“This will hurt. I am sorry,” he whispered to her as he reached for the tape on her face.
She gave a tiny nod and squeezed her eyes shut in preparation for the discomfort of having the tape ripped off her skin. It was best to get it over with quickly, so he took firm hold of one corner and removed it with a quick, hard yank. She gasped at the pain, which he was mildly surprised she could feel beyond the bruise over her right cheek.
“I’m going to cut your wrists and legs free. Remain sitting if you wish to live.”
She responded with tiny nod again, her whole body trembling with either eagerness or fear. He didn’t know and it didn’t matter. Gripping the small knife that he hadn’t yet put away, he sliced through the duct tape binding her ankles to the chair legs and then walked around her to cut the tape binding her wrists. He paused to drop the knife into the bag’s side pocket.
He picked up the case and gestured to her. “Come.”
Face still white with fear, but eyes showing a bright spark of hope, she rose shakily from the chair. Her hands clutched the gaping shirt closed in a futile bid for modesty.
In a low tone, Vitaly told her, “Follow closely behind me. Do not look anywhere else but at my back.” She nodded, a jerky little gesture, to show she understood. Her chin trembled, but she locked her jaw tightly and pressed her lips together in a mute bid for emotional control. He led her out of the dingy abandoned warehouse to his car. First, he dropped his bag of tools on the back seat. The he led her around to the passenger side and opened the door.
“Get in and buckle your seat belt.”
She obeyed, knowing resistance would be foolish. It took no more than a quick glance to see that this man, so much bigger than she, was also very fit. He’d run her down and overpower her before she got ten yards. And then he’d be mad and she would be sure to suffer even more.
She hated having to choose the lesser of the evils.
He crossed the front of the car and seated himself with brisk efficiency. With a turn of the key, the engine purred quietly and he drove them away from the warehouse.
“What is your name?” Vitaly asked, trying to keep from frightening her even further. He could well imagine what was going through her mind and, though he acknowledged such atrocities happened on a daily basis in his city, he did not want her to think him party to that particular crime.
“Gia—Giancarla Bonetti,” she muttered her reply. As though he’d given her leave to speak, she asked, “W-what are you going to do with me?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” he replied with disturbing honesty. “But I’ve no intention of hurting you.”
A sob escaped her, but she choked others back. After a moment’s struggle, she managed to ask, “Who are you?”
“Vitaly Synvolka.” He paused, then asked, “Did the Culebras take your purse?”
“I lost it when they kidnapped me. It’s long gone by now.” Her lips twisted bitterly. “I’ll have to get a new driver’s license, Social Security card, student ID, and everything else.”
“You’re a student?”
She sighed and supposed there was no harm in volunteering information. He’d saved her from a fate worse than death, after all. “Yes, I’m in the master’s program at Cleveland State, the marine biology program.”
A small smile crossed Vitaly’s face. He thought he’d caught the glimmer of intelligence and was glad she’d confirmed his hunch.