It was sadistic irony in its most acute form. I’d taken girls from their families—usually destitute ones who would choose a life of servitude over a life of poverty for them and their families. But I’d never once given thought to how much those families suffered.
I was thinking about it now.
I deserved this. I knew I did. But Scar…she deserved to be loved and protected. Cherished. I didn’t have to wonder what was happening to her now, because I fucking knew. Maybe not every detail, but the picture was so vivid I wanted to tear my eyes out. It wouldn’t help though. The scene before me was just another road, another path to another dead end. The pictures were in my head and there was no way to gouge them out.
Sixteen days ago, I’d been hopeful. Touching down in Nogales, Sonora, Donovan’s man had been there with a report Scar might have been being held in a warehouse not far away. The warehouse was empty though. And every place we’d checked after that had been another dead end. Even Donovan seemed to be looking worse for wear, a bit frazzled around the edges. I think neither of us wanted to say it, but it was there in the air all around us. It was a crushing weight I had to claw and fight to stay above. It was one word. Four little letters that equaled more agony than I’d ever known, all put together.
Gone. Scar was gone.
She wasn’t dead. I could feel it, damn it. Though I’d never been one to believe in that kind of bullshit before, I knew it was true. The light in her green eyes was still bright in my head. She was alive.
Besides, if the devil who’d taken her had killed her, there would have been some word of it. An anonymous female body found burned beyond recognition. And I couldn’t help feeling that if she was dead, the son of a bitch would have wanted me to know it. He would have wanted to throw my failure in my face, flaunt it and make me suffer.
No, she was alive and it was the most selfish thing I could ever have wished for to hope that she stayed that way.
They had tortured her, probably from the very day they’d taken her. Beaten, whipped, raped and broken. How much of her would they have tormented out of her by the time I found her?
If I found her.
Scar was strong, the strongest person I’d ever met, but everything and everyone could be broken. Every person could be taken apart into so many pieces that it would be impossible to put them back together again. Memories of their abuse and torment wouldn’t allow it.
I’d seen Marcos bring many slaves close to that point before. Lifeless-looking shells that had retreated to somewhere deep inside themselves—the only escape they could find. But every once in a while, a grimace, a shudder, a spark of hatred flashing through their eyes meant they were still in there. There was still something to save, even if the road back would be a long and painful one.
There’d been one though. One that had seemed to drive Marcos to the brink of insanity. Four years after he’d taken me in—two years after he’d introduced me to the world of training pleasure slaves—she’d arrived with a handful of others. He’d singled her out and hadn’t let a man there touch her. He’d touched her though. And whipped her, and beat her to within an inch of her life.
As much as I’d respected the man, it had been the first time I’d ever voiced an objection to his methods. I could still feel the crunch of the bones in my nose from the blow he’d struck. Then he’d sat me down while my nose bled onto the floor and explained that some slaves required a firmer hand than others. One day I would understand, he’d said—unless I interfered ever again, in which case I would be too dead to understand anything. Then he’d locked himself in his training room with her and hadn’t come out for nine days.
I would never forget the dead look in her eyes when they emerged. Nor now, years later, could I avoid thinking about the striking resemblance the girl had borne to Scar and her mother.
Was that what they were doing to Scar now?—whoever the fuck ‘they’ were. Subjecting her to horrors from which there was no coming back? Marcos’ slave had been dead to the world after nine days. Scar had been gone sixteen. Sixteen days. Three-hundred and ninety-one hours…and twenty-one minutes.
I stopped the car at the top of another long, winding driveway and scanned the surroundings through a haze of red that seemed to perpetually obscure my vision now. It was a grand estate, apparently home to yet another man who, while he did not train pleasure slaves, was an avid collector of them and kept himself apprised of the market—according to Donovan.