Shadow Recruit by Stephanie Burke and Kira Stone

Shadow Recruit by Stephanie Burke and Kira Stone

Shadow Recruit

by Stephanie Burke and Kira Stone

Changeling Press

Ebook ISBN: 07433-02397

[ SciFi Paranormal Romance, MM ]

Oganji has been with the Shadow Warriors long enough to know that he needs a mate to sustain not only his humanity but also his life. Not just a warm body, but someone he could love, respect and share his life with — and get the same in return.

Note: Prologue omitted.

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Chapter One

Where am I?

Greg ran shaky hands over his face, his rough, dry tongue flicking out to rasp against his stubbled upper lip as he struggled to raise his head. His feeble attempts to focus didn’t improve the view any. He could make out that he sat against a wall in a round room, about twenty feet across. In the center of the room was a brass brazier, puffing a pale gray cloud of smoke into the air. Near the domed ceiling, at least thirty feet over his head, hazy light filtered through open, hinge-styled windows. However, with all the smoke obscuring his vision, it was hard to confirm exactly how high up those escape hatches were or what might be lurking on the other side.

The answer to his earlier question leapt to the forefront of his mind, and the conclusions he drew were just as aggravating as they were vague.

Captured! But by who? How? Damn it, when?

Kamikaze thoughts dive-bombed his brain until an unnatural lethargy took over his limbs once more, and Greg was forced into another period of rest to escape them. His eyelids slowly dropped over his hazy vision, the last sight before them was brilliant sunbeams dancing through a cloud of soft smoke.

How long he slept, he didn’t know, but when he woke again, the light at the top of the tower had dimmed to dusky pink and the still burning orange fire only sent up streamer-thin wisps of smoke.

More cautious than curious now, Greg struggled to sit up, his back to the wall. He stretched his long legs out in front of him, realizing for the first time that he’d been stripped naked. Thankfully, the padding he’d been given — by whom? — for a bed was thick and clean.

Scanning the room, using his battle veteran honed senses was bringing him a big fat zero. Nothing about the admittedly spacious cage or the sparse furnishings in it told him which side had taken him hostage, and this war he’d been fighting with his fellow countrymen had more sides than one of those complex origami figures. There were no sounds from the outside either. No shouting, no machines, none of the noises he’d associate with a prison camp.

If only he knew how he’d gotten here, then maybe he could start coming up with a plan to get his ass home to his unit. However, casting his mind back, he hit another wall. The last he could recall was curling up in a bunker with three desperate, unknown soldiers, waiting out the seemingly endless shelling. Then he had nothing in his memories but an endless darkness. Not a damn thing.

Was he suffering from some kind of head wound? Did he have a form of amnesia? Had one of the sides decided to play mind games with him?

He decided the empty space where his recollection should be didn’t matter at the moment. Escape was far more important. Time to form a plan.

Step one, know thy enemy.

“Yo!” Instead of the commanding and intimidating tone he was going for, his voice was rough and scratchy, as if from disuse — or being used too much. He cleared his dry throat and tried again, louder. “Hey! Anyone out there?” His voice didn’t echo as expected. It was as if the walls were made of sound-dampening material instead of the gray stone they appeared to be. Freaky.

He rose to his feet and looked around him again, taking in the size and dimensions of his round, turret-like room. The walls looked as though they’d been cobbled together with mortar and chiseled rock. Maybe there would be enough traction for him to get a grip and climb out. The abraded skin and risk of falling would be worth taking a chance on freedom. After he found out exactly who, or what, he was dealing with.

He walked over to the fire pit, getting his body accustomed to motion again. As a weapon, the flames would be just as much danger to himself as to an enemy. The brazier, he noted, was one solid piece, nothing extruded that could be broken off and used as a weapon. There was no way the soft bedding would do more than tickle his captors; in other words, totally useless except for its designed purpose unless he could win a trial by arms with a pillow fight.

Damn, he was cracking up.

Assaulting whoever came for him, if they indeed ever came for him, would be his only means of escape. Naked and vulnerable, he could probably take on two men hand-to-hand before he was subdued. There were a lot of variables to consider, and the numbers weren’t adding up in his favor.

Name, rank, and serial number. Info they probably knew anyway just from stripping him from his uniform and taking his dog tags. Still, that’s all they’d get out of him, no matter what tricks they came up with.

By now, the light was almost gone from both the fire and the windows, leaving the room dim and filled with elongated shadows. He’d have to wait to attempt a climb and get an aerial view of the outside environment and maybe get a few clues as to who nabbed him — assuming his Army brothers didn’t find him first. Surely they had to know he was missing by now. Maybe a member in his platoon would be spreading the word that someone was nabbing military assets. SERE training didn’t really prepare one for being ignored in this war designer’s idea of a cage. Torture and escape, yes, sitting on your ass and waiting… not really. Though that alone could be considered a form of torture.

But as Greg strained to hear the approach of an enemy who would be defeated by the sheer force of his frustration and lead to his freedom, nothing stirred. Not even the air. “Damn.”

He took a seat back on his bed pad. He had to be alert but relaxed in order to maximize his training when someone finally remembered the grunt in the round room. He leaned his head back against the wall, and tried to ignore his dry mouth and his fears. Whoever took him had to be a BAMF, a bad ass mother fucker, to get the drop on him and get him to this place underneath the watchful eyes of his platoon. He had no clue what he was going to face when his captors finally came through the door, but he knew no ally would ever keep friendlies locked away like this.

But they would come, of that he was sure. If not today, then tomorrow. He would be ready for them when the hostiles decided to show up… if he didn’t manage to free himself first.

* * *

Flap. Flap.

Greg’s head jerked up, awareness zinging through his body as the flapping sound caught his attention. He quickly rose to his knees, his body taking on a ready stance, crouched low, his muscles prepared to spring into action, as he scanned the room. His sudden alertness reported that nothing had changed in his situation but for that strange sound. It sounded like… something airborne though not any model of plane he knew.

There was more light now so he must have fallen asleep during his vigil, and morning had come around again. He scanned the room, left to right, moving as little as possible until he could pinpoint the sound.

Instinctively, he looked up.

Fuck. Greg froze as his brain sent his body a hundred different simultaneous commands, all of which amounted to “Get the fuck out of the way!”

There was a huge fucking bird hovering above the brazier, the sound he heard emanating from its huge feathers as it flapped its wings lightly.

Whatever it was, it had an enormous wingspan, taking up over half the diameter of the room, and possessed a beak that looked like it could crush heavy gauge steel. Its feathers were an array of color in shades of yellow, gold and orange, unlike any other avian creature Greg had ever seen. It came to roost on the far side of the room, furling its wings against its enormous, feathered body. With a shiver to settle them all in place, it turned its head to stare at him.

As Greg looked on, the enormous bird tilted its head to the side, its deep red eyes the color of hot embers boring into him as though it could see into his soul, before it extended its wings open to their full extent. It looked like… like lungs or a bellows breathing as it slowly opened its wings and closed them again, repeating the deliberate maneuver. The resulting wind blew Greg against the stone wall, pinning him there.

As Greg watched, his heart pounding in fear, adrenaline coursing through his body, the avian unfurled them once more and, in a blinding white flash of light, disappeared. When Greg blinked away enough of the dancing white and red spots in his eyes to see properly again, he discovered that a very tall, very naked man had taken the bird’s place.

What the fuck?

Greg gripped his sanity firmly with both hands and tried to separate what he was seeing from a sterling example taken out of the fantasy novels he loved. He was not going to take a mental dive. Maybe they were using drugs, gasses or mind control… There had to be some explanation for this craziness.

As he crouched there, trying to hold his shit together, his silent visitor shook himself, a full-body shudder, and proceeded to ignore him. He walked over to the dying embers in the fire pit and added a pinch of something — damned if Greg could figure out where he’d gotten it from — to the glowing coals. Flame shot up in brilliant orange and white tongues of fire that did their best to lick the chamber’s ceiling. As the fire finally settled into an erotic belly dance, flicking and swirling, more smoke spread through the nearby air in an ashy gray cloud. It smelled cloyingly sweet, almost familiar, tempting him to breathe deeper, but Greg couldn’t put a name to the scent. As he reluctantly gave in to the need for oxygen and inhaled, the smoke began to make his head swim and his vision hazy.

Greg knew his only weapons were his body and his mind, his instinct, so he tightened his muscles and tried to shake off the lethargy. He needed answers. “Who are you? Why are you keeping me here? What do you want from me?” And how can you possibly be real when no human technology could duplicate what you’ve done?

The man cocked his head to the side very similar to an avian way, staring at him so intently that shivers ran up Greg’s spine, but he said nothing.

In human form, the odd stranger had an unearthly beauty some primal part of Greg acknowledged. His golden skin was warmed by the light of the fire, and his shoulders looked broad enough to carry the world yet still in proportion to the rest of him. Upper body strength would be a bitch to overcome in hand to hand, but if that is what it took… Then, with the curious habit his brain had of making odd associations, Greg realized his visitor looked very similar to that little golden statue famous actors politely attempted to shove their competition under a bus to receive on one of those fancy award shows.

Except this stranger’s cock. Okay, he had to admit that the golden guy was fit to fuck. That same strange part of his brain that seemed to go off on tangents of its own realized that in a different time and place, he would be so down with bending him over and taking a ride on his dick. But the dick was never part of that golden statue in any of those fancy winner photos, although in Greg’s opinion it damn well should have been, especially if it was done to the proportions of this guy. That impressive piece of equipment was worthy of tribute.

Don’t go there, Greg warned himself, shaking away the erotic thoughts. All he needed was to get a hard-on in front of this unknown entity. Being naked, it’s not like he could hide it, and he didn’t know what religious or political views this man-creature had. Primary order of business was to find out what the fuck the guy was doing keeping him trapped in a stone cage

“Excuse me,” Greg barked, “how about taking me to your leader or whatever? Like now.”

Slowly, Golden Guy turned to stare at him once more before he shook his head in the negative.

“How about letting me out of here then? Or at least maybe give me some water unless dehydration is part of your game plan?”

Another slight headshake.

Greg was getting seriously frustrated. Couldn’t the guy speak? “English. I speak English. Do you even understand what I’m saying, you big, masculine butterball?”

This time he got a faint smile for his effort at communication. Greg’s heart beat double-time. The man was something else, something out of a wet dream. In another time or another place…

Maybe that’s all this was — some kind of crazy drug-induced dream. Greg wouldn’t be surprised, given all he and his unit had been put through the last couple months. Sickness, biological attacks, or just plain stress from being a living sniper target day after day could play a lot of tricks on a man’s mind. Maybe he was lying, bleeding out on a field, maybe today was the day the sniper got lucky. Maybe this was all a hallucination. But if he were hallucinating, at least he’d dreamed himself up a damn fine specimen of manhood to hold him captive.

The man with the alien golden skin watched Greg warily as Greg slowly rose to his feet and moved toward him. Greg kept his body prepped for action but relaxed, as if he were approaching a wild animal, and slowly circled the fire pit. When Golden Man’s body language showed no evidence of attack or distress, Greg continued until he’d circled the pit and stopped within inches of the fantasy man.

He smelled fine, like spring grass combined with freshly cut wood, natural and clean. None of the gun smoke and blood and death that had assaulted Greg’s nostrils for-what-seemed-like-fucking-ever was present. He inhaled deeply, getting his nose as close to the other man’s throat as he could without actual contact.

“What are you?” Now that Greg was closer to him, he could see that his golden color wasn’t body paint. Shadows danced and played over his form, proving he was solid gold, on the surface at least. Breathing too. Maybe this was a dream after all. Greg relaxed further. Just go with it.

“Can — can I touch you?” If this were really a dream then Greg wouldn’t care if the erotic male knew he found him fantasy material, surreal… and worthy of a year of jack-off sessions.

Golden Guy shrugged, cocking his head to the side, but made no other move. Greg took that as permission to move closer, running his nose along the other man’s chin and neck. He inhaled deeply, getting as close as he could without any actual physical contact. When the guy leaned his head back a little, exposing a small bit of his neck, Greg brushed a light kiss to the hollow at the base of the man’s throat, then jumped back a few feet, pressing his hands to his scalded mouth. He lightly licked his lips, wary and intrigued. The man was hot and now meant that literally, almost to the point of blistering Greg’s mouth with his skin.

Now that just wasn’t right. “Dude, what are you?”

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