Levels of Exposure
by Aimee McNeil
Release Date: December 20, 2016
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Published by: Limitless Publishing
Lexie Wilder is caught in the clutches of the very man her mother tried to protect her from…
Separated from her mother and locked in a strange room, Lexie soon realizes the amount of control John Stodden has over all of them. She finally understands why her mother went to such lengths to shield her from the truth—a truth that has put everyone she cares about in danger.
But now she is faced with the daunting possibility that there might be something much stronger tying her to the heartless crime lord…like the very blood running through her veins.
Lines are about to be crossed as promises that cannot be kept are made…
Losing Lexie is not an option for Jackson Finley. He will risk anything in order to save her and take down the infamous crime boss who has remained untouched—until now. Willing to lay down his badge, and to break the laws he has sworn to uphold, Jackson will not stop until she is safe.
But when he accepts the help of Lexie’s late boyfriend’s brother, Evan, things start spiraling out of control and he’s forced to act fast if he wants to keep Evan from being swallowed by the darkness.
With a new evil lurking in the shadows, no one is safe...
Lexie’s best friend is missing, and now everyone realizes that the dangers run much deeper than what her mother had depicted in her diary. Will Lexie be able to save the people she loves, and will she be able to put her trust in the hands of a man who has claimed more of her heart than she ever thought possible?
“... I’m scared and I need a drink.” Lexie rubbed her forehead.
“That’s an easy fix.” Jackson offered her a smile and walked over to the bar fridge. He opened it up. “What’s your poison?”
“Aren’t those little bottles insanely expensive?” Lexie asked, looking at the collection of different labels lined up in the door of the fridge.
“When the situation calls for it, does it really matter?” Jackson grabbed two bottles of whiskey and held one out for Lexie. She looked at it curiously before taking it from him. Jackson sat down next to her on the bed and snapped the cover of his and tipped it to his lips before he glanced over at Lexie. She watched him hesitantly as she unscrewed the cover and brought it to her nose.
“It smells disgusting,” Lexie complained.
“It tastes worse.” Jackson frowned as he tossed his empty bottle into the small garbage bin across the room.
“Then why do you drink it?”
“I love the rush as it heats my blood.” Jackson raised his brow.
Lexie became quiet and looked down at the bottle in her hand. “I know that feeling,” Lexie whispered. “That’s what it was like when I was with you.”
Jackson was surprised that she brought up the history between them. He thought it would be a topic to avoid after what had happened.
“Lex…” Jackson started but she held up her hand to stop him and tipped the bottle to her lips, swallowing the amber colored fluid inside. She covered her mouth and struggled to swallow the harsh liquid before proceeding to cough.
When she collected herself, she looked up at him with watering eyes. “That was horrendous,” Lexie protested with a gasp. “You made that look so much better than it deserved.”
“You are better than I deserve,” Jackson admitted, looking into her eyes and holding them as long as he could.
“How does nothing ever scare you?” she asked, a small crease forming between her brows. Jackson got the urge to press his lips against the spot. He wanted to taste every part of her and savour her always.
“What makes you think nothing scares me?” Jackson asked, his gaze dropping to the small frown that had formed on her full lips. They had a soft sheen from running her tongue along them.
“The way you face everything like you know you will win,” Lexie said as she reached up and adjusted the small strap on her shoulder. Jackson couldn’t help but follow her movements as he took in her soft skin that smelled of soap and the scent that he had begun to crave upon all else.
“I’m scared right now,” Jackson whispered.
Lexie tilted her head in disbelief. “No, you’re not.”
“I am.” He frowned as he reached for the bottle still in her hand. He let his fingers linger on hers before he took the bottle and finished if off. He tossed it into the garbage with the other.
“Why?” Lexie tested him.
“You absolutely terrify me,” Jackson admitted.
The sound of a woman crying roused Stephanie’s attention. She felt like she was underwater as she tried to distinguish where the sound was coming from. When she tried to speak, her body wouldn’t cooperate…her mouth felt numb and filled with cotton. If she could actually force words through her throat she figured they would be covered in blood as the sharp pains scraped at her raw flesh. Stephanie wanted to call out to the woman whose tears reflected her own turmoil. The woman’s cries pulled at her heart and roused her mind, making it reel at a pace too fast for her uncooperative body.
A shadow crossed over her and Stephanie forced her eyes to open. The dim lamp light lit the room as she tried to focus her eyes. It was a struggle to keep her lids open as her dry eyes worked against her, continually closing, making her find the strength to force them open again. Movement in her small cell caused adrenaline to aid her struggle. Stephanie blinked her eyes in confusion when she saw the blurry image of a woman in the corner, huddled in the shadow.
Stephanie forced words up her torn throat. “Wh…nooo…” Her tongue felt too large for her mouth and refused to let her words pass. Stephanie closed her eyes tight against the pain before trying to speak again. When she opened them, the corner of the cell was empty and she was alone. Her eyes frantically searched the entire cell. A deep chill flashed across her skin, permeating her to the bone until her insides began to shake. Tears filled her eyes but she couldn’t lift her hands to wipe them away as they ran down her cheeks. The drugs made it hard to determine what was real and what was not.
Stephanie had no idea how much time had passed. She was constantly in a drug-induced state. She knew her captor was drugging her food…it didn’t take her long to discover that she would lose consciousness shortly after she ate the food he left outside her cell. At first she didn’t mind it. She preferred to sleep instead of stare through the bars at the man who watched her silently from across the room. He wouldn’t give her answers. He would only stare at her with his dark mind churning behind those eyes that were anything but human. He seemed to be waiting for her tears. It was only then that his unmoving form would start to rouse, slowly rubbing his hands up and down his thighs. The more she cried, the more he enjoyed watching her. She gave up demanding him to tell her why she was here and pleading to let her go. All of her promises to never tell fell on deaf ears. This man did not intend to let her go.
His routine was beginning to change and Stephanie feared what this meant for her. She remembered a bright light shining in her face; it was too bright to open her eyes. She tried to turn away but realized her arms were bound to her sides. Stephanie closed her eyes, trying to stop the memory from assaulting her. She wanted to drift back into nothingness, with so many drugs still in her system, it was easy to submit to sleep.
The sensation of warm water trickling on her skin caused her to flinch, and she stretched her legs, pulling at firm straps that bound her feet. She was completely immobile and the fear jolted her awake. She lifted her head to see those dark eyes watching her. She couldn’t stop the tears that exploded with devastation. She was strapped to some kind of metal table, completely naked. Screams followed her tears as she fought with the ties binding her.
His eyes flared as he squeezed the sponge in his hand, and water poured onto her. He began to rub the sponge in gentle circles against her leg while she struggled and tried to fight him unsuccessfully. “No…don’t do this, please…please!” Stephanie begged.
She cried as he slowly washed her, using small gentle strokes as he meticulously covered every inch of her skin. Then he smoothed shaving cream on her legs before pulling a razor up the length of her shin. Stephanie jerked her leg and the sting of the blade burned across her skin.
“Look what you did, Rose,” he said, shaking his head. “You shouldn’t have done that.” It was the first time he had spoken to her in what seemed like forever. His voice was strangely normal. She had imagined if he ever did say anything to her again it would sound evil, inhuman, because she couldn’t imagine a person capable of this. Instead, it was the first time she considered that this man might have the world fooled. Fear that no one would suspect him of evil made her shudder. What if no one ever came looking for her? The realization struck her that these dark confines might be the last place she ever knew. She could feel her last traces of hope slip through her fingers.
“My name isn’t Rose,” Stephanie gasped through her tears.
“Don’t be foolish,” he said as he grabbed a cloth and pressed it to her knee to stop the blood. “You don’t want to make me angry, do you, Rose?”
A soft whimper escaped her throat as she shook her head no.
“Good girl. You’re just confused after what had happened.”
She retreated inside her head as he continued to shave her legs. She refused to give him any reaction as he worked on her, preparing her for something she could not let herself think about. Stephanie closed her eyes as warm water poured over her hair and then winced as his fingers began massaging soap into her scalp. The fruity scent filled her nose as she tried to block out her senses.
She thought about Lexie and Evan and desperately hoped they were well. Thoughts of Lexie in this same situation threatened to break her. She focused on their faces, keeping them close as she searched for strength. She thought of her parents and their last conversation when they asked her to come for dinner that weekend. Her mother was making her favorite pasta dish and she tried to remember the excitement she felt when she was looking forward to eating until she was ready to explode, like every time she was treated to her mother’s cooking. She didn’t know if the weekend had already come and gone. She wondered if her parents knew she was missing and if they were looking for her. Her mother always worried about her, always fussing over the smallest details when it came to her only daughter.
She thought of her boyfriend, Mike. They had barely spoken the last week before she had been taken. He hadn’t come home in three days because he had been staying with his friend. The last time they were together they had argued about the fact he had been hanging out at the local strip bar. She realized he had been lying to her when she heard a rumor that he had been seen throwing up outside The Lighthouse. The strip bar consisted of nothing more than a rundown building and pathetic display of talent upon the stage. She was more embarrassed than angry when she confronted him. Their last words to each other were harsh and she wondered if that would be how he remembered her.
Stephanie had no idea how much time had passed, not knowing when one day turned into the next. She had so many things she wanted the people in her life to know and the realization that she would never see them again made her squeeze her eyes shut against the assaulting waves of pain.
Stephanie stared at the dingy ceiling as he ran a comb through her hair, over and over. She tried to make her body numb and allow her mind to go somewhere else, but no matter how hard she tried, her fear kept her aware of what was happening. She was forced to endure every moment.
She was surprised to feel relief when she saw a syringe in his hand. The prick of pain as he pushed it through her skin was welcomed as she closed her eyes and felt herself drift away.
Stephanie looked down at her small cell, the cot in the corner, with the thin wrinkled sheet hanging off the edge, the dirtied floor and the bucket in the corner. She was looking down at herself sitting on the bed, arms wrapped around her knees. She tried to scream out to herself but she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t move. She could only watch herself cry in her misery.
She watched herself lift her head and lean back against the concrete wall and that was when Stephanie realized it was not herself she was looking at, her features were undeniably similar but she knew it wasn’t her. She wondered how many others were locked in this cell. She could feel the despair as real as the bars caging her in. Stephanie wanted to ask who she was but she was unable to do anything but observe no matter how hard she fought. A force kept her just out of Stephanie’s reach.
“Wake up.” Stephanie felt a gentle touch on her shoulder, so soft she thought she imagined it. She could feel a small protest bubble from her chest. “Wake up! He’s coming.” This time she could feel someone grasp her shoulders and give a shake. Stephanie jolted from sleep, pushing herself up to a sitting position. She pushed her back against the wall, brought her knees up to her chest, and wrapped her arms tightly around them. She couldn’t shake the disturbing dream. It had felt so real. The woman’s voice still floated around in her thoughts as she searched for her. She could still feel her hands on her shoulders. She reached up and placed her hands over the lingering sensation and sought comfort in the fact for the first moment since she arrived she didn’t feel so alone in this hell.
The sound of the lock sliding in the door made Stephanie’s heart race, she could feel her pulse in her throat as she lay down and pretended to be asleep. She concentrated on slowing her breath to deep, even intervals, trying to block out the sound of his footsteps across the floor.
His wedding band clinked against the bars but he remained quiet, watching her. “I know you’re awake, Rose,” he said after a stretch of time. The drugs in her system were wreaking havoc on her thoughts. She wasn’t sure how long had passed or if she had fallen asleep and this was another dream. She desperately wanted it to be a dream. She didn’t want to look at his face anymore and wonder if today would be the day he decided to kill her.
Stephanie opened her eyes and looked at him. He was dressed in a suit with his tie loosened and hanging haphazardly around his neck, his haunting eyes never leaving her. His clothes looked expensive and she couldn’t’ help but wonder who he was when he left here. She wondered what woman would be married to a man like him and if she feared him like Stephanie did.
“There you are.” He smiled at her, an expression that seemed unnatural for his face. “You need to eat, Rose.” He pointed to a tray of food she hadn’t touched. The wonderful smells had called to her but she couldn’t take any more drugs. She didn’t know what was real or not anymore.
“No more drugs…they make me feel so sick,” Stephanie whispered. She could feel the physical toll weighing heavily on her exhausted body.
“As long as you behave I don’t need to drug you.” He unlocked the cell door and then picked up the tray. Walking inside, he approached her bed and sat down, placing the tray on the edge. “Do you promise to behave?”
Stephanie nodded her head and tried not to tremble. She didn’t want to show fear but it poured out of her regardless.
He placed a hand on her arm and then ran it over the length of her body. “Good girl,” he said. “Good girl.” Stephanie squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath until she felt the weight of his body leave the bed and the sound of the cell door closing behind him.
Aimee McNeil was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, where she continues to live today with her husband and three children. She is a stay-at-home mother that loves every colorful moment with her family.
Aimee spends most of her free time indulging in her love of writing. You can also find her lost in the pages of a good book, or making a mess with her paints. Aimee loves to explore anything that promotes creativity. It is one of the many reason she enjoys writing.
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