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Military Romance, Romantic Suspense

The GUARDIAN HOSTAGE RESCUE SERIES

WE’RE THE GUARDIANS, MEN WHO DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO BRING OUR RESCUES HOME.

steamy military romance with arrogant alpha male heroes,

Introducing the GUARDIANS!

The Guardian Hostage Rescue Series is About Captivity, Rescue, & Recovery.

Violent Action Scenes Contrast With A Deep Journey Of Discovery as Each Couple Works To Make Their Own Sense Of Normal Despite The Depravity They Have Both Witnessed.

The Suspense Mounts As The Guardians Work To Bring A Human Trafficking Ring Down.

Trigger warning: sensitive readers should take note. This book includes violence, abduction, issues of non-consent, and captivity.

Each book is a standalone, following one couple’s happy for now ending, but the story of the Guardians is ongoing throughout.

ABOUT THE GUARDIANS: HOSTAGE RESCUE SPECIALISTS

An organization formed for the purpose of rescuing hostages both domestic and worldwide, Guardian HRS is composed of primarily ex-military special forces – trained soldiers and experts in their fields.

The best and the finest are recruited upon leaving the military in order to serve on these elite teams. Since most are former military, they slide into their roles with relative ease.

They must perfect enhanced interrogation techniques, without which their missions would be doomed to fail. Unlike the military, they are not restricted by governmental standards. They have no qualms about taking out bad guys.

Due to the nature of their work, staying in prime physical condition is a requirement. When not employed on missions, the Guardians do physical training and drills. They work one week a month to empower their rescued victims by teaching them self-defense. Tech and medical teams provide vital mission support to the Guardians.

Sam, who is a legend in the black ops community, heads the organization. He is well-connected in the government and recruits only the best to join the ranks of the Guardians. The company assists the FBI on a contract basis with domestic off-the-books hostage extractions, working mostly with wealthy clients. These government connections help to keep Guardians protected by people in high places even though their work doesn’t typically stay within the law.

The tech team is a brilliant but disorganized group. They are led by Mitzy, Lead Technical Engineer, who has a bit of OCD but is a veritable tech genius. Mitzy is quirky and brilliant with a computer, so Forest snatched her up for the Guardians. The tech team works in the background, digging up the information needed to ensure successful missions. Mitzy works with facts and leaves the assumptions to the Guardians.

The medical team stands on call at all times. They frequently travel on location to save lives and administer care to team members and rescued victims alike. Dr. Skye Summers, Lead Medical Physician, also happens to be one of the two co-founders of The Guardians. Ryker and Tia, a married couple, are on the medical team.

Guardian operations are overseen by Charles James Rowan (CJ), formerly of Delta team, who has become a famed member of the organization since bringing down a serial killer and his copy cat in book one, Rescuing Melissa. He still reports to Sam, but he has since been promoted to Mission Commander. He leads Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta teams. Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie teams travel worldwide to take down traffickers and rescue victims. Delta team’s focus remains domestic.

Alpha team includes Max (Alpha-One) as team leader. Knox is his second (Alpha-Two). Axel (Alpha-Three) is team medic. Griff (Alpha-Four) specializes in interrogation. Liam and Wolfe finish out the team (Alpha-Five and Alpha-Six).

Bravo team is led by Brady, Max’s best friend (Bravo-One). The team includes Booker.

Charlie team includes Tex as team leader (Charlie-One), Hank (Charlie-Two), Walt (Charlie-Three), Blake, Jeb, and Gabe.

Delta, CJ’s old team, is now led by Jenny (Delta-One). Delta team is the only Guardian team with female members. Others on the team include Mac, Jon Knutt, Brett Parmley, and Charlene Moudin (Delta-Six). Charlie/Charlene – every man’s wet dream – is the newest member of the team. Jenny is from Brazil and a former victim herself. She and Mac have an interesting dynamic.

Located along the California coast, The Facility is a residential rehabilitation center run by the organization. It is a secure facility that rescued victims can opt to stay at while learning to overcome the trauma they have faced. The huge complex serves as a safe place for trafficking survivors and rescued youth to live and learn how to recover their lives. Most of its residents are minors, many of which were rescued from the foster system. In addition to learning self-defense, they are provided counseling and education. While residents at The Facility, victims work to build self-confidence. They learn to empower themselves by not being victims, but by becoming survivors.

Forest Summers is a billionaire investor whose support funds many of the Guardians’ activities. He and his sister Skye co-founded The Guardians: HRS. Sam runs the show, but he reports to Forest. Forest’s troubled youth has inspired him to help those in need. He is committed to rescuing youth from bad foster homes as well as liberating those swept up into human trafficking. Taking down the networks behind the business is a priority. Forest’s interests don’t just stop there, though. He also founded The Facility and manages the rock band Angel Fire. He dabbles in many things. He has a brilliant but unusual mind. He doesn’t relate well to people yet dedicates his time and money to helping the most unfortunate.

Note that Forest Summers is a crossover character. An emotional prequel to his story gives readers insight into his early trauma and motivation. Read the novella Ashes to New to learn about him and his foster sister Skye. Read Changing Roles (books 4-6), a book by Jet Masters (and Ellie Masters) that crosses several series in one book. It shows the human trafficking side of the story and Forest’s involvement from that angle. He is also in the Angel Fire rock star series as their manager, where he finally gets his own HEA. Forest’s Fall is book six of that series. It takes place after Changing Roles (and was previously book three of the Captive Hearts series).

That is not the only crossover. Three on the medical team also have crossover stories. Skye Summers gets her story with Ash Dean (a.k.a. Blaze) in book one of the Angel Fire rock band series, Heart’s Insanity. Major Tia Meyers (T) and Technical Sergeant Ryker Lyons get their story in Heart’s Desire, book two of the Angel Fire series. On the tech side, Mitzy gets her story with Noodles of Angel Fire in book five of that series, Hearts Entwined. It was through Forest that she met rock star Noodles. There is also crossover of Ariel Black, ex-military helicopter pilot, who helps with an assist in Rescuing Moira. Her book is the first book in The One I Want series, Aiden.

Fans will note that the last chapter in Rescuing Moira points to the next book in the series, Rescuing Eve (book four). Eve Deverough had been kidnapped from Cancun along with Zoe in book two. After getting unloaded from the container ship, the girls were separated and put onto different flatbed trucks. There are hints that Max (Alpha-One) will be sent into a trafficking ring undercover, taking advantage of the information recovered by Moira.

The Guardian Hostage Rescue Specialists are dark, raw, and gritty. They deal with captivity, rescue, and recovery. Violent action scenes contrast with a deep journey of discovery. The suspense mounts as the Guardians work to bring a human trafficking ring down.

The stories are plot-driven. The details are complex. Although the books in the series are standalone, much is gained by reading them all in order. 

Much thanks to B. Roscoe who provided the excellent source material for this run down of the Guardian Hostage Rescue Specialists series, and so very graciously allowed me to use her words.

Thank you so very much!

Ellie

RESCUING MOIRA

MOIRA
I’ve been to Hell and back,
And back again.
It’s a never-ending cycle for me.
Every time I think the worst is over,
I get knocked right back down again.
I grew up on the streets. I’ve been traded in and out of men’s beds,
I thought that was my lowest moment, but I was wrong.
I was taken from one hell and sold into another.

I’m calloused, hardened, and hopeless.
But when Griff swoops in,
More than once,
To protect me, save me, rescue me,
One thing is certain:
He’ll never stop saving me.
He’s my Guardian angel,
One I can’t live without.


GRIFF
I’d go to Hell and back to save her,
Knock anyone down who gets in my way.
I did it once. I’ll do it again.
I’ll do it as many times as it takes.
She’s strong, bold, and beautiful,
Yet vulnerable, sensitive, and perfect.
She deserves the best in life,
Except the hand she’s been dealt.
I need her, love her, crave her,
And I’ll do anything to keep Moira safe.

Rescuing Moira is a fast-paced, steamy, contemporary, military, romantic suspense that will tug at your heartstrings and leave your heart racing.

The Guardian Hostage Rescue series gets more intense with every book.
With the dangerous missions, heroic rescues, nail biting suspense and sizzling romance, it’s an addictive adrenalin rush.

BookAddict Susan ~ Amazon Reviewer

Ellie Masters’ Guardian Series books are all intense stories surrounding women with an unstoppable inner strength and the Guardians who vow to protect mankind. Each book takes us on a whirlwind ride, to unthinkable places, while a team of very special men who will stop at nothing to accomplish their task, fight till the bitter end to save their rescuees.

Rox LeBlanc ~ Amazon Reviewer

Rescuing Moira is the third book in the Guardian Hostage Rescue Specialists series and is another adrenaline fueled action romance story. …
This story is filled with heart pounding action, adventure, suspense, danger and also some sweet and tender romance and a healthy dose of emotion sprinkled all over it.

LF ~ Amazon Reviewer

One of the best series ever!!!! Totally addictive. … This story had me practically on the edge of my seat the whole time! High heat, suspense, relatable emotions, and intense action combined to bring an amazing book in Rescuing Moira! If I could give it a higher rating I definitely would!!! I highly recommend you read this book!

Marie Evans ~ Amazon Reviewer

Escape inside your next great read!

A little peek inside…

CHAPTER 1

Hard. Cold. Unforgiving.

A concrete floor, damp air, and bone-chilling cold define my existence. The pounding in my skull is unbearable, and the coppery taste in my mouth doesn’t bode well.

Gently, I explore the damage to my head. Dried, matted blood greets my probing fingers. There are lumps, too many to count, but those don’t worry me. Those are survivable.

What I don’t feel are depressions, skull fractures, which point toward damage to my brain.

So yeah, that’s good. Just peachy.

We’re focusing on the positives here. There are far too many negatives, and those scare me to death.

My tongue sweeps the inside of my mouth, finding deep cuts to my inner cheeks. My lips crack as I gently probe, moving my tongue gingerly around, exploring the damage.

I’m alive, not that it’s any surprise. I excel at survival; it’s what I do best—my superpower.

Death would be quieter, less painful than the agony wracking my body. But no. No death for me.

Moira Stone is a goddamn survivor.

The low drone of male voices rumbles somewhere off to my left. The stench of sweat, urine, and blood fills my nostrils. I’m not sure how much of that is mine, and I don’t care. Frankly, I don’t care about much right now.

This isn’t my first time at a shit show.

Been here.

Done that.

Got the scars to prove it.

Whatever this is, I’ll survive it. I’ll survive because I’m too stubborn to give up. I don’t know when to quit, or when to die. I only know how to survive.

Which sucks.

I’m really tired of this shitty life.

Dad walked out when I was five. Mom shot herself into oblivion when I turned ten. Foster Pop ripped my virginity from my prepubescent body at the tender age of eleven. By twelve, I was on the streets peddling my flesh.

The point is, I know how to survive.

At first, I played the innocent little girl routine. Men paid double for that kind of sick, twisted shit, and I got those depraved assholes to feed me the cash I needed to survive one more night on the street.

But here’s the problem with too much cash.

I had money left over to ease the pain. I got hooked on coke, heroine, and basically anything I could ingest, inject, or inhale. My life consisted of one high followed by another desperate low, but through it all, I continued to survive.

I guess I’ve found a new low. Not that it’s unexpected. I was doing pretty well at the Facility, learning to live a new life and believing I could have a good life.

What a joke.

I knew it was too good to be true.

My last big low was when I turned sixteen. Too old to turn the little girl trick, I picked up the wrong John. A veritable old-timer on the streets, I should’ve known better. He was too nice, smelled too good, and told too many lies.

Lies I wanted to believe.

That’s what happens when a moment of weakness hits. It steals your breath and destroys your life. At sixteen, I graduated from prostitute to sex slave.

Yeah, I know. It’s far more glamorous than it sounds. If you haven’t figured it out yet, sarcasm is my thing. It gets me through this hellish life.

The sex slave thing lasted five long years. Then the Guardians freed me. I thought I was done with the whole shit show. Like I could finally be normal and do normal things. At twenty-two, I’m too old for this shit, but evidently, the universe thinks otherwise. I’m right back in the thick of things.

Fear, Confusion, and Hopelessness.

Those are three bastards I know well. They rip through me, suffocate me, drown me, and devour my will to live.

Notice how I said live, not survive. I have no desire to live through this again.

None.

I’ve been here before. If I could end it all now, I would, but the grace of death is not mine. That kind of power lies in the hands of the monsters arguing over their cards.

The universe is one sick prick.

I’ll live, and I’ll endure the vileness to come. I’ll do it because I’m too much of a coward to take my own life.

“Hey, she’s up.” A brusque voice turns my blood to ice.

I pray for death or some kind of reprieve. I won’t get it. This is my fate; to hope where there is nothing to hope for and live when there’s nothing left to live for.

It appears I exist only to feel pain.

“Doesn’t look like she’s up to me.” The second man shifts his attention in my direction.

Under that glare, my body grows still. I dig deep, tunneling into the darkness, only this time, my tricks don’t work. The rank stench of blood, sweat, and fear fills my nostrils, irritating the sensitive passages.

I gag. I cough. I announce to the whole damn world that I am, indeed, awake.

The first man rises. As he does, a loud fart rips and noxious gas tumbles through the room. The foul taint rolls toward me, but not before reaching his friend first.

“Holy shit, Shelly, what the fuck did you eat?”

“Don’t call me Shelly.”

“I’ll call you whatever the fuck I want.” The second man, the one I identify as the leader, waves his hand in front of his nose. “That’s the last fucking time you get to pick dinner.”

“You like Joe’s burritos.” Shelly defends himself.

“Yeah, I love Joe’s burritos, but not your goddamn farts. Take that shit outside.”

“Whatever.” The weight of Shelly’s gaze settles on me. “What are we going to do about her?” He comes over and toes my hip with the steel tip of his boot. “Have they called yet?”

“No.”

“What about…”

“I’ll deal with that.”

Two options present themselves. I can play dead and pretend I’m not, in fact, awake. I might convince them to leave me alone.

No, you can’t.

That’s right. Already announced I was awake and ready to party.

More likely, Shelly will kick harder until pulling a groan from me. I can go with a different option.

Option number two is much more distasteful, but I’m a fucking survivor.

I curl into myself, protecting my vulnerable midsection and hack as if I’m going to vomit. Men aren’t too keen on shoving their dicks in a woman spewing her guts. 

I cup my head and mumble like I don’t know what’s going on.

I do.

I remember every goddamn thing until I blacked out. From the abduction on the beach to getting dragged into the back of the van. I remember fighting. That foolish belief the Facility actually taught me how to survive gave me courage I couldn’t afford.

I fought, and I lost.

That decision resulted in a blow to the head and no memory of what happened next. Not that it matters. I know exactly what’s happening now.

If these men sense weakness, they’ll take what isn’t freely offered. If I do that, my chances of survival drop to zero. But here’s the thing. I’m not an idiot. I know how these things work.

These are not the men I need to fight. Fighting will come later.

Survival is now. I did this when I was twelve, again at sixteen, and I’ll do it at twenty-two.

As for the fight to come?

I’m not looking forward to it.

“Please don’t hurt me.” I cower like a weakling. My hands move from the caked blood on my scalp to my stomach, and I play up the retching noises.

Shelly presses the toe of his boot to my head. It’s meant as a show of strength, demonstrating what he could do, if he so chose.

I almost wish he’d cave in my skull and end this suffering. But he doesn’t.

This is what I need to know. How much leeway do these men have? Can they do what they want to me? Or is there another person pulling their strings? Either option terrifies me, but I hope for the latter. Not because it saves me anything, but because it buys me time.

I allow myself to cry, to whimper, and to curl into a tighter ball. They expect it, and I deliver like a Hollywood movie star. My knees draw up and I rock on the hard, concrete floor.

“Please don’t hurt me…” I mumble those words over and over again.

The men laugh at my desperation. Shelly kicks me in the back with that steel-tipped boot of his.

I’ll kill him first.

But right now, I need to know what’s going on.

Who controls these men?

How valuable am I to them?

Before I do anything, I desperately need to know my worth. Find that out, and I gain power.

It won’t be much, but I’m a goddamn survivor. I didn’t get that way by being weak.

Or stupid.

Or hasty.

Back when I was eleven, I believed I’d be saved from my foster father, but when I told his wife, she blamed me and kicked me out the front door. Twelve is too young to be on the streets, and I quickly discovered there is no humanity. My pleas for food, shelter, and safety fell on deaf ears.

But I watched the older girls, and thanks to my foster father, I understood what they did with those men in the dark alleys. More importantly, I discovered how they made money doing it. It didn’t take long before I realized I could earn double because I was so young.

Youth is a commodity on the streets. I capitalized on my strengths, doubled down, and I survived.

I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help but sink into that desperate place, that futile state between wishing and hoping for a better life.

At twelve, my helplessness had been unbearable, and it took digging deep to find what I needed to survive. I had to learn how to dissociate my body from my mind. I found my strength then, but now?

Now, I don’t care enough to try.

That’s what’s going to kill me.

Apathy.

There is no hope. There are no fairy tales. I’m not the princess imprisoned in the tower. I’m simply tired of it all.

I’m nothing, and I will always be nothing.

Forest Summers and his damn Facility let me believe in a future where I mattered. Hook, line, and sinker, I fell hard and fast for that dream. Rescued from a life of sexual slavery, I believed the lies that I had been saved.

Little did I know fate would intervene. Is this what my life is worth? To go from one degradation to the next? That sliver of hope dangled in front of me, for what?

To tease and torment?

I hate how easily I fell for it.

“Get up.” The harsh tones of the monster watching me pull me from my catatonic state.

I could hide within my mind, but that does nothing to ease what comes next. This is a road I’ve navigated before. I know what I must do to survive. The only question is whether I have the strength to walk this vile road again.

Do you?

Hell, if I know. It’s the only answer I can give.

Weakness feeds the monsters and I refuse to give them what they want. If there’s one thing my previous life taught me, it is how to dig in deep and survive.

Shelly kicks me with the tip of his boot again. “I said, get up!”

Knowing that this is not the time to fight, I roll over and slowly press up from the floor. He kicks me again.

“I said, get up.”

“I’m trying.” I grit my teeth, knowing that tiny flare of defiance is something I’ll pay for later.

“I don’t have all damn day.”  Shelly’s voice turns dangerously cold.

I slowly push my shaky body up from the unforgiving concrete and avoid looking at the bloodstain that most surely is mine. With my hands trembling and my arms shaking, I slowly rise to a sitting position. My legs curl behind me, and I stare into Shelly’s cold, unforgiving eyes. There’s no compassion there, only death and misery.

I want to shout, but I grit my teeth. This is not the time to fight.

He shoves me, pushing on my shoulder with his broad, meaty hand. The force of his shove knocks me back to the ground. Shelly spits on me and that steel-tip toe of his boot slams into my spine.

“I said, get up.”

Slowly, I rise and fight a wave of nausea as I shift back to a sitting position. Knowing this is a game for him, I grit my teeth and manage to get my feet beneath me. On wobbly knees, I rise.

I know men like him. I know what they like, and what they hate. I know what they need to feel like men. They need broken women who cower at their feet.

No problem, buddy. I’m an expert at groveling.

I’ve been serving assholes like him my entire life. Defiance only makes them bolder. I sink into myself, burying who I am, and begin the process of dissociating body from mind.

My chin tucks to my chest and my gaze settles on those boots I hate. I’d love to ram that steel-toed monstrosity up his ass.

My shoulders hunch and I portray myself as a meek, mild, and subdued female. It feeds their power complex and gives me time to get my shit together.

As for the seething hatred I feel for this man, I bury that shit down a deep, dark well. That’s not a mistake I can make. Not if I want to survive.

The only language these men understand is power and control. Who has it and who doesn’t.

If you haven’t been keeping up. They have it. I don’t.

“I’m sorry.” The warble in my voice is not hard to fake.

I’m terrified. I don’t know who these men are, and I don’t know why they took me. I don’t even know where my friend is.

The last memory I have of Zoe, we were walking on the beach. Dark, and well past midnight, we headed back to the house the Facility rented for its charges so we could spend a few days in Santa Monica and pretend we were normal kids.

My first night off the Facility, almost a year after my rescue, and men chased me, caught me, and now who knows what they’re going to do to me. They dragged Zoe and me into a van where I tried to fight and failed.

All I remember is blackness and waking up here.

As for here, there’s no way to know where I am, but I do a quick scan of the room and notice one important thing.

I don’t know what happened to Zoe.

“I bet you’re sorry.” The man makes a slow circuit around me. He pulls at his jaw and pauses at my back. Another shiver runs through me. “You’re older than our usual.”

Their usual?

Well, that answers one question.

These aren’t random men. They’re professional kidnappers. That’s not something that should give me hope, but it does. If they’re professionals, that means they’re working for a client. Clients don’t like damaged goods.

If I play this sick, twisted game right, I might make it out of here mostly intact.

Meek. Mild. Subdued.

Those are my weapons.

I draw my hands in front of me and clasp them loosely at my waist. I continue to stare at a spot of blood drying on the concrete.

Shelly moves again, coming to a stop in front of me. My focus shifts from the blood to his boots.

“Please, sir…” I inject maximum humility and submission into my voice. “May I have some water?”

Weakness fills my body and I can’t stop the tremors. My legs shake so hard I think I’m going to collapse. If I do, that’ll only encourage him to hit me again, or worse. Kick me with his steel-toed boots.

I’ve yet to scan my body, but from the sharp, stabbing pain in my side, my ribs are cracked. That must’ve happened while I was blacked out because I don’t remember that beating.

Shelly places his rough, calloused fingers on my chin. He yanks my head up until I’m forced to look at him, but I don’t look him in the eye.

I’m meek and subdued.

Surviving this rotten game.

My gaze rises to his lips, where I leave it.

I don’t need to fake the tears falling down my cheeks. I’m scared for my life.

“She’s a pretty one, isn’t she?” The other man scoots his chair back and stands.

I don’t like two of them on their feet. The room feels ten times smaller with them standing over me. That tremor turns into shivers of fear.

“She sure is,” Shelly says. “You sure we can’t have a little bit of fun with her first?”

5-Star Reviews

Pages

RESCUING ZOE

They’ll have to fight for their happily ever after…
Rescuing Zoe is a fast-paced, steamy, contemporary, military, romantic suspense that will tug at your heartstrings and leave your heart racing.

One phone call changes my entire life. 

My best friend’s little sister is missing, kidnapped off the streets of Cancun.

He needs my special skill set to bring her home.

A former Navy SEAL, I’m now a Guardian, a brotherhood of men dedicated to rescuing those who’ve been taken.

Rescuing Zoe should be just another job, but Zoe and I share a history. 

One her brother doesn’t know about.

She’s been in love with me since she was five. 

It began as an annoyance, but a year ago I set her straight.

She crawled into my bed and I broke her heart.

I walked away.

But now?

Now, I’ll do anything to rescue Zoe and bring her home.

If you love over the top alphas, military men that like to take charge, steamy couples, and happily ever afters, Rescuing Zoe is for you. Drop your inhibitions at the door. You won’t be needing them anyway. Rescuing Zoe is book 1 in the Guardian HRS series. All books are contemporary standalone, steamy military romances, with arrogant alpha male heroes, the smart, feisty heroine who steals his heart and each has their own Happily Ever After (HEA). Grab your copy today and let the binge-reading begin! 

 “Wow, talk about action-packed, romance, cat and mouse, and suspense all rolled into one book. Zoe and Axel’s story was amazing and one you will have a tough time putting down.”

Cindy ~ Goodreads Review

“Another enthralling tale by the incomparable Ellie Masters! Zoe and Axel must battle their way to their true destiny, but Oh! What a ride!”

Mary ~ Goodreads Review

“Ellie Masters is at the top of her game in The Guardian Hostage Rescue Specialists series.”

Melanie ~ Goodreads Reviewer

“I was hooked on this story right from the get-go. Filled with action, suspense, drama, and of course romance that makes you not able to put this story down…This series is fantastic and the author shows her ability to write these incredible stories that keep you awake late at night and leave you wanting more.”~

Jamie ~ Goodreads Review

Escape inside your next great read!

A little peek inside…

CHAPTER 1

Once upon a time, there was a girl. 

A happy, vibrant girl

Who didn’t believe nightmares were real.

* * *

But the girl woke up

A terrified, frightened girl

Trapped in a living nightmare.

* * *

That girl is me. 

* * *

It’s been two days since they added the last girl. Eve arrived much as we all did, struggling, snarling, and full of fight. She survived her first beating. She’s quiet now. Recovering from her injuries. Now, she whimpers and cries, just like the rest of us.

Like Eve, I fought when they took me, and like her, I suffered. I cried.

I’m smarter now.

We all are.

In the oppressive silence and cloying blackness, which smothers all hope, we’re not ready to die. And while nobody knows where we are, or where we’re going, we are headed somewhere.

We’re fed, watered, and they remove the foul-smelling bucket of waste once a day. I think. Measuring time is difficult, but we know one thing. They want us alive when we get to wherever it is they’re taking us.

To monsters who wait for us.

To the beginning of a living hell.

After Eve’s arrival, the metal floor of our prison vibrated. A low, persistent drone shook the shipping container. Sometime later, hours maybe—it’s hard to tell how much time passes in here—a soft up and down, side to side, rolling motion confirms our fears. We’re being shipped to the next destination in our descent into hell.

The days pass with the relentless march of time. We can’t stop it, slow it, or reverse it. Minutes last hours, hours last days, and the world no longer makes sense. With only suffocating darkness to pass the time, I lose more and more of my sanity with each passing day.

My fingers plait a tiny braid. I make one for each day, or at least I think the time between one opening of the shipping container and the next is one day. It’s when they feed us and water us like the animals we’ve become.

There are ten braids now.

A loud bang sounds, and I nearly jump out of my skin.

Men’s voices rumble outside.

I scurry back, not wanting them to touch me, to hurt me. Three girls got too close. They were dragged out. None returned. Thirteen of us remain, shadows of our former selves.

When the doors open, all we see is darkness. What little light there is from the moon filters down through stacked shipping containers, to cast shadows upon shadows. I prefer the formless blackness to the shifting shadows. They don’t open the door during the daytime. It’s always night.

Always dark.

A hand reaches in and removes the waste bucket. Footsteps recede while someone else places a large bowl of water just inside. We wait for the man with the bucket to return and toss it back inside. Covered in filth and grime, the bucket no longer bothers me.

When water comes, no one touches it. We fear what might be in it more than we fear dying of thirst.

We wait.

We wait until the doors close. Until the metallic thunk of the locking lugs tells us we’re once again locked inside our stifling prison.

Safe.

Only then do we move.

One girl.

One girl finds the bowl in the blinding darkness.

One girl takes a sip.

And we wait.

If she doesn’t pass out from whatever drug they may have laced it with, we share the water. Small sips that do nothing to quench our thirst.

But it keeps us alive.

We survive together, thirteen girls bonded by a nightmare.

Each girl takes her turn to test the water.

Today, it’s my turn.

I lift my head from my knees and reach for the bowl. Dipping my finger into its contents, I croak out a scratchy, “W-water.” There is no food. Gnawing hunger claws at my belly, but it’s thirst that drives me.

Sighs sound all around me in the dismal darkness. It’s been too long without water. The only thing carrying me through, the only reason I hold onto hope, is that I believe we’re more valuable alive than dead. I know what fate awaits us. We all know. But it’s still better than death.

I take a long pull, swallowing water down a scratchy throat, which still hurts from all the screaming during my abduction. It feels as if I broke something inside because my voice is nothing but a breathy whisper now.

As the first girl, I’ll drink more than the rest. That way, the drug, if it’s there, will be more likely to take effect on me, thus saving the others. I scoot back against the wall and slide the bowl to Bree. She came the day after I arrived. Our fingers interlock as I tip my head back to wait.

If nothing happens, Bree will take a sip and pass it to Dawn. Dawn will pass it to Anna, and Anna will pass it to Freya. On down the line, we’ll share until the last drop is gone.

Then we’ll wait for the door to open again.

We don’t have the strength to fight. Not that I’ll waste my energy on these men. I’m saving mine for the real monsters to come.

Not sure if my eyes are open or closed, fetid darkness folds around me. My thoughts wander, like they do every hour of every day, to the last moment I was happy.

I don’t focus on the men who snatched me off the street.

Instead, my thoughts go to the brilliant-blue skies and white sand beaches of Cancun. Crystal-clear, tropical waters sparkle beneath a bright sun. The festive spring break party atmosphere lets a smart girl lower her guard.

I lost my freedom in the span of a heartbeat, on my very first night in paradise.

I thought I could walk from the beach to our hotel by myself. I gave no thought to the vulnerability of a pretty, young girl walking alone. I didn’t think I was alone. People were all around me, partying, with far too much liquor flowing in their veins.

I felt safe.

But I was separated from the crowd. They yanked me into a filthy van. Took me to a filthy house on a filthy street. There I was stripped, examined, and left to huddle on a filthy floor with a filthy flea-infested blanket. Then they shoved me inside a filthy shipping container twenty feet long with ten other girls.

Has it really been ten days? The braids in my hair don’t lie.

What are my friends doing now? Did they call the police? Do Mexican police care about American girls who disappear? Or do they think I got drunk and passed out in some foreign bed with some nameless boy?

I’ll never know. Austin must be going ballistic, worrying about me. My overly protective brother will not stop until I’m found. And my father? He’ll do whatever it takes to bring me home. I cling to hope, even knowing how desperate that makes me.

“How do you feel?” Bree keeps her breathy voice soft. We aren’t allowed to speak to one another. That freedom, among many things, was violently taken from us.

“Good so fa…” I struggle to complete my thought as darkness overtakes me. My eyes droop. My muscles relax.

“It’s drugged.” Bree’s voice sounds far away and defeated.

Hands reach for me and drag me over a rough metal floor as I dream of a happy, vibrant girl who doesn’t believe in nightmares.

5-Star Reviews

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