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Armed with Jao’s directions and a promise from him that she’d find the jewels of her dreams, she finally spied the storefront with the neatly lettered sign in the window. Glorious Gemstones and Jewels was written in English, with Thai lettering beneath it.She pushed opened the door, causing bells to tinkle as she entered the small shop.
It was a long, narrow room, the interior dark and cool compared to the muggy outside air. As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, she saw the place was filled with glass cases displaying all kinds of jewelry, from gaudy gold chains and cheap watches, to wedding band sets and ropes of pearls, to loose gemstones in vibrant reds, greens, blues and amber.
“May I help you?” A small Thai woman in a brightly colored silk dress stood behind one of the counters.
“I’m Leah Jacobs, a friend of Jao’s,” Leah offered, curious how this would be received.
“Ah, yes, I have been expecting you.” The woman smiled, bobbing her head in an eager nod. “I am delighted to make your acquaintance. Jao mentioned you are no mere tourist, but a woman of some culture and experience, a woman who knows the value of fine gemstones.”
While this was probably an exaggeration, Leah was pleased Jao had played her up like this. Hopefully it meant she’d get better treatment and be offered higher quality goods than the run-of-the-mill tourist. She smiled, saying casually, “I’m just looking.”
“Of course.” The woman nodded. “Our best quality items are in the back of the store. The selection out here is for the tourists.”
I knew it, Leah thought triumphantly.
The woman came from around the counter. “I only show the quality jewels to the most discerning of customers. And of course, to friends of Jao.”
Leah pretended to hesitate, not wanting to be too obvious in her interest, but she definitely wanted to see the quality goods, and have a go at haggling down the price, no matter what was offered.
“All right,” she agreed. “Though as I said, I’m just looking at the moment.”
“Of course. I’ll just lock up the store for a few minutes so we can take our time and not be disturbed.” The woman moved toward the front door, sliding a bolt in place and turning the sign from Open to Closed.
Discomfited at first by the shopkeeper closing the store just for her, Leah supposed it made sense, since the shopkeeper couldn’t very well leave the displays unattended while she took Leah in back. She must be assuming Leah was a rich American with plenty of American dollars to spend. Leah would look, but she’d made no promises to buy.
The woman gestured toward an entrance that was hung with strings of bright glass beads in lieu of a proper door and moved in that direction. Leah followed her through the beads into a tiny room that contained a round wooden table with two chairs and a small kitchen area with a stove and half-size refrigerator.
“Please.” The woman gestured toward the table. “Have a seat, won’t you? I will give you some iced coffee. Then I will bring out the trays of our finest jewels for your personal inspection.”
“Thank you,” Leah said. She took a seat at the table as the woman moved toward the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, removing a large glass pitcher with what looked like dark coffee inside it, along with a small white bottle Leah assumed was cream. The woman took a glass from the cabinet and filled it with the dark coffee and cream, stirring it into a caramel swirl.
As she watched the woman prepare the coffee, Leah realized she was in fact parched, and a nice glass of strong, sweet Thai iced coffee sounded pretty darn good at that moment, even if she was just being buttered up so she’d make a purchase.
The glass was set before her, along with a dish of saltine crackers. “To your health,” the woman said. Leah picked up the glass and sipped. It was very sweet, too sweet, really, for Leah’s taste, but it was cold and wet, and she was thirsty, so she took a long, deep gulp.
Oddly, she felt thirstier than she had a moment before, and there was a metallic taste in the back of her throat. She lifted the glass again, taking another gulp of the thick, sweet liquid to wash it away.
The woman smiled, nodding approvingly. “I’ll bring the jewels. You drink that all up like a good girl.”
Leah set the glass down harder than she’d meant to, clunking it against the scarred wood of the table. Her head felt suddenly heavy, her eyelids drooping down as if lead weights were attached to them. The sounds of the traffic outside the shop were muffled and there was a strange whooshing sound in her ears, as if her head were suddenly inside a seashell.
Leah tried to lift her hand to her face, but only succeeded in knocking over the glass, spilling the remaining liquid onto the table. “Help me. Something is wrong,” she tried to say, but only managed a garbled, “Heh muh, sutha gah…”
The last thing she saw before her head hit the table was the shopkeeper, who reentered the room with two men holding coils of rope in their hands.
Leah awoke with a start, jerking violently out of a bad dream. She tried to push away the hair falling into her face, but found she couldn’t move. She was lying on her side in a dark, hot room. Her hands were bound behind her back and her ankles were secured as well. She realized she was naked.
“Oh my god,” she whispered, terror falling over her like a shroud. “What the hell happened? Where am I?”
She struggled to sit up, jerking hard at her restraints. She was bound with rope, thick and scratchy against her skin. Her head was pounding as she tried to lift it from the hard cot on which she lay.
“Help!” she cried out. “Someone help me!”
This couldn’t be happening. How had she gotten here? She tried to think. Her mind felt sluggish, as if suspended in gelatin. Think… what happened? She’d been at the jewelry shop. She’d had some iced coffee while waiting for the shopkeeper…
She’d been kidnapped!
That coffee had tasted strange, now that she thought about it, but she’d been thirsty. Damn it! She’d been drugged and then kidnapped. To what purpose? Were they going to contact her family and ask for ransom? They had her clothing—they must have her purse too, including her passport and her driver’s license.
How in god’s name had this happened to her? She was careful! She had an instinct for people. How had the shopkeeper slipped past her radar? She’d traveled the world several times over, and never had anything like this happened. Even when she’d been in China and had her backpack stolen along with her passport, she’d handled things and found her way out of trouble.
Don’t panic. Stay calm. You’ll figure a way out of this, too. You aren’t dead, so that’s the first thing. They want something from you. Find out what it is and negotiate. You’re Leah Jacobs. You can get out of this. You will get out of this.
She lay still for a long while, feeling the sweat trickling down her body as she counted slowly to one hundred, letting her mind clear. She did this several times until her heart had stopped thudding and her breathing had returned to something close to normal.
She decided to try again. “Hello?” she called, louder this time. “Is there someone there? Can you please untie me? Hello?”
The door opened, a slice of light momentarily blinding her. As Leah squinted against the light she saw two figures standing in the door. A bulb hanging from a string in the ceiling was flicked on, and as her eyes adjusted, she saw two men. One was tall with a darkly tan skin and thick, dark hair slicked back from his forehead. He wore a black tank top and black cargo pants tucked into army boots. The other man was much shorter, with straight black hair and Asian features. He wore a red T-shirt and jeans, flip flops on his feet. Both men looked to be in their mid to late twenties.
“You are American?” asked the Thai man in unaccented English.
“Please, what’s going on? Untie me. Give me my clothes.”
“You answer the question and only the question!” boomed the other man in what Leah recognized as a Russian accent. He took a step toward her, his hands clenched into fists, a scowl on his face.
“Y-yes,” Leah sputtered, frightened. “Yes, I’m American.” Thinking fast, she added, “My embassy knows I’m here in Pattaya. You’d better let me go right away or there’s going to be trouble.”
“Trouble?” The Thai man approached her with a leering grin. “You are the one in trouble, pretty lady. A nice American girl with real blond hair.” He stared at her crotch. “We’re going to sell you for a fortune.”
“Sell me?” Leah struggled harder against the rough rope around her wrists. “Let me go! Let me go!” Her voice rose in a panicked squeal.
All at once both men were on her. The Thai guy rolled her onto her back, crushing her arms painfully beneath her body while the Russian grabbed her by the throat and squeezed until her cries trailed off to a muted, terrified whimper.
“You shut up!” he growled. “You want I hit you? You belong to us now and there’s no damn thing you can do about it. You cost us lot of money, and you’re going to earn that back, understand?”
Leah stared at him, mute with terror. Slowly he loosened his grip on her throat, a small mean smile moving over his face. “Listen good, girly. You lucky. Because you American and you blond, there are men willing to pay a lot for your ass. We could just whore you out, but we have something better in mind for you.”
The Thai man nodded. “American girls need lots of training. You are not properly submissive like our women. Where we’re taking you, you’ll soon get rid of your stupid American ideas. You’ll learn what it is to submit, and to properly please a man, no matter what they want of you. You’ll learn, like the Thai girls, to do it all with a smile.”
“Please,” Leah finally managed to gasp. “This can’t be happening. Please let me go.”
Ignoring her, the Thai man pulled Leah back to her side and leaned over her, untying the knots at her ankles. “Please,” she tried again, “I can get you money, if that’s what you’re after. Lots of money. Just give me clothes and my things—”
She was stunned into silence by the Russian, who slapped her cheek with his open palm, catching her ear at the same time and making it ring.
“Another word and I beat you with my fists!” The Russian raised his beefy hands and glared at her, his mouth twisted in an ugly sneer.
“Better to be quiet,” the Thai man added, the smile on his face almost scarier than the other man’s overt anger. “Women should be seen and not heard. Now spread your legs like a good girl. I want to check out that cunt of yours.”
The Russian pressed hard against Leah’s shoulders, holding her still against the canvas cot while the Thai forced her thighs apart. Her bound hands beneath her body caused her pelvis to thrust forward, as if she were offering herself. Leah squeezed her eyes shut, fear making her pant as rough fingers pushed inside her.
“Her cunt is nice and tight.”
Someone savagely twisted her right nipple.
The Thai man laughed harshly. “Great tits, and they’re real.” His finger rimmed her asshole. “I’ll bet she’s never been fucked in the ass. Jao certainly steered us right on this one. It’s our lucky day, Boris, my friend.”
Boris’ heavy hands relaxed against her shoulders, and Leah twisted suddenly, rolling herself from the cot onto the ground, her only thought to escape. Her actions bypassed her brain, fight-or-flight adrenaline kicking in. Using her head as a battering ram, she launched herself against the legs of the smaller man, who fell back with a startled cry.
Somehow she got herself to her feet and lurched toward the closed door, though she realized as she stumbled forward, hands still tied behind her back, that she had no idea how the hell she was going to get it open. As she reached the door, strong arms wrapped around her torso, pulling her back and lifting her off the ground.
Her breath was knocked from her body as she was slammed facedown against the hard cot. “Fucking little suka!” the Russian roared. Sitting beside her, he grabbed her legs, roughly retying the rope around her ankles.
The Thai laughed cruelly. “She’s a feisty one. What did I tell you? American girls are like wild animals. I don’t have the patience for them myself, but Khalil will take good care of her. He’ll pay top dollar, too. You know his fetish for blonds.”
Leah was gasping like a fish, still trying to draw the air back into her tortured lungs, when she felt herself being lifted. She was flung like a sack of laundry over the Russian’s large shoulder, her face against his muscular back. She could smell the acrid odor of his sweat, mingled with a heavy-scented aftershave.
They left the small room, entering a narrow alley. Though she had no idea if anyone would hear her, Leah began to scream. “Help me! I’m being kidnapped!”
She heard the pop of a car trunk and all at once she was dumped into the space, her shoulder making painful contact with the floor of the trunk. The lid slammed down over her, plunging her into darkness. Pulling futilely against the rope binding her wrists, Leah cried, “Let me out! Let me out!”
Car doors slammed and the engine started. The car jerked forward, the tires squealing beneath her. As they moved along the streets, taking her who knew where, Leah tried desperately to slip her hands out of the rope cutting into her wrists. If only she could get herself free, she might find something in the trunk she could use as a weapon.
Leah felt each bump and pothole as the car moved along the busy streets, jerking to a stop at what Leah could only presume were traffic lights. She continued to call for help, but her voice seemed muted and tiny, trapped inside the trunk, obscured by the din of the traffic around her and the sound of the radio being played at top volume inside the car.
Something the Thai man had said had been niggling at her consciousness and now replayed itself in her mind. Jao certainly steered us right on this one. The concierge had set her up! His bullshit story and the brochure had been an elaborate ruse to get her into the back of that store. The woman was obviously in on it as well. The whole thing was some diabolical and well-orchestrated plot to kidnap innocent women!
After about twenty minutes, the engine picked up speed and the road smoothed beneath them. Desperately she continued to work at the ropes, trying to reach the knots. They drove for a long time, it seemed to Leah, and she worked the whole time trying to free her hands. She had just managed to twist her right hand in a way that she could touch one of the knots with her fingers when the car lurched to a stop, causing her head to smack against the side of the trunk.
She heard the latch being released and then the trunk lid was lifted, letting sunlight and fresh air into the cramped space. “Please, let me go—” she began to cry, but she was cut off by the Thai man, who pushed her chin upward, forcing her to close her mouth, while the Russian bent down toward her and pressed a sticky piece of duct tape over her lips.
Silenced, Leah was lifted and again tossed over the Russian’s big shoulder. She could smell the ocean on the air, which was cooler and breezier than it had been in the town, and in the near distance she could hear the sound of waves lapping against the shore.
They moved up a walkway flanked by well-tended green lawns. It struck Leah as odd that no one would notice or remark upon a naked, gagged and bound woman being carried over a man’s shoulder in broad daylight.
Leah was taken up several broad stone steps. She heard what sounded like a door knocker falling heavily against wood—two quick taps, a pause and then another tap. This pattern was repeated a few times, and then the door opened.
Leah heard the murmur of male voices as she was brought into the building. Then someone said in English, “Welcome to my home, gentlemen. What have you procured for me today?” The man spoke with a British accent, though with the kind of precise pronunciation that made her think English wasn’t the speaker’s native language.
The Thai man answered, “As you can see, Mr. Khalil. Top quality American, pure blond, perfect body, lovely face. We know you’ve been looking for the perfect blond for a long time, Mr. Khalil. I think you’ll find this one is exactly what you’ve been looking for.”
“If I choose to take her, you’ll get your due, don’t worry. Where did you get her? Will she be missed?”
The Russian began walking again, carrying Leah along like a sack of potatoes. The Thai answered, “She was staying at the Pattaya Gold. Our operatives there scoped her out as a likely candidate. We did the usual background checks. She’s traveling with a tour group, but the members come and go. We’ve already arranged for her to be checked out of the hotel, with all the usual precautions. It’ll be a few days before anyone even notices she’s gone.”
Leah felt herself being lowered onto what turned out to be a couch. She was placed on her stomach, her hands still bound behind her. From where she lay, she saw the third man called Mr. Khalil. He appeared to be Middle Eastern, with olive skin, heavily-lashed dark eyes beneath thick brows, a long, hooked nose in a narrow face and wavy black hair. He was tall, his muscles lean and sculpted, putting Leah in mind of a professional ballet dancer. He was wearing a white silky dress shirt with several buttons opened, tucked into white pants of the same silky material. His feet were bare. He was strikingly handsome, and in other circumstances Leah would have been attracted. Now she was merely terrified.
“You did well, gentlemen. She is indeed a beauty. Such deep blue eyes, the color of the finest sapphires. And her hair, pure as spun gold.” His eyes moving hungrily over her, Khalil said, “Untie her hands and flip her over. I want to see the rest of her body.”
The Russian bent over Leah, tugging at the knots at her wrists. When her hands were free, he shoved roughly at her shoulder, forcing her onto her back. Leah instinctively tried to cover her naked body with her arms, but was stopped by the Thai man’s barking command. “Hands at your sides! Do not attempt to cover yourself. You are being inspected.”
With the three men towering over her, Leah had no choice but to obey. She let her arms flop weakly to her sides. Crouching beside her, Khalil drew his finger down Leah’s cheek, moving it along her throat and down to her left breast. He cupped the breast in his large hand and nodded, his eyes hooding as his tongue moved over his lips. “Lovely,” he murmured.
Leah wanted to spit in his handsome face and might have done so if her mouth hadn’t been taped shut.
Letting her go, Khalil turned again to the abductors. “It is a shame you had to cover her mouth with that ugly tape. It is the mouth that indicates the sensuality, the potential for passion. I must see her mouth to judge properly if she is worthy of me.” He shook his head, making a tsk’ing sound of regret. “Such a shame, but I understand the need to silence these willful American girls.”
He leaned close, so close Leah felt his breath on her cheek. He smelled of cloves and peppermint, and when he smiled, he showed straight even teeth, perfectly white, but just beneath his smile was a wolf’s leer. Leah closed her eyes and pressed herself into the sofa, desperately wishing she could vanish.
The man stroked her hair, his touch tender, as if they were lovers. “Do not be frightened, little one. You are only fulfilling your destiny. Woman is put on this earth to serve man. If I choose to so honor you, I will teach you to forget your harsh, abrasive American ways. You will no longer have to scrabble and scrape, forcing your way through the world as if you were a man. I will teach you the grace of a princess and the pure, elegant simplicity of a slave girl whose sole reason for being is to serve her master. Once I inspect your body for imperfections, and give you the chance to submit with humility and obedience to my dictates, you will be assessed to determine if you are worthy to become my slave.”
Fuck you, you misogynistic asshole. I’ll see you in hell first.
“If we take off the duct tape, do you promise to stay quiet, little one?” Khalil’s tone was kind, his red lips curling into a smile, but Leah could sense the ruthlessness beneath the words.
Nevertheless, she nodded, desperate to have the sticky tape removed. Khalil touched her cheek with thumb and forefinger as he tugged at a corner of the tape. Leah closed her eyes, trying to steel herself to the anticipated pain as the tape was removed, but he was surprisingly gentle, pulling it slowly and carefully away from her mouth.
Once the duct tape was off, Leah took in a grateful breath of air through parted lips. “Please, you have to—” she began, but the man pressed two fingertips against her mouth, shaking his head.
“Not a word. My slaves do not speak unless spoken to. You must learn that immediately.” His tone was hard, but it softened as he added, “Remember, little one. You promised to be quiet.” He gazed into her eyes and she found herself staring back into his, mesmerized by their dark, liquid beauty, even as her brain tried to process his words.
The words ricocheted through Leah’s brain. This was no dabbler in any sort of consensual BDSM scene. He was speaking literally, she realized with horror. This man owned other human beings.
Leah had heard of sex slave rings that kidnapped women, or tricked them into coming into the big city, having been told they were going to be given gainful employment, only to find out they had been conscripted into a prostitution ring.
But that sort of thing happened to gullible, innocent village girls in third world countries. It happened to young women with no say in their own lives or destinies, perhaps sold off by a family desperate for survival. It didn’t happen to independent, experienced American women! It couldn’t be happening now. Somehow, Leah had to stop this. She had to make them understand.
As soon as Khalil took his fingers from her mouth, she blurted, “There’s been a terrible mistake!” She tried to bring authority to a voice she realized was shaking. “You can’t do this. I demand to be returned to my hotel at once. My embassy will be making inquiries.” She struggled against the rope still binding her wrists behind her back, painfully aware of how pathetic her appeal must seem.
Both the Russian and the Thai were grinning at her, but the Arab was not. His thick eyebrows furrowed over his dark, beautiful eyes. “You promised not to speak. You broke that promise.” He pursed his lips and shook his head. “Broken promises,” he said slowly in his careful English, “are met with harsh punishment.”
He stepped back and clapped his hands. Two men of Asian descent appeared. Both were wearing silk pajama-like clothing like Khalil’s, except theirs was all black. Though neither was especially tall, they were both well-muscled, with burly chests and thick necks and arms.
Glaring at Leah, Khalil said, “A beating and a night spent under the stairs will teach you to hold your tongue.” To the guards he said, “Take her away!”
The guards’ faces were like masks, devoid of any human emotion, as they moved to obey their master’s orders. One man grabbed Leah’s legs while the other slipped his hands beneath her shoulders. They swung her easily from the sofa and set off at a rapid pace, taking her from the opulent living room and down a long, narrow hallway. It happened so quickly she barely had time to react.
They hauled her through an open door into a room hung with ornate Oriental carpets on the walls, and also on the floor. There was a tall, thick post that went from floor to ceiling in the center of the room, with several lengths of chain hanging from its sides. The men set Leah down on her feet in front of the post.
Her trembling legs gave way and she sank to her knees. One man knelt behind her and, using a knife, cut away the ropes at her wrists and ankles. She was hauled again to her feet, her arms forcibly wrapped around the thick post and secured by the chains, which the men wound around her wrists to hold her in place.
“Please, please, I beg you, don’t do this! Don’t hurt me! Please, I can get you money. I can—”
Leah was stunned into silence by a sharp blow to her cheek though neither man said a word. Tears leapt to her eyes. One of the men pulled a dirty looking strip of white cotton from his pocket and forced it into Leah’s mouth. The other wrapped a second strip around her head, holding the sour rag in place.
She couldn’t see what they were doing behind her, but after a moment she felt the stinging blows of hard, knotted leather moving over her back. It was nothing like a sensual flogging. There was no buildup, no pleasure mingling with erotic pain.
This was a beating, pure and simple, as they struck her over and over, methodically whipping her from shoulder to calf as she tried fruitlessly to avoid the blows. She felt herself nearly blacking out at one point, but the pain was too intense to let her slip away completely. She was revived by the fiery cut of the hard leather slapping relentlessly at her skin. She screamed again and again, but only a muffled mewling sound issued through the gag.
Finally the beating stopped, and the men released her arms from the whipping post. Again she collapsed to the carpet, this time falling over onto her side. As if she were an inanimate object, the men picked her up between them and left the room, taking her down the hall to a stairwell, beneath which was a small door secured by a padlock.
They set Leah, still gagged and nearly insensible with pain and terror, roughly on the ground. One of the men took a key from a long chain around his neck and used it to open the lock. The gag was pulled from her mouth, but before she could try once again to plead her case, the men thrust her roughly into the dark cupboard-like space beneath the stairs. Before she could react, the door was shut, plunging her into darkness.
Leah sat still for several hours, or maybe it was only minutes, too stunned and terrified to move. The back side of her body felt as if it had been flayed, the skin stripped from the muscle. She reached back, carefully touching the abraded flesh. It was tender to the touch, but at least the guards had obeyed the directive not to cut the skin.
She supposed she should be grateful at least that Khalil hadn’t wanted them to beat her to a bloody pulp. Thank god for small favors. Very small favors, she thought bitterly, as she tried to make herself more comfortable on the hard floor in the dank, dark space to which she’d been confined. The air was damp and smelled of rotting wood and dust.
Blindly groping, Leah felt in the dark for the boundaries of the cupboard. The space was just wide enough for her to lie down. The ceiling was too low for standing, and even sitting, she had to bend her neck forward a little to keep from hitting her head. The walls were of rough, unfinished planks of wood. The floor was also of wood, and covered in a film of dirt or soot.
Something skittered lightly over her foot and Leah screamed, jerking her head back and banging it against the ceiling in the process. Her heart eventually stopped hammering enough for her to breathe without gasping, and she forced herself to calm down. It was only a bug, and probably way more terrified of you than you were of it. She took several long, deep breaths and counted slowly to ten over and over again.
When she was calm enough to think, her mind was suddenly teeming with questions. What was going to happen to her? How long were they going to leave her in this prison cell? Would she be left to die here?
Leah started to tremble again, but forced herself to be rational. They aren’t going to leave you to die. You’re a commodity, to be sold. They can’t sell a corpse.
This line of thought didn’t give her much comfort. Still, where there was life, there was hope, she told herself staunchly. But the really scary thing was, there wasn’t a soul who knew where she was.
He’d left her that lovely note. What would he think when she didn’t show up to meet him for dinner? Would he think she was just some fickle young American idiot who had stood him up?
No, surely he would realize something was wrong. After the amazing night they’d spent together, and the incredible promise of their time to come, he would know she’d have been there if she could. He would know something was very, very wrong.
Leah closed her eyes against the darkness, letting the image of Devin fill her mind’s eye. “Please,” she whispered aloud, “Find me, Devin. Rescue me from this nightmare.”