HALF SERIES: THE DEEP BENEATH (Human-Alien Life Form 1)

HALF TRILOGY
by Natalie Wright


He’s a living weapon. She’s a teenage fugitive. Together, they’ll either uncover an alien conspiracy…or die trying.

Erika Holt is one school year away from freedom, but a twist of fate could turn her into a fugitive. When a fun night in the Arizona desert becomes deadly, Erika only survives with the help of a mysterious creature. She’s faced with an impossible decision: risk her future to hide her savior, or do nothing and condemn him to a life in a cage.

Bred as a weapon, Number Nine’s spliced genes give him the power to kill with his mind. Part alien, part human, he’s never known kindness or love… until his escape from the top-secret government facility brings him face to face with a spunky 17-year-old girl. On the run from black ops mercenaries, Erika and Number Nine must work together to uncover the secrets of his origins before the Earth is thrown into intergalactic war.

HALF: The Deep Beneath is the first book in a gripping YA sci-fi trilogy. If you like alien encounters, fast-paced action, and intergalactic romance, then you’ll love Natalie Wright’s award-winning adventure.

Read the HALF Series to uncover an alien conspiracy today!

           


Award-wining Sci-Fi Appropriate for ages 12 to Adult! Sci-Fi fun for the whole family.

  


           



HALF: The Deep Beneath, Trailer:




HALF Cast of Characters:

Erika Holt, Protagonist in HALF by Natalie Wright
ERIKA HOLT: Meet high school senior Erika Holt. She has lived in hot, dusty Ajo (pronounced Ah-HO), Arizona her whole life. And she can't wait to get out. Every time Erika gets on her Yamaha Virago she imagines driving east until pavement meets the sand. She doesn't want anything, not even her love for Jack Wilson, to stand in the way of her exit plans.

There’s just one little problem. Something big is brewing in the desert. Something Erika and her friends know nothing about. They may well wish they had spent their Saturday night at home rather than cruising in the desert.

Jack Wilson from HALF by Natalie Wright 
JACK WILSON: Carefree, free-spirited, guitar-playing poet Jack Wilson is new to Ajo. Jack began the summer as Erika's friend and ended it by falling in love with her. As soon as the three little words “I love you” left his mouth, Erika pulled back from him. But Jack’s a patient guy, willing to hold back in the ‘just friends’ zone until he finds a way to convince Erika that she can't live without him.

Jack would follow Erika to the ends of the Earth. But will he follow her farther even than that?

Ian Frew, Erika's Best Friend in HALF by Natalie Wright
IAN FREW: Ajo High School’s star quarterback and the hottest guy in the senior class, Ian Frew is Erika's best friend. Soon he'll be fighting for more than just points on the gridiron. But will the dangers that lie ahead force a wedge between Ian and his oldest friend?

HALF 9, aka "Tex" from HALF by Natalie Wright
HALF 9, aka TEX: HALF 9 was created to be the government’s secret weapon. 9 has lived his entire life in a secret government lab, nearly a mile underground. He has never breathed fresh, desert air. He has never run except for on a treadmill. And he has never felt the sun on his skin.

Until now.

He is naive. He is dangerous. And he has escaped.

Commander Lilly Sturgis in HALF by Natalie Wright

COMMANDER LILLY STURGIS: Commander Sturgis is our last hope. She and her creations stand between salvation and total annihilation. At least that's the way she sees it. When they need to win a battle, they call a general. When they need to win a war, they call her.

Alecto, aka HALF 10 in H.A.L.F. by Natalie Wright
ALECTO: Who is she? Where did she come from? And what are her intentions?


THE GREYS: When their ship crashed in the New Mexico desert back in 1947, more was recovered than just debris. In an above top secret project, scientists have labored for years to create a new species: An alien-human hybrid. And in 1998 they succeeded. But why were HALF 9’s alien cousins here on Earth in the first place?

HALF: The Deep Beneath Excerpt:

Copyright 2015, 2018 by Natalie Wright. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced in whole or in part without express written permission of the author.



1
IT’S A DRY HEAT


2015, Arizona, U.S.A.


Erika pulled back the throttle and urged her dusty machine to go faster. Her long, dark hair flew behind her, twisting and twirling in the hot wind. It would be ratty by the end of the ride, but knots in her hair were a small price to pay for the feeling of freedom.
She slowed only slightly to round the wide curve in the center of Ajo and kicked it into a higher gear as soon as the road straightened. Erika savored the feel of the motor’s vibration beneath her. She shifted gears only when the whine of the engine threatened to pierce her eardrum. It was nearly sundown, but still the road was like liquid tar, shimmering like black glass from the day’s heat. As she rode, Erika imagined following the straight line of the asphalt east. She’d ride until the road gave way to the ocean. Erika had spent her life landlocked in the desert. She yearned for wet sand instead of sunbaked dirt. Thoughts of her future always included tide and waves.
But Ian expected her, so she steered her bike to his small, slump-block house, passing boarded-up businesses and at least a dozen empty houses on her way. The gravel crunched beneath her tires as she pulled into the semicircular driveway. Erika stayed put on her bike and honked her horn. The tinny sound still hung in the air when the screen door opened.
Ian allowed the door to slam shut behind him. His short, dark hair was wet and his deeply tanned and rippled torso glistened with water. Whether it was sweat or water from a shower, Erika couldn’t tell. While most of the girls at school openly drooled over Ian, Erika was not the least bit attracted to him. She preferred a guy less concerned with his own looks. And even if Ian had appealed to her, he was more interested in the players on the opposing football team than in girls.
Ian pulled a heathered blue T-shirt over his wet head as he walked toward her. “Ah, my fair lady has come to rescue me from doing more manual labor for my dad.”
Erika smiled and thrust a helmet into Ian’s hands. “Yeah. I’m your knight in shining armor.”
“Why do I have to wear a helmet and not you?”
“Because I’m not going to be responsible for the star quarterback’s brains oozing out all over the pavement, that’s why. Passengers wear a brain bucket.”
“I don’t want to see your brains splattered over the tar either.”
Erika knew it was reckless and probably stupid of her not to wear a helmet. She hoped she wouldn’t regret it some day. But she could not stand the constraint of the heavy plastic around her head.
If her dad were still alive, he’d have grounded her permanently from riding if he’d seen her without a helmet. But he was dead, and there wasn’t anyone besides Ian to chastise her for her foolhardy behavior.
Ian strapped the helmet on and tried one more time, this time taking a different approach. “Do you want me to sweat to death?”
Erika rolled her eyes but otherwise ignored his argument as she had ignored his complaints about her helmet rule countless times before. “Where to?” she asked.
“Everyone’s meeting over at big rock tonight.”
“Like who everyone?”
“You know. The team and the entire senior class.”
That meant close to fifty people. It was at least forty more than Erika would have liked.
“Will he be there?” Erika’s stomach leaped at the thought that Jack may be at the party. She wasn’t sure if her belly bubbled with joyous excitement or fear of how he’d react to seeing her.
“Who?”
Erika punched Ian’s left arm.
He rubbed it. “You hit hard.”
“For a girl, you mean.”
“No, for anybody.”
“You deserved it. Don’t act ignorant. You know who I mean.”
“He’s not dead, you know. Maybe I want to hear you say his name.” Ian smirked as he teased her.
Erika pretended to fiddle with something on the handlebars. “Why?” she asked.
“Because it’s dumb for you to act like summer didn’t happen.”
Erika knew Ian wanted things to go back to the way they were before, as much for himself as for her. After five years of having Erika as his best friend, Ian had enjoyed Jack’s companionship. The trio had been in each other’s constant company all summer, three best friends.
Only she and Jack had become more than just friends. And even that had been okay until Jack insisted they have a ‘real’ date, just the two of them. Until Jack had to go and mess it all up by uttering the three words Erika wasn’t ready to hear. Most girls would be ecstatic to hear their boyfriend say ‘I love you’ for the first time. But when Jack had spoken those words to Erika, her chest tightened with panic as if walls were closing in on her.
“Erika?”
“Get on. They can’t start the party without their star.”
Ian’s face flushed crimson, and he playfully punched Erika’s arm though more gently than she’d hit him. “Whatever,” he said and stood beside the bike.
“Ready?” Erika asked.
Ian stood in the gravel driveway with the helmet on, looking around as if he’d lost something important.
“Come on, Ian. I’m sweating like a yeti sitting here.”
Ian chuckled. “How do you know how much a yeti sweats?” He hitched his leg over the bike and settled onto the seat behind her. He wrapped his arms lightly around Erika’s middle and pulled his legs up and in tightly.
Erika turned on the headlight. She eased some juice with the throttle and kicked her toe up to shift. The tires spun and spit gravel behind them as she pulled forward. She was about to accelerate out of the driveway when an old white Jetta pulled in, blocking her path. “Jack,” she said. Her heart thumped away in her chest. Erika’s hands threatened to slide off of the handlebars due to the copious sweat pouring from them.
“Now you’re saying his name,” Ian whispered into her ear.
Erika rolled her eyes even though Ian couldn’t see her face. It took her less than a nanosecond to figure out that Ian had invited Jack over, thus forcing her to talk to him. “Ian, you’re a manipulative little–”
“Dearest best friend who loves you.”
“That wasn’t what I was going to say.” Erika rarely got angry with Ian, but she was irked with him now. His little trick of forcing her to face Jack was an underhanded thing to do, even if he did mean well. “I’m not ready to face him.”
“I know, darling. But you never will be.” Ian wound himself back off of the bike, removed the helmet and placed it on the seat behind Erika. He tousled his hair and walked toward the Jetta.
Jack left his car running and the headlamps on but got out of his car. He sauntered toward them with his loping, relaxed gait. He wore a black T-shirt and baggy jeans that hung low on his hips. Even though it was nearly dark, Erika knew the T-shirt was probably wrinkled, because she’d never seen him wear one that wasn’t. He wore his blond hair longer than Ian’s and it looked like he didn’t own a comb. He had on his usual flip-flops and he had to stop to kick gravel out of one.
Erika’s stomach churned harder, and it wasn’t just because she was nervous about how Jack would react to her. Despite trying to keep her feelings for Jack squashed down tight inside her, once she saw him idling toward her, the pent-up feelings came unsquashed all on their own. Erika didn’t like feeling as though she had no control over her emotions. She took a deep breath and tried her best to will herself into a cold indifference. It was a nearly impossible task seeing as how she was neither cold nor indifferent about Jack Wilson.
Jack and Ian took each other’s hands and did the guy hug thing that guys do. Despite looking like he’d rolled out of bed after sleeping in his clothes, Erika felt her resolve to ignore Jack disintegrating. She liked the carefree way of Jack. And he was close enough that she could smell soap and spice and citrus. Jack’s smell. She wanted to bottle it so she could take a whiff of it whenever she wanted. She still had one of his shirts that she’d kept so she could wear it and think of him. But after their date a week ago, she wadded it up and pushed it to the back of her closet so she wouldn’t be tempted to hold it to her nose and inhale. If she did, she’d lose her willpower to ignore him.
“Hi,” Jack said. His face wore a soft smile. His voice was low and melodious even when he wasn’t on stage singing. Another piece of Jack that pulled Erika in like a child to candy.
Jack’s blue eyes, usually the color of a winter sky, were dark in the gathering twilight. His left eye had a little green spot like a freckle. Jack’s sweet, playful, happy eyes met hers. His look was smoldering – intimate. His directness made Erika feel squirmy on her seat.
“Remember me?” he asked softly.
“I’m trying to forget you, Jack Wilson,” she said.
“Why would you want to go and do a thing like that?” Jack reached for her hand and she let him take it. His fingers were calloused and rough from playing the guitar.
Erika liked the feel of his hands. “Why did you have to go and ruin everything?”
“Ruin what? All I did was love you. Love never ruined anything.”
“Yes, it did. Love ruins plans and dreams and – freedom. Love definitely ruins freedom.” Erika pulled her hand from his and looked away from him. If she didn’t look in his eyes, she could steel herself to his devilishly beautiful eyes that beckoned her to play.
Jack put his hand on her cheek and gently forced her to look at him. “Erika, love never once in the history of all the world killed anybody’s freedom. Not real love, anyway.”
Ian’s feet shuffled in the gravel. Erika had forgotten he was standing there. He had put her in the position to face Jack before she was ready. She didn’t have the words worked out to counter what Jack said. She wanted to love him and let him love her. But more than that, she wanted to shake the dust of Ajo off of her and ride away to a different life. To ride where she didn’t live in a double-wide in the outskirts of a nearly dead former mining town so south it was almost Mexico. She wanted to drive to a life where she wouldn’t get pregnant by eighteen and spend the rest of her life looking for the bottom of a gin bottle like her mom had. Her parents had loved each other when they were the same age as Erika and Jack. And look where that had gotten them. Erika’s dad was dead and her mom might as well have been.
Jack moved his body closer to her, bent his head and kissed her gently on the lips.
Erika pulled away. “You can’t kiss my troubles away,” she said.
“I can try.”
Erika pushed Jack back from her. His face went instantly from soft and hopeful to confused.
He took a step back. “I’m sorry. I thought –”
“What did you think?” Erika asked. Her voice came out more acidic than she had intended.
Jack’s face hardened a bit in response to her tone. “I thought that you felt the same way about me as I did about you.”
“Well, you thought wrong.” It was a lie, but her long-set plans for getting out of Ajo had not included loving Jack. She made her face into a mask of indifference.
Ian walked the few paces it took to close the gap between them. “C’mon, you guys. Can’t you at least be friends?”
The air between them was thick with unspoken feelings. Erika knew Jack must be frustrated with her, perhaps angry as well. But he did not give voice to his irritation with her. Instead, he sighed, shrugged his shoulders and said, “How can I not be friends with you?” Jack held out his hand to her.
His words brought Erika instant relief. She could feel her shoulders fall and only then realized she’d had them bunched up around her ears. Friendship was all she could handle right now and what she needed more than anything. Jack should have been angry with her. He should have run from her and her mess of a life as fast as he could, never looking back. But he didn’t run. Her instinct was to hug him, but she decided not to. It would likely send mixed signals. Instead, she took his hand lightly in hers.
“Great,” Ian said. “We’re all one big happy family again. Now can we get going?” Ian walked toward Jack’s car.
Erika let loose Jack’s hand. “Ian, where are you going?”
“To big rock. Jack’ll drive, won’t you?” Ian didn’t wait for an answer and continued walking toward Jack’s Jetta.
“I don’t want to interfere with your plans. If you don’t want me there, I understand.” Jack said he’d understand, but his face said he wouldn’t.
Ian stopped and shouted back. “Why wouldn’t she want you there? We’re all friends again, right? Besides, Jack’s got air-conditioning. Don’t tell me you’re going to let your hardheadedness stand between me and an air-conditioned ride.”
Erika was not about to deprive Ian of his comfort. Besides, any protest she gave to Jack tagging along would be half-hearted and false.
“Fine,” she said. “Ian, I’m leaving my bike here ’til we get back, okay?
“No prob,” Ian said. He folded his six-foot-three frame into the front seat of Jack’s car.
Erika jumped into the back passenger seat. She hadn’t felt much like being around a big crowd before, and now that her nerves had been set on edge by the surprise of seeing Jack, she felt even less like dealing with people. “I know you want to go to big rock with everyone else, but I’m not feeling much like hanging out with a crowd of stupid drunk people. I mean, if I wanted to do that, I could stay home.” Her mom, Tina, was already drunk when Erika left their cramped trailer for the evening. No doubt her mom would be passed out by ten and sleep until late the next afternoon.
“We’ll be there too, so technically, you won’t be surrounded by stupid drunk people,” Ian said.
“Not funny.”
“Oh, come on. It was a little funny.”
Erika held up her hand and pinched her thumb and forefinger together to illustrate how little humor she found in his statement.
“Sorry,” he said. “Look, it’s fine. I don’t need to drink. It’ll just make me feel like crap anyway, and I’m sure my dad will have me up tomorrow at o-dark-thirty to dig more holes in the backyard. Let’s go out to the jumble. You know where I’m talking about, Jack?”
“That place with the funky rock formations west of eighty-five?”
“Yep. It’s quiet out there.”
Maybe too quiet. While Erika didn’t relish the idea of going to big rock and hanging out with a crowd, she was uneasy about being on the gunnery range at night. It was rare for the military to use the range for testing munitions at night. But no one lived out there. It was dark and empty and dangerous. She chose not to give voice to her feelings, though. After all, it wasn’t like she would be out there alone.
“Hey, Jack, stop and get some energy drinks since I’m going without brews,” Ian said.
Jack pulled out of the driveway and headed west toward the setting sun.
____________________

Jack’s Jetta sounded like it would rattle apart as he navigated the washboard road. He hit one rut so fast that they all bounced up off of their seats.
“I hope this road doesn’t eat my muffler.”
“It’s probably taped together anyway,” Ian said. “No offense, man, but your car’s a piece of crap.”
“True, but at least I have a piece of crap with four doors.”
After close to half an hour bouncing over the rutted road, Jack pulled into a well-worn sandy spot beside a strange rock formation. It looked like a giant had puked out boulders that had stayed toppled against each other. The site came complete with a ring of stones with spent ashes from previous impromptu desert parties.
“Good to see no one else heeds the ‘Warning – Do not Enter’ signs,” said Ian.
The day had been hot, and the early evening was not much cooler. Erika shook out a thick wool poncho she found in the trunk of Jack’s car and used it as a blanket and grabbed his emergency flashlight. Jack tossed a can to Ian and popped the top off of one for himself. He offered one to Erika, but she shook her head.
Erika flopped herself in the middle of the makeshift blanket and put the flashlight beside her. Even with a nearly full moon rising, they were so far away from a major city that the sky glistened with stars. The Milky Way was like a thin layer of spilled milk on the sky ceiling. Out in the open—no houses, no cars, and no people—Erika was at peace. At home. I should come out here more often.
“Is there room on there for one more?” Jack asked.
Erika patted the blanket, and Jack lay beside her, their hands touching lightly. Erika wanted to grab his hand in hers yet at the same time wished he wasn’t touching her at all. She was the one who’d asked for a halt to him romancing her. But how am I supposed to be ‘just friends’ with someone who turns me on so much?
Ian plopped himself down on the other side of Erika. She was thankful for his presence. It helped keep her mind off of the deliciously spicy smell wafting off of Jack.
The guys occasionally swallowed as they sipped their drinks, but they didn’t talk. There wasn’t even the sound of crickets in the barren low desert.
Jack interrupted the silence. “It’s clear tonight. Good for UFO watching.”
“Yep,” Ian said.
“Rocket, you know him, squat little ginger-haired guy? He and Charlie were talking about seeing one out here a few weeks ago. Did you hear about that?” asked Jack.
“He’s a putz,” Ian said.
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t see a UFO. What do you think, Erika?”
“I think it was nice and quiet until you guys started yammering about UFO nonsense.” Erika had little patience for Jack’s talk of alien coverups and government conspiracies.
“It’s not nonsense,” Jack said.
“You believe all that UFO stuff?” asked Ian.
“Didn’t you know? Jack’s a true believer,” said Erika.
“Guilty as charged,” Jack said. “What do you think, Ian?”
Ian paused as if thinking about it. “I try to keep my mind open to things.”
That’s what Ian was always telling her. ‘Keep an open mind,’ he’d say. But Erika wasn’t inclined to accept something as true until she saw it with her own eyes.
“What’s that?” asked Ian.
There was a faint rustle in the bursage. Erika sat up, her ears at full attention, aware of her beating heart. Her dad had been a border patrol agent before he died. From the stories he’d told her, she knew that there were more dangerous things than rattlesnakes and scorpions in the desert. Erika wished they’d gone to the party at big rock after all. What was I thinking? But the sound was gone now. Probably a rodent. Relief flooded through her and her heart settled back to its usual pace.
“Lie back down and relax,” said Ian. “Why are you so jumpy?”
She wanted to say because Jack was filling the air with his man scent and it was driving her crazy. But instead she said, “I’m not jumpy. I thought it might be someone coming, that’s all. My dad used to tell me stories people he found out here when he was on patrol. Not just illegals but drug smugglers and folks trafficking all sorts of stuff.”
“Who’d be stupid enough to try to smuggle anything on government property?” Jack asked.
“All I know is what my dad told me. Anyways, who said criminals are smart?” said Erika.
“Well, anyone with the cojones to do illegal crap on a military proving ground is probably someone we want to avoid,” said Ian.
“Amen to that.” Jack raised his can in the air toward Ian and they clinked their energy drink cans together.
Erika lay back down and settled in between them. She had intended to put a few inches between her body and Jack’s, but instead her shoulder was now touching his. The touch brought back memories of their date night to her mind. Her face flushed. She pressed her eyes closed and took a deep breath, trying to shift her focus back to the present. Back to ‘just friends’.
“I’m dry. Need another?” Ian asked. He waved his empty can in the air as he got up.
“Nah, I’m good.”
Ian leaned against the back bumper of Jack’s car and looked up at the sky. “What a beautiful night.”
There was another rustle in the dry, crackly brush. “Shh, listen,” Erika said. It sounded as though someone had stepped on a twig. Erika sat up again, her senses at full attention.
“It’s probably one of those ground squirrel things,” Ian said. He ambled slowly back to the blanket.
“They don’t come out at night,” Erika said.
This time Jack asked for silence. “Shh,” he said and rose to his feet.
There was the unmistakable shuffle of feet over the rocky soil.
“That’s no rodent,” Erika whispered. She got up and tried her best to see into the dark desert. She turned on the flashlight and shone it where the sounds came from.
The beam of light revealed two men standing between them and the car. One was large and hulking, the other short and thin. Both were dressed in jeans, loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and cowboy hats. The hairs on the back of her neck were on end. Erika’s muscles tensed and her heart pounded. She slid behind Ian’s large frame.
“What d’we have here?” asked the hulking man.
“Who are you?” Jack asked. Jack’s voice, usually low and melodic, came out higher and slightly quivering.
“Who are we? D’ja here that, Nacho? He thinks he has the right to ask us for an ID.”
The smaller man, Nacho, chuckled.
The large man continued, “Wad’ja doin’ out here? Drinkin’?”
“I don’t think it’s any of your business what we’re doing out here. You’re not cops,” said Ian.
“How d’ya know? ’Sides, this is our territory, so everything that happens out here is our business.”
“Look, we don’t want any trouble. We were just leaving,” said Jack. He bent to pick up his empty can.
Erika recalled her dad’s stories about girls gone missing in the area. She was glad that she wasn’t alone. We need to get out of here. But the two men stood between them and their method of escape.
“We’ve got as much right to be here as they do,” said Ian. “We’re all trespassing on government property.”
“Ian…” Jack shot Ian a look that said ‘shut up’.
“Well, what gives this cowboy-wannabe any more right to be out here than we do?”
Nacho laughed a high, shrill laugh while the hulking fellow chortled. “Show him, Joe.”
“This gives me the right,” Joe said. As he spoke, Joe pulled something from his side. There was a click as he pointed a pistol at Ian’s face. Ian gasped and reared his head back and took a quick step backward. He nearly stepped on Erika’s foot.
It did them no good for her to lose her head, but that didn’t keep the hand holding the flashlight from shaking. Her palms were so wet, she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to keep hold of the light. Keep calm, Erika. Think, think, think.
“’Sides, border patrol looks the other way seein’ as how we help ’em keep the desert clean of illegals,” Joe said.
Liar. My dad would never have put up with scum like you out here.
“What, do you kill them?” asked Jack.
“Why would we do that? Don’t wanna hurt the merchandise. But you guys look legit.”
“We are. American citizens. As he said, we were leaving,” Ian squeaked out.
“Well, what were ya doin’ out here?”
“You know there’s nothing to do in Ajo. Just out looking at the stars,” Jack said.
“I bet they was,” Nacho said. He sniggered when he said it. Joe guffawed.
“Look, no harm no foul. We didn’t know it was your territory or whatever. We’re leaving,” said Ian.
Joe lowered his weapon, and Ian bent to pick up the blanket. As he did, Erika felt Joe’s eyes on her for the first time.
“Wait a minute. What have we here?” He stepped closer, never taking his eyes off of Erika.
Erika stood as still as a stone pillar. She dared not move or even breathe. Joe got so close to her that she could smell his stale, sour breath and pungent body odor.
“Looks like we found ourselves a little desert flower,” he said. Joe reached his hand past Ian’s shoulder and ran his finger first down Erika’s cheek and then her neck. A shiver ran up Erika’s spine and her gullet filled with bile. She wanted to smack the man’s hand away, but he still held the gun. If she crossed him, he might shoot.
“Get your hands off of her,” Ian said. “We told you we’re leaving.”
“I’ll put my hands wherever I want. And I take what I want. You two boys can get in your car and leave, but this little flower is staying with us.”
Be cool, Erika. Breathe.
“She’s in high school. Not even eighteen yet. You’ll be committing statutory rape if you lay a hand on her,” Jack said.
Jack’s attempt to persuade with them was pointless. Erika doubted men such as Joe and Nacho could be reasoned with. Or maybe he’s trying to distract them?
“There’s no rape ’cause she wants a real man, don’t ya, darlin’?” Joe again touched Erika’s cheek. “That’s why she ain’t sayin’ nothin’, ’cause she’s waitin’ for you two little boys to get in your toy car and drive away.”
Joe had shoved past Ian and was so close Erika could see the stubble on his chin and a deep scar across his cheek. He leaned closer still as if he were going to kiss her with his foul-smelling mouth.
“Leave her alone,” Jack yelled. He began to close the gap between them. Erika was certain that Jack was ready to pull Joe away from her when there was another click of a pistol barrel being loaded.
“I’d leave off if I was you ’less you want a hole in your chest,” Nacho said.
Jack froze in his tracks. His face looked anguished.
Erika braced herself as Joe got closer still. He mangled her mouth with his overly fat lips and rancid breath. Erika willed herself not to vomit or show the man how utterly terrified she was. She allowed his lips to remain on hers as her mind raced with what to do. The thought of any part of her, even fully clothed, touching his privates was almost too repugnant to bear, but it seemed like the only way. She pulled her knee up and hit the man hard in his tenders.
Her assailant doubled over in pain. Erika’s adrenaline took over. She kicked the man’s hand with the hard toe of her riding boots and landed a solid blow exactly where she had intended it. Glad I wore my boots tonight instead of flip-flops. The gun landed with a thud in the desert nearby. Erika dropped the flashlight and fell to her hands and knees, searching for the lost gun.
Nacho was taken off guard as Jack kicked his trigger hand. But Nacho’s gun didn’t fall from his grip. Instead, he pulled the trigger. The night air, once swollen with silence, cracked open with the gunshot.
At the sound of the shot, Erika held her breath, hoping against hope that neither Jack nor Ian had been shot. There was no scream of pain, so she assumed they were okay. There was the scuffling of feet, but she couldn’t see what was going on. Erika continued to feel with her fingers for Joe’s gun. If she could just get her hands on it, she could turn it on Joe. Erika’s knees were getting scraped up from the rocks poking through her jeans, and her hands were scratched, but she kept crawling and feeling the ground. Metal. It was the barrel of the gun. Erika reached her fingers out, but before she could grab it, Joe pulled her out of the scrub by her legs. Her T-shirt rode up a bit and the rough ground prickled her stomach. But Erika’s mind was on getting away, not on the pain of the scratches.
“You’re not getting away from me, girl. You’ve got spirit. But I’ll beat that out of you.”
He grabbed Erika by her hair and yanked her up. He jerked her head back and spun her around to face him. She kicked at him and tried to punch him with her small fists. His answer was to grab both of her wrists in one beefy hand while he backhanded her with the other.
Pain shot across her face like an explosion. Blood pooled in her mouth. The last thing she wanted to do was cry in front of the beast, but the pain in her face brought tears to her eyes.
“You’ll learn manners. Or you’ll die.”
“Let her go,” Ian said. His face was angry, his jaw set. He tried to tackle Joe, but the large man was quicker than Erika thought possible. He continued to hold Erika’s hands behind her back while he kicked Ian hard in the chest. Ian flew backward and landed with a thud.
With a swollen eye and only the moonlight to see by, it was hard to focus. She squinted and tried to see in the dark. Nacho held a gun, and Ian was getting up. But where was Jack? “Jack?” she screamed.
Joe jerked up on Erika’s arms with one beefy hand as he pulled her head backward by her hair with the other hand. “Shut it,” he said.
“What d’ya wanna do with ’em, Joe?” Nacho asked.
“You already popped one of ’em. I say pop this other dude and we get her out of here before border patrol shows up.”
‘Already popped one of ’em’? Jack? Joe may hurt her again, but Erika couldn’t stand idly by and watch them shoot Ian. If only she could get them to let Ian and Jack go, even if Jack was shot, maybe Ian could get him to a hospital before it was too late.
Erika braced herself for the pain and said, “No.” Her throat was dry and her voice came out as barely a whisper. She swallowed and tried again. “Let them go.”
“Listen to her trying to give me orders,” Joe said. He yanked her hair again, harder this time. Her head throbbed and she was fairly certain Joe probably had a huge chunk of her hair in his hand.
“Look, it’s dark out. They haven’t seen your faces. You’ve got me. I’ll go with you. I’ll do whatever you want. Just…just don’t kill them.”
“No, Erika!” Ian said. “You can’t. I’d rather die than let them –”
“That can be arranged,” Nacho said. He punctuated his statement by moving closer to Ian, his gun only a few feet from Ian’s face.
“Don’t say that. Please don’t hurt him. I’ll do what you want.”
Please, Jack, please don’t be dead. Please, please, please…A torrent of tears slid silently down her face.
“Ah look, she can be trained. Like a dog,” Joe said. But he tightened his grip on her just the same and jerked up on her arms. “You know, Nacho, I’ve been thinkin’. What was she doin’ out here with two boys anyway? She must be a little slut, huh?”
“Takes two little boys to take the place of one of us men,” Nacho said.
Joe laughed as he pulled Erika to him again. “Nacho, take care of the other one and make sure the first one you shot is dead so we can get our little flower out of here. I aim to get down to business with her tonight.”
Erika prayed silently in her head and hoped that God was in a prayer-granting mood. It would take a minor miracle to escape what seemed an inevitable terrible end.

BUY HALF: The Deep Beneath:





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