Page 1 of Coercion

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When it comes to nightmares,there’s a range.

My siblings getting kidnapped and held hostage—tied up next to some kind of utility pole—is as bad as it gets.

“This is so bad.”I can’t see Will.Doesn’t seem to matter that he’s right in front of me.“This is so, so bad.”He just promised he’d stay.That we’d find them.My mind is taking longer to catch up.I’m afraid if I stop talking, I’ll disappear.“When they were little, I would—I’d have dreams about losing them at the grocery store.All the aisles would change places.I’d yell for them, and—”Mia.My voice would come out in a pathetic whisper.Ben.Please.Answer me.“I can’t yell for them now.”

Because they’re gone.It’s an ache in my stomach like a punch.Even in a house this big, I can feel that they’re not here.No footsteps upstairs.No voices.No laughter.Just my loud, shaky breath and pain in my gut.

Will’s hands stay steady on my face.“I know.”

“That note.”I’m going to relive this morning every time I wake up.The empty beds.The note in Mia’s handwriting.Dad needs help.We’re sorry.Be back soon!!“That’s all we have.How are we supposed to—”

“The note, and the photo.”Of course.The photo.The…ransom photo?The hostage photo?There weren’t any demands.Just Mia with tears in her eyes.Ben, pale and terrified.That utility pole.

The living room at the vacation house in Bishop’s Landing feels like a movie set.It’s perfect, with plush, overstuffed furniture in a lovely arrangement, like it was beamed here from a high-end furniture store.There’s a fireplace.Morning light streams through tall, clean windows without a single fingerprint.Not a single smudge to mar the day.

There’s me.

There’s Will.

Both my hands are fists in his sweatshirt.Nothing I can do about that.If I let go of him, I’ll lose myself completely.I’ve already freaked out.Screamed into the fabric.He holds my face in his big, warm hands.

“Bristol,” he says.“Sweetheart.”


“We have to get moving.”

“You’re right, obviously.Of course.We have to get to them.I have to be the one to do this.”

“We’re going to find them.They’re going to be safe.”Will said this before, but he repeats it in a calm, patient voice.

“I lost them.”A flash of cold, buzzing panic crosses my chest.“I should just—I should be the one to go.It has to be me.”

It’s always been me.I’m the one they depend on.I’m the oneIdepend on.

“Look at me.”

I’m already looking at him, but my vision’s blurred by fresh tears.I blink them away again and focus on the blue-green color of Will Leblanc’s eyes.This should have been a dream come true.It’s what I always wanted and never thought I’d have.A beach vacation.Someone strong and solid at my side.

But not like this.

Not with the twins missing.

“You’re not doing this by yourself.I’m not leaving, and I’m sure as hell not letting you leave.I fucked up before, trying to get away from you, and I’m not going to do it again.”A shadow skates across his eyes, but Will’s resolute.“Not again.Okay?Take a breath.I’ll wait with you.”

I suck in a breath, but the air’s too thin.

Will shakes his head.“Deeper than that.Slower.”He takes a long, deep breath, and if I didn’t feel so light-headed, I’d be embarrassed.I don’t need help taking a breath.I’ve been breathing all my life.Except it’s hard to follow along.Will does it again, hands steady on my face, and I copy him.I don’t feel any better on the second breath, but by the third, my head’s starting to clear.

“Okay.”I keep breathing, deep and slow.This isn’t the time to fall apart.We’ve always made it before, me and the twins, even if it was in the nick of time.We’ll make it again.“I’m fine.I’m good.”

Will runs his thumbs over my cheekbones.“I need to make some calls.I need to make them now.Are you going to be okay while I do that?”

“Yes.”I force another deep breath.“But they haven’t told us what they’re trying to get.”No more crying.I can cry when we have the twins back.I’m goingto get them back, damn it.They’ve always been mine to care for, and nothing in the world is going to keep me from them.“We don’t know enough.”