Ransom at the Ritz: Chapter 9

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Rowe took a step forward. “Stay right there”, Jace ordered. His eyes flashed. Rowe stopped. One hand extended toward Gray. The other was resting on the door handle. She was at a loss of what to do. Rowe looked to Gray. He showed no sign of fear. In fact, he appeared bored. His indifference angered Rowe. How could he be calm?

She took another step. Jace pressed the gun further into Gray’s head. “Don’t tempt me Rowena”, he threatened. This was Jace’s element: calling the shots, with lives on the line. Rowe attempted calm. However, this was no easy feat. Her panic progressed into hyperventilation. Rowe wrapped her arms around her stomach. Closing her eyes, she hummed the first tune to spring to mind.

Rowe was running through the atrium. Time ticked by, as a merciless bomb waiting to go off. It was proving difficult to find Dahlia. The Tudor-style manor, built in the 1900s, mocked her with its secret tunnels and passageways. Jace acquired it during his prior business days.

She felt angry with herself. Why had she chosen the chateau as the boundaries for Ransom? At the time, it seemed a good idea. However, now Rowe regretted it. Jace was a step ahead. As he always is. 

Rowe ceased from wandering about the house. Her effort was proving fruitless and time was running out. Something clashed up ahead. The noise issued from the kitchen. Rowe stopped abruptly. She stood a few feet from the open kitchen door. She felt vulnerable. Jace forbid Rowe from carrying a weapon. Another cheating tactic, since everyone else would have a weapon. A part from Dahlia and Gray; the Favors were never given weapons.

A cutlass hung on the wall beside Rowe. One of Jace’s many prized possessions. A part from her, Rowe thought to herself. Rowe removed it from the wall. She did not care if Jace would be upset. Rowe made a promise to her sister. One she would not break if she could help it.

Rowe jumped into the kitchen. The stainless steel oven clock read 2:00am. Two hours! Two hours since the game started. Three hours since she had seen Elle. Four hours since she met secretly with Gray in the Atrium. Rowe peered around the kitchen. It looked undisturbed. A stainless steel serving spoon lay on the ground. Rowe bent down to pick it up. A door opened and slammed shut. She stood to her feet. Rowe wheeled around. She brandished the sword, as she had seen in pirate films. The shutters, covering the back door, quivered. It must have been Dahlia, Rowe thought. 

Rowe cracked open the back door. The dark grounds looked ominous. Silhouettes of hills and forest covered the surrounding acres. When Elle was younger, Rowe would tell her stories about the towering trees. Tales of how the trees protected and shielded them from harm. However now, these billowing giants resembled prison guards. 

Rowe tiptoed across the soft grass. The balmy weather silenced her footsteps. This hot July month was proving useful. Rowe scanned the yard. The familiar grounds induced memories of playing hide and seek with Dahlia and Elle. That was a different time, before the nonsense and games.

A wrenching scream rang through the air. Rowe spun around several times. She knew that scream. Rowe ran blindly forward. She tripped over tree roots, but did not stop. What could make her scream like that? Another scream sounded. This one drawn out and closer. Several birds flew from their homes. She must have left the planting fields. Rowe disregarded her loud steps. The game did not matter anymore. Elle was in danger.

“Stop it!” Someone slapped Rowe’s face. Her eyes flew open. Dahlia stood before Rowe. Her face contorted with rage. Rowe did not respond. Dahlia’s anger was confusing. “Stop humming that”, Dahlia whispered in a horrified tone. “You were the one who created that song”, Rowe accused. “Please don’t hum it again”, Dahlia pleaded. Her voice wavered.

“Dahlia, that’s enough”, Jace drawled. She did not move. Dahlia stared at Rowe.

Footsteps rushed up behind them. London bolted pass Rowe and Dahlia. “You gave me an empty gun Jace”, she shouted. London threw the gun at his feet. “Clearly it was a good idea”, Jace responded, without looking at her. His focus was only on Rowe. London flushed. Dahlia went to her sister. “That’s enough London”, she chided. London shook her off. “Stop bossing me around Dahlia.” She stood beside Gray. Dahlia went to Jace.

Aspen staggered toward Jace. Rowe was satisfied to see his eyes and nose swelling greatly. Gray flashed a mischievous grin at Rowe. “Aspen, what happened?” Gray teased. Aspen ignored him. He stood by the roof ledge.

Despite the events around him, Jace never took his eyes off Rowe. “You have two choices Rowena. Come with me willingly and I will not shoot Gray. However, if you fight me; I will end Gray’s life in front of you.” Rowe considered him. “What will you do with Gray if I go with you?” Jace smiled. “I will set him free. I am a man of my word.” Jace crossed his forefinger over his heart.

Rowe did not respond. She knew Jace would never let Gray go. Jace used to make this specific deal with past clients. He would make a deal with the client, promising not to kill them. Once he obtained all that he wanted, Jace would then kill them. “Tying up loose ends”, is what he used to call it.

Another set of footsteps climbed the stairs. Labored breathing accompanied them. Gavin stood beside Rowe. He clutched his side. Blood was seeping through his hand. In his other hand, Gavin held a handgun. Rowe recognized it from years ago. He never went anywhere without it. Gavin fell to his knees. His skin color paled greatly.

Rowe kicked the gun out of his hand. It clattered to the ground. Dahlia and London ran at her. In one swift movement, Rowe lunged for the gun and jumped to her feet. She pointed it at Dahlia and London. Both halted.

She then pointed it at Gavin’s head. “Choose Jace! Me or Gavin?”

Copyright © 2014 SarahHardy. All Rights Reserved.

Ransom at the Ritz – Chapter 8

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Rowe’s footsteps padded gently against the carpeted hallway. Gavin walked behind her. Their silence imitated the quiet surrounding them. The deserted corridor stood as a sad reminder of Rowe’s isolation. She felt hollow. Despite Oisin’s alliance with Jace, Rowe did not hate him. He had been a good friend to her. Poor Oisin, she thought.

Rowe quickened her steps. She wanted this to end. Rowe felt she had a slight advantage. She knew this building inside and out. Rowe figured she would find Dahlia soon. A thought occurred. One she had not considered until now. If Rowe did find Dahlia, what would she do with her? Regardless of the animosity between the two, she could never end Dahlia’s life. Rowe had roughed up “clients” of Jace, but never resorted to killing. She was uncertain of whether Jace knew this. He probably did not. Jace never questioned the outcomes of her errands. That was another flaw of his. Jace trusted Rowe. She was the only person he did trust. He did not even trust his own sons.

Rowe was searching the chateau. She wondered where Jace was. She had a brief spat with Dahlia. It was over Jace; in fact, their fights always involved Jace. She could not help it if he loved her and not Dahlia. “Rowena, what are you doing?” She turned around. Jace stood in the hallway. Rowe smiled. “I was trying to find you.” They approached each other. Jace’s smile did not reach his eyes. A sign something was wrong. “Are you alright?” she asked in concern. “How do you do that? Have you been practicing?” he asked. He gently touched her forehead. Rowe laughed. “Not as much as I should. I just know you.” 

They walked hand in hand to the courtyard. Jace sat on a bench. Rowe joined him. “Gavin and Aspen are home.” Jace stood to his feet. He ran his fingers through his dark hair. Rowe did not understand why this bothered him. His handsome features appeared tired. Deep lines etched into his once smooth, Adonis face. Rowe decided she would keep the fight to herself. She did not wish to upset Jace any further. He looked at her. “They are hiding something from me. Unfortunately, their defenses are stronger than ever. I am unable to see”, Jace said. “You are the only one I trust.” Rowe stood to her feet.

She did not know Aspen’s secret. However, she knew what Gavin was hiding. Yet, she could not tell Jace. He would kill Gavin if he knew. Rowe disliked his visits, yet she could not condemn Gavin to death. Rowe shuddered. Jace asked, “Are you cold?”

“Are you cold?” Rowe started. Gavin’s question mirrored Jace’s query from her recollection. Rowe did not realize she was shivering. “I’m fine” she answered. “Of course you are”, Gavin responded. “Rowena is never fazed by anything. She is strong and perfect. If my dad had his way, he would have you over Aspen and I or anyone else, for that matter.” Rowe stopped. She turned to him. Gavin’s expression was impassive. “I see things have not improved between you and Jace”, Rowe observed. Gavin gave a curt nod. His and Jace’s relationship had always been rocky. She never knew what the cause was. Rowe placed her hand on his forearm. He looked at her as if he had never seen her before.

“You are wasting time”, he warned. Reality jarred Rowe. She spun around. Rowe marched through the hallway. “What will you do if you find Dahlia?” Gavin asked. They reached the lobby. “I am not sure.” Rowe walked around it. Gavin followed her in uncharacteristic silence. “Will you kill her?” Rowe exited the Lobby.

“Unlike Jace, I do not care for killing.” They entered a spiral staircase. Its steep steps deterred the inhabitants of the Ritz. Rowe overheard many complaints of this in the past five years. Gavin’s footfalls made Rowe edgy. “Would you walk quieter?” she snapped. She worried the others would hear their approach before they even arrived. Gavin did not respond. She looked back at him. His shoulders were slumped forward. “Are you alright Gavin?”

He looked at her. An expression of misery, replaced his usual leer. “Elle shouldn’t have died the way she did.” Gavin’s statement came out of nowhere. The sorrow in his voice, took Rowe aback. “That wasn’t your fault”, she dismissed. “It was Jace. It’s always been Jace.” With her eyes on Gavin, Rowe missed the last step. He caught her before she fell. “Thank you”, she mumbled. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Rowe and Gavin set foot on the second landing.

“My dad had nothing to do with it”, Gavin murmured. Rowe stared at him. She opened her mouth to tell him he was wrong. However, a movement ahead diverted her attention. London walked toward them. Her gun positioned at Rowe. She froze. “Where is Gray?” Rowe asked in a breathy voice. Fear assaulted Rowe. “What are you doing London?” Gavin demanded. His angry tone boomed in the hallway. London neared them. Gavin blocked Rowe.

London shouted, “Get out of the way!” Gavin’s altered behavior not only surprised Rowe. London lowered her gun a fraction. She cocked her head to one side. This man, who had abused and manipulated, womanized and killed. Now ready to sacrifice his life. Rowe wondered what changed in the last fifteen minutes. She placed her hand on his shoulder. He did not budge. Rowe whispered in his ear, “Gavin, it is ok.” She walked around him.

“What did you do with Gray?” Rowe asked again. London sneered. She positioned her gun at Rowe’s head. Her pistol did not frighten Rowe. Worse things could happen. Life had already dealt a hand of cruelty and loss. Rowe approached London. Gavin close in tow. “You don’t think I will?” London asked in a high-pitched voice. “I am finishing what I should have done the day Gray and I found the chateau.” Rowe stood a few inches from the barrel. “What are you talking about London?” she asked.

“You are a thieving witch. Not only did you steal Jace from Dahlia. You stole Gray from me. He loved me. But then he met you”, London retorted. Rowe shook her head. “That’s not how it happened”, she responded. London pulled the trigger. It clicked. However, no shot rang out.

London looked at the gun in surprise. Gavin lunged at London. London and Gavin crashed to the floor. Rowe took her chance. She ran past them. Rowe did not wait to see if the commotion beckoned any curious Ritz residents. She scaled another spiral staircase. The scuffling and thuds faded. Gray must be nearby. He is safe and unfound, Rowe thought. She refused to consider any other option.

Rowe reached the third landing. Running sounded behind her. She looked over her shoulder. Aspen took the steps two at a time. Rowe ran around the corner. She hid. Aspen’s running steps neared. Rowe knew he had a gun. However, was unsure of whether it had bullets. She could not chance what happened with London’s gun to occur again. Jace might have planned that on purpose. Aspen’s steps ended. Rowe held her breath. He ducked his head around the corner. “Found you”, he growled.

Rowe punched him in the nose. Aspen shrieked. He covered his nose. “Why did you do that?” Despite his breakdown over Elle’s life, she did not trust him. Rowe did not respond. She ran from him. He lunged at her. Rowe leapt out of his reach. She laughed aloud. Rowe did not break stride. She neither looked around nor looked back. Her training from years prior proved successful. Survival instincts, as well as guerilla collaborated.

She was unsurprised by the quiet hallway. The third floor housed elite and aristocratic families. This summer season called them away to the Hamptons and vacation homes. She rounded another corner. Rowe began to wonder if she would find Dahlia. She mulled over what she discovered. As with all of Jace’s games, cheating commenced. London and Gavin were fighting on the second floor. This meant Gray was alone. Thanks to her right hook, Aspen was now injured. She was unsure of where he was. However, Rowe knew she outran him for the time being. Moreover, this meant Dahlia was alone too.

She neared an opened door, which led to the roof.  Rowe slowed to a stop. This surprised Rowe. The roof door was never open. It required a key only the head door attendant held. Oisin, she thought. Rowe felt her mind work fast. Oisin’s alliance, Aspen and London, abandoning their Sneak duties, and Jace’s acceptance of Rowe’s wager. In a matter of minutes, understanding set in. The reason for these events could only mean one thing. Jace devised this entire plan.

Rowe bolted up the stairs. She yanked the roof door open. “No”, she screamed. Jace stood with a gun positioned at Gray’s head. Dahlia cackled. She stood beside Jace. Rowe felt panic overwhelm. The game, the wager; she was Jace’s puppet in this entire scheme.

Copyright © 2014 SarahHardy. All Rights Reserved.

Ransom at the Ritz: Chapter 7

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Terror ambushed Rowe. Mention of the game, Ransom, evoked another time. Her suite and its inhabitants disappeared.

Rowe was walking through an outdoor hallway of a grand chateau. Gray strolled ahead of her. Brass sconces blazed bright in the dark hour. Their dancing shadows flickered across the granite walls. Rowe peered around the atrium. She took advantage of their rare solitude and grasped his hand. Gray glanced back with a wistful smile. “Jace has eyes everywhere, Rowena.” He released her hand. Rowe scowled. “I don’t care about Jace’s rules”, she hissed at the back of his head.

Gray spun around. He pulled Rowe into a hidden alcove. “You can’t say stuff like that”, Gray cautioned. “He doesn’t scare me”, Rowe challenged. Gray shook his head. “Then I have something to learn from you.” She considered him. He answered her unspoken question. “I am not afraid for myself but for you. Jace is volatile. He maintains ridiculous guidelines, especially when it comes to you.” He motioned between them. “There’s no telling what he would do if he found out about us.” Rowe stroked his cheek. “Don’t worry about me.” Gray marched abruptly out of the alcove.

He entered the adjoining courtyard. Rowe caught up to him. “Don’t be angry”, she pleaded. He wheeled around to face her. “It’s easy for you to say ‘don’t worry’. You have only seen a glimpse of the monster running this” he motioned around him. “Whatever this establishment is”, he concluded. 

Tittering sounded to their left.

Dahlia and London stood among the fern fronds. Neither appeared surprised to see Rowe and Gray alone. Dahlia eyed them with a mischievous grin. Whereas, London stood aloof, appearing bored with the situation. Dahlia gestured between Rowe and Gray. “Jace won’t be happy about this.” Rowe’s heart skipped a beat. “What do you want?” she asked in a strained effort of composure. Unlike her sister, Dahlia was spiteful. She would use anything against Rowe. Dahlia narrowed her eyes. “You don’t deny it”, she asked. Rowe did not respond. She waited in patience. London cleared her throat. “Jace is ready for you Rowe. He is waiting in the dining hall”, she informed. Rowe gave a curt nod. Dahlia remained unmoving. London took Dahlia by the elbow. She guided her older sister away. Dahlia glanced back. She winked at Gray, before entering the atrium.

Gray walked a few steps forward. Rowe approached him. His taut expression, fixed on the entrance where Dahlia and London entered. She took his hand. He did not seem to notice. Gray looked around the courtyard. “I have never liked this place. It is suffocating. The rules and games, violence and deception; I have stayed too long.” A light drizzle began. “What do you mean? You won’t leave me?” Rowe asked her voice cracking. She could not imagine life without him.

“We need to leave now; take Elle and run.” Rowe shook her head. He had suggested this before. She knew he would never understand her reason for staying. Gray breathed a sigh of exasperation. “What is holding you back? Or should I say who?” Rowe widened her eyes in disbelief. “Do you really love me?” Gray’s question hurt. “Of course I do. I just cannot leave now. You won’t understand.” His eyes flashed. “Try me”, Gray challenged. “Jace has protected Elle and me.” Gray turned to walk away. Rowe tightened her grip on his hand. “I do not agree with his methods. However, I cannot desert him. Especially since Jace has promised this will be the last game.”

The sprinkling progressed into rainfall. Both stood indifferent to the increasing downpour. “How can you be so naive? Jace has never proven true to his word” Gray objected. “Rowena, you are blind to the hold he has on you.” Rain fell hard, soaking their clothes through. “Jace does not have a hold on me! I could leave right now” she defended. “But you won’t”, he answered in a resigned tone.

Both stared at each other. Neither spoke. Gray’s accusations and Rowe’s defense hung in the air. He threw his hands up in surrender. Gray pulled Rowe into an embrace. The kiss resembled a bittersweet exchange. It possessed a farewell quality, drawing them closer. Rowe melted. The soft contour of their lips fused together. Rowe’s anger towards Gray’s accusations disappeared. She felt safe in his arms. “I love you Rowena”, he whispered into her hair. 

“Jace is tired of waiting”, a gravelly voice said. They broke apart. Gavin stood to their right. He leaned against the foyer entrance. Gray set Rowe down.”She’s coming” he replied through gritted teeth. “Well, I am not leaving without her.” Rowe turned toward Gavin. Gray caught her hand. “Please don’t do this.” Rowe shook off his grip. She did not trust her voice to respond.

She joined Gavin’s side. They walked through the foyer. Gray followed. Gavin wrapped his arm around Rowe. “Are you going to choose me as your Favor?” He leaned into kiss her. Without warning, Gavin jolted forward. Due to his arm still around Rowe, she followed suit. They staggered to gain their balance. “Oh, didn’t see you there Gavin”, Gray apologized. He walked beside Gavin. Gray’s smirk attested to the fact that his shove was no accident. Rowe beamed at him. To her surprise, Gavin did not retaliate. He dropped his arm from her shoulder.

They arrived at the dining hall. 

A whisper echoed across the corridor. “Rowe, wait.” Elle ran toward them. She hugged Rowe. “I can’t lose you”, Elle murmured. Rowe closed her eyes. Her frail sister was so helpless and young. At seventeen, Elle experienced more atrocities than any other might encounter in a lifetime. Rowe broke free of her grasp. “I promise you that won’t happen. Gray will protect me.” Gavin scoffed. “Not if Jace has anything to say about that.” Rowe glared at him. Elle puckered her brow. Rowe knelt before her sister. “Go wait in the planting fields”, Rowe advised. “Gray will come get you when this is over. Pick some of my favorite roses. I will see you in a little while.” Elle nodded. “I love you Rowe.” She walked away. 

She’ll do” Gavin said. His leer sent a shiver up Rowe’s spine. “Stay away from her Gavin”, she warned. He gave her a sardonic smile. “Oh, she’s no rival to you Rowena”, he quipped. Gavin winked at Gray. He entered the dining hall without another word. Rowe looked at Gray in alarm. He put a finger to her lips. “I will make sure he stays away from Elle.” She felt relieved. “Thank you. After tonight, this will be all over. Jace promised.” They entered the dining hall together.

Jace stood before the fireplace. His back enveloped in an amber glow. “I have chosen your Favor”, Jace stated. Rowe and Gray glanced at each other. “I don’t understand” Rowe said. Jace faced her. He approached Rowe. “It is my game. Thus, it is my rules and wager.” Rowe blanched. “Gray will be your Favor. Since you are in love with him”, he stated. This startled Rowe. Jace approached her. “Don’t be surprised Rowena. All secrets come out.” His cold expression caught Rowe off guard. She had expected a different response. “You don’t know what you are saying. Rowe only loves you”, Gray declared. Jace gave him a withering look. “Enough lies from the both of you. My wager is simply this. Once I find Gray, I will end his life, Rowena. And you will watch.”

Shouting broke her reverie. Rowe looked around in surprise. Gavin was restraining Aspen. The latter looked deranged. His face contorted with rage. “How dare you suggest Ransom? The game you ended my Elle with”, Aspen demanded. He glared at Jace. He stood before Aspen. A deep line formed on Jace’s forehead.

London cautioned, “Aspen don’t be a fool.” Aspen dismissed her warning with an impatient flick of his hand.

“Why did you kill Elle? You knew I loved her”, Aspen wailed. “Elle didn’t have to be involved. I trusted you!” He spit in Jace’s face.

Dahlia squawked.

Jace dabbed his face with a handkerchief. “Aspen, you have been a thorn in my side far too long. Since the day you met Elle, you have grown soft. I knew it had to be ended.” Jace shoved his son to the floor. Aspen cowered at his feet.

“I choose Gray as my Favor”, Rowe stated. Jace faced her. He grimaced. “I thought you would. Dahlia will be mine.” He directed his attention to the group. “Aspen and London will be Sneaks”, Jace explained. “The boundaries are this building, including the roof. As you know, the Sneaks will Ransom the Favors.” He handed out talkies to Aspen and London. “Whoever finds their opponent’s Favor first will shout Ransom over the talkie. Once we all arrive, the winner will do whatever they wish with the opponent’s Favor. The game will end and the winner’s wager will be honored.”

He focused on Rowe. “You will not escape again, just because you dislike the outcome. I will not be so forgiving this time”, Jace growled. “Gavin will accompany you”, he stated. Jace motioned to Gavin. He stood beside Rowe. “And I will end your life if you go back on my wager”, she threatened. “Watch yourself Rowena. Don’t forget who you are dealing with”, Jace snarled. “I am well aware of the evil I am fighting against”, Rowe retorted. Jace pursed his lips. “I look forward to having you back in my life for good.”

Jace left the suite.

Aspen and Dahlia followed.

Gray rushed over to Rowe. He searched her eyes. Saying nothing, he placed his hand on her cheek. Rowe cupped her hand over his hand. “I will be alright”, she promised. He kissed her. Gray and London left the room.

Gavin approached Rowe. “Alone at last”, he purred. Gavin extended his arms out to Rowe. London’s chirp, signaling the start, sounded over the talkie in Gavin’s hand. Rowe slapped his wrist. “I need to win this game Gavin.” He chuckled. “Have it your way. I can be patient.” Rowe squared her shoulders. She marched out of the room. Gavin trailed after her.

Copyright © 2014 SarahHardy. All Rights Reserved.

Ransom at the Ritz: Chapter 6

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Jace raised his eyebrows at Rowe. He glanced around the room. “Everyone relax. Rowena doesn’t realize what she is suggesting. Off you go.” His tone was patronizing. Jace waved his hand at her. He resumed his conversation with Gray. The room carried on. However, Rowe stood impervious to his dismissal. She leaned in. “The Jace I loved would never turn down a game. Even more, a game with a wager”, Rowe purred in his ear. Jace stopped mid-conversation. He spun around. “Unless you are afraid”, she bated. Rowe turned to walk away.

Jace countered, “It is not I who should be afraid.” Rowe faced him with a smooth expression. He glanced over his shoulder at Gray. “What kind of wager did you have in mind?” Rowe replied, “If I win, you will let me and whoever else, leave for good.” Jace pursed his lips. “No one will ever leave me.” Rowe gave a brittle laugh. Jace widened his eyes at her. He peered around the room.

Dahlia shook her head. “Never”, she crooned.

Rowe was unsurprised. “What will I get when I win?” Rowe took a deep breath. “Me, forever”, she answered.

“Lass, you don’t know what you are doing”, Oisin cried. “Quiet”, Jace ordered. “No, she must know what she is getting into”, Oisin argued. “She does old man. That is enough!” Jace snapped his fingers.

Gavin marched over to Oisin. “Get off me!” Gavin released him.

Oisin staggered toward Rowe. “I lost my Cait to this monster. I gamble more than I should. He beat me at poker several times. When I could not repay him, Jace used my wife as collateral. He had Cait killed. Jace owns me now. I will never be able to offset the debt I owe.” Oisin stopped talking at once. He made an awful choking sound. He fell to the floor. His body shook violently.

Rowe rushed to Oisin’s side. His body went limp. She placed her hand over his gaping mouth. He was not breathing. “Oisin get up.” Rowe shook him. He did not respond. She shouted, “Oisin!” He lay motionless. Rowe found a needle- size dart in his neck. She plucked it out. Rowe found a needle- size dart in his neck. She plucked it out. Rowe recognized the dart at once. Jace fashioned these after meeting Dahlia. Her poisoning Abrafo, years prior, inspired him. These weapons attested to Jace’s fascination with discretion.

“Amazing, isn’t it? What one drop of poison will do”, Jace marveled. He stood over Oisin and Rowe. “Consider your debt repaid, Oisin.” Rowe glared at Jace. “You did this?” He nodded at Gavin. “Get rid of him.” Gavin pulled Oisin’s lifeless body to the bedroom. Rowe took advantage of the group’s diverted attention. She hid the dart in her pocket.

Gavin reentered the front room. Jace extended his hand out to him. Gavin looked confused. “Give me the dart”, Jace ordered. “I don’t have it.” Gavin looked around him. “It must have fallen out.” Jace struck him. “Find it!”Gavin instructed Aspen to assist him. The brothers surveyed the room.

Jace redirected his attention to Rowe. “Your offer is tempting. And I do love games.” He stroked her hair.

Gray took a step forward. Gavin stopped looking for the dart. He proceeded toward Gray. Aspen was unaware. He continued to look around for the dart. Jace glanced back. Gray stood eye to eye with him. “What is this? Do you not approve Gray?” Jace taunted. Gray did not respond. Jace drew nearer to Rowe.  “I didn’t think so. You know Rowena; you should pick men who fight for you. Like me.” Jace leaned in. “I know what game we will play. A competition of who is the better man. Let’s play Ransom.”

Copyright © 2014 SarahHardy. All Rights Reserved.

Sprouts, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods

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These three health food stores offer organic options, non-GMO foods and a higher chance to live a healthy life. Regardless of your wallet size or eating style, each venue will appeal to any crowd.

Sprouts.
An arrangement of non-GMO and organic foods are offered to the patrons of Sprouts. It’s excellent deals are perfect for the fitness guru and novice.
I enjoy shopping here all year long. However, summer is the best time. Its fruits and vegetables guarantee freshness and variety for any party or barbecue you throw during the warm season.

Trader Joes.
A compilation of environmentally friendly and healthy products are offered at Trader Joe’s. The devoted shoppers of this organic expo are never dissatisfied with its customer service and quality foods.
This is my store of choice for healthier options of junk food that will not break the bank. Their quinoa and black bean chips are a wonderful treat on cheat days.

Whole Foods.
As the Disneyland of healthy food, Whole Foods is an extravaganza to the health conscious. Style and finesse are seen in it’s collection of specialty cuisine. The quality products kindly mask the high prices. Its fresh sandwiches are perfect for picnics and beach time endeavors.

There you have it!

Sarah

Photo Credit: http://cortlandproduce.com

Ransom at the Ritz: Chapter 5

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Rowe felt restless. She disliked waiting in her bedroom. However, being in the same room with Jace was even less appealing. She hummed softly to herself. A melody Rowe heard years ago. It was a time when she still believed Jace was her rescuer.

Rowe was on her way home. She was anxious to wash the blood from her hands. It was from an errand for Jace. In her haste, she knocked someone into a puddle. It was a girl, who looked to be Rowe’s age. The girl flinched at Rowe’s attempt to help. She stared at Rowe’s bloody hands. She ignored the girl’s gawking. Rowe introduced herself. The young girl replied, “Dahlia”. She stood to her feet. Her sodden dress and damp hair resembled a trembling, drowned rat.

The girl turned to walk away. However, Rowe insisted on helping. She took Dahlia home. At Jace’s insistence, she stayed for dinner. He badgered Dahlia with questions. Her one-worded answers triggered further inquiries. Rowe tried to distract Jace, by asking him about his day. However, he ignored her. In time, Dahlia relented. She shared everything.

Dahlia and her younger sister, London were kidnapped by Abrafo. He was a Ghanaian militant. Abrafo forced them to join his army as child soldiers. Dahlia was five. London was four. Guerilla warfare became second nature. By the age of ten and nine, the sisters were lethal. Abrafo noticed London more than once. His advances frightened Dahlia. It would only be a matter of time before he became hostile.

One day, Dahlia devised a plan. She slipped poisonous abedru in Abrafo’s afternoon soup. Within hours, he developed respiratory failure. They escaped that night. Dahlia and London stowed away on a cargo ship. Upon docking in New York, Dahlia panicked. She was unsure of their next move. They wandered the city. Dahlia begged for food on a daily basis. The sisters slept wherever it was warm. They carried on with this routine for months. One morning, London went missing. Dahlia’s search was unsuccessful. She found no sign of London.

Dahlia’s eyes filled with tears. Rowe rushed to her side. Elle joined her sister in comforting Dahlia. Jace said nothing. He watched the three. At Rowe’s plea, Jace conceded to Dahlia staying. Dahlia accepted the invitation after Jace made a promise. He swore to help her find London.

Gavin and Aspen entered the dining hall. After the brothers gave their introductions, Rowe and Elle showed Dahlia around.

In the passing weeks, the vow to find London was forgotten. Jace capitalized on Dahlia’s background. She trained Elle and Rowe in guerilla warfare. Within months, the three women became close friends. During this time, Jace’s attraction to evil increased. His gruesome errands centered on destroying lives. In his black market dealings, Jace invented games. Inspiration for these games stemmed from his business background. Another life, he would refer to it, if anyone asked.

Jace exploited all to his advantage. Rowe, Dahlia and Elle became the main handlers of his errands. Gavin and Aspen would leave for days at a time. Their arrivals induced either torrents of rage or bursts of happiness in Jace. Soon after, Elle suffered from recurring nightmares. Frightening images of things, a fifteen year old should never witness. Her screams unnerved the household. Jace threatened to dispose of Elle several times. Dahlia created a melody to soothe her. She sang it to Elle on countless nights. In time, her nightmares abated.

One year later, a war ensued between the friends. At the age of seventeen, Rowe became infatuated with Jace. Dahlia grew equally fond of him. His charm blinded them. Jace discovered their fascination for him amidst a petty fight. He set them against each other. Trivial situations of him favoring one and ignoring the other. It was another game to Jace. Overtime, his preference for Rowe became apparent. Dahlia’s jealousy and Jace’s malice destroyed their friendship. 

Rowe stopped humming. That tune haunted her even now. How could she be blind to the man Jace was? Rowe covered her face with her hands. She wished she could forget.

Her mind wandered to the present. She sifted through all that occurred today. Jace here, Oisin on his side, and Gray’s advice. Rowe felt exhausted. How could she beat Jace? He was cunning and a cheat. A decade of heartache and sorrow attested to that.

She felt someone watching her. Rowe uncovered her face. Gavin leaned against the bedroom doorframe. He gave her a wolfish grin. “I’d love to see where that mind goes.” In brutality and cleverness, he was an exact replica of Jace. Rowe crossed her arms. Gavin chuckled. “I bet I can guess how you feel about that.” He pointed over his shoulder. Out of curiosity, Rowe looked.

Gray was talking with London and Dahlia. Rowe frowned. Dahlia stood close to Gray. She caressed his arm more than once. The sweet and timid girl from before was now a distant memory due to Jace’s manipulation. Gray appeared unaware. Rowe puckered her brow. Dahlia’s flirting was maddening.

“Not jealous, are you?” Rowe shook her head. Gavin moved to the bed beside her. “Just do as you’re told. Jace will give you want you want. That’s what I’m hoping for anyways.” He rested his hand on her thigh. Rowe rolled her eyes at him. Gavin chuckled again. “I always loved your fire.” He clasped her face with calloused hands. “Jace wasn’t wrong. You are lovely.” The stench of tobacco and mint turned Rowe’s stomach. Gavin’s aggressive attention from the past reared its ugly head.

Rowe thought fast. “Careful Gavin”, she cautioned. “Your dad doesn’t like to share.” He jerked his hands from her face. Jace was the only one Gavin feared. He looked toward the front room. Jace’s attention was on Aspen. They were talking with each other. Gavin grimaced. Rowe laughed. He rose to his feet. Rowe stood as well. She leveled at his chin. Rowe was undaunted.

“Gavin”, Jace shouted. Gavin flinched. Jace always kept a close eye on him. “You better go. Daddy’s calling” Rowe mocked. His face darkened. “Jace won’t always be near” Gavin threatened. He leaned in. “When you least expect it, Rowena. You will be mine.” Rowe shoved him. He did not budge. “That is enough”, Jace instructed. Gavin marched out of the bedroom.

The group, a part from Jace, resumed their conversations. He watched Rowe. Rowe smiled at Jace. He did not reciprocate. His expression was impassive. Jace motioned to Gavin. They whispered with each other. Rowe disliked Jace’s cold smile.

He took Gray aside. Rowe took a step forward. Aspen blocked her view. He hurried over to Rowe. Aspen sat where Gavin was a few minutes prior. “Hi”, he said in a thin voice. “Hi Aspen”, Rowe replied. She remained standing.

Jace and Gray joined Dahlia and London.

“Please sit”, Aspen requested. Rowe looked at him. She saw a change in Aspen. His eyes darted around the room several times. He appeared disturbed. Rowe sat unwillingly. Aspen gave her a small smile. He differed greatly from his brother. Where Gavin was large, Aspen was willowy. Nonetheless, his wit outmatched what he lacked in strength. Aspen was vicious. Unlike Gavin, he never listened to reason. Out of the two brothers, Aspen was the most terrifying. However, this man appeared afraid of his own shadow. “What happened to you?” Rowe asked. Aspen stared at her, unblinking. A few minutes passed. “Aspen?” Rowe prompted.

He looked at his hands. “Did you know I loved your sister?” His voice wavered. “I had no idea.” Aspen nodded. “No one knew a part from dad.” Aspen covered his face with his hands. “He took her from me.” A mournful sound escaped. “Your eyes are identical to hers. It kills me.” Rowe placed her hand on his arm. Aspen sprung from the bed. He left the bedroom without looking back.

Jace blocked his path. Aspen did not look at him. “What did you say?” “Nothing, dad”, Aspen responded. Jace pushed him. “Don’t call me that!” Aspen cowered. “Yes, sir”, he whimpered. Aspen moved to the floor beside the balcony. He kept his face down. A tear glimmered on his cheek.

Aspen reminded Rowe of Elle. Broken and manipulated by Jace. She had enough. Rowe developed a plan. Only one way she could beat Jace for good. His love for games could be his downfall.

Rowe rose from her chair. She walked toward Jace. He was speaking with Gavin. Jace’s back was towards Rowe. London aimed her gun at Rowe. Dahlia stopped her pacing at the balcony. She glowered at Rowe. Gray clenched his fists. He watched London. Oisin shook his head. Rowe ignored his attempt to flag her down. Gavin observed her with an amused expression.

Rowe tapped Jace on the shoulder. He turned around. The tension of the room was palpable. “What game do you have in store for me?” she inquired.

Copyright © 2014 SarahHardy. All Rights Reserved.

An American’s Guide to Riding a Tro-Tro in Ghana

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Ghana presents new opportunities to the tourist and Ghanaian alike. It’s historic sites and ethnic cuisine, the Azonto and markets; these and more make Ghana a melting pot of adventure.

One venture in particular may not be glamorous, however, necessary. Whether you reside or are visiting, Ghana offers a variety of transporting options. Disregard the normal options and try a unique alternative.

The tro-tro is a minivan of sorts. It is faster than a bus and more affordable than a taxi. Don’t let appearances fool you. These mini transports are safe and effective.

Here are 4 tips that will enable you to have a successful tro-tro experience.

1) Know where you are headed.
As with any other transportation, know where you want to go. Ghanaians are incredibly kind. Feel free to ask around. They will happily guide you to the correct tro-tro stop.

2) Keep small change with you.
Another benefit of the tro-tro is it’s reasonable price. Having small change will make the transaction easier. The conductor, who is usually called “mate” will collect the money at the beginning of the trip.

3) Keep alert.
This is important! The conductor (mate) will shout out the destinations as they arrive at them. In order to not miss your stop, I advise you to keep alert.

4) Have fun.
This is an amazing experience that many do not know about. It is a time to become acquainted with your fellow passengers. A chance to witness sites from the eye of the Ghanaians.

It will be an exhilarating moment that you will never forget.

Good luck!

Sarah

Photo Credit: http://trotrolane.wordpress.com

Ransom at the Ritz: Chapter 4

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Her insides writhed with hatred. “I owe you nothing”, Rowe spat. “Oh but you do“, Jace countered. His lip was bleeding profusely. “I bought you and your sister, Elle the night we met. Elle was disposable. You are the one I always wanted.” Jace mopped his lip with his sleeve.

He stared at Rowe with a hungry expression. “You are lovelier than I remember.” He slid his free hand behind her neck. Rowe shuddered at his touch. “Are you afraid of me?” She shook her head. “You loved me once”, Jace prompted. He pulled Rowe in for a kiss. Confusion and alarm overwhelmed. Memories of young love clouded her senses.

Rowe pulled away. A different Jace stood before her. Here was the rescuer she met years ago. He saved her and Elle from a life of going to the highest bidder. His eyes softened. The hard lines of his face lessened. Rowe placed her hand on his shoulder. “I care about you.” Jace grimaced. “What did I say?” His face darkened. “You care about me”, he said with disdain. “What is wrong with that?” Jace narrowed his eyes. “I do care about this Jace, who is kind and gentle. However, I will never love you again. That was a different time.” Rowe dropped her gaze. He flushed. Jace slapped her face. Rowe staggered. She fell into someone.

Gray steadied her. He looked pointedly at Jace. A loud ringing echoed in Rowe’s ears. She saw Jace signal to the bedroom.

Dahlia tried to tend to Jace’s lip. He knocked her hand away. Jace beckoned the group to gather.

Gray led Rowe to a chair in the adjoining bedroom. “Sit down”, he instructed. Rowe looked over Gray’s shoulder. Neither Jace nor the group was watching them. Rowe heard Gavin giving instructions.

“You need to sit down Rowena”, Gray insisted. She remained standing. “What happened to you?” Gray did not answer. His face screwed up with concentration. He seemed to be struggling with something. Rowe drew closer. She placed her hand on his face. Gray’s eyes tightened but he did not pull away. “What did Jace do to you?”

His expression softened at Rowe’s gaze. “Does it hurt?” He gingerly touched Rowe’s side. “It did before. Now it is a dull ache.” He nodded. “You better sit down.” Rowe sat without objection. Gray turned to leave. She reached out to his arm. “Gray, I know Elle’s death wasn’t your fault. This facade is not you. The real Gray would not hurt anyone.” He did not look at her. “Rowena, I allowed it to happen.”

Rowe looked at the group. Dahlia was watching them. Her expression was unreadable. She let go of Gray’s arm. He knelt before Rowe. “There is only way you can escape. Beat Jace at one of his games”, he urged.

Gavin’s raucous laughter echoed from the other room.

“How can I do that? Is that what you tried to do?”

Dahlia left the group. She sauntered over to Gray and Rowe. “Jace wants you Gray”, Dahlia called. “Beat him for good Rowena”, he whispered. Gray stood to his feet. “Thanks Dahlia.” He linked his arm with hers. Dahlia glared at Rowe. They left the room together.

A crude song broke out in the other room. Gray joined the group. He belted out a few ending notes with Gavin. The group cried for an encore.

He did not fool Rowe. She could see Gray hurting. Only one reason for this change made sense. Jace broke Gray.

Copyright © 2014 SarahHardy. All Rights Reserved.

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