Divided (Unguarded #2) - Ivy Stone

Age Fifteen

Rough hands pull at the material on my body, stripping me bare of my clothes—my dignity. My eyes dart around the strip club frantically for an out, but it’s no use. Giuseppe, his associates, and Lucio, they’re beside me, behind me, in front of me. There is no escape. Fright spikes my heart rate. It picks up speed, racing with my mind to come up with answers, a reason, something to help me understand why I’m here in one of the clubs Giuseppe Marino owns. A throb jolts through my shoulder and I’m shoved forward onto the empty stage at Sweet Tarts. Tears sear my cheeks like flames. The burn, a reality of what might be to come. I want to hide, hide my tears, hide from the humiliation of standing naked before these men. Giuseppe trains his gun on me and it forces me to move up the stage even though my mind tells me to run. Run far.

“Dance my girl. It will make me a very happy man. And after what your sister did today, leaving me like that… I need a happy ending. And you want to please me don’t you?” Giuseppe’s voice rips through the air, scaring me, confusing me. Why is he doing this? He’s been like a father to me for the past three years since he took my sister, her best friend, and me in. A bruising hand shoves me again, this time harder. My body racks with fear as I hesitantly turn around. Five middle-aged men and a boy, who I believed cared about me, focus their hungry eyes lower on my body. A shudder of disgust racks through me. I glance at Lucio and his gaze catches mine. His eyes gloss over as I plead with him silently to help me. His face turns ashen. Sorrow builds behind his features and my stomach churns. He knows what’s going to come and we both know he can’t do a thing about it. Or at least, he won’t. Despite how much the Marino Prince may care about me, he values his life and his position within the family business, more than our friendship.

“Dance, girl! I won’t say it again.”

I jump at the bellowing voice of a man I thought loved me like a daughter. My head spins and my body shakes as I begin to move with the hope of getting out of here in one piece. Sweat drips from my forehead falling down my face along with my tears until everything’s a blur behind the water in my eyes, and I can no longer separate the two. I shift on my feet from side to side. Hanging my head low, my chest caves in and I curl into myself as if hiding my face will somehow protect me from their roaming eyes and verbal abuse. Deep voices laugh at me, they echo through the club and chip away at my self-esteem. Maybe if I can just block it all out, I can get through this. The insults tear at my confidence, they’re loud and angry—degrading.

A lump of dread forms in my belly, I’m not pleasing them. And why would I be? My dancing is terrible. I’m too nervous, too shaky. I’m fucking terrified. What did they expect? I close my eyes and my chest rises as I take a deep breath. I listen for the beat of the music playing lowly in the background and swing my hips while I swallow the bile rising in my throat. Fear encourages my heart to smack painfully against my ribs. But then all breath leaves me when Giuseppe’s gun kisses my temple.

I freeze. My eyes fly open and I wince as the gun digs into my face. I glue my lips together to hold in the sobs but it’s no use. One wrenches from me. He growls and pulls back the trigger. My body tremors and I shake my head.

“No. Please,” I whimper. “Don’t do this.”

I thrash around my instincts now in survival mode. But bruising hands grab me and they’re too strong. I’m forced to stay still. So I scream until my voice is hoarse and then I cry. I cry until I have nothing left. My mouth, dry and sore. I open it, ready to beg for my life when the gun is pulled away and soulless eyes, black and evil, level with mine. I blink through the blur until the familiar hues become clear. A chill coats my skin as his icy