Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: A Measure of Grace (Part 29): Painted Corners
**Warning: This chapter contains graphic situations that may be upsetting to some readers.
Gibbs leans casually against the wall, mere feet away, sadistic smirk in place. A triumphant gleam lights his gray eyes. Short brown hair is plastered to his skull, darkened nearly black from the rain.
I stare in stunned silence.
He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. Why should he be? The only way out is past the sizable bulk of him filling the narrow hall. And here I stand, startled and naked under this flimsy towel.
The seconds stretch between us, the drumming of soft rain drowned out by Grace, howling and throwing herself at something solid below.
Inside me, a coil of dread builds, cold and horrible. I try to contain it within and mentally slap myself, demanding that I find a way out of this.
The bedroom door is three feet away, Gibbs about five. If I distract him, I might be able to close myself inside and get to my knife.
A glint of cruel amusement darkens his gaze. “Doing the math, sweet Marie?” Gibbs steps away from the wall and cracks his knuckles.
I glance over his shoulder and yell, “Take him down!”
My words have the desired effect. Gibbs whirls around, falling into a crouch. I move into action, hurling myself through the bedroom door and slamming it shut. There’s no real lock, just an old hook-and-eye closure, which I fasten with shaking fingers, surprised it catches on the first try.
Grace continues to bark wildly, covering up any sound Gibbs might make. I rush toward the bed, intent on my knife.
One solid kick slams the door open, the flimsy hook shooting across the room to ping against the window. I’m a few feet short of my goal, and if I go for my weapon now, Gibbs might take it away, leaving me with nothing to surprise him with.
Gibbs pauses in the doorway and smiles, not even breathing hard. He presents an imposing figure in camo pants and a skin-tight T stretched over bulging muscles.
My heart thunders, sweat breaking out all over. He’s been waiting for this moment, and now he has me trapped in this tiny bedroom in a remote location without the chance of a fair fight.
“Nice try. I admire your fire . . . makes things more interesting.” He rakes a lecherous gaze over my body.
“Pig!” I spit on the floor between us.
His response is to toss his head back and laugh. “Oh, I am going to enjoy you.” He steps forward and kicks the door shut with his boot, dampening the sound of Grace.
“I’m with James.”
Gibbs raises his eyebrows. “Are you now?”
“He’ll kill you.”
“He’d have to know what I did and catch me first.” Gibbs digs in his pants pocket and holds up one of the keys that will open my collar.
“Where did you get that?”
“I’m resourceful.” His steel-gray eyes drift over the room until he spots what he wants. He reaches a long arm out and grabs the chair, shoving it snugly under the doorknob.
“What are you doing?”
“Buying myself a little time . . . just in case.” Gibbs stalks forward like a lion assessing its prey, the key to my collar hidden from sight again.
“What the hell do you want?” My voice is shrill, and I instinctively pull the towel tighter around myself. I feel so damn vulnerable, and I hate it.
“What a loaded question. The short answer is whatever Jimbo has. You’re a lovely bonus I haven’t been able to forget since you tried to leap from the truck the night we captured you. Feisty.” He palms his crotch, pulsing his hips forward suggestively. “Fighters are more fun, and you are a fighter, aren’t you?”
I swallow hard, refusing to answer. The blanket whispers against the back of my calf when I take another step back, and I realize the bed is directly behind me. There’s nowhere to go. My only chance might be to keep him talking and pray James or Eric shows up. I glance at the window, cursing the light because it’s not likely either of them will show before dark.
Gibbs shoots me a knowing look. “I made the same calculation. Jim and Eric will be busy for hours. You boning Eric, too?” His lips twist into a sneer.
I try to conceal my surprise over Gibbs’ knowledge that Eric was here. The prickle that climbed the back of my neck when I was outside with Grace occurred early yesterday, before Eric stopped by. That means Gibbs has been watching me for a while.
The floor creaks beneath his weight as he steps in closer, towering over me, and he slides his finger along the top of my towel. “You felt me watching, didn’t you?” He wraps a large hand around my neck, pressing his thumb firmly against the front, just above the collar. He brings his cheek so close to mine, the stubble brushes my skin, leaving his lips close to my ear. “Did you know it was me out there? Were you hoping I’d come to your bed last night?”
“No!” It’s hard to speak under the pressure of his thumb. I dig my fingernails into his forearm in an attempt to dislodge his hold. “You disgust me!”
Blood wells around my nails, but Gibbs seems unaffected. “Frankly, I don’t give a shit as long as you scratch my itch. And you will scratch it willingly—unless you want me to gut your precious dog.” He looks down on me with cold promise.
Horror descends, threatening to chew me up with sharp teeth and swallow me while I’m still screaming. I have two weaknesses in this new world: Grace and Max. I believe Gibbs when he says he’ll gut Grace. My choices are rapidly dwindling.
“She’s innocent. Don’t hurt her . . . please.” Tears stand in my eyes, and I wonder what I’ll have to endure to ensure Grace’s safety.
Gibbs releases his hold on my neck and caresses my cheek with two fingers. “Shh . . . don’t fret. I’m not a complete monster. I adore animals. Now, be a good girl for me, and I won’t have to hurt either of you.”
Much to my dismay, the tears spill over, twin tracks sliding down my face. A small sob hiccups from my throbbing throat.
Gibbs swipes at my cheek with the pad of one thumb and then pushes it into his mouth sucking the tears off. He takes a few steps back and stands with feet, shoulder width apart, arms behind his back, making no effort to conceal the bulge of his erection straining against his pants.
“Wh-what are you doing?” I whisper.
“Drop the towel.”
I gasp, crossing my arms over my body.
“I’m not going to rape you, Marie. You’re going to gift yourself to me, persuade me there’s no need to kill the dog.” His expression hardens. “Do it.”
Closing my eyes, I let go of the towel. Cool air hits my sweat-soaked body, and I shiver even as my face and chest burn with embarrassment. I’ve never hated anyone so much in my life.
“You have a fantastic body—curvy, nice tits, not too skinny. I’m not disappointed.”
“Just get it over with.” I grit my teeth and open my lowered eyes, staring at the floor.
Gibbs takes a stride forward, his damp, mud-caked boots coming into my line of vision. “I said I’m not going to force you. Grace’s fate is in your hands.”
“Don’t you say her name!” I glare up at him defiantly, and he smiles.
“There’s the fire I admire so much! I hope you fuck as enthusiastically as you defend that dog.”
“Why would you want someone who despises you?”
Gibbs runs a finger along the curve of my shoulder and looks amused. “I’m not proposing marriage.” He grabs my hair in his fist and forces my head back. “I want what Jim has, and it just so happens I want to do you. Win, win.”
His free hand roams my body, touching me roughly, probing my most intimate places. Cold gray eyes challenge me to object or fight back. He clamps down on a nipple and twists hard, causing me to cry out in pain, before abruptly releasing me.
My scalp stings, and a dull ache pulses through my nipple. I glare at him with hatred.
“I’d like to bend you over . . . but maybe we could save that for later. Right now, I want you on your back so I can see your face.”
I lay on the bed and fight the urge to close my eyes, forcing myself to remain alert and aware. Grace's barks have grown hoarse, but she hasn't given up, and I won't either.
Gibbs laughs softly and walks around the bed, touching me where he pleases. He returns to the end of the bed and kneels on the mattress, undoing his belt. “We're going to have so much fun.” He presses my knees apart and moves closer, grasping my hips. “This doesn't have to be awful. I can out-fuck Jim any day. Relax for me.”
He unzips his pants and reaches inside to free himself.
This is it. Gibbs will never be more vulnerable than he is in this moment. I shove my hand inside the pillowcase and grab my knife, flicking it open.
With a cry of rage that comes from the depths of my soul, I sit up and ram the knife into his gut as hard as I can. The force reverberates back up my arm, causing a sudden aching numbness. My fingers weaken and slip from the shaft.
Gibbs yells out, ogling the knife sticking out of his flesh in disbelief. And then he looks at me, a murderous expression replacing the shock. “Bitch!”
Obviously, my effort wasn’t enough to take him down.
He punches me in the face, and the world goes foggy. My ears ring, drowning out the sounds around me, and flashes of light prick the edges of my fading vision. I struggle to remain conscious, terrified he’ll kill me for stabbing him. There's no fight left in me and no weapons close enough to use. I should have loaded the rifle and kept it close, but I allowed complacency to take over.
Pounding thumps in my ears. Gibbs groans as he yanks the knife out, and there’s a metallic clank as it slips from his hand and hits the floor. Blood gushes from his wound, the sticky warmth pouring over my naked body and soaking the sheets. I'm disgusted by any part of him touching me but can't muster up the strength to move or utter words.
Gibbs grabs for my discarded towel, balling it up and jamming it against the wound. “Fuck!”
A distant part of me fears he'll pick up the knife and slit my throat. My cheek stings and aches where he punched me, probably the only thing keeping me halfway coherent.
“I'm going to make you so fucking sorry.” Gibbs slaps me, rocking my head to the side. “Stupid bitch!”
Pain flares across my already tender cheekbone, and I scream involuntarily.
A booming starts nearby, drawing Gibbs' attention. He lets out an ugly laugh. “That you, Jimbo? Fuck it—let's do this!”
A savage roar comes from the hall. That's the only way I can describe it. Seconds after, the door gives way, the chair that held it shut, slamming into the wall with a crunch. Splinters of wood fly through the air, a few bits raining over me.
Gibbs curses. The flat slam of fists on flesh breaks out, the two figures a blur of action.
I try to lift up on my elbows, and the room spins around me. I manage to hang off the side of the bed and wretch, the contents of my stomach coming up. Surprisingly, this clears my head a little, and the room stills.
The fight moves into the hall with a lot of slams, muffled curses, and glass shattering. Grace barks from her prison downstairs with renewed vigor.
A war cry sounds with a breathless grunt on its heels, and by the bangs and crashes that follow, they both must be tumbling down the stairs.
Other than Grace barking in the distance, the house is eerily silent for a few moments.
The stairs creak with uneven footfalls, and I hold my breath, afraid Gibbs is coming for me. I lean over, tumbling to the floor, and grab the abandoned knife. Smears of blood paint the weathered wood crimson as I drag myself, so there's no point trying to hide. I curl in a ball beside the bed, conceal the knife behind my back, and pray for the strength to finish him off.
A shadow falls over the threshold, and my heart races wildly in response.
It's not Gibbs that lurches through the door, one arm banded tightly around his ribs.
I sob with relief.
“Oh my God, China!” Max forgets his own injuries and rushes across the room, wincing as he crouches beside me. His jaw is already beginning to swell, the shadow of a bruise where Gibbs hit him. He reaches out but stops just short of touching me. “Baby, where are you hurt? There’s so much blood!”
I manage a raspy, “It’s not mine.” I shake my head, burning tears sliding down my cheeks. “I—I stabbed him.” Pulling the knife out from behind me, I drop it on the floor.
“Your face . . .” Max traces the air next to my cheekbone, sea-glass eyes filled with sorrow. A moment later, they turn stormy. “Why the fuck are you naked? Did he . . . did he rape you?”
The gravity of all I’ve been through and what could have happened if Max hadn’t show up crushes me under an avalanche of emotion. I can’t stop crying, helpless as wracking sobs shudder through my body.
Could I have done more to prevent this?
Max opens his arms, folding them around me once I lean into him. He rocks me gently, stroking my hair and whispering comforting words. I press my face into his chest, the familiar scent of him gradually calming me.
Grace’s barks are no longer urgent. Every so often, she lets out a sharp yip as if she wants to remind us she’s still locked up.
“Is he dead?” I whisper.
“Pretty fucking sure he is. Think he broke his neck when we tumbled down the stairs. And you say he already had a stab wound.”
“Did you make sure?”
“No, I had to get to you.”
“Check . . . please.”
Max grabs a blanket and drapes it around my shoulders. “Be right back. I’m gonna let Grace out, too.” He pauses, brushing his knuckles back and forth over my uninjured cheek.
Thirty seconds later, Max lets loose a string of expletives, and something crashes downstairs.
“It’s safe! Going to get Grace!”
Grace races up the stairs, whimpering when she sees me. Taking slow steps, she extends her neck and sniffs before licking my face. Her tongue sweeps across the spot where Gibbs punched me, but I’m so happy to see her, I don’t care about the pain.
Max walks into the room with his head lowered. His brows are drawn together, and he mutters to himself.
I loop my arm around Grace’s neck. “What is it?”
“Gone? But how is that possible?”
“Don’t know. He shouldn’t have been able to walk away from all that.”
“Do you think he’s still here?” Fear steals my breath, and Grace whines, giving me a lick.
“Nah, I did a quick check around. He’d be easy to take out now anyway.” Max’s jaw clenches, and he looks away.
“Is something else wrong?"
“Everything’s going to be all right.” His gaze comes to rest on me again, and his expression softens. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
He helps me to my feet and leads me into the hall. Just outside the bathroom door, I step on something hard. It’s the key to my tracker. I bend down and grab it, holding it up.
“Max, look! Gibbs had a key for my collar. It must have fallen out when you were fighting!”
“Fuck. Yes.” Max snatches the key and tucks it in his pocket. “We’re not taking it off until we leave here. Removing it might trigger some kind of alarm, and the last thing we need is more trouble. I’m in no shape for another fight.” He points to his left side.
“Let me see.” I tug the bottom of his T-shirt up and gasp. His ribs are already an angry shade of purplish-black. “You’re hurt! Are they broken?” I skim the pads of my fingers across the bruise, and he sucks in a breath.
“I’m fine.” He pulls the shirt back in place and shoots me a look when I try to lift it up again. “Stop. I’m more worried about you. Let’s get you in the tub. Maybe now that you’re calmer, you can tell me what happened.”
The water left in the tub is long cold, so Max empties and refills it, pouring more bath salts under the hot stream. We don’t talk while he prepares my bath. Grace wanders in, posting herself by the door like a sentry.
Max helps me into the tub, trying to hide the obvious pain he’s in when he moves. “Just sit back, China.” He grabs a washcloth and dips it. “Let me take care of you.”
“But your ribs.”
He snakes a hand behind my neck and presses a soft, lingering kiss to my lips. “Don’t fight me. I need to do this.”
Max takes his time, washing the blood away with the gentlest of touches, taking stock of my injuries and paying close attention to areas of soreness. When he notices the bruising on my right breast, his fist clenches. “What’s this?”
“Max, he didn’t . . . rape me.” Tears well up again.
He averts his gaze and continues washing me. “Tell me what happened.”
“Grace heard something while I was taking a bath. She went to check it out, and Gibbs locked her in somewhere. He came up here. I was only in a t-towel. I pretended someone was behind him, and when he turned away, I ran in the bedroom and locked the door. He kicked the door in—” I blow out a breath, blinking away more tears, and tell him how Gibbs tried to coerce me into doing what he wanted by threatening Grace. I claw at Max’s arm. “He didn’t give me a choice!”
“Hey . . . hey.” Max kisses my temple. “You are not to blame for any of this, China. Tell me how these happened.” He indicates the bruises marring my breast and face.
“He m-made me drop the towel . . . then he t-touched me all over. He twisted my nipple really hard. Then he told me to lay on the b-bed and he wanted to . . . I thought he was going to . . . but my knife was in the pillowcase. I waited until he undid his p-pants and stabbed him as hard as I could. That’s when he p-punched me in the face.”
“You stabbed him.” The corner of Max’s mouth twitches. “That’s my girl. You did good.”
Grace’s ears prick up, and she growls low in her throat. Max stands and wipes his hands on a towel. He puts a finger up to his lips.
“Yo! Anybody home?”
It’s a relief to hear Eric’s booming voice. Grace barks happily and scrambles down the stairs.
“Hey, hey! Where’s Marie, girl?”
“Eric, we’re in the bathroom!” Max calls out.
“Jesus!” Eric’s heavy tread crosses the living room to the base of the stairs. “What the fuck? It looks like there was a massacre in here! Who finger-painted threats on the wall? Is that written in blood?”
I glance up at Max, who gazes back with his best poker face.
“What’s he talking about? What threats?”
Max punches the wall, leaving a fist-sized hole in the plaster. “Let’s just say if I ever see that fucker again, his death will be long and slow.”
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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook