Excerpt for Inescapable ~ Tomorrow ~ Book 3 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




A fairytale wedding she’d always dreamed about. An unexpected “Fairy God-Father” she’d never imagined. A grandmother she’d never known. Add a deranged uncle obsessed with revenge. An impending crisis as the earth’s ozone layer diminishes, which leads to a job offer for Brad that could be “out of this world.” Then stir in a little romance, murder, mayhem, along with a dash of evil, and you have the perfect combination for Inescapable ~ Tomorrow, Book 3 in the spectacular Inescapable Series by Madge H. Gressley.



Old questions are answered, and new dangers arise as Darcey finds herself the object an evil plot of revenge on Brad, who is unaware of the dangers he faces, and the choices he must make as he accepts the new top-secret job with ORCA.




KUDOS FOR INESCAPABLE ~ TOMORROW



In Inescapable ~ Tomorrow by Madge H. Gressley, Darcey Callahan has regained her memory and survived the plot to kill her. Now she is about to be married to Brad Daniels, the love of her life and the man who rescued her from the human traffickers. But Darcey is still in danger. Revenge against Brad for a successful victory against the plot to take over the bio dome, and revenge against Darcey, simply because of who she is, threaten her now that she and Brad are going to Dubai for him to take over a top-secret project for ORCA. But unexpected allies, and even more unexpected enemies, will keep Darcey, and those trying to protect her, on their toes. Exciting, intriguing, and timely, given the state of the world today, Gressley blends science fiction, science fact, romance, and mystery into a thrilling tale you won’t be able to put down. ~ Taylor Jones, The Review Team of Taylor Jones & Regan Murphy



Inescapable ~ Tomorrow by Madge H. Gressley is the story of Darcey Callahan, a graphic designer from Dallas, Texas, who has been kidnapped by human traffickers, lost her memory in a car crash, and now is about to marry the love of her life, Brad, who searched for her, rescued her from the human traffickers, and helped her regain her memory. After everything she has been through, you would think the poor girl could finally relax and enjoy her wedding and her honeymoon in Dubai. But alas, her troubles are not over. The danger is still there, fueled by revenge and obsession, and Darcey is unaware of it. Brad tries to protect her, but he is starting a new top-secret project, and can’t spend every minute with her. But Darcey doesn’t want bodyguards, so she leaves herself wide open to the evil scheming in the background. It is a decision she may come to rue. Equally as chilling, thrilling, and romantic as the first two books, I found both the science fiction and the mystery as exciting and fascinating as the romance. Inescapable ~ Tomorrow has a little something for everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed it. ~ Regan Murphy, The Review Team of Taylor Jones & Regan Murphy




INESCAPABLE



Tomorrow



Madge H. Gressley



A Black Opal Books Publication

Smashwords Edition



Copyright © 2018 by Madge H. Gressley

Cover Design by Madge H. Gressley

All cover art copyright © 2018

All Rights Reserved

EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-626948-90-7



This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.




EXCERPT



She hadn’t seen him since the night they made love, and now here he was again, but she was married to another man...



Darcey had felt someone move and stand beside her as she bartered for the coral necklace. It would match the new silk blouse she had purchased before they left Agadir.

“Excuse me?” Darcey said, turning to glare at the man standing next to her holding up the pair of earrings. She fully intended to tell him to buzz off. “Quin!” she gasped as she recognized him. “Quin, what are you doing here? Where did you come from?” she asked in rapid succession, resisting the immediate impulse to throw her arms around his neck.

What-are-you-thinking? she scolded herself, immediately tamping down the urge.

“I have been looking for you for months,” Quin said, placing his hand on her arm. “Let us go somewhere and talk. You can tell me all about what has happened to you since we last met.” He gently maneuvered her away from the booth, sensing the two men quickly closing the distance between them. “Come, we have much to catch up on.”

Darcey was too overwhelmed at seeing Quin, and also trying to understand the feelings that he had aroused in her just now, that she took no notice that he had taken the necklace from her hand, or that he had dropped it back on the table. He was now gently but firmly, moving her away from the booth and back toward the main street. When they turned the corner and headed back in the direction of the hotel, she finally realized what was happening.

She stopped and pulled her arm away. “What do you think you’re doing?”




DEDICATION



This book is dedicated to God, who gave me the talent to write it; to my family and friends, who without their encouragement it might never have been written; and to my late husband,

Stu, who always said,

I taught her everything she knows.”





Yesterday is but today’s memories

while tomorrow is full of today’s dreams.




PROLOGUE



Six months earlier:



Quin stepped out of the shower, grabbed a towel, and wrapped it around his waist. His bare feet left a trail of wet footprints on the highly-polished, mahogany floor as he made his way to the huge wooden chest of drawers, where he yanked open one of the big drawers and grabbed his underwear, socks, and tees. Flipping the lid of his case open, he stuffed them in. Moving on, he yanked his clothes off their hangers in the closet, doubled everything over, and crammed it on top of the lumps of underwear. He packed everything, except what he planned to wear in the morning. Quin set the case on the floor and gave it a shoved with his foot, sending it sliding in the direction of the door. It bounced as it hit the wall and settled a few inches from the wall. He surveyed the room one last time, whipped the towel off, tossed it through the open bathroom door, and lay down naked, spread eagle on the bed.

Where to start looking for her? Quin wondered, staring at the ornate embellishments on the ceiling?

He had no way of contacting Vargas, the man to whom Carlos had said he had sold the woman. Last night, Quin had pressured Carlos into telling him who the man was and that he lived somewhere in Morocco. Unfortunately, he refused to disclose a phone number or address.

Quin supposed he could have physically threatened Carlos, but then again, he could not be sure that Carlos would give him the correct information anyway. He knew Carlos could not be trusted. He was too much of a coward and would swear to anything when backed into a corner. Quin drifted off with a partial plan still swirling around in his mind.



***



Carlos tried once again the next morning to persuade Quin to stay, cajoling and pleading, just short of crawling on his hands and knees.

“You know I need you,” Carlos whined. “Ricardo is good, but he is not you. You know how I depend on you to run the business.” He placed his arm around Quin’s shoulders as they walked down the hall to the study. “You are my number one.” He grinned broadly, giving Quin a slight hug. “Let bygones be gone and stay. Why let some woman come between us? I will even increase your cut. Where else can you make such easy money? Come on, what do you say?”

Quin shrugged Carlos’s arm off and walked, stiff-backed, in front of him into the study. “You are not going to change my mind. I am through. I told you that last night,” he growled as he turned and glared at Carlos. “Nothing you have to say will make any difference now. I want my money, and I am taking the Land Rover.”

Begrudgingly, Carlos walked to the safe and counted out Quin’s cut of the money. “Are you sure about this?” he asked one more time. He held out the packet of money to Quin but still gripped it tightly.

Quin jerked the packet from Carlos’s fingers. “Yeah, I am sure,” he snapped.

Not even taking time to count the money, he stuffed it in his bag and strode down the hall to the front door. He took the steps down to the driveway two at a time.

Reaching the Land Rover, he threw his bag in the back, never looking back as he sped down the driveway and out of the front gate.

Carlos watched until Quin turned out onto the road then closed the front door.




CHAPTER 1



Searching



Months had passed since Quin left Carlos and Lima behind in his search for the woman and Vargas. He had flown to Morocco, not knowing exactly where Vargas lived. He searched in several cities before finding someone who knew a Luis Vargas, who raised Arabian horses and had a ranch somewhere outside of Agadir. Quin had heard whispers that this Vargas might also be involved in the trafficking of women.

Quin drove his rental car to Agadir and started, quietly, inquiring about Vargas. Everyone who knew Luis Vargas said he was a well-respected businessman who raised Arabian horses, and it was unthinkable that the Luis Vargas they knew would be involved in such a dirty business as the trafficking of women. That was, until a tall, dark man approached Quin one day as he sat having coffee in a small alfresco café.

“You will not find what you are looking for if you proceed on your current path,” the stranger offered. “For what you seek, you must look in the dark, not the light.” With that, the stranger blended into the passersby on the sidewalk.

Following the stranger’s advice, Quin turned to the underbelly of Agadir for answers. When he approached people about Vargas, no one was willing to talk to him, and those who did talked in whispers while constantly looking over their shoulders.

“Yes, Vargas is known as a very dangerous man--an enforcer--one you did not mess with,” they cautioned Quin. “You would be better off dropping your quest,” they told him. “It is too dangerous to keep asking questions. If you value your life, you will quit while you are ahead.”

Quin was warned many times to leave it alone, but he stubbornly forged ahead.

Finally, after weeks of searching with no results, Quin sat in the small coffee shop not far from the dingy little room he had rented, wondering why the hell he was still in Morocco. Most of the tables were vacant as it was still too early for the evening regulars.

I have been beaten up, had my life threatened, and for what? he thought. I am no closer to finding her than I was back in Lima. I am ready to call it quits and head back to El Salvador. Maybe I can find Ricardo, and we can take up where we left off, without Carlos, of course, he decided.

Cradling the cup with his hands, Quin stared at the curious pattern the dark specks of coffee grounds made on the bottom of the cup when a stranger tapped him on the shoulder.

“I understand you have been asking questions concerning a certain Luis Vargas, who might be in possession of a particular woman that you are seeking,” the stranger said, as he sat down, uninvited. “I might have the information you want.” The stranger grinned, showing blackened teeth and gaping holes where some were missing. “For a price, of course.”

“You must be mistaken,” Quin, said, taken aback by the man’s audacity.

“Oh, I do not think so,” the stranger persisted, still grinning broadly.

Quin bristled. “What makes you think you know my business?”

“Oh, I know a lot of things,” the stranger said, continuing to grin and cocking his head to one side. “I make it my business to know things. I watch. I listen. I find out what you are looking for, and then I help you find it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “I know you have come from Peru in search of a woman. I know that you were a part of the group that kidnapped and sold her. I know that you have been asking questions in all the wrong places, places that will get you killed.” His grin faded, his eyes narrowed, as he leaned forward into Quin’s space. “You talk too freely. Too many people know what they should not know about you. That is why I am here to help you.”

Quin scrutinized the stranger through cynical eyes. How had this low-life person found out about what he was doing? Quin thought he had been discrete in his inquiries, but the underbelly of Agadir ran on money exchanging hands for illicit activities, drugs, prostitution, murder, and information. He had been warned that asking questions in the wrong places could get him killed, but he had avoided those--he thought. “Tell me how you know these things?” he demanded.

“You have asked one too many questions in the wrong places, my friend.” The stranger leaned closer, the odor of saffron and cumin permeating the air, as he whispered, covertly casting his eyes around the room. “I am here to help you.”

Quinn pulled back from the stranger, trying to put some fresher air between them. “Help me how?” he asked.

The stranger leaned back and shrugged, grinning again. “I have the information you seek, as I said. But it comes with a price. I must make a living, you know.”

“What information do you think I am looking for?”

“You want to know where this woman is that was kidnapped in Peru and sold to a Luis Vargas here in Morocco. That is the information I have, however, I will tell you this--right now, for free--if you continue asking questions, you will be killed. It has come to my attention that there is already a price on your head in certain quarters.” The stranger shrugged and continued. “As I said, I have to make a living, and that is why I will sell you the information you seek for a modest price, of course, and save you from a most unpleasant death.” He continued grinning, laying his hand, palm up on the table.

Quin stared at the stranger’s dirt-encrusted hand with its yellowed and broken nails extending past the end of the fingers. His stomach lurched at the sight. But, he thought, what choice do I have? I have not been able to find out anything on my own, and I certainly do not want to wind up dead in some damn gutter.

“How much?”

“One thousand--American.”

“That is too much. I will take my chances on the street. There are still places I have not checked.” Quin leaned back, making ready to stand up.

“That is not a wise idea, my friend,” the stranger cautioned, wagging his finger at Quin. “As I have said, there is already a bounty on your head, and I could have easily claimed it many times before coming to you with my proposition. But--” He paused and shrugged. “--because I like you, I do not want to see you left to rot in some filthy alley. So, for you, I will make it five hundred American.” He leaned back and traced a coffee-stained crack in the Formica tabletop with his finger. “Besides, it would have been bad for business if I had,” he muttered more to himself than to Quin.

Quin eyed the stranger. Five hundred seemed like a number he could work with, and it would still leave him enough money to get back to El Salvador if things did not pan out. He studied the stained and chipped tabletop. He was in no hurry to let the stranger know he would take his offer.

Let him stew a bit, he thought and watched out of the corner of his eye as the stranger nervously repositioned himself on his chair a couple of times.

“I do not have that on me,” Quin said slowly, raising his eyes to meet the stranger’s. “I will need some time to get it.”

“I will wait,” the stranger said, relief in his voice. “I will be back here in two hours. Have it then. Let me remind you, it is in your best interest to do this,” he cautioned and stood. The grin was now gone as he looked Quin in the eye.

Quin waited a few moments and then followed the stranger out of the coffee shop, wondering how he was going to get five hundred American dollars in two hours. He looked at his watch. The banks had closed a half an hour ago.

Where else? he wondered, mentally running through the shops that lined the streets he knew. There is that small pawnshop I pass on the way to the coffee shop. It is worth a try.

A small bell jangled, as Quin pushed open the pawnshop door. The smell of old things, dust, sweat, and incense hung in the air. Quin walked toward the counter where an old man stood, his white tunic, spotless.

“How may I help you,” the old man inquired softly.

“I need to exchange some dirhams for American dollars,” Quin said, stopping at the counter, his eyes quickly evaluating his surroundings.

The old man slowly looked Quin up and down. “How much are you looking to exchange?” the old man inquired.

“Enough for five hundred,” Quin answered.

The old man paused. “And you have this amount with you?” he questioned with narrowed eyes, observing that Quin carried neither, satchel, bag, or briefcase.

“Yes, I have the required amount for the exchange,” Quin answered, placing his hand on his waistline. “Do you have the amount I require in American dollars for the exchange?”

The old man studied Quin for a few seconds, turned, and walked through a curtained doorway behind the counter. Quin stared after him.

Several minutes passed, and the old man had not returned. Quin began to wonder if the old man was going to blow him off. But maybe not, as he heard muffled voices coming from behind the curtains the old man had passed through.

Deciding he would give the old man a few more minutes, Quin turned and rested his backside against the counter studying the pawned items that sat in no particular order on the shelves. Many of the items on the dusty shelves did not appear to have much value--just small, everyday things and, by the amount of dust that had gathered on them, gave the impression they had been sitting there for quite some time.

Observing this, Quin guessed that most of the shop’s pawn business probably came from locals in the neighborhood. This worried him a bit, as he thought about it. Maybe the old man would not be able to make the exchange if he only dealt in these meager pawned items. On the other hand, if he did have the money to make the exchange, Quin was certain that it would not have come from selling these dust-covered items. That thought disturbed him even more. He had no desire to find out what might transpire in this shop after hours.

He had wandered around the shop then moved back to the counter when the old man reappeared through the curtained doorway followed by a younger man carrying a metal box. Quin quickly noticed the younger man also had a pistol stuck in the waistband of his trousers.

“Your dirham, por favor,” the old man said, holding out his hand. The younger man placed the metal box on the shelf behind the counter, his hand now rested on the butt of his pistol.

Quin fumbled with the money belt around his waist, finally got it open, and pulled out the dirhams equal to five hundred American dollars. The old man smiled slightly as Quin counted out the money into neat stacks on the counter.

“There, that should do it,” Quin said, placing the last colorful bill on the last stack.

The old man smiled. “You will pardon me if I count also, por favor.”

“Yes, of course,” Quin said, as he nervously eyed the younger man. Quin had his Glock tucked into the waistband of his jeans at the small of his back and was confident he could outmaneuver the younger man before he had time to pull the trigger.

The old man slowly counted out each stack and tallied it on a sheet of paper as he finished each one. The younger man stood behind the old man watching, only glancing every once in a while, in Quin’s direction.

Quin sighed rather loudly.

The old man looked up, smiled, and went back to counting. “It appears that you have the correct amount for the exchange,” the old man said, laying down the pencil. He then pulled a chain from around his neck on which a key hung and unlocked the box. As he opened the box, the younger man moved closer to the counter and watched Quin as the old man counted out five, crisp, one-hundred-dollar bills. He did not hand them to Quin but instead placed them on the counter next to the stacks of dirhams.

“The exchange is complete,” the old man said. “You should find your money belt considerably lighter now.” He picked up each stack of the dirhams and placed them in the metal box, one by one. He paused and looked at Quin. “A wise man does not spend his money foolishly,” he said, closing the lid on the box. “Make sure you are buying wisely. What you desire today may have untold consequences, come tomorrow.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Quin said as he snatched up the bills, folded them, and stuffed them into his pocket.

A cold wisp of air brushed across Quin’s shoulders as the old man shuffled back through the curtains. A sinister smirk played across the young man’s face as he picked up the metal box before following the old man. An eerie stillness fell over the room as the curtains fluttered and then stilled. Quin could not get out the shop fast enough, stopping only to check his watch as he quickly walked back to the coffee shop. He shivered and tried to push what had happened in the pawnshop to the back of his mind.

Crazy old man, he thought. What was all that cryptic bullshit anyway?

Quin wondered how long he would have to wait since it hadn’t taken the full two hours to get the money. Not long, he figured since the stranger seemed eager to make the deal. He sat down at his usual table, ordered a Turkish coffee, and settled back in the chair to wait for the stranger.

The stranger slipped into the chair across from Quin just moments after he had ordered the coffee. Quin wondered if he had been hiding somewhere close, watching for him to return.

“I presume you have my payment?” the stranger asked as he sat down, grinning.

“Yes, I have it, but I want the information first.” Quin looked at the stranger with narrowed eyes. “If it is not what I am looking for, there will be no payment.”

“Very well.” The stranger leaned forward. The odor of cumin and saffron again marinated the air between them. “The woman you seek is to be married. The ceremony will be tomorrow at the Vargas ranch. It has been arranged that she will then travel with her husband to Dubai the next day and will stay there for a few days at the Grand Dubai Palace Hotel.” He paused and placed his hand, palm up on the table, indicating he had upheld his part of the bargain.

A sinking feeling hit Quin in the pit of his stomach as he heard the stranger say she was to be married.

Married. The word echoed through his mind. I am too late. Then he thought, But what if it is an arranged marriage? One that she was forced into. If that is the case, I can still rescue her. It may not be too late.

His mind began racing as a plan formed to seek out the woman in Dubai, ignoring the sinking feeling that was growing in the pit of his stomach. If it were an arranged marriage, there would be plenty of guards around, and he could see it would be futile to pursue her here. No, he would wait and follow her to Dubai

The stranger cleared his throat loudly, jolting Quin back to the present. Quin reached into his pants pocket and pulled out the folded, five, one-hundred-dollar bills, and placed them on the table. Immediately, the stranger snatched them up and stuffed them inside his tunic, leaving in their place a dirty scrap of paper on the table. Covertly, he looked around, making sure no one had seen the transaction, and quickly disappeared before the waiter placed Quin’s coffee on the table.

Quin unfolded the scrap of paper. On it was written, Use only if you need help, and a phone number.




CHAPTER 2



A Decision



Four weeks earlier:



The sun glinted off the silver skin of the jet’s wing--as it sliced through the air at thirty thousand feet--and hit the side of Darcey’s glass, casting an amber glow on the table. Where had the time gone? She was not ready to meet Luis again, even under the now-presumed amicable conditions. The events of the prior months were still all to fresh in her now restored memory. She was not sure she had it in her to forgive and forget all that had gone before. As the plane sped closer to the destination she had hoped to forget, the stone in the pit of her stomach grew larger. Swallowing the last of the amber liquid in her glass, she closed her eyes and tried to empty her mind, hoping sleep would help her sort out her tangled thoughts.



***



Her friends--Ashley, Melanie, Wendy, her BFF Marti--and Darcey flew back to Dallas to tell everyone about the wedding and to arrange for those who would be traveling to Morocco.

Luis had told Brad to spare no expense. That he would send his private jet and arrange with ORCA to use their corporate jets as well. If more were needed, Luis told Brad to get them, he would pay for it all.

By the time she had the guest list pared down, there were still a hundred and fifty names. She felt that that was still too many, but Brad had said not to worry, Luis’s instructions were to invite anyone and everyone she wanted.

Brad’s list of names was small, mostly friends from ORCA, and his only family--his sister, her husband, and their daughter. Darcey’s dad’s side of the family would all be coming with the exception of her grandparents who had for some inexplicable reason had severed all ties after her parents’ funeral. She didn’t know anyone from her mom’s family. Her mom had never spoken about them, and Darcey had always presumed her mom had no family left.

Brad and Darcey had decided that she and Marti should go on ahead and meet with Luis. Brad would follow in a couple of days, after wrapping things up from the opening of the Dome and then stop in Dubai to talk with Asad about the new project before arriving in Morocco.

Upon arrival in Dallas, Darcey had given her notice at the agency. Her boss expressed regret about seeing her leave and wished her well but was sorry he would not be able to make the wedding. A group of her co-workers took her out for dinner and drinks, and the gang at the Sweetwater threw a big party for her the night before she and Marti left for Morocco.

The knot that had developed in the pit of Darcey’s stomach was growing tighter the closer Morocco loomed on the horizon. She looked over at Marti, who was now awake. Marti stretched and yawned.

“What did I miss?” Marti asked, through the yawn.

Eyeing the ice that had long since melted in her glass, Darcey smiled, “Nothing. I’ve just been thinking about the wedding.” She pushed the button for Thomas. “I’m still having a problem with having the wedding at the ranch and Luis paying for it all. I’m not comfortable with knowing he still has women locked up.” She looked over at Marti, who placed a comforting hand on her arm. “Oh, I know they’re not being hurt physically, they live in the lap of luxury and want for nothing. It’s the fact that, after being rescued if their choice was to stay, they became his property to do with as he pleased.” Darcey turned and looked out the plane’s window.

I have been warring with myself since I agreed to hold the wedding at the ranch. Brad has been trying to understand my reasoning, but he met Luis on a different level. Brad saw Luis as a rescuer who helped him save me. I suppose I can see it from his point of view, but I know if Brad had not found Luis and told him about me, Luis would not have had any second thoughts about putting me on the block, and that bothers me.

Although the women wanted for nothing, they were still prisoners, his property. On the other hand, Luis was doing what he could to eliminate those who trafficked in women. Those he rescued were given the opportunity of returning to their families or staying with him, an option not offered to her, she remembered bitterly. Her kidnapping had been planned and carried out by Carlos Santiago, who had sold her to Luis.

Luis still perpetuated trafficking with his Bel Ami Gala. He had just taken it to another level. She guessed you could say, even though, the women had been sold, in an abstract sense they had not. Luis had his special Elite Force that kept tabs on every woman who had ever been bought at any of the Galas.

Their welfare was a prime priority to Luis, and those who had bought a woman at one of his Galas were under constant scrutiny by his Elite Force. Should any of those women ever be mistreated, in the slightest way, Luis’s special Elite Force dealt with the perpetrator swiftly, and, the woman in question was returned to the ranch permanently. After the first few incidents, the word spread fast, and Luis’s reputation as an enforcer was made.

“You’ve got to stop worrying about this until you meet with Luis,” Marti said, breaking Darcey’s train of thought. “You have to listen to what he has to say.”

Marti wanted to blurt it all out, what Brad had confided to her about Luis, but he had made her swear to say nothing about it to Darcey. He said Luis wanted to explain everything to Darcey himself.

“Maybe you’re right. I should wait to hear what Luis has to say.” Darcey sighed. Thomas brought her the fresh drink, but it held no interest for her now.

They would be landing shortly, and she needed to freshen up. What she really wanted was a long hot soak in a tub. Absently, she wondered what room she would have. She smiled to herself, remembering the bathroom incident--and Nicho.

Besides meeting Luis, she was also worried about seeing Nicho again. She didn’t know how Brad would feel about seeing him again. It wasn’t exactly a cordial parting at the Gala, and she hadn’t told him about meeting Nicho at the ORCA office in Lima. Things were moving so quickly for the opening, she had completely forgotten about it. Then she supposed Ty could have mentioned it to him, but if he had, Brad never mentioned it to her. Still, it bothered her that she hadn’t told him about the meeting. She would tell him when he got here, hopefully before he and Nicho saw each other. She wanted no secrets between her and Brad.

Luis’s limo was waiting on the tarmac when they landed. It was still light out, and Darcey could see what Morocco really looked like. Her first untimely arrival at the ranch and her chaotic departure had both been in darkness. The stay at the ranch had offered only a limited view of the landscape from the windows in her quarters, so this was a real treat. She was captivated by Morocco’s charm and beauty.

Marti just finished a call to her dad as the limo stopped at the front of Luis’s home. The driver stacked their luggage on the sidewalk. Darcey remembered Jose as he met them at the front door. He and Nicho had shown her to the room where she had been locked up.

Buenas tarde, señoritas,” Jose greeted them, with the slight bow Darcey remembered.

Buenas tarde, Jose,” she said, looking around the foyer.

This was a much more welcoming entrance than the one she had first walked through those many months ago.

“If you will follow me, por favor. Señor Vargas is waiting for you in the library,” Jose said, as he started down the hallway to the left of the grand staircase. “Your luggage will be taken to your rooms.”

Gracias, Jose,” Darcey said, taking Marti by the hand, and they followed Jose down the hall.

Marti leaned into Darcey and whispered in her ear, “Wow!” Her eyes going everywhere at once, trying to take it all in.

Darcey’s mind, fully occupied with meeting Luis, had not paid much attention to the surroundings, so she only nodded. The knot in her stomach was now a boulder. Her palms were sweaty and her heart rate increased. It reminded her of the first night that Nicho had come to take her to that first formal dinner of the Gala--only now, she wasn’t a prisoner.

Darcey must have been frowning.

Marti elbowed her. “Smile. You look like you’re going to a funeral,” she pointed out, “and ease up on the grip, will you? I’m losing feeling in my fingers.”

“Sorry, I’m just nervous about this.”

Marti giggled. “Just breathe. I’m sure he doesn’t bite.”

Darcey glared at her.

“It’ll be fine,” Marti assured her, grinning, giving her hand a slight squeeze.

Darcey halfway grinned, trying to match Marti’s easy-going nature.

Jose had stopped in front of the library door, waiting for them to enter. Luis walked toward them, and Darcey hoped he wasn’t going to embrace her. She didn’t know if she could handle it. She was still uncomfortable in his presence.

Bienvenido, señoritas.” Luis paused, staring at Darcey. ¡Mio Dios! She looks exactly like Saleem, he thought. Regaining his composure, he asked, “Did you have a pleasant trip? Some refreshments, a drink perhaps?”

Luis had stopped before he reached them. He was nervous. He did not know exactly how to read Darcey. He could see she was clearly uncomfortable, in spite of the soft smile on her lips, and he did not want to do anything to upset her further. Brad had said she was not completely sold on the idea of having the wedding here. It puzzled him why she still had not said anything to Brad about her time here.

“I would love a drink,” Marti said, giving Luis a big Texas grin. “Wine, if you have it, would be wonderful. Something a little sweet, maybe?”

“Certainly. And, for you, my...ah...Señorita Darcey?” Luis asked, catching himself before he called her my dear.

“Just water will be fine.” At this point, more alcohol and an empty stomach would be a bad combination for her. She was thankful she hadn’t touched the Scotch Thomas had brought her just before they landed. What she needed now was to keep a clear head.

Choosing one of the leather chairs instead of the sofa, Darcey sat down, wishing this meeting were over and done with.

Marti calmly explored the walls lined with shelves full of books, seemingly oblivious to Darcey’s anxiety. “You have a wonderful library, Señor Vargas. I’ve never seen so many books in one collection outside of the library back home, of course.” Marti turned around, walked over to the sofa across from Darcey, and sat down.

Gracias. I am very proud of my library. I have a passion for books, and I have read every one of them.” Grinning, Luis handed Marti her glass of wine then turned and handed Darcey a glass of sparkling water. She took the glass by the stem to avoid any contact with him. She knew it was silly, but she just couldn’t touch him.

Luis sat down on the other end of the sofa across from Darcey, cautiously watching her. This is going to be more difficult than I imagined, he mused. Perhaps I should wait until tomorrow, let her get used to being here again. I cannot afford to do this wrong. He cleared his throat. “How soon will Brad be following you?”

“He should be wrapping things up tonight and, hopefully, he will fly out tomorrow, or the next day, for sure,” Darcey offered, avoiding direct eye contact with Luis. “He will be stopping in Dubai to meet with Asad before coming here.” She could sense he was as uncomfortable as she was. Serves him right. He should be uncomfortable, she thought.

It was then that Darcey hatched her plan. If he wanted her to have the wedding here, and he wanted to pay for it all, then it would cost him more than money.

Darcey’s terms would be: She would only hold the wedding here if--One, he released all the women here and let them decide to go or stay and, if they stayed, he would see to all of their needs and they would be free. And, two, the Bel Ami Gala would no longer be a place where prospective buyers came, but it would be where prospective husbands came to view prospective brides.

She figured if he could afford to dress all of his women in designer clothes and jewels, he could afford to find them husbands instead of owners. Of course, he would have to make sure his Elite Force still kept the women under projective surveillance. Yes, these would be her terms.

Luis was watching Darcey as a smile began to play around her lips. She seems to have made a decision about something, he thought. I hope it is in my favor. He cleared his throat and stood up. “Dinner will be served in a couple of hours, and I’m sure you would like to rest and change after your long flight. Jose will show you to your rooms.” He walked to the door and pulled the brocade sash by the door.

A few minutes later Jose appeared at the door. “This way, pro favor.” He motioned and started down the hall. As he turned and started up the stairs, Darcey slipped her hand into Marti’s, and they followed Jose up the stairs.

Darcey stood in the doorway of the room Jose had shown her to and watched as he opened the door across the hall for Marti. Marti smiled as she thanked Jose then turned and pointed her finger at Darcey. “You--get some rest.” She closed her door.

Sighing, Darcey turned and surveyed the room. It was nothing like her old quarters. In fact, it didn’t even come close to it. It was pretty enough, but there were none of the lavish furnishings her quarters had had. This room just had a bed, an antique wardrobe, some comfortable upholstered chairs, and, of course, the bathroom. She felt a little disappointed. She had imagined that these rooms would be luxurious with all of the amenities. She didn’t know quite what to make of that. But now...she needed to think on that, but only after, she’d had her soak in the tub.



***



A soft tap came on Darcey’s door, then Marti stuck her head around the doorjamb. “Are you ready, yet?” she asked, slipping in and looking around. “Your room looks almost like mine. Pretty great, huh?”

“Yes, it’s nice,” Darcey said, giving herself one last look in the mirror. “But you should have seen my old quarters.” As soon as the words had passed her lips, she immediately regretted saying anything about her old life here. She knew Marti would interrogate her mercilessly later, and Darcey wasn’t ready to talk about it--not yet.

“Your old quarters?”

Oh, crap. Here it comes. “Are you ready? Let’s go on down. I could use a stiff drink before dinner.” Darcey ignored Marti’s question, hoping she would take the hint but knowing Marti, probably not.

“What’s this about your old quarters? Is that the ones you lived in here?” Marti asked, following Darcey out of the room. “Do you think we can go see them? I would love to see them.”

“I wonder what they’re serving for dinner. I suppose we should look for the dining room since Luis didn’t tell us where it is.” Darcey purposely ignored her questions. If she asks one more question, BFF or not, I am going to tell her to back off in no uncertain terms, she threatened.

Noticing Darcey’s stiff back descending the stairs in front of her pointedly told Marti that now was not the time for more questions. Well, you don’t have to hit me with a two by four, Marti thought. I can take a hint.

Ever since Brad had told Marti about Darcey’s life here, she had fantasied about it and had been dying to know more. She guessed Darcey would talk about it when she was ready, but a girl could wait only so long before curiosity took over, and one just couldn’t stop one’s self from being a pest.

Darcey sped up going down the stairs, putting some distance between Marti and herself. Just another defense mechanism she had learned while here. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs, deciding which way to go. What does it matter? she thought. We’ll eventually find it.

Her nerves were on edge, and Marti’s questions just added to the tension she was feeling.

“Señoritas, you are just in time. This way por favor.” Luis was all smiles as he walked toward them.

Darcey halfway smiled.

Marti, on the other hand, rushed forward as Luis offered his arm. “Why, thank you, Señor Vargas,” she said, as she glanced back over her shoulder at Darcey who followed them into the dining room. Luis seated Marti and turned to assist Darcey, but she already had her hand on the chair back and pulled it toward her.

“I’m fine, thank you,” she said, as she sat down.

“Certainly.” Luis smiled. Independent, just like Saleem. Yes, she is her daughter, he thought, taking his seat at the head of the table.

Darcey fidgeted with her napkin, trying to settle her nerves. I don’t like being in this position wondering what to say next and wanting to be anywhere but here at this moment. Luis has been nothing but polite and welcoming, but I still have reservations about this whole wedding thing, she worried.

“Señoritas Darcey, Marti, por favor, help yourself to the wonderful array of appetizers on the sideboard. There is wine, coffee, and tea as well. But save room for the main course,” Luis said, smiling while directing their attention to the sideboard loaded with trays of delicious-looking hors‘d oeuvres and fresh fruit.

“Oh, my,” Marti exclaimed. “This is wonderful. I think I’ll sample just a little of it. I want to save room for the main course,” she said, scrutinizing a tray loaded with sausage stuffed croissants.

Darcey pushed her chair back and picked up a plate from the sideboard as she eyed the tempting array of delicacies that Luis had had his cooks prepare, she assumed, special for them. It was way too much food for just the three of them, and she wondered what he did with the leftovers.

Por favor, do try the stuffed crab cakes,” Luis said, diverting Darcey’s thoughts. “Brad said they were your favorite.”

Ah, just as I thought. “Thank you, but you didn’t need to do anything special just for me, for us. It’s not necessary,” Darcey said flatly. “Whatever you normally serve for the meals will be just fine.” She didn’t like where this was headed. Luis was trying way too hard, she felt, to make up for what had happened to her here, and he really wasn’t sure how to do it. The wedding, the gowns, the food, the transportation, all too much. I need to put a stop to all of this--now!

“Senor Vargas,” Darcey started to say.

“Luis, por favor,” he interrupted her.

“Senor Vargas,” Darcey started, again, “please, do not do anything special for me. Everything you are doing for the wedding is far too much. It’s making me uncomfortable. I don’t know you, even though I was here under other circumstances for a while, I don’t know you, so I’m wondering what’s behind all of this and why are you doing it?

Luis slowly laid his fork down and wiped his mouth with his napkin before speaking. “I am doing all of this because I want to. Do I have to have an ulterior motive? Can I not just want to do something for my friend, Brad and his beautiful fiancé?” he queried.

He had an ulterior motive but was not yet ready to reveal it to her. He had not seen this coming, although, he should have. He had been so elated at being able to do something special for Saleem’s daughter, who by all rights should have been his, he had not taken into consideration how she might react. In all of the excitement, he had forgotten the circumstances that had brought her here in the first place, and thus, had not made any allowances for her feelings in the matter. How could I have been so thoughtless, he admonished himself? Brad had said she has never talked to him about her time here. Surely, it has been long enough she should have wanted to tell him about it, now. There must be something else going on that has caused her not to want to talk about it.

Darcey could see his jaw tightening, and Marti kicked her under the table, but she ignored Marti and the sharp pain in her ankle. She knew she should feel ashamed of being rude to her host, but, in this instance, she didn’t. She felt she had earned the right to be rude--well, at least to speak her mind on the matter. “I suppose that is your prerogative if you want to spend your money that way. It just makes me uncomfortable,” she said, studying her hands folded in her lap. “But if you insist on having the wedding here, I have some conditions.” She raised her head and looked directly at Luis.

“What are your conditions?” Luis asked, raising an eyebrow, suspicious of what her ulterior motive might be.

“If you want the wedding here, my conditions are--One, you release all the women here and let them decide to go or stay and if they stay, you will see to all of their needs and they will be free. No more locked doors. No more prisoners. And, two, the Bel Ami Gala will no longer be a place where prospective buyers come, but it will be where prospective husbands come to view prospective brides. Of course, you will still have your Elite Force keep the women under projective surveillance. Just because they are now wives does not mean the husbands will always treat them with respect.” She paused, before finishing. “These are my conditions.” She sat stiff-backed in her chair, her hands wringing the napkin on her lap and holding her breath, waiting for his reply.

“My dear niña,” Luis said, “I do want you to have your wedding here, and I want you to have everything you desire to make it special, but those are mighty heavy conditions. I will have to give it some serious thought. I love Brad like a son. I see you already like a part of my family now, and I hope you will come to think of me that way, too, but I cannot agree to your conditions without considering them carefully.” He watched Darcey, waiting for her reaction to what he had just said.

Darcey sat for a few minutes, the silence getting on her nerves and knowing he was waiting for her reply, she sighed. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Marti was holding her breath.

“Very well,” Darcey said. “I will not do anything concerning the wedding until you have considered my terms.” She looked up, surprised to see a small flash of pain in his eyes before it was gone.

“That will be fine. I will have an answer for you in the morning.”



***



The evening meal was over, Darcey and Marti had retired to their rooms, and Luis sat deep in thought in the library, a half empty glass of Scotch held loosely in his hand. He had never thought in his wildest dreams ever that Darcey would present him with a dilemma such as this. Luis had never thought of his women as prisoners. Property, yes, but prisoners, never. In his mind, the doors were locked for protection like you would do to protect any precious thing you owned. He had never considered that they would view themselves as prisoners. He gave them everything. They wanted for nothing. They were precious to him. Fine jewels, to be admired and enjoyed.

On the other hand, it was true he did auction them off--but to only the elite and only after they had been thoroughly vetted. No buyer, no matter how wealthy, was ever allowed to participate at any of the Galas unless they had passed a rigorous inspection by his Elite Force. Luis viewed his Elite Force as another level of protection he gave his women.

Of course, there was the little matter of “profit.” But that had been purely secondary, he had convinced himself. Just another level of protection for his “jewels.” The fact that it increased his coffers substantially was merely coincidental. Besides, he had reasoned, the majority of that money went back to dressing his “jewels” in the finest haute couture designs and jewels available.

Mulling over his options, Luis refilled his glass and stood, staring out the French doors leading to the patio. The moon cast a silvery sheen on the stone walkway leading to the garden. It reminded him of evenings past, sitting in the cool of the night with Saleem, his arm wrapped around her as she snuggled up close. Twenty-five years had not dulled the memories of those evenings. Nor had it dulled the memory of her kisses or the smell of her perfume. Moisture gathered in the corner of his eye and spilled over, slowly gliding down his cheek.

“Oh, my Saleem,” he groaned. “What do I do? She is your daughter, through and through. I cannot deny her this request. I’m afraid if I do, it will drive her away forever. I cannot take that chance.”

His decision made, Luis downed the rest of his Scotch, turned out the lights, and walked slowly up the stairs to his bedroom. Tomorrow, he thought, as he closed his bedroom door.




CHAPTER 3



The Dress



The morning dawned bright and clear, just a few wisps of white clouds drifted in the azure blue sky. Darcey had tossed and turned all night unable to find a comfortable spot on the bed. She knew she looked like a mad woman with her hair every which way as she stepped out on the balcony. She didn’t care. She was too worried that Luis was going to deny her conditions.

If he calls my bluff, then what will I do? I can’t just pack up and leave, can I? Marti would have a cow. Then, there’s Brad. Damn! Why did I back myself up into this corner?

A small bird landed on the balcony railing and hopped along the length of it until it made a turn back to connect to the wall. The bird stopped and sang Darcey a small sweet bird song and then flew off. Somehow, it made her feel better.

She hurried back in and readied herself for the day, trying to keep ahead of Marti coming to get her. Marti never like being late for anything, and it bugged her that Darcey was never ready until the very last minute. Darcey smiled at the thought as she ran the brush through her hair.

She met Marti in the hallway, and they headed down for breakfast. Darcey dreaded every step she took down the stairs.

Luis was nowhere to be seen as they entered the dining room. The smell of freshly brewed coffee mixed with the smell of fresh baked goods hung in the air tweaking Darcey’s appetite. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was until that moment. Marti had already scooped up a couple of scones and a buttery pastry along with her coffee and had sat down at the table. Darcey was taking her time deciding which of the tempting pastries she wanted when Luis walked through the door. Her appetite immediately vanished, and the boulder reappeared in her stomach.

Buenas días, señoritas,” Luis said in greeting. “Exceptionally lovely morning. Would you like to have breakfast on the patio this morning?”

Marti glanced over at Darcey and, noticing her expression, which reflected the pure agony she felt, shook her head, “Thanks, but in here is just fine.” She smiled sweetly at Luis. “But thanks for asking. Maybe tomorrow?”

“Yes, I will inform the kitchen we will take our breakfast on the patio tomorrow morning. They will have it all set up out there,” Luis said, placing some pastries on a plate.

He glanced nervously at Darcey, trying to gauge her demeanor. He had thought long and hard after going to bed last night about Darcey’s conditions. He knew he really had no choice but to agree with them. The risk of losing her, if he refused, was too great, and then there was the matter of Brad, who he had begun to love as his son. What would it do to that relationship if he denied Darcey? No, Luis had to accept the conditions and make the best of it. He would figure something out. He always did.

Darcey watched as Luis made his way to the table and sat down. Even though she dreaded hearing what he was going to say, she sat stiff-backed in her chair and looked him in the eye. Might as well get this over with, right now, she decided.

Luis took a drink of his tea and slowly sat the cup down before looking Darcey in the eye.

She braced herself. Here it comes.

“I have given this much thought, last night and this morning,” Luis said slowly. “I have come to the conclusion, that for the good of everyone, I will accept your conditions with the proviso, that I will pay for everything for the wedding, and you will not utter a word of complaint about it. I do not want to hear anything more from you on the subject. Is that understood?” His eyes never left Darcey’s.

She didn’t blink. She was too stunned to move. She didn’t think she even breathed until he was finished. “Ye--yes, I understand,” she stuttered, relieved and aggravated at the same time that he had accepted, but his proviso left her feeling like an unruly child. “Thank you. I won’t mention the outrageous amount of money you are spending or the extravagance you are going to for the wedding again,” she replied curtly.

“Now, that is settled,” Luis said succinctly, looking at both Marti and her. “Your first fitting for the gowns is this morning at ten. Please be ready by nine as it is a forty-five-minute drive into Agadir.”

Darcey and Marti exchanged astonished glances. The rest of the meal was finished in silence. Whether Luis didn’t have anything else to say or because they couldn’t think of anything to say, Darcey didn’t know, but they ate in silence. Even Marti was quiet.



***



Slouched in the corner of the back seat of the limo, Darcey took no notice of the beautiful countryside or the clear blue sky as they drove to the Hilton Hotel Agadir. She was still too aggravated over Luis’s proviso. She knew it was a small price to pay for setting the women free, but it still rankled her nonetheless. She didn’t take any interest in the conversation between Luis and Marti. She purposely tuned them out.

Following Luis and Marti into the elevator, Darcey worked her way to the back. She had no enthusiasm for the ordeal that awaited her upstairs. Luis had had some designer flown in from somewhere; she hadn’t been paying any attention while he had regaled Marti with the details. Darcey just wasn’t interested.

The elevator doors opened onto the penthouse floor. The rooms were filled with racks and racks of white bridal gowns and bridesmaid dresses in a rainbow of colors. Darcey stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes glazed over as her mind tried to take in the claustrophobic sea of white looming before her. She ignored Luis and Marti as they stepped around her and were greeted by some woman.

“Welcome, Señor Vargas, ladies,” the woman said, extending her hand to Luis. “I am Justine, Madam Chelsea’s secretary. She will be with you shortly. In the meantime, please, feel free to look around. Catherine will be in to take your measurements shortly,” Justine said, addressing Marti and a dazed Darcey.

Darcey vaguely remembered hearing something about measurements.

“Coffee, tea?” Justine inquired, turning back to Luis.

“Yes, por favor,” Luis said, smiling admiringly at Justine. “Tea would be perfect. Darcey? Marti?”

“Coffee would be absolutely wonderful,” Marti gushed. “Darcey?” She looked at Darcey and placed her hand on Darcey’s arm. “Darcey, you want some coffee, don’t you?” She shook Darcey’s arm, breaking her trance.

“Wha--what?” Darcey stammered, blinking and surveying the claustrophobic room with the hundreds of white bridal gowns, crushed together on racks, which seemed to be growing the longer she stared at them. Suddenly, there was no air to breathe. She felt like she was being suffocated, as if the racks of gowns were closing in on her.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-32 show above.)