Gage watched the eyes of the man he passed to climb into his truck. His expression was hollow, his eyes were void. He had to be close to his own six foot five, but this man held himself close, small and inward.
Turning, he glanced at Jesse. “What the hell happened Jesse? He looks like he’s been broken like a god damned horse.”
Jesse sighed and rubbed his jaw, the exhaustion clear on his face. “The sad thing is, he’s in better shape than the others.” Flicking his eyes back to the passenger in the truck, he met Gage’s stare. “Devin said it would do him good to be around other shifters of his kind,” he shook his head, “I don’t know if he’ll ever fully recover though.”
“What about the others?”
A haunted look flashed in Jesse’s pale eyes. “They’re at the camp. I doubt any of them will ever be able to integrate back into society.”
“What the hell did Tomas do to them?” Gage struggled to keep his anger from showing.
Slamming the door on the car, Jesse spun around shaking his head. “The two women we managed to get out were used as breeders, as near as we can figure. They shrink away from any male like they’ve…” He stopped, clearly not wanting to continue.
Gage fought the bile that rose in his stomach, swallowing it down with an audible sound.
“The three men, including him,” he motioned to the other vehicle, “were used worse than slaves. They’re not very forthcoming with details.” Shoving his hands in his pockets, he looked up and Gage’s muscles tensed when he saw the depth of the anger in the otherwise mild-mannered man. “They’ve been beaten into complacency and carry the scars to prove it.”
“Aren’t they all pure bloods?”
Something in Jesse’s tone made Gage’s cat want to growl. “Then why are they scarred? Shifting heals fresh…”
“Not if they’re prevented from shifting until after the wounds have healed.”
“Holy hell.” Shuddering at the thought of the torture the man now hunched in his truck had survived, Gage took a deep breath and nodded to Jesse. “I’ll see what I can do for him.”
Jesse stepped back toward his car. “Devin said to give him a call.”
“Will do.” Gage watched him get in his car and then slowly walked around to the driver’s side of his truck. He had hundreds of questions but didn’t want to bombard the damaged man with them.
Forcing an easy smile, he looked at the man beside him. “I suppose Jesse should have introduced us.” He held out his hand, “I’m Gage Lockman. You’ll be staying with some of my clan.”
With hesitation, the man extended his hand and grasped his briefly. “Noah Reyes.”
“They’re getting in touch with your family, Noah. If later on you decide to go be with them, then we’ll get you there.” He watched as emotions flickered through Noah’s amber tinted eyes.
“No,” his voice was heartrending, “I-I don’t want to go there.” Apprehensively his eyes met Gage’s again. “I’ll stay with your clan, if that’s all right?”
Nodding, Gage put the key in the ignition and tried to appear relaxed, even though he wasn’t. “That’s fine by me, we can always use a hand at the shop.”
Starting the truck, he put it into gear and pulled out of the empty parking lot. Watching the dust kick up behind them in his mirror, he kept his eyes from going back to the injured soul beside him. “Yeah, my family owns a heavy equipment business. We lease all the big rigs and do the repairs and upkeep ourselves.”
“I don’t know anything about shop work.”
Ignoring the fear in his voice, Gage shrugged. “We’ll find something for you to do that leans to your strengths.”
“I doubt it.”
Glancing at the empty man beside him, he gave him an easy smile. “Why’s that?”
Noah turned and looked out the window. “I’ve only been a guard.”
“Like a bodyguard?”
The silence was tense as he waited for an answer.
“No. Like a guard that keeps others against their will.”
Shit. “Well, we’ll find a place for you.” Every muscle in Gage’s body was taut, he had to strain to keep his animal under control. He breathed it away for a few seconds. “I don’t want to pry, and for the most part I won’t, but I’m bringing you into my family and need to know some of the facts.” He paused for objections then continued when none were voiced. “How long did Tomas have you?”
It was said with venom that Gage was almost happy to hear, that brief expression of hatred meant there was some fight left in the younger man. He was going to ask more when Noah’s tortured voice silenced him.
“Since I was six. They got my sister and I.”
He glanced at Noah for a moment to let him know he was listening.
“I don’t know what happened to her. I tried to find out when I got older, but…” His voice cracked, “I wouldn’t even know her now.”
Swallowing, Gage kept his eyes on the road. “Your cat would know family. If she ever crosses your path, you’ll know.”
“I didn’t know that.” Noah sighed softly. “I don’t know a lot about what I am, or how to function in a group. The things I do know are only from what others that worked…” he cleared his throat, “were held by Tomas told me.”
Gage glanced at him and tried to give him a look of encouragement. “We’ll work it out, Noah.” He took a moment to look at him. Biologically this man was only twenty-one, but he appeared much older, and Gage suspected was aged beyond anything he would ever understand.
“So, are you the clan alpha?”
Gage grinned. “No. The second. My father’s the alpha, but he’s away right now.”
Noah nodded and then sat there for a moment, Gage could see the questions going through his mind.
“Do you have a mate?”
Snorting, Gage nodded, “Yeah, only she doesn’t know she is.” He grinned, not even knowing how to explain his own personal torment. “I’m sure the boys will love filling in the details for you.”
“I found mine…at least that’s what the others told me.”
The silence that followed his admission stabbed pain right through Gage. “And?”
“When,” Noah closed his eyes and inhaled deep for a moment, “when I recovered enough to remember, she was gone.”
Holy hell. Is Devin aware of any of this? What the hell do I say to that? “You may still find her someday. Fate is a tricky bitch.”
The word meant he agreed, but the heavy overlay of emotion inside the cab told Gage the man beside him didn’t believe it would happen. He tried to keep his tone from revealing anything that could be considered close to sympathy. “You’ll be bunking in with four others while you’re here. Jake, Gary and Blair are close to your age. Then there’s old Cooper, no one can even guess his age, but he’s fairly easy to be around.” He continued to ramble out the stories of things the men closest to him did in hopes to give Noah a sense of what he could expect. Not once did he offer comment or ask for more.
Dropping him off at the large house his men lived in just off the shop site, Gage backed out, heading for his own home just along the roughly paved road. He needed to talk to Devin and find out just what he was supposed to do to help Noah.
He didn’t even get both boots on the ground when his phone started vibrating in his shirt pocket. Glancing at the screen, he shook his head and answered it.
“I just dropped him off.”
Devin’s whispered on the other end. “I figured you’d be there by now. Jesse called when he left you.”
“Why are you whispering?” Slamming the door, he walked up the path and stomped up the porch. Deciding he needed the air, he dropped into one of his mother’s favorite white wicker chairs and swung his boots up to rest on the railing.
“Rayne is exhausted and just went to try and rest.”
He heard a door close quietly.
“She’s been helping the two women that were brought back and is emotionally fragile, to say the least.”
Gage’s shoulders tensed. “Jesse mentioned a bit.” Running a hand through his hair, he sighed. “Don’t tell me any details right now; I’m still digesting the shit I learned from Noah on our trip back.”
“Then you probably know more than I do. I’m sorry I had to send him your way, but the women were terrified of him.”
Gage closed his eyes, feeling the pain he’d heard in Noah’s voice. “With good reason, he was probably forced to be the guard used to make them stay put.”
“Listen, if he gets out of hand…”
“My instincts say he won’t.” He kicked his feet back to the porch and leaned forward on his knee. “The boys will keep an eye on him.” Rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, he sat up again. “Where the hell is the Alliance in bringing that bastard Tomas down for good?”
“They’ve gotten a lot of the captives out. We have close to a dozen here at the camp, healing as much as they’ll be able to. Some were born into Tomas’s organization, Gage, I don’t know if we’ll be able to get through to them, they’ve never been associated with their own kind, or understand the dynamics of a clan and family.”
“Yeah, Noah said something to that effect.”
He could hear the exhaustion in Devin’s tone.
“Look, Gage, I really didn’t want to send Noah there, not with everything you have going on.” He heard another door close and could then make out the sounds of nature at the camp as Devin must have gone outside. “Is Kelsey back?”
Not able to sit any longer, Gage got up and paced to the other end of the large porch. “She was supposed to be back this week, but decided to stop and see my folks on the way home.”
“I thought your parents left so you’d have some alone time with Kelsey.”
“They did. I’m one hair from going insane, Dev.”
He heard the soft chuckle on the other end. “I don’t know how you’ve held out this long, my friend. I didn’t last a day when I was near Rayne.”
Jamming his hand into his pocket, he leaned back against the wall of the house. “Well, she was only sixteen when I realized what she was to me. That worked like fucking ice water in my pants for a few years. Then she bailed and took off to school, and you know that’s been three years of hell for me.” Pushing away from the wall, he stepped over to the railing and looked out into the thick trees surrounding the house. “I can’t hold on much longer.” He closed his eyes and swallowed. “I just hope…”
“You’ll do the right thing, Gage, the animal inside you won’t let you do anything but.”
“I hope you’re right because it will kill me to wait this long and then screw it up.”
Devin chuckled again. “I can relate.”
“Speaking of…how is our Queen now?”
“Surprisingly forgiving. Thank God for that.”
Not wanting to dwell on his mate, Gage opened his eyes and stared out into the bush again. “Calum reach you before he left?”
“Yeah. He said he knew the region where his missing clan members had been seen last. He’s supposed to contact you if I’m out of touch once he knows more.”
“I’ll be here if he needs me. Is the Alliance up to speed?” Turning, he went inside to see if there were any messages on the house phone.
“For the most part, they have their hands full right now trying to bring Aiden Tomas down.”
“They don’t think the clan members Calum is tracking down are part of Tomas’s ring?”
The silence stretched out for a few moments before Devin answered. “It’s nowhere near the regions he operates in, but who knows?”
Gage could hear voices in the background and knew Devin would be ending the call soon.
“Listen, Gage, keep Kelsey close to home. We’ve been calling all the clans and warning them. Tomas isn’t going to take all of this without striking back.”
“Good luck with your mate, my friend, you’re going to need it.”
Gage sighed loudly and grinned at the phone. “Yeah, thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Oh, I have every faith in you, but I also know the fucking hell you’re walking into when nothing you know is as it was.”
Gage’s stomach tightened. “Something to look forward to.”
“I’ll talk to you later.”
“Will do.” He hung up the phone and stared at it for a moment. Good news all round today. Glancing at the phone as he walked into the office, he stopped when there were no messages. The tension in his neck was multiplying as it had been for the past month. Kelsey, whatever games you’re playing, you better end them soon. He felt like a time bomb just waiting to go off.
The cat inside him moved over his skin, wanting out. He’d spent more time in animal form the last seven years as he waited for his mate to be old enough to claim. Of course, there was no law stating the age, but his own morals wouldn’t allow him to do anything until she was old enough to understand.
Snorting out loud, he turned on his heal and headed for the door. Kelsey knew nothing of her own heritage. She didn’t know what her parents had been before they were killed, or that her family were part of the clan and not just good friends they’d known for years. Many times, after she had come to live with his parents he’d wanted to tell her. She was only fifteen at the time and completely devastated her parents were gone. His jaw clenched knowing it had been Aiden Tomas’s father that was responsible for their death. After that, the more time that passed the harder it got to tell her she was part of a world she didn’t even know existed.
Gage didn’t know why his folks hadn’t told her when she got older, and as the son of the Alpha, it wasn’t his place to overstep his position and fill her in. In hindsight, he wished he’d disobeyed and told her. Maybe then he wouldn’t be walking out his back door stripping off his clothes so he could go run off his frustration.
By the time he reached the bottom step he was in his animal form. Large paws padded across the grass, as he scented the air to choose a direction. Jumping across the creek in one motion, he landed his eight foot, four-hundred-pound body with fluid grace and then turned to look at his reflection. A pale, almost white, Bengal tiger stared at him through his deep blue eyes.
The scent of prey filled his nostrils as he lifted his head. With a low sound from the back of his throat he turned to start the chase.
Come home soon, Kelsey.