Birthright by A. P. Jensen by A. P. Jensen - Read Online

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Birthright - A. P. Jensen

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Jensen

Chapter 1

In the middle of the Nevada desert, stood an unmarked building with no windows and no sign that it was inhabited. The select few aware of its existence called it Haven and smiled mockingly at the irony of its name.

Locked in a tiny room, a motionless fifteen-year-old sat Indian style on a narrow cot with her back against the wall. The door swung open to let in a shaft of bright light. A woman with long blonde hair and violet eyes hesitated in the doorway and took in the destruction of the room in silence. A broken lamp, bits of scorched fabric and a set of drawers lay in splinters over the concrete floor, but what was most alarming were the broken bits of metal links littered over the ground like jacks, broken handcuffs.

The woman stepped cautiously into the room and shadows moved over the ground as four guards crowded into the doorway. The woman’s high heels clicked on the floor as she stopped a safe distance from the bed and examined the teenager warily. The girl’s waist length black hair was matted with sweat, bruises stood out starkly on pale skin and her hands were bloody as if she tried to claw her way through the cement walls. The teen absently drew designs on the mangled pair of cuffs on her lap.

Jordan? Catherine’s voice cut through the teen’s reverie.

Jordan slowly lifted her head and stared at Catherine with eyes such a dark blue, they appeared black in the dim light. Catherine?

Catherine eased a step closer. It’s me.

What’s happening to me? Jordan’s voice was weak and frail.

Catherine glanced at the guards shifting in the doorway. You don’t remember?

Jordan stared at her bloody hands. It’s all a blur. I feel strange.

We took you off your pills, honey, but everything’s going to be alright, Catherine soothed.

Jordan’s eyes were dilated and unnaturally fevered. Why would you take me off the pill? What’s happening to me?

Catherine smoothed sweaty palms over her slacks and took a step back. What you’re going through is completely normal. She didn’t sound convinced. There’s a man here that can help you.

He can help me? My chest hurts.

He’s a very important man. We don’t want to keep him waiting.

He’ll give me back my pills?

No. He’s going to figure out what’s wrong with you.

But I’ve always been on the pill. Jordan’s voice trailed off as she noticed gouge marks in the cement that hadn’t been there yesterday. Her fingertips suddenly throbbed.

He’ll know what you need. Let’s go.

Jordan didn’t move. One of the guards eased away from the others.

We don’t want to hurt you, he said.

Jordan’s eyes flicked over the guard with the baton clipped to his belt. She had a vague recollection of this guard pinning her to the bed and handcuffing her yesterday. Her eyes narrowed on his bruised face.

But you will, Jordan said coolly and deliberately dropped the damaged handcuffs on the floor.

The guard’s hand hovered over the baton. Yes.

If you cooperate, they won’t need to restrain you again, Catherine put in.

Jordan fixed her gaze on Catherine as she slowly, painfully eased to the edge of the bed and rose. You promised.

The guards all looked at Catherine who paled and fluttered her hands nervously. I know I did. Just trust me.

Catherine walked out of the room, bits of burnt fabric stuck to her heels. The four guards waited for Jordan to exit before they followed her into the hallway. Jordan’s eyes watered under the unmerciful fluorescent lighting. She followed Catherine down a long hallway lined with narrow black doors identical to Jordan’s with the bare minimum of furniture and comfort for the teen within.

Male and female guards dressed in black escorted teenagers through Haven and pulled their charges to the side as Catherine approached. The guards bowed their heads respectfully to Catherine who dressed in a stylish blood red business suit.

Jordan looked boldly at the guards that yielded to their entourage, but none of them met her eyes. She tried to catch the attention of a kid she passed around twelve years old. He walked zombielike, eyes glazed and face expressionless. He didn’t even see her. The second teen Jordan passed was around thirteen. She had a giddy smile on her face and leaned against her guard for support.

Catherine turned a corner into another long hallway and Jordan glimpsed other hallways extending into every direction, all lined with narrow black doors. Haven was a maze of hallways that seemed to lead to nowhere.

Jordan took in every detail. Her senses were strangely raw and sensitive. Every sound, every detail jumped out at her, unfamiliar and unsettling. How long had it been since she’d seen sunlight? How many years had she been here? Did all of the kids in Haven take the pill like her?

Pain slammed into Jordan’s chest and she staggered sideways. Cold sweat covered her body and her breath came out in ragged gasps. It felt as if her insides were being seared by flames.

I need the pill, Jordan wheezed.

No, the pain will pass, Catherine said.

Jordan clawed her chest, desperate to escape the agony. What’s wrong with me?

Catherine didn’t answer. She continued down the hall while the guards dragged Jordan along, holding her up by her arms. Jordan’s group passed a huddle of guards surrounding a large male on his hands and knees. His clothes were ripped and blood coated a silver chain around his neck. He looked up as Jordan passed. He was built like a linebacker with hazel eyes and shaggy brown hair covering half of his face. He panted, one hand pressed to his chest. There were equal bits of understanding and confusion in their eyes as they looked at one another.

A short time later, Catherine stopped in front of a closed door. Her lips curled in distaste as she took in Jordan’s mussed and bloodied appearance.

No time, she muttered.

Without further ado, Catherine opened a door and propelled Jordan inside.

Do whatever he says, Catherine said before she slammed the door.

Jordan slumped to her knees on the floor. As the pain eased, she raised her head. Unlike the rest of Haven, the walls in this room were a warm peach. Even the pale color after years of seeing shades of gray was a shock to her senses. Instead of standard utilitarian furniture, this room had chocolate brown couches and a fountain in the corner that let out the soothing sound of running water.

On the couch sat a man in a black suit and tie. He had short sandy blonde hair and startling black eyes. He was in his late forties. He didn’t seem perturbed by her bloody appearance. He waved an elegant hand to indicate she take the couch across from him.

Jordan slowly got to her feet and tensed her muscles to run. Through necessity, her will to survive had been honed to recognize and avoid predators. No man in her life frightened her as much as the man watching her so calmly, gesturing for her to join him on the couch. She looked at him closely, trying to pinpoint what was triggering her alarms, but there was nothing on the surface to suggest he would attack.

Come, I’ve heard a lot about you, he said.

He didn’t move, but Jordan got the impression that she wouldn’t leave the room without his consent. Panic and fear clawed her insides, amplifying her chest pain. Jordan forced her hands to relax and started forward. She widened her eyes, softened her lips and fell back on a look of wide-eyed innocence and eagerness she perfected in her youth. She prayed it would be enough to fool this man and get through whatever was going to happen in this peach colored room. She had a feeling, she would never be the same.

The man held out a hand with a smile on his face. My name is William.

Chapter 2

Two Months Later

Jordan staggered through the automatic doors of Walmart, out of the brutal June heat in Las Vegas. She maneuvered her way through the hordes of people entering and exiting in the afternoon rush. Her chest throbbed with every intake of breath and she hugged an oversized camouflage jacket around herself despite the triple digit temperature. Jordan paused to take it all in. People talked on cellphones while carelessly throwing items in their carts. A toddler dodged behind Jordan while pelting his mom with grapes.

Move it! someone snapped.

Jordan moved off to the side and tried to block out the booming voice on the PA. It seemed as if thousands of people pressed in around her. She ran a hand over her pocket to make sure the wad of cash was still there. Jordan pulled the bill of her ratty hat lower over her face. She splayed a hand over her middle and prayed for death, away from the unrelenting pain.

Jordan scanned the crowd for a moment before she lurched into motion. She needed pain killers. She navigated her way through and around long checkout lines. At this time of day, the store was packed to capacity with nagging wagons and harried people just off of work. Callous people bumped into her and sent ricochets of agony through her. Barely suppressing a scream, she took refuge in women’s clothing. An unsympathetic lady huffed impatiently when Jordan blocked her way and muttered to herself in Spanish as she passed. Jordan hobbled to the lingerie section, which was less populated and leaned heavily against a rack of pajamas on sale. A worker wearing the Walmart blue vest over jeans and a white tee frowned, but made no comment as she hung bras on the correct racks.

Jordan rested her forehead on her arm and tried to stop the panic that rose to choke her. Sweat trickled down her face and she tried to block out the overload on her senses. The lights in the store flickered on and off. The volume of the crowd rose in surprise and alarm.

Jordan stared at the sizzling lights and forced herself to focus. She was running out of time. She moved to the main aisle and took in roadblocks in the form of women, children and wagons. She took note of where the crowd was heaviest and where two workers muttered over a spill. She eased forward and looked right and left. As she raised her foot to step into the masses, a chill ran down her spine. Instinct whipped her head to the right and her eyes moved frantically over the crowd. Her mind screamed at her to run, but she had to be sure. And then she saw him. Standing near the checkout lines, predator still with his black eyes on her was her worst nightmare. William.

Terror flooded her body along with a healthy dose of adrenaline. Without pausing another second, she leapt into the most condensed areas amidst loud curses and shouts of Hey, watch it! She blocked out everything and concentrated on losing herself in the crowd. It was the worst feeling in the world to be surrounded by people and feel utterly alone. No one could save her from him. She clenched her hands into fists as she ran. He wouldn’t get his hands on her again. She crouched in the crowd, peeking through elbows and between couples into aisles when a hand closed firmly around her arm. Jordan opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Her heart felt as if it would pound out of her chest. She whirled, fist flying.

A man in a basketball jersey dodged her swing and stepped back with his hands up. Jesus, I thought you were my girlfriend. When she didn’t relax her fighting stance, he shook his head and muttered, Crazy, beneath his breath before he walked away.

Weak with relief, she staggered into an empty aisle lined with picture frames and mirrors. People ignored Jordan who bent over, gasping for breath. Someone paused and Jordan looked up as a woman threatened to glue her kid’s butt to the wagon if he didn’t sit.

The mirrors Jordan stood in front of showed eyes dilated with fright and a ghost white complexion. Jordan looked right and left, monitoring both entrances into her aisle. To her left was a shelf running perpendicular filled with stools and chairs. To the right was the main aisle.

Think, Jordan. Think, she chanted to herself.

The people in this store had no idea that a monster walked among them, a man who would kill to get to her. Her skin rippled with goose bumps. How did he find her so fast? She wouldn’t go back. Jordan blew out a breath and didn’t notice the surface of the mirror frost with ice.

Have to get out, Jordan whispered.

There’s more than one exit, Jordan thought. Back entrance, garden. When she tried to move, she found herself paralyzed with fear. Jordan flexed tingling palms, looked at her reflection and froze. Her image blurred as the mirror began to vibrate. She took a step back as the shelf shuddered. Metal squeaked in protest and hooks holding mirrors of all shapes and sizes began to bend. Two huge mirrors fell forward and shattered. Jordan covered her face with one arm as mirror shards flew like shrapnel. The shelf screeched as the ground began to tremble. She tumbled to her knees on a mirror and gasped in pain.

Shelves holding picture frames crashed to the ground and glass exploded around her. Jordan yanked a jagged chunk of mirror from her knee and forced herself up. Jordan ran out of the aisle, arms shielding her face as glass cascaded overhead and slid down the back of her shirt. Jordan hit the ground hard as the tile beneath her pitched. She cried out as her injured knee hit the ground.

Displays toppled and canned food rained down, knocking people unconscious. People lay on the ground, protecting themselves from products. With heavy groans, several shelves tipped forward, causing a domino effect and crushing people beneath their weight. People flailed wildly as the ground rolled beneath them and then everything stopped. Sobs and crying broke out as strangers looked into one another’s shocked faces. They stayed on the ground, waiting to see if there would be an aftershock. Jordan looked down the main aisle where she sprawled and jerked.

While everyone lay prone and dazed on the floor, one man in jeans and a navy shirt walked calmly amidst the chaos. William was unconcerned and unaffected by the recent earthquake. He didn’t look down as he stepped over products with people buried beneath. Even across the distance, his eyes were fixed on her.

Jordan scrambled backwards as people began to rise, obstacles that stood in his way. She forced herself up and groaned when she put weight on her right knee. She looked back and poised herself to run when bone-chilling shrieks pierced the air. Those around her fell to the ground, clutching their chests. Everyone writhed as if they were being hit by gunfire. Blood spurted over cracked white tile as people keeled over, bodies destroyed by weapons she couldn’t see. William appeared in her line of vision, oblivious to the pandemonium taking place around them.

Jordan couldn’t make sense of what was happening and she didn’t have time to analyze. She turned and ran, sprinting over bodies of the fallen. Her knee protested and her jeans rubbed against the raw wound, but she didn’t slow.

Jordan! William roared.

Jordan dodged blindly into an aisle and scrambled over containers of laundry detergent. Halfway down the aisle, she fell hard as her feet slipped in liquid washing soap. With frenzied hands, she pushed her way through the heavy bottles and slime like an amateur swimmer, determined and desperate. The smell of fabric softeners and cleaning products burned her nostrils. She slithered out of that aisle and dodged into another, forcing her shoes to find purchase on the floor. Breath came in short, panicked gasps. Everywhere her eyes settled, people lay still and unmoving with pools of blood around their bodies.

Jordan sprinted towards the women’s clothes for cover. The store was deadly silent. Jordan crouched down on all fours and tried to breathe. She splayed her hands flat and leaned forward so her forehead touched the carpet. The silence crushed in on her senses, forcing her ears to strain for any hint of sound. She turned her head to the side and covered her mouth to stifle a scream. At floor level, she could see bodies sprawled on the carpet beside racks of clothes and between bra aisles. The worker Jordan saw earlier lay several feet away, white shirt soaked with blood. This can’t be happening, Jordan thought and tried to focus, but everything within her screamed in hysterical fear.

A hand clamped around the back of Jordan’s neck and jerked her upwards. Jordan let out an ear-piercing scream that echoed in the complete silence. She stared up at William whose black eyes were unnaturally wide and crazed. His body was covered in sweat and he trembled as his hand spanned her throat. Jordan clutched his wrist and yanked with no results. He leaned his rough cheek against hers and inhaled deeply.

You won’t escape me again, he whispered.

Chapter 3

Present

Jordan sat across from Margaret Sweeney, a secretary whose fingers flew over the keyboard of her computer. The secretary had mocha colored skin and tinted glasses that covered the fact that she wasn’t looking at the computer screen, but the teen who sat so utterly still it was creepy. Sensing the secretary’s attention, Jordan looked up. Her eyes were so piercing, Margaret’s fingers froze. After several moments, the secretary cleared her throat and transferred her gaze back to the screen.

Jordan shivered as her mind slowly, unwillingly began to surface from the numbness that kept her sane. The whirlwind of police officers, social workers, therapists and attorneys that took turns trying to intimidate, comfort and coerce her was at an end… or was it? A man named Mr. Penn whisked her away from everyone and tried to convince her that her life was going to change for the better.

Footsteps echoed down the hallway and Jordan tensed. A pair of gleaming shoes and black slacks appeared between her and the desk. Jordan pulled the ratty hat she wore so low, her eyelashes touched the brim. She wondered about this man her whole life and now that he stood a foot from her, she couldn’t even look up to see his face.

Sweeney, a deep voice said.

Parker, the secretary responded with a bite in her tone. She pressed the button on the intercom. He’s here, Mr. Penn.

When Mr. Penn’s voice gave permission to enter, the shoes strolled to the wood paneled door. Jordan looked up in time to see a tall man with wavy, shoulder length black hair close the door behind him. Jordan felt Margaret watching her again, but after a few moments the secretary resumed her steady, rhythmic typing.

I’m surprised you called me, Mr. Parker said sardonically.

Jordan stared at the closed door of Mr. Penn’s office. She shot a glance at Margaret Sweeney who seemed oblivious to the voices Jordan could hear clearly.

I had no choice under the circumstances. Did you look at the girl sitting outside? Mr. Penn asked.

What?

Even through the door, Jordan heard the wariness and surprise in Mr. Parker’s voice.

Did you look at her?

I saw her, Mr. Parker said irritably. I have better things to do than sit here talking about some homeless girl.

That homeless girl was with William.

A long silence and then, She’s the only survivor?

Yes. She hasn’t said more than five words in two days. I wasn’t sure what to think of her, so I brought Angelina in. There was a wealth of satisfaction in Mr. Penn’s voice.

What does this have to do with me?

Everything.

A long pause and Jordan stared straight ahead, waiting for Mr. Parker’s response.

That’s impossible.

His voice raised the hair on Jordan’s nape.

Apparently not. Mr. Penn sounded amused. "Of course, you would know that better than anyone else."

Mr. Parker’s voice held no inflection when he replied, How much is this going to cost me?

Mr. Penn snorted. You can’t buy your way out of this. You know what this means. Now that it’s begun, this will never stop. You have to give her your name.

No.

It’s time to take your place in our world.

I’m not doing this with you. There was a scrape of chair against wood as Mr. Parker stood, sending his chair skidding backwards.

This isn’t an offer, Donovan. You don’t have a choice!

You’ve made a mistake, Mr. Parker’s voice was a deadly hiss. I don’t want her.

A familiar ache flared in Jordan’s chest. It was as if someone with a pick was constantly, relentlessly tapping at her heart. Insistent, irritating and painful. She wouldn’t let herself think that the return of pain had anything to do with Mr. Parker’s rejection. She searched within herself for calm and found only fire. As emotions threatened to swamp her, Jordan ran a trembling hand over the prescription bottle of pain pills in her pocket. She rose gingerly and didn’t wince when she put weight on her damaged knee.

The secretary’s head snapped up, but Jordan ignored her. She limped down the hall to the bathroom and slammed herself into a stall. Breathing shallow, she leaned against the bathroom door and tried to stop the shudders. She felt raw and full of emotions she couldn’t define. Jordan yanked the orange bottle out of her pocket and swallowed the pills that would keep the monster within her leashed. Ignoring the bitter taste in her mouth, she sank to the aqua tile floor.

Images crowded her mind and she shook her head as if that would stop the memories from appearing. Visions of people with their faces covered in blood, eyes filming over as death claimed them reached out to her with desperate hands. A harsh sob escaped and echoed in the empty bathroom. Jordan pulled her knees to her chest and rocked, willing the pills to work faster.

Time oozed past. The bathroom door opened and Margaret called her name. Jordan rose and leaned against the wall for support for a few seconds before she ambled out of the stall. Pity wafted from Margaret before she let the bathroom door close and left Jordan in peace.

Jordan stared into the mirror and braced herself against the sink. Dull sapphire eyes with dark shadows beneath testified to her insomnia. Long black waves framed her face, a startling contrast to her pale skin. She averted her eyes as she washed her hands.

She left the bathroom and came face to face with Mr. Penn. He wore a pinstriped suit with ultra-thin glasses propped on a balding head and leather gloves. He waved her towards his office at the end of the hall. As they passed Margaret, Mr. Penn spoke quickly to her, words Jordan didn’t bother to interpret. Jordan stopped in the entrance of Mr. Penn’s office. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Parker propped against the far wall. He made no move forward. Even through the effects of the pills, panic welled in her chest. Why was he still here?

Mr. Penn motioned Jordan to sit in one of the chairs in front of his desk. The broad window behind Mr. Penn filled the room with light, which made her feel exposed and vulnerable. Jordan could feel Mr. Parker’s gaze on the back of her head and she hunched her shoulders as if that could protect her from the hostility radiating from him.

Mr. Penn was an older man in his fifties and the calm that surrounded him soothed her fried nerves as nothing else had. Two days ago, Mr. Penn burst into the hospital room where she was being interrogated and told two very intimidating police officers to screw themselves and took her out of there. She’d known him less than forty-eight hours and she desperately wanted to cling to him, but she knew that was pointless.

You know who Mr. Parker is? Mr. Penn asked.

She nodded and waited for Mr. Parker to say something or leave, but he did neither. He stayed somewhere behind her and catalogued everything about her with burning eyes. Her nerves stretched. She couldn’t bear to look at him. He wouldn’t take her, so what alternative was there? Would she be sent back to Haven or a mental institution?

Mr. Parker will gladly take you in, my dear, Mr. Penn said.

Jordan didn’t react. A taut silence fell over the office as Mr. Penn watched the teen and waited for her to say something, anything. Jordan didn’t ask him who he was or where he was taking her. Her blue eyes had seen too much and didn’t believe in hope. Going through her foster system files, Penn had been shaken by the untold horror behind the impersonal notes on her life thus far, and now this. It was time for the girl to walk a different road and live the life she was entitled to.

Mr. Parker straightened away from the wall and took the chair beside Jordan with his head turned in her direction. She didn’t move. Even through the numbing effect of the pills, emotions bubbled beneath her calm facade.

Look at me, Mr. Parker said harshly.

Jordan’s head snapped up and her eyes were filled with challenge as she looked directly at him. Mr. Parker wore a red shirt that highlighted his olive toned skin. He had a broad forehead, thick brows and a straight nose. Even with the bright light in the room, his eyes were liquid black with no warmth.

Mr. Parker reached out to grab Jordan’s arm with a gloved hand and that fast she was out of her chair and backing away from both men, eyes devoid of emotion. Her body was rigid with battle ready tension. She didn’t stop her retreat until she came up against a bookshelf so hard, several photographs toppled forward.

Jordan is sensitive to skin contact at the moment, Mr. Penn said.

What the hell does that mean?

It means exactly what you’re thinking.

Come here, Mr. Parker said.

Jordan didn’t move.

Come. Here.

Don’t talk to her that way. She’s been through enough- Mr. Penn blustered.

Mr. Parker’s voice was coated in ice. You put her in my care. I can talk to her any way I like. He eyed Jordan. I need to know how you knew William.

The name caused Jordan’s vision to blur with nightmares. She could see William’s mad eyes staring into her own as his hands squeezed her throat, cutting off her air. Jordan swayed. Gloved hands snatched her up and plopped her back into the seat before she could fight back. Mr. Parker cupped Jordan’s face. The blue eyes that met his instantly cleared. Although his touch wasn’t welcome, it kept her in the present.

Did you meet William Stan before the massacre two days ago?

Jordan pushed away the compulsion to answer. It was none of his business and she owed him no explanations. Mr. Parker tightened his grip on her chin and leaned close so their faces were separated by inches. The menace that rippled off him stopped her breath.

"You will answer me."

He refused to let her look away. Power emanated from this man and she knew he was just as dangerous as William.

The authorities think you’re in league with William Stan, responsible for killing hundreds. As far as I see it, I’m the only person standing between you and a jail cell. A deliberate pause and then, Did you meet William Stan before he murdered over two hundred people two days ago?

Jordan stayed silent for a long minute. She stared into Mr. Parker’s unwavering gaze and finally gave a reluctant nod. Mr. Parker released her.

Do you think he knew? Mr. Penn asked.

Mr. Parker slashed a hand through the air. I’ll take care of this. I trust you can keep quiet? Everyone’s in an uproar as is. No one can know she’s connected to William.

Mr. Penn pulled himself together. Of course. Sweeney, Angelina and I are the only ones that know. None of us will talk.

Jordan’s didn’t hear anything. Her ears began to ring and she bowed her head to stop the dizziness. Mr. Penn and Mr. Parker’s voices buzzed in her ears, but she couldn’t hear over the screams of terror in her mind. Her eyes were open, but she didn’t see the objects in Mr. Penn’s office. She saw mayhem, death and blood. People screamed for help, babies cried and the rattle of their last breaths filled her ears. Two gloved hands clamped on her wrists. Mr. Parker crouched in front of her and commanded her to focus on him. His hands squeezed her wrists and the pain brought her out of the waking nightmare.

Stop.

Jordan stared at Mr. Parker without comprehension. She felt something warm slither over her skin. She looked down at her exposed forearms. Scratches marred her pale skin and blood seeped from a deep slice to curl downward. She stared at her red fingernails and curled them into her palms to hide the evidence of her slipping sanity.

Mr. Parker didn’t say anything as he watched her, still gripping her wrists. Mr. Penn knelt beside Mr. Parker with a first aid kit. The men gave each other a veiled look before Mr.