Released

Chapter Excerpt

Prologue

 

The sound of metal hitting metal vibrates around the dimly lit corridor. My head spins around to look for the source as I wait nervously for the next sound to come. To anybody else it’s just an innocent noise, but to me, it’s something else entirely. I hear it. The taunting whistling tune of my current nightmare.

     My eyes widen as the unwelcome feeling of fear builds inside me. It’s a feeling I told myself I would never have again. Jumping up from the hard bed I am sitting on, I slide down to the cold concrete floor, pushing my weak body across the dirty slabs until my back hits the stone wall on the far side of the room, furthest away from the door.

     Pulling my bare knees up to my chest, I rest my chin on them, keeping my eyes firmly on the only entrance. Heavy footsteps grow closer, the whistling gets louder, mocking me. I press my hands over my ears and squeeze my eyes shut, I pretend I am anywhere but here right now.

     “Stay away from me,” I shout once he reaches my door. My voice is dry and shaky, not intimidating at all. I hate myself for that. I told myself that I would be strong and fearless. Right now, I simply look pathetic.

     He bangs his baton hard against the bars of my cell and laughs menacingly when I jump at the harsh sound. He likes to see me scared, it’s the only reason he comes down here.

     “Good morning, sunshine. It’s such a beautiful day today. It’s a shame you won’t get to see it,” Officer Chester Bickle teases in his usual gruff voice. He leans against the thick bars with his large, tattooed arms crossed over his chest.

     “Stay away from me, pig,” I spit, putting as much venom into my voice as I can. My eyes narrow as I glare at the man of authority who has tormented me since day one.

     “Feeling a bit feisty today, are we?” Chester laughs. He leans away from the bars, looking down the hallway, making sure the coast is clear, before reaching into his pocket. My eyes widen as the jangle of keys makes my body tense. Why did I have to provoke him? My cell is unlocked and in he steps.

     “I think I saw a weapon just now,” he shouts with a gleam in his muddy brown eyes. Guards aren’t allowed to be in a cell of any prisoner without just cause. We both know it, so he lies.

     My hands come up to cover my face as Chester rushes forward. He pulls his hand back, forming a fist. I cry out and brace myself, waiting for the blow that never comes.

     Chester turns serious now as he grabs my wrists, pinning me against the wall with just one strong hand. Using his foot he makes me spread my legs. I close my eyes as I notice the look in his eyes change. I know what comes next. With my eyes closed, I try to get my mind to leave my body.

     With his free hand, Chester pats me down, similar to how he would do a body search on incoming visitors. Starting at my neck, he works his way down. Only a thin cotton top and a bra separates his hand from my skin as he roughly massages my breasts. He groans quietly as his hand moves over my flat stomach. My leg moves as I bring my knee up hard, hoping to catch him off guard as I try to ward off his advances. In response, he tightens his grip on my wrists and glares at me. I cry out from the pain that spreads across them as his hand cups the sensitive area between my legs.

     My body tenses as Chester runs a fat finger back and forth over my cotton covered folds. Tears run down my cheeks as I feel his hot breath on my neck, the smell of cigarettes wafting into my face as he whispers what he wants to do to my body.

     I collapse to the floor a moment later as Chester releases the hold on my wrists. I take in gulps of air as I curl myself into a ball, watching Chester calmly leave my cell.

     A sadistic smile creeps on to my face as a thought occurs to me. A thought that keeps me going. Damien is going to kill Chester when he finds out he has touched me. I find myself not caring about the loss of life in this moment. The corrupt police officer deserves it. I’ll even watch Chester die with a smile if I can. That thought makes me very happy.

     Some time later, when I’m sure nobody will bother me, I reach under the bed and grab a pointed rock that hides there. Holding it firmly in my hand, I use it to make another chalk-like mark on the wall under the bed, before hiding it away again. If Chester finds it, he will have every reason to punish me for having a weapon in my cell. There will be no stopping him.

     I count the white lines on the wall. There are one hundred and fourteen lines now. One hundred and fourteen days is how long I have been stuck in here. The guards say nothing. I know nothing about what has happened or what will happen. I don’t even know if I have been put in here to rot or if I’ll one day be free. I am treated like the criminal I am. The only time I see anyone is when Chester brings me food. I used to use that as a way to keep track of the days, but Chester is a cruel man and sometimes I don’t get any food. The marks are the only way to keep track, without them, I fear I’ll lose my mind.

     Time passes, what feels like hours, when footsteps once again echo down the hallway. Through the small slit high up on the wall of my cell, the bright sun shines a beam of light down on to a spot on the floor. I sit in the beam’s spotlight, feeling the sun on my back, it’s a luxury I don’t get often.

     I haven’t had any food all day, so when Chester appears in front of my cell holding a tray, I don’t shy away. I scramble to my feet and wait as his chubby frame invades my space. He smooths his thick moustache as he stares at me with a grin.

     “No!” I scream, grabbing the tray before he has a chance to sabotage my meal. His grip is too strong though and he pushes me back harshly. I lose my footing and fall on my butt.

     I watch in disgust as he picks up the fresh looking piece of bread from the tray and licks it before putting it back down. He then pours what looks like soup on the floor. My heart sinks and my stomach rumbles at the thought of another day with no food. I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this.

     Chester takes the bread and puts it in my hand. I quickly throw it away and wipe my hand on my trousers in disgust. Chester laughs and throws the now empty plastic tray at me. I duck but it still catches me on the forehead, making me wince.

     I scream as all the anger and frustration pours out of me.

     One hundred and fourteen days. How many more will pass?

     Days go by with the same routine. Chester torments me. Chester brings me food. Sometimes I get to eat it. When I am left alone, I sit on the bed and let my mind wander. With a sigh, I look at my bare hand, tracing the tan line created by my wedding ring. Damien has been on my mind every day since I got here. By now Carlos would have done his part in getting Damien out of prison. At least I hope he has. There’s no way he would let his best man rot behind bars. I imagine Damien is free now, hiding somewhere while he plans his next move: rescuing me and getting our daughter back.

     “Soon we will be together again,” I whisper with a smile.

     Everywhere suddenly goes dark as the lights go out. I stifle a scream as my world is plunged into darkness. The prisoners in the cells around me all start to scream. My mind goes back to the time I was locked up in Dante’s warehouse, when I was locked up in a cell smaller than this and the screams and moans of the other girls filled me with terror.

     Rotten food mixed with fresh blood, sweat, and tears fills my nose. I almost vomit as the memories resurface. The past playing in my mind like an old movie. The feelings I have fought so hard to keep locked away now burst to the surface. I squeeze my eyes shut and cover my ears as the noise becomes too much. Terror floods my body like a broken dam.

     “Stop!” I scream, “Leave me alone!” I cower in the corner as I feel the pain from when Dante shot me after trying to escape. I watch in my mind as he pulls the trigger and I feel the burn of the bullet hitting me. My hand comes up to my shoulder where the scar remains. I watch as I am forced on Katenka’s table and go through unimaginable pain. I scream at Dante and Katenka to let me go. I scream at Chester to leave me be.

     A hand touches my shoulder and I scream in fear. My eyes fly open and my hands ball into fists, ready to fend off any and all attackers. I don’t see a scary man trying to attack me, I see a small woman standing over me with a look of pity. I wipe my tear stained cheeks and put on a brave face, not wanting this woman’s pity and sympathy. Her lips dip into a frown.

     “What is she doing in a cell?” she shouts at Chester who stands just behind her. The smug smile on his face tells me he witnessed my breakdown. That smile disappears once the woman swings around to face him, hands on hips.

     “She’s a prisoner here, where else would she be?” Chester laughs like the woman asked a stupid and obvious question. The woman, however, does not find it amusing and glares at him. She sighs deeply and pinches her nose in frustration. She addresses Chester like a child.

     “This girl is a kidnap victim, held in cages just like this and abused for months. You do not put someone like that in a jail cell. Are you trying to traumatise her further?” she asks calmly. I can hear the edge in her voice. Who is this woman?

     “Er,” Chester stutters with a frown when he realises she is waiting for him to answer the question. The woman sighs and writes something down on the small clipboard she is holding. Chester glares at me, like it is somehow my fault that he got in trouble. No doubt I’ll pay for that later. I ignore his stares and instead focus on the woman I am starting to like.

     The small woman wears a charcoal pant suit with a low collared shirt that shows off her long neck and her hour glass figure. Her dark hair is pulled back into a ponytail that flows down past her slender shoulders. Her thin lips are pursed and her frown deep as she focuses on her clipboard. A manicured finger comes up to scratch her sun-kissed cheek before she continues writing. From Chester’s obedience, I’d say this is a woman of importance. I can feel the confidence roll off her.

     “Get me the man in charge,” the woman tells Chester, who glares at me before running off to obey his command. The woman then turns to me and smiles, showing me her perfect white teeth. “Let’s get you out of this cell, shall we?” she says to me. She holds her hand out toward me, waiting patiently. I hesitate before taking it and allowing her to pull me to my feet.

     “Who are you?” I ask timidly.

     “Oh, I’m so sorry, my dear,” she laughs, “Lauren Foster. I’ll be your lawyer,” she tells me with a gentle smile. I frown. The thought of a lawyer never crossed my mind before now.

     “What? You didn’t think you’d be left to rot in here did you?” Lauren asks after a moment. I don’t know what I thought. The evidence against me must be piled up high at this point. I had started to think they threw me in here and threw away the key.

     Lauren made a big fuss and threatened some people in order to get me moved from my small cell to a slightly bigger room that the jail has for special prisoners. I’m still locked up, but the walls and floor will be clean and there will be no bars. The voices in my head that come with a cage will leave me alone again. I can once again lock up those feelings and the memories and bury them deep inside.

     Lauren’s appearance has made me rethink everything I had started to believe. Maybe there is hope for me yet. Maybe I can be free of this place and finally reunite with my family.

     I spread my arms wide and spin in a circle in the middle of my new room, laughing happily at how bright it is. The pale blue walls have a calming effect and the even lighter blue floor is polished under my feet. A single bed is pushed against the wall, and a steel toilet and sink sit in the far corner. A barred window brings my attention to the far wall and I smile as I walk over to it. Standing at eye level, the window shows me a view of the outside world.

     The hot sun shines high up in the clear blue sky, while a gentle breeze rustles the leaves of a nearby tree. I can hear the low chatter of the people in the courtyard below. From this viewpoint, I can see that I am in a room on the second floor of a building. Squinting my eyes at the sign by the entrance of the building, I know I am being held at Newquay Town Jail.

     I spend the next few hours just looking out of the window, watching the people live their lives. I close my eyes and feel the heat of the sun on my face. Smiling, I sigh happily.

     I spin around with wide eyes as the door handle to my room rattles as it’s unlocked. I back myself up against the wall as the metal door opens. My heart pounds as I wait for whoever it is to show themselves, silently praying it’s not Chester.

     “You have a visitor,” a small, heavy woman says in a tired and bored voice. The dark blue police uniform tells me that she works here. She looks me up and down before nodding her head. Was she checking to make sure I had no weapons? Something that could harm my visitor?

     A visitor sounds crazy to me at this point. Why has nobody come to visit me before now? I had assumed I wasn’t allowed any visitors. Was I wrong? Is it Lauren pulling strings again?

     I hold my breath as the woman allows the visitor to step into the room. A handsome, bearded man with tanned skin and light hair that’s been pulled back into a bun, comes into view.

     “Hello, darling,” he says with a smile, his smooth voice is like music to my ears and I sigh in relief, smiling widely.

     “Stan!” I say cheerfully. He chuckles as I step into his open arms and hug him tightly. He swings me around with a laugh before setting me back on my feet. I’m so happy to see him.

     “How are you holding up? They wouldn’t let me visit or I would have been here sooner,” Stan tells me as we sit on the bed. His large arms pull me closer as I rest my head on his muscled chest, inhaling the same smoky wood scent that always lingers on his clothes.

     “Don’t worry about it. I have a lot of questions about all of it, but right now I just want to sit here with you,” I breathe.

     “No problem, darling. I’m just so damn happy I get to finally see you. I have missed you so fucking much,” Stan says as he holds me tight against his chest. I feel his lips press against my forehead and I melt into him with a new-found peace washing over me. I have missed basic human contact.

     We sit in total silence for almost an hour before Stan is escorted out of the room by the same woman as before with promises to return to me the following week.