I was so hungry. Steak would have been okay, but I was now lusting for more. I craved human flesh. More specifically, brains. I couldn’t deny it any longer. It didn’t even seem odd. I could barely wait for freedom. Human flesh, brains, that’s it. Nothing else would do for me now. I would stay away from my family when I escaped, I promised myself—and escape, I would—but my desire to feed now encompassed me.

What about Anna? I was sad about Anna. But dammit, she’s got her boyfriend now, I reminded myself. She doesn’t need me. And that hussy, Carla, will take care of Anna. If I don’t take care of Carla first...No! I tried to hold on to reason. This isn’t right. A part of my mind tried to hang on to sanity. You have to take care of your daughter, I told myself. That’s what you’re living for. And Carla’s nice...but she’s with them. My brother and that son-of-a-bitch traitor, Mike Mendoza.

I searched the premises again. The light was off, but that didn’t matter. I had the eyes of a hawk now, an eagle. A cougar was more like it. I thought back to when Anna and I had saved that cougar. Was that about a week ago? Ten days? I didn’t remember. Part of me longed for that special father-daughter connection again. She loved wildlife as much as I did. As much as I had, before. Before what?

Get a hold, I told myself. You’re not going over fond memories; you’re finding a way out. There’s got to be something to help me get the fuck out of here...I don’t want to drown...and I don’t want to give up who I am now.

So powerful...so very powerful.

I moved around with my hand chained to the beam, feeling with my feet along the cold cement for anything. A coin. A screwdriver would have been nice, but no luck. Not even piece of broken glass.

I searched slowly, thoroughly. Finishing the 360-degree circle, I finally pulled myself up and leaned against the house’s main beam to which I was chained. For what I’d just done, stretching and moving around on the ground as far as I could reach, carefully, over the last fifteen minutes, I should have been sweating profusely. But I wasn’t. I just drew my one free hand through my hair. Something caught one of my fingers, and I moved this hand past it...then back to it. Something metal.

I carefully maneuvered myself around to see the object.

Bingo! I smiled. I risked a laugh. Well, what do you know, I thought to myself.

An old, rusty nail protruded slightly from the beam. Not so much that you could really see it from a distance. And who had come close enough to that beam? It was the surrounding area they were concerned with.

The nail looked long; it had a large head. Such a small thing, I realized, such a sharp nail could make all the difference in the world. I could easily conceal it when they came. And come for me they would, I knew it in my core. But now, I had a weapon.

I wrapped my teeth around the nail in the beam, and pulled. Hard.

And soon I held my freedom in the palm of my hand.

Chapter Eighteen

“Promise me again,” Joe Carter said to his niece.

“I promise, okay? I won’t leave my room until you come get me.” Anna blew her nose again. She was horrified, frightened, out of her mind with fear.

Joe hugged her. “It’s going to be okay, honey. That’s my promise to you.” He held her a moment. Then he crossed to the door. There was nothing else to say.

Downstairs, the three of them were ready. As ready as they could be. None of them spoke. Again, there was nothing left to say. The feeling was unanimous: just do it, get it done.

Carla went first. It was the hardest thing she’d ever done in her life. This was insane. Was she crazy? She didn’t know for sure, but she made herself do it anyway. Tried not to think in human terms as she descended the old staircase.

“Back away, Jack,” her hands were shaky. She couldn’t help the tears. “Back up.”

“What’s going on?” Jack asked innocently enough.

Mike and Joe carried the first large bucket of water down and set it out of Jack’s reach.

“What the hell’s happening?” Just for a moment, Jack feigned ignorance. But the two men wouldn’t meet his gaze. His own damn brother. A murderous asshole.

As they hurried up the stairs again, Jack tried to work on Carla. “Carla, no. Please. You can’t be serious.”

Carla didn’t speak either. Fuck. This was going to be harder than he thought. Joe and Mike confirmed this by bringing down the second container of water. That’s when Jack lost it.

“I won’t let you,” he said, backing as far away as he could, his hands curled into fists.

“Yes, you will,” Joe said. “And it will be all right. Mike went through it, so did I. And so can you.”

“I’m going to fucking kill you, all of you,” Jack growled. “Carla, I trusted you. And you’re going to let them kill me? You fucking bitch!” he spat the words at her.

Carla let out a sob. “Shut up, Jack.” She reached behind her and pulled out another pair of handcuffs. Handed them to Mike. “Just do it.”

“No!” Jack pleaded. “Think of what you’re doing. Joe, think. This is crazy! Where’s Anna? You can’t do this to her!”

He watched as Joe and Mike checked out the other beam. Joe pulled a piece of heavy chain from somewhere and tethered it to the beam. Now Jack backed the other way, coming dangerously close to Carla.

“I’m not going down without a fight. You don’t know how strong I am!”

Jack curled his hands tight.

Chapter Nineteen

But they did know.

Both men fully understood what they were dealing with.

Who, Joe corrected himself. He’s still my brother.

“Take off your shoes.” Mike was the least emotionally involved, so he was calling the shots.

“No,” said Jack.

The three formed a triangle around him now. “Do it,” Mike commanded. “Don’t make this any harder than you have to.”

Somewhere in Jack’s mind, a little sanity remained, but that part was now in fight-or-flight mode. What was left of his humanity panicked. He pulled mightily on his one cuffed hand. “You can’t do this. Please,” he begged them.

“Jack.” Joe held back tears. “You’ve got to know that I love you. I know you’re scared. And angry. But try to think.”

“Stop it,” Carla ordered. “We agreed. No unnecessary talking. Jack, take off your fucking shoes.” Her hands were still shaking, but she pointed her gun at his shoulder.

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