The metal cuff dug into Lucas Spires’ ankle as he shuffled across the kitchen, trying to keep the chain dragging behind him quiet. Master would be up soon enough, and he didn’t need to wake the bastard early. Lucas paused and gazed up at the ceiling, searching for help, but knowing he’d find no answers there. Tears welled, threatening to spill down his cheeks; he swiped them away. Closing his eyes, he clenched his fist, willing himself to be strong.
Three weeks. The time in captivity seemed like forever. Three long weeks of hell and abuse at the idiot’s hands. He squared his shoulders and tamped down the pity party, vowing not to cave under the pressure.
Lucas took another step, the chain clanking against the floor. He stopped and almost crumpled to the linoleum, overwhelmed by misery. With gritted teeth, he willed himself to stay strong. The need for Master to secure the knives had passed with the desire to kill himself, and he couldn’t hurt Master. The fucker was too strong, and the zapper he carried delivered a hell of a volt.
The first week, Lucas had tried to escape. The second week, he’d lain on the little pallet Master had made for him and only moved when the beatings hurt too bad to stay still. This week he accepted his slave status; he had no choice in what happened to him. Serving Master was his only option in this new reality. Lucas fought the memories of his past threatening to race through his mind. He wouldn’t think of school or of rushing through the Student Union to meet with his friends over coffee. Letting his thoughts wander to those memories crushed him, making him want to end his pathetic excuse for a life. In some small part of his consciousness he hung onto the hope of making it out of here alive, where he wasn’t held prisoner, somewhere he had freedom.
Hunger clawed at his belly, but the fucker padlocked the refrigerator, only opening the appliance for him to cook. The asshole locked the pantry also. Lucas glanced down at his naked body. His stomach caved in, showing his ribs. His legs were too lean, like a scarecrow. Master fed him enough to keep him alive, but not nearly enough to sustain a healthy weight.
Master opened the bedroom door and Lucas flinched. He tried to keep his knees from shaking, but failed.
“I want eggs. You can have one.” Master opened the refrigerator, taking out the carton of eggs. “Three, scrambled. Don’t fuck ‘em up.”
Lucas stared at the open refrigerator, eyes burning with despair. So much food, and most of it would spoil before Master consumed half. If only...But it didn’t help to have if only thoughts. He ate what master gave him and didn’t complain.
Master watched as Lucas prepared the pan and cracked the eggs into a bowl. He whipped the eggs with a fork and poured them into the hot pan. The sound of the eggs sizzling reminded him of the zapper, and he flinched, his throat tight with emotion. Master hated when he broke down. He had to stay strong, at least until Master went off to work.
Lucas stirred the eggs, watching them grow thicker as the seconds ticked by. His belly hurt for food. One egg would be enough to take the pain away, but not enough to fill him. Never before had he been this hungry, this desperate for food, like all of him would splinter into little pieces if he didn’t eat.
Once Master’s eggs were done, Lucas put them on a plate and delivered them to the table where Master sat. He dismissed Lucas with a wave of his hand, the small reprieve almost caused Lucas to sigh, but he caught himself in time. Lucas went back to the stove and cracked his egg into the pan. He watched as the clear liquid boiled on the surface and turned white. He broke the yoke and flipped the egg, just like his mother had done before she passed away. When the egg turned white, and no yolk flowed from the cut in the center, he took the pan off the burner and ate the egg. No salt, no pepper. The bruises had faded, but the lesson remained; he received no extras.
Master ate the last of his eggs, placing his fork on the plate. Lucas swooped in, clearing the dishes. After rinsing the dirty dishes, he waited for his next set of instructions, hoping like crazy the jerk didn’t want sex. Master said nothing as he went to the bathroom. The sound of water running told him that his abductor had started his shower. Lucas relaxed a bit as he cleaned the kitchen, washed the plates and put them back in the cabinet. The asshole had never demanded sex after showering, Lucas got off easy today.
Since Master was still here, he didn’t even think about opening the refrigerator and sneaking a piece of meat, though his stomach ached as if he hadn’t eaten all week. He stood in the center of the kitchen waiting for Master to leave for work. The door to the bedroom opened and Master walked out dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Lucas had no idea what job Master held, and he didn’t care. All he wanted was for the jerk to leave for the day without asking for sex or touching him.
Without a word, Master fixed his lunch, locked the refrigerator and walked out the door. Lucas went to the window and watched the red truck drive away. No one ever came up the road except Master. They were somewhere in the mountains, that’s all he knew. The despair burning deep in Lucas’s belly came out in a piercing cry, rumbling through the rooms as he screamed and cursed at his situation.
He slumped against the wall, relieved that he was alone for the day. Part of him wished Master had him locked up anywhere but here. Truly alone in this piece of shit house, the isolation taunted him. After he stopped crying, Lucas wiped his eyes and checked out his food for the day.
Master had left a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the counter. Lucas paced himself, taking a small bite then waiting a long while for another, knowing he had all day to finish the meal. He lay on the blankets for a long time then swept and mopped the main room. He ate another bite of the sandwich, ignoring the clawing hunger. Boredom set in so he took a nap then checked the time, praying master wasn’t due back soon. He'd already eaten half the sandwich, but starvation hovered close, never leaving him alone. If he ate the rest now, he would get nothing else until Master returned home. Too long to go without any food.
Lucas turned on the tap and slurped down some water. The gross taste filled his mouth, but felt good when the liquid hit his belly. The temperature dropped even more last night, and he probably wouldn’t survive the winter unless Master gave him clothes. Already the house was a little chilly. At least he had a blanket.
He spent the day cleaning the house like Master demanded. Passing the time with the chores kept him from getting too bored. If only he found a way to communicate with someone and tell them he needed help. With no phone and no computer to hook up to the internet, he was at a loss.
After dusting the house again, Lucas realized he hadn’t eaten all of his sandwich and Master would return soon. He shuffled to the kitchen and heard Master’s tires crunch on the gravel outside. Fear pinged around his body. He stuffed the last two bites of sandwich into his mouth, chewing quickly and swallowing before Master came in. Master would be displeased if he didn’t eat what he was given and then Master would give him less tomorrow. Lucas had played that game earlier, and he hated the results. Master knew how to be cruel enough to motivate him to do whatever the bastard wanted.
Another quick slurp of water from the faucet washed the sandwich residue from his mouth. Lucas did a quick glance around the kitchen, noticing the napkin Master had set his sandwich on still on the countertop. He raced over and grabbed paper, tossing it into the trash before Master walked in.
The key slid into the first of the locks, and Lucas dropped to his knees, fighting back the tears. Another key in another lock, and Lucas settled his ass on his heals. The sharp clink of a padlock dropping to the ground sent fear racing through Lucas’s body. He shivered and bent forward, placing his forehead on the ground, his hands pushed in front of him as though he were bowing to Master.
The position, dictated by Master, left him totally defenseless against Master’s attacks and whims. Lucas choked back the sob threatening to erupt as the door swung open and Master stepped in.
“Slave, I’m home, and I’m feeling good.”
Welcome to hell.
Lucas shut down his mind, no longer allowing himself to think. He wouldn’t spend any more time permitting his emotions to rule. Soon enough, this place would be more than he could handle. When the time came, he’d have a plan. For now, he would exist and pray that somewhere, someone searched for him.
* * * *
Brett Hutchings tossed the fishing equipment in the back of his truck, trying like hell to ignore Amos, the asshole. Fucking jerk had shown up this afternoon acting like they were friends. Friends didn’t screw friends over, and Amos had fucked him royally. Every morning the scar greeted him in the mirror, then the memories would set in, depressing the shit out of him.
His heart ached from the news Amos had told him, but what could he do? Part of him wanted to drop to his knees and beg Amos to let him help. Then he would remember, and the pain threatened to overwhelm him.
“Please Brett, come on, we’re brothers.”
Brett turned on Amos, thrilled at the flutter of fear in the other man’s eyes as Brett puffed up his chest and fisted his hands, ready to deck the jerk. “Fucking A, we are not brothers. Brothers don’t do what you did.”
“I said I was sorry. Aren’t you happy? Steve said you were happy now.”
Brett dropped his arms and stared at Amos. His mouth hung open, but words escaped him.
“Brett, I need you. You’re my only hope,” Amos pleaded.
Brett shoved past Amos for another load of supplies. “Talk to the cops.”
Amos jogged beside him and grabbed onto Brett’s shoulder, tugging his shirt. White-hot rage boiled over, and Brett had to force himself not to knock the asshole out.
“You have no idea what you did to me? Do you?” Brett ground his teeth together. “Those guys were my family, my brothers. I loved them more than anyone in the world. They were my life, and you fucking blew it for me.”
“I didn’t mean to. It’s just...I couldn’t admit what I’d done.”
“You told everyone I was gay. You knew what that meant at the time. Don’t ask, don’t tell bullshit was thick back then. You fucking ruined everything for me. Not only did you ruin my life, you fucking told them I attacked you. You cut me, put me in the hospital, and I couldn’t even defend myself. I was lucky I didn’t get jail time.”
Brett stalked away and grabbed a tackle box, then realized he didn’t want to go fishing. Hell, now all he wanted to do was get drunk off his ass and find someone to fuck. Yeah right, you want to go find Lucas. Screw Amos, look for him anyways.
“I could explain what happened, you know, tell the truth. You could join back up.”
Amos was right there at his shoulder acting like a stupid, mutt dog. The little fucker didn’t understand what hell he’d created by outing him. The Marines were supposed to be his family. Brett planned on staying in until retirement, and now with his tarnished record, they’d never accept him back, even if Amos did tell the truth.
Brett gritted his teeth and closed his eyes. “Amos, they are dead. Our unit only has me, Steve, and John left. The other’s died because I wasn’t there to save them.” Brett’s eyes burned with unshed tears. He rounded on Amos and stalked towards him, towering over the jerk. “And of course you…you slimy little fucker. How the fuck did you survive when they're all dead? They were my family.”
“Lucas is my family. He’s all I got left, and the cops have no clue where he is. Please, I’m begging you. You’re the best private investigator in the States, and you knew him.” Amos held firm, not backing down or turning away. He pleaded with his eyes, beseeching for help.
Brett wanted to punch Amos, but hitting the guy wouldn’t look good. Any good cop could find the information and figure out that Brett had been dismissed from the Marines for attacking Amos. Another attack, and he’d get jail time. Brett turned away, praying this walking reminder of things best forgotten would take the hint and leave. Brett swallowed over the bile in his throat. Punishing Lucas for Amos’s actions stank like shit, but the pain over losing so much made him see red. “Like I said, talk to the cops.” You’ve got no intention of leaving this alone. Tell him!
“Brett, don’t you remember Lucas? He worshipped the ground you walked on. That weekend when you came home with me--Him crawling all over you, falling asleep on the couch right next to you, like you were his pillow.”
Brett hung his shoulders, memories of Amos’s younger half-brother surfacing. Lucas was the purest person he’d ever met, an angel here on earth. Brett and Amos had a weekend of leave, so they flew to Amos’s parents place. He’d been accepted in like family. Amos’s mom had loved on him like a son. He was happy there. Back then, he and Amos were close, more than brothers in arms, they’d been real family.
Lucas had been small for his age, and though he was ten, he looked like he was eight. The boy had crawled all over Brett, finally falling asleep in his arms. Brett remembered looking down at Lucas’s sleeping form, thinking once the little sprite grew up, he’d make one hell of a man.
Brett loved the kid, not in an icky way, but like pure love that came from deep in his heart and warmed his whole body, like family. He and Lucas had been friends, talking each week and sending letters to each other. Sometimes he’d thought he knew Lucas better than Amos did. For a few years they’d been closer than brothers, their relationship changing the older the kid grew. Then there was that time he’d visited Lucas at college shortly after his eighteenth birthday. That one perfect weekend, before the Amos shit hit the fan, had brought them together. Then all hell broke loose. After Amos had ruined his life, Brett had been told to keep away from Lucas, or else.
At one point, before everything went bad, he’d vowed to protect Lucas from any harm that might come his way. Fat lot of good your promises did, right? Brett chewed at his cheek, knowing what action to take. Hell, he said he would do whatever it took to keep Lucas pure and happy, but he’d failed.
Now Amos was in his face, telling him that the amazing and wonderful Lucas had gone missing. What the fuck could he do? The love was still there, like a little pebble digging into his heart and taking his breath away. Lucas deserved his help, and he'd move heaven and earth to track down the boy. He hoped he wasn’t too late.
Brett heaved out a huge sigh, relenting. “How long has he been missing?”
Amos exhaled. “A month.”
“A fucking month?” Brett roared as he turned around to face Amos. “Why didn’t you come to me sooner? He could be dead.” Brett’s heart squeezed at the thought of never holding Lucas again. The world grew dull and happiness washed from him. Fuck, he was already a month behind the trail. Anything could have happened to the boy.
“I didn’t think you would help,” Amos said, his shoulders slumped. “After mom died, Lucas was so upset. His dad took off years ago, and we can’t find the jerk. I’m desperate.”
Brett clenched his teeth, hating Amos's emotional manipulation. “How much you got?”
Brett let go a sharp bark of laughter. “That won’t even get you a week.”
Amos stepped closer, his eyes full of hope. “I’ll get more. Please, I’m begging you. He’s all I have.”
Brett didn’t want to agree to the terms. He wanted to tell Amos to go fuck himself, but he didn’t. Lucas needed his help. “Fine, give me the money, and I’ll start tonight. I need to know everything. The FBI in on this?”
“They know about it. I have all they'd give me, but they don’t hold out much hope of finding him.”
“I want the name of every police officer you’ve talked to and their information,” Brett demanded.
Amos dug into the bag he’d been carrying. He pulled out a thick file and handed the papers to Brett. At least there was a trail of names, and the preliminary information on Lucas’s disappearance. Tonight would be an all-nighter.
Brett drew in a sharp breath. Fuck, Lucas is missing. He stared at the file, not really reading the information, but praying he found the boy alive. Cutting off communications with Lucas had been a mistake, regardless of Amos's stupid demands. He should have kept in touch with his friend, even if it meant risking embarrassment.
* * * *
Four weeks ago...
Lucas raced across the field and turned, grabbing the football out of the sky, trotting into their made up end zone. Five guys raced up and jumped on him, dragging him to the ground as they laughed and razzed his head with their knuckles.
Fitting in and being part of the group changed the way Lucas thought of himself. He belonged and loved hanging out with his new friends. They didn’t care that he was gay. None of his friends ever called him faggot or a woman. He’d heard those taunts all through high school and in foster care. Hell, he’d hated foster care. But with his brother in the service and everyone else gone, he’d been stuck where the government put him. Now in his second year at the University of Nevada, he found a group where he belonged.
“Hey Lucas, you coming to the party tonight?” Christopher asked.
Lucas groaned and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I’m not into those types of parties.”
Christopher slung his arm around Lucas’s neck. “Come on, it’ll be fun. Just music, a little booze and--”
“Girls, say it. That’s the reason you’re all going,” Lucas said.
“Funny, but you’re right. Young college co-eds.” Christopher leered at him, wriggling is brows.
“Naw, you all go on. You guys are great, but not everyone is.” Lucas didn’t tempt fate by going to frat parties where he’d most likely get harassed or called a fag. He was careful and didn’t put himself in those situations. Being the popular kid’s punching bag in high school had been bad enough, and he didn’t need a second helping of that crap.
“You know we’ll protect you,” Mike chimed in.
“Guys, you’re all cool, but if you hook up with a girl, there isn’t much hope for me.”
“Maybe you could meet someone. You know, another guy,” Mike suggested.
Lucas laughed. “Trust me, gay guys don’t hang out at frat parties and pick up other guys. Too much pressure to fit in.”
“Okay, your call. Hey, let’s go get some food.” Christopher rubbed his growling stomach.
“You’re always hungry.” Mike laughed.
“I’m heading back to the dorm, see ya later.” Lucas turned towards his place, wishing he had the balls to go with the guys to the party, but sure he didn’t want to deal with any junk tonight.
“What, Lucas Spires isn’t hungry?” Christopher called out as they headed to The Overlook.
Lucas glanced back and waved them off. He trotted across campus, his backpack slung over his shoulder. The place was quiet since an away game just over the mountains in San Jose had tempted many of the students with promises of parties near the Bay. He would have gone, but he needed to conserve his money. Amos had agreed to pay for the tuition and board, but nothing else. Lucas’s mouth felt pasty, so he took a detour to go grab a soda from the convenience store across the street. He’d put on his headphones and turned on Nirvana. The band was a bit before his time, but Brett loved their music. At least he had the last time Lucas had seen him. Thinking about Brett made him shiver.
Lucas pulled a soda from the refrigerated bin at the back of the store and turned around, bumping into a wall of chest muscles. The guy smelled like car oil and sweat. Cold fear whipped through Lucas, and the bottle of soda slipped through his fingers, bouncing off his foot.
“Sorry,” Lucas whispered. He bent down to get his Coke, but the guy grabbed his arm, pulling him up. Lucas stopped, his entire body going cold, and glanced up at the guy’s face. Recognition fired in Lucas’s memory. He knew the man. A few weeks ago he’d gone clubbing in town and the guy had gotten much too friendly in the men’s bathroom, pushing him into the counter and touching him, then Lucas had seen him around campus a few times. Had the jerk followed him? Lucas flashed hot, his body sapped of strength, unable to fight the guy’s hold.
“It’s okay, baby. Here, let me get that for you.” The guy smiled down at Lucas and bent to retrieve the soda, never actually letting go of Lucas’s arm.
His gaze darted around the store, searching for anyone he knew. Oh God, he felt like a deer caught in the headlights. His body wouldn’t move, feet wouldn’t budge, and the guy’s grip hurt, squeezing his biceps like a vice. No way in hell he wanted to stick around, but the fear coursing through him held him still.
Calm down, and just walk away.
Lucas took a step back, but the guy moved, blocking his exit.
“Here you go.”
The guy dropped Lucas’s arm and held out the soda. The smile on his face sent a chill straight through Lucas. He no longer wanted anything to drink, he only wanted to run away and hide. He grabbed the soda and took off towards the register. Lucas glanced over his shoulder and saw the guy grabbing his own drink. He sucked in a breath; glad the freak wasn’t right behind him. Lucas dropped the soda into the ice bin at the front of the store and ran out, hurrying to get away. No way he’d enjoy the drink now, not after the creepy guy touched the bottle.
* * * *
Four in the morning found Brett rereading through case notes. The last time anyone reported seeing Lucas he'd been on the University of Nevada’s campus, playing football on The Quad with friends. The friends attended a party and stayed out all day Saturday, sleeping off hangovers. They returned to the dorm Saturday night to find Lucas not there.
The friends started to worry when he didn’t return on Sunday. They talked to the resident assistant where they lived, who suggested calling the police. An official report was made on Sunday evening. As far as everyone was concerned, Lucas had stepped away from the friendly football game on The Quad and disappeared from this Earth. No way Brett bought the story that not one soul had seen Lucas after the game.
In three hours, he would board a plane to Reno. He grabbed a shower then packed his bag, taking essentials. He’d have to purchase a weapon out there since he had no way to carry one on the plane with such late notice.
The flight proved uneventful. After the plane landed, he headed straight to the campus to get the layout for himself. He’d been here years ago, but he needed a refresher on the design. He’d scheduled a meeting with the detective on the case at four, just enough time for him to complete a thorough run-through of the place and judge the area.
Brett marched directly from the grassy field called The Quad to Lucas’s dorm, a straightforward route with no real spots he considered dangerous. He strolled the path again, checking out the lighting. He’d have to survey the campus once the sun set to establish if the lights worked, but the route seemed safe.
The campus police had handed the investigation over to the Reno PD, citing lack of resources. Suited him fine, he would rather work with the city cops anyways. Twenty minutes before his meeting with local law enforcement, Brett headed back to his rental car. He drove to the police station thinking over Lucas's most likely route home from the football game. Something nagged him about the whole series of events.
Brett put the car into park and took a calming breath. Most cops didn’t like to talk to private dicks, but his military experience should help convince the guy he wasn’t a fly by night jerk off. Brett straightened his shoulders and headed into police headquarters. He hoped detective Bronson would play nice and wouldn’t make him wait more than a few minutes. Sometimes cops did a power-play thing, showing the private detective his place by ignoring him for hours.
He stepped into the building, glancing around the foyer. To his surprise a short gentleman in a tan suit approached him immediately.
“You must be Brett Hutchings. I’m detective Bronson.”
Brett narrowed his eyes and took a step back. “How do you know who I am?”
“Google,” Bronson replied.
“Ah, takes away the surprise of that first meeting.”
“Yep, I’m an investigator. What type of cop would I be if I didn’t check out people I met with?”
“Makes sense.” Brett already liked the guy, and followed Bronson back to a tiny office, the apparent loser in a battle with a paperwork monster. Bronson cleared a chair then plopped down behind his desk.
“I hate filing. We’re supposed to be paperless, but tell that to the Chief. Guy hates computers with a passion.”
Brett didn’t want to beat around the bush. He needed cooperation and fast. “Lucas Spires is a friend.”
“I’ve heard. I talked to Amos this morning.” Bronson grabbed a coffee travel mug, took a sip, and then made a sour face. “Cold.”
“You okay with him bringing me in?” Brett didn’t want any trouble. He’d worked with departments where the asshole leading the case had a spiteful chip on his shoulder. He hated working jobs like that.
“I can’t keep up. You would think Reno would hire another detective with all the casino money we got rolling in, but no, they like to play it tight. Hell yeah, I want your help. Heck, the FBI is too busy to toss much manpower at this either. You know, since we don’t know if he wandered away or was abducted they don’t want to take the lead. If he was taken and you can find this fucker, then I say go for it. The idiot who took him pissed me off. Seriously, how does a twenty-year-old college boy go missing? Wait, he’s twenty-one now, but it makes no difference. He had to have been taken.”
“You got any recent pictures of Lucas?”
Bronson opened a file, passing Brett two snapshots. Both were of multiple guys sitting on couches, but Brett’s gaze zeroed in on Lucas. The quick intake of breath was unintentional, so surprised at seeing this older Lucas, he couldn’t hide his reaction. He stared at the picture, amazed by the manly image. The guy still looked young, much too young to be an adult now, but so much older than he had at eighteen. Lucas had grown so much since the last time he’d visited. Heck, three years had brought about great change in the man. Desire sparked deep in his belly, bringing back the emotions of the weekend they had spent together.
Fuck, he had to find Lucas. Pain encircled his heart. He’d loved Lucas for years, with a pure brotherly love, but seeing this older version reignited the darker passion first kindled three years ago in this very city. He didn’t want to imagine a life without ever seeing that handsome face again.
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