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Consent (The Loan Shark Duet #2)
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When Gabriel broke down my door, he took over my body and life. Never with force, but always with clever manipulation. He stripped me of my independence, my defenses, and my clothes and turned me into an addict for his touch.
Once, I had dreams and a future. Now, I have fears, scars, and insatiable needs. I’m damaged beyond repair, but if I’m to survive the most dangerous man in Johannesburg, I can’t allow him to break me, because broken toys are destined for the garbage dump.
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I’m going to have Gabriel Louw’s baby.
The most dangerous man in Johannesburg.
I clutch a hand over my mouth to silence a sob and place the other over my stomach where our child is growing.
While the taxi takes me farther and farther away from my captor on my impulsive escape route, my mind reels with a thousand thoughts. How did this happen? Did I forget to take my pill? I’m sure I took it every day at the same time. I even have an alarm programmed on my phone. Did I slip up? How? When? I haven’t taken any medicine that could’ve interfered with the contraceptive.
For the life of me, I can’t think of an explanation. My rational mind, the part of me in denial, demands that I find proof that the pregnancy test is wrong, but my gut knows otherwise. The knowledge pounds in my ribs.
I have little money, no job, and I’m running from Gabriel Louw.
I’m in so much trouble. Now is not the time to figure out what went wrong. I need to think of how I’m going to stay alive.
“Where to, ma’am?” the driver asks.
When Gabriel finds out I’m missing, he’ll go after my brother. I give the driver Kris’ address and sink back in the seat, nauseous from fear.
He glances at me in the rearview mirror. “Everything all right?”
I lower my hand from my mouth and grip the door handle. I need to hold on to something. “I’m fine, thank you.”
It feels like forever before we pull up at the clinic. I ask the driver to keep the meter running and skirt around to the back of the house where I won’t be visible from any of the clinic windows. I try the kitchen door, but it’s locked. I knock softly.
Please, Charlie, hurry.
For several painful heartbeats, nothing happens.
Biting my nail, I run from window to window until I spot Charlie. He’s sitting on his bed, reading a comic book. I tap on the glass. The last thing I want is to scare him by pounding on the window. No reaction. I knock harder. I can’t afford to attract Kris’ attention. In the meantime, the taximeter is running a hole into the small amount of cash I have on me.
Finally, Charlie looks up. When he sees me, he calls out, “Va–Val.”
I motion for him to be quiet with my finger on my lips and point at the window latch. Instead of opening it, Charlie hops from the bed and leaves the room.
Don’t call Kris.
A moment later, the backdoor opens, and my brother steps out.
Beyond relief, I want to pull him into my arms and tell him we’re going to be all right, but I have to act normal.
“Surprise, Charlie,” I whisper. “I came to fetch you. We’re going on a holiday, but you have to come quietly.”
“Q–quiet,” he whispers back, mimicking my earlier gesture with a finger on his lips.
There’s no time to go through the house and gather some of his things. I lock up so Kris will be safe inside and throw the key through the bars of the open bathroom window. Hooking my arm through Charlie’s, I lead him to the waiting taxi.
Inside, the driver and Charlie speak simultaneously.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Where are we go–going?”
Where are we going?
Where can I run to where Gabriel won’t find me? A place like that doesn’t exist. If I’m to keep my wits about me, I have to ignore that notion. I’m no longer responsible for only Charlie and myself, but also for a third life. I have no plan of action. I pinch the bridge of my nose.
Think, Valentina. Think.
“Ma’am, where to?” the driver repeats, more impatient now.
I can’t afford a plane or bus ticket to anywhere for myself, let alone for two people. There’s only one option left. Wherever we’re going, I’ll have to drive.
“Ma’am?” The man turns in his seat and gives me a piercing look. “Is everything all right back there?”
“Yes. We’re going to Berea.”
He regards me from under his bushy eyebrows and says with a hint of disbelief, “Berea. You sure?”
“Just drive. I’ll give you directions.”
He holds my eyes for another moment before turning back to the front and pulling away from the curb. I exhale in relief, and squeeze Charlie’s hand to reassure him, happy that Kris hadn’t seen us. Charlie has wound down his window and is staring at the buildings that whiz past, oblivious to the lump of concrete in my stomach and the maddening fear pumping through my veins.
I send a quick text message to Kris so she won’t worry when she finds Charlie gone.
Charlie and I have to leave for a while. Sorry to sneak off like this, but the less you know the better. Thank you for always being a friend. Love you.