Maggie moved her leg, wriggling her toes. The pins and needles feeling slowly dissipated. She’d lain rigid in bed for hours, waiting, planning. It was really early or exceedingly late depending on how you looked at it. For a few minutes she stayed motionless, listening to the sounds around her. The house silent. Satisfied everyone was still asleep she rolled off the cot cringing at the squeaking noise.
Maggie moved her leg, wriggling her toes. The pins and needles feeling slowly dissipated. She’d lain rigid in bed for hours, waiting, planning. It was really early or exceedingly late depending on how you looked at it. For a few minutes she stayed motionless, listening to the sounds around her. The house silent. Satisfied everyone was still asleep she rolled off the cot cringing at the squeaking noise. Crouching next to the bed, Maggie held her breath. When no one appeared after a few minutes she pulled her shoes on and grabbed a small backpack. There was nothing to take with her other than a toothbrush, hairbrush, and a couple of ponytail holders. The only other set of clothing she owned had been ruined earlier that night. There was no one else in left in the women’s dorm-style room to alert the guards she was trying to leave. Donald had been angry and distracted and had forgotten to lock the bolt on the door. Maggie retrieved the bobby pin she’d had hidden under her bed for almost a year and popped the lock. With a loud click, it swung open. Again she waited, hoping no one had heard the sound. Slipping out the door, Maggie softly pulled it closed behind her and pushed the lock in again.
A week ago any thought of running away would have been unthinkable. Knowing she’d be taken down to the basement, never to return, made her desperate escape attempt the only viable option she had left.
Creeping down to the kitchen Maggie stayed to the edges of the hallway to avoid the creaking wood floors. Turning the corner, she looked into the room they used as a makeshift living room and saw one of the guards dozing on the sofa, the TV tuned to a cooking show. Tiptoeing, careful to step over the couple squeaky spots in the linoleum, she crossed the room to the pantry. Opening the door, Maggie was grateful the bulb over the oven provided enough dim light to see what she needed. She took fresh bandages for her shoulder, a mini-bottle of aspirin, toothpaste, bottled water, crackers, and a few bananas to tide her over. It was a small enough amount not to be noticed but enough to keep her going for a couple of days. Disposable hand-wipes were already stashed in her bag and most important—twenty quid she’d picked up at the club.
Some drunken partygoer must have dropped it and she’d snatched it up fast, hiding it in the pocket of her jeans. Popping a couple of aspirin, she washed them down with a glass of orange juice. She’d miss her favorite beverage. It was getting harder to find things like juice and produce at the grocery stores, and when you could the cost of the items was astronomical. People had begun planting gardens again. Shoving a sandwich in her mouth she checked on the guard, who was softly snoring.
Moving along the hallway, she kept close to the walls stopping every few feet to listen. Satisfied no one was following her, Maggie took the back stairs to the first floor.
No one would be up at this hour. Bypassing the hallway leading to the underground garage, she made her way to the storage room. The garage was always guarded. But cleaning supplies, in some dusty old room? Why bother? Heartbeat loud in her ears, she wiped a sweaty palm on her jeans and opened the storage room door, willing it not to squeak.
Mopping the floors was one of her assigned chores. The room was damp and dirty, but if she remembered correctly, there was a storm grate in the wall and it wasn’t locked.
Moving the boxes piled on the floor, Maggie looked over the grate. The last time she’d cleaned, she noticed the grate had hinges at the top. Lifting it, a horrible, screeching noise had brought the guard running to see what she was doing. Maggie told him she’d bumped it with the cleaning cart. On the rare occasion she let her fantasy of escape play out, she utilized the storm tunnel. Though who would have thought she’d ever have the courage to put the plan into action? Guess desperate times and all that rot.
“Maggie? What are you doing here?”
She jumped three feet in the air, heart beating out of her chest. The voice came from behind her. Damn. Someone was already awake. Whirling around, a finger to her lips to silence him; she stood face to face with dear, bumbling Ned.
“Quiet, or you’ll wake the monsters.”
“You’re not supposed to be cleaning at night.” The guy scratched his head looking perplexed. Good-looking but dumb as a box of rocks…that was Ned.
“No, I’m not cleaning.”
Ned embraced her, hastily letting go when she didn’t return the hug. Nothing personal but she didn’t trust anyone nowadays. She had to act normal. “How long have you been working here, a week?” Play it cool, Mags.
“Yeah. Some guys offered me a job last week. The hostel closed down, and I couldn’t find work. They promised a roof over my head and food. That’s enough for me. The guy in charge, Bruce, said I’d be helping to take care of everyone here. It’s not like you said it was. The people here need help.”
He didn’t even realize this was a prison. Didn’t believe her when she told him she’d been kidnapped and held here against her will. The guy actually believed the stories Bruce and the others told him, that she and the other captives all had mental disorders and he was helping to care for them. Idiot.
“Ned, believe me, you have to get out. These guys are really bad news. You’ve no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. Like I told you before this place is not what it seems.” Grabbing his arm, she wanted him to understand the danger. Stupid, yes but he wasn’t a bad guy.
“Mags, it’s harsh out there. Things will be better here, they said so and I can help you get better.” Confusion filled his eyes. “I remember Bruce saying no one is to be up after lights out. What are you doing?”
In one of the hostels she’d stayed in there was always the sound of trickling water coming from their laundry room. Ned, who worked there part-time, told her it was a storm grate. The tunnel fed into the old sewer system and ended at Edinburgh Castle. Smaller tunnels led to the larger main tunnel. Theoretically once you made it to the large artery all you had to do was follow it all the way to the castle. Ned had seen it on an old map some tourist had but never tried it. Newer homes didn’t have these grates. Many older places boarded up the openings, covering them with wallboard. No one had gotten around to boarding this one up. She pointed to the grate.
“You gave me the idea a while ago, back at the hostel. I thought I’d go exploring.” Crossing her fingers behind her back, she waited.
“It’s probably filled with sewage and other nasty stuff. Why not go out the front door if you want to walk around?”
A pleading note entered her voice. “The front door is guarded. No one can know I went out. I’ll be back before everyone wakes. Don’t tell anyone, okay?” This had to work.
He shook his head, “Are you sure you’re okay to be outside on your own? You know—in your condition?” She nodded and gave him her most innocent smile. Satisfied, he patted her shoulder. “Be careful. If you’re not back in the morning, they’ll come looking for you. Don’t forget, Mags, life on the streets is hard.”
“I should get going.” Forcing herself to hug him, she smiled into his trusting face.
“See ya in the morning.” Ned turned and walked down the hallway, leaving her there. She wanted to think he believed her. If he were on his way to raise the alarm, her captors would catch her before she escaped. It had to be now.
Deep breath. You can do this.
The spray lubricant was sitting in the corner of the cart. Quickly she sprayed the hinges and sat back on her heels to listen for any sign Ned had turned her in. Convinced no one was coming, she took one last look around. Steeling her spine, she carefully lifted the grate cover, damn it was heavy, and wriggled through. Gently closing it so as not to make a sound, her arms strained from the effort, a small ping was the only indication something wasn’t as it should be.
She waited a moment, listening, and then reached through the grate, pulling the cart back in place, hiding her escape. It was almost morning; she’d be discovered missing at breakfast. She had to move fast. The plan was to get to the docks, find a ship, and get the hell out of Scotland. Somewhere safe. A place where there weren’t men who could disappear, a place where she could feel normal again. She could clean, cook, and sew. Would offer her services in return for passage out of the country. Didn’t matter if she had to stowaway, whatever it took.
Ugh, it was wet and smelly in the tunnel. Crawling, Maggie moved forward, inch by inch. It was dark, the walls and floor damp. As she crawled, she could hear voices as she passed under one of the townhomes on the street. Coming to a larger opening, she looked around. Water was flowing steadily now and the reek of sewage was getting stronger, invading her nostrils. Here’s hoping Ned was right. He wasn’t kidding; the main tunnel was a lot bigger. She could stand up without bumping her head.
Maggie’s shoulder was throbbing, the blood a slow trickle down her arm. Once she was safe, she could have it tended. In the meantime, safety was the only priority.
Walking faster, the water up to her knees in places, she kept going. Just a bit further. Teeth chattering and chilled from her wet clothes, she kept moving. Once she surfaced, she’d have to steal a coat or she’d risk freezing to death if she couldn’t find a place to hide and dry her clothes.
A couple of hours later, she could see the early morning light filtering in, casting muted patterns on the filthy water.
Heaving a sigh of relief, she looked around for a way to get to the top. Spying rusty metal rungs in the wall, she placed her hand on the first one and stopped. Did she have the right place? The only indication was an EC painted on the wall but that could mean anything. If this was indeed Edinburgh Castle it sounded like some kind of event was taking place. It was way too early for them to be open to tourists. Quickly climbing as her shoulder throbbed and burned, she peered up through the grate.
It looked like a wooden structure of some kind was set up. Maybe left over from Halloween? It would shield her from the people she could hear though she couldn’t make out what they were saying.
Pushing up on the grate, it wouldn’t budge. She couldn’t see any type of lock. It probably hadn’t been opened in a hundred years. Not now, not when she’d come so far, so close to freedom would she be stuck in this filth beneath the ground. Climbing up one more rung so she was crouching, she put her uninjured shoulder against the grate and pushed hard. Her thighs straining from the exertion as the grate moved. With a mighty shove, the grate gave just enough for her to shimmy through.
Gasping like a fish out of water, she rolled to her side, scuttling backwards when she noticed there was no back to the wooden structure. Anyone could see in. Taking deep, gulping breaths of air to calm her nerves, she was grateful the roar of the crowd covered the clang of the grate as it slammed shut.
A scuffling sound pulled her attention up. Dirt was falling through cracks in the wooden boards above her. There were people walking around up there. A drum roll started. Crossing her fingers the noise and whatever scene was taking place would shield her from prying eyes; she crawled across the cobblestones to the open end of the platform, wanting to stay low to the ground in case anyone happened by.
When the trap door above her head banged open, Maggie jumped at least a foot in the air. She had to cover her mouth to keep from screaming when a man fell through, bag tied over his head, booted feet kicking, seeking a foothold.
What the hell, someone was actually being hanged. Civilized countries didn’t hang people anymore. Had things changed so much in the past year they were hanging criminals? What if Solien or Bruce had found her and it was one of the guards assigned to watch her? It couldn’t be, not yet.
A whump and the crack of glass made her jump. Pieces of a bottle fell down between the boards landing on her shoulders and head. One nicked her chin. More glass hit the stage above her as the tinkling of broken glass rained down on her. People were throwing bottles? Had a riot broken out? This was not acceptable, she needed to act, couldn’t allow anyone to hang because of her. Her hand landed on something cold, smooth. It was a shard of broken glass. Without thinking, she took the sliver and sawed at the rope.
“You have to stop moving so I can cut through it.” Maggie yelled over the din.
The man went still at the sound of her voice. She hoped it was because he’d heard her and not that he was already dead. Wetness trickled down her palm as she frantically cut through the thick rope. Putting her arm around his legs, she grunted supporting his weight to keep him from dying. She’d seen enough death to last a lifetime.
Crap on toast he was freaking heavy. Adrenaline fueled her as she cut the remaining strand, and he fell hitting the stone with a thud. It was quiet. She no longer heard the crowd. It was as if everyone simply left at the same time. Looking up, she couldn’t see anyone on the platform. This morning was getting stranger and stranger.
Maggie moved to his bound hands and cut him loose. It was hard to saw through the rope and the blood from her palm made the glass slippery. Detached, she looked at her hand; it was sliced open. It would have to wait. First, she had to free him. No one else was dying on her watch.
“I’m almost finished cutting the binding on your hands. Stay still so I don’t cut you, ‘kay?” The reply was a mumble. The man’s throat had to be raw, injured from the rope. He was tall, maybe six feet with a heavily muscled body. She could see jet-black hair hanging out of the hood. His clothing was odd. He had on a white linen shirt, suede pants and black leather boots, like a leftover costume from Halloween. Must have been a hell of a celebration if he was still wearing his getup two days later and swinging from a freaking hangman’s noose.
The guy was having difficulty breathing. Coughing and wheezing. As the rope fell away he sat up and pulled the hood off.
Maggie was at a loss. Breathtaking, feral, hot, the words kept flowing through her mind. Indigo blue piercing eyes, super white teeth, and his face…wow, maybe he was a model and the shoot went wrong somehow? He gave off a magnetic force field that drew her closer until his angry tone stopped her cold.
“You must be bloody kidding me. This can’t possibly be happening. Why did you interfere?” His voice was gravelly. He sounded pissed she’d helped him.
“Um, last I checked, you were the one dying and I saved you. How about a little gratitude, buddy? Not like any of your model friends stuck around to save you.” Who did he think he was? What a jerk.
“You’ve no idea what you’ve started, what you’ve put into motion. Get out. Leave.” The words were punched out. He narrowed his eyes at her. “What on earth have you been doing, rolling in a gutter? You reek of offal.”
Maggie was speechless. She’d saved him from hanging, and he was angry at her? Not to mention he’d called her smelly, like it was her fault she’d had to crawl through sewage. What a pig.
The man stood, straightening his clothes. He looked annoyed but leaned down to help her up. “I can’t fucking believe this. The gods must be laughing their heads off.”
“Would you rather I had let you die?” Incredulity filled her voice at his ungrateful response. She’d just saved this life and this is how he acts?
Looking her over with a look that told her he found her lacking in every way, he seemed to come to some decision. He growled at her, “It would have been easier than what’s coming in the week ahead. What’s done is done, there’s no going back now.” He ran his hands through his hair, anger radiating off his body.
“Allow me to introduce myself; I am Robert Bartholomew of Wales, lately a guest in the dungeon of Edinburgh Castle, at your service, Madam. You may call me Robert. I mean you no harm. Shall we abscond from this dreary, dismal place?” His teeth were clenched and the muscle in his cheek was twitching as he raked a glare over her, lingering on her breasts.
She gasped. No, it couldn’t be, this was not happening. Not today of all days. Standing in front of her was the infamous pirate, a terrifying Shadow Walker, legend among Solien and his men, feared by all. Did he know what she did? How Bruce made her betray his kind? Didn’t matter it was against her will, not with what she’d heard about him. He’d kill her on the spot. She had to get out of here now, before he realized she worked for his enemies.
Stepping backwards, Maggie turned and ran as fast as her feet would carry her, ignoring the pain in her shoulder and hand as she fled.
* * *
Robert’s laugh was a harsh cough. His breathing slowly returned to normal. The irony of the Fates.
The woman who intervened, who was destined to save him, to be his soul mate according to the prophecy, ran from him as fast as she could. This was hilarious. He could hear Colin and Jasper giving him hell now.
Usually women ran to him, not away from him. Though in this instance he didn’t know whether to laugh or shout. How could this happen? Another Shadow Walker shouldn’t have had a chance at a soul mate for at least a hundred years. Bloody hell. He loved his life, didn’t want this. He grumbled as a new thought penetrated his angry brain.
What was she doing hiding under the scaffolding? She smelled like she’d been swimming in a slaughterhouse. He grinned. Even smelling like the back of a butcher’s shop she was a pretty little thing. Her hair was the red of a fiery sunset, her eyes the color of emeralds, and her curves, well, those were meant for a man to hold on to while they made love all night long.
Shadow Walkers were cursed. When reliving their death anniversary every year. If by some sick twist of fate, a human woman, not just any woman, but one who had died and crossed into Shadow and back, intervened, then the countdown started, no way to stop it. He had a week to break the curse and in so succeeding would tie himself to her for all eternity. Even worse, he was powerless for the coming week giving Day Walkers an added incentive to try and take his head. He was rather attached to his head, thank you very much.
If this rubbish was true, Robert had a limited time before he’d be trapped forever. For if he failed, he would be cursed to wander the in-between, not living or dying, sentenced to eternal suffering in limbo, gray, and empty, doomed to walk the shadow realm as a wraith. The woman would pay a price for her altruistic act—if she failed, she would never find true love, destined to live the rest of her brief life alone, knowing she had destroyed him, and dying utterly alone. It didn’t matter if during that week she perished in an accident, was murdered, or any other harm befell her. Once started, the sands of time couldn’t be stopped.
Now the quandary. Did he let her go and the curse be damned? He wasn’t sure he believed in the outcome. Yes, Colin and Emily had found each other but they didn’t fail and experience the aftermath of the purported curse. Maybe there weren’t any repercussions, he might not turn wraith. Could be it wasn’t true at all. A ruse to keep the Shadow Walkers in line.
Why didn’t she run like most normal humans? Why did she have to help him? If she’d gone on her merry way, tomorrow his life would be back to normal instead of completely cocked up. He spotted the grate. Investigating, he lifted it up. The smell rose to meet him. Yep, that was the scent of his lovely lady. What was she doing down in the sewer? What modern-day woman would willingly crawl through raw sewage…unless she was in some kind of fearsome trouble?
These were dangerous times; he couldn’t leave her alone if she was in danger. Swearing a blue streak, some rather inventive curses he’d learned at sea, he answered his own question. No matter how angry and pissed he was she’d interfered, he wouldn’t leave a damsel in distress.
He’d find her and help her. They’d break the curse. No way was he turning wraith, he loved this life. Robert would simply bargain with Thorne for everything to go back the way it was.
Give up his immortal life—not bloody likely.
Enjoyed this taste of the Shadow Walker world? You can find the book at all eBook retailers, a paperback version is available at Amazon and the audiobook version is available at: iTunes, Audible, and Amazon (COMING SOON).
There are five books total in this series, with the final chapter coming in June. Embraced by Shadow, Monroe’s story.
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