Emma's Master Ch. 01byMK156©
It was fourteen steps to the grocery store. That was from my front door to theirs. Toe to heel. Even fewer if I could make them longer. If I could slow down and take seven steps instead of panicking and taking fourteen quick ones, arriving panting and teary eyed, practically bowling over elderly ladies in my haste to buy string cheese and turkey pastrami.
It's not that I counted them out of some idle curiosity. That I'd entered them into a mobile step tracker and was now working doggedly toward the modest goal of fifteen steps. No, it was more a desperate, cloying need that had forced me to keep track of the distance. You see, If I didn't concentrate on my feet, on the sound and the tenor, the rise and the descent of my own satisfying mark upon the earth, then undoubtedly I would begin to hear the steps behind me, the steps that weren't really there and yet drowned out all other steps. The footfalls of the one man I truly feared above all else.
He was everywhere. Behind every corner. Down every grocery aisle and if I let him, behind me now, slowly gaining on me, mowing me down. Yes I was almost sure of it now, that was him, those were his feet behind me. My pulse sped up and I started to run. Toward home. Toward the grocery store. I didn't care. Just away from him. Away from those footsteps. Oh my god I couldn't breath now. I pulled up short and went flying through the automatic doors of the store. Just in time for the jogger behind me to glide blithely by, completely unaware of the panicked girl in front of him.
Oh for goodness sakes, I thought, just a jogger. Again. Of course. Last time it had been a woman pushing a baby carriage. Oh the humanity. I drew in a deep breath. Keep it together Emma. Just get the food you need and go. I hadn't eaten in two days. Hadn't been able to summon the courage for this small odyssey around the block. I am such a fucking coward, I thought as I quickly made the rounds in the necessary aisles, trying to be as efficient as possible.
I was walking out of the dairy aisle, trying to remember how far I'd have to go for peanut butter when I heard the shots. I immediately stepped back into the aisle, well honed survival mechanism switching into full gear.
I fingered the knife in my pocket as I heard, "Okay, we're gonna do this nice and easy. Everybody on the floor. Take your cell phones out and put them in this here basket. Yep, that's it. Good," I could hear him walking closer and I clutched the knife harder while pressing my back up agains the shelf. I'd just stay right there until this whole robbery thing played out.
But sadly it was not to be, as the voice called out, "I saw you over there girlie." Maybe he didn't mean me. Maybe he meant some other girl.
"Yeah, I'm talking to you. The one pretending not to be hiding in the dairy aisle. Why don't you come on out and I won't have to hurt any of these nice people on the floor here?" Shit.
There was nothing for it. He'd find me anyway. Even if he did kill a few people first. I felt the blood race from my face as I stepped away from the shelf and hesitantly picked my way out from the quiet safety of milks and cheeses and into his fluorescent dominion.
A thin, wiry man with a cocky expression was holding a gun leveled at me, "Ah there you are now. And such a pretty one too!" I grimaced as this greasy weasel grinned at me and gestured with his gun, "Why don't you go over there girl and take a place on the floor huh?"
That's when I noticed the tattoo on his arm. Fuuuuck. This was so much worse than I'd originally thought. A simple robbery I could maybe handle but this...this douchebag just had to be a member of that shadowy organization I had spent the last five years so ardently engaged in dodging. What was he even doing out here? So far from Boston? I mean there was a reason I'd chosen this location and it wasn't to rub elbows mid-holdup with one of their tattooed ilk.
Okay, I thought, I'd just have to keep my head down and my jacket on. He wouldn't be able to see the marks with my jacket on. I dug my hands deeper into my pocket and fingered my knife again. I wouldn't make a move now. It would be stupid with him holding the gun at me like that. I didn't doubt he knew how to use it too. He wouldn't have those tattoos if he didn't.
He must have noticed something about my hands in my pocket though because he said, "now, I need to see those hands in the air. Understand? No need to be trying anything stupid now is there girlie?"
I tensed and slowly raised my hands while walking over toward the other captives cowering on the floor. I was desperately trying to keep my jacket sleeve up and over my right wrist and I almost cried in relief when I reached my fellow hostages and lowering my hands, made to get on the floor beside them.
A second later I realized I was feeling cold air on my naked wrist and I froze. Somehow, I'd let go of the cuff of my jacked and it had slipped to my forearm. I darted my hand down quickly, hoping with all my heart that he hadn't seen. Maybe, just maybe, I'd gotten it down in time. But when I looked up he was already upon me, grabbing my wrist roughly and pulling it back up to his searching eyes.
"Where's your master girl?" No No No No.
He was gripping my wrist so hard I couldn't twist it away. I couldn't laugh and flash it back up under my sleeve, flippant explanation in hand: Oh that? You see I was taking the most beautiful little quiche out of the oven when..... No, I was going to have to stall him.
"Home. He's at home."
I knew it wouldn't work but it was giving me time to reach for my knife with my spare hand. At least now that he'd seen the mark he didn't think I was a threat and he'd let his guard down a little. An arrogance I was well versed at exploiting. I kept my gaze locked on his while I reached into my pocket with my spare hand.
The weasel was still pensively examining my wrist, "Hmmm. I didn't know anybody was out here. Who did you say you belong to?"
And then I acted, sweeping my leg out under his, stepping to the side as he fell forward, turning and gripping him by the hair while I held my knife under his chin. I hadn't spent the past five years watching and copying every self defense video I could get my hands on for nothing.
I pressed my mouth up to his ear and said softly, "I know how to do it so you die very, very slowly."
I could feel his heart pounding faster and a soft "please" escape from him in a whisper. My fear was morphing into pure adrenaline and I pressed the knife a little harder, nicking a little, just to hear him draw in his breath and feel his pulse pound.
"Now, I'm going to take this gun you've got here and I'm going to walk out that door. And you are not under any circumstances going to follow me or tell anyone about me and in return I won't tell the police what those marks tell me about who you are. And where you live. And who you report to."
He nodded slowly as I backed away, warily eying the gun in my hand.
"Wait!" Said a small blond behind the cash register, "what are you doing?"
I had forgotten all about the other hostages but I was running short on luck and I had to disappear from here. Fast. Figure out the steps to another grocery store in another town.
"Don't worry I'm just going to leave. I'm not going to hurt you," I said.
I realized she wasn't talking to me too late. I was backing toward the door, my heart beating frantically when I accidentally backed into the wall. No not a wall. Walls don't breath.
I cried out as a hand snaked around my waist and held me while another wrenched the gun from my hand. I struggled violently against the unrelenting mass behind me but the hand on my stomach spun me around and I looked up into a pair of hard, black eyes. He was looking at me appraisingly, questioningly, "well, well, well what do we have here Jed? You let this little thing get the better of you?"
The weasel, now uncloaked as "Jed", was composing himself, casting a cruel smile my way. "She caught me by surprise is all, Patrick. Check out her wrist."
I pulled futilely at my arms as the behemoth called Patrick captured both my wrists and brought them to his face. His eyes widened and he said, "well aren't you just full of surprises?"
He turned his gaze toward Jed and cocked his head toward the hostages, all of whom were watching this little exchange in confused alarm, no doubt trying to gauge whether they could use the obvious distraction to their advantage. "Her master?" Patrick indicated in their direction.
Jed scanned the heads of his prostrate captives and said, "Doesn't look like it. I didn't notice the mark on any of them and no one's made a move since I grabbed her. I think she's here alone."
Patrick looked back at me, raising his eyebrows, "in this town? Where's your master girl?"
I looked right back at him defiantly.
He chuckled, "Ah okay, I see how it is. Looks like we're just gonna have to find the brand ourselves, aren't we?"
I went cold as the implications of his words shot through me. But still, I resolved I wasn't going to tell them a thing. Not one fucking thing. I wasn't going to help them send me back to Boston. No. Fucking. Way. I'd give them the slip first chance I got and then it was on to Utah or Oregon or Fiji or wherever the hell else these bastards weren't crawling like ants.
Patrick turned back to Jed, never loosening his tight grip on my wrists, "just grab some traveling cash and let's head back to the safe house. Something tells me this girl might be worth more than whatever we'd take from this job."
Jed nodded and grabbed a few wads of cash from the closest register.
Patrick pulled me against him as we walked outside and Jed wound a chain quickly around the door so no one would follow us, spilling the basket of cell phones as he did. They probably had a phone in the back but by the time the police got there we were already speeding away in the piece of crap van these guys deemed a suitable getaway car.
I squirmed on Patrick's lap as we made our way out of town and down a small country road. His grip tightened, "be still now girl. No point in struggling. We got you and that's all there is to it."
I supposed he had a point. I wasn't going to make much headway in a moving car. Besides, I could feel his erection beneath me and I didn't feel much like encouraging it.
When we finally reached a run down shack in the middle of the woods I was quickly hustled inside, no chance to scope out avenues of escape.
The minute we were through the door Patrick spun me around and asked again, "now are you going to tell me who your master is or am I going to have to figure it out for myself." He tapped a finger on my thigh.
I steeled myself but remained as still as ever, holding his gaze with a disdainful glare.
"Fine then if that's the way you want to play it let's just get you out of these here jeans and see what kind of animal we're dealing with huh?" I stiffened but clapped my eyes on a point on the wall and didn't move.
He turned me back toward Jed, "Hey man, why don't you come on over here and get this girl's pants down so we can get a good look at her?"
"Sure thing." Jed grinned hungrily as he approached me and I kicked out at him.
"Now, now that's not very friendly is it?" Jed said sweetly, "Especially when all's we're trying to do is return you to your master. How's about a little gratitude huh?"
"I'll show you gratitude" I bit out as I angled a sharp swing toward his groin. He parried away, then quickly dropped in front of me, placing a strong knee on each foot, trapping them on the floor.
I fought as he reached up for the buttons of my jeans but his fingers worked quickly and he shot me one last grin before he callously yanked them down to my knees. And then he just stared in shock.
"Holy fucking crap."
Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. I felt like my chest was going to explode. Why couldn't I have just burned over it or used a knife to alter it or any one of a number of things I had been sorely tempted but too chicken to attempt over the years? But it was too late now. Now it would be my undoing.
"What?" Said the other shit-for-brains.
"Look at this." He was still pressing my feet tightly to the ground while he motioned his partner's gaze to my thigh. I was holding on to the irrational hope that I could actually explode his brain with my mind if I glared hard enough.
"Fuck me. Is that Cannon's mark?" Now he actually looked me in the eye, undaunted by my glare. "You belong to Jack Cannon?"
"I belong to no one," I spat. I remembered the awful day I had gotten that mark they now regarded with such gravity. All he had proven was that he was stronger. It didn't mean anything.
Jed gestured to my thigh, "Now see though, little lady, that mark there begs to differ."
"And small hands are a sign of a small dick but you don't see me calling you out, dickless."
In a second he was off his knees and his hand shot out. Pain lanced across my face.
"Jesus Jed, lay off. We don't want to have to go explaining to fucking Jack Cannon why his property's all marked up now do we?"
Jed looked sheepish for a moment and said, "s'pose your right Patrick. Little bitch got the better of me for a moment's all. Won't happen again."
"Good. I'm gonna go put her away and then we've got a phone call to make."
"Hey girlie, guess what?"
I was sitting on a cot in the dingy spare room I'd been installed in when Jed came back to tell me the good news.
"Looks like your time with us is gonna be short-lived after all. Your master's on the first flight outta Boston. Gonna be here by this evening!"
This evening. This Evening. I let the words flow over me in stunned silence for a minute. This. Evening. I felt the shape of them on my tongue, let them roll around in my head until their full meaning dropped right down into my stomach.
I felt my heart seize up in my ribcage. Every breath felt like agony. Blood was pounding in my ears and every instinct was screaming at me to run, run, run! Except, this time there was nowhere to run to. No automatic doors to fall into, no senile shoppers to startle. Just a locked door and this pathetic waste of space beaming at me from across the room, a sadistic gleam in his eye.
"Seems he's real interested in seeing you again. Wouldn't be too worried about it though, seeing as you were only gone what? Five years? Not nearly long enough to come up with a real nasty punishment. No, not nearly long enough at all." And with that he turned and closed the door behind him.
I felt sick. That overpowering general kind of sick that extreme dread engenders. It had no locus. It's domain was everywhere and everything and I let it take over until I was clutching at the lip of the toilet in the small bathroom and purging myself of all the tap water and diet cola I had managed to consume in the last two days.
It was a long time before I heard footsteps again. I had inexplicably managed in the ensuing hours to wrestle back some small measure of my self-composure. Utterly terrified and dejected as I was, I was determined not to let it show. I would face him on my own terms. I had earned as much.
Yet, despite my conviction, I reflexively shot up and backed against the wall at the sharp sound of new steps in the hallway outside my door. I knew those footsteps. They were the ones behind me, taking seven strides to my fourteen. Except this time, I reluctantly acknowledged, this time I knew they wouldn't suddenly morph into a jogger or a young mother or a wind-swept soda can. This time my fear would be realized, validated as I never wished it to be.
And there again the genuine sound of his solidified shoes on the wood floor, bringing him slowly and inexorably back into my life. I tried hopelessly to control my breathing. Measuring it to those steps. Step. Breath. Step. Breath. Step.
And then he was standing in the doorway.
He was standing in the doorway not ten feet from me staring right at me with those cool, blue eyes that felt like quicksand. My heart pounded as I tried to read his expression. Tried to weigh just how much trouble I was in. But he just stood there at the door, remorseless gaze running over every inch of me, relearning, reclaiming, stopping briefly at the bruise on my cheek.
"Now, she got a little rough and we might have had to mark her up a bit, but shouldn't be nothing permanent Mr. Cannon." Anger flashed across his face but I wasn't sure if it was for me or the useless, sycophant at his side.
There was nothing for it. I took a few steps away from the wall. I wasn't going to face him as a cornered animal. Not after all this time. On my own. Away from that formidable stare. I lifted my chin and stared right back.
I caught the familiar slant of his thick, black hair brushing over his high forehead, the firm shape of his arms and the smooth dip of his strong chest. Yes, I begrudgingly acknowledged, he was still just as handsome as he had ever been. It had never helped that to an outsider he did not look the part of a cruel demon. Only his ice blue eyes betrayed a coldness that I was all too conscious of.
For a minute we stayed like that. In challenge to the abyss that seemed to yawn between us. Jed looking from one to the other.
But then his mouth curved just slightly and holding my gaze, he lifted his eyebrows in challenge and pointed to the floor at his feet.
Just like that he'd closed the distance and years of pain and indignation exploded inside of me. Anger nearly boiled out of my ears. Who the hell did he think he was? It'd been five years! And he thought I was just going to go back to kneeling at his feet and kissing his shoes. Like nothing had happened? He must have lost his mind in the intervening years.
I bit back a barrage of curses as I took a breath and held my ground. I had to keep it together or I had no chance against him. He was patience personified. I gripped my fingers into balled fists and stuck out my chin out further.
He shrugged and slowly took a step forward. So what? I wasn't going anywhere. Let him try and come for me. He'd regret it. I'd learned a few things since the last time I'd knelt before him. He took another step. And then another. He was in no hurry. My skin felt like it might erupt in fury. Or fear. Or anticipation. And then he was in front me. Not touching.
And that's when I made my move.
I leapt forward and launched my shoulder hard into his chest but instead of putting him off balance as it should have, he only looked surprised before I swung my knee up for his groin. He caught it, holding my knee and forcing me on one leg while he looked at me with renewed interest, "well that's new."
I desperately attempted to wrench my knee from his unforgiving grip, trying to look as defiant as I could on one foot.
He gripped my knee harder and said, "Emma." As much in warning as in greeting.
I looked right back into his eyes and said "Jack" with all the confidence I could evince in my compromised position.
His lip quirked up slightly and I took the opportunity to assert, "I'm not going back with you, Jack."
Now he smiled fully, "well, then this is awkward," he let go of my knee and stepped back calmly "because that's exactly what I say you'll do and as I'm sure you'll remember..." He smiled again and made sure I was looking at him closely, "what I say goes." I tried to keep my calm. I really tried. But suddenly I couldn't breathe. I felt the bile rising from my stomach and the blood rushing from my face. And then everything went dark.
When I came to I was on the floor and his powerful arms were trapping me in his lap. He was looking down at me sternly, "when was the last time you ate?"
I scowled, trying to pull away from his grasp. He tightened his hands and raised an eyebrow, "answer me Emma."