Saving Charlie by Anne Conley by Anne Conley - Read Online

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Saving Charlie - Anne Conley

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them.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks go to all my readers, Suzanne, Fabie, Mike, Lisa, Kelly, and the rest of my street team. You guys are super awesomesauce, and I appreciate every damn thing y’all do for me. In the immortal words of Hillary Clinton, it takes a village. Thank you all.

My mom and husband, who both had a hard time getting through the first chapter, also get super special shout outs.

And to my fans, who have stuck with me and supported my journey thus far, thank you all.

Prologue

Hey, I’m Les. You may have met me before, and Ms. Conley has been kind enough to write my story (finally). Some of you may have been looking forward to something funny, as I’m a pretty funny guy. But for the most part, my story is only funny where I’ve done stupid stuff to mess everything up.

Usually, I’m pretty happy, satisfied with my lot in life. Lately though, looking at all my buddies, and seeing their happiness has made me want more than just my job, my music, and fun with friends. I want to have a family, and by family I don’t necessarily mean kids. I want to need someone like air. Or water. I want my other half.

And I think I’ve found her.

But her story’s not pretty. She hasn’t had the life I’ve had, the family I’ve had, the friends I’ve had. None of it. And she’s managed to make it and be stronger for it. And I love her for that.

This is our story. It’s not always pretty, but if I know anything, it’s that life isn’t always pretty, wrapped in a bow and served with a side order of chocolate.

And it’s not always something we want to see.

Chapter 1

Two percent of human trafficking victims are rescued.

—www.refugeoflight.com

The phone woke Charlie at two-thirty in the morning. Rubbing her eyes, she reached for it only to hear heavy breathing. She knew who this was. It excited her in a way that she hadn’t felt in years, making her feel dirty and shameful. She had to admit she liked it, the way some women liked rape fantasies. She’d never in a million years admit that, but the pleasure was there, nonetheless. Her response was almost Pavlovian.

Are you wet? The guttural tone of his voice forced her to respond. It always had, even before she figured out who it was.

Um…you’re late. I have to get up in half an hour.

Sounds of hoarse breathing met her protests. She was usually up for this guy’s games, but he didn’t usually wake her from a dead sleep. She’d give it a shot tonight though. Impulse control had never been a strong suit.

She sighed. Okay, no I’m not wet, I was asleep. Give me a minute. Charlie rolled over on her back and slipped her fingers inside her panties and started rubbing. Talk to me, I need to get in the mood.

The calls had started about a month ago, soon after Les had started ordering stuff from her. Les’s voice sounded a lot like her dirty caller, low and rough, like something grinding across her skin. She assumed they were one and the same, even though Les’s voice was smoother when he called her at work. But the caller whispered, and it was rough, and familiar. A voice she reacted to with a visceral desire she couldn’t control.

When he’d first started calling, she’d hung up. But he would call back, cussing her and calling her names. Names that brought back memories she didn’t want to revisit. So when she decided to play along, and the caller had gotten a little less aggressive with her, she’d realized she sort of liked the attention. Her therapist would say it was inappropriate, but whatever.

You know what I want to do to you?

She rubbed a little faster, trying to get off. Lord knows she hadn’t done it with Justin in a while.

What do you want to do to me? She played along, breathlessly.

I want to wrap your pretty hair around my fist with you on your knees sucking my cock.

Okay, it was working. I’m wet now. You gonna get off? His gasping pants and the sound of skin slapping met her ears.

Oh yeah, baby. After I come all over your face, I’m gonna stick my big dick inside you and pound that pussy… He sucked air in through his teeth, and Charlie could hear he was close.

Hey, slow down, I’m not there yet.

You touching yourself for me?

Yeah. She was a little breathless, but not near where he was.

That’s so fucking hot.

Her fingers were working her clit, dipping down inside to spread her juices up around it while she rubbed furiously. Finally, it was working.

You coming for me? His whisper was hoarse and she heard the slapping noises, louder.

Yes…yes, I’m coming. Her muscles spasmed around her fingers as the climax swept through her.

Fuck… yeah… Grunts and slapping along with hissing air met her ears through her cell phone, and then he hung up abruptly. Just like always.

What, no pillow talk? she asked the dead air of the phone line. Sighing, she rolled out of bed, and got into the shower. She might as well get up and start her day. Charlie looked at her clock. Two a.m. With the run tonight, she had a long day ahead of her.

Charlie dressed in black jeans, a black long-sleeved shirt, and twisted her long blonde hair on top of her head before putting on a black cap and grabbing her knapsack. Driving to the motel, she thought about the necessary steps in her head before she got there. She compartmentalized herself, removing herself from any sort of personal aspect. In her mind, this was a job that had to be done.

She tried to prepare for every eventuality, but there was always something that could go wrong. Hopefully, tonight wouldn’t be one of those times.

The first time she’d done this, she’d nearly lost it as soon as the door shut behind her, trapping her in the motel room with the girls. She’d been transported back in time, and was no longer free to come and go, nearly ruining the girls’ chances of rescue. She’d gotten better at shoving those memories into her pit of repression since then and hadn’t had any trouble.

She pulled up outside the motel and used the maid’s key. Silently entering the room, she looked around. Sounds of weeping from the bed stole her attention, but as soon as she closed the door behind her, they stopped.

It’s okay. I’m here to help. Are you alone? Charlie whispered into the darkness, willing her eyes to adjust to the light.

Y-yes… the broken voice replied. She sounded really young.

Too easy. They never left them totally alone, especially during the seasoning period. Charlie knew they weren’t far away. She had to work fast.

Quickly, Charlie moved over to the bed, removing the bolt cutters from her knapsack, along with a knife. Noticing the girl was cuffed to the bed, she slipped the knife into her back pocket.

Using the bolt cutters, she freed the girl’s hands and helped her to sit up.

I’ve got clothes in the car for you. Can you walk?

The girl, who couldn’t have been older than twelve, nodded. Where are you taking me? The inexperienced ones didn’t ask questions, just following blindly. This girl had some sense, which could bode well or not. The ones with sense meant they were usually repeat offenders, and would be a flight risk.

Someplace safe. Come on. They’ll probably come check on you soon.

Charlie led the girl out of the room, checking for lookouts, before rushing her to the truck. She sped out of the parking lot, handing the girl a sweat suit to put on, and drove away quickly. As always, she bit her tongue against the questions she wanted to ask. While part of her wanted answers, another larger part wanted the whole thing buried even deeper. Instead, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number from memory.

I’ve got her. We’re on our way.

Chapter 2

From Carla May’s journal — written July 1995 — Age: sixteen

Shrinkage says I need to start a diary, so here it is. I call her that because she’s old and shrinking. And she’s a shrink, so the name seems to fit in more ways than one, if you know what I mean. I don’t know if she’s ever going to read this or not, but I should talk about some messed up shit, so she’ll give me some good drugs, you think? Not that my life all by itself isn’t messed up enough. She wants me to write about why I do what I do, if I can. So here goes…

I like sex. I shouldn’t, because of everything that’s happened to me. But when I have sex, I have someone’s undivided attention, and that’s the only time it ever happens. Shrinkage has been talking a lot about different types of attention, and how I’ve been looking for the wrong kinds. But that’s honestly the only attention I’ve ever really gotten. I mean, The Man gives me attention sometimes, but it’s usually right before I give him a blow job. He says I give the best head.

I used to really love The Man, and he’s the only person I’ve ever really known. Until Adam rescued me.

I don’t think Adam will stick around if I don’t have lots of amazing sex with him. He doesn’t love me like I love him, and I need him to stay. Especially since the people here tell me The Man’s gone. Adam’s the only good person who’s ever shown me any sort of attention.

He’s so out of my league. Both of his parents love him, and have jobs and stuff. He’s got everything he’s ever wanted. Adam plays football, and will probably get a scholarship to one of the huge colleges or something. He’s got a car, an old Camaro. He doesn’t really drink much, which is weird, but at that party he found me at, he was the only one who wasn’t totally wasted, although I could still smell beer on his breath. But when he took me home with him, his parents were throw-uppy nice to me. They’re the ones who brought me to this place, and Adam comes in to visit sometimes too. When he does, I manage to sneak him off somewhere and kiss him. Once I went down on him. He liked it so much, even though he tried to get me to stop. It’s only a matter of time before I can get him alone long enough for sex, and after that, he’ll be mine forever.

Well, my hand hurts so I’m stopping for now. Shrinkage didn’t say how much I have to write, just that I have to do it every day. So there, I’m done for now.

Charlie sat at her desk, going over the books, drinking her fifth enormous cup of coffee when her phone rang.

Charlie’s Recycled Restoration, how may I help you? She stifled a yawn, anxious for interaction. Maybe an actual conversation would wake her up. Between her dirty caller and the rescue run, she hadn’t managed too much sleep last night, especially after getting Justin to finally leave.

Hey there, Sweetness. How’s my favorite girl today? Les’s smooth voice washed over her through the phone.

Pretty good, Les. How’re you doing? She flushed at the memory of the call, crossing her legs and leaning back in her chair.

Better than I deserve. His standard reply. Les was a sweet guy, and not too hard on the eyes, but Charlie knew better than to try to start anything with him. Except of course for their midnight escapades, which by unspoken agreement, they did not address during daylight hours. What do you have in the way of crown molding? My client has suddenly decided they need crown molding in the dining room.

She smiled. I’ve got an entire shed full of it. You want to come out and look?

Awesome. I’ll be there in thirty minutes. Do you ever get a day off?

Nope. The boss is pretty strict. She laughed to herself. Les had assumed from day one that Charlie was a man, who was never there. For some reason, Charlie played along, never correcting him. Oh the games they played. Les was fun though. A great sport.

Judging by his night-time phone calls, a great sport with a filthy mind.

Thirty minutes later, Charlie had splashed water on her face to wake up and changed shirts. It was starting to get hot, so she put a short sleeved button-up over her tank top, exposing tattoos she’d had forever. Living at her place of business had its advantages.

When Les got there, he walked in as if he owned the place, and Charlie’s pulse quickened, in spite of the mental talking-to she gave herself. It was a strange dualistic experience around Les. Her muscles relaxed while everything else tightened. She sort of liked it, even though it was a wholly inappropriate reaction to a customer.

Les wasn’t a tall man, only a couple inches taller than her own five foot six inch frame. But he was a builder, doing most of the labor himself to cut costs, and it showed. He was muscular in all the right places, filling out his jeans and tee shirt well. She noticed with a little disappointment he had pulled on an over shirt today, a red long-sleeved button down he’d rolled up to reveal corded forearms.

Did you dress up for me? She instantly chided herself for the flirtatious tone of her voice. Number one, she had a boyfriend, such as he was. Number two, Les was a client, and her business was doing just fine without mixing it with pleasure. And number three, they had their night life, why mess with a good thing? And even without all that, he wasn’t the type of guy she typically dated. Les was, for the most part, nice.

Always, Sweetness. I even combed my hair for you. He leaned on her desk and she could smell his aftershave, a sandalwood scent that did little to mask his natural odor of sawdust and man. She noticed his dark hair was indeed combed back, a departure from his normal tousled curls. He must have used some sort of gel to tame the wildness. She had to admit to herself, she enjoyed the wildness. He kept it a little long on top, and Charlie had had to control herself, on more than one occasion, from running her fingers through it, twirling the curls in her fingers.

So, crown molding? Any particular size? She stood and walked around the desk.

Can I take a couple of samples? To let the customer pick?

Absolutely. Come on out back. I’ll show you what I’ve got. Charlie led the way out the back door to the row of outbuildings where she kept her inventory. She sold architectural details, finishing pieces, so to speak. Stained glass, banisters, flooring, molding, you name it, she probably had it. It hadn’t taken her long to get enough stuff to start her business, and she was constantly going to auctions, and old house sites to salvage pieces most people threw away, and others would pay top dollar for.

The shed at the end of the row held all of her molding and some of her flooring. Filled with stacks of old wood, it was a critter haven.

Watch out for snakes. ‘Tis the season. In fact, it was unseasonably warm and dry this year, which had the snakes out and looking for water in unlikely places. The molding is all over against this wall back here. She picked her way through the piles of wood, watching where she stepped, leading the way to where Les needed to look.

A low whistle came from Les. This is some pretty nice stuff. Where’d you get it?

Um, some of it came from a remodel Mr. Burt did last winter, some of it came from an auction in Jacksonville, and some of it came from the old Lancaster place on Serendipity Road when they tore it down. I made a deal with those folks. They let me come in and take what I wanted for a small fee.

Cool, Les murmured as he pulled pieces away from the wall, choosing what he wanted to take with him. Suddenly, he dropped everything with a girlish shriek and jumped back. Charlie was at his side in an instant, gun drawn.

Sure enough, a copperhead about two feet long lay there, coiled up and looking deceptively innocent.

Good eye, Les. Those things are bad news. Carefully, she aimed at the head, and as soon as she drew a bead on it, the head disintegrated with a loud bang. Smoke hung in the air along with the gunpowder’s acrid smell.

My hero. I hate snakes. Les tried to chuckle good-naturedly, but Charlie could see he was shaken up. They don’t travel in pairs, do they? He was looking around them, eyes wild while he shoved his shaking hands in his pockets. Charlie suppressed her giggle. He probably hated clowns, too.

No, that’s water moccasins. At least, that’s what I’ve heard, anyway. She picked up the pieces of molding he’d dropped and led the way out the shed, lithely dancing between piles of wood.

You always packing out here?

Yeah, it’s snake shot in a .22 revolver. Won’t really hurt a man, but it’ll blow off a snake’s head in a heartbeat. This was her home now, and as distasteful as snakes were, she’d learned to co-exist with the non-poisonous ones and she had a bullet for every poisonous one she ran across.

I feel so safe with you. The teasing lilt in his voice brought a smile to her face.

I aim to please, she drawled.

Be sure and tell Charlie you need a raise. In fact, I’ll email him this afternoon, as soon as I get back to my office. He was walking behind her, carrying the pieces he would be taking back to his customers.

Will do.

Justin’s Jetta was parked in front of the house when they walked back into the office and the flirty banter was gone. His dark gaze raked over her possessively, before dragging across Les, then he planted a firm kiss on Charlie’s mouth.

I brought you lunch, sweetheart. I know you probably haven’t eaten yet. Keeping his arm draped around her shoulders, he handed her a plastic container filled with some sort of hamburger helper.

Thanks, Justin. That’s sweet. I’ll eat in a little bit. Stifling her annoyance, she set the container on the edge of her desk and turned back to Les. Just bring back whatever the customer doesn’t pick, and you can pay for the rest. I’ll write up the ticket for you then. Okay?

Sure, I’ll try to get them to look at it this afternoon and choose. Hopefully I’ll be back out here later tomorrow. He flashed a smile at her, waved to Justin, and left.

I don’t like that guy, Justin announced after Les had walked out the door.

"You don’t like any guy who talks to me," Charlie said dismissively.

So? He leaned against her desk.

Leaning against the other side of her desk, so she was looking directly into Justin’s eyes, Charlie replied patiently, So, my business deals primarily with men. You’re going to have to get over that if we’re going to keep seeing each other.

Why did you go into a business like this again?

Because I like old houses and the details that make them unique. I wanted to do this. I enjoy doing this. And I make money doing this. She’d had this discussion with Justin before, but he didn’t understand it. He didn’t really like old houses, living in a newer subdivision that had gone up in the last ten years on the outskirts of Serendipity.

He grunted in reply, which was all Charlie could hope for. It was either a grunt or an argument, and she wasn’t in the mood for the latter. She’d been relatively happy with her no-strings attached attitude until she met Justin, but doubts had been rising to the surface of her mind about him for some time. Initially, she’d told Justin they could have a casual thing, since she wasn’t interested in anything else, but he’d convinced her to take things a step further. Charlie was discovering it was a mistake to give it a go. He was hot, good between the sheets, and a relatively good guy. But if this was what a relationship was, having to justify her decisions all the time, she wasn’t so sure about it.

Deciding to keep the peace, because she didn’t have the energy for what she wanted to say, Charlie ate in silence. The food was warm and tasty and Charlie had skipped breakfast. Since she’d been up since the wee hours of the morning, she was starving in addition to exhausted.

Want to go out for dinner tonight?

I was hoping for an early night tonight. I didn’t sleep well last night.

Justin pouted, sticking his bottom lip out in an unattractive manner. He had some annoying habits, and his pouty, possessive side wasn’t attractive. Since the pouty, possessive stuff had started happening, the sex had gone downhill. For her, anyway.

I haven’t seen you in three days, except for bringing you lunch and that movie last night. I really need some Charlie-time, he wheedled, the whiny tone grating on Charlie’s nerves.

Okay, but I need to have an early night. Just dinner. No movies, no dancing, no going back to your place. Okay? I have to be in bed at eight o’clock. Or else I’ll die. She was only half-joking.

Fine. He nuzzled her neck, and Charlie had to admit it felt good. I’ll pick you up here? Five-thirty?

Sounds good. She kissed him—a lazy kiss that had no chemistry whatsoever—and he left, taking his plastic container with him.

After Justin was gone, she logged onto her email and saw one from an auction service. She had a client who dealt with her directly to find stained glass pieces from the McMannis Manufacturer. It was an old family business that had gone under during the depression, and the great-grandson of the artisan was trying to acquire all of his ancestor’s pieces he could. Charlie had put out feelers with the auction houses she knew, and they sent her alerts when something they thought she’d be interested in was going up for sale.