Everything was supposed to go back to normal when I was rescued. It hasn’t. And I’m starting to think it never will because I don’t even know what normal is anymore…
It’s been two years since Aleks Silva was rescued by his older brother from the dark underworld of sex trafficking and every day since then has been a battle. Leaving the house, interacting with people, even doing something as boring as deciding what clothes to wear or what to eat for breakfast are tasks that most people take for granted. But for Aleks, they’re torture. Because freedom and choice are things that once came at a steep price and survival meant submitting to the whims of those who only saw him as a possession and plaything.
Until there was one man who saw him as something more…
I knew from the moment I saw him that I was going to get him out. But I also knew once I did, I’d need to let him go…
He’s known as Vaughn and nothing more. His job is to make sure secrets don’t get out and the possessions he’s been tasked with guarding never escape and tell their story. After eight years in a world where innocent kids are used to feed the darkest of depravities, Vaughn has seen things that would break even the strongest man. But he’s played it smart and built up a wall between himself and the darkness that threatens to consume him.
It wasn’t until he met a young man who had to be a thousand times stronger to survive the life he was forced into as a child that the first crack appeared in his carefully constructed wall.
Vaughn’s only job was to make sure young Aleks Silva remained the ugly little secret of one of the most powerful men in Chicago. It was one job he was more than happy to fail at, and when he eliminated the threat against Aleks and set him free, he was sure their paths would never cross again.Books in Series:The Protectors Series by Sloane KennedyBooks by Author:Sloane Kennedy Books
"Thanks, Aleks! These are definitely getting me out of the doghouse with the missus!"
"You"re welcome, Mr. Dunbar," I said as I locked the door behind the older man and flipped the Open sign to Closed and drew down the full-length blind that kept people from seeing into the flower shop after hours. I instantly felt more relaxed.
"So much for all the progress you"ve made, Aleks," I murmured quietly to myself.
Progress" What progress"
I told my inner voice to shut up and reached for my phone. I wasn"t surprised when it rang before I could even unlock it. My brother Dante"s name flashed on the screen, along with the picture of him, his fianc" Magnus, Magnus"s grandson Matty, and Matty"s best friends, Leo and Jamie. The picture had been taken during Matty"s birthday party at our house " the private one.
Because I hadn"t been brave enough to attend the real party he"d had with his friends or the one with the entire family. While Matty definitely hadn"t minded having multiple parties, I knew Dante and Magnus had made special arrangements with Matty"s fathers to give the boy a small party that I could attend that wouldn"t overwhelm me. It had been both humiliating and a relief. Because I"d wanted to celebrate Matty"s birthday with him, but it was pathetic that after two years of trying to adjust to my new life, I still couldn"t do something as nonthreatening as attend a family gathering that would have more than a handful of people at it.
And not just any people, but ones who knew about my past and were always respectful of my boundaries.
"I"m leaving in a few minutes," I said before Dante could say anything.
"Let me guess, you stayed open late for Mr. Dunbar again. What did he do this time""
I smiled. "He used one of Mrs. Dunbar"s favorite vases as a hole for putting practice." I didn"t actually know what that meant, but as someone who understood how much Mrs. Dunbar loved her flowers and the vases she put them in, the fact that Mr. Dunbar had even touched one of the vases, let alone used it for a purpose other than it was intended for, explained why Mr. Dunbar had been forced to go for one of the more expensive arrangements today.
"Idiot," Dante muttered. "Why don"t I come get you"" Dante asked. "If I leave now, I can be there in fifteen minutes."
I was more than tempted to take my brother up on the offer but doing so would be yet another step backward for me.
"No, it"s okay. I" I want to take the bus."
I really didn"t, but most of the things I did these days were less about what I wanted to do and more about what I needed to do.
Dante was silent for a moment, no doubt torn between encouraging me and trying to change my mind. I wasn"t the only one who"d been rattled by the abduction of my friend, Caleb, three days earlier. I"d been with the young man when some men from his past had shown up at the small park we"d been at. Caleb and his infant daughter had come with me to support me as I"d tried to work on being around a crowd of people. I"d done pretty well at Caleb"s brother"s wedding a couple of weeks earlier, so I"d been feeling confident that I could somehow magically handle being around a large group of complete strangers.
I"d been a mess.
But I"d managed not to flee.
Until Caleb had spotted a man who"d been hunting him. Caleb had shoved his daughter, Willa, into my arms and had told me to go into the nearest shop and call for help. He"d then taken off to lead the men away. It had been a horrific situation, but fortunately my brother and Caleb"s boyfriend, Jace, had been able to find him.
The whole thing had set me back quite a bit, and it had undoubtedly given Dante a scare too. It had all been too reminiscent of my own abduction twelve years earlier when I"d been eight and Dante had been sixteen. Dante had been with me when I"d been taken from a mall and he"d spent nearly every moment since then looking for me.
Despite knowing the reasons I"d been taken, I had no doubt that Dante had been shocked by what he"d found when he"d shown up at a mansion just outside Chicago one night to rescue me.
I could still remember the events of that night as if they"d happened yesterday, instead of a little over two years ago. Dante and Magnus had watched in horror as I"d followed the command I"d been given to strip and bend over a desk. I hadn"t even hesitated to do as I"d been told.
Because it was all I"d known.
Show this man what you are"