Reporter Drew Edwards got too close to his story and now finds himself a hunted man. After being kidnapped and then released in Colorado Springs Forest, he has six hours’ headstart on a madman trying to teach his son a lesson.
Chance Collins gets one warning from his bigoted, abusive father: “Kill him or be killed.” Horrified, Chance sees only one real option—run with Drew. When he takes it, there’s no turning back. If Drew and Chance can work together, they might make it out of the mountains alive to the promise of a brighter future.
FOUR sets of eyes watched the handsome young man storm out of the apartment building and slam the door behind him. They followed him as he stumbled blindly down the street, wiping furiously at the tears that streamed down his face. He was perfect….
THE pounding in Drew’s head pulled him awake. It felt as if sledgehammers were beating on his brain, and he really needed them to stop.
Holy fuck! He hadn’t felt this bad since the last drinking contest with his best friend from high school. He’d ended up with alcohol poisoning that night.
The world was dark around him, and when he tried to open his eyes, he realized with growing terror that he couldn’t. He’d been blindfolded, and when he tried to bring his hands up to yank it off, he found his hands had been bound together and then tied to something. His legs were tied as well, but only to each other, and at least those he could move a little. The dryness in his mouth was explained by the gag that had been tied tightly around his head.
Fear cleared the haze from his brain, and he lay still, trying to listen as best he could for any indication of where he was or who had done this to him.
He was starting to hyperventilate a little, and he knew he was shaking, but he couldn’t help it. And then he heard it… someone was laughing… more than one person from the sound of it, and Drew went still.
“Look at the little faggot, Colonel! Bet the boy is about ready to piss his pants.” The voice was harsh, grating against the pain skewering his head.
“Now, now, Ezra, there’s no need to be so crass. You’d think you were no better than this animal.” The voice was low and cruel, and it sent a curl of pure dread up Drew’s spine.
He felt a hand slide into his hair and his head was pulled back hard, arching his neck and exposing his throat. He felt something pressed against the skin there and realized it was the cold, sharp edge of a knife. A whimper escaped him, and the man with the cruel voice chuckled.
“Listen to him, son, so weak and pathetic already. He won’t be much of a challenge, I’m afraid, but he’ll do for your first one.”
First one what? Oh God, how did I get here?
All he could remember was leaving Jason’s apartment, more pissed off than he’d ever been in his life, and blindly heading for home. Out of nowhere, there had been the sound of squealing tires and a door sliding open; then he felt a painful jab in his neck and the world went dark.
So fucking stupid. I know better than to walk alone that late at night.
He’d just been so angry and hurt, he’d forgotten the warnings the police had issued about not being out alone after dark. Three other young gay men had disappeared in Colorado Springs in the last two years, and they’d never been found. The police were sure it was foul play but couldn’t find a single shred of evidence.
He almost smiled around the gag at the irony. Drew worked as a reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette and had been assigned to cover the story. He’d followed every lead he could find, but it had all led to nothing.
I guess I solved the mystery. Too bad I won’t be around to get the byline.
Drew was startled out of his thoughts by the sound of arguing.
“Jesus Christ, Dad! Even if he is a fucking fag, he isn’t worth going to prison over.” This was the third voice Drew had heard and the first one that didn’t sound completely confident.
“Don’t you worry about that, son. I have no intention of going to prison. This isn’t my first hunt, you know. Give me some credit.”
“You’ve done this before?” The man sounded incredulous. Drew was just as stupefied by the man’s unapologetic bluntness.
“Of course I have. I’ve been terribly bored since shipping back to the states, and I was going out of my mind. I needed something more, I don’t know—challenging—than hunting wolves and bears.” Drew could hear the smile in that cold voice.
“Jesus Christ….” Drew was gratified to know he wasn’t the only one horrified by the situation. Maybe this man could help him.
The next words he heard buried that hope alive. There was the sound of a slap, and that horribly cold voice was speaking again.
“You got something to say, boy?” His voice wasn’t raised, but the threat was clear. “Are you questioning my orders?”
“No, sir.” The third man was obviously not about to stand up to his father, causing Drew’s blood to run cold. He was totally screwed.
He was tied up, gagged and blindfolded, and lying on the floor of a moving vehicle heading for only God knew where. He wasn’t sure exactly what his kidnappers’ intentions were, but he was reasonably sure they hadn’t decided to hold him for ransom.
Drew desperately wished they were. If that had been the motivation behind what was going on, he wouldn’t have been quite so terrified. His family had money, not that he really ever wanted any of it, but they loved him, and they would gladly have paid to get him back.
Drew pulled his feet up and kicked out, hoping to hit something. The anger and fear burning in his stomach made him need to do something rather than just lay there and die.
He started thrashing, screaming around his gag, not really caring about the consequences. They were going to kill him; that much was clear. He could hear them laughing at him again, at least until he got onto his back and then managed to connect with something.
He was brought out of his rage by a boot to the ribs.
“Calm down, you little fuck, or you won’t get the chance to run for it.” It was the first voice again, and Drew could hear the humor in it. It just pissed him off more.
He started thrashing around again, only to be brought up short by another kick, this time to his head.
“Keep it up, faggot, I dare you. Instead of testing my son’s hunting skills, I’ll try out some techniques I picked up in the Middle East. Those fanatical lunatics know a thing or two about methods of persuasion.” The admiration in the man’s voice made Drew shudder in revulsion and lie still.
The man chuckled. “I thought you might see things from my point of view.” Drew was startled when he felt a pat on the head that in any other circumstances might be considered fond.
“At least you seem to have a little more spirit than I originally thought. Maybe you won’t be so boring after all. Of course, you’ll die just the same….”
Drew cringed as the man trailed off, obviously lost in his own thoughts. The kick to his head didn’t do anything to improve the pain that was ripping through his skull, and when he moved there was a definite twinge in his side where the boot had caught him.
Trying to push it aside, he fell back on his natural curiosity and took stock of what he knew. There were three of them at least… of that he was sure.
The crazy colonel… Drew assumed it was a genuine military rank, as he’d talked about being shipped home from overseas.
There was the shifty sidekick who was torn between sucking up to his leader and wanting to kick the shit out of Drew just for the fun of it.
And then there was the son.
He didn’t sound all that old, and he definitely wasn’t as on board with the whole plan as the other two were. Maybe at some point Drew could find a way to exploit that.
Drew sighed and shifted around a little, trying to get a little more comfortable on the floor of the vehicle they were holding him captive in.
The other three seemed to be ignoring him. In fact, their voices were coming from farther away than before. That led him to believe the vehicle they were traveling in was bigger than he originally thought.
They must have transferred him while he was still unconscious, because he was sure he’d spotted a van out of the corner of his eye when he was grabbed.
He clung to the faint hope that someone may have seen him being moved and called the police. That hope crumbled and died as he remembered this wasn’t their first abduction and that no evidence had ever been found.
Drew suspected the leader’s military training had something to do with that.
He wished he knew how long he’d been unconscious. It would make it easier for him to figure out how far from home they’d traveled.
The thought made him snort. He was a long way from home in more ways than one. Colorado Springs was a long way from Bloomington, Illinois.
A thought hit him like a bolt of lightning. He’d most likely never see home again.
The image in his head of his family, worried and looking for him, made him want to bawl like a baby. His parents would be devastated. They’d been through so much already. He sighed sadly. His sisters would probably feel abandoned.
And his poor little brother; he was so young. Would he even remember Drew when he grew up?
It was that possibility more than anything else that made Drew determined to do whatever he could to survive.
He knew in his head it was almost assuredly a lost cause, but then again, Drew Edwards had never backed down from a challenge in his life.
He felt the vehicle slow down and then turn right. The road got distinctly rougher from there. He was bounced around relentlessly; sometimes he came right up off the floor, only to drop down hard. Every time it happened, he could hear the other men laugh, and it pissed him off even more.
He wasn’t sure how long it went on. It felt like hours, but it was hard to keep track of the passing of time.
Then they stopped, and Drew could hear doors opening and people getting out. He stilled as he heard a fourth voice, one he assumed belonged to the driver.
“There you go, Colonel. I got you here safe and sound. I think it’s time you gave me the rest of my money now, don’t you?”
This voice sounded whiney and weak, even to Drew. He had a feeling it wouldn’t go over well.
“You know, Corporal, you’re right! You do deserve to get paid for your services.” The colonel’s voice sounded entirely too pleased.
Drew wasn’t surprised when the driver spoke again, sounding panicked.
“No, sir! Please don’t—” He was cut off by an evil chuckle.
“You shouldn’t have gone AWOL, Corporal. I take my duty to my country very seriously, and I believe you’ve let it down.”
“But I did what you wanted! I helped you!”
“And you did a splendid job, for which I’m grateful… but that doesn’t excuse your failure to do your duty. And the penalty for what I consider to be treason is death!”
“No… oh God! Please… don’t….” The voice was getting farther away, and Drew knew the man was running.
There was a loud crack that hurt Drew’s ears, and the man’s pleas for mercy were cut off. Drew could hear the driver’s body hit the ground with a sickening thud.
“Dad!” The son’s voice was frantic. “What are you doing? Have you gone out of your fucking mind?”
The colonel’s response sounded low and ominous. “You’d best watch your mouth, boy! I’ll only tolerate so much back talk, even from you.”
Drew could hear footsteps getting closer and then a door near his head opened. A hand reached in and the line tying his arms to the vehicle went slack. Someone grabbed him and pulled him out the door and let him drop to the ground.
“That man was a disgrace to these United States, and I couldn’t allow him to go unpunished.”
One man grabbed Drew’s shoulders, and another grabbed his feet. He found himself being thrown into the bed of what he suspected was a truck. The vehicle rocked again as someone else climbed into the back with him.
“You should understand that, son. You’ve served your country honorably. Men like that asswipe over there on the ground sully the reputation of all of us who serve proudly!”
Jesus Christ, the man was certifiably nuts!
Drew gave up the last vestige of hope he had for talking his way out of his situation. There would be no negotiating with this madman.
“Then what about this guy, Dad? He didn’t do anything to you or to the country. He was just an innocent civilian walking around minding his own business when we grabbed him. ”
It took Drew a second to figure out he was the guy in question. It sounded like the son was right behind Drew. He must be the one in the back of the truck with him.
“Not true, son. He and his kind are an abomination and a plague on this great nation. I consider it our duty to rid ourselves of them, even if it’s accomplished one dead faggot at a time.”
Drew rankled at being called an abomination. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard it, and it pissed him off every time.
“Dad, the ramifications if we’re caught….” he trailed off, as if searching for the right words. “And I wasn’t trained to hunt an unarmed man. It goes against everything I was taught.” There was a note of desperation in the younger man’s voice, and it only seemed to further irritate his father.
“You hunt animals all the time, Chance. And I never said he’d be unarmed. What kind of a training session would that be? Why are you getting so squeamish, anyway? You’re a decorated sniper with the US Marines. You’ve killed plenty of people.”
Drew heard a sharp intake of breath and found it interesting that the father seemed to have hit a nerve with his son… Chance, he’d called him.
“I’ve killed terrorists and dictators, Dad, not runty little faggots who aren’t any threat to me.” Drew wondered if anyone else picked up on the small shake in the son’s voice.
There was a loud bang as someone—the colonel, presumably—hit the side of the truck. “Damn it, boy! He is a threat! His kind all are.”
The fury in the colonel’s voice terrified Drew, and he found himself willing Chance to shut up and quit provoking his father before he decided to shoot Drew right there, just to prove a point.
“Uh, Colonel?” The third voice—Drew thought the colonel had called him Ezra—was back. “What should we do with the body?”
“Toss it in the RV and lock the door. We’ll torch it on the way back out. I don’t think anyone will find it before then.”
Drew heard grunts he assumed were coming from Ezra as he manhandled the driver’s body into the RV. After a few minutes, there was the click of a lock and the slamming of a door.
“We’re ready, sir.”
“Good.” The colonel’s voice was still irritated, but he seemed to be calming down.
There was a flurry of footsteps and then the doors of the truck opening and closing. Drew was left alone in the back of the truck with the one captor he thought might listen to reason, and he couldn’t say a fucking thing because of the gag in his mouth.
He tried to move but was stopped by a boot on his wrist.
“Don’t.” Chance’s voice was harsh, yet Drew could hear a little fear in it as well. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
Drew held still. He found himself distracted by Chance’s voice. He wondered if this was what it was like to be blind. Everything sounded sharp around him, and he could pick up things he knew he would have missed if he could see his surroundings. He wondered if it ever dulled for those who were sightless permanently.
“I don’t want to do this… it’s not who I am. But he will hurt you if you challenge him, so you’d better do what he wants.”
Drew almost laughed.
What worse could he do than kill me?
“I know you’re thinking… that there’s nothing worse than being dead. But trust me, he’ll make you wish you were.”
The absolute bleakness in the man’s voice made Drew’s heart stutter. The finality he heard there was terrifying. He had an idea that this man—Chance—felt almost as trapped as he did.
The truck started, and the noise it made drowned out anything else Chance might have decided to say.
All Drew could do was lie there in the truck bed, caught somewhere between horrified and furious this was happening to him.
He spared a random thought toward Jason, his anger at his ex-boyfriend growing as he blamed him and his fucking around for this current predicament.
If Drew got out of this alive, he was going to punch him again, just for the fun of it.
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