Jennifer lay on the bed as the room came into gradual focus. Where am I? This was a different place from where she’d woken last.
Light filtered through half closed mini-blinds in the window bedside her and threw long shadows across the mattress. She’d been drifting in and out for what seemed like days, but in truth she had no idea how long she’d been unconscious. She assumed she’d been drugged. Her skin felt gritty and sticky at the same time. Her eyes were so dry they burned.
Were they putting something in her food? She hadn’t eaten much, and she’d been somewhat lucid yesterday—or had it been the day before? She’d taken a few sips of the soup they’d brought her then and hadn’t known anything until now.
She had no clue where she was, but she was wearing the same clothes she’d been in when they took her from Angela and Drew’s house. Was that just one day ago? Two days? Longer?
Her scalp itched, and she felt nasty. She smelled, too, as if she’d needed a shower for quite a while.
She wasn’t tied up anymore and rose from the bed gingerly, concerned her head might spin. It did at first, so she took a deep breath against the slight headache and made her way to the tiny en suite bathroom.
The dimly lit washroom was ancient but functional. The sharp tang of bleach perfumed the air. The rusty sink, toilet, and shower stall had recently been scrubbed thoroughly, if the smell of cleansers was any indication. Clothes and a towel were folded neatly on the counter.
What is this place?
She washed her hands and explored the bedroom. The other door to what she assumed led outside was locked. She beat on the wooden panels and hollered for five minutes, but no one answered. She sat on the bed, debating what to do.
The only window in the room was tiny. In addition to the blinds, it had burglar bars across the glass. The view was facing a concrete wall. She could tell nothing by looking outside except that the sun was still up. But she had no idea whether it was morning or afternoon light. The room was empty save for the bed, a nightstand, and a lamp.
Clean clothes, soap, and water beckoned to her from the bathroom. She reached up to scratch her head, and that cinched it. She couldn’t stand herself any longer. As long as she was stuck here, she was cleaning up.
Carefully locking the bathroom door, she stripped off her filthy clothes and climbed into the shower, surprised to find a very exclusive brand shampoo and conditioner in the enclosure as well as a disposable razor.
She stood under the surprisingly strong spray, scrubbing her hair and shaving her legs, despite the near darkness. Her thoughts were jumbled, as if she couldn’t concentrate or hold an idea in her head. That had to be from the drugs.
Stepping out of the shower, she felt more human again. And despite the dark, steamy bathroom, she slipped into the clean clothes from the countertop. She was a bit unnerved by the exotic lingerie: a delicate gray bustier and lacey thong panties. Still, there was no way she was putting any of her dirty things back on. A simple, elegant knit wrap dress and high heels finished up the ensemble. Every item fit perfectly, down to the bustier and stilettos. That was unnerving.
Who had done this? How did they know her sizes?
She opened the medicine cabinet over the sink and found a small but exclusive collection of cosmetics and toiletries. Knowing she’d feel more in control and not as frightened if she was groomed, she dried her hair with the tiny blow dryer attached to the wall and applied the clear lip gloss and lotion she’d discovered.
When Jennifer unlocked the bathroom door and stepped into the bedroom, she barely contained a gasp. A beautiful older woman was seated on the edge of her bed. She was exquisitely dressed and nodded approvingly. “You’re awake and dressed, Miss Angela.”
They still think I’m Drew’s wife.
What would they do when they found out she wasn’t? Why would they want Angela in the first place? Could this have anything to do with Nick and his work?
Angela had told her once that Nick did “work for the government” that he couldn’t talk about. Jennifer had assumed that meant one of the intelligence services, but she’d never felt right about prying. It had been easier not to have any details. Now she wished she had at least asked a few questions, so she could know what she was up against.
Unaware of Jennifer’s distress, the woman continued in heavily accented English, “That is good. I am Monique.”
“You doped my food,” accused Jennifer, still struggling to puzzle it all out.
“We had our orders. How do you feel?”
Jennifer frowned. Confused. Scared. Pissed off.
Monique smiled. “I meant physically.”
“I’m hungry, and I feel hung over.”
The woman nodded again. “That’s to be expected. It’s the drugs in your system. They make you feel that way when you’re coming down.”
Coming down? What had happened? Her stomach roiled when she thought of the man who’d groped her at Angela and Drew’s house.
Caught up in her own private horror, Jennifer missed what Monique was saying : “. . . along. I’ll feed you. You have to eat.”
Monique rose to leave the room and indicated that Jennifer should follow. The older woman unlocked the door. Jennifer’s mind was still fuzzy as she struggled to catch up. The horror at what might have been done to her while she was out cold crashed through her.
Monique was talking again, and Jennifer realized she was expected to say something. The older woman looked at her intently. The bedroom door stood open behind them.
“Are you just going to let me walk out of here without guards or anything?”
Monique smiled with a knowing gaze that Jennifer was beginning to dislike. “Of course. You’ll understand soon.”
Jennifer wasn’t sure what that meant, but the woman’s next words held a chill of foreboding. “There’s nowhere for you to go.”
She followed Monique slowly down the hall. As they neared the stairs, the rooms became more polished. It was clear that she’d been kept in a part of the house that was closed off. A place where no one could hear her beating on the door, perhaps?
Here there was fresh paint and carpeted hallways. Jennifer ventured to guess there were no rusted sinks or showers, either, in the guest rooms beyond the doors she now passed. The house was massive.
“What is this place?” she asked.
“It was actually considered a showplace at one time,” Monique explained. “I’ve lived here for two years, and we are slowly refurbishing. The previous owners let it fall into a terrible state of disrepair.”
They passed another door, and Jennifer heard the sound of weeping. She started to slow, but Monique kept walking. Clearly not everyone was happy in this paradise. There was a simple thumb latch on the door in the locked position, indicating that Jennifer wasn’t the only one being held against her will.
Up ahead, light spilled from a cavernous glass dome that opened into a huge circular room stretching upward two stories. From the second floor, Jennifer and Monique stood on a balcony looking down into a massive foyer that had clearly been a recipient of the aforementioned refurbishing. The decorating was overdone with too many competing colors and fabrics—like a dessert that was too rich, too much, too everything.
They made their way downstairs and passed through the grand entryway, pausing before an opulent dining room. A long sumptuous table had been set, and several women in overtly sexy lingerie sat around it, eating in noticeable silence. They were all fairly young, although several wore so much makeup it was difficult to discern their ages. There were ten women total.
A burly man sat alone at a desk by the door to the room. He was reading a newspaper written in Spanish and had a computer in front of him. It looked almost like a check-in counter for the dining area.
“Would you care for something to eat?” asked Monique.
Jennifer’s tummy rumbled, but she remembered what had happened the last time they’d given her food. She had to stay awake if she was going to find a way out of here. “No, I wouldn’t.”
“This food is not drugged,” Monique said.
“Excuse me if I don’t believe you.” Hunger made Jennifer’s tone sharper than usual.
“As you wish.” Monique tilted her head and directed Jennifer to a large office next door. Bookshelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling, giving it a classic English library feel. A man sat at an immense desk in the center of the room with two chairs before him. He appeared to be in his mid-fifties: handsome with dark hair and slight graying at his temples. He was dressed in casual elegance with an open shirt and linen pants.
Pastries, eggs, bacon, and juice were all laid out on a tray before him, along with Georgian silver and Wedgwood china.
He looked up, and Jennifer couldn’t stop herself from staring. His eyes were an ordinary brown but stunning in their intensity. He nodded to the chair and indicated she should sit.
“Tomas, are you sure you didn’t hit the clinic? I find it hard to believe you don’t have access to drones through your contacts within the military.”
Jennifer was startled by the booming voice over the speakerphone. The caller had a sharp Bostonian accent and was obviously mad as hell.
The man Jennifer assumed was Tomas scoffed. “You forget yourself. The cost to me was quite dear in this case. I’m surprised you would think me that rash. I can’t help but wonder if your associates are to blame.”
“I assure you, my friend, I had nothing to do with the two incidents. My people didn’t either.” The voice was placating. “I am terribly sorry for your loss, but we still need to nip this issue in the bud before the delivery in Constantine.”
“I agree nothing can interfere with that. All the arrangements have been made,” said Tomas.
The voice on the line was quiet. Jennifer sat, trying not to look as if she was listening. Tomas took another sip of coffee from the fine china cup and poured himself a warm-up from the ornate silver pot on his desk. “I still think you need to look to your own people. Someone in your organization knows something.”
He glanced up at Jennifer and dismissed her again as the clipped voice rumbled over the speakerphone. “I repeat. I had nothing to do with either of these horrific events. Nor did any of my people. But I’ll be glad to help you find the son of a bitch who did.”
“I may just take you up on that offer. We’ll talk again soon.” Tomas hit the off button and addressed the two women before him.
“Monique, thank you for bringing our guest down. Did she have breakfast?”
“No, sir. She said she didn’t care for any.”
“Ah, she’s worried we’ll taint her food.” He turned to Jennifer. “I trust you rested well?” He raised an eyebrow.
The anger she’d felt before was nothing compared to the fury flooding her system now. Tired of being scared and feeling like a victim, Jennifer decided there wasn’t much to lose by saying exactly what she thought. It was so much better than being frightened.
“For one who’s been drugged into oblivion, I suppose you could say I slept like a baby,” she snapped.
“It seemed best. Would you have preferred to have been awake on your journey down here, Mrs. Donovan? That would have been most unpleasant.”
“I would prefer to go home.”
“I’m sure you would. And the quicker your brother-in-law delivers the information we’ve requested, the sooner it will happen.”
Her brother-in-law. They meant Nick. “I don’t understand.” She wasn’t going to think about what would happen if they found out she wasn’t Angela.
“I’m sure you don’t, but no matter. Nick Donovan has quite the motivation to quickly provide a particular service for us so he can fetch you home. The big question is, what do we do with you in the meantime?”
Tomas gave her an assessing look, and she was instantly uncomfortable. “This is, after all, a business. And a white woman with your”—he looked her up and down as if he were undressing her—“attributes would be in demand. If you live here, no matter how short a time, you work here.”
He stirred creamer into his coffee.
“What?” She could feel the confusion showing on her face.
“You still don’t understand, do you? But why would you? This is all so far removed from your rather sheltered life.”
She felt her anger spurt again. “There’s no reason to be insulting, just because I don’t understand what you’re alluding to.”
He smiled. “Ah, a woman with spirit. That is excellent. You’re already adding to your résumé. Don’t worry, Monique will look after you and explain the job here.”
“Job?” Jennifer echoed. What is this place?
“Naturally you’ll have a job. You’re in Tenancingo.”
Tomas smiled. “Of course.”
What the significance was of Tenancingo, she had no idea. The confusion she felt had to be evident on her face.
She was starting to feel like a broken record. “I still don’t understand.” But she had the terrible feeling that she was beginning to. The overdone makeup, the young women, the lingerie—it all made a horrible, morbid kind of sense.
Tomas Rivera smiled proudly. “This is the finest brothel in Tlaxcala.”
Copyright © 2014 by Kay Thomas. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Want another peek of PERSONAL TARGET?
for a “steamy” sneak peek - click here
for Prologue - click here
for Chapter One - click here
for Chapter Two - click here
for Chapter Three - click here