Rossi slid into the passenger seat and said, “Road assistance might not arrive any time soon. You sure you want to wait with me?”
“Positive. I don’t want you sitting out here alone.”
With a sigh, he clicked on his seat belt. “Drive us to your apartment. I’ll have Greg meet us there. He can bring me back here. I’ll likely make it back before road assistance shows up.”
Figuring he was right, I nodded. “Okay. Let me just try calling your asshole of a boss one last time.”
Rossi’s lips twitched. “Why is he an asshole?”
“He’s ignoring me.” I explained that Linton had been posing as Laurel’s boyfriend and that he was currently at Emma’s house, where Blake intended to confront him. “He doesn’t want me there, so he’s being an asshole.”
Rossi’s chuckle only annoyed me more. Beneath the sound of rain pattering on the pavement, I heard the faint rumble of a vehicle as I once again tried calling Blake. The phone rang and rang yet went unanswered, so I bit out a stream of loud inventive curses that made Rossi laugh like a loon and—
Tires screeched, I saw the impression of a red blur in my rear-view mirror, and then it sounded like the world exploded just as something slammed into the car. The seat belt snapped taut, jerking me back with a painfully sharp yank. And then we were launched into the air and everything went sideways.
Time started to slow down. Each time the car crashed to the ground, there was excruciatingly loud crunching and grinding. Glass shattered and blew inward. My head snapped from side to side. My body bashed into the door over and over. Items sailed in front of my vision. At some point, a white cloud exploded outward, thrusting me backward. Airbag.
Then everything went still, even my heartbeat.
Except for the ringing in my ears.
Stunned, I just sat there. I didn’t know what the hell had just happened. Like there was a fog in my mind. I felt as if I was floating. Completely detached from whatever happened.
Darkness crept around the edges of my vision, and I thought I’d black out. I didn’t.
Numb and dazed, I could only stare dumbly at the absolute mess around me. Bits of glass, an empty coffee cup, my purse, the air freshener, and the documents from the glovebox—all of it was scattered all over the place.
Where had the windows gone? Why was warm water dripping down my head?
I couldn’t think. Couldn’t make sense of anything. Couldn’t process any of it.
I thought I could hear a hiss of smoke, but the ringing in my ears was too loud for me to be sure. The gas didn’t smell anywhere near as nice when mixed with burned rubber. I pushed at the airbag, grimacing at the chalky feel of it, and watched dazedly as it deflated.
Why did my head hurt like a bitch? I touched the burn on my temple, and my fingers came back with blood.
I started to shake. Badly. Couldn’t seem to get enough air as the fog around my thoughts abruptly dissipated, and a wave of sheer panic hit me. The car had flipped, I remembered. Some motherfucker in a red truck had driven us off the road.
The realization sent my heart racing. I could hear it thrashing in my ears. Could feel the adrenaline pumping through me. My breaths turned quick, uneven, and shallow. Little flares of pain now made themselves known all over my body.
Fuck, I wanted to get out. Get help. Get—
Pain streaked up my neck as I tried to quickly turn my head to look at him. Spitting a curse, I squeezed my eyes shut. That had been a bad idea. Slowly, I twisted to look at him. My stomach sank. His body had slumped forward, and there was blood all over his face. I couldn’t tell if he was alive or not.
As I unbuckled my seat belt, white-hot pain lanced through my wrist, and I froze with a sharp intake of breath. Jesus Christ. Breathing through the agony only brought me new pain, since my chest felt like it had been battered—no doubt thanks to the seat belt. I tried reaching over to test his pulse with my good hand, but my fingers were shaking too hard.
“Rossi, wake the fuck up. We have to get out.” I struggled with the door handle, leaving smears of blood. That was when I heard it: the sound of shoes scuffing over gravel. My heart jumped. “Rossi, we have to get out.”
Choking back a sob, I again wrestled with the door handle. Tremors were running through me, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the cold, shock, or both. I also didn’t care. I just needed to get this damn door open. Come on, come on, come on!
Glass crackled beneath boots, and my heartbeat stuttered. Finally, the door burst open. I felt a moment of victory … until I saw him standing there, and I realized that it was him who’d opened the door, not me.
Ricky Tate smiled. “Not looking so pretty now.”
I recoiled and kicked out at him, but he moved fast. He dodged my leg, grabbed my arm, and yanked me out of the car. As he dumped me on the ground, my sore wrist hit it hard and took the impact of my body weight. Pain exploded from my wrist to my shoulder, and stars burst behind my eyes. I gagged, sure I’d be sick, but then something slammed into my back. A boot. The pain distracted me even as it made me hitch in a breath.
I’d kill him. I would. I’d kill the little fucker.
With that uplifting thought in mind, I tried to get to my feet. The moment I got to my knees, a boot slammed into my aching chest and sent me sprawling backward. I hit my head on something. A rock? I didn’t know. But it hurt like a motherfucker and made my vision swim.
Hands slid under my armpits and began dragging me backward. The long, shimmering wet grass slapped at me just as the sheet of rain fell on me, drenching my hair and clothes. I weakly squirmed and writhed, trying to get free, but all it did was make my shirt ride up. The wet, ridged pavement chafed the skin of my back, making it burn.
The watch, I thought. I needed to push the fucking button! My mind had been so consumed by first shock and then panic that I hadn’t even thought of—
He dropped me, and my head hit the pavement with a horrible crack that seemed to reverberate in my skull.
“I can’t have you giving me any trouble now.” His fist slammed into my temple, making the world spin, and then everything went dark.
God, I hurt. My entire body seemed to ache and throb, like it was one giant bruise. My muscles felt stiff and cramped, and it didn’t help that I was lying on something hard.
My neck hurt most. No, my head. Definitely my head; not only was it pounding like a bitch, a long trail of fire blazed from my temple right along the side of my head. There was also a deep, dull ache in my wrist. Weirdly, the fingers of that hand tingled and felt numb at the tips. As if all that weren’t bad enough, I felt groggy. Shaky. Nauseous. Like—
I tensed, resisting the urge to open my eyes. Ricky had taken me, the fucker. Where? How long had I been unconscious? Was he close?
Wherever I was, someone had been burning candles recently because I could smell wax. I could also smell dirt, dust, and something … rank. Rotten. And that didn’t help my churning stomach at all.
It was little wonder that Ricky was using candles, since the place was so damn chilly. I might not have shivered, though, if my skin wasn’t almost as wet as the clothes that clung to my body. Some of my damp hair was stuck to my forehead while another chunk was matted by the warm, sticky wetness on the side of my head—blood.
Fuck, I needed to contact Blake using the watch. First, I needed to be sure I was alone. I listened hard, but all I could detect was the sound of my own breathing. I couldn’t even hear any street or traffic noise. Nothing. Which wasn’t good, because it meant the place was isolated.