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Saved by Venom 3 (Grabbed)

By:Lolita Lopez

Chapter One

“Your father did what?”

Cringing at her best friend’s tone, Dizzy stopped folding the clothes she had chosen to pack. She turned her full attention to Ella, who gawked at her with wide eyes. With as much bravery as she could muster, Dizzy repeated, “Dad sold my lottery number to a councilman who plans to marry his daughter to some doctor from the colonies. I’m going to be Grabbed tomorrow.”

Stunned speechless, Ella plopped down on the small bed. Pain colored her voice as she asked, “Why would he do that?”

They’d never kept secrets from each other and Dizzy saw no reason to start now. “There was some sort of problem with a shipment of cargo. He didn’t share the details but apparently he needed a lot of money to make it right. Now he owes a huge debt to Fat Pete.”

Ella gasped. “The loan shark who launders money for the Splinters?”

She nodded. “I guess Fat Pete is threatening to collect me as collateral for a loan Dad can’t repay.”

“That miserable bastard!” Ella wrung her hands. “Maybe I could come up with the money to help you.”

Dizzy shook her head. “You don’t have this kind of money.”

“I bet I could get my hands on it,” Ella insisted. “Business owners pay a lot of money to put my face on their posters. They want people to see me wearing their clothes or using their products. Being a muse might not be the most respected job on this planet but it’s profitable.” Ella grasped her hand. “I can find a way.”

“Doing what? Posing in lingerie?” Dizzy hissed the words. “Sure, the guys who run SKIN pay their muses a lot of money to take those pictures but it’s not worth the risk. You know what happens to girls who get caught by the censors.” She shivered with fear. “It’s not worth it.”

Ella rolled her eyes. “The pictures aren’t even that risqué. What’s so shameful about showing a woman in her undies?”

“Nothing,” she agreed, “but it’s not my opinion that matters. You know what the censor crews are like.”

“It’s ridiculous.”

“It’s The City.” Dizzy’s matter-of-fact reply ended their discussion. There wasn’t anything more to say about the hypocrisy of the planet’s capitol. With enough money, a person could get their hands on anything restricted by the government or buy their way out of trouble. Those without money? Well—they did without or went to prison.

Dizzy shoved aside the clothes and made a space to sit next to Ella. She made sure to sink down slowly, not wanting to aggravate the strange condition that plagued her with fits of dizziness and nausea and ear-ringing when she moved too quickly. Hands folded in her lap, she sighed. “Look, Ella, I’m just—I’m tired.”

Her friend frowned. “How the heck can you think about sleep at a time like this?”

“No.” She exhaled roughly. “I’m not sleepy tired. I’m emotionally exhausted.” Dizzy absentmindedly touched the gnarly scars running along the curve of her throat. The awful memories of the day she had been nearly obliterated by the terrorist bombing outside the Harcos embassy swamped her. She pushed them aside and tried to focus. “You know I’ve been talking about leaving The City for a while now.”

“Yes. We talked about getting you to the colonies, maybe Safe Harbor. That’s still a possibility.”

“It’s not and you know it. After that mess at the old battery plant with the Sixers and the Splinters and their stolen weapons and food, the Harcos have basically blockaded the planet to prevent any insurgents from escaping. The fees for immigrating legally to the colonies are too high for a girl like me to afford.”

Once upon a time nothing had been too expensive for Dizzy. She had been born into the lap of luxury and enjoyed the extreme wealth of her bank-owning father and successful businesswoman mother. The bomb that had taken her mother caused a panic and recession that ruined her father’s bank, leaving them penniless and homeless.

“You could go into hiding until we get the money together for a visa.”

Dizzy shook her head. “I can’t hide.” She glanced nervously at her window. “I swear there were two goons following me today.” Then, with a resigned shrug, she added, “Besides, the colonies want skilled workers for their visa programs. I’m just a seamstress.”

“Just a seamstress?” Ella scoffed. “You’re the best damned seamstress in the fashion district. Your work is beautiful. You’re committed to your craft. Don’t ever say you’re just a seamstress.”

Dizzy couldn’t deny that it felt good to have her friend, the most popular muse on Calyx, talk about her work that way. “It doesn’t change things, Ella. I’m never going to find someone to sponsor me for a visa. Right now, I don’t have the kind of money it takes to buy a visa or the connections to get one of the seats on the transport ships run by the Red Feather.”

“What about Danny? You know, my friend the fixer? He’s tight with the Red Feather.” Ella grasped her hand. “I could make it happen.”

“There’s not enough time. Fat Pete expects Dad to bring him the money or me by Friday. That’s two days from now! I’m not taking the chance.”

“So you’re going to let one of those awful sky warriors take you?” Ella shuddered. “They’re monsters, Dizzy.”

“They can’t be any worse than Fat Pete!” Dizzy swallowed hard. “The one that my mother…” Her voice trailed off as the sordid details of that assignation raced through her head. “Well…anyway. He seemed nice enough and he saved my life.” She touched the scar on her neck again. “Maybe I can find one like him.”

“I don’t know.” Ella nibbled her thumb. “They’re so overbearing and so controlling.”

“It’s a cultural thing, I think. Maybe it won’t be so bad.” Searching for a positive slant to her crappy situation, she said, “I’ve seen some Harcos men around the embassy downtown. They’re all big and scary but some of them are handsome in a rugged sort of way. I’ve heard they’re good to their wives.”

“If you call being leashed and collared good.”

“I don’t,” Dizzy admitted, “but this is my only chance to get away from here. After the bombing, after losing Mom, I can’t stand it here. Dad is so far gone now that he’s wrapped up in the black market. I can’t let him drag me down. This place is suffocating me. I’ve got to get out.”

Ella squeezed her hand. “I know the nightmares are bad, Dizzy, but are you sure you want to trade all those problems for whatever the hell awaits you up there?”

“It can’t be any worse than this.”

Ella made a frustrated sound. “I realize you’ve been through a terrible, traumatic event, Dizzy, but you have no idea what worse really means. I know. I know what it’s like to be cold and hungry and homeless and terrified that strange men are going to take you and rape you. Please.” She gripped Dizzy’s hand so hard it hurt. “Please reconsider. You don’t have to do this.”

“I do.” Dizzy had settled her mind and there was no going back. “I’m going to run tomorrow morning and one of those sky warriors is going to Grab me.”

For a long moment, Ella simply stared at her. Finally she exhaled slowly and said, “Then let’s get you packed.”

Dizzy relaxed. “Thank you for not fighting me on this.”

“Oh, I want to fight you but we’ve been friends long enough for me to know when I can’t win.” Ella tugged her into a tight hug. “I’m really going to miss you.”

Dizzy didn’t even try to stop the tears that spilled onto her cheeks. “I’m going to miss you too.”

“I hear that some women contact their families a few weeks after being taken. You have to promise me that you’ll get a hold of me if you can.”

“I will.” Dizzy rubbed Ella’s back. “I’ll find a way to make it happen.”

After ending their embrace Dizzy stood carefully and returned to her packing.

“What are you going to do about that?” Ella pointed to Dizzy’s head. “You won’t be able to run very far if it acts up and makes you sick.”

“I know.” She chewed her lower lip. “Hopefully I won’t have to run long. I assume those men are rather fast.”

“Definitely,” Ella agreed. “You’re only taking one bag?”

“That’s all they allow.” Dizzy glanced around the small studio apartment and all the things she was leaving behind. “I told the two Karraway sisters who live next door that they can have all the furniture. The newly married couple upstairs is going to take all the cookware and anything in the cabinets and pantry.”

Ella eyed the closet teeming with colorful clothing. “Um…what about all that?”

Dizzy laughed. “You can have first dibs on anything in my closet.”

“Yes!” Ella popped off the bed like an overeager puppy and darted to the closet. “You have some of the best clothes in The City.”

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