Someone slammed Taylor into the brick wall. They weren’t heavy, but it was enough to get her attention. His hot breath seared across her cheek, sickly-sweet with the scent of a brewery. There was a tug on her shoulder and she whipped her elbow back like her brother, Ricky had taught her. It connected with something solid.
Catching her attacker off-guard, he stumbled sideways with a grunt. She took the opening, and shoved him back, twisting around to face him. Dressed all in black, his dark, floppy hair obscured his face from the yellow glow of the building’s fluro.
The boy swore and the gravel under him crunched as he charged at her. Taylor raised her arms at the last moment, a groan catching in her throat. Her brother would scold her for being this slow.
A glint flashed between them as the boy collided with her and they fell back into the wall. Her head cracked against the brick and everything around her wobbled.
She blinked. She blinked again.
Ricky’s voice rattled through her brain, but it sounded distant as if he was near the car and wondered what was taking so long. They’d been driving the back country roads for over six hours and had stopped at the fuel station. He’d gone inside to pay for the fuel. She’d needed to pee and the toilets were around the other side of the building. An ice freezer blocked the view of the road, leaving a small alleyway where she now sat.
The beginning of a headache stung her eyes and Tay braced a hand against the wall for balance. Fire cut through her side and she gasped, her other hand clamping over the pain. Gravel scattered around her as the boy scampered to his feet, her bag in hand.
It was a stupid purchase she'd made that afternoon. They'd argued about it for hours or rather, Ricky had made a comment when she’d stopped to look at it and hadn't let up since. ‘When are you going use it? You never use a bag.’ She sure showed him.
The boy mumbled something, swaying from side to side. She could see his feet as they shifted from one foot to the other. Great. She’d been overpowered by a complete drunk.
The boy sprinted in the opposite direction.
Sucking in a breath, Taylor twisted to her good side and used the wall to lever herself to her knees. A hiss screeched through her teeth as the pain tunnelled into her side and a burn cascaded across her pelvis and down her thigh. Wow, he’d got her good. She was going to have a bruise the size of a slam ball.
‘Tay?’ Ricky’s shoes scuffed the loose stones and stopped in front of her. She took another controlled breath before tilting her head to look up at him.
His bulky build hunched over her, his hands on his knees. He grinned, eyebrows raised in question. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Some idiot knocked me over.’
There was no way she was going to tell him a drunk kid, most likely on something had stolen her bag; she’d never live it down. As luck would have it, she hadn’t put anything in it yet. She was never going to buy another one again.
‘What did I teach you?’ Ricky shook his head and offered a hand.
‘I know, I know.’
She grabbed it, but as he pulled her up, her knees buckled and red-hot spikes stabbed into her gut. Agony screamed from her throat.
Ricky grunted as he caught her. ‘I’ve got you. It’s okay.’ He eased her to the ground. ‘Onto your back, T. Onto your back.’
Her eyes shut as scores of needles scratched across her torso and Ricky lowered her onto the ground.
‘Tay, you need to breathe.’
Or you’ll snap your shit-up. His favourite phrase echoed through her mind and her lungs expanded on instinct to draw in air. Eyes opening, she stared up at him and a whimper mewed from her lips.
Ricky swore and shadows sharpened in anger as it shuddered across his face, his brow knitting taut in a knot. ‘What happened?’
Taylor’s vision blurred, but she could still feel the heat of Ricky’s gaze. She wouldn’t tell him what had happened and shook her head. Ricky would kill the kid if he found him. When he found him. It was only a matter of time, depending on how fast his connections were. She’d have to somehow talk him out of it. Maybe she could talk to Will … or Charlie.
Ricky’s monstrous hand wrapped around Taylor’s wrist and lifted it away from her side. She clawed the air.
‘It’s okay, Tay. I need to have a look and find out how bad it is.’
Fabric brushed her fingertips and she clung to it, her nails digging into the threads. Hard muscle lay beneath and Taylor's mind fumbled over a memory of the faded, navy sweat pants and shirt Ricky wore.
A cool whisper of air brushed her tummy. Ricky stilled above her, then seemed to scrunch together the bottom of her black sweater. ‘This will hurt, but you need to keep breathing, okay? Take deep breaths.’
Tay opened her mouth, but a strong pressure pushed down on the fire in her belly and the words spluttered into a gasp and then a groan. It hummed in her ears and everything turned dark and hazy.
‘Stay with me, T. T? Taylor? Call for an ambulance.’
Something cupped her jaw, tilting her head upwards. She tried to brush it away, but her fingers were so cold and stiff, they shivered.
She had to tell him. She had to tell Ricky before she forgot. Forgot to make him promise … promise what? The words slipped into the fog of her mind. It had been important. Really important.
‘Taylor. Look at me. You need to stay awake.’
‘R-Ricky … Rick …’