Crimson Hollow Book Seven

Angry Arlene Mallory left the safety of the Crimson Hollow Tribe in search of revenge. Her family and friends put a bounty on her head because of her so-called betrayal. Screw them—she couldn’t stand by while they supported The Saviors and their determination to wipe out shifters. Her quest for revenge, however, isn’t going as planned.

For more than a year, Roger has been working his way up in the Crimson Hollow Tribe to become a trusted member of the team. His first big assignment is to find Arlene before she gets hurt. As a human with known ties to shifters she is in danger, so he needs to act fast. Failure has never been an option for him; not after all his hard work and dedication to his job.

Arlene wants the same love that her sister has with her mate, but when the opportunity presents itself, can she accept it? Can she put the images of him murdering someone with his bare hands out of her mind and accept him as the man who saved her from Hell?

Pain exploded through Arlene Mallory as her captor’s steel-toe boot slammed into her ribs for the third time. Unable to hold back the moan, she let it out. Every inch of her body hurt and blood caked her skin, but she wasn’t going to give in to his demands.

“Just make the call and tell them you’re in danger. They’ll come for you and after we kill them, I’ll let you go.” His anger was marked with another kick, this time to her lower abdomen, and the throbbing pain sent waves of nausea through her. “If you continue to deny me, you’ll experience true agony until you’re begging to make that call. I’ll give you time to think about it and when I get back, be ready or else.”

The tiny overhead light bulb on the other side of the room was switched off, sending her into total darkness again. The light held mixed emotions for her. There wasn’t much to see in the dim light, just concrete walls and shelves on the far wall where he kept his tools that he promised to use on her, but it was better than complete blackness. She might not be able to see the tools but she knew they were there, waiting to cause her pain. If only she could get one of the knives, but the chain around her neck wouldn’t allow her to reach that far. The chain too offered another reminder—she was his prisoner, at his mercy until he ended her life.

She held herself together until the door clicked shut behind him, metal rubbing on metal as he slid the lock into the hole. The basement had been her prison for how long? Days? Weeks? With no windows to see through, she couldn’t be sure how much time had passed. At least a day or two from her guess, but it could have been longer. The frequent beatings had left her in so much pain, the only way to escape was sleep and she took advantage of every chance she had to do so. Staying awake staring into the pitch darkness would make her go crazy.

Shivering, she curled into a ball on the cold cement floor and cursed herself for her actions. In a fit of rage, she’d embraced the need for revenge and left safety and security behind. As she’d convinced the guards on duty to let her through the gate, she hadn’t thought about the danger she might be putting herself in; she’d only focused on confronting her parents. They put a bounty on her head and she was going to let them know face-to-face what she thought of that. What kind of parents did such a thing to their child? Hers, obviously, but why should she be surprised? These were the same people who’d supported The Saviors attacking the party in the woods. The very party they knew her sister, Karri, had been at. They’d specifically wanted her to die that night. Luckily for her, she’d survived and found Noah—her mate.

Finding Noah hadn’t only been a good thing for Karri, but for Arlene, as well. Because of Noah’s position in the Crimson Hollow Tribe and him mating with her sister, he had gotten Jase to allow her to go and stay there, too. Before then, though Arlene had known her parents and most of the residents in her hometown had taken a stance against shifters and supported The Saviors, she’d felt that her place remained there, at home, where she could spy on everyone and learn what she could. Any information she’d gathered, she’d passed on to a couple of shifters in hiding. In turn, they would get it to those who could help. She hadn’t been on the frontlines of the war, but she did her part.

It wasn’t until the attack on Karri she’d realized she couldn’t continue this way anymore. While it had been a few years since she’d seen her sister, they had been close before she took off for college and life outside of their hick town. She wasn’t about to lose her just because her parents wanted her dead. So, she’d risked everything to go to Crimson Hollow and it paid off. The weeks she’d spent there had turned out to be the happiest and most carefree of her life. At least now she could die with happy memories.

And she was going to die. Death didn’t bother her as much as the pain she knew would come with it. Accepting her demise was one thing, but it was quite another to know that the last minutes or hours of her life would be spent in agony. She didn’t want to suffer another minute under that man’s hands, but the only way out was to turn her back on the people who had welcomed her into their home, and she wasn’t about to do that, either. She would take their secrets to the grave.

“I’m sorry, Karri.” Shivering, she hugged her legs to her chest. Darkness etched in at the corners of her vision and she gave into it. It will all be over soon.

Before sleep could take a hold and let her drift off to paradise where there was no agony, a loud bang sounded from upstairs. Every muscle tightened in her body, making her moan out in discomfort. Something wasn’t right; she’d never heard anything more than footsteps. His anger would only mean pain for her. What had happened to send him into a rage that had him slamming things around upstairs?

She forced herself to move, to feel the ground in search of something she could use to defend herself. It wasn’t the first time she’d searched the space, but she never found anything there. She hoped he’d drop something, but he never did. Even on the rare occasions when he’d show kindness and bring her a drink of water, he always took the cup away. A plastic cup wouldn’t be much of a weapon against him but it would have been something. Maybe she could have broken it apart and filed an edge to a point. Then what? She’d still be chained to a wall with no way out. The man didn’t care about her screaming so there was obviously no one to overhear her. No one else inhabited the house, except her captor.

“This is stupid.” She scooted back against the corner and kept her legs bent in front of her. With the chain around her neck, she couldn’t even stand up straight. She couldn’t go more than four feet and that was only because she had been tied to the table when she woke up, the chain already around her neck. The blood from the slices he’d carved into her during her first hours there had seeped into the unfinished wood, leaving behind a reminder of what was no doubt in her future. “Maybe, in his rage, it will be quick?”

The door handle rattled and metal clanked against metal, confusing her more. Her kidnapper had a key to the door but what she could make out over the sound of her own frantic heartbeat didn’t sound like he was using it. What if it was someone else? She wanted to holler for help on the chance that it was someone else but if it wasn’t, it would only make her predicament worse. Biting on her lip to stop herself from crying out, she waited.

Whoever it was didn’t have the key and was hell bent on getting in. With a few swift kicks, the door splintered and fell down the stairs. She couldn’t see but pictured the door lying destroyed at the bottom of the staircase. Please let it be the police.

“Arlene? You down here?” A flashlight sliced into the darkness and someone descended the stairs.

Terrified, she pressed herself tighter to the wall, wishing it would just open up and swallow her. The voice was different, but she wasn’t sure if the person was friendly. She wanted someone to come for her, but now that it was happening, she couldn’t bring herself to move, let alone answer him. Her captor was unknown to her but she suspected he was somehow attached to The Saviors. Was this mysterious man coming down the stairs part of the same group? He knew her name, and while there should have been comfort in that, she couldn’t help the rising anxiety.

The pounding of her heart and the tightening in her chest made her wonder if she was about to pass out. Unconsciousness would allow the stranger heading for her to do anything he wanted to her. While that could mean a quick death, she couldn’t allow herself to give in to the darkness and be helpless. She might have been going crazy but she could have sworn she heard her sister’s voice. Don’t give up. Fight. We’re coming for you.

The footsteps paused halfway down the steps, directly where she knew the staircase opened up into the room. He scanned the room with the flashlight, searching for anyone who might be down there, until the glow of the light landed on her. “Arlene.” There was a hint of relief in his voice.

She couldn’t see who was there but she cowered from the brightness of the light. The dull glow proved too much for her eyes, making them ache.

“Why didn’t you answer me?” He shifted his hand so the light was no longer in her eyes and continued down the stairs. “Come on, I’m getting you out of here.”

“I…I can’t.” The idea of getting out of there was enough to push back the panic. She reached up and grabbed hold of the chain attached to the collar around her neck, holding it out for the man to see. If he hadn’t had a key for the door, he certainly didn’t have one for the padlock on the collar. But, he’d found a way into the basement; surely, he could find a way to get her out of the restraints.

She might not trust the mysterious man but if she got out of the basement, maybe she could get away from him. Getting free would be the first step; the second step she was unsure about. Calling Karri would mean she’d send Noah or convince Jase to send someone from the tribe after her. But if anyone from The Saviors was following her, it would mean the death of anyone who’d help her. That’s what she’d fought against since she’d been kidnapped, and she couldn’t allow that to happen now.

“It’s okay.” He crouched down next to her and sat the flashlight on the ground, so it was pointing up.

As her eyes adjusted, she finally caught a glimpse of her rescuer. The short black hair with a few stray pieces down on his forehead while the rest was spiked in kind of a natural, carefree way was familiar—but it was the dark, penetrating eyes that made her recognize him. She couldn’t forget that gaze, the way he looked at her as if she meant something to him. It wasn’t possible; they had barely met, but it was the only thing she could think of to describe the look.

“Roger…” Her throat tightened as she reached out and wrapped her arms around his neck. Even the pain that had nearly paralyzed her earlier proved no match for the happiness she was feeling now. His body was still under her embrace but he didn’t force her to let go. “Oh, Roger…”

“Shh, it’s going to be okay.” He caressed the side of her face, his thumb tracing over the curve of her cheekbone. “I’m getting you out of here.”

“The key…he has a key…the collar…we’ve got to hurry.” She wasn’t sure she was making any sense but her thoughts were going a mile a minute and she couldn’t keep up with them.

“I’ll get it off you.” He grabbed the flashlight and turned it back on her. “How bad are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.”

“Bullshit,” he snapped before gaining control again. “The stench of blood is in the air. Answer me this, are you able to walk?”

“If you get this chain off me, I’ll beat you out of here. Please, Roger, I just want out of this basement. He might come back.”

“You don’t have to worry about him. He’s dead.” He slipped his fingers under each side of the collar. “Good, this is loose. Now I need you to stay still.”

Knowing that he could see her better than she could see him, she nodded and closed her eyes. Her thoughts shifted from Roger to her captor. The news of his death didn’t seem to have any effect on her. There was no happiness, relief, or even sadness in knowing that Roger had killed someone in order to save her. He’d had to do this because of a decision she’d made. The choice to leave had been hers and if that wasn’t bad enough, she was ignorant of her surroundings, which had allowed her to get kidnapped.

Roger had managed to free her now but would others from The Saviors come after her? Would they come after Roger, too? Yes, and she didn’t know how to stop it or them.

With his hands wrapped around the metal collar on either side, he pulled, tearing the metal apart where it hinged with the padlock. “There you go.” He tossed the collar, at least as far as the chain would let him, and slipped his arm around her back, helping her to her feet.

The muscles in her legs protested and she realized how weak they had become. He must have felt her swaying because his arm tightened around her waist, keeping her on her feet. She wasn’t sure if she had been there longer than she thought, but the weakness in her limbs was something she had to overcome so they could get out of there. She couldn’t risk him carrying her in case they encountered someone else on their escape. She forced herself to keep it together but as she became steady on her feet, the lightheadedness kicked in and she realized she wasn’t sure when she ’d last eaten anything.

“How long have I been here? Never mind, let’s just go.” She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer to that question, at least not yet. At that moment, she needed to stay focused on getting out of there. “What if there’s someone else upstairs?”

“I’ve only caught one scent in the house. His.” Keeping his arm around her, he handed her the flashlight.

“Don’t you need…” The words died in her throat as she caught sight of him pulling his gun out. “Are we…do you…”

“Sweets, it’s a precaution. Keep the flashlight. I’ll be able to see fine once we’re upstairs. There’s plenty of moonlight shining through the windows up there.”

“Weapon…I need a weapon.” Using the flashlight, she scanned over to the workbench where he had kept his tools. There had to be something there that she could use.

“I got you. Nothing is going to happen.” He escorted her toward the stairs and she didn’t resist. “Let’s get you back home. Karri’s going crazy with worry.”

“My sister always was a worrier.” When she’d left, she had been angry with Karri but now, all of that, seemed so childish. She wanted to put the whole thing behind her and find some way to patch things up with her sister. Newly mated, Karri was supposed to be having the time of her life, not worrying about her sister.  Arlene would find a way to make this whole fiasco up to her.

If she weren’t still fearful for her life, she’d have laughed at her train of thought. She’d been tortured but she was now more worried about Karri being stressed out over the situation. That’s just like me. Not even a near death experience can stop me from worrying about everyone around me.