I was swaying. Or maybe I was flying. I couldn’t be certain, but the quiet thrum of an engine hinted at some sort of motion. That annoying rumble pricked at the edge of consciousness, threatening to take me somewhere I didn’t want to go.
His name stormed through my blood, turning it to ice. I was trapped. He’d trapped me, locked me away from the world and from myself, reducing me to something unimportant. Meaningless.
A voice tunneled through my ears and landed somewhere in the muck of my mind. I clung to the blackness, every part of me revolting at the thought of forcing my eyes open. I was safe in this place, in this nothingness where I could just be.
But the voice was persistent. Someone curled their fingers around my bicep and shook me. Slowly, I came back to a reality I didn’t want to face, to an existence that was unavoidable, inevitable even. Cloth stuffed the cavity of my mouth, and I choked on a muffled cry. The gentle sway of movement reminded me of a trunk, bringing about panic. Swift and debilitating—it held me in its unmerciful grasp.
That voice washed over me again as cold fingers pulled the gag from my dry lips. I let out a scream that was little more than a hoarse plea for survival.
“Shhh, you’re okay,” he said, slapping a palm over my mouth until the scream died in my throat. His voice resonated in the deepest part of my soul, even at the level of a breathy whisper, and my heart tripped over in its haste to beat.
“Rafe?” I blinked against the pitch-black, eyes burning with the threat of relieved tears. In that foggy state of here and there, I’d feared I was back in Zach’s trunk, alone with the weight of Rafe’s death pressing on me. I squirmed, trying to maneuver so I could turn over and face him, inhale his scent, hold on and never let go…except I couldn’t move my hands.
As if he knew what I needed, he tugged at the bindings with deft fingers. I scooted forward and bit my lip, impatient to be in his arms.
“Hold on, baby.” His tone was rife with the same impatience. Several long seconds passed in each thud of my heartbeat, and the rope loosened in tiny degrees before dropping free. “C’mere.”
I wiggled to my back and bumped into his warm, naked chest.
“Just a little more,” he said, inching back to give me more room. I flopped over, and he crushed me in his embrace.
“What happened?” I asked, burying my face in the crook of his shoulder. But it was a stupid question. This wasn’t my first ride in the back of a trunk—as the dread in my belly and the fear souring my taste buds reminded me.
“You’re okay. I’ve got you.” Though his words came out calm, his pulse, sprinting to the fervent pace of mine, gave him away. We were far from okay. His nose nudged my temple, and I lifted my face in the darkness, shivering under the warm press of his lips on my skin. He brushed a kiss over each eyelid then dipped to my mouth, barely touching, and leaned his forehead against mine.
For a few moments, we just breathed.
No talk of what was coming next.
Nothing but comfort traded on the breath of our lips.
It didn’t last. The moment was too perilous, and falling into its trap would only foster a false sense of calm.
“How did we get here?” I searched my memory for a clue but couldn’t find one.
“They took us. Four or five of them, maybe more.”
“Oh my God.” A throb began at my temples and spread to the rest of my skull. With a groan, I tucked my head under his chin, unable to think beyond the pain.
“Are you hurt?”
“My head’s pounding.”
“Probably from the drugs,” he said. “Do you remember anything?”
“No.” My breath shuddered against his neck, and a niggle of a memory flourished in my mind; the hint of soft footsteps, a drift of air as the sheet lifted, the hope that rose in me when the mattress dipped at the edge. “Wait…someone got in bed with me. I thought it was you. Next thing I know, I’m waking up here.”
“They drugged me too.”
Whoever had taken us, and for whatever reasons, I was glad we’d landed in this trunk together. At least we were still together.
“Do you think Zach had something to do with it?” I asked, though the number of men involved in taking us implied otherwise. My brother had always been a loner.
“I don’t know.” He fell quiet, and the length of that pause carried special weight, an air of significance. “They set the island on fire.”
“They what?” Of course, Zach was my first suspect, but something seemed off, especially since Rafe was still alive, trapped in the trunk with me this time, and I couldn’t think of a single reason why my brother would take the time to burn the island. “Who else could’ve done this?”
“Your father, maybe? And I’m not ruling out Zach.”
“But you said there were four or five of them?”
“Yeah.” He tried to hide a groan, and I imagined him biting his lip to silence the sound.
“What is it?” I asked, wishing I could see his face.
“The drugs are still in my fucking system. I’m useless, Alex. They broke in, and I didn’t even realize it. I shouldn’t have let this happen.” He grabbed the base of my neck and tilted my head upwards, and his worried sigh breezed across my lips. “If they hurt you…”
I couldn’t dwell on what they wanted, on how they outnumbered us. I clutched his hair and held him to me, finding sanctuary in his presence even if we were trapped in a trunk together, half dressed, drugged, and possibly facing death.
“At least I’m here with you.”
“I don’t want you here with me. I want you somewhere safe.” He abruptly let go and rolled to his back. “If I can find an escape latch, or maybe break a taillight…” He kicked several times, each thwack of his foot escalating in effort. “Fuck!”
I pushed up on my elbows. “Something’s glowing over there. See it? By your feet,” I said, realizing he couldn’t see where I was pointing in the blackness.
“Yeah. Looks like the escape latch.” A loud thunk sounded, as if he’d bumped his head. “Damn it! I can’t reach it.”
“I might be able to.” I leaned over him and inched my way down his stomach and thighs. Stretching for all I was worth, I curled my fingers around the glowing handle and yanked, but nothing happened. “It’s not working!”
“Shit. They probably fucked with it.” He shifted underneath me, and I planted a palm on the fabric lining of the trunk to steady myself. I gripped his leg with my other hand.
“Check down there for anything we can use as a weapon.” He scooted again, causing me to plop between his legs, and we became a tangle of twisted limbs as we maneuvered.
I reached out but only found empty space. “There’s nothing here, Rafe.”
“There’s gotta be a spare tire under here. Maybe I can find a lug wrench. Hold on.” He rolled, taking me with him, and my backside pressed against the back of the trunk as he lifted the flimsy floor beneath us. “I feel the tire.”
“Is there a wrench?”
A few seconds of unbearable silence passed before he answered. “No. Can’t find shit. Can’t see shit either.” We rolled again, and his fingers clamped around my bare thigh. “Give me your hand.”
I complied, and he yanked me up his body and back into his arms. “Alex…we don’t know what’s coming. When I tell you to run, promise you’ll do it and never look back. Promise me.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
He grabbed my chin, as if to force my gaze even though we couldn’t see each other. “When we get out of here, you’re gonna run for your life. Do you understand me?”
I tried shaking my head, but he wouldn’t allow it. “I mean it, Alex.”
“They could kill you.”
“I can’t defend us both against a gang of men. You running gives me my best chance.”
He was feeding me a line of bullshit.
“Don’t choose now to be stubborn,” he said, as if he’d heard my internal protest. “Just do as I say.”
The next few moments held me in a death grip, and a shiver went through me. This could be it. “Kiss me,” I choked out.
“Alex…” he said, a touch of warning in his tone.
I angled my face, sensing the heat of his mouth. “Kiss me.” The demand whispered from my lips, and I cursed the fear and grief stinging my eyes. He wanted me to fight, to believe we’d survive, but I wasn’t sure I had it in me. Too much had happened and I didn’t have any fight left.
But I needed his kiss. No matter what came next, I wanted the taste of him with me, on my tongue, branded in my memory. Maybe I could survive if I had that to hold on to.
He expelled a breath an instant before he pressed his mouth to mine. Parting my lips, he thrust his tongue inside and dueled me into surrender. One hand fisted my hair, yanking my head back, allowing him a deeper possession of my mouth. We both moaned, a sorrowful sound of desperation laced with need, maybe even hope.
Except hope was a sword that would slice us into pieces if we let it.
The frantic slide of his tongue speared through me with a delirious ache, and I whimpered. Everything fell away; the scars on my body, the coffin-like space that held us prisoner, the loss of his memory—it all vanished in the fray of our need for each other. Eventually, we severed the connection but hovered inches apart, our choppy breaths blending with the sound of the road beneath us.
Then the car slowed and the brake lights cast his face in eerie red. My pulse, already galloping from his kiss, took off in a sprint. “I love you, Rafe.”
“Don’t you dare say goodbye to me yet.” His brows furrowed, and I couldn’t resist running my thumb over one.
The car turned and we swayed with the motion. I held my breath, only letting it out after the vehicle regained speed. We clutched each other, awaiting the inevitable confrontation that would come when the tires stopped spinning. Time was lost to the lull of the road, distorted in every brake and turn. The wheels slowed to a crawl on rough ground, bouncing over potholes and ridges.
We lurched, hitting a particularly bad spot, and I cried out his name then pressed my lips to his again, wishing I could freeze this moment. I could live my life in this trunk with him, our bodies entwined, mouths fused, and find peace.
But that was impossible. We rolled to a stop and the rumble of the engine fell silent. Blackness and fear coiled around us as our fate hung on a thread. Heavy steps rounded the side of the car, and someone jingled a set of keys.
“I want you to run, Alex. When I tell you to go, don’t even hesitate.”
With a nod, I swallowed and managed to squeak my agreement, but deep down, I knew.
I’d die before leaving him to face this alone.