Unreal 2 Cold Illusion - Winter's Chill: (Adult Suspense Thriller), page 1
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Star’s Savior – Read the whole story and more on my site
How far will they go…
Esther Elis is on the run. She just escaped from being held prisoner and subjected to genetic testing that has left her confused, with strange new abilities…and in heat. She stows away on the first ship she finds that’s bound for another planet. The only problem? She just may have picked the wrong ship.
The Golden Fleece is a pirate ship disguised as a run of the mill cargo vessel, but there’s nothing run of the mill or ordinary about its captain, Caelum Denaris. Ruthless and demanding, he demands that everyone follows his rules, and the biggest one is no extra baggage.
…to save a star?
He was just on the planet to pick up a shipment of valuable stolen goods. The last thing he needs is a stowaway. But he finds himself wanting to break his own rules as he draws closer to the unusual woman. He and his first mate share everything, from their life as modern day pirates to the women they sleep with and she is no exception - what is different are the intense feelings they develop for her, only to be threatened when the inter-planetary police force known as the Imperial Enforcement Agency show up and they have to make a choice. Give up the stolen cargo? Or give up her?
Unreal – Winter’s Chill
By: Riley Moreno
Morales looked at her watch before she exited the precinct. The first of the year had come and gone. After a particularly mild Christmas by Manhattan standards, the inevitable chill arrived in full force. At least there was no threat of snow. This was one of those nights where the sky seemed to shiver and bite down on an imaginary lip, unable to move and drop a single flake. Morales was glad for that as she never relished the idea of shoveling out. Trying to avoid sidewalks where the real danger was what stayed hidden under snowy patches. But it was still cold, and she pressed her scarf tighter to her neck as she walked to the subway.
Once she was settled in the underground car, the back of her head hit the glass as the shadows moved along the darkened tunnels. She remembered her first subway ride, a Miami transplant new to the 12th. While she played the tough girl with all her might, the idea of a train somehow breaking apart and then finding herself lost under the bustling streets caused her a second of panic. What if she found herself trapped with no way to the surface or fresh air? It seemed the worst fate imaginable. But as the years went by, Morales learned to trust the subway.
That was only because she knew there were worst fates.
Women were violated while simply walking home from the market or children were exploited by devious minds. And yet, as horrid as those things always were, Morales had to admit that what had happened to the irrevocably damaged Julie Edwards was an awful amalgamation of every transgression on record. Abducted, taken away from everything and everyone that she knew and loved? Check. Forced to do all manner of vile things against her will night after night? Check. Escaping somehow while her friend was lost to the nightmare forever and there was not even a body to bury? Mark the box. But the worst part, the part that no one could wrap their heads around, was that it had happened because the poor girl’s own stepfather set the horror in motion. And when the truth came to light, Julie was abandoned by her mother of all people and made to feel complicit in her captivity. Yeah! That was something for which the right adjective had yet to be invented. And for Julie Edwards, it was not over yet.
The train creaked to her stop, and Morales ascended the steps quickly, grateful for the air again. She pressed her exposed hands into her pockets and regretted leaving her gloves at home because she was in a rush to get back on the job. She realized her mistake when she was only two blocks away from her door, and while there was still time to turn back, she decided against it and kept moving. Morales was not running late; she was never late. But a moment wasted in service of creature comforts was not worth the work that never stopped waiting. Maybe the day would not prove so cold. Her hands coped as the sun still burned, but now there was barely a moon, and it was as if the air was scolding her with icy fingers. No matter. Soon she would be indoors, warm, and the night ahead promised to be a long one.
The doorman recognized her on sight and gave her a quick nod. Morales returned the gesture quickly and kept moving. The guy was nice, always polite, but she did not have time for pleasantries. For every intent and purpose that mattered, she was still on the job.
The elevator ascended to the eighth floor, and Morales traversed the diamond-patterned carpet until she was face to face with 822. Her knock barely touched the beige surface when the door flew open.
“See. I can be early, too.”
Morales stifled a laugh and patted his face.
“Glad to see that I’m rubbing off on you,” she said as he helped her out of her coat. Leo lived an uncluttered life, probably to compensate for all the things that he could not, that they both could never shake from their minds. There was a dark green couch and a coffee table with careful stacks of notes and his ever-alive laptop. In this room, there was no other furniture to be found. It wasn’t like the man had the time or the desire to host parties. Like her, Leo wanted to find the blood in the water, lap it up, and spit it back in the face of those that truly deserved shattered skin. More often than not, it was a losing battle, but this was one call that they had to get right.
Morales saw the two glasses of white wine already poured, and she looked over her shoulder with a smirk.
“Wow. You’re really not wasting any time.”
Leo cracked his knuckles.
“Time and tide and all that bullshit. Drink up, Connie.”
He did not have to repeat the offer. Morales needed the drink, and she drained her glass. Leo topped her off then picked up a yellow legal pad containing the notes for his upcoming opening argument.
“Almost show time,” he said. “I’ll tell you and no one else that we’re climbing uphill on this one.”
Morales nearly choked on the new drops of wine dancing across her tongue, but somehow she swallowed it down.
“Seriously? What’s the problem, Leo? Where are your skills?”
She was paying respect and teasing him in the space of a single statement. Leo’s eyes glared for an instant, but then he reached for his pen and started tapping his bullet points to make her understand. No insult there. Only respect.
“Okay. Good facts first,” he said as he shifted closer to her side.
“Who said I wanted the good news first?” she challenged.
“Just drink you’re wine. You’ll need it.”
Morales settled in for the calm before the storm.
“Let’s have it,” she said, ready for anything.
Leo clicked his pen to attention.
“So our favorite assholes are at the scene on the night our victim vanishes.”
Kim Beyer. Her fair face and her long red hair were burned into Morales’ memory after looking at picture after picture of the girl while she lived. She heard it told, by Julie Edwards, by the girl’s distraught mother, that Kim loved life. She was bold, probably too
“And there’s still no body,” Morales stated with sad certainty as she finished her wine and poured out a fresh glass.
“Not a trace,” Leo said.
Morales drank again and thought of all the ways that Kim Beyer could have been disposed of. Burial in a shallow grave was their first guess, and the ground around the cabin of horrors soon resembled a dog park gone wild. There was no evidence of Kim Beyer. The search was expanded to the nearby river, and the thing was swept over and over again. It never ran red. The next theory imagined Kim’s desecrated form taken from the place of violence and disposed of… well she could be anywhere. But Carter McCord and Geoffrey Troxel were not giving up that ghost. Besides, that seemed too creative for their panicked, perverted minds. These were men who wanted to get out fast.
“I bet they burned her.”
Morales imagined gasoline siphoned from their luxury car. They probably let it rain down on Kim’s body and added their piss to the mix. After that, all they had to do was strike a match, and Kim would disappear forever. Rain always fell and likely washed away the charred remains of the girl that just wanted one last blast of freedom before surrendering to the real world. But the real world came to her in gruesome shades before the vacation even started, and the monsters responsible were going to say that there was no way to link them to a girl gone wild who never got back home.
But Morales knew that they had done it.
“It’s gonna be hard to prove without a body,” Morales said as she emptied her glass and poured out another.
“But they were there. We know that. And so was Kim.”
Connecting the dots was easy for them. But juries could be fooled by some bastard on retainer at five hundred an hour. It would take some doing to show the defendants for what they really were. Morales, like Julie Edwards, was counting on Ethan Graff.
“So you want me to call him?” Morales asked.
Leo winded his fingers around his head and leaned back.
“You mean her.”
“Yes. Julie Edwards.”
Julie. She made her way through the nightmare and was out on the other side of it. Whenever Morales thought of her, she was comforted by the fact that Julie would never have to face the demons again.
“Julie? No way.”
Morales downed her drink and started to go for another. But Leo stopped her with his hand and his words.
“It’s the only way.”
She pulled away from him and refilled her glass.
“You’re joking, right?”
Leo’s eyes were anything but.
“Connie, she was there. She knows why they were there. Think about it? Sympathetic testimony from someone who almost ended up like Kim. That’ll punch all kinds of holes---”
She had promised her. Promised that she would never have to look into their evil eyes and remember all that had been done to her. And here was Leo, offering Julie up on a platter that would invite cross examination. Her stepfather’s part in the debacle would find its way into the mix, and even a dumb lawyer would turn that to his favor.
“No. Not Julie. She’s been through enough.”
“I know, Connie. I get that. And I wouldn’t even ask if I didn’t---”
“You have another option.”
Leo took a second to get on her page.
Morales took another sip and nodded her head.
“Yeah. He was there. He saw Kim. That should be more than enough.”
Leo’s hands moved to his chin, and he tapped his fingers there as he slowly shook his head.
“Won’t play, Connie.”
“What do you mean?”
Leo drank from his glass and sighed.
“It might work. If…”
Morales scanned him carefully.
“Where are you going with this?”
“I could sell it if he wasn’t…”
Leo was too scared to even give it voice.
“Wasn’t what?” Morales asked.
Leo set his glass aside and smoothed his hands down his face.
“Wasn’t shacking up with her.”
To the unknowing eye, it was definitely suspicious. A potential business associate was on an adventure with almost clients. Even before the dumb schmuck knew what was happening, there was a forced sex show on display. Morales knew the rest of the script by heart. Ethan Graff fought hard to bring Julie Edwards home, and once she was there, Julie only wanted to return to him. Julie’s actions were understandable. She wanted to feel safe. Ethan made less sense, but there was no question that he cared for his recovered damsel. And who the hell was Leo to judge any of it?
“Don’t be crude, Leo.”
He grabbed her wrist and pulled her close.
“Then what would you call it?”
What would she call it? In the space of some supermarket paperback it might seem beautiful, but the light of day told a different story.
“It’s weird, Connie.”
Morales struggled to shake her head in protest.
“No. You haven’t seen them. He… Ethan protects her. He… Leo, I think he loves her.”
“Fabulous,” Leo said as he fell back to the couch. “So our other rapist in waiting had a change of heart and decided to lead her on in another way.”
Morales resented that label applied to Ethan Graff.
“He never raped anyone, never tried to. He was there… him being there… it was like…”
Morales usually never invited such thoughts into her head. Destiny and coincidence were the stuff of fantasy. But now, Morales had to accept that the words existed because somewhere, there was some truth behind them. Ethan Graff, the middle-age financial advisor who was stronger than he looked, was fated to find Julie Edwards in the bowels of hell. He dragged her from that place and loved her in spite of and because of what she had endured. And now it was his life’s purpose to keep her safe.
But that would be nearly impossible if Leo put Julie on the witness stand.
Leo took Morales’ hand and barely smiled into her eyes.
“Like what? Magic?”
Morales did not nod or shake her head. Leo lifted his glass and drank deep. She watched the lids fall over his eyes, and she knew that he was trying to forget what he had seen but not endured. On foolish film, there existed records of what Julie and the undiscovered girl had suffered during the course of the most awful summer. It was right there, rape and torture. And Carter McCord and Geoffrey Troxel were captured in the images along with others who would soon go down for kidnapping and trafficking human flesh. They were all assholes of the same breed. But only McCord and Troxel were on the hook for the dead girl in Ethan Graff’s version of events.
Leo held her hand tighter, and his gaze returned to her eyes.
“It just won’t play. He was there.”
“But it wasn’t---”
“So maybe he didn’t know what was in store. He was still there, and if he tells the tale… Christ, Connie.”
Now she returned the feel of his hand in hers.
“So it’s up to Julie,” Morales said. “You… you want her to lay it all out, all those months.”
Morales had seen everything. Children forced to learn about sex before they were told that in theory it was meant to be an act of love. That was erased as they were degraded when all they wanted was to hide under the bed sheets. Then there were the women. Young and beautiful like her who had their dreams of a fir
“Jesus fuck, Leo. How the hell can we do that to her?”
Morales closed her eyes and saw Julie shaking at the prospect of having to tell her horrible story. But the story in and of itself was not the real danger, it had already happened. She had survived. But there would be lawyers on the other side of the table that would try to make her an accomplice in the terror.
“Leo, there just has to be another way.”
“No other way, Connie. I’m not happy about it. You think… you think I want to make her suffer?”
He leaned in closer and took her face in his hands.
“I don’t. I mean, I don’t believe you’re whole this was the guy destined to save her spin. But I really don’t want her to have to go through this.”
Morales believed him. Leo was a shark, but he wasn’t the devil. That label was reserved for the pricks he prosecuted. In his mind, Julie had to leave the place where she was finally safe and give voice to all that had been done to her.
“And… and you really can’t come up with another way to make this work?” Morales asked.
He could not, and Morales sighed as she stood and turned to the window. Just under her feet was a whole city that had no idea how close the danger really was. Anyone at any second could be ripped from all that they knew and wish for salvation. When salvation did not come, the only hope for death. Julie Edwards was spared, saved, and now they were about to snatch it all away from her. When all was said and done, would she even be able to define the word safe?
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