Saved by Venom (Grabbed 3)

By: Lolita Lopez

Grabbed, Book Three

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.”