“But he was alive?” Guerin stared at the soldier? “How did he look?”
“He was limping.” The soldier swallowed. “A bit scratched up from being in the woods, but otherwise unharmed.” He exhaled. “At least as far as I could see. I couldn’t quite hear the conversation, but he convinced the thing not to kill me.”
“If he’s established some sort of rapport with the creature…” Darrin slowly nodded. “That is a good sign. He may be able to get it to let its guard down.”
“Chris is a smart boy.” Guerin took a few deep breaths. Smart, but definitely out of his league against a monster like this one. Chris had barely passed his combat training, and he’d had to lean a bit to ensure that. If they didn’t resolve the situation soon, he was going to have to tell Sandra what had happened. From the tone of her last voicemail, she had clearly already figured out something was going on. “Keep an eye out. He’ll find a way to signal us. And track down that fucking jeep.”
“Already done.” Darrin held up his cell phone. “They found it at the side of the road a couple hours away, the gas tank empty. We’ve got people on their way now to search the area. There is a town nearby, but the area is heavily wooded. Hopefully your boy can leave us a trail to follow.”
Christophe woke with a start, and silently cursed himself. Dozing off meant he no longer had any real idea of where they were. Lykos had stolen the small RV from a nearby storage site, hotwiring it easily. The vehicle was old enough that it wouldn’t have a GPS, and the plates had been out of state. For that matter, by now they could also be across state lines. He hesitated a moment. “Where are we?”
“In vehicle.” Lykos shrugged as he kept driving. “On road.”
He tested the handcuffs again. Still firmly attached to his wrists. The makeshift leash around his neck had at least been removed. Lykos had used the chain to secure Christophe’s ankles, affixing him to the camper’s small table. If his hands hadn’t been behind his back, Christophe might have been able to remove the table and free himself that way. As it was, he wasn’t sure he was going to have the proper leverage and angle. Though the moment Lykos gave him the chance, he was going to try anyway.
The man hadn’t blindfolded or gagged him. He’d attempted to shout for help at the storage site, and Lykos had put a hand over his mouth before pointing out that getting someone’s attention would just mean Lykos might have to kill them. That threat had been enough to keep Christophe quiet when they’d stopped for gas earlier. Lykos had torn soldiers apart with ease. Civilians wouldn’t stand a chance. “Where are we going?”
Each mile took him further from safety and rescue. Except that Lykos claimed to have taken him as bait. “Where —”
“If your father wants you back, he must come to my territory.” Lykos’s eyes met his in the rearview mirror, and the man gave him a vicious smile. Then he shrugged. “Or perhaps he will let me keep you.”
“He’s going to kill you.”
“It be a fun game.” Lykos stretched a little in the driver’s seat. “Contest, of skill and will. You are prize.”
Talking to the guy was getting him nowhere. Christophe switched position a bit, examining the table. Lykos wouldn’t give him much time to escape, so he’d have to move fast.
He rolled his eyes when he heard the camper door open. The only real question was how much of a head start to give his captive. Lykos finished peeing against the tree, then fastened his trousers. Then he shrugged, and started after Christophe.
With his hands cuffed and a dragging an ankle chain, Christophe didn’t get far. Lykos didn’t even have to chase him. He found Christophe struggling to get the chain free from a length of barbed wire fence. The young man exhaled and let out a few curses when he saw Lykos. “Not even half mile.” Lykos made a disapproving sound under his breath. “I think maybe I send complaint letter to your trainers.”
“You don’t have to be so fucking smug.” Christophe finally managed to get the wire off the chain. For a moment, he clearly considered running again, then he hung his head. “You’re free. You can walk away, cross the border or something. As long as you have me they’ll keep coming after you.”
“I know.” Lykos walked over and grabbed his arm, hauling him back to his feet. “Is why I took you.” He shoved Christophe in the direction of the camper, then followed behind him.
A few feet from the camper, he grabbed Christophe’s arm to stop him. Christophe exhaled. “You didn’t tell me to stay in the camper.”
“I chained you to camper.” Lykos raised an eyebrow.
Christophe squared his shoulders and met Lykos’s eyes. “But you didn’t tell me to stay in the camper.” There was fear beneath the defiance, but the defiance was there.
It brought a small smile to Lykos’s face. There was a tiny trace of steel in his captive. Perhaps there was hope for him after all. “Is true. Won’t punish.” Christophe started to look relieved, then his eyes widened as Lykos drew the knife. “Do need make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“Don’t…” Christophe started shaking his head.
Lykos grabbed him and shoved him against the camper. He’d have to get better restraints. Twice now Christophe had managed to shift cuffed hands from behind to in front. He used the knife to lift Christophe’s shirt, making sure the tip of the blade lightly traced against Christophe’s skin. Christophe cringed in response to the sensation. Then Lykos used the blade to start slicing up the back of the shirt.
It took him a moment to realize Lykos was cutting his clothes off him. Christophe started to struggle, but the man held him in place almost effortlessly. He could feel his skin starting to burn with humiliation. “Don’t. Please don’t…” He winced as the shirt was cut away from his left arm. Lykos moved the blade to the right sleeve, and the cloth made a ripping sound as the blade tore it away. “Lykos…”
His eyes widened when Lykos spun him around and then shoved his back against the camper. The man began unfastening Christophe’s belt buckle. “Be still.”
Instead of obeying the command, Christophe jerked free and tried to start running again. He was brought crashing to the ground by Lykos simply stepping on the chain still attached to his ankles. “Oof.”
Before he could get his breath back, Lykos had removed the belt. Christophe started struggling again, and Lykos set the tip of the knife blade against Christophe’s groin. Christophe immediately went still, and Lykos smirked at him. “Don’t want knife to slip, yes?” Lykos lifted the blade, then slid it beneath the waistband of the trousers. Christophe squeezed his eyes closed as he felt the blade against his skin.
The trousers lasted only moments against the blade. For a heartbeat, Christophe thought Lykos was at least going to allow him to keep his boxers. A quick cut of the waistband and a solid yank disabused him of that notion. Then he was hauled back to his feet and shoved toward the camper.
Lykos had finished securing Christophe’s chain to the camper again before he realized he’d missed an article of clothing. Christophe still had a necklace. He reached for it, only for Christophe’s voice to stop him. “Please, master…” Christophe cringed a little.
He frowned, then caught the necklace and looked at it. A simple cross pendant. “Think this protects you?” He raised an eyebrow, and his voice was slightly mocking.
“It was my great-grandfather’s.” Christophe’s gave him a pleading look. “Please. It’s…” He shook his head. “Please. My mother gave it to me. It’s all she had of his.”
“Ah. Mother.” Lykos nodded. Then he let go of the cross, and patted Christophe’s cheek. “You asked nicely. I will let you keep.” He smiled down at the naked and humiliated man he’d just chained to the camper. “See, I am kind to you.”
Christophe had to swallow a couple times before he could respond. “Thank you.”
“Good boy.” Lykos stood, and slid back into the driver’s seat. He couldn’t resist taking another look in the rearview mirror. Christophe had curled in on himself, trying to protect his modesty. The young man was nicely muscled, and pretty, especially when he turned red. Lykos started the vehicle back up, and noted Christophe was wiping tears away with the back of his hand.
He shivered. The temperature had dropped both due to it getting later and them getting into the mountains. Lykos had yet to show any intention of stopping, and he was starting to be concerned the man was going to drive all night. That would put him further away from rescue, but if the man was tired, it would improve his chances of escape. He was contemplating how he was going to get away while stark naked when Lykos turned off the highway into a rest area. There were a few other vehicles. Maybe this was a chance.
Lykos rummaged in a bag, then pulled out an item. Christophe blinked when he saw the phone. If he’d known about that… Lykos left the driver’s seat, then came to sit next to him. He offered Christophe the phone. “Call your father.”
“I…” Christophe wanted to do exactly that, but he was also reluctant to draw his father into Lykos’s trap. “No.”
“Do as told, or I punish.” Lykos offered him the phone again.
“I’m not going to help you hurt my father.” Christophe raised his head defiantly.
“Is good stand to take.” Lykos patted his knee, then looked down at the phone. Then he shrugged, stood, and went back to the driver’s seat and started the vehicle again.
Christophe swallowed. “Where are we going now?”
“Place where no one hear you scream.” Lykos backed the vehicle out of the parking space, then started for the highway again.
His captive had put up a fight when Lykos had dragged him out of the camper. Not that it had done much good. Lykos had no difficulty getting Christophe to the oak tree. He’d shoved Christophe into the rough bark, then chained his wrists so he was hugging the tree, pressed tight against it. The chain was wrapped around Christophe’s legs, securing them to further hold Christophe in place and keep him against the tree.
Gently, he ran a hand down the smooth skin of Christophe’s bare back. “Ready?”
“Fuck you.” Christophe clenched his fists as his face also tightened. His breath was coming in short, ragged gasps. The young man knew what was coming, but just to get the point across, Lykos gave the switch a few test swings. He sliced the air, and the sound made Christophe flinch.
He waited just until the tension eased a tiny bit from his captive’s body, then brought the switch down over Christophe’s back. The young man cried out in pain as the switch left a stark red welt across his back. Lykos waited a few seconds, but Christophe regained control of his breathing and braced himself. Good. He’d been worried this would be done too quickly. “Count.”
“Fuck you.” Christophe repeated the earlier curse.
Lykos laughed, then patted Christophe’s shoulder. “May want to choose words better.” He brought the switch down again.
His hands shook too much to dial the phone. Lykos had relented enough to let him simply recite the number instead. It had taken him a few moments to recall the area code, long enough that Lykos had picked the switch back up. Christophe cringed away from the memory of how that movement had made him cower. Eleven lashes. He’d only managed to take eleven lashes before he’d given in. That thought burned almost as harshly as the welts.
Guerin picked up the phone on the third ring. “Captain Guerin.”
“Your boy is soft.” The voice on the other end was unfamiliar, but he knew immediately who it was. The monster. “You have trained him poorly.”
“What the fuck have you done with my son?” Guerin gestured for his assistant to begin tracing the call. The monster had called his cell phone. That complicated things. How had the monster gotten this number? A chill went down his spine. This was the number Chris would have known.
“Dad?” Chris’s voice shook just a little.
“Chris, are you alright?” He swallowed. “Are you hurt?”
There was just enough hesitation before the answer that Guerin knew Chris was lying. “I’m okay. Dad, it’s a trap.”
“Chris?” Guerin blinked.
A hint of confusion entered Chris’s voice. “He took me as bait for a trap. And he wants you to know that, which is why he’s letting me tell you.” Chris was starting to sound angry. “He’s fucking taunting us both.”
“Where are —”
“Boy is right.” The monster’s voice was on the phone again. “Is trap. You come, I destroy you. You don’t, I keep boy. He screams nice.” Guerin felt his blood go cold. A moment later, there was the sharp sound of a blow followed by the sound of Chris trying to bite back a pained cry. “Not so much that time. I’ll try again.”
“Don’t. Don’t you touch him, you mother-fucking son of a bitch.”
“I see where boy gets language. Shameful. You kiss his mother with that mouth?”
“I’m going to skin you alive.” Guerin growled the words into the phone.
The monster laughed. “You had an army, and could not protect boy from me. You did not teach him strength. Did not teach him to survive. Boy is better off with me. I train him well.”
“Keep your —” A beeping sound told him the monster had hung up. Guerin whirled on the others in the room. “Find that thing. Now, before I nail your skins to the wall.”