Claire is screaming from upfront to keep driving, but the engine stalls.
I kick Patrick’s dead body off of me and stand, perspiration coating my skin. I’m point-two seconds away from passing the fuck out. My body is beginning to shut down from the physical trauma, but I can’t allow it to just yet.
Jay quickly unbuckles and stands. “Come on, they’re waiting for us,” he urges, noting the state of duress I’m in.
“I need to take care of Claire,” I say, but that notion dies the second we bust open the van doors. Other cars have already stopped on the side of the road, getting out of their vehicles to check on us.
I can’t kill a woman in front of civilians, no matter how tempted I am.
Just as Jay and I crawl out, Claire emerges from the passenger side, a wild look on her face.
“Don’t you dare,” she hisses through her teeth. Red lipstick stains them, giving her a feral look.
When she has no answer, I shoot her a wink just to get her asshole clenching from anger, and head towards the huge military-grade van waiting for me.
“Hey, man, you good?” a passerby asks.
“Yep, all good. Thanks for stopping,” I say over my shoulder. The bright headlights from his car highlight the incredulous look on his face as he watches me climb into the open doors.
Michael’s face greets me, and I nearly sigh in relief. If he’s alive, that means the little girl we saved from the ritual is, too.
He leans forward and helps me in, assumingly noticing the agony painted on my face. I can feel my scars tightening, now incapable of concealing the misery. My poker face has cracked.
I’m ready to let Jesus take the wheel. The second I collapse on the bench, Michael pounds once on the wall, and we take off.
“We need to get him to a hospital,” Jay says, glancing at me with concern. “A bomb went off, and Zade was within range of the blast.”
“Why the fuck did they set off a bomb?” Michael asks.
“My guess is it was one of the self-destruct bombs, implanted specifically to destroy all evidence and anyone inside. They’re commonly in places with top-secret information in case they’re infiltrated or compromised.”
I grunt. “We’ll have to check in with who was impacted by the explosion and make sure none of ours were killed.”
Jay nods, and I turn my attention to Michael. “You get the girl out safely?”
“Yep,” he confirms. “With Ruby, and on her way to get treatment.”
I nod, some of the pressure easing off my shoulders, but not nearly enough. It’s like the Empire State Building is resting on them, and only a penny fell off.
They still have Addie, and the rage is steadily churning beneath the surface. I’m going to burn the entire fucking world down until I find her, and I don’t care who gets burnt.
“Do we know anything about who was involved in her kidnapping?” I ask, voice tight with fury, clicking off the video on my laptop. I just finished watching the surveillance footage of Addie’s car crash, caught by several streetlight cams. Watching her being dragged from her car, knocked out, then carried into the van has me shaking with rage.
Jay is already working on tracking it through street and security cams, but it doesn’t feel like enough.
I’ve only been admitted in the hospital for a few hours, and I’m seconds away from leaving again.
Thankfully, I didn’t suffer any serious damage. My entire back is black and blue from when I was propelled into the altar, but there wasn’t any
internal bleeding like I had feared.
I got lucky I didn’t break my goddamn back, but I damn near came close to it.
“Her picture was posted to a forum on the dark web a day before she was taken. The poster was anonymous, of course, but the ad reads that if anyone brings Addie in alive, then they’d receive a fucking massive reward.”
But I don’t even need him to answer. I’ve already located the original ad, which has since been deleted, but nothing is ever truly erased from the internet. I click the ad, and Addie’s face pops up. Beautiful unusually light brown eyes, cinnamon hair, and a light dusting of freckles peppering her nose and cheeks.
My heart clenches at her smiling face—the same picture used as her author photo outside the bookstore, and the very one that instantly drew me into her. It still has the same effect on me as it did then.
The price tag is listed right beneath it in bold, red letters. Twelve million dollars.
Pocket change to those handing it out, but an incredible amount to the smaller fish in the pond. An amount that someone would have to work hard to spend in their lifetime.
“Fuck,” I mutter, pinching the bridge of my nose between my fingers. A massive migraine is blooming, and restlessness invades my senses. I want to claw out of my own skin, if only it means Addie will be waiting for me on the other side.
Jay’s lips are tense. “I know who answered the ad, and who was responsible for her kidnapping.”
I drop my hand and pin a look to my right-hand man, waiting for him to drop the proverbial bomb. Dread washes over me, and I have a feeling this one might actually succeed in killing me.
“Max,” he says quietly.
My eyes close, and my control finally shatters, slipping through my fingers like sand in an hourglass. It was only a matter of time, and the last grain has now fallen.
Inky-black darkness corrodes every cell in my body until there is no light left within me.
Red consumes my vision, and I snap into motion. My laptop is launched across the hospital room, the loud crash from it slamming through equipment and into the wall swallowed by the roar ripping from my throat.
I convulse violently from the force of the piercing wail falling past my lips, so long and sorrowful that it tapers off into a silent scream. Heaving in a breath again, another thunderous cry explodes out of me as I grab the bedside table and launch that next.
Without sight, the IV pole follows, whipping it towards a window and nearly shattering it from the force, the pinch from the needle being torn from my skin imperceptible.
My hearing goes after that as if I’m underwater and all sound is diluted. The tide batters into me, drawing me into its clutches and sending me spiraling down into the black pit of despair at the bottom.
My hands grab at more equipment, all of it crashing to the tile as anguish tears through my chest.
This is my fault.
All my fucking fault.
Just as I stand, muffled shouting arises, and I feel several sets of hands grab my body at once and shove me back down. I fight against their hold, continuing to roar, but my blindness works against me.
Straps circle around my wrists and chest, imprisoning me to the hospital bed.
But I’m too far gone.
Despite the frantic hands attempting to hold me down beneath the binds, my legs swing over the bed and I stand, straining against the weight threatening to take me back down.
My chest heaves and my vision becomes spotty, allowing me only snippets of my blurred surroundings. Four frightened nurses and Jay crowding me, eyes wide and faces pale as I stand before them with a nearly two-hundred-pound bed strapped to my back.
I am no longer a man—only a beast succumbing to primal instinct. I am annihilation.
“Sir, please calm down!” one of the nurses pleads shrilly, her green eyes nearly black with fear. I pant, my chest tight from lack of oxygen and the
strap straining against my chest.
I can’t, I can’t. She’s gone because of me.
How am I supposed to fucking live with that?
I shake my head, my energy depleting steadily. Words evade me and I stumble, struggling to right myself.
“Unstrap him,” Jay demands sharply, already aiming for the one secured around my chest. He waits until one of the nurses unclips them from my hands before he releases the buckle. The bed falls to the ground with a deafening boom.
Security guards come barreling into the room, skidding across the cluttered tile when they see the absolute carnage.
Jay gets in my face and shouts, “Quit acting like a fucking lunatic and get it together! Trashing a hospital isn’t going to save her.”
My vision clears, and the wreckage becomes apparent. Shit.
That potent fury is still present, spewing from my pores, but I manage to keep it in check. Enough that it just steams.
“What the hell…” a security guard says, his young face painted with utter disbelief.
“He’s okay,” a nurse huffs out. She’s an older woman with short blonde hair and large wire-rimmed glasses that take up half her face.
She approaches me like one would a crocodile with its mouth wide open, her hand steady as she grabs my arm and lifts it.
A tiny trail of blood leaks down my arm from where the IV was ripped out, stemming from a tear in my skin no longer than half an inch.
“That… that is a nasty wound, sir. You better sit down so I can fix you up before you keel over and die where you stand,” she orders, her voice stern as she points me towards the skewed bed.
It’s just a scratch, and we both know that, but I sit anyway. I watch her as she grabs a bandage from a cupboard and begins to blot the blood.
A few of the guards question Jay and one of the nurses while the other two rush from the room, red and shaking. I can’t manage to feel an ounce of guilt.
Not when there’s a black hole in my chest where Addie once took up residence.
“Want to talk about it?” she asks quietly, dabbing up the blood with a piece of gauze.
“No,” I mutter.
“Well,” she titters, sticking a small Band-Aid on my arm next. It has dinosaurs on it, and all I can do is stare. If I didn’t feel so empty, I’d laugh at how pathetic it looks.
“You can either tell me or tell the police. And I know you’re a big, burly man—you’ve gone out of your way to prove that part—and police officers probably don’t scare you, but I’d rather you spend the rest of your time in this hospital not handcuffed to a bed.”
I pause. “I’ll just stand up again and walk out with it.”
She looks up at me, and then a chuckle slips past her pink lips. “That’s fair. You have your heart broken?”
I raise a brow, and though she has to work to swallow, she doesn’t relent.
I soften my face and sigh. Right now, I appreciate her candor.
“You could say that.” I sniff, rolling my arm to look at the Band-Aid again. They’re green T-Rexes, mouths open in a roar. I imagine I didn’t look much different not two minutes ago.
“She was taken. Kidnapped.”
The nurse gasps, quiet and soft, but it feels like a shout when I’m so hollow.
“It’s my fault. I didn’t…” I trail off, deciding it’s best not to tell her that I didn’t kill a man who I should’ve, a long time ago. “I need to get her back.”
She blows out a shaky breath and straightens. “I’ll make sure no charges are pressed so you can save her.” She points to the Band-Aid. “Maybe no more life-threatening injuries, yeah?”
I grace her with a strained smile, and assure, “I’ll pay for the damages.” “That would be appreciated,” she says.
I nod and turn my attention to the ground. The white tile blurs as I feel her presence leave, replaced with Jay’s.
“I know where he is,” he murmurs.
I look up at him, murder in my eyes. He tightens his lips, knowing I’m not going to settle down.
“Let your body heal, man. You’ll be useless otherwise. We’ll get him, and find where they took her the second you’re not broken anymore. You may be able to move now, but the next few days are going to hit hard,
especially now that you walked around with a big-ass bed on your back. Your very injured back, might I add.”
“The longer I wait, the more likely she is to disappear. To suffer and have unimaginable things happen to her,” I argue through clenched teeth. The muscle in my jaw is nearly ripping through my flesh from how hard I’m grinding them.
He bends down and puts his hands on my shoulders, dipping his chin until he catches my eyes. I glare at him, wanting to go back to not being able to hear or see anything.
Jay is stupidly brave and doesn’t back down.
“I promise you, man, I will have the team looking for her. I will do everything in my power to get us closer to her.” The intensity in his words and stare is easing my anxiety as much as it’s capable, which is microscopic.
I’ll never be able to relax, to not feel my insides twisting into knots and the panic gnawing at my heart until there’s nothing left.
I know my body is going to give out on me, but nothing—and I mean,
nothing—is going to keep me from finding her.
Clenching my fists, I nod. I have no plans to stay in this hospital. To stay still. But arguing right now isn’t going to change anything at the moment.
I need rest. Lots of it. Because the second I open my eyes, I won’t close them again until Max’s head is in my hands.
“You can’t just bust down the door all willy-nilly, Zade.”
“The fuck I can’t,” I bark, glowering at Jay as he meticulously paints his nails eggplant purple from the seat next to my hospital bed.
It’s the fifth day, and I’m green in the face with anxiety and frustration. I made five escape attempts within the first two days, but they kept knocking my ass out with drugs to the point where I completely lost time. I stopped escaping because I’d rather be semi-useful behind a computer than be dead to the world and not be doing anything at all.
The only other reason I gave in was that I was physically incapable of even squeezing my ass cheeks without my vision going black with pain.
I may not have suffered any life-threatening injuries, but my body is sure acting like it did.
Jay curses softly under his breath when he gets a dot of nail polish on his skin, poking his tongue out as he carefully wipes the paint off.
My new computer is on my lap, the camera feed showing Max and the twins, Landon and Luke, lounging in his office, drinking expensive scotch and probably laughing over the big deposit that just came through to his bank account.
Twelve million dollars. The price for kidnapping Addie.
“You know he didn’t do it himself,” Jay reminds me, and then holds up his hands to marvel over his work.
I sigh, the veins in my hands popping as I clench them tight. “I know,” I seethe.
Max and the twins were at a club when Addie was kidnapped. Which means he knew where to find her and hired grunt men to do the work. And that means whoever he hired will most likely be receiving a cut from his reward. A job like that wouldn’t come without a high price, and though Max has money, he doesn’t have that much. Not until today, at least.
Now, we’re waiting for him to transfer whatever sum of cash to the lackeys he promised it to. Then, we’ll be able to trace the money trail and confirm their identities based on the account information.
If we’re lucky, Max is as dumb as he looks and doesn’t hide his tracks well enough.
Jay will handle that part while I take care of Max.
I could send in another mercenary to torture the information out of him, but this method will be much faster, and I refuse to let anyone else touch him except me.
Only I will show Max what pain truly feels like. Even then, he will only feel a fraction of what I feel without Addie.
I roll my neck, groaning as it cracks. When I look back down, an alert comes through.
Three million dollars has just been transferred to an offshore account. It takes me two seconds to find the name attached to it.
Through the camera feed, Max is now setting down his phone and then cheers, clinking his whiskey glass with the twins.
I look up at Jay, rolling my eyes as he blows softly on his wet fingernails. He’s going to chip the paint in two seconds with the amount of typing he does, which is why the colors change every couple of days. He’s a nail biter, and the polish helps keep that habit at bay, though it’s been virtually useless these past five days.
As much as he’s trying to play it cool, Addie being gone has him crippled with anxiety. He’s only seen her through a computer screen, but he doesn’t need to know her in order to know that she doesn’t deserve this, and if she were to die… the world would die with her.
For now, I will begin with Max.