Ransom at the Ritz: Chapter 5

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.

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