Liberating Mia Excerpt

Chapter 1

Rage bubbled through Dylan like acid as he watched his friend and
business associate via the security monitor. As he stood before the bank of screens,
he studied Omari pacing like a caged animal within the confines of a reception
room. He’d specifically given instructions the man be left alone in the room.

I see you. I see the nerves you’re trying so
hard to hide. You’re right to be scared, you stupid bastard.

While the thoughts churned in his mind, Dylan stood perfectly still.
Outwardly, he gave no indication of his inner turmoil. That was his strongest
asset in his business. In his circles, he was known as
El Tiburón. The Shark – cold and calculating.
His name was whispered in fear.

The report he’d received from America regarding the last shipment to
arrive lay on the desk beneath the row of monitors, as if mocking him. He
snatched it up, skimming the contents for the umpteenth time. Now, the shipment
that should have been leaving in a day or two would have to be delayed as they
inspected the merchandise for damage. A fresh wave of searing fury washed
through him as he contemplated the possible loss of revenue.

His brother, Mason, served as his operations manager and had brought the
issue to his attention initially. While there were times Dylan worried about
his brother’s mental state in his personal life, there was no question the man excelled
at his job. Mason never missed a thing when it came to their business.

His summons had been brief and intentionally vague, crafted to create
the impression of an invite. It wouldn’t do to tip the man off. Omari was
slippery and would disappear without a trace. If he did, it would rob Dylan of
his one chance to exact his revenge. And that really wouldn’t do.

They’d met at college, and he’d soon discovered he had much in common
with the Congolese national. When he’d been drafted into the syndicate, his
friend had been a natural choice to help him expand his business outside of South
Africa and into Africa as a whole. Omari had a natural head for business and a
wide list of contacts that would serve them well.

But in the past year, things had changed. The friend he thought he knew
had morphed into someone unrecognizable. It had only recently come to his
attention the man had been sampling a variety of the merchandise. That’s when
discrepancies that had cropped up in the books made sense.

Dylan whirled around and stalked to the door. Before leaving the room,
he spoke softly to his righthand man and trusted enforcer.

“Christoff, please bring Mr. Kitengi to the boardroom.”

“Yes, Mr. Hunt, sir. Right away.”

As he settled in at the conference table, Dylan called up the
surveillance for the reception room Omari was in. He watched as Christoff
opened the door and motioned for the man to follow him. As his friend went to
do as instructed, Dylan turned the screen of his phone off and sat back in his
chair. Hands folded on top of the table, he waited for them.

At the enforcer’s knock, Dylan called out, “Enter.” The door opened.
“Ah, Omari. Please, come in,” Dylan invited.

The man stepped into the room.

“Good afternoon, Dylan. It’s good to see you.” Omari offered his hand in
greeting.

Shaking the proffered hand, Dylan smiled. “Come, sit. What can I get you
to drink?”

“Some of that single-malt scotch of yours would go down well, my
friend.”

“Christoff, if you will?” He turned his attention to the document lying
on the table. With a gesture to the papers, he addressed Omari. “I’ve received
a report from the US. It seems we’ve suffered some damage of the one brand of
merchandise and loss of another brand. Thankfully, the loss is minimal, but the
damage. Well, the damage is going to be more costly. And that displeases me.”

“I’m sorry, Dylan, but I don’t follow. Everything was in order when the
shipment left. Was there a storm at sea? And the loss of merchandise – did this
not perhaps happen at customs?”

Dylan’s cold smile did not reach his eyes. Omari attempted to
surreptitiously wipe his hands down the leg of his pants. Ran a finger around
the inside of his collar.

“There’s always the possibility,” Dylan replied. Steepling his fingers,
he rested his chin on his fingertips. Studied the man opposite him. His gaze
didn’t waver as Christoff returned with the drinks. Not once did he blink as he
regarded his friend. The bitter taste of betrayal was a flavor he found he had
no stomach for.

“Christoff, would you please be so kind as to hand this document to Mr.
Kitengi?”

Dylan continued to watch as a clearly uneasy Omari read the pages. Sweat
had beaded on the man’s forehead and top lip, and Dylan watched as a drop
rolled haphazardly down his friend’s cheek.

“Dylan …”

With a chopping motion, Dylan stopped him. Ever so softly, he said, “You
get one chance to tell me the truth.”

“I–I don’t kn—” Omari swallowed. “I don’t know what happened here. But
I’ll make it my mission to find out.” He snapped his mouth shut as Dylan
continued to stare at him, not saying anything more.

Silence stretched uncomfortably in the heavy atmosphere. Dylan saw the other
man’s eyes widen in fear as Dylan stood and came around. Resting against the
sturdy wooden table, Dylan stretched his legs out in front of him. Crossed them
at the ankles. He had yet to say a word, all the while holding Omari in his
steady gaze. Gracing Omari with another emotionless smile, Dylan crossed his
arms over his chest.

“You stupid bastard! Did you really think you could ‘sample’ the
merchandise without consequences? They are not prostitutes for your personal
pleasure; they are my business, my means of making money. Not to mention the powder
you’ve also been ‘sampling’!” Dylan suddenly screamed, his face mottled with
rage.

“No, that’s not– I– no, no—” Omari held his hands up as, once again,
Dylan cut him off.

“Shut up! I just spent the better part of an hour trying to calm my
associate in San Antonio after he got a good look at what you did to your last
bedmate. It wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t beat the ever-loving crap out of
them. But that’s neither here nor there, since I will not tolerate this kind of
bullshit. This is my business, not your personal playground. If you want a fuck
buddy, find one of your own. Keep your hands off my merchandise.”

Omari jumped to his feet, terror clear on his face.

Without warning, Dylan pounced. He struck the man, and as Omari reeled
from the force of the blow, Dylan went crazy, punching him repeatedly as his
anger grew. When Omari finally fell to the ground unconscious, Dylan didn’t
even notice as he continued his assault by kicking the prone man. When his rage
finally abated and Omari lay unmoving on the floor, Dylan turned to Christoff
and said, “Give me your gun.”

Taking the pistol in hand, Dylan calmly emptied the clip into the man who
had been his friend and business associate, his go-between with Africa.

He straightened his clothes, and sighing deeply, turned back to
Christoff, snarling, “Find me someone reliable to take Mr. Kitengi’s place.” He
started for the door but stopped with his hand on the doorknob. “Oh, and
Christoff, get the cleaners in to clean up this mess.”

“Yes sir, Mr. Hunt. Consider it done.”

  

Chapter 2

Mia sat with her phone in her hand, staring off into the distance. The
call with their wedding planner had not been good news, and Dylan wasn’t going
to be happy. Heaving a deep sigh, she decided to get it over and done with.

Striding down the hall, she called out to the housekeeper.

“Sabine, do you perhaps know where Mr. Dylan is?”

The Austrian woman and her husband had been in Dylan’s employ when Mia
met him, and they were fiercely loyal to the man.

Sabine came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “He
said he was going down to his office, Ms. Mia. He said there is some business
he needs to take care of urgently.”

“Thanks, Sabine.”

Mia turned for the stairs that would take her down to his office in the
basement. This was a feature that had puzzled her from the start as, generally,
houses in South Africa weren’t built with basements. And yet, this monstrosity
of a house had one.

When she’d asked about this peculiarity, Dylan had shrugged her off with
a simple, “It’s for security reasons. My work is very sensitive.” She’d left it
at that, but the area had always given her the creeps. She avoided it as much
as possible.

The plush carpeting in the hallway deadened the sound of her footsteps
as she made her way toward his office. As she neared the door, Mia heard Dylan
shouting. Stopping short of the entry, she hesitated. If he was that mad
already, maybe now wasn’t the best time to be having this discussion with him.

From her vantage point outside Dylan’s office, Mia noticed the
conference door was slightly ajar. She crept closer, careful to stay out of
sight of the door. All she could see were his legs, as if he were leaning
against something, and a man whose face she’d couldn’t see from that angle
sitting in a chair in front of Dylan. As she was about to turn and go back
upstairs, she saw the man jump to his feet and realized it was Dylan’s friend,
Omari. Without warning, Dylan struck. Shocked that he was attacking his friend,
Mia stood rooted to the spot.

 As he landed a punch, Mia clapped
a hand over her mouth in an attempt to smother the gasp she couldn’t contain.
Frozen in fear, she waited to see if he’d heard, but it seemed the sounds of
his rage had masked that small sound. Something told her that had he heard her,
she would have found herself in deep trouble.

In horror, Mia watched as Dylan systematically assaulted the man until
he fell to the floor. He lay unmoving, and she started to back away, thinking
it was all over. To her horror, the attack continued. Blow after blow rained
down on the clearly unconscious man until all she could see was a bloody mess.

She couldn’t believe what she was witnessing.

It was beyond her realm of comprehension that one human could harbor
such intense violence. Mia had discovered early on in their relationship that
Dylan had a temper when things didn’t work out as he wanted, but she would
never have guessed he was this man.

With sudden clarity, Mia realized she didn’t know him at all.

The pleasant, thoughtful, loving man she thought she knew had been a
façade he’d presented to the world to hide the monster that lurked within.

So lost in her thoughts, Mia’s body jerked in fright as the first shot rang
out. She had to escape. Whirling away from the door she had almost opened, with
the sound of gunshots ringing out, she ran as if the demons of hell chased her.
Knowing she had to flee, Mia’s brain scrambled to formulate a plan of escape.

Dylan was a respected entrepreneur in the South African business
community. He had diligently built up his reputation as an American investing
in South Africa’s economy, so there was a high likelihood no one would believe
her if she told them what she had just witnessed. Without any proof, she had no
chance.

She couldn’t go to her family. Although her brother, James, was in law
enforcement, it would be putting all their lives in danger, and she would never
be able to forgive herself if anything happened to any of them because she’d
fallen for Dylan’s lies.

The fog of shock began to dissipate, and her brain scrambled for a plan
of action. A sudden thought popped into her head. She needed proof, and she was
sure there would be something on Dylan’s computer. Sending a prayer heavenward,
she hoped she’d be able to access it.

Dashing into Dylan’s office, Mia was grateful to find his computer on.
If she could find anything implicating on it, maybe it would give her some
leverage. She wiggled the mouse and thanked all the gods that someone was on
her side as the desktop came to life.

Randomly pulling desk drawers open, she searched until she found a flash
drive. Praying that she wouldn’t be caught, she inserted the flash drive and
set the computer to copy files over.

Mia waited on tenterhooks for the files to copy. If anyone found her,
she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt Dylan would kill her. There was absolutely
no reason for her to be in his office, especially since he wasn’t there, nor
had he given her permission to be there. Every unfamiliar sound made her heart
pound.

After what felt like an eternity, the task was complete, and Mia pulled
the flash drive out, put the computer back to the screen she’d found it on, and
returned it to sleep mode. It would never do for someone to discover that she’d
been there if she hoped to get away without a trace.

She made her way back to the door as quickly and quiet as she could,
then spotted the wall safe standing open. Praying it wouldn’t make a sound as
she opened it wider, Mia rocked back in surprise at the neat stacks of cash
within. She stuffed as much as she could into her clothing, anywhere she was
able, before bolting from the room.

Dashing up the stairs to their bedroom and into the walk-in closet, Mia
grabbed an overnight bag and haphazardly threw things in. She cast a critical
eye around to ensure nothing appeared to be out of place, and she hurried out
of the house, making sure to avoid anyone. There would be no way to explain her
way out of her apparent departure.

As Mia slipped into the driver’s seat of her Mercedes SLK, she breathed
a sigh of relief. She backed the vehicle out of the open garage and quickly
made her way to the gate. Once she was off the property, Mia drove like one
possessed to put as much distance between her and Dylan as she could before he
realized she was gone.

She could only hope he wouldn’t figure out she’d been witness to his
little “meeting” with the dead man. Considering what he’d done to his one-time
friend in his boardroom, she had no doubt that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill her
too.

What she couldn’t understand was how she could have been so wrong about
him.

Had there been signs of the real Dylan that she had missed? Or had she
subconsciously ignored any warning signs? Looking back, Mia supposed there had
been, but she’d been too dazzled by the persona he had presented in his fierce
and single-minded pursuit of her.

At the time, Mia had been overwhelmed by the charming man he’d appeared
to be. He was wealthy, sophisticated, and had seemed so far out of her league. When
he had started wooing her, Mia had been so deeply flattered this sought-after
bachelor had wanted her she had been too star-struck to see him for the
ruthless cut-throat he apparently was.

Smothering a yawn, she pulled into the parking lot of a small hotel. The
adrenalin rush had subsided, and she was crashing. She would get herself a room
so she could get some rest and regroup — try and figure out what to do next.

Mia figured her best chance at survival would be to stay on the run. She
couldn’t, no, wouldn’t, put her family in danger. She’d been the one to bring
this monster into their midst. So it would be up to her to find a solution to
this problem.

A meal and a shower later, Mia felt a bit more herself. She powered up
her laptop and inserted the flash drive she’d taken from Dylan’s office. The
directory came up on her laptop, and she started opening documents to see what
they were.

Mia reeled in shock as she began to realize exactly what it was she was
reading.

The documents were detailed records of transactions buying and selling
women and young girls. They listed dates, exchange points, and how much each
female was bought and sold for.

Sweet baby Jesus, her fiancé was a human trafficker. The man she’d
promised to marry was this man – this … monster!

Overwhelmed, stressed, anxious — exhaustion crashed over Mia, dragging
her down in a pit of despair.  No longer
able to hold her head up, she lowered it onto her arms and sobbed as if her
heart were breaking. She needed to find a way out of this nightmare, and she
had no idea how she was going to do it.

 

Chapter 3

Mia was about ready to go out of her mind. She was stuck in a hotel room
in Cape Town, cut off from her family, and loneliness ate at her. It seemed
like a lifetime ago since she’d last seen or spoken to them, and she was
feeling the isolation deeply.

Staying on the move, she’d zigzagged her way across the province of
Gauteng before finally making her way back to the Western Cape and repeating
the process in that province too. Finally too exhausted to keep going, she’d
found a small hotel away from the popular beach area to hole up in and rethink
her options.

Since she’d been on the run for about four weeks already, she hoped to
hide in plain sight. Hoped that Dylan would think it too obvious a move
for her to go home. She was beginning to feel like a rat trapped in a maze with
no way out. If this was what her life would be like from now on, she’d far
rather end it now.

There was no way Mia could see herself living the rest of her days on
the run like this, always looking over her shoulder. Wandering from place to
place just waiting for the day Dylan found her. And each day, she grew to hate
him a little more for forcing her into a life that was no life at all.

Mia knew she couldn’t stay – she’d already been here for a few days. She
just didn’t have it in her to move on quite yet. However, to stay in one place
for too long meant the chances of Dylan finding her improved exponentially. In
a day or two, she would need to be back on the road, but Mia realized that, at
some point, she was going to run out of places to hide. Johannesburg and Cape
Town were out of the question. Those were his home territories, and the risk
was too high that he would find her.

By now, her family would have figured out something was going on since
she used to speak to her mother almost daily, and it tore her up inside knowing
they would be beside themselves with worry. But her fear was so great she
didn’t want to contact anybody lest she put them in harm’s way. If Dylan
suspected she had anything incriminating or that she’d seen what had happened,
she knew he wouldn’t hesitate to hurt her family to draw her out.

Mia couldn’t believe she’d never seen this side of him. How had she
missed such a fundamental part of his personality? How could she have been so
blind? Apparently, he’d simply been so good at hiding that side of himself. She’d
never suspected such a monster lurked under that suave exterior.

Standing at the window staring out as the rain sleeted down, it echoed
the desolation in Mia’s heart as the tears rolled unnoticed down her cheeks.
What she wouldn’t give just to connect with someone without fear of putting
their safety at risk. Even if only for a little while. Even a couple of hours
interacting with another human being would be better than this deafening
silence and godawful unrelenting loneliness.

Watching a water droplet slowly slide down the windowpane and collide
with another, to be absorbed and make a bigger droplet, she got lost in the
chaos of her thoughts. When she could no longer take it, she spun away from the
window. Mia grabbed the remote off the bedside table and channel surfed
aimlessly. Nothing grabbed her attention, and with a sigh of disgust, she threw
the remote onto the bed beside her.

In a moment of rebellion, she decided to go down to the bar, and maybe
later she’d treat herself to dinner in the hotel restaurant. She pawed through
her meagre supply of clothing for something suitable to wear. Then she took
extreme care getting ready, making the most of this one opportunity she would
allow herself. When she was satisfied with the results of her efforts, Mia made
her way to the elevator and to the bar.

She crossed the room, oblivious to the looks she was getting. Sitting
down on a barstool, she ordered a drink. When the bartender put it down before
her, she smiled her thanks.

Mia sat sipping her drink, contemplating what to do as yet another
lonely evening stretched out before her. Inevitably, her thoughts turned to
Dylan and the mess she found herself in.

In an effort to get away from her thoughts, she twisted in her seat to
look around the room and noticed a man sitting at a table by himself reading a
newspaper. She couldn’t see his face, but she could see his hands. And what
hands they were. Tanned, manly, strong looking; they conjured up all kinds of
thoughts as to what he could do with them.

No companion, no wedding ring. Her curiosity was piqued. It wasn’t like
she had anything else to do other than stare at this man and create a fantasy
in her head about who he was and what he did. Whether he was married, involved,
single? Why was he here? Business? Or was he here for some personal business?
Maybe he was here on holiday? But maybe, most importantly, how would it feel to
have those hands all over her body?

As if feeling the weight of her stare, the man looked up, straight at
her. For a moment, he just gazed at her. And then he smiled and took her breath
away. The man was devastatingly handsome, but when he smiled? Dear god, he was
positively lethal. He studied her for long moments, and Mia could feel her
heart pounding just from his gaze. With another panty-dropping grin revealing a
dimple in his left cheek, he stood.

Tall and well-muscled, he held himself with a confident ease she envied.
Not once had he looked away from her. While maintaining eye contact, he folded
the newspaper neatly, dropping it onto the table, and sauntered toward her.