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Asha shivered despite
the intense heat. Why had she never considered the brutal fact that she, too,
might get caught? Stolen. Sold. Bartered over like one of the pieces of
blood-dripping meat in this filthy market.
Someone was following
Back home she would not
have noticed, but weeks in India had taught her to be wary. All the noise and
clamor along the busy Kolkata street could not distract from the shadow that
appeared, then retreated whenever she turned to find its source.
The person following
her was not very good at the game of stealth. That fact, however, did not make
the predator any less dangerous. Who was it? And why was she the target?
Slipping around the
nearest corner, a whisper of wind teasing her shawl out behind her, Asha dodged
a wandering goat, then turned quickly down an alley to the left hoping to lose
whoever was on her trail.
She was already late.
But better to make Rani wait than to put her in even more danger.
If that were possible.
Could there be any
danger worse than what her friend had already experienced? Sixteen-year-old
Rani had traveled to the city following the promise of a well-paying job only
to find herself deceived, stripped of all freedom, stolen from all that gave
her dignity or hope.
Stolen and sold. Asha
could not stop her body from trembling.
She flattened a shaking
hand against the wall. Edging forward inch by inch, she angled her head to glimpse
around the corner without revealing her face.
Was he gone?
She desperately wanted
to remain where she was, clinging to the remote feeling of safety that curled
around her in the small, dark corner where she hid. But how could she stay,
avoiding risk, knowing that doing so would abandon a friend to the evil of the
night while she remained untouched?
Asha’s whole body
cringed. What a bad choice of words to think.
Mark had warned her
about this. Mark. Just the thought of his lean, contoured face, muscles tensed
along his jaw as he tried to convince her to keep away from the very street she
was now traveling, gave Asha a sharp pain near her heart.
She should have
listened. Should have asked for his advice . . . his help.
Why had she been so
“God, help me,” she
whispered. Summoning all her courage, she stood and stepped back into the
alley, casting a wary eye in all directions before continuing toward the
Was that Rani waiting
beside the mounds of colored spices for sale?
A sudden glimpse of a
following shadow stopped Asha cold. Her heartbeat shot up and she broke out in
a cold sweat. She had not lost her predator after all.
A quick, desperate look
left and right revealed several narrow, shadowed pathways through shanties and
Should she run, leaving
Rani to think she had not come? Should she meet Rani and quickly tell her they
should go separate ways? Surely the public arena of the open marketplace would
protect them as they spoke.
However, Asha knew with
certainty that once they separated the predator would follow Rani, forgetting
Tears stung her eyes.
She took a deep breath.
She would run.
Turning to the left,
she quickly chose the closest path. Three steps would carry her, and hopefully
the person following after her, into a different section of the market, away
from Rani’s watchful eyes.
One step. Two. Asha
took one glance back at her friend, her eyes full of regret, when Rani saw her.
Rani’s eyes lit up in recognition. She smiled.
Asha’s spirit groaned
in defeat. Now what could she do?
She could not keep the
fear and confusion from her features. She could tell the moment Rani saw it,
too. It was as if Rani’s face immediately transformed from a woman holding on
to a shred of hope to a child terrified of the monsters under her bed.
I’m so sorry. Asha
wanted to say it out loud but could not get her lips to move.
When the shadow came
closer then stopped only a few feet away, she closed her eyes, wishing all of
it away. Wishing she could go back to that morning and change the choices that
had brought her here into this web of danger and fear.
No, she would have to
go farther back than that. Before meeting Rani. Before meeting Mark. Even
before her arrival in India.
She would have to go
back six weeks ago, to the day of her flight.To the moments before she left home, when she kept an important truth
from her parents. To the first time she decided it was okay to deceive in order
to do good.
That first deceit had
begun a pattern, a trail that had led her to this moment, this foolish choice
to do things on her own without help.
A choice that might
destroy her and the friend she wanted so desperately to help.
Waiting for the
follower to approach, grab her, and possibly cart her off to a lifetime of
slavery, Asha’s mind took her away from the marketplace and back, flashing
scenes across her closed eyelids, rewinding through the choices she had made.
Back to the beginning.
To the day she left for
India . . .
Kimberly Rae’s suspense/romance
novels on international human trafficking and missions (Stolen Woman, Stolen
Child, Stolen Future) are all Amazon bestsellers. Find out more at