A calm comes over me. “Are you going to kill me, too?”
“So far, you haven’t shown you can follow orders very well, have you?”
“I won’t tell on you,” I blurt out.
We’re heading west, out of the city. The party seems like a million years ago. They’ll be sitting down for dinner now. Wondering where I am. Will they think I left?
The man’s face is in shadows. Streetlamps flash over his face as the van moves along, revealing a nose carved out of granite and a strong jaw. I wouldn’t call him handsome. He’s too rough-hewn for that, like someone forgot to sand over the angles.
“Be quiet.” His soft menace is directed at me this time. I shrink in my seat.
We’re going into a run-down suburb, Westdale or Ferndale or something, a place with a lot of little tiny box homes. It’s a place I never go. We wind through the streets, deeper and deeper.
It’s hard to even look at him. That means acknowledging what’s happening to me. This is real. I may never make it out of this alive. That’s what I think when I turn my head to the side, glance at him from beneath low lashes. Which makes his gray Henley and dark-wash jeans seem way too ordinary. If this were the day I was going to die, wouldn’t he be wearing something more dramatic?
But that’s just wishful thinking from my panicked mind. He can hurt me wearing anything. I’m so deep in danger it’s hard to breathe.
He slows on a far block and turns. The van headlights hit overgrown weeds and the charred remains of a house. The place burned at one time, long ago.
He circles around and goes into the alley behind it. He shoves it into park and does something to the wires that make it shut off. He turns to me. “I’m gonna get out and deal with this guy. If you move out of this seat, I’ll kill you. And if, by some miracle, you manage to get away, I’m going to kill everybody you called on this phone in the last month. Can you guess how? I’ll give you a hint. A meat hook is involved.”
I suck in a breath. He doesn’t bother to wait for my answer. He gets out, yanks open the back door, and drags the man out—I can tell by the thuds. More punching sounds come from behind the van. The groans and garbled pleas sound worse and worse.
I huddle in my seat, listening to a man get beaten to death.
Bile rises up in my throat. I have only a few seconds to decide what to do—throw up in the van or throw up outside. He’s told me not to leave. He’s threatened my life, threatened to snap my neck. But I have an entire lifetime of my mother’s voice in my head. I have sixteen years of decorum forcing me to fumble for the door handle and push my way out.
I make it two feet away before dropping to my hands and knees and throwing up in the weeds behind the place. For all I know, he’ll kill me for this. For all I know, he’d have killed me for doing this in the van. He’s insane.
There’s not much that lands on the ground. A bottle of smartwater and some strawberries don’t leave a lot to vomit, but my stomach still heaves again and again until I’m sore, until I’m choking on bile, wrung dry.
I sit back on my feet, wiping my face, panting, one hand on the rough concrete, head down. The sounds back there have changed. There’s this grunting and a grinding sound, then a crack. It makes me want to throw up all over again.
If he’s going to kill me, I’d rather not see it coming. I guess I hope he does it fast. That’s what they always say in movies.
I hear a thump in the back of the van and then the sound of the door shutting. Footsteps coming toward me.
I force my breathing to slow. He’s behind me. I stay still.
“You’ve never seen shit like this, have you?” he asks, his voice almost conversational.
It makes me shiver, how he can sound so normal after killing a man.
My voice is low. “No.”
“You’ve only seen—what? Parties? Fancy shit?”
There’s judgment in his voice and something else. Curiosity? I can use that. I have to use that, because it’s the only tool I have. I sit back on my knees, brushing my hands against each other to wipe off the gravel. My white and pink dress is stained with blood and dirt. My cell phone is in his pocket. If I want to survive this, I need to persuade him to let me go.
“Parties,” I force myself to say in agreement. Make him see you as a person. “Tonight was my birthday party.”
He doesn’t say anything.
I look up at him. His face is cast in shadows by the moon. Demonic. Unforgiving. I wonder how I look to him, down on the ground in a dirty alley.
“Please just let me go back there,” I whisper. “Nobody has to know.”
He lowers to his haunches and brushes a strand of slick hair from my face. His thumb lingers on my cheek, brushing over my skin. “You’re right,” he says, voice musing. “No one saw me take you. No one even knew I was there. No one has to know.”
“What does that mean?” I whisper.
He stands, sucking in a ragged breath. My heart pounds as his eyes move over me.
I’ve never felt so helpless, so alone. I’m a sacrifice, kneeling at the feet of a beautiful, brutal demon.