Saturday Excerpt: Race Against Time by Sharon Sala

Start off the weekend with a chilling, unforgettable read! Don’t miss Race Against Time by Sharon Sala:

Sometimes fate brings you together…only to tear you apart 

Growing up in the foster system, Quinn O’Meara made a point of never getting involved. But when she discovers a crying baby amid a fiery crime scene, she knows she has no choice. Suddenly in way over her head, Quinn turns to the police, unintentionally positioning herself in the crosshairs of a deadly human-trafficking ring.

The last time homicide detective Nick Saldano saw Quinn, she was still the young girl he’d shared a foster home with. The girl who’d loved and cared for him when no one else had. Now here she was, gorgeously all grown-up—and in terrible danger.

Unwilling to lose her again, Nick insists on keeping Quinn close, especially when the bond they once shared heatedly slides into desire. Quinn finally has someone worth holding on to, but what kind of future can they have when she might not live to see tomorrow?

***

One

 It was a hot Saturday evening in Nashville, Tennessee, when seventeen-year-old Starla Davis came running up the hall carrying an overnight bag in one hand and her car keys in the other.

She stopped by the recliner her dad, John, was sit- ting in to kiss his forehead.

“’Bye, Daddy, I’m off to Lara’s house. We’re going to the movies. I’ll be home sometime in the morning.”

“’Bye, sugar. Drive safely and have a good time.” “I will. Mama! I’m leaving now!” she yelled.

Her mother, Connie, came out of the kitchen, wip- ing her hands.

“Supper is almost ready. Sure you don’t want to eat before you leave? It’s meat loaf and mashed potatoes. Your favorite.”

“Sounds wonderful, but we’ll eat popcorn and junk at the movie,” she said and kissed her mother goodbye. “See you in the morning.”

“Good. Leaves more for me,” her brother, Justin, said as he walked through the living room.

Starla made a face at him.

He was laughing when she opened the door. “Have fun!” her mother said.

“I will. Love you!” And then she was gone.

She had a slight twinge of conscience as she drove away because she’d lied to her parents about where she was going, and she’d never lied to them before. But that wasn’t the extent of the lie. She’d also lied to get a fake ID last week so she could get in at a club on the outskirts of Nashville to meet the boy she’d met online. They’d been talking for weeks, FaceTiming on a regular basis. Then he told her he was falling in love with her, and that was his lie, but she didn’t know it. She believed him, just as her parents had believed her.

He was already twenty-one, and she didn’t want to come across as the high school kid she was when she finally met him in person, so she was going for her idea of sexy when she chose the red leather miniskirt, black knit top and black leather knee-high boots.

She passed the time before their meeting at her friend Lara’s house, but they didn’t go to a movie, even though Lara knew what was happening and was worried how this might turn out. But they had been friends their whole lives, and Lara wasn’t going to snitch.

They were in her bedroom, talking and laughing while Lara was doing Starla’s hair. When it was almost time to leave, she got dressed.

“How do I look?” Starla asked, twirling around and around in front of her friend.

Lara smiled.

“You look beautiful, no matter what you’re wearing.” “Thanks for everything, Lara. You’re the best friend

ever.”

Lara’s parents owned a supermarket and were always late coming home, so there were no other witnesses to Starla’s new look as she left the house and drove away. The closer she got to the club, the more excited she became. The parking lot was filling up fast when she arrived, but she finally found a space toward the back of the lot. She locked the car, put the keys in a little shoulder bag and started walking across the gravel toward the club.

The night air was sultry and still. A bead of sweat rolled out of her hairline and down the back of her neck. The mosquitoes were already out. One landed on her bare arm, but she swatted it before it could bite. The buzz of the neon sign was loud in her ears as she passed beneath it on the way toward the club.

Putting her hair up in the messy-on-purpose look was a good move on Lara’s part. It was a sexy style for her long blond hair and made her feel pretty and grown up. Her eyes were alight with the night’s possibilities as she neared the club.

And then she saw him leaning against the corner of the building, watching her come toward him. He smiled and waved.

She shivered.

Oh, my God, he is so handsome.

His name was Darren, and when she waved back, he came running.

That first hug was a rush. The first kiss made her ache for so much more. He laughed when she suddenly turned shy, and then they walked into the club arm in arm.

One hour and one spiked drink later, Starla Davis was passed out in his arms. He made a joke about hav- ing too much fun, and carried her out of the club, and away from the city of her birth.

When she didn’t come home the next morning, John and Connie called Lara. Lara was already worried be- cause Starla hadn’t come back after her date and quickly confessed to their ruse.

John and Connie went from concern to panic and called the police. The first thing the police did was con- fiscate Starla’s computer. They found the emails, then the location of a meeting place and found her car in the club parking lot, but no trace of Starla.

The bartender vaguely remembered the guy, and a waitress remembered Starla because of the red leather miniskirt. It wasn’t the kind of club that was high on security cameras, because most of the people who went there didn’t necessarily want to be found.

After the police found pictures of Darren on her com- puter, they ran them through facial recognition. Darren Edward Vail popped up in criminal records. He’d been in and out of juvenile detentions since he was twelve, but the files were sealed. He popped up again on po- lice reports after he turned eighteen, but nothing that had put him in prison. Then a year ago last Christmas, he was implicated in the disappearance of four girls from neighboring states, two of whom turned up dead, which connected him to a human-trafficking ring. He had bonded out on the charges and disappeared. After that, he stayed two steps ahead of the law. That’s when John and Connie Davis began to realize the possibility they may never see Starla again.

Lara heard the news and collapsed in hysterics. Her worst fear had come true, and she helped make it hap- pen.

Starla woke up in the back of a moving vehicle, hands and feet bound, blindfolded, gagged and certain she was going to die. She tried sending a mental message to her daddy, as if he could read her mind in the miles between them.

Daddy, save me. Help me. Find me.

Then she began praying to God.

God, I’m sorry. Please save me. Please don’t let me die.

But neither miracle happened, and the miles rolled on.

She listened to her captors talking, laughing, as if completely oblivious to her presence, which made her reality that much scarier. If they didn’t care what she heard, she was probably going to die. And then she heard the words “sell” and “auction,” and her heart sank. She hadn’t just been kidnapped for ransom. They weren’t going to try to get money out of her parents. She was the product they were going to sell.

Her naïveté and rash behavior had put her in the hands of human traffickers. They weren’t going to kill her after all, but she might soon wish they had.

The ride went on forever, and after a time she began moaning and screaming behind the gag, trying to tell them she needed to pee. But they didn’t pay any attention, and they didn’t stop, and she wet herself, and they kept driving.

The ride ended after dark. Only then did the men in the front seat become real. She heard a door slide back and felt a breeze on her face. One of them stepped up into the van, then began cursing her when he smelled the urine. He grabbed at her breasts and squeezed them hard until she moaned, then dragged her out of the van, still bitching about the smell of urine on her and her clothes.

“Stand up,” one of them growled, as he removed the ties around her ankles, then the blindfold and gag. “I can’t feel my feet,” she cried, as she went to her knees.

One of them yanked her to her feet and slapped her. She cried out.

“Did you feel that, bitch?”

She nodded. Fear had a whole new meaning.  “Then shut up and do what we say,” he growled.

There was nothing on her mind now but survival. She couldn’t think about family. There would be no rescue. No one knew where she’d gone. She didn’t even know where she was. They were in the middle of nowhere, and all she could see were the stars overhead and what looked like a long metal building in front of them.

Then a light came on inside, and she watched in growing horror at the opening door. The man who came out was tall and skinny.

“Get her inside!” he yelled.

The two men grabbed her by the arms.

“Walk, or we’ll drag you,” one said, but her legs were shaking so hard she couldn’t make them move.

One of the men punched her in the stomach. With no breath left to scream, she leaned over and threw up until there was nothing left but the faint taste of bile in the back of her throat.

This time when they grabbed her by the arms, she followed.

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