Chapter 1 : Kidnapped Killjoy
My boyfriend Jack Ward called me a prude last night. It was unwarranted, unthinkable, and unbelievably infuriating considering the streetwalking prostitute he was sleeping with in my bedroom.
He went so far as to shame me for being upset by the sight of him stark naked with some redhead wearing my robe in my bed when Jack wasn't even paying for anything at this apartment.
But me? I'm a prude. I'm the problem. Not him cheating on me in our place, which I pay for!
At least he had the decency to shove the woman out the door before I decided to pick an argument over the circumstances I came home to with her there. I slept on the couch when the screaming and shoving was over, and I didn't feel like starting it back up after a twelve-hour shift at the bank.
Otherwise, my night was average.
I live in constant fear of several things, each one specifically terrifying, but none of them are more concerning than the last.
Losing my supervisor job at Grand Dominion Bank, getting mugged in Manhattan, and breaking a seam on my work skirt because it's already too short for my comfort....
The bank manager doesn't mind the short skirt. Kessler Nichols is smiling and greeting us all while we file in from the grungy streets of this restless city.
He stops me, his gray, worn eyes striking down my outfit before he moves to adjust my nameplate with a frail, used-car-salesmen grin.
“Good morning, Eden. You're looking—well."
I skip over his cringey phrase and offer him a sensible nod. “Thank you, Kessler. It's good to see you this morning. I went over the Bartholomew family loan request last night after closing as you asked, but I just had a few sugg—"
“Yes, yes, very well," he hums, meandering through this conversation without me. “Can I speak to you candidly for a moment?"
Our interpretation of that request can be varied given he is thirty years my senior, and his eyes hang over the crest of my blouse where my cleavage creases above the collar of my uniform.
Coming from Kessler, candid also means creepy.
“Sure. Mr. Nichols. Is something wrong?"
He traces the plane of his temple, circling it where his hairline has receded through the years. No doubt due to stress. I've been a floor supervisor for three weeks, and I'm already feeling the pressure rise.
“Right here," he hums, tapping his temple but staring at mine as though to bring attention to my forehead. I mimic his movement and hiss a breath when I poke just in front of my ear. “Yeah, there. What is going on, Eden? We've talked about this before."
“I know, Mr. Nichols. I'll fix it now. I have makeup in my work locker. I can cover—"
“How about you just stop being so clumsy, Eden?" he says, grumbling under his beer-stained breath from last night, possibly even this morning. “You have to look professional out there, I'm counting on you to be the best floor supervisor today."
“Of course. I really appreciate this job. It means a lot to me."
His eyes drift south, and I pretend to ignore them, clutching my purse in my lap and rocking back on my heels. The Manhattan breeze whips through the open door and around my petite skirt, signaling that the morning is upon us.
A little powder foundation paired with a cup of stale, breakroom coffee and I settle in for another hectic day. I run the keys through my fingers, double-checking the amount and then doing it a second time.
The only people with access to these keys are me and Kessler. If my guess is correct, he will head out around noon and prowl the local diner for fluffy pancakes and widowed women to take home.
He drops off his keys at my desk right on time, nodding as though saying he will be back later, but I work until sundown every night. He isn't coming back.
“Supervisor," a little chirp comes from somewhere on my tellers' lineup.
I adjust my skirt as usual and scurry over there in my toe-pinching heels. Abigail motions to her customer, a man with winter gloves and a scarf still around his neck from the cool weather outside. He pulls his hat down, only peering through the sliver of visibility where his bright eyes chill my spine.
“He'd like access to his safety deposit box, Ms. Smith."
I fumble with one set of keys of the two I possess and wave the customer through the background of cubicles and glass-framed offices. The vault is a gold door with beautiful glass handles and a diamond-plated, bulletproof insert.
The boxes are in lines along the wall, all the money and other valuables tucked away behind more doors, behind more security. This ensures that customers can adhere to a sense of privacy when opening their boxes. We aren't supposed to ask what's in them, but I've always been a little curious.
“Alright, sir, here you go," I say, edging to leave the vault but he stays planted in the doorway. “I can give you some privacy if you'd like."
“That won't be necessary," a deep, guttural voice replies.
He pulls the vault door closed, only leaving a crack of space for me to peer through.
A wall of panic hits my chest when I hear shrieking screams outside the vault door, another deep voice calling out planned instructions in the front of the bank.
The customer releases his hat, throwing on a ski mask so quickly that I can't assess his features for police descriptions later.
“Whatever money you think is in this vault, you're wrong," I say through an unsteady whisper. “It's behind walls and walls of locks that I couldn't open, even if I wanted to."
Through the small cuts of his eye holes, I think I see the corners of his eyes crinkle with a grin. “I'm not here for the money. I need your keys, and I need you to open up box seventy-seven."
“Seventy-seven?" I breathe, looking through the vast vault for the box in question. It's the largest box here, no doubt stuffed with some customers' personal assets in cash, gold, or something like it. “Sir, I can't just open another customer's box. It doesn't work—"
My breath hitches, a shiny pistol suddenly gripped expertly in his palm.
“You can open them, Ms. Smith. I know you have the master key."
Although not customary, or wise, we do hold a master key for the rare moment a customer passes and the key is lost in the shuffle. Their stuff can't stay here forever, and the locksmith charges way too much to break into these little boxes.
“I don't want to hurt anyone," he says, his voice sharp and sure of that claim. “I especially don't want to hurt you in the pursuit of one little box. You should do the right thing, pop the box out of place, and hand it over. We will be on our way shortly after."
The keys rattle in my clammy palms, but I proceed toward the box anyway. I don't like the sight of guns; my foster father always kept them scattered around the townhome where I grew up. I always figured one of them would be my downfall, but never like this.
Box seventy-seven is the tallest, widest box available. It's easily a few thousand dollars to possess annually, but I know the customer can handle the tab on it. It's a Donahue box, a name that rings dangerously through Manhattan.
My trembling hands refuse to settle as I attempt to unlock the box.
Instead of a gun pressing into my back, I feel a hand hanging loosely against my shoulder. He's easily a foot taller than me, and built with so much muscle, too much muscle, that denying him this box could easily mean my life, even without the gun.
He leans in slowly, speaking through the gapless cloth mask he pulled over his face.
“Relax, Eden. Open the box, hand over the contents, and everyone will be fine."
I ignore the fact that he somehow knows my first name too; I doubt it matters right now.
“You won't hurt me, right?" I breathe.
The man nods, his gloved hand working over mine as I unlock the door. It pops open, and I reach inside to pull out a small, ornate silver box with a lid. I give it to the robber, and he grabs my wrist instead, hooking a plastic tie around my wrist.
He connects it to my other wrist, pinning my hands in front of me with the box still in my possession. He pulls his scarf away, the mask overlapping with his black blazer, shirt, and jacket. The scarf is laid over the sight of the plastic ties, and still, he doesn't take the box from me.
“Keep calm. We're going out the back door."
He maneuvers me to walk with a slight push, all the way until we're in the alleyway where a cloth tie is wrapped around my eyes and ears, muffling the sound of approaching footsteps and a purring engine.
“That's all there was?" a new voice asks, husky and nearby.
The original robber mumbles his reply. “It'll be in that box. We will worry about opening it later. Silent alarms were pressed three minutes ago. We have one and a half until the cops are on the doorstep."
I calm my breathing as one of them ushers me into a car, pressing a hand into my head like I'm a criminal being detained into the backseat, minding my head so I don't bruise it further smacking myself into the car's exterior.
Someone takes the box from me, two warm bodies sitting on either side of me, my body trembling trying to maintain my composure. The car takes off down the road with more sets of squealing tires in tow.
I release a strangled sigh, panting in every breath while the movement around me seems to intensify. They're ripping off their gloves, and the masks they wore when robbing the bank.
I listen to them picking through the box in question, before squirming. It's like I can feel their eyes on me.
My wrists run through the ties methodically, feeling the plastic tighten as I roll my hands over in my lap. I question why he didn't think to tie my hands behind my back, perhaps in an effort of avoiding discomfort.
For a bank robber, he is rather polite.
I shouldn't exploit that kindness, but I have to. I've watched the news, the horror stories about how banks are robbed, and the hostage is found half-dead in a ditch somewhere. The thieves always get away unscathed because they couldn't be identified.
Not this time, I ponder to myself. I'm not going to let them get away with it.
I throw myself forward in my seat, hitting the floorboard where I turn, thick hands grabbing at my arms and shoulders to calm me down, but it's too late for them.
I yank the cloth tie off my eyes and meet two sets of ocean blues waiting for me.
One of them runs a hand through his semi-long black hair, his hands, neck and every other part of him except his face marked in abrasive black-ink tattoos. The other robber is modestly lean in muscle, his frame differing from his partner that ushered me into the vault. He has blond, unruly hair.
They both pause for a minute. They didn't anticipate my determination to get a look at them, and honestly, I didn't anticipate feeling the way I did upon seeing them.
For bank heisting criminals, they're both extraordinarily attractive.