Guarded By Grayson by A.J. Andersen

Chapter Six

Nikki

Grayson.

A silly smile breaks across my face at just the thought of his name. It’s been a long time since I woke up… happy. Yep, that’s what this feeling of lightness is. Happiness. Bright sunlight is already streaming through my windows, lighting up my small studio apartment. I don’t usually sleep so long, but by the time Grayson (sigh) walked me to my door, it was late. Even later by the time he kissed the hell out of me and I ground my needy body against his until I shocked myself by having an orgasm, even through the barrier of all our clothes. I’d be embarrassed, but he didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t reciprocate. I still can hardly believe the sweet way he tucked me into bed with goodnight kisses. I can’t remember ever feeling so safe and cared for as I did in that moment.

Even now, in the warm morning light, that feeling of security lingers. I can’t wait to see him again! About halfway through dessert, we decided to meet at the same café after my shift tonight. He really meant it when he said Tassels isn’t somewhere he usually spends time. The café is basically halfway between my apartment building and the club. I’m working the early shift today, so I’ll be out of there before it gets late enough to be crazy like last night. Who knows, maybe if I invite him in today he’ll stay longer… maybe even all night.

Padding across my room to the corner that functions as my kitchen I put water on the two-burner hot plate to make my usual breakfast of oatmeal and dried fruit. Not my first choice, but it’s filling and inexpensive. That is right up my alley. Mama taught me how to live on a small budget; I can thank her for that if nothing else.

Rushing through my breakfast, I hurry to get ready, throwing on the same jeans I wore last night with a fresh t-shirt and lightweight hoodie before shoving my feet into my boots and running downstairs and out onto the sidewalk. I don’t like the job, but there’s no way I’m going to be late on my second day even though my gut is telling me nothing good can come from me working there. One of these days I will pay attention to those feelings, but today my need to pay rent overrides my trepidation.

* * *

For the most part,my shift has been slow, and with how distracted I’ve been that suits me fine. I have a small handful of tip money tucked in my pocket, mostly from helping Sebastian, who told me to call him Bas. Star felt like me working behind the bar was going well so I don’t have to work the floor unless it’s busy. That suits me because I’m way more comfortable doing that than I am waiting tables. Working at Tassels might actually be tolerable if I can keep working with Bas. Maybe I’ll even be able to wear something other than the skimpy uniform. The other bartenders get to wear jeans and a black t-shirt with the club’s logo on the left side. I’m going to talk to Starla about it Sunday when we meet for brunch. It’s her week to pay, so I know that we’ll be catching an Uber to the Strip for whatever casino has the best buffet planned.

Stripping in the small changing room, I slip out of my work clothes and back into my own faster than I did last night, my desire to spend time with Grayson burning in my belly. I wasn’t even this excited by the prospect of going out with Ronny when he first started pursuing me, and that had been the most exciting thing to happen in my life for years. If not ever. Pushing open the door I step out into the light. It’s easy to lose track of what time it at Tassels since it’s always dark inside.

Walking in the direction of the café and my apartment, a nondescript white van catches my attention. Vans have always made me nervous, especially big ones without windows, like the one just up ahead. For a second, I consider crossing the street so I don’t have to walk right by it but shake my head at my own silliness. I live in a city now. There are going to be vans. It’s not reasonable to think that I can cross the street every single time I see one parked nearby.

Feeling the need to hide I pull my hood up to cover my brightly colored hair, clutching my purse tight. I keep my other hand free of my pocket and approach the vehicle, ready to run or fight if needed. My heart thuds heavily in my chest. I wish I knew why vans freak me out so bad, but I have absolutely no recollection of being around one before. It’s probably nothing more than something scary I saw on TV as a kid that stuck with me, but I still give the vehicle a wide berth, passing quickly and staying as close to the buildings as I can. Why is the damn sidewalk empty? I swear there are usually people around everywhere, but the one time that I’d be happy to see anyone, there isn’t a soul in sight.

I can see the diner up the block and breathe a sigh of relief. I’m almost there. Grayson is probably already inside with sweet tea and pie, waiting for me. Shaking my head ruefully I chuckle quietly and quicken my pace, feeling childish and a little bit over dramatic for my moment of panic. Until a car door slams nearby, making my heart race with renewed fright. I didn’t notice anyone sitting in any of the parked cars as I passed them. The temptation to look over my shoulder is overwhelming but I force my eyes to stay fixed on my destination and I quicken my pace.

There’s barely time for me to react to the sound of running feet seconds before a hand snakes around my face smothering my alarmed cry. I yelp in surprise as something sharp jabs through my jeans into my thigh. The mild sting that follows is the scariest sensation I’ve ever felt in my life. Someone injected me with something! I jerk at the arms restraining me, attempting to break free so I can scream but my voice is muffled against a sweaty palm that smells like stale garlic. The slick bottoms of my boots scramble uselessly against the sidewalk, trying to escape as I’m drug backward toward the now idling van. This cannot be happening.

My heart pounds desperately and I attempt to bite the hand covering my mouth and nose. Instead of letting go my captor pushes against my teeth. Hard. My jaw stretches painfully when he increases the pressure until an unintentional squeak of pain is torn from my throat.

Fucking vans! I knew I should have crossed the street.

Why in the world is this happening to me?

My thoughts are disjointed and my vision is fading, growing blurry around the edges. Whatever they injected me with was powerful. My purse drops from my numb fingers and belatedly I reach for it. My hand feels like it belongs to someone else. I open my mouth to scream again. The hand over my face grips harder, cutting off my air and everything goes black but I’m not unconscious. I can hear and feel everything as I’m roughly tossed onto the cold metal floor. The raspy slide and clang of the van door closing seems so final. Male voices argue on the periphery of my consciousness. I struggle to open my eyes, to call out for help. It’s useless. The drug coursing through my body has rendered me blind and mute.

Then there is nothing but silence…

* * *

A low humthrums through my head. Kind of like the time I drank too much box wine and it gave me the worst headache of my life the next morning. My thoughts feel fuzzy and I can’t remember where I am or how I got here. Something bad happened, I know that. It’s a truth that resonates deep in my soul. I just can’t remember what happened through the thick fog clouding my thoughts. Drowsiness pulls at the edges of my awareness, but I fight against it, struggling to lift eyelids that are too weighted to do more than flutter uselessly.

What do you know? I prompt myself, refusing to surrender to the need to sleep.

I’m indoors. There’s no wind or sounds of the outdoors. It smells funny. Stagnant, like a house that’s been closed up for too long, and what’s that other smell? Cigar smoke maybe, or some fancy cigarette. I hear voices, male voices. The sound triggers a sense of panic. My heart races and my breath hitches in my throat as I try to concentrate on what’s being said. I need to focus on anything that will help me make sense out of what’s going on, but the miasma clouding my brain makes comprehension impossible. Everything sounds like gibberish coming from the end of a long, dark tunnel and I’m so, so tired.

Giving up the fight I stop listening and embrace the encroaching darkness.

* * *

“She’s coming around.”An unknown male voice rasps nearby. There’s a reply, but I’m fading out again and miss it.

What's wrong with me?

“Wakey wakey little Nikki.” The words are crooned right against my ear, accompanied by that smell again. The faint smell of flavored smoke. I want to be comforted by it; it reminds me of my grandfather. Before Mama went and burned that bridge for both of us. I remember smelling it when I woke up before, but have no idea how long ago that was.

Where am I?

What the fuck is going on?I moan, the sound pathetic even to my own ears. I try to move my head, but something tight around my neck stops me. Ice water floods my veins as the realization that I’m restrained penetrates my muddled brain.

“Wake up, Nikki.” The voice was cajoling before, but it is colder now. Insistent. I try to comply. To follow the directive and open my eyes, but it’s impossible.

“The stupid fuck gave her too much.” The voice is angry. It’s like I’m swimming in quicksand, struggling to get my head above water, but the black tunnel keeps pulling me under. Who gave me what?

Over the sound of blood pounding in my head, a rough voice demands that I open my eyes, but I can’t. I want to explain that I’m trying, but all that tumbles from my lips is a string of unintelligible sounds. A rough curse is immediately followed by a searing burn next to my belly button. I’ve never felt anything like it! I scream, howling with pain and fear as I fight against whatever, whoever is hurting me.

The same voice laughs against my ear, hot breath tickling against my skin. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s friendly, an almost kindly laugh that’s completely misplaced coming from the person I assume is responsible for the agony radiating from that small spot on my abdomen.

What the fuck is he using that hurts this bad?

It takes every ounce of my willpower to force my eyelids open and stare down the length of my naked body. I blink dumbly, shock stealing my voice as I watch him finish putting out his cigarette against the soft skin of my belly.

“Good evening, beautiful,” the stranger says, turning his almost black eyes to meet my horrified stare.

I’ve woken up in the middle of a nightmare that isn't going away. I gasp in a shuddering breath preparing to scream again, but the effect of whatever drug is still coursing through my body slams me back into blessed darkness, taking the pain and confusion with it.