New Orleans, Louisiana ~ 1812
Stumbling down the dirt road, I am in search of anyone that can help me. The shooting pain in my head will not ease up. Bracing myself against the closest building, I once again take in my surroundings. In the distance, I can hear a noise. It’s muffled, but still better than the deafening silence that surrounds the place where I awoke.
Where am I? Or worse yet, who am I? Damn this pain, I can't think with it.
Pushing myself off the building, I follow the noise. As I get closer, I see light shining through the glass on a few of the storefronts. Despite that, not a single person is in sight. Thankfully, at the end of the road, I find the source of all the noise. I push my way through the doors and all noise comes to a halt. The smell of tobacco and alcohol fills the air. My eyes dart around the room and I’m met with the angry glares of the patrons inside.
“Your kind doesn’t belong here,” the male voice booms from across the room. Before I can respond, I’m struck hard in the head from behind. As I collapse to the floor, the new world around me fades to black.
This time I wake with my cheek pressed against the hard dirt ground. The smell of rancid sweat invades my nostrils and I can see the feet of the others that stand around me. I push myself off the floor and stand, finally able to take in my surroundings. I'm surprised by how many of us fit into this small space. The man next to me eyes me with both awe and fear. He shakes his head furiously at me.
“Rete trankil. Gad la ap gade. (Keep quiet. The guard is watching.)” The language he speaks is different from what the pale-skinned man spoke earlier. Yet, I understand him perfectly.
I nod, acknowledging him. Once again, the pain in my head throbs. Instinctively, my hand moves to rub away the ache. That’s when I feel something wet and sticky. Removing my hand, I look down and see it completely covered in blood.
“Depi konbyen tan mwen te isit la? (How long have I been here?)” I ask the man that just spoke to me.
Instead of answering, he shifts backward nervously as he tries to put distance between us. A hard task considering the lack of space that surrounds us.
We stay in this room for who knows how many days. The heat is immense, but it doesn’t bother me. The only thing that really does is the smell and my hunger. Each day the men bring us just enough food to hold us over. But it’s never enough to satisfy. It’s the same with the water. We are only allowed to drink once a day. It’s always dirty and tastes almost as bad as it smells. But it keeps me alive. Although, I’m starting to believe that isn’t such a great thing to be around here.
The next day, the guard comes to stand before us. Only this time, his hands are empty of both food and water. He unlocks the door and then, one by one, we are removed from the crowd. Now it is my turn. The men walk me into a room and instruct me to remove all of my clothing. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a bucket of water in the corner.
“Don’t just stand there. Wash up and be quick,” the short man yells as he throws a thick, waxy square bar at me.
I obey my orders and once finished, a man walks in to inspect the wound on my head. Luckily, it stopped bleeding my first night here, and the pain ceased shortly after that. The small amount of water in the bucket is not enough to wash the blood away. It is still caked onto my skin and the man uses much force as he tries to remove it completely. After he is done, I hear him mutter a sound of confusion.
“I thought you said this one was injured?” He asks the man who is standing guard.
“He is. I hit him in the head with my club and he bled all over me while I drug his arse down the road.”
My eyes glance over at the man who spoke, but when I see the look on his face, I quickly turn away. These men are much smaller than me, and I could easily overpower them. But then what? I have no clue who I am or where I come from. I can’t remember anything beyond waking up a few nights ago.
“Well, it must not have been as bad as you say, because he is completely healed. Not a mark on him.” The man says while standing up and walking out of the room.
“Get dressed,” the guard bellows while pointing to a pile of clothes in the opposite corner from where I stand. “You’re up next.”
Without speaking, I walk over and pick up my new clothes. The pants are too small and stop mid-calf. My shirt isn’t any better, but no one seems to care. When the guard reappears, he has two sets of shackles in his hand. First, he binds my wrists, then my ankles. When he finishes, he motions for me to exit the room. He follows and quickly begins walking down the short hallway. To avoid further issues, I fall in line behind him without being told to.
When we reach the front room, there is a large group of men standing around. The guard leads me onto a platform where another man is already waiting. He is trying to silence the low buzz coming from the onlookers.
“Alright, this one here was found wandering around town a few nights ago. There haven’t been any reports of missing slaves, so we feel it safe to assume he is no one’s property. His size is quite impressive and his temperament has remained docile. Surely he will be an asset to whoever is lucky enough to purchase him today. Let the bidding begin,” the man standing behind the podium calls out.
The words property and purchase echo through my thoughts. I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen to me, but this is certainly not it. The men in front of me keep throwing their hands up and yelling out numbers, but I can't hear them. All I hear is my heartbeat thundering in my ears, courtesy of my growing anger.
“Sold,” the man cries out while the guard rejoins us on the platform.
That’s when I snap, the world around me turning red. I let out an inhuman growl and yank my arms apart, breaking free of the shackles around my wrists. I can hear the yelling going on around me, but can’t make out any words. They fear me, as they rightfully should be. I belong to no one, memories or no memories. I know that much to be true.
The man at the podium begins frantically blowing into a whistle. The pitch is so high that it hurts my ears. I lunge at the guard, but before I can make contact, I hear a loud cracking sound and then feel the sting around my wrist. Another one immediately follows, and soon I’m being hurled forward. With the shackles still around my ankles, I trip and fall to the ground, flat on my face. The cracking sound continues and each time it snaps, I can feel white-hot heat down my back. Before I pass out, I focus on the sound of the whistle that is still being blown over and over and over...
When I open my eyes, I realize I’m in the truck and not back at the auction house. The whistle that wouldn’t stop blowing is, in fact, my alarm going off. Reaching blindly for the phone in the cupholder I quickly turn it off. Allowing myself a moment, I stare up at the roof of the truck. Often I dream of my past, but it's been ages since I relived the memories of my first days.
Slowly, I move my seat up and take in my surroundings. The gas station I pulled into early this morning is busy. There are countless big rigs and regular vehicles filling up their tanks and restocking on essentials inside the mini-mart. This station is the last big one until you hit Nashville. So I’m not surprised there is a crowd at eight in the evening.
It’s been a little over two weeks since I’ve been on the road. Kalli thought this mission would be easy. Hell, maybe for her it would be because she's easier on the eyes than I am and a lot less intimidating. People actually want to be around her, unlike me. But no matter what I push on, despite being constantly two steps behind the one I’m in search of. It doesn’t surprise me though. A man as elusive and cunning as he takes patience to catch. Eventually, his time will come.
Reaching for the handle, I open the door and step out of the truck. Kane has been supplying me with money this entire trip, making it so I could eat and stay in hotels. But more nights than not, I prefer the solitude of the truck. I grab my toiletry bag, some clean clothes and make my way inside to handle business.
When I’m done, I walk back out to the truck with a few bottles of water and some snacks. I toss everything down on the seat next to me and begin taking bites out of the protein bar in my hand. In the cupholder is a folded up piece of paper. I pick it up and read the flier: Club Vertigo. Once inside, I’m to find Veronica. She is the buffer in Nashville.
Before I can start the truck, my phone rings. There’s no point in checking to see who it is, it’s only ever one person. Pressing the talk button, I’m not given the chance to say hello first.
“You’re awake,” she says, surprised.
I glance down at the clock on the dash. Thanks to the wait for the showers, it’s a little after nine.
“Of course I am. What’s going on?”
“I just want to make sure your plans haven’t changed since we last spoke. That’s all,” she replies. “This is taking longer than it should, and I’m worried about you.”
Even though it's only been two weeks, I can hear the worry and stress in her voice. No specific deadline was given, but none of us want to keep Hades waiting. Especially since it's her ass on the line. The last time we spoke, I told her I got word that Cyrus was in Nashville and that hopefully, this time, I would get there before he left. I hoped that since this was a bigger city with a larger clientele looking to buy what he was selling, it would cause him to stay there longer.
“I’m the last person you should worry about. Stop stressing, it’s not good for you.”
On the other end of the line, I can hear the heavy sigh she lets out. It’s driving her crazy being stuck at home. But she’s pregnant and her mate is smart in putting his foot down. Their baby is a rarity. There are no known harpies living in this realm, let alone one mated and pregnant by a werewolf. If she was my mate, I wouldn’t let her travel around the country searching for some asshole either.
“Easier said than done. Let me know how tonight goes.”
She hangs up the phone before I can say goodbye, and I can’t help but smile. Impatient creature. Turning the key in the ignition, the truck roars to life. The loud rumble of the exhaust as I hit the gas pedal makes everyone turn to look as I speed out of the parking lot. In less than two hours, I’ll be in Nashville. Let’s hope this Veronica has some good news for me.