Rayven T. Hill: Author of the Jake and Annie Lincoln mystery books series.

FREE preview of Web of Justice by Rayven T. Hill: Book 9 in the Jake and Annie Lincoln mystery books series.

  Chapter 1      

DAY 1 - Monday, 9:06 p.m.

OLIVIA BRAGG slipped off her apron, dropped it onto a hook near the back door, and retrieved her small handbag from another hook below. It’d been a busy day, and she was glad it was over.
     Phil had been after her to extend her hours until midnight—again. According to her boss, someone with her looks brought in paying customers and kept them spending. And making money was what it was all about.
     For Phil. But not for her.
     She’d worked that shift before, and though the losers started coming in by eight o’clock or so, by nine the booze had turned them into slobbering drunks. According to Phil, they loved her long black hair and dark brown eyes, and in their inebriated condition, they never seemed to notice the extra thirty pounds she carried around.
     Sure, she could always use the money, but a few extra dollars in tips weren’t worth the nonstop hassle of sidestepping their crude and rude sexual advances. And at thirty-five years old, she was more than tired of it.
     Besides, she needed a little time with Edgar. She got home late enough as it was, and the couple of hours she spent with her hard-working husband were always the highlight of her day.
     She brushed past Phil, who stood at the sizzling red-hot grill, slapping together a pair of greasy burgers for a hungry customer. “Good night, Boss,” she said in a sing-song voice, then pushed open the door and stepped into the warm evening air without waiting for an answer.
     She always enjoyed the walk home. The apartment she shared with her husband was two blocks from Phil’s, and though they lived in an older neighborhood, the area was pleasant and quiet.
     The stillness of the evening broke when a car cruised past and came to a quick stop twenty feet away. The back-up lights of the vehicle lit up the asphalt as the car reversed and eased to a stop beside her.
     Olivia turned to face the vehicle as the driver rolled down his window and poked his head out. An amiable smile lit up his face.
     “I’m looking for Hackett Street,” he said.
     She frowned and shook her head. “I’ve never heard of it.”
     He produced a sheet of paper and waved it out the window.
     Olivia moved toward the vehicle, took the paper, and scanned the single handwritten page. She didn’t see any address on it, and she looked up in bewilderment, then took a cautious step backward as the man swung open the driver door and stepped out.
     “I’m sure it’s around here somewhere,” he said with a shrug, reaching for the paper.
     She handed it to him, then frowned and took another step back. “Sorry, I can’t help you.”
     The man folded the paper and tucked it into his shirt pocket. He glanced up and down the quiet street, then took a long stride forward and grasped her by the arm.
     Her eyes widened and she gasped. She tried to break loose, but with a quick motion, he spun her around, wrapping one arm around her chest, his other hand across her mouth. Her bag slipped from her grasp and dropped to the pavement.
     She struggled and tried to scream, producing a muffled whimper. She kicked in desperation at his ankles with one foot and he laughed, then hissed in her ear, “Relax. I’m not gonna hurt you.”
     Olivia wrenched one arm free, swung it over her head, and grabbed a fistful of his hair. She pulled and he cursed. He removed his hand from her mouth and worked at her fingers, trying to peel them loose.
     She gave one last desperate tug to distract him, then let go of his hair and let her body collapse. Slipping free of his hold, she fell to the pavement, then scrambled away on all fours, bruising her bare knees on the rough asphalt.
     She rolled and stumbled to her feet. “Help,” she screamed, staggering away. Then a hand covered her mouth and muffled her voice, cutting off her air.
     He spoke through gritted teeth. “Do as you’re told or I’ll break your neck.”
     This time he held her tighter, and she resisted in vain as he pushed her toward the rear of his waiting vehicle.
     “If you scream, I’ll kill you,” he said. “You understand?”
     She nodded.
     He removed his hand from her mouth and popped the trunk. “Inside. Watch your head.” He gave her a shove, and she lost her balance, tumbling head first into the trunk. She rolled over and attempted to climb out, but he brought the lid down, whacking her head and stunning her. She drew her hands back to keep her fingers from getting broken as the lid slammed shut.
     Then, except for the faint glow of the taillights, her prison was dark. She lay on her back, screamed for help, and kicked at the solid lid. The driver door slammed and the engine hummed, and the vehicle sped away.
     Before long, she tired and lay still, her mind whirling as the car bounced over potholes and rough pavement.
     Why had he abducted her? Was he going to rape her? And then what? She’d seen his face and could identify him, and she feared he’d never let her go alive.
     She thought about Edgar. Her husband would be heartbroken if anything happened to her. And he’d be lost without her. She had to survive for his sake.
     The vehicle made several turns before gathering speed. The tires hummed. They were heading out of town. Where was he taking her?
     After a few minutes, the car slowed, and she felt it turn, then it bumped and rattled over uneven ground before coming to a sudden stop.
     She cowered deep into the trunk as the engine died. The driver door opened and closed. Footsteps sounded on gravel, then the trunk swung open. By the light of the half-moon she looked into his grinning face.
     “We’re here,” he said, then laughed. His laughter came to an abrupt end and his mouth twisted into a sneer. He stood above her with his arms folded, glaring down at her. “Get out.”
     She remained still, trembling and unable to move.
     “You can scream all you want now,” he said. “No one’ll hear you.”
     Her throat felt constricted, and she couldn’t breathe. “Where … where are we?” she managed to ask.
     “We’re home,” he said, reaching out a hand toward her. “Here, let me help you out of there.”
     Olivia shook her head, folded her arms, and shrank back.
     Her abductor sighed and leaned forward, grasping her by the leg. He dragged her from the trunk, and she fell prone onto the gravel at his feet. She turned her head and looked into his face as he crouched beside her, his hand heavy on her back.
     “Why are you doing this?” Her voice came out as a hoarse whisper. “What do you want?”
     He grabbed her by the hair and twisted her head, forcing her face into the gravel. The sharp stones bit into her skin. “Don’t look at me,” he said.
     He kneeled on her back, tightened his grasp on her hair, and pulled her head back until her neck felt ready to snap. She winced in pain as he slammed her face into the ground.
     “Look at me again and I’ll take out your eyes.” He removed his hand. “You understand?”
     She had no choice but to force out a whispered answer. “Yes.”
     “Never look at my face again,” he said.
     “I … I won’t.”
     He slammed the trunk. “Get up.”
     She struggled to her hands and knees, then staggered to her feet and picked away the slivers of sharp stones that still clung to her skin. Her long hair hung around her bruised and bleeding face as she turned toward him, keeping her eyes on the ground.
     “Turn around.”
     She turned her back and kept her head down, then raised her eyes. A shed the size of a garage stood ten feet in front of the vehicle. The rough wooden exterior was unpainted and weather-beaten, but it appeared solid. Was it to be her prison?
     To her right, maybe a hundred feet away, an old two-story house was visible through the gloom. A pale light glowed in the front window. The rest of the house was dark.
     He gripped her long hair and prodded her toward the shed. Then holding her with one hand, he removed a key from his pocket with the other and unlocked the door. It creaked open and slammed against the inner wall. He pushed her through the doorway and into the darkness, stepping in behind her.

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