Mayor of China's Wuhan expects another 1,000 virus cases in the city Latin America's indigenous shield elderly 'cultural guardians' from coronavirus

Master, please… I begged around the material in my mouth.

Franco sighed, glaring. For a slave, you ask a lot of damn questions.I’m no longer a slave. Tell me.

He grumbled. If you’d listened and paid attention, Mr. Mercer isn’t in the game of keeping slaves.The revelation wasn’t earth-shattering, I had figured out as much. Q and his frustrating tipsy comments. Give me something I don’t know. I’m number fifty-eight. That means he’s had fifty-seven before. That makes him a dealer in women. I couldn’t stand it. The thought of Q having so many women made me want to kick and punch and scream. Now I was gone, there would be more. Undoubtedly. But I know he did it for the right reasons. He helped them… didn’t he? I wanted to hate him, but I couldn’t, not for that.Franco grabbed my bicep, jerking me to the side, away from prying ears. He muttered, Yes, Mr. Mercer has had fifty-seven slaves. Twelve of those were when he was sixteen. He buys women, accepts them as bribes, but never lays a finger on them. He sighed, Q rehabilitates broken women, and returns them to their loved ones. He dedicates his money, staff, and home to helping women who’ve been shattered beyond repair. With some sort of Mercer superglue, he manages to put them together again.

Truth rang sweet. I finally knew.After two months of living with an unreadable master, I knew the man behind the mask. Suzette hinted all along—the sparrows and birds screamed messages in my face. They symbolized women Q had saved. My eyes widened, finally understanding his tattoo. The black storm and brambles represented the horridness of the world—or him. The birds flapping free were girls he rescued. He wore it as a talisman. A badge of honour.

If I didn’t hate him, I’d love him for that.

I softened, accepting why Q threw me out. He had to protect future women. He couldn’t have me ruining his life because he dedicated his time to saving others. I hated that I understood. I would’ve done the same thing.Now, Cate said, clapping her hands together. We don’t have much time, but we need you to wash up and change into something a little less conspicuous.

The SUV let out a steady chime as Rob opened one of its rear doors. As he turned, a few scattered rays of sunlight caught the metal handle of the gun tucked into the waistband of his jeans. I took a step back as he reached for something inside the car that I couldn’t see.It was stupid of me not to have expected one or both of them to be packing some kind of heat, but my stomach tightened all the same. I turned away, looking at the splotches of old oil tattooed on the pavement, and waited for the car door to slam shut again.

Here you go, Rob said, passing us each a black backpack. My fellow freak snatched his, checking its contents like it was a party favor bag.It looks like the bathrooms in the station still have some running water. I wouldn’t try drinking it though, Rob continued. There’s a change of clothes and some necessities in there. Don’t take a million years, but feel free to wash that camp off you.