Illicit Captor by Maggie Cole
Cold wind blows harder through the field, whipping through the air, mimicking a razor slicing my cheeks.
I welcome it.
It's a perfect accessory to my hatred, ramping up the pulse throbbing in my neck.
Revenge can finally start. Tommy Ahern's on my list, and he's been there longer than I normally have any man. Now, I'm drawing out his time on it. He'll pay for his sins, but before I end his life, I'm stealing his most prized possession.
I pull out my phone and stare at the photo that's mesmerized me for over a year. I never saw her until one of my guys inside the O'Leary clan sent it to me.
Scarlet Ahern, daughter of our biggest enemy, Jack O'Leary, makes my skin prickle with heat. Her hair's the color of her name, a handful of freckles dot her porcelain cheeks, and eyes, bright as a wild animal at night, glow brightly.
Life fills her. There's mischief, confidence, and a bit of defiance in her expression. Everything about those things makes me feel uncomfortable. All I can think about is taming that defiance, seeing what she really has up her sleeve if I were the object of her affection, or watching her strut toward me in a crowded room with all eyes on her, knowing she's mine.
I hate myself for those thoughts.
She's an O'Leary. My brother, Brody, may have overlooked it with his wife Alaina—Scarlet's sister—but I'm not looking to get wrapped up with my enemy. My brother fell hard and I'll be damned if I do the same. So I click the phone and the screen turns black.
Focus, I remind myself, sliding my cell into my pocket and wrapping my fingers around my pocket knife. I glide my thumb over the raised metal, assessing Tommy's guard positioned at the front door of the farmhouse.
He pulls his flask out of his jacket pocket, takes a mouthful of what I assume is whiskey, then wipes his mouth and puts it away. He removes a cigarette from his metal case, then flicks his lighter. Smoke circles his head, and the red butt burns hotter with every inhale.
Every night, it's the same situation. Tommy leaves, and his thug stands guard, drinking from his flask and smoking his cigarettes until the darkness fades into the morning and his boss returns.
There's never any other men. Sometimes, days pass before Tommy returns. When he finally does, his thug crosses the small farm and settles into the shed Tommy's assigned for his shelter.
Each moment that passes that Scarlet's inside with the husband she was forced to marry, my skin crawls. Every ounce of patience I have, I've tapped into, so I don't destroy my chance of revenge.
Tonight, there's no more waiting. I stay in the shadows, moving toward the house, and finally step out of them when I can't hide anymore.
The guard squints, releasing a cloud of tobacco, and belts out in a rough smoker's voice, "Ya better be lost."
I hold my hands in the air, declaring, "Easy, mate. Tommy sent me."
"Mate? I don't know ya," he seethes, stepping closer. He pulls his knife out of his pocket and keeps his cigarette in the other.
"Anthony, I'm Tommy's nephew Jackie from Belfast," I lie.
He remains frozen, assessing me.
I add, "Tommy needed me to come here and give ya a message."
Anthony stays cautious, but his body relaxes a bit. "Aye? What's that?"
I step closer and glance behind me, even though no one is around for miles. Tommy wanted it this way—Scarlet hidden from everyone, with no chance of her having any life outside his prison.
I turn back and lower my voice. "I don't know the details. He gave me a note to give ya."
I wait for him to hold out his hand. He finally does and orders, "Well, then, don't waste my time."
Adrenaline shoots through me. I reach inside my pocket, open my knife, and whip it out as fast as possible, so he doesn't have time to react. I slice his throat, then stab his heart several times.
Blood sprays everywhere, and his knife and cigarette fall to the ground. Wind whistles through the air and Anthony falls toward me, his eyes wide, the life already leaving them.
I step back, and he thuds to the ground. For several moments, I stare at him while breathing hard. Then I take a handkerchief out of my pocket, along with sanitizer, and wipe my face, hands, and any part of my jacket where I see blood.
The scent of tobacco, whiskey, and his blood doesn't leave me. I step under the light, pull up the camera on my phone, and check my reflection. I wipe two missed spots and put my cell back in my pocket.
I reach for the doorknob and turn it.
"Fuck," I mutter. It's locked. I shouldn't be surprised Tommy doesn't trust his guard with his wife. It only makes my vengeance more powerful.
I debate what route to take, assessing the quality of the wood door, the lock, then the windows.
It's not what I wanted. My goal isn't to shake up Scarlet more than necessary, but there are no other options.
I grab a log from the stack next to the side of the house, then slam it into the glass as hard as possible.
It shatters, echoing in the air, and I put on my gloves before I punch out the remaining shards until there's nothing but a hole, then I carefully maneuver my body through the darkness.
It only takes a moment to locate the room where Scarlet is. The door is locked, but there's nothing special about it. I kick it until it splinters.
A muffled whimper fills the air, which I expected. I reach through the door and unbolt it, then open the remaining barricade.
The pitch-black room is due to the wood covering the windows. It's so cold it makes the outside feel warm. I flip the light switch, but nothing turns on, so I use my phone's flashlight, then scan the tiny, empty space.
I freeze, except for the hairs on my neck rising.
A shell of a naked woman, all skin and bones, sits in the corner, hugging her shins and hiding her face. Her scarlet hair falls over her shoulders and legs, a drastic contrast to her purple skin. She shivers, and I assume it's a combination of the cold and fear of me.
Jesus. What has he done to her?
She peeks up, the green glowing from her eyes, then hides them again.
"I'm not going to hurt ya," I say, trying to keep my voice calm, stepping closer.
She shakes harder, cowering closer to the wall. Her hitched breaths grow louder.
I stare at her, wanting to kill Tommy even more, cursing myself for not doing this sooner.
I crouch down and reiterate, "I promise I won't hurt ya. I'm here to get ya out of here. But it's cold outside. I'm going to get a blanket."
She doesn't look up, only trembles harder, gasping for air between her arms.
I race into the bedroom next to her prison cell and grab the quilt off the bed. I return to the room, but she's still in the same spot.
I kneel beside her and assert, "We need to go." I move the blanket toward her.
"Don't touch me! Please!" she shrieks, looking up with tears falling down her cheeks.
My mouth turns dry. I stay still, stating, "There's only so much time to get away from here. We have to go."
"Leave me alone! Please!" she cries out again, shaking harder and burying her head back into her arms.
"Scarlet, your sister sent me," I announce.
It's a half truth. Alaina wanted to come herself, but I wouldn't tell her anything other than I knew Tommy lied and Scarlet was alive.
Scarlet slowly looks up, blinking hard.
"Alaina. She sent me to rescue ya," I repeat.
Scarlet's lip quivers, and she shakes her head hard. "No."
Surprise fills me. I thought my statement would comfort her. "No?" I question.
Another level of fear fills Scarlet's expression. She whispers, "He'll kill me if I go near her."
I attempt to control my reaction, but it's hard. In a stern voice, I try to assure her. "He won't kill ya. I'll make sure of it."
Her intake of breath turns so sharp I'm afraid she's having a panic attack.
I cringe, but there's no other option. When the sun rises, we need to be away from here. So I inform her, "I need to make a choice for your safety, and it's better if ya decide."
She stares at me, confused, her breathing turning even more shallow.
I loathe myself before I say it, but I assert, "We need to go now. I can carry ya out of here while you're conscious, or I can drug ya so ya go to sleep. What do ya prefer?"
Her eyes widen with a new horror in them mixed with hatred.
Sharp pain sears through my heart, but I'm out of options. I demand, "Choose now, or I will."
She shakes her head.
I assume she doesn't want to be drugged. I reach for her.
She screams, her hands jab at me, but she's so weak I barely feel it.
I grab her wrists with one hand and state, "I'm sorry, lass, but ya leave me no choice."
"Go away," she whimpers, tears falling faster.
Guilt fills me, but I grab the syringe out of my pocket, flip the cap off it, and stab her in the arm.
She yelps and then her eyes flutter.
I cradle her body against me, pull the blanket over her, stroke her hair, and murmur, "Shh. Everything is okay. Go to sleep, petal."
When I'm convinced she's fully asleep, I tighten the comforter around her and tuck it between her forehead and my chest to shield her from the wind. I rise with her in my arms and leave through the front door, stepping over Anthony's corpse.
I trek a mile down the road, barely feeling the razor-sharp gusts, my mind racing with a million different thoughts. When I finally get to my car, I put her in the front seat, lean it as far back as possible, and secure her seat belt around her.
For two hours, I drive, sweating from the heat that creates a furnace inside the vehicle. It's well into an hour before a hint of color comes into Scarlet's cheeks.
I don't stop until I pull up to the small cottage, which is just as remote as the place Tommy held her prisoner. I park next to my brother Devon's car and get out. I go around to the passenger seat, unbuckle Scarlet, then pick her up.
She doesn't stir, which doesn't surprise me. I get to the door, and my brother opens it.
He glances at her and steps aside.
I enter and order, "Go into town and buy some clothes for her."
He asks, "What size?"
My anger resurfaces. "Small. Extra small. Whatever ya can find. He starved her."
Disgust lights in Devin's expression. He says nothing and leaves.
I carry Scarlet to the bedroom and pull back the covers. I unwrap her from Tommy's quilt and tuck her in. I carry the comforter outside to the burn pit and douse it with kerosene. I strike a match, study it until my fingers feel the heat, and toss it.
The flames explode, covering the material in seconds. I stay there, lighting more matches, trying to return to a calm state so I don't scare Scarlet further when she wakes.
It's harder than normal. The fire doesn't help the way it usually does. All I can think about is the horror that bastard put her through.
When there's nothing left to burn, I grab a few more logs and return inside. I lock the door, go into the bedroom, and add more wood to the fireplace. Then I sit on the edge of the bed, studying her until my brother returns, tearing me out of my thoughts.
"What else do ya need?" he asks, setting two large bags on the dresser.
I rise and cross my arms. "Nothing. Go back to Belfast."
He peers at Scarlet, then me, asking, "Ya sure about that?"
"Aye. Make sure ya don't speak to anyone about this."
"Ya mean don't tell Brody or Alaina?"
"No one. Not even Tynan," I order.
His face hardens. "What are ya going to do now that ya have her? Ya can't keep her here forever."
Rage builds so fast that I clench my fists at my sides. "I'm going to make Tommy pay for his sins," I vow.