Grindhouse To Be Featured January 21-23 on SciFiFantasyFreak.com

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Attention horror lovers: Grindhouse by Elle Chambers will have a three day New Release listing at SciFiFantasyFreak.com. If you’re a reader who loves horror, sign up for the mailing list to get daily book recommendations and follow them on Twitter. And be sure to check out the site tomorrow for Elle’s listing – retweets and reblogs are welcome and appreciated.

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Excerpt from Grindhouse by Elle Chambers: “Deviltown”

Grindhouse1“You said that was twenty, right?” the man said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Nah, babydoll—I said twenty if I do you. Thirty if you do me.”

The man cursed under his breath, but pulled three crisp ten dollar bills from his wallet. “Here. Now get the fuck out, Ladyboy.”

Mimi scoffed. Ladyboy. Well…wasn’t he clever. The day a tranny-loving john with self-loathing tendencies came up with an insult worth a damn was the day she’d stop tricking. Shit, she’d probably hit the lotto first.

She slipped the money into her pseudo-cleavage, courtesy of rubber falsies and a Miracle bra, and pulled her leopard print skirt down over her still semi-erect appendage. She smiled.

“It’s always a pleasure, Norman.”

She chuckled to herself when he flinched at the stroke of his cheek. So predictable. They all were. Couldn’t wait to suck and fuck in the privacy of a dark alley, their hands (and other orifices) full of her, but once that initial rush wore off and the nut was over, they acted like she was carrying the plague. Hypocrites.

Mimi climbed out of Norman’s (if that was even his real name) black sedan, careful not to stumble in her YSLs. She studied the stilettos for a minute, trying to focus on not falling over, willing her legs to strengthen after the mind-blowing orgasm she’d just experienced. Norman was an idiot who regularly said idiotic things, but his mouth was apparently good for something. She wondered if his wife had had the pleasure of his head game or if that little trick was something he’d been saving for this special occasion.

The sound of squealing tires behind her brought her back to the present. She needed to find her way back to the main street. This particular alley hadn’t been far from her usual stomping grounds outside McGregor’s Pub, but it was a homeless haven and she hated stepping over half-wasted, malnourished, and frequently insane men who’d grab at her ankles and beg for change. Shit, it was hard in these streets—she wasn’t giving a damn dime to nobody. If they wanted to eat, they’d work on their hustle just like she did. As her girl Trinny used to say, “A closed mouth don’t get fed.” Neither did legs or assholes for that matter.

Now with Norman’s thirty bucks, she almost had enough to cover this month’s rent in her shithole apartment. She checked her designer impostor watch. Ten fifteen. She had enough time for another trick or two if she worked quickly. Maybe she’d get enough to buy something pretty for herself, some non-necessity she could show off to the girls. It’d been a long time since she’d had the opportunity to do that. Davonte kept taking all her damn profits, talking about how he was owed it and if she wanted for something, all she had to do was give a little something. Which Mimi knew meant he wanted his dick sucked. She’d obliged his trifling ass on numerous occasions, but the shit was getting old. He took forever to get hard, and cumming was virtually out of the question most times. Then he’d slap her as if it was her fault his old crusty dick didn’t work right. Bastard.

But he was better than other pimps, she supposed. He’d never beat his girls like a lot of the others—only gave them a good backhand every now and again when they fell out of line. He never put none of them in a hospital, though, and for that Mimi was grateful. Her old man didn’t used to be as kind. He’d put Trinny there once, and she never came out.

She made it back to McGregor’s, only having had to curse out three bums on her way. Two more girls—a short redhead whose ass and tits practically sat in the street, she was so fucking tasteless, and a tall blonde the size of a toothpick—stood on the corner hooting and hollering at every free, and not-so-free, dick that happened to swing past.

“You young hoes need to stop being so desperate,” Mimi said with a smirk. She sidled up beside the girls, both of which were barely out of their teens, and took a cigarette out of her skirt pocket. “Didn’t I teach y’all nothing?”

The redhead, Sugar, lit Mimi’s smoke as she rolled her eyes. “The only thing you could teach us is how to remove our teeth when we get to be your age and still blowing broke tricks in parked cars like basic high school bitches.”

“Yeah, don’t get mad at us ‘cause your geriatric ass needs a bottle of Evian to get wet,” the blonde, Farrah, chimed in.

Mimi shook her head. “Disrespectful slores.”

The girls’ laughter rang through the busy streets.

“I’ll have you bitches know I’m twenty-five. And you skeezers better hope you make it to my age at the rate y’all fast asses is going. Y’all gonna mess around and get one of them Jeffrey Dahmer mothafuckas taking you home and tossing you six ways from Sunday, baby, in a garden salad with a bottle of Chianti as a teaser.”

The girls giggled as a red Mustang pulled up to the curb. They quickly composed themselves and put on their best “come fuck me” faces. Mimi shook her head. These young girls these days were so damn obvious. Not a lick of sense between the two of ‘em.

Their Lolita-esque facades slipped when the passenger side window rolled down and a kid who couldn’t have been more than twenty stuck his head out. He leered Mimi’s way.

“Hey mama, wanna come for a ride with us?”

“Who’s us?” Mimi typically didn’t do boys, but this one had a pretty decent ride and might actually have some money. Even better, he’d probably be the two-pumps-and-a-dump type, so she’d get back here in time to snag a real man before having to call it a night.

The kid smirked. “Me and my boy Braxton.”

Another kid leaned over and waved. Mimi couldn’t stop a smirk of her own from forming on her lips. He was wearing a white Polo shirt, his hair parted on the side, a shiny gold watch glittering on his wrist. Yeah, they most certainly had money, but those Young Republican types were also a bore, and she didn’t have the time or inclination to teach anybody how to be a decent lay.

“Sorry, boys,” Mimi said between a puff of smoke. “I’m off the clock.”

The boy in the passenger seat sneered, his face contorted into the ugliest grimace she’d ever seen.

“Fuck you then, faggot.”

He flipped her off as his friend, Braxton, chuckled and sped on down the road.

Mimi didn’t even blink. Children. They were all fucking idiots, and to get mad at them for that was to get mad at a pencil fresh out the box for being what it was—absolutely pointless.

“That piece of shit,” Sugar said, throwing her arm around Mimi’s corseted middle.

“Ignore him, girl. Yeeeesss…it’s a full moon tonight, hunty, and folks is gonna act the fool.”

“Hey!”

A man’s shout caught their attention. Leaning out the door of McGregor’s was the man himself: big, round, and sweaty—and looking awfully pissed.

“What I tell you about hanging out in front of my bar like this is the goddamn free clinic? Git!”

The girls muttered expletives and waved him off, teetering down the street on their unsteady heels. They went through this song and dance with old man McGregor every other night. They’d humor him for a bit, but wind up right back out front the next evening. Maybe one of these days he’ll wise up and call the cops, Mimi thought. Then she remembered ninety percent of their clientele were patrons of his establishment, and she knew he’d never do it. He couldn’t afford to lose business, not in this economy.

Mimi checked her watch. Eleven. Davonte would be rolling up around one looking for his cut. If she didn’t want to end up short on rent, she’d need at least one more trick to get by.

“You, with the legs, come here.” A male voice shouted from a distance.

Mimi glanced over her shoulder and smiled. A nice Jag was idling by the curb. The passenger side window, tinted, was rolled halfway down. She couldn’t see the guy’s face, but his voice was resonant and strong, so strong her panties would have been wet from anticipation. If she was wearing any. Or had a puss.

The bluest eyes she’d ever seen peered out from the shadows of the car window. He met her gaze. “Yeah—you. Come here, please. I’d like to ask you for directions.”

Directions, huh? That’s what they were calling it these days. She smirked and sashayed over to the window. She could hear the girls behind her cursing her good fortune. Ha. Let the bitches seethe.

Mimi leaned in and smiled at the gentleman (and she could tell by the sharp suit he was wearing and the smell of his cologne that he was indeed a gentle man, definitely not from around these parts, no baby, not here).

“How can I be of service to you, Mister…”

“Reed. The last name’s Reed.”

“Well, Mr. Reed, you said you needed directions. You lost, babydoll?”

The man grinned up at Mimi. “You could say that.” He leaned back in his seat. “I’m also kind of tired and need to get on home. You think you could drive a stick? Help me out?”

Mimi licked her lips and felt a chuckle rise up around her Adam’s apple. She suppressed the urge to laugh. One should never do that when staring down at the bulge in a man’s pants—it’s bound to make him feel some kind of way, and Mimi St. Laurent wasn’t in the business of making anybody feel nothing other than pleasure.

“Yeeeesss, Mr. Reed,” she said, her voice dropping an octave to that deep, honeyed spot men loved. “I think I can handle that just fine.”

He hit the locks and Mimi tossed her cig, climbing into the car, waggling her fingers at the dumbstruck whores on the corner.

See ya in the morning, hookas.

*****************************

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Excerpt from Grindhouse by Elle Chambers: “The Beautiful People”

Jessie glanced down at her fingers as if seeing them for the first time. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open, but no sound came out. She pressed her lips together and wrung her hands.

“I know what you think. But it’s not what you think.” She stared at Detective Gross with a pitiful expression of fear. “She’s come back for us. She’s going to get even.”

Detective Gross sighed, leaning back in his chair. He pinched the bridge of his nose. This was another reason he avoided long talks with his daughter-teenagers had the uncanny ability to talk in circles, a skill he’d never quite mastered himself when he was their age. He’d always been a straight-shooter-he didn’t evade; he was clear and, most importantly, direct. This girl was anything but, however, and he silently prayed for patience before continuing his questioning.

“What is Morgan trying to get even for?”

Jessie’s watering eyes finally spilled over and she swiped at the errant tears. “For everything we did to her.” She leaned back in her seat and tugged at her shirt sleeves again.

“It started when she first came here three months ago. She was quiet, and she didn’t dress well, so that instantly made her a target. The guys made fun of her and said she looked homeless, and the girls were just as bad. No, they were worse. They used to pull awful pranks on her.”

“Like what?”

Jessie rolled her eyes. “There was this one time she wore white pants to school. I don’t know where she got ‘em from ‘cause nobody I know has white pants. They looked a little old even, like, flare leg jeans. And nobody wears those either. Anyway, the girls took a handful of ketchup packets out of the lunch room and put them on her seat in Government. She sat down and the packets burst, and everyone was laughing because you could hear the squish, and when she stood up there was this huge brownish spot on her pants so it looked like she’d had her period or shit herself.”

Her eyes widened and her hand flew up to her mouth. “Sorry. I meant ‘pooped.’”

Detective Gross waved her off. “Doesn’t matter. These pranks-they were always like that?”

Jessie nodded vigorously. “She cried after the ketchup incident. She ran out of the room while everyone was laughing and didn’t come back to class for three days.”

“Did you laugh?”

Her cheeks reddened and she lowered her gaze. “At first. It was funny, you know?”

He didn’t, actually. He’d been a Morgan in high school himself so he wouldn’t find that kind of adolescent “humor” all that amusing. To each their own though.

Jessie pulled her turtleneck up around her throat, shivering.

“Are you cold?” He didn’t think it was chilly in the room; in fact, he felt his underarms dampen, but he was also heavier than the tiny girl. It was possible she was still feeling the effects of the night air from when she was brought in the station. Nerves may have had something to do with it, too.

The girl shook her head. “I’m fine.” She stared back down at the table, not meeting the detective’s gaze.

“I told Brooke about the ketchup incident one day after school, trying to make conversation. Of course Lassie laughed, but Brooke didn’t. I was shocked because that seemed like something she’d find hilarious. But she tossed her hair over her shoulder and said something like, ‘We should talk to her. Invite her to lunch.’ Lassie stopped laughing then. If we were seen with Morgan, it’d be like social suicide.”

Detective Gross looked up from his writing. “Why?”

“Because Morgan was lame. The way she dressed-she looked Amish. Seriously, it was embarrassing. Her hair was never combed, it looked like a bird’s nest most days. And she was a nerd. Always had her head stuck in a book. She was poor. She lived over on Peach Street in the broken down house next to Mrs. Landingham. No one cool lives in that neighborhood.

“But nevertheless, Brooke had me invite her to lunch. She asked me to do it because we had a few classes together. I didn’t really mind Morgan, but something didn’t sit right with me about this.”

“So why do it?”

Jessie shrugged. “We always did what Brooke said. If you wanted to be ‘in’, you had no choice.”

“Brooke was the Queen Bee then.”

Jessie’s brow creased and Detective Gross shrugged. “My kid watches those Gossipy Little Liars shows. I know the lingo.”

“Sure.”

Detective Gross noted Jessie’s sudden silence. She bit her lower lip and stared past him at the wall.

“When I asked Morgan to lunch, she was so happy. She wasn’t blabbering about it or anything, but you could just tell by the way her eyes lit up that she was psyched. She didn’t have any friends. People don’t go out of their way to befriend newbies.”

“You took her to lunch-then what happened?”

Jessie folded her arms across her chest. “She sat with us and it was fine. The first day. Brooke was nice-for her-and Lassie…she made passive-aggressive comments here and there, but Brooke shut her down every time. The next day, Brooke barely spoke to Morgan. Lassie ignored her too and I was stuck having to talk to her. It was so awkward. We didn’t have anything to talk about. She tried talking to me about some dead Russian writer, but I don’t read that kind of stuff so there were these long moments of silence.”

The detective noted their own moment of silence with mild amusement. Jessie had stopped talking again and it was just like being in a room with his own daughter. He never really knew what to say to her. And when emotions were high, like they were with Jessie now, he definitely didn’t have a clue how to behave.

Jessie shivered again and Detective Gross stood. He needed to do something besides sit there looking like a brain-dead idiot.

“Would you like some coffee?” he asked. “It’s not very good, but it’ll keep you warm.”

“No, thanks.” Jessie wrapped her arms around her middle. She stared up at the detective. “I’m ready to tell you what happened.”

Detective Gross nodded and sat back down. He raised his pen, poised to take her statement.

Jessie cleared her throat. “Things didn’t get bad until about a week or two later. Brooke and Lassie got bored with being fake-nice and decided to revert to form. They’d invite Morgan to lunch with us or to walk home with us after school and they’d make catty ass comments the whole way. You could tell Morgan was uncomfortable, but she wasn’t the type to defend herself. They made fun of her hair and her clothes and the way she talked-she had a slight stutter. Why she kept hanging with us, I don’t know. They were awful to her. I would have stopped coming around if it was me.”

“Okay, so the girls made smart-aleck comments from time to time. Do you really believe that’s enough for a girl to want to kill someone?”

Jessie’s face turned stony. She looked the detective in the eye. “Obviously you’ve never been a teen girl.”

Cover Reveal and Excerpt from Grindhouse by Elle Chambers

This is it – Grindhouse, a short story collection of pulp and horror fiction by Elle Chambers, will be released December 31, 2014.

Grindhouse1

Here is an excerpt from the short story “Little Girl, I Want To Murder You:”

Marissa Pope was having a bad fucking week. Scratch that: she was having a bad fucking year.

It started in February when Danny broke up with her. The little shit waited until the week before Valentine’s Day to break off their three year engagement saying he “still needed to find himself” and he wasn’t one hundred percent sure marriage was for him. She’d been crushed. Then Marissa found out that for a year-and-a-half the asshole had “found himself” sleeping with some girl at his office-then she’d been pissed.

Come June, she’d lost her job at Johnson, Culpepper, and Kline due to budget cuts. She’d been a paralegal there for four years, but as she was the last one in the door, she was the first one out when the firm’s finances took a turn for the worse. Her boss told her he’d give her a glowing recommendation and assured her she had nothing to worry about: she was bright, a fast learner, and was great at her job. She’d find another opportunity in no time.

He was wrong. She’d done the query-go-round thing for months with very few bites, and the interviews she had managed to get resulted in someone else walking away with the position.

Her parents, trying to be supportive, encouraged her to go back to school for something else. She couldn’t. She’d already taken on as much debt as she could afford getting her Bachelors in Political Science and then a paralegal certificate. If she took on anything more, she’d find herself living in a cardboard box behind The Golden Dragon, sifting through the trash cans for leftover fish heads for dinner. Her parents told her she could always give up her swanky apartment in the city and come home to live with them, “Just until you get back on your feet,” they’d said. Again, Marissa couldn’t, no wouldn’t, do that. She was twenty-eight for Chrissakes and none of her peers were still living at home any longer-what would she look like if she came crawling back to Forest Park with her tail in between her legs?

A failure, that’s what. She’d look like a total and complete fucking loser. And, to be clear, that’s exactly what she felt like. She’d lost her fiance, lost her job, and now the little bit of savings she’d had had dwindled on student loan payments, food, and shelter to the point where she was almost in the negative numbers. She needed money fast. Then, to add on to the parade of pain she’d been marching in all year, Marissa came home in September to a nice letter from her landlord stating that if she failed to pay her rent on time one more time, she’d be asked to evacuate the premises and never come back. He was running a business, not a soup kitchen, and while he felt for her current predicament, there were other people interested in living in her apartment who could afford to be there so his charitable endeavor of letting her pay her rent whenever she was good for it was about to come to an end.

That’s when Marissa swallowed her pride and went down to the StaffRight Agency and begged for a job, any job. Her staffing coordinator, a girl fresh out of college with a metallic grill and acne scars around her forehead, enthusiastically took down her information, parsed over her resume and cover letter, then told her she’d call if she found anything she felt Marissa was suited for.

It was a blow to her ego, the fact that some early twenties kid was going to decide what jobs Marissa was good enough for, when this was probably the girl’s first adult job herself. How the fuck was she qualified to judge anything, least of all someone’s professional skills and abilities?

The agent, Christy, turned out to be halfway decent. She’d gotten Marissa a temp job in another firm making almost as much as she was making at Johnson, Culpepper, and Kline. When her contract was up, however, the firm declined to hire her on full-time, instead choosing to go back to StaffRight for another temp to fill the position.

Marissa was livid, but there was nothing she could do. Christy, like her former boss, told her to buck up: she’d find Marissa something else in the temp-to-hire market shortly and in the meantime, Marissa should reach out to her school’s alumni association for any leads on companies looking to hire.

She took Christy’s advice and got in touch with Kelvin Phillips, the director of her university’s alumni association, and asked him if he had any leads. Kelvin told her his office was hiring and he could get her a job, no problem – if she’d be willing to blow him for it.

She passed on that opportunity. She was desperate, but not enough to resort to prostitution. At least not yet. She’d started watching reruns of Secret Diary of a Call Girl on Showtime and seeing the extravagant shopping excursions the title character frequently went on, not to mention her nicely decorated digs, made hooking seem slightly more appealing to Marissa. She’d keep the option in her back pocket in case shit got really dire.

Christy called her early in the week and told Marissa she had a couple of prospects lined up for her-was she ready to do the rounds again? Of course she was. Her empty bank account didn’t give her much of a choice. She got her best interview attire together and began pounding the pavement at Christy’s direction.

The first interview that week was a disaster. She’d missed the early train and had to take a later one, making her a half-hour late to her interview. Then, when she got in to speak to the HR rep handling the initial interviews, she’d stumbled over her words, called the woman by the wrong name, and even managed to forget the position for which she was applying. The HR rep had given her a tight smile and ushered her out the door with the dreaded words, “We’ll be in touch”-the kiss of death. The words that meant, “You’re so not getting this job, you incompetent little twit. Don’t contact us again.”

Two more Christy-sanctioned interviews ended up quite similarly, with Marissa looking and feeling like a fool.

She was having the week from hell.

Then, yesterday afternoon Christy called. She told Marissa she’d set up an interview for her with Goldman, Anderson, and Associates, a mid-size, but well-respected family law practice for the next afternoon. The firm paid well from everything Christy’d heard about it, they had none of the financial problems the previous firms Marissa’d worked for had, and they were interested in a long term temp-to-hire arrangement, which the firm usually made good on its promise to hire anyone who worked hard and maintained a positive attitude.

When Marissa got up in the morning to start her day, she told herself she’d forget about the bad week she’d had and stay positive. Goldman wanted to see a smiling, happy employee and that’s what she was going to give them. It didn’t matter that when she went into her kitchen to make a pot of coffee (her brain food), she’d spilled the bag of ground beans on the floor and had to sweep them up by hand (her vacuum broke weeks ago and she couldn’t afford a new one)or that she’d sloshed Listerine on her silk blouse and couldn’t get the spot to go away even after hand washing the shirt and blasting it with her hairdryer, causing her to have to change into a totally different outfit, one she’d already worn that week to one of her trainwreck interviews-she told herself she’d ignore all of this and keep the fake, Barbie-esque smile on her face during the day so by the time she got to her interview, it would seem less forced and more natural.

She was scared shitless. There was a lot of pressure on her. If she didn’t get this job, she’d have no choice but to give up her apartment and move back in with her folks and younger brothers. She had no desire to have to go back to checking in with her parents before she went out at night or trying to sneak men into her bedroom through the window like she did the boys in high school. She wasn’t a child and having to go back to being one, even if only for a few months, made her want to cry. She was supposed to be further along than this in her life. She couldn’t go to her ten year high school reunion with no job, no place of her own, and no diamond on her finger. She wouldn’t be able to look all the girls she’d been friends with in the face knowing how wonderful their lives had turned out while hers had skidded off the rails. They’d pity her, and she wasn’t ready for that.

Marissa checked her Tiffany watch and cursed-she was ten minutes behind schedule. She couldn’t risk waiting for a bus or a train to take her ten miles out of the city to the Goldman offices so she’d have to go find a cab. Living in the city had its drawbacks, and not having space for parking was one of them. If she had her own car, she wouldn’t have to worry about things like this, but she didn’t so she’d have to get a move on if she didn’t want to be too late to her interview. She grabbed her purse and keys, threw on her smart red peacoat, and hauled ass out the door.

She spotted a lone cab sitting across the street from her building and sighed. Marissa thanked the lord for this fortuitous happening and hurried over to the yellow taxi before someone else snatched it up.

“Where you going?” the man in the front seat asked as she slid in the backseat. His accent was thick with the Middle East and this gave Marissa pause.

She forced a smile anyway and told herself it was just pre-interview jitters causing the unease.

“358 Burlington Road. Do you know where that is, ‘cause I have the MapQuest directions in my bag if you need them.”

The man glanced up at her in the rearview mirror. His chocolate brown eyes were lidded and a glint of something Marissa couldn’t quite read flitted across his face.

“I don’t need directions,” the man said, dropping his gaze back to the street before him. “I’ve been all over this city. I know it like I know myself.”

“Well, it’s not in the city. It’s outside of—”

“I said I know where it is,” he interrupted. His voice was hard and Marissa felt bad for causing him offense.

“Okay. Thank you.”

There was an awkward silence as he started the cab and pulled away from the curb. Marissa’s stomach fluttered and her hands shook in her lap. She hoped the man would drive fast so she wouldn’t start this interview on the wrong foot by showing up late. You could overcome a lot during an interview, but rudeness wasn’t something most hiring managers were willing to overlook when vetting potential job candidates.

Marissa felt strange, as if someone was watching her, and she looked up. The cabbie was staring in the rearview mirror. His gaze was fixed and intense; he looked as if he was trying to piece together a puzzle of some sort.

“Are you from around here?” she asked, trying to make conversation. The silence was stifling and the man’s fixation on her was kind of unsettling.

He turned his eyes back to the road, swerving into another lane. “No.”

She waited for him to elaborate, to tell her where he was from as most cabbies were wont to do when you asked them about themselves, but nothing further was said. She cleared her throat.

“I’m not from here either. My family’s from outside of town. We’re originally from Seattle though.”

She always did this-talked too much, overshared-when she was nervous. She wrung her hands together and smiled.

“How long have you been driving cabs?”

The man eased into another lane to avoid traffic in the heart of the city and stopped at a red light. “A few years.”

“Oh, okay. And do you like it?”

He shrugged and adjusted the rearview mirror so as to better see her. “It’s okay. I meet some interesting people.”

She could imagine. She’d watched enough Taxi Cab Confessions on HBO to know that people said some crazy shit in the backs of these cabs, as if the drivers were their personal therapists or a priest they could tell their dirty little secrets to and be absolved with a few Hail Marys at the end of the night. She wasn’t about to get all confessional herself, but she had to admit that talking to this perfect stranger was at least keeping her mind off the fear she felt about this upcoming interview, so it couldn’t be all that bad.

She just wished he wouldn’t look at her the way he did. Marissa bristled slightly under the man’s penetrating gaze. He was staring at her again from time to time, his face blank and unreadable. She wondered what he was thinking-was her hair bad? Did she have something on her face? Why did he appear to be fascinated by her? She couldn’t be the first blonde white woman he’d ever seen. Women like her were a dime a dozen in this city, or any city really. His attention was a tad unnerving.

Marissa tried to make more polite conversation, but the cab driver only gave short, noncommittal responses so she dropped it. He obviously wasn’t one of those gregarious types who wanted to know every detail about his passenger’s life-she supposed she should be grateful for that. He’d wind up asking where she was headed and she’d tell him about the job interview, then probably spill about her entire wreck of a year and that would make her more anxious about the interview. It was a vicious cycle she didn’t want to engage in so she remained quiet.

Instead, she turned her attention to the scene outside her window. She watched as they sped along the city streets, passing by cold, steel skyscrapers and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to boosted designer handbags. She saw the women in tailored dresses walking to work in worn sneakers that didn’t quite match their outfits, carrying their briefcases in one hand and a pair of heels in the other, and desperately wanted to be one of them again. She eyed the men strolling along in power suits toting large travel mugs while chatting to nameless strangers on their cell phones and wondered if any of them worked for a company that was hiring, just in case things didn’t work out with Goldman, Anderson, and Associates.

Then they were on the highway, sandwiched between two lanes of cars all headed out of the congested city and into the neighboring suburbs. Marissa wondered where they were going. She leaned her head against the glass window and closed her eyes for a moment, imagining herself making this commute every morning to Goldman’s offices-the power of positive thoughts and all. It was a nice picture, though she told herself that at some point, it would get crazy expensive to take cabs to and from work every day-eventually she’d have to give up her fabulous city apartment and move someplace she could keep a car. She’d planned to do that anyway once she was married, she didn’t want to raise babies in the city, but then that jackass Danny had broken their engagement and ruined her Ten Year Plan so she’d scratched that dream off the list.

The ride became bumpy and Marissa opened her eyes. She stared out the window and frowned. Trees were zipping by the window and the long stretch of cars she’d seen beside her on the highway were gone. They were traveling a dirt road and there were no signs along the street. She sat up.

“Did we take the right exit?” she asked, glancing out of the other window. She’d never been to the area where Goldman, Anderson, and Associates were located, but she had put the address in MapQuest and she didn’t recall seeing anything about dirt roads or woods nearby.

The cab driver glanced up at her and met her eyes in the rearview mirror. His face was impassive as he nodded.

“We did.”

Marissa frowned. She reached into her purse and pulled out the sheet of directions. “I don’t know. From this, it seems like we should still be on the highway. It says we have to pass the Vine Street off-ramp that goes into that tunnel thing and I don’t remember seeing a tunnel.”

The man didn’t look back at her. “Your eyes were closed. We passed it.”

His voice was calm, unemotional. Marissa’s brow furrowed as she looked around her surroundings.

“Are you sure? Because this says—”

“Ma’am,” the man interrupted, his accent now thick with annoyance and impatience, “please be quiet. I took the exit that’s gonna get us to our destination quicker. I’m saving you time and money.”

Marissa balked. Did this guy really just tell her to be quiet? And who told him to take another exit, and why had he lied when she asked him if he took the right one?

“Excuse me, but that was incredibly rude,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “You don’t talk to me that way. I asked you a simple question and all you had to say was that you knew a faster route, that’s all. The attitude isn’t necessary.”

The cab driver peered at her through the mirror and she thought she saw a small smile pull at the edges of his lips. “Apologies. I wasn’t trying to be rude.”

Marissa slumped back against her seat and calmed her breathing. She was angry, but the guy had apologized for his tone so what else was she going to do? She couldn’t go to her interview in a snit-she’d have to stop acting like a butt-hurt baby and get over it.

They drove in silence. Marissa felt his eyes probing her from time to time, but when she glanced in his direction, all she saw was her own gaze in the mirror. He’d focused back on the long stretch of road before them and softly hummed to himself.

Melissa glanced at her watch. The MapQuest directions said the ride should only take about thirty minutes from her apartment to the Goldman office, but they were now coming up on forty-five. She leaned forward and tapped the driver on his shoulder.

“Sir, how much longer is this ride going to be? You said this way was faster, but it seems to be taking much longer than the highway and I’m running late.”

The cab driver met her eyes in the mirror. This time she was sure she saw a smile crease his mouth.

“What’s your name?”

She paused. What did that have to do with anything? “Marissa, why?”

“Don’t worry, Marissa,” the cab driver said, smirking back at her. “We’re almost there.”

She glanced around the landscape and saw not a single building in sight. Her pulse quickened and a sinking feeling formed in the pit of her stomach. Something was wrong.

“Where are we?” she asked, gripping her purse strap at her shoulder. “There’s nothing out here. What road is this?”

“Do you like to fuck, Marissa?”

Her mouth fell open. She wasn’t sure she heard him correctly. She asked him to repeat himself.

The cab driver glanced at her with dark, lidded eyes, no sign of merriment or joking in his face. “I said, ‘Do you like to fuck, Marissa?’ Do you?”

Marissa’s cheeks burned with anger and her heart pounded in her ears. “What the hell is your problem? Who asks someone something like this?”

He ignored her biting questions and tilted his head to the side, his eyes fixed on the dirt road ahead.

“I think you do. You look like you enjoy all the positions, but doggy style’s your favorite, right?”

He didn’t give her time to answer; instead, he nodded to himself and smiled. “Yeah. You look like you like to be fucked like an animal. Like a little bitch in heat. What does your pussy smell like when it’s wet?”

“Jesus Christ, you fucking pervert!”

“I bet it smells like salt and whore musk.” The cab driver locked eyes with her and grinned a conspiratorial grin. “Are you a whore, Marissa?”

“Fuck you,” she spat, digging around in her purse. She glanced up at his dashboard, her eyes roaming the dark surface for his identifying information. “I’m reporting you to whoever the fuck overseas your cab company. Now pull the fuck over and let me out.”

The cab driver’s face returned to its impassive position. He continued driving, staring straight ahead at the road.

“Did you hear me, you dumb fuck?” Marissa grabbed hold of her phone and pulled it out of her bag. “I said pull the fuck over and let me out.”

His low humming resumed and Marissa sat stunned and unmoving for a moment. She hadn’t hallucinated the conversation-this man really had said what he said to her. But it seemed like something out of a dream, so unreal and unbelievable that she couldn’t really wrap her head around it. She’d never been so insulted in her life. Furthermore, he was acting as if he’d only asked her what the weather was like. He made no apologies for his crass inquiries, and he didn’t pull the car over at her request.

She would call the police. That’s what she’d do. She couldn’t find his cab information-not his name, not his car number, nothing-but if he heard her talking to the cops, Marissa was sure an apology would be forthcoming and she’d be let out like she asked. Sure, she was in the middle of nowhere and had no clue how she’d get back to the city, but she wasn’t going to spend another minute in this cab with this asshole.

Marissa punched in the number for emergencies and listened to the ring.

“Put the phone away.” His voice was low, almost a whisper. She almost hadn’t heard it.

Marissa glanced up to the rearview mirror and the driver stared back at her. His eyes appeared bottomless and his face was twisted up into something close to a snarl.

“I said, put the fucking phone away.”

Marissa’s hand tightened around the ringing phone. Before she knew what happened, she felt the cab swerve beneath her. Something hard cracked her across the face as her phone tumbled from her fingers onto the floor. He’d reached behind him and punched her. She realized it when she felt warm liquid spurt from her throbbing nose and gush down her lips.

“What the fuck?!”

The cab driver glowered at her and tightened his hands around the steering wheel. She noticed specks of red on his knuckles and wondered whether it was hers or his.

“I told you to put the phone away,” the man said, turning his attention back to the road. “We’re almost there.”