Tuesday, July 8, 2014

HUNTED: I SURVIVED by Ayr Bray [Excerpt]



Title: HUNTED: I SURVIVED
Author: Ayr Bray
Release Date: June 16, 2014
Pages: 198
Find it: Amazon || Goodreads
Genre: Fiction | Adventure | Contemp. Romance
Melanie Wells has a plan. As soon as graduation is over she will move into the perfect apartment, start the perfect job, and launch her perfect career. Everything is falling into place … until one wrong turn shatters her dreams.


After witnessing a drug smuggling operation, Melanie is tortured, shot, and left for dead. Her survival is nothing short of miraculous, but it may not last when the drug cartel finds out she’s still alive and planning to testify against them.

Enter Thane Reeves, sexy as hell Private Security Consultant and former Army Ranger. For years he’s loved Melanie from afar, and now he would risk anything, including his own life, to keep her safe.

Melanie’s plan never included love. If anyone can change her mind it’s Thane. He ignites a passion in her she didn’t know she was capable of, but when you’re running for your life it’s easy to fall for your protector. Melanie can’t be sure if her feelings for Thane are real, and with drug lords and contract killers gunning for her, she may not live long enough to find out.







“From an early age I have always been fascinated by the written word and the mood and atmosphere it creates for a reader; especially those books that affect me and transport me to some far-off place. These are the elements I strive to create in my books. My books in many ways record what most affects me: my feelings and experiences with family, friends, and those I have run into on my life’s journey. 

My hope is that in my books you will find something that touches you, something which will resonate in your soul and remind you that you are strong and can overcome anything, especially if you have the support of loving friends and family.” – Ayr Bray 

Ayr Bray is from the Pacific Northwest, but travels as much as possible so she doesn’t have to deal with the cold.


One 

“As you march forth into this world of uncertainty, strive to be wise, because the world needs more wisdom. As you endeavor to take on new positions in all manner of jobs around the world, strive to be kind, because everyone could use a little more kindness. The world is a large and scary place, and so few people actually care about one another.”

Melanie Wells sat on the edge of her uncomfortable folding chair in Kabam Field and listened to the commencement speaker with rapt attention.

“You must all remember that no matter who you are, where you go, or what you do, you are going to make mistakes; it’s inevitable, part of being human. As long as you learn from those mistakes, and allow others the opportunity to learn from theirs, you will do well. Go now; walk through the sands of life and make mistakes, make horrifying and amazing mistakes, but while making them remember to live each day trying to be better than the day before. If you do, you will always succeed.”

Applause broke out as the speaker concluded, the entire graduating class jumping to their feet to yell and cheer. Melanie looked at her best friend, Tessa, her face beaming under the late-afternoon sun as they lunged into each other’s arms, laughing and hugging.

“Melanie, can you believe we are finally graduating?” Tessa yelled over the roar of the crowd.

“No, I can’t. I thought this year would never end,” Melanie replied, her voice catching.

“I know what you mean!” Tessa said as she stepped back and ran her hands through her hair. Tessa had the kind of hair every girl dreamed of: thick, blonde, and just the right amount of wave. “Picture time,” she said as she wrapped an arm around Melanie’s neck, hugged her close, and raised her phone in front of their faces. She took the picture then turned the phone around to inspect it. Tessa always looked amazing in photographs; her eyes wide open and lips perfectly pursed. Melanie, on the other hand, was a different story. Her eyes were half closed, her smile half-cocked, and her hair was stuck to her lip gloss by the cool breeze blowing in from the San Francisco Bay. Melanie cringed at the picture as Tessa exclaimed, “Perfect!” and posted it to all her social media accounts.

The cheering died down and they took their seats as the final procession began. For the umpteenth time, Melanie looked for her parents and waved at them. She loved seeing their proud faces there in support of her on this momentous day.

At last it was time for their row to stand and walk to the front of the stadium to collect the faux leather case they would put their diplomas in once they arrived in the mail in a few weeks.

“Tessa Leanne Roberts.”

Melanie watched Tessa walk across the stage, accept her diploma case, and flash her brightest smile for the camera before striding with poise and purpose back to her seat. Then it was her turn. She took a deep breath, rolled her shoulders back, and stuck out the “girls” just like her mother always told her to.

“Melanie Aubree Wells.”

Holding her head high and flashing her widest smile, Melanie concentrated on looking good because it certainly didn’t come naturally.
Walking across the stage with the summa cum laude ropes and sash draped elegantly over her graduation gown was what Melanie had spent the past four years at Berkeley striving to achieve. It was the reason she had spent thousands of hours at the library pouring over her political science books and worked her butt off during her polling internship for the Governor’s office last summer. It was the reason she rarely attended parties and never allowed herself to be distracted by men. This one goal had driven everything she did, and now she was seeing the culmination of her hard work laid out before her. She was walking down a golden road of success—or at least a burgundy rug of triumph.

Melanie’s mother had warned her about the graduation blues, but so far she’d staved them off by making a plan for her life. After a well-deserved vacation she would begin her position on the campaign and polling team of the 11th District State Senator in San Francisco. If all went as planned, in five years she would be in D.C. working for the White House Press Corps, and in ten years she’d be a staffer in the Office of Communications, crafting and espousing the presidential administration’s messages. As long as she had a plan everything would be perfect. It had worked so far. Melanie had a charmed life.

Her mile-wide smile was still plastered on her face when she joined Tessa back in their seats. With their diploma cases in hand they no longer cared about the rest of graduation. They sat on their hard chairs and talked about things that really mattered, like the vacation their parents were sending them on.

“Did you pack that little black dress I made you buy or did you hide it in the back of the closet?” Tessa asked with a hint of censure in her voice.
“I packed it, but I am not sure I’ll wear it. I’m a little uncomfortable showing that much leg. Not to mention one little breeze and everyone will have a great view of my panties. I still wish I hadn’t let you talk me out of the long dress. I’d be much more comfortable with a dress that covered my thighs, at least,” Melanie replied.

Tessa waved her hand dismissively. “The long dress was way too conservative. We are going on a singles cruise. You want your dress to scream ‘come talk to me and my sexy long legs,’ not ‘I’m more matronly than your mother.’”

“The dress did not scream ‘matronly’!” Tessa could always push Melanie’s buttons when she picked on her fashion sense, or lack of it. “Okay, so I’m a little more conservative than the average college student.”

Tessa raised her eyebrows, scrunched up her nose and mouth, tilted her head to the side, and said, “A little!”

Melanie rolled her eyes. “Careful, your face is going to stick in that hideous position, and then where will you be?” She smirked. “On a cruise with a matronly twenty-two-year-old parading you around saying, ‘don’t mind my friend’s face, she got stuck that way teasing me about my grandma clothes.’”

Tessa laughed and playfully slapped at her. “Hey, I have an idea.”
“What?” Melanie asked.

“Let’s go tonight.”

“Tonight! We can’t.”

“Why not?” Tessa asked.

“Aren’t you forgetting something? Something pretty big?”

Tessa looked at Melanie curiously, frowning in concentration. A moment later she said, “I can’t think of anything. What am I forgetting?”

“Oh, just all of our belongings. Our dads are coming in the morning to pack them in the truck and take them to our new apartment. We have to be there to help them. Plus, the cruise doesn’t board until Saturday. Where are we going to stay in LA for two nights? Oh, and don’t forget it’s a six-hour drive and it’s too late to set out today.”

“My God, Melanie, what are you, eighty? My dad already has his truck here, and it’s barely two o’clock. Let’s get them to move us now. Then we can leave first thing in the morning instead.”

Melanie looked around at the rows of graduates still waiting to be called, and sighed. “This could take hours to finish. We won’t have time. Let’s just move tomorrow and leave for LA on Saturday like we planned.”
Tessa rolled her eyes at Melanie again. Grabbing her hand, she pulled her up and dragged her to the rope barrier that lined the seats. “C’mon,” she demanded as she ducked under, not waiting to see if Melanie followed.
Part of Melanie wanted to wait patiently in her seat until they were dismissed to walk back up the aisle, but her excitement took over and she ducked under the ropes.

When she caught up to Tessa, Tessa’s face broke out in the wicked little grin she always got when Melanie caved. “I knew you’d see the light! Let’s go find our parents. I am so ready to get to LA. I want to buy one of those sexy little beach wraps I tried on in that swim shop last month. Do you think they have any left?”

“I hope so. If they do I’ll buy one too.” Melanie knew the shop Tessa was talking about and exactly the wrap she referred to: a silky, iridescent number that tied low on her hips and shimmered when she walked. Tessa had wanted it so badly but she hadn’t had enough money to buy it, and even though Melanie did and was dying to get one herself, she didn’t buy it because Tessa saw it first. Her hope was that there were two this time, because she wasn’t leaving the shop without one.

Tessa squealed with delight. “It would look killer with that hot-pink swimsuit you just bought.”

When they reached the seats where their parents sat together Tessa’s parents jumped right up, relieved not to have to sit through hour upon hour of names being called as graduates walked across the stage. Melanie saw her mom’s suspicious look and answered her unspoken question.
“We want to see if we can move our stuff into the new apartment today so we can go to LA a day early and do some last-minute shopping. You have to admit this is way boring, and the lure of shopping is just too much, even for me.”

Melanie’s mom closed her iPad case, but not before Melanie noticed she had been playing Candy Crush, and stuck it in her designer purse. She smiled and wrapped her arm around Melanie’s shoulders. “You’re right, I am bored. Let’s go.”


Two

Moving their scant belongings from their furnished campus apartment to their new studio loft in San Francisco was an easy task with the help of their parents. After all, they’d had everything packed for over a week now, living out of their suitcases.

“Melanie,” her mom said as they carried up the last load from the truck, “would you like me to stay and help you unpack?”

“Nah, we got this. We’ll unpack when we get back from Hawaii.”

“Where are you going to stay in LA?” her mom asked, motherly instincts taking over even though Melanie had been on her own for over four years now.
“On the way here I booked us a room at the Double Tree. It’s right by the port. We’ll be able to see the cruise ship from our room.”

“Here, take my credit card.” Mr. Roberts pulled out his wallet and handed Tessa his Visa. “This is for your hotel only.” He looked at her over the top of his glasses. “Anything else better be a life-threatening emergency, or you call me first and we’ll discuss it.”

Tessa grabbed the credit card from him and put it in her wristlet wallet. “Thanks, Dad, you’re the best.” She stood up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek.

“You girls be careful. I hate it when you go to LA alone. It’s dangerous there,” Mrs. Roberts advised as she gathered her things.

“LA is no more dangerous than any other city, Mom. You just have to avoid the bad areas.”

“And how do you know where the bad areas are? Every night on the news I hear about more murders and drug busts.”

“If it was on the news, they must have caught the guys,” Tessa said, baiting her mother. “See, we’re safe now.”

“Don’t give me any lip. You be careful.”

“We will be careful, Mrs. Roberts,” Melanie said quickly before something else came out of Tessa’s big mouth.

“I know you will, Melanie. You’ve always been the careful one. Keep my girl out of trouble, will you?”

Melanie nodded and looked to her mother, who beamed. She often told Melanie how proud she was of her. Melanie was the good child, the reliable one, and her brother was the rebel. While she hadn’t gotten into trouble in her entire life, hardly a week went by during their childhood without Bryan doing something like taking potshots at the neighbor’s cat with his pellet gun.

“Well, then, if we’re not needed here we’ll head home,” Melanie’s dad said, walking to her and throwing his arms around her. “You be a good girl, baby doll. Call us when you get to LA.”

“I will,” Melanie promised as he squeezed her and then gave her a kiss on the forehead. Her mom followed his lead, her embrace lingering a little longer than his.

“You girls have fun and take lots of pictures. When you get back I want to hear all about your trip.”

“Sounds great, Mom,” Melanie said, hugging her back and leading them to the front door of the loft.

Once they left, Tessa slumped against the door and breathed a deep sigh. “I thought they would never leave. Go put on a dress. I heard about this great piano bar on O’Farrell Street. I want to check it out tonight.”
Melanie hated bar hopping, but a good piano bar was one of her weaknesses. She loved to sit back with a glass of wine, soaking up the ambiance and listening to the pianist awe the audience with his talent.
John Foley’s Irish House was a piano bar like none she had ever experienced. When they first walked in and the bar was rocking with a classic rock ’n roll cover band, Melanie felt deceived by Tessa. She strode forward, tugging on Melanie’s arm. “We have to go to the Cellar for the true experience.” Tessa got directions from a waitress and then led the way down the stairs to the Cellar.

Scanning the place, Melanie couldn’t believe her surroundings. The walls were covered in gold Damask with cherry trim and wainscoting. The windows were draped with heavy royal purple and gold, and there in the center on a raised platform stood dueling grand pianos. Melanie had heard about the Vegas dueling pianos but hadn’t seen anything like them in person.

The entertainment was already underway when they arrived. They found seats at a table as close to the pianos as they could get. They ordered food and drinks and spent the night laughing, singing, and dancing to songs from every era. The food was excellent and the “lyrical” cocktails better than any Melanie had ever tasted. As they wrapped up the evening, Melanie ordered a Celtic Coffee and nearly died as her taste buds exploded with the flavor of her new favorite drink.
The place couldn’t be any more perfect.

It was well past midnight when they left John Foley’s and returned to their loft. Their new furniture wasn’t supposed to arrive until the day after they returned from Hawaii, so they stripped off their dresses and lay in a nest of blankets and bedding in the middle of the floor.

Melanie was not happy when she woke to Tessa shaking her at barely a quarter past six the following morning. “What?” she yawned and rolled over to go back to sleep.

“It’s after six! If we don’t get on the road soon we won’t have enough time to go shopping.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m not leaving until eight. Let me go back to sleep.” Melanie closed her eyes and pulled the blanket over her head.
“Eight is too late. Get up,” Tessa said as she pulled Melanie’s blanket off. Melanie pulled it back over her, hoping Tessa would get the hint and leave her alone.

“I’ve got breakfast ready. I want to be on the road no later than seven, so you’ve only got forty-five minutes.” Tessa wrapped her slender fingers around the blanket again and took it with her this time, forcing Melanie to get up.

Melanie stumbled to the bathroom where she put herself together, and then met Tessa in the L-shaped kitchenette at the front of the loft. She had opened the box with the toaster and coffee pot and made their traditional breakfast of a toasted bagel with cream cheese and a cup of coffee. It didn’t take them long to eat, clean up, and get in Tessa’s Mini Cooper convertible, heading south on Interstate 5 toward Los Angeles.

Melanie’s new Ray Ban sunglasses were poised perfectly over her hazel eyes and her stick-straight auburn hair was pulled back and tucked into a pale pink silk scarf tied at the nape of her neck. She loved the feel of the stray strands that lashed against her face and swirled above her head.
Melanie and Tessa traded off driving when they stopped for gas, and then again as they descended from the rolling hills of California into LA. Melanie texted her mom and Tessa’s that they had arrived, and then turned on the GPS, setting their destination for the mall. Melanie called out directions over the blaring radio as Tessa weaved in and out of the heavy Friday afternoon traffic. They soaked in the sun, laughed constantly, and ate up the attention from men rubber-necking to catch a glimpse of them as they passed.

As soon as they reached the mall they raced to the swim shop. “No way, Tessa, here they are,” Melanie called as she rounded a rack and saw at least ten wraps on display. Tessa ran over to join her and they rummaged through the rack, viewing all the styles.

“Boo-yah, I found it.” Tessa celebrated as she held up a bright yellow wrap with large flowers all over it.

“How about this one?” Melanie asked, holding up a plain black one for herself.

“No way! You’re not buying that lame black one.” Tessa shook her finger at Melanie. “Look at this one.” She held up a white wrap with black pinstripes and oversized red and pink flowers. “It’s to die for, and those pink flowers are the same color as your new swimsuit.”

She was right. The wrap was gorgeous, and Melanie knew wearing it with her swimsuit would give her more confidence. They bought the wraps and then wandered in and out of various stores, but neither of them wanted to spend much money since they planned on shopping in Hawaii.

“Time to find some dinner and our hotel?” Melanie asked when they’d started the path around the mall a third time.

“Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

They walked to Tessa’s car, threw their shopping bags in the back, and jumped in. Melanie messed with the GPS while Tessa started the car and pulled out of the parking spot. “I think we should check in at the hotel and see what restaurants are close to it. What do you think?” Melanie asked, already typing the hotel’s address into the GPS.

“Awesome, plug it in.”

“All right, we aren’t that far away. In fact, I don’t think we even need to get back on the freeway.”

“You tell me where to turn, and I’ll get us there.”

Tessa adjusted her mirrors while Melanie tied her hair back again. “Turn right out of the parking lot and then get in the left lane because we’re going to turn left in two blocks.” They’d spent the past four years getting around this way, with Tessa driving and Melanie navigating. They were pros at it. Their parents had no idea how many trips they had made up and down the Pacific Coast from San Diego to Seattle.

“We are almost at the port. Keep an eye out for the Double Tree,” Melanie said as she scanned up and down the streets around them.

“Is that it over there? Sweet! We’ll be able to see the cruise ships in the morning before we leave.”

Tessa turned left on the next street. Halfway down the block a large freightliner was blocking the road. Its trailer backed through the large metal double doors of the little industrial building to their left, making it impossible for them to get by.

“Dang, this road is under construction. Should we just turn around?” 

Tessa pointed at a bobcat and excavator parked next to where she’d pulled the car to a stop.

“It doesn’t look like construction. Looks like they’re moving equipment. They must be a construction crew or something. I’m sure they’ll be out of the way in a—”

“What the hell are you two doing here?” snarled a menacing voice behind them.

Their heads whipped around to see a pistol pointed at them. At first neither of them could speak, but soon Melanie found her voice. “The GPS said to go down this street to get to our hotel.” She held up her phone, which still displayed the navigational map of the port district with the blue arrow flashing in the center of the screen.

“Are you lost?”

“No, we’re heading that way two blocks,” she said, pointing.

“Are you expected?”

Fear pricked her spine and she looked at Tessa before responding. “Yes.”
The man still had a gun aimed at them when he threw back his head and laughed. “No one’s waitin’ for you, are they?”

“Of course they are. Our friends have already checked in and we’re going to meet them.” Something that might have been doubt flickered in the man’s expression, and Melanie hoped and prayed he believed her.
The freightliner began to edge forward and Melanie noticed a couple of men hustling to place a few tightly wrapped square packages into a compartment in the trailer bed. The men bent low and pulled sheets of metal into place to camouflage the false bottom.

Tessa’s eyes grew wide and she leaned toward Melanie and whispered, “Mel, I think those are packages of drugs.”

“Shhh,” Melanie hissed at her to shut up, but not soon enough.

“Damn, girl, that was the wrong answer. Now you’re coming with me.” He started to pull them from the car, but another man stopped him.

“Who are they?” the newcomer asked with a Hispanic accent.

“I don’t know. I found them parked here waitin’ for the truck to move.”

“Damn!” he yelled, looking up and down the street. The freightliner pulled out of the bay and parked on the road ahead of them. A few men hefted ramps into place while the bobcat and excavator at their left rumbled to life and jockeyed into position at the base of the loading ramps.

“They saw the drugs, boss.”

“They did, did they?” The one he called boss looked at them with sinister eyes.

Melanie steeled her courage and said, “We didn’t see anything. If you let us go we won’t say a word.”

“Everyone who says they won’t say anything is lying, especially uptown bitches like you two.” He put his hands on his hips and stared at them, unblinking, while men drove the bobcat and excavator onto the trailer and strapped them in place with tie-downs. “Damien, get in the car with them and follow us. Once we drop the trucks, I’ll take them with me and you can dump their car.”

Before either of them could register what the boss had said, Damien had jumped over the side into the backseat. He held the gun to the back of Tessa’s seat, taunting them. “Tough luck, chicas, looks like you get to meet your maker tonight.”

Melanie sucked in her breath and looked at Tessa with wide eyes filled with horror. She scanned the area as they passed, trying to memorize where they were going in case they found a way to escape.

“Don’t even try it,” Damien said. “I’ll shoot your pretty ass before you even get out of the car.”

Melanie snapped her head up and stared out the windshield, not daring to move, but she noticed her phone lying in her lap. Her mind raced. Could she get in a call before he killed her? Using her pinky finger, she turned her phone to silent and unlocked it. She held her hands still above the phone to see if Damien had noticed her actions; he hadn’t. She took a deep breath and gazed down at her lap. Then she pressed 911 and hit send.
She panicked when she heard the line ring and the voice of a dispatcher answering, thinking Damien must have heard it too. She looked at Tessa, but even she hadn’t noticed what Melanie was doing. Melanie used the same pinky to turn down the media volume and waited. Damien didn’t say anything and she was afraid the dispatcher would hang up, so she took a deep, stabilizing breath and spoke.

“Why don’t you just let us go? We told you we wouldn’t tell anyone what we saw.”

“Shut up, bitch! Who said you could speak?” Damien yelled.
“Where are you taking us?”


“Why do you want to know? You’re going to be dead before you have time to care.”

Melanie felt the back of his hand that held the gun slam against the side of her head, and she screamed in pain.

Once the stars faded and she could focus again she noticed her phone lay exposed in her lap, the 911 call brightly displayed on the screen. The call was still connected, which she was thankful for, but she was afraid Damien would see it. She clasped her hand back over it and then moved to drop it between the seat and door.

Just then, she heard sirens in the distance and prayed they were coming for them. Melanie had watched enough crime dramas to know the police could track cell phones, especially when the GPS was on. Her phone should be a bright beacon with the GPS active and a live emergency call dialed in.

“Do you hear that?” Damien said, then grabbed his own cell phone and called the truck ahead of them. “Hey, boss, I hear sirens.” He looked around and then continued, “I have no fucking clue, but if they are coming we’d better speed the hell up. I’ve been to prison once and I don’t wanna go back.”

The truck ahead of them accelerated and Tessa was ordered to match its speed. A few miles later it pulled over and two men jumped out and ran back to their car. Two more approached from a truck that had pulled in behind them. Melanie started to scream when two of the men grabbed her, the other two taking hold of Tessa. “Get your hands off me. Where are you taking us?” She looked at the street signs nearby and screamed, “Harbor! Seventh!” before a dirty gag was shoved into her mouth and tied at the back of her head.

Melanie kicked, screamed through the gag, and thrashed with every ounce of her strength. She couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw Tessa wasn’t doing the same. She could hear the sirens getting closer now, and despite her pain she had hope that this would soon be over. Melanie struggled against the men as they dragged her to a waiting black sedan. She made it as hard as she could for them. There was no way she was going to walk there demurely like Tessa was. What was wrong with her? As they threw Melanie into the car she kicked with all her might, connecting with the closest man’s balls. He slumped over in pain, howling in agony even as he screamed, “You fucking bitch! God damn, that hurts!”

“Hurry up. We have to go!” the other man yelled. Melanie could hear the sirens clearly now. It sounded like they were almost to them. She wanted to jump up and cheer. She kicked again as the first man stood up. He grabbed hold of her leg and twisted. Melanie screamed in pain, nearly choking on the gag, and twisted in her seat. At the same time she looked down the road and took in a sight that her brain refused to comprehend. An ambulance sped past the intersection, its siren beginning to fade as it drove farther and farther away. It wasn’t the police; they weren't coming for them. Melanie’s heart sank into her shoes as the man slammed the door and climbed in the front, twisting around to face her over the seat. As the car sped away, she saw his large balled fist coming straight at her face and her world went dark.



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