“Are you pregnant?” my mom asks, and my gaze immediately goes to her.

“No, Mom.” I smile, then add, “Not yet.”

“What?” she whispers in shock.

“I’m kidding, Mom. We’re not even trying. I want to have a wedding and then take some time for just us before we start planning for a baby.”

“Oh, God. I didn’t know how I would be able to rein in your dad.”

“If anyone could do it, it would be you,” I assure her.

“Not sure about that one, honey. Honestly, I’m shocked your dad is so cool about Wes.”

“There’s a lot to love about Wes,” I tell her, and she looks out at the living room at Wes and my dad, who seem to be in a deep conversation. Then my dad throws his head back, laughing and patting Wes on the shoulder as he chuckles. His eyes come to me and go soft, and then he turns his attention back to my man.

“You did good, honey.”

“I know,” I reply, taking a sip of coffee then laying my head against hers, laughing when I see my sisters dancing around in the matching pajamas my mom got all of us for Christmas. This is more than I could have ever hoped for, everyone I love in the same place, all of us together.

“What do you say we get the turkey in the oven and have a mimosa?” Mom asks, and I nod, giving her waist a squeeze, and then we get the turkey in the oven and go out to sit with everyone else, me tucked close to Wes’ side, my sisters all gathered together, and my dad with my mom on his lap. We all stay like that most of the day, only taking breaks to cook then to eat. I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas.

Chapter 16

“Babe, where the fuck are you?” Wes growls as soon as I put my phone to my ear after digging through my bag to find it. It’s a week since Christmas, and things have been good. I’ve been busy trying to plan a wedding, and Wes has been busy keeping me cool about it.

“I had to stop at the store to get chips and stuff for the party.”

“We’re not having a party,” he says, and I know that if I were in front of him, he would be shaking his head with a smile on his face.

“There are more than ten people coming over to watch football. I think that’s called a party,” I explain, rolling my eyes while tossing some avocados in my basket.

“I got beer,” he says like that’s all anyone needs, and he may be right with his boys; as long as they have beer, they’re cool. And that was fine before he had a woman, but not now. So I’ll be making wings, seven layer dip, fresh salsa, and some puff pastries I’m sure the guys will complain are too girly, but will scarf down. I’m even getting two apple pies. No, I didn’t make them from scratch, but they’re Wes’ favorite, so that’s all that matters. “Did you hear me?” he asks, bringing me back to the conversation.

“I know you got beer, honey,” I tell him, walking up to check out, and I do know he got beer, because last night, when I got home from work, there were five cases of beer on the back porch where he had put them, because it was cold enough out that he didn’t have to put them in the fridge in the house. “I’m still getting snacks.”

“You don’t need to go all out.”

“I like going all out.”

“Pain in the ass,” he mutters.

“You love this ass.” I smile.

“Fuck yeah, I do,” he growls, causing a shiver to slide down my spine as I put the groceries on the conveyer belt.

“I’ll be home soon,” I tell him softly while swiping my card through the credit card machine.

“See you then, baby,” he says, and I smile at the cashier, pick up my bags, and head toward the doors.

“Love you,” I say, hanging up and shoving my phone into my purse, then shuffle the shopping bag from one hand to the other so I can open the door to my car. Once the doors open, I lean over the driver’s seat and set my purse and the bags down, then scream out when I’m pulled backwards. A hand covers my mouth and I kick my legs hard as I’m dragged into a van and the door slams shut. My knees hit the metal floor and I feel a sharp blade against my throat.

“Got you, bitch,” is breathed near my ear, and the stench of cigarettes and leather hits my nose. “You scream, and I’m slicing your throat. Nod if you understand me.”

I nod frantically, and my mouth is uncovered and I’m pushed over until my cheek hits the floor. My hands are pulled together and my wrists are tied behind my back with what feel like plastic ties.

“I’m going to fuck you just like this, at my mercy, nowhere to go, no one to hear you cry,” the guy behind me says, pressing his hard-on against my ass, making me gag. I feel tears roll over the bridge of my nose onto the floor before a sharp blow to the side of my head, then nothing but black.

I open my eyes then slam them shut, not wanting to believe what I’m seeing is real. My heartbeat thumps rapidly, and my breathing begins to increase, so much so that I know if I don’t calm down, I will pass out again. I take a moment, gathering courage, and when I open my eyes again, it takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I look around, seeing I’m in a small room. The walls are pitched, which makes me believe I’m in an attic. The sound of dogs barking is so loud it’s almost deafening.

My eyes land on a small figure that is huddled in the corner. Her long brown hair is down, and her face is smudged with dirt, along with her clothes. I scoot closer to her and she begins to cower away.

“I won’t hurt you,” I whisper, going to her side, but not too close. “What’s your name?”

“El…Ellie. Wh-what’s yours?” she whispers in a hoarse tone after a long moment.

“July,” I whisper back. “Do you know where we are?” I ask while looking around the space, trying to see if there are any windows.

“No,” she whimpers, and I can hear the fear in her voice from that one single word.

“How did they get you?” I ask.

Her eyes close and she lowers her head as her body begins to shake, and I don’t think she’s going to answer, but then she says so low that I almost miss it, “My mom sold me to these guys.”

“What?” I hiss, completely caught off-guard.

“I know,” she whimpers, dropping my hand and wrapping her arms around her legs, resting her forehead on her bent knees. “She has my daughter. I need to get my daughter,” she cries, and her body begins to shake with silent tears.

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