House of Sin, Book Three
I was lost in a sea of darkness, unable to find my way.
Trees like gnarled hands clawed out for me. Rocks and twigs stabbed into my bare feet as I ran. The scents of dirt and moss choked my throat with each strangled breath, but I didn’t stop.
They were coming for me. Drifting closer with every step, their chanting voices growing louder in my ears, their hot breaths sliding over my skin until I trembled. Yet no matter how hard I ran, I couldn’t make my legs move faster. I couldn’t find a way out.
I wrestled with the vines and limbs around me, gasped for air, but the utter blackness was all I knew. That and a sinking feeling in the bottom of my soul that told me I was trapped, never to be free again.
I blinked against the brightness. The shadows slinked away like fog rolling up the hillside in the dawn of morning’s light. Somewhere close, fabric rustled—at least I thought it was fabric—and a faint voice whispered, “She’s coming around. Go tell him.”
Footsteps sounded, then faded, and as my senses slowly righted, those words echoed in my mind.
I blinked again, straining to bring my surroundings into focus. Struggling to figure out where I was and what was going on.
My limbs were heavy. My vision blurry. I continued to blink and slowly realized something above me was turning.
A fan. I stared up at the fuzzy blades moving in a lazy circle. My unfocused gaze shifted to the right, and blurry objects came into view.
A dresser and doorway leading to… I didn’t know where. I looked to my left—damn, that light was bright—and squinted against the burn in my retinas. Something green moved outside the windows—trees swaying, I realized—and a blue-green object rose in the distance, one that almost looked like a mountain.
“There you are,” a female voice said somewhere to my right, distracting me.
I shifted my head and tried to focus on the young woman moving close. She was maybe a little older than my twenty-four years, dressed in a floral-print sarong and black tank, but where my hair was dark and curly, hers was blonde and straight and looked to be pulled back in a ponytail.
“We thought you were going to sleep all week,” she said. “Careful getting up. Your legs are probably a little weak. I’ll get you some juice and crackers. I bet you’re starving.”
She disappeared from my line of sight before I could ask who she was.
Confused, I looked back at the view to my left. As my vision slowly cleared, I spotted a wide deck littered with lounge chairs holding plush red cushions. Swaying palms reached toward the cerulean sky, and a deep blue infinity pool seemed to disappear into the rippling water of the ocean or sea or…
Holy shit. My eyes shot wide open, and my heart rate rocketed into the triple digits.
I bolted upright but immediately regretted it. Pain stabbed at the front of my forehead like a thousand tiny daggers piercing my brain.
Grasping both sides of my skull, I groaned and breathed hard until the waves of agony dulled to an insistent throb.
I didn’t know where I was or what was going on, but when I finally opened my eyes again, I realized I was dressed in pink cotton pajama shorts and a deep blue tank. A warm breeze blew in through an open window, telling me it was at least eighty degrees outside, which explained why I was sweating.
Lifting my aching head, I registered I was in some kind of bedroom suite, one I’d never been in before. The walls were stucco, the pitched ceiling lined with rustic wood beams, the bed beneath me gigantic, with four posters and a plush comforter, the furniture in the room teak or bamboo—I wasn’t sure which—and expensive. And that view…
My gaze strayed to my left once more, and I stared at the staggering, lush green mountains and the sea of water as my heart thumped a hard rhythm against my ribs.
Where the hell was I? The Caribbean? The Bahamas? The Seychelles?
A twinge in my finger drew my gaze down. And my eyes grew even wider when I saw the ink darkening the skin on the ring finger of my left hand beneath my second knuckle.
The ink was fresh, the skin slightly red around each mark, and the entire area was covered in something shiny, like an ointment or salve. Heart pounding, I turned my hand and read the one word branded into my skin: