CHAPTER ONE

Sarai

It’s been eight months since I escaped the compound in Mexico where I was held against my will for nine years. I’m free. I’m living a ‘normal’ life, doing normal things with normal people. I haven’t been attacked or threatened or followed by anyone who might still want me dead. I have a ‘best friend’, Dahlia. I have the closest thing to a mother I’ve ever known. Dina Gregory. What more could I ask for? Seems selfish to expect anything more. But despite all that I have, one thing has not changed: I’m still living a lie.

I have friends back in California: Charlie, Lea, Alex and…Bri—no, wait, I mean Brandi. My ex-boyfriend, Matt, was abusive and he’s the reason why I moved back to Arizona. He stalked me for a long time after we broke up. I got a restraining order, but that didn’t keep him away. He shot me eight months ago, but I can’t prove it because I didn’t actually see him. And I’m just too afraid to turn him in to the police.

Of course, every bit of that is a lie.

They are the pieces of my life that cover up what really happened to me. My excuses for why I went missing at fourteen and how I ended up in a California hospital with a gunshot wound. I can never tell Dina or Dahlia, or my boyfriend, Eric, what really happened: that I was taken to Mexico by my own poor-excuse-for-a-mother to live with a drug lord. I can never tell anyone that I escaped that place after nine years and that I killed the man who kept me a prisoner all my young adult life. I mean, sure I could tell someone, but if I did that it would only put Victor in jeopardy.

Victor.

No, I’ll never be able to tell anyone that an assassin helped me escape, or that I watched Victor kill numerous people, including the wife of a prominent, high-profile businessman in Los Angeles. I’ll never be able to tell anyone that after everything I’ve been through, everything that I’ve seen, I want nothing more than to pack my bags and go back to that dangerous life. The life with Victor.

To this day his name is calming on my tongue. Sometimes while I’m lying awake at night, I whisper his name aloud just to hear it because I need it. I need him. I can’t get him out of my head. I’ve tried. Dammit I have tried. But no matter what I do I still live every day of my life thinking about him. If he’s watching over me. If he thinks about me as much as I think about him. If he’s still alive.

I clutch the pillow above my head and shut my eyes picturing Victor. Sometimes it’s the only way I can get off.

Eric squeezes my thighs in both hands, holding me still on the bed with his face buried between my legs.

I push my h*ps toward him, bucking gently against his lashing tongue until my whole body stiffens and my thighs tremble around his head.

“Oh my God…,” I shudder as I come and then drop my arms between my legs, spearing my fingers through his dark hair. “Jesus….”

I feel Eric’s lips touch my belly just above my pelvic bone.

I look up at the ceiling, just like I always do after an orgasm because the guilt I bear inside makes me too ashamed to look at Eric. He’s a great guy. My sexy, dark-haired, blue-eyed boyfriend of twenty-seven who is kind and charming and funny and perfect. Perfect for me if I had never met Victor Faust.

I’m ruined for life.

I wipe the tiny beads of sweat from my forehead and Eric crawls back up the bed and lays down next to me.

“You always do that.” He pokes me in the ribs playfully with his knuckles.

Very ticklish on my sides, I recoil and roll over facing him. I smile warmly and run a finger through the top of his hair.

“What do I always do?”

“That moment of silence thing.” He fits his thumb and index finger around my chin. “I get you off and you get really quiet for a long time.”

I know and I’m sorry, but I have to erase Victor’s face from my mind before I can look you in the eyes. I’m a horrible person.

Eric kisses my forehead.

“It’s called recuperation,” I jest and kiss his fingers. “Perfectly harmless. But you should take it as a good sign. You know what you’re doing.” I nudge him back in his ribs.

And truly he does know what he’s doing. Eric is great in bed. But I’m still too emotionally attached…addicted…to Victor and I have a feeling that I’ll always be.

It took me five months after Victor left to try getting on with my life as far as other relationships go. I met Eric at my job at the convenience store. He bought a bag of chips and an energy drink. After that, he made trips to my store twice, sometimes three times a week. I wanted nothing to do with him. I wanted Victor. But I started losing hope that Victor would ever come back for me.

Eric goes to lay his arm across my bare stomach, but I get up casually just before and step into my panties. He doesn’t suspect anything, which is good. I don’t feel like cuddling, but the last thing I want to do is hurt his feelings. His arms raise up, his fingers interlocking behind his head. He looks across the room at me, grinning seductively. He always does that when I’m not fully clothed.

“Sarai?”

“Yeah?” I slip my t-shirt on and readjust my ponytail.

“I know it’s short notice,” Eric says, “but I’d like to go along with you and Dahlia to California tomorrow.”

Shit.

“But I thought you couldn’t get off work?” I pull my shorts up and step into my flip-flops.

“I couldn’t back when you asked me if I wanted to go,” he says. “But we have some new help at work and my boss decided to give me the time off.”

This is not good news. Not because I don’t want him around me—I do care for Eric despite my inability to forget about Victor Faust—but my ‘vacation’ to California tomorrow won’t be about sight-seeing, partying, and spending sprees on Rodeo Dr.

I’m going there to kill a man. Or, I’m going to try to kill a man.

It’s bad enough that Dahlia will be there and that I’ll have to keep this from just one person, much less two.

“You…don’t seem excited,” Eric says, his smile slowly dropping from his face.

I smile big and shake my head, walking back over to him and sitting on the edge of the bed. “No, no, I am excited. It just caught me off-guard. We’re heading out at six in the morning. That’s less than eight hours from now. Are you packed?”

Eric laughs lightly and reaches across my bed, pulling me back over next to him. I sit by his waist, propping one arm against the mattress on his other side, my legs hanging off the edge of the bed at the ankles.

“Well, I just found out this afternoon before I left work,” he says. “I know, shitty timing, but all I have to do is throw a few things in a bag and I’m good.”

He reaches up and brushes stray hair from my ponytail away from my face.

“Great!” I lie with an equally false smile. “Then I guess it’s settled.”

~~~

Dina is up before me at four. The smell of bacon is what wakes me. I climb out of bed and hit the shower before planting myself at the kitchen table. An empty plate is already waiting for me.

“I really wish you would’ve chosen someplace else to vacation, Sarai,” Dina says.

She sits down on the opposite side of the table and starts filling her plate. I take a few pieces of bacon from the pile and place them onto mine.

“I know,” I say, “but like I told you, I’m not going to let my ex keep me from visiting my friends.”

She shakes her ever-graying head and sighs.

I screwed up somewhere along the line with my plethora of lies. When Victor brought Dina to the hospital in Los Angeles after his brother, Niklas, shot me, she had no idea what had happened. Except that I had been shot. It took me a few months to feel confident enough to talk to her about it. After I figured out what story I wanted to tell her, anyway. That’s when I made up the abusive ex-boyfriend story. I should’ve just told her that I was robbed. By a total stranger. It would’ve made the lie so much easier to keep up with. Now that she knows I’m going back to L.A. she’s worried to death about it and has been for the past two months. I never should’ve told her that I’m going back there.

I finish off the bacon and a small helping of eggs, washing it down with a glass of milk.

Dahlia and Eric show up together just after I finish brushing my teeth.

“Come on, we need to get on the road,” Dahlia urges me out the front door. Her sandy-brown hair is pinned to the top of her head in a sloppy, just-woke-up bun.

I hug Dina goodbye.

“I’ll be fine,” I tell her. “I promise. I’m not going anywhere near where he lives.” I actually picture a man’s face this time talking about someone that doesn’t exist. I guess I’ve had to play this role for so long that ‘Matt’ and all of these ‘friends’ of mine in L.A. I talk about it to everyone as if they’re real, have become real on a subconscious level.

Dina forces a smile through her worried face and her hands fall away from my elbows.

“Call me when you get there?”

I nod. “As soon as I walk into my hotel room, I’ll call you.”

She smiles and I hug her once more before following them to Dahlia's waiting car. Eric puts my suitcase in the trunk with their bags and then hops in the backseat.

“Hollywood here we come!” Dahlia says.

I pretend to be half as enthused as she is. It’s a good thing it’s so early in the morning, otherwise Dahlia might take my lackluster attitude for what it really is. I stretch my arms out behind me and yawn, resting my head against the seat. I feel Eric’s hand on the back of my neck as he starts to knead the muscles there.

“No idea why you want to drive to L.A.,” Dahlia says. “If we took a plane you wouldn’t have to get up so early. You wouldn’t be so tired and grouchy.”

My head falls to the left. “I’m not grouchy. I’ve hardly said a word to you yet.”

She smirks at me. “Exactly. Sarai not speaking equals grouchy.”

“And recuperating,” Eric adds.

My face flushes and I reach a hand behind my head and play-slap his hand as it moves in a heavenly motion against my neck. I shut my eyes and see Victor there.

I didn’t do it on purpose.

We arrive in Los Angeles after a four hour drive. I couldn’t go by plane because I wouldn’t be able to carry my weapons along with me. Of course, I couldn’t tell Dahlia that. She just thinks I wanted to take the scenic route.

I have seven days to do what I came here to do. That is, if I can pull it off. I’ve thought about my plan for months, about how I’m going to do it. I knew all along that there’s no way I’m getting into the Hamburg mansion. That requires an invitation and socializing in the public eyes of Hamburg’s guests and Arthur Hamburg himself. He saw my face. Well, technically he saw more than my face. But I have a feeling that what happened that night when Victor and I tricked Hamburg into inviting us up to his room so that we could kill his wife is something he will never forget, right down to the small details.

Hopefully, a short-cut platinum-blonde wig and heavy dark makeup will hide that long, auburn-haired identity of mine that Hamburg would remember the moment I stepped into the room.


Tags: J.A. Redmerski In the Company of Killers Book Series
Source: www.StudyNovels.com