”

His progress halted. He clenched his fist. “Even your voice pisses me off.”

“It’s doing its job, then.”

He shot at the bed. Missed. Thomson sprinted into the room and put a hand on Cole’s arm.

“Don’t waste her death. You know the plan.”

Cole shook him off and levelled the gun again, this time a lot closer to my head. “She doesn’t need her legs for the plan to work.”

Thomson put a hand on the barrel of the gun and re-adjusted his accomplice’s aim. I glared at the both of them. I could have brought my legs up and sat on them, but it would have been a temporary solution, at best. Cole was blind, but Thomson wasn’t.

“If you’re going to shoot me, do it.”

“I don’t need an invite,” Cole said, before pulling the trigger. He missed. Again.

“This is pathetic,” I said. “You can’t even shoot me right.”

The buffoon tried again. He hit me this time, near my left kneecap, but it was only a scrape. Barely worth a mention.

“Ten points to the idiot,” I taunted, and he went at it again. There were three consecutive shots this time – the first buried itself in my thigh, the second flew past and the third hit me in the pelvic area, but I couldn’t see exactly where. A subtle burning began emanating from the point of entry though, which couldn’t be good.

I wouldn’t survive this, not with the injuries I’d already sustained. Vaux had messed up one of my lungs, and my arm was nothing but a dead limb now, despite Vaux's treatment. Whatever Cole did to me, whatever Thomson wanted to do, would be the end of the line. I wouldn’t have to figure out my next move. I wouldn’t have to worry about imprisonment. I wouldn’t have to kill again. I wanted to say it was a relief, but I didn’t have it in me any more to feel relief. The best I could accomplish was resignation.

“Stop shooting her,” Thomson said. “Didn’t I say we need her alive?”

Cole spat on the floor. “I’m not here to follow your orders. I don’t give a crap about them, actually.”

“Really?” Thomson took a gun from his jacket and put it to the back of Cole’s head. The big guy froze. “If you’re not going to do as I say, I don’t need to waste my time with you.”

“You’re not going to shoot me. You need muscle.”

“I can find muscle anywhere. Muscle that won’t talk back.”

The gun cocked. Cole’s breath escaped in a rush. Even without eyes to look into, I knew that he was preparing himself for the worst.

Thomson, on the other hand, was a mess. His hand was shaking, sweat dribbled from his forehead and his eyes were wider than a man’s who’d been caught snitching by his superiors. If Cole had been able to see the state his attacker was in, he’d have laughed and wrestled the gun out of Thomson’s hand.

As it stood, neither wanted to take that final step: the one that’d end in death. If I'd have been free, I'd have shot them both.

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