Immortal Ever After, страница 1часть #18 серии Argeneau
Valerie’s eyes blinked open to darkness. For a moment she was disoriented and wondered what had woken her, but then she became aware of footsteps overhead. She lay still and listened as someone puttered in the kitchen at the top of the stairs, but tensed when the footsteps paused and she heard the slide and click of first one, then another, and finally a third bolt being slid open.
A moment of silence passed before the door swung open. Light immediately raced down the steps and across the basement’s concrete floor. By the time it reached her cage, it was weak and dull, but even that bit of light made her blink after the pitch black they were left in most of the day.
She could hear the other women stirring and feel the tension building behind her. Fear was suddenly a living, breathing thing in that dark, dank room. Valerie tried not to let it claim her as well and began counting backward from one hundred to distract herself. A clear head was necessary if she wanted to escape. Fear led to panicky actions and reactions. It led to mistakes, and there was no room for mistakes if she wanted to get herself and the others out of this house of horrors.
Her attention was claimed when the bit of light from above was suddenly blocked by a large figure filling the doorway. It was Igor with a tray in hand, she saw as the light framed his silhouette. That light danced around his body and shifted on the floor as he started down. The heavy thud of his boots on the wooden stairs was loud in the sudden hush. The women were now as still as deer caught in headlights.
Valerie held her breath and waited as Igor reached the bottom of the steps. He walked past her cage without a glance, heading for the back of the room and the cages there. He always started at the back, distributing a bottle of water and bowl of oatmeal and fruit to each captive until he reached the front. Everyone would get a meal except for the woman who had been chosen for that night’s fun. Knowing that, Valerie tried to make out who was getting food and who wasn’t, but her cage at the front of the room and the virtual darkness the other women were in made it hard to see anything. She thought Igor had stopped at every cage but couldn’t be sure.
When he stopped in front of her cage and Valerie realized that he was now dangling the tray by one handle alongside his leg, empty, she let her breath out on a slow, silent hiss. It was her turn for a “night out” then. Finally. She remained still as he set the tray on the ground and retrieved his keys from his front pants pocket. The tray would remain there until he returned her to her cage. He’d use it to carry away all the bowls he’d just handed out, she knew.
Well, he would if he were to return, but she didn’t intend to allow that.
The door of her cage swung open, but Valerie waited for his terse, “Come,” before shifting to her hands and knees to crawl out. Her home for the last ten days was four feet high, four feet wide, and the same deep. There wasn’t room to stand, or even lie inside it. For ten days she’d either lain curled in a ball on the floor, or sat with her knees tucked to her chest. The only time she got to straighten her legs fully was when she was let out of the cage, like now, and that had only happened once before since she’d been dragged here. Other than that, she’d spent all her time in this cage, eating and even relieving herself there in the bedpan provided. The bedpans were removed once a day when he collected their bowls after feeding, and returned after emptying.
“Up,” came the terse order as she paused on her hands and knees on the cold concrete floor. Valerie wasn’t surprised when the order was accompanied by Igor grasping her arm and dragging her upward. After so long without being able to straighten her legs, she needed the help and barely restrained a groan of pain as she came upright. She was even grateful for his supporting hand on her arm as he walked her silently up the stairs.
Much to Valerie’s relief, the worst of the pain eased by the time she reached the top step, but she continued to lean into his hold, even deliberately stumbling on the last step to give the impression that she wasn’t completely steady on her feet. He’d expect that. Normally, the drugs they put in the oatmeal would only now be wearing off and she would be expected to be slow and a little uncoordinated.
Valerie had stopped eating the oatmeal after her last “night out. ” She was clearheaded. Her only worry was that she would be weaker than usual after four days without food. But there was nothing she could do about that and would just have to count on her skills, her strength, and the element of surprise to see her through what was coming. She had no intention of dying in her own filth in that damned, stinking cage in the basement.
Valerie continued to lean into Igor’s hold and throw in an occasional stumble as he led her across the kitchen. She let her head hang forward as if she was too weary and stoned to hold it up. Doing so allowed her to dart her eyes swiftly around under the cover of her long hair as she searched for a possible weapon, or chance at escape.
There was nothing. The kitchen counters and table were clear of anything useful. There were no knife handles sticking out of a handy knife block, no glasses or cups sitting about that she could shatter and use as a weapon, not even a coffee machine or toaster. It could have been an empty house.
Valerie continued forward, eyes searching as he led her into a hall and up another set of stairs to the top floor of the house. She wasn’t surprised when he steered her left at the landing, urging her toward the back of the house. She’d been this way before, but had been drugged at the time. Her recollections of the hallway, the renaissance portrait on the wall, the paneled walls, and the blue carpet were all slightly distorted in her memory.
The hallway ended at a large bedroom. She refused to look at the old-fashioned four-poster bed as they walked past it to the en suite bathroom. The house was probably over a hundred years old, but the bathroom spoke of a renovation at some point. She’d guess it had taken place in the fifties or sixties. It was green; the walls were painted green, the toilet was green, the sink was green, and there was a green tub with small green tiles covering the wall around it.
It was incredibly ugly, Valerie thought as Igor urged her to the side and moved past her to bend over the tub and start a bath running. Valerie knew what came next, but refused to panic. Her gaze slid around the small room, settling on a collection of items on the sink counter: a towel, a washcloth, a bar of soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a clean white robe. All of it was meant for her, set neatly on the sink counter to “prepare her for dinner,” as Igor called it.
Valerie had started to look away from the collection when she had second thoughts. Igor was straightening from setting the stopper and turning on the taps. He would turn his attention to her next. With no time to lose, Valerie snatched up the shampoo, popped the lid, and squirted it at Igor’s face as he turned toward her. When the man gave a startled cry, fingers reaching for his eyes, she followed up with a roundhouse kick to his abdomen.
Valerie had hoped to send him tumbling backward into the bath, but either he was more steadfast on his feet than most, or she was weaker than she’d expected after four days without food. He did stagger back a step, but that was it, and even as he did, he lashed out with one arm, hitting her in the chest.
The blow was like an explosive charge going off in front of her. Valerie was sent flying through the air, and out of the bathroom. She landed on something with enough impact that it collapsed beneath her weight with a clatter, and then her head was bouncing off the floor. Valerie was left gasping for air with stars exploding behind her closed eyes.
Fighting off the pain radiating through her head and body, she sucked in great drafts of air, relieved when her lungs expanded. For a moment she’d feared the wind had been knocked out of her, which would have left
Valerie turned onto her stomach, intending to push herself to her feet and start running, but she paused when her hand came down on a shaft of wood. It was the better part of one of the legs from the dressing bench that had sat at the foot of the bed.
So that was what she’d landed on, Valerie thought as she noted that the once rectangular leg had splintered diagonally as the bench had collapsed. It left a rather pointed tip. A stake of sorts, she thought, grasping the item just as Igor’s hand clamped onto her shoulder. His fingers dug painfully into skin and muscle as he jerked her over onto her back.
Valerie didn’t fight. Instead, she used the momentum to help her stake the oversized bastard in the chest. They both froze then and simply stared at each other, but then Valerie glanced down to his chest to see where she’d got him. It had all happened so quickly, she hadn’t had much chance to aim. Luck had been with her, however, because she’d hit him dead on in the heart. If he had a heart, she thought grimly, refusing to feel guilty for what she’d just done.
A raspy breath from Igor drew her eyes back up as he released her. He stumbled back a step, gaping at the makeshift weapon in his chest, and then he suddenly fell back. Igor hit the hardwood floor with a solid thump that didn’t cover the sound of his head cracking on the wood.
For a moment, Valerie allowed herself the luxury of simply staying where she was. Her chest was burning where Igor had landed the punch that had sent her flying, her head was pounding like crazy from its meeting with the floor, and the rest of her body—her back especially—was complaining about the abuse it had suffered when she’d landed on the bench. But she’d felled the monster who had subjected them all to such rough treatment and humiliation.
Well, one of the monsters, Valerie acknowledged on a sigh. Igor was not the one in charge. He worked for the bastard who had dragged her off the street and brought her here. And since Igor had been preparing her for dinner, his boss was no doubt expected back soon. She didn’t have time to sit about re-gathering her strength or nursing boo-boos.
Grimacing, Valerie forced herself to sit up straight, then grabbed the nearest bedpost and pulled herself to her feet. Her head spun and a shaft of pain shot through her back, but she managed to get upright. As she waited for the spinning to stop, Valerie glanced down and saw that there was a bloodstained piece of wood poking up through the also bloodstained upholstered seat of the broken bench she’d landed on. It seemed Igor wasn’t the only one who’d gotten staked.
A quick search revealed that the back right side of her filthy T-shirt was bloodstained. Valerie jerked up the cloth and craned her head to get a better view of the damage. Much to her relief, it looked like it was just a flesh wound. It was bleeding freely, but as far as she could tell, no vital organs had been hit.
Valerie pressed her hand to the wound, trying to slow the loss of blood, and then spared a glance for Igor. He lay prone, seemingly dead. Reassured, she turned her attention to the room itself. There was a phone on the bedside table farthest from the en suite bathroom. Like the décor, the phone was old, but she didn’t care so long as it worked.
Pushing away from the post, Valerie moved to the bedside table, a bit alarmed to find she was unsteady on her feet. Ignoring it, she dialed 911.
Her legs were shaking and her head swimming as she waited for her call to be answered. Afraid she’d collapse, Valerie almost sat on the bed, but then changed her mind. She might not be able to get back up.
Fortunately, the table was between the bed and the outer wall, and a window was only a foot away. Pulling the old-fashioned cord taut, she eased to the window and leaned against the sill as her call was answered.
“I need the police and an ambulance. Immediately,” Valerie said, frowning at how weak and shaky her voice sounded.
“What’s your emergency and the address?” the dispatcher asked.
“I don’t know the address. I’ve been kidnapped and—”
“Kidnapped?” the dispatcher interrupted.
“Yes. And there are six other women in the basement. Or were,” she added grimly, glancing toward Igor. “I think he took too much blood and one or possibly even two of them might be dead. ”
“Took too much blood?” the dispatcher asked, surprise showing in his previously professional voice. “Did you say you’ve been kidnapped, ma’am? And were these other women kidnapped too?”
“Yes,” she answered impatiently. “You’ll need more than one ambulance. I’m wounded, Igor’s dead, and then there are the other women. ”
“Igor?” the dispatcher’s voice took on an edge of suspicion as he picked out the name Valerie and the other women had given to their caretaker. “Did you say that Igor is dead?”
“Yes,” she said, closing her eyes with frustration and wishing she’d kept that bit for the emergency workers to learn when they got there. Since she hadn’t, she had to explain or risk the dispatcher thinking she was crazy. “Look, Igor’s just the name we called him. None of us knew his real name. He was the one who fed us and fetched us from our cages for his boss to bite us. And, yes, I’m pretty sure I killed him. I staked him in the heart. ”