Orion—big, dark, and wounded—has suffered at the hand of the enemy while longing for the day he will find his alpha. He was low in the hierarchy of his sleuth and beaten lower. Used and abused, he has only ever looked at one man. He believes if he can find the alpha, he could force him to return.
Harrison doesn’t want to remember. Orion can’t forget. In some ways, Orion blames his alpha. But he also loves him. Will Orion's touch be enough to bring his alpha back? He must try for the survival of his people.
Chapter One - Orion
Every breath Orion sucked in burned in his lungs. His throat was dry, and he would give anything for a drink. He shut his eyes, concentrating on the face that carried him through day after day. Blue, angry eyes that sparked with life and power, a straight nose and angular jaw, sardonic lips. His heartbeat picked up as he imagined the blond hair tumbling overlong onto his alpha’s forehead and how many times he’d ached to brush it away. That had never been his right. He could look, but he could never touch.
“What are you thinking about?” came the hated voice, interrupting his soothing imaginings. Orion refused to open his eyes. The laughter chilled him, and he gritted his teeth. That made the pain worse, something he knew his captor desired. The voice came again, closer to his ear. “Your dick is hard, Orion. Do you like what I’m doing to you?”
Orion swore and raised his head, opening his eyes. “Fuck you!” he growled, his own voice gone deep with the rise of his bear.
Noll, with eyes as black as his hair and a heart darker still, waggled a finger at him. The cruel curl to his lips probably never attracted anyone. Not anyone he didn’t force himself on, Orion guessed.
“No, no, no,” Noll teased. “I didn’t give you permission to turn.”
Orion fought to give over to his animal side, but he felt Noll pushing against him with his power. Noll’s position as alpha of his sleuth could command those under him. While he wasn’t Orion’s alpha—Orion would rather die than submit—Noll was stronger. He could force Orion to bow.
“Another,” Noll commanded the man standing at the base of the table. “He’s not ready to give in yet.”
Orion braced himself, and the whip cracked the air. The spiked tip tore at his abdomen, and a cry escaped him. Moisture made his skin slick, and the salt from it only added to the burn of the cuts on his chest, his abdomen, his thighs, and even his crotch. Once again, he pinched his eyes closed, feeling moisture at the edges. He pulled in breath through flared nostrils, feeling his chest swell and sink down.
Orion tugged at the bonds that held his wrists, but he couldn’t break the chains. Usually, something as ordinary as steel would never be able to hold a bear shifter, especially not him. He was physically the strongest among his people, but that was why Noll had sought him out, to break him in front of the others. So far, the plan was going well.
Noll tangled his hands in Orion’s hair and tugged hard. Orion winced. “Where’s your alpha?”
“Fuck you,” Orion whispered.
The whip hit its target three more times, and Orion must have fainted because the next thing he was aware of was ice cold water in the face. He gasped and shook his head. Wet, matted clumps of hair fell into his eyes. He shook again, and Noll laughed.
“You’re so bedraggled, you look like you’ve already shifted. What would your alpha think of you if he saw you like this?” Noll gestured to Orion’s state, naked on a hard metal table, covered in cuts from head to toe, old scars on his back where Noll hadn’t allowed him to heal properly. He’d also not been given much to eat so he would remain weak. Orion knew the time was coming when he would break down and give in. So far, he’d kept his will strong, defiance inside if it didn’t always appear on his face. No matter what he did, Noll knew. Noll could sense he wasn’t broken. Not yet anyway, but Orion also believed Noll was aware of a change. Orion was coming close to the end of his fight.
“No answer?” Noll said.
Orion didn’t have the strength to ignore him and therefore get another hit from the whip. “I told you. I don’t know where he is. He abandoned us.”
“That’s impossible,” Noll snapped. “An alpha would never leave his people. He’s hiding, and you know where.”
Orion groaned. “You’ve held me for three years, beating me daily and… Don’t you think I would have told you by now to stop the torture?”
Noll shook his head. He pushed fingers into his short-cropped hair, disordering it. He paced from the top to the base of the bed. “Someone like you would never betray your alpha. You’d fight by his side until death.”
Orion didn’t acknowledge the words as true even though they were. He would die for his alpha, and it looked like death would come soon.
“I want him,” Noll said, sneering. “I want him in my grasp, to make him suffer like you’ve suffered for three years. Don’t you want that too? He ran away and abandoned you. He’s a coward.”
“No!” Orion jerked at his bonds, but the metal bit into his wrists, already chafe and raw. Noll glanced at the wounds with an impassive air. Then he laid a hand on Orion’s thigh. Orion tried to shift away. “Don’t do that.”
“Why?” Noll grinned and squeezed Orion’s thigh. He slid his hand higher. “You like men. We both know that’s true by now.”
Orion shut his eyes and tried to bring up his alpha’s image in his mind again. Harrison was the only man he wanted to touch him.
“There it goes again,” Noll whispered. “What are you thinking about? Him? Or is it one of your men? Which one is it? Don’t tell me it’s one of my men? I’d have to cut your heart out. Didn’t the women do it for you, Orion?”
Orion stayed silent at the taunts. Noll knew his preferences. Yes, he was gay. He had never tried to hide it, but he wished he had. Then he could be denied sex, and he could go on dreaming of his alpha uninterrupted. Yet, once Noll knew the truth, he sent women from his sleuth to Orion. Because of Orion’s size and build, they enjoyed his body, and he hated every moment of it.
“Haven’t they turned you yet, Orion?” Noll asked, with a note of confusion in his tone. Orion didn’t believe the man wondered one way or another. All he cared about was tormenting Orion, trying to get him to reveal information he didn’t have. He didn’t know where his alpha was or why he didn’t come to rescue them.
A crack of the whip. “Answer the alpha, dog!”
Orion roared at the man with the whip. “I’m not a dog.”
Noll chuckled and raised his hand. “Don’t hit him unless I say.”
The man bowed his head. “Of course, sir. I apologize. He disrespected you, and I couldn’t help myself.”
Orion had been disrespecting Noll all along. He suspected it pissed the guy off that Noll had touched his thigh and come so close to Orion’s cock. Noll had never crossed the line in that way. No, he preferred to humiliate Orion in other, more excruciating ways.
“Orion, the women are so soft and smell so good. Their heavy breasts pressed to your chest, doesn’t that get you up?”
Orion clamped his teeth together.
Noll chuckled. “No?”
He leaned down to almost touch Orion’s ear with his lips, and while he cast his voice low, Orion knew everyone in the room could hear what he said.
“Maybe not the ladies. What if I did it? What if I climbed on the table right now and—” He broke off and looked down toward Orion’s crotch. “Not me? Maybe you want…the alpha? Your alpha?”
Orion tried as hard as he could not to think of Harrison this time, to keep his mind blank and his breathing even. Still his heart tried to jump out of his chest. He panted because not only did Harrison’s face appear in his mind but his body too, a form Orion had seen naked many times in the past, as he’d seen all of his people. Harrison had always been the one for him, but he had belonged to another.
“Oh ho,” Noll crowed. “Now I see. If you could just sink your dick into that tight ass, you’d take all the beatings in the world, huh?”
This time, Orion didn’t growl. He made no sound at all, but when he squeezed his eyes shut tighter, a single bulb of water leaked from the side of one. He hoped Noll didn’t notice, being on the opposite side, but the heinous laughter filled the room. The man who whipped him joined in and a few others. They kept it up until Noll signaled, and the whip crackled through the air again and again.
When Orion no longer had the strength to react, they staved off the attack. Noll gave the order to vacate the room, and the spectators filed out. “Send the ladies in,” he told one of his men. “After they’ve had their pleasure, put him back in his cage. Maybe tomorrow he’ll be ready to talk.”
* * * *
Orion was aware of being dragged down a hall and around a corner where his captors allowed his feet to bump over things he couldn’t see. A clank and the jingle of keys turning in a lock. He recognized the iron door opening, and he was dumped inside the cage on the dirty floor.
“Orion,” one of the younger men called out. Orion felt rough hands brush his hair away from his face, and then water touched his lips. He drank, but it hurt, and he turned his head. The muttered curse came from the young man who was his fellow prisoner in the cell. “Let me get you up to your cot.”
“No, I can do it,” he whispered and forced his eyes open. “Just leave me alone, Luis.”
“I won’t do that. If no one cares, I do.” He hoisted Orion with a shoulder braced in Orion’s armpit. They both almost fell over onto the floor. Luis wasn’t much stronger than Orion. Being slender of build and also half-starved, Luis was one of the people Orion took the beatings for. So Luis wouldn’t have to be hurt or worse—killed.
They made it to the cot, and Orion fell back against the pillow that had gone flat ages ago. He panted, his lungs on fire. His stomach stirred with hunger, and the beast in him ached to hunt, if nothing else but to run. Orion knew it wouldn’t be allowed for another couple of days and then for a short period of time with twenty shifters on his heels to make sure he didn’t try to get away. Somehow he would have to last until then.
A trickle of water caught his attention, and then a damp, cool cloth touched his stomach. He started. “You’re wasting water!”
“I have to clean the wounds.”
“Because…. Hell, I don’t know.”
Orion opened his eyes and looked at Luis, sandy hair falling onto his face. All of them looked like wild animals now even in their human forms. Orion almost couldn’t remember what it was like to wear clothes or shower or anything like people did. The others were a little luckier. Luis got to wear pants if not a shirt and shoes.
Before their fall, Orion enjoyed the outdoors more than domestication. He missed it, and the infrequent trips outside weren’t enough. The enclosure seemed to be killing him from the inside out. Some days, he hardly felt his bear stir, and he didn’t know what it meant. He would have to do something about this situation soon. If anything happened to him, they might take Luis. The younger man wouldn’t last a day.
“I hate how they use you,” Luis grumbled, and Orion heard the thickness in his tone that meant Luis was close to a shift.
“Don’t,” he warned. “They humiliate us by not letting us take our true form. Don’t give them a reason to punish you.”
“So I should let them do it to you?” Luis glanced up, and Orion saw his tears. Pain ripped him apart, but this time it wasn’t because of physical wounds. “They know you’re gay, Orion, but they send those women in to use you. It’s not right. You’re bruised.”
Orion forced a smile. “Two years ago, you wouldn’t look at it.”
Pink tinged Luis’s cheeks. “Someone has to take care of you. You took on the pain so they would stop killing us. It’s the least I can do.”
“I can take anything they throw at me.”
Luis looked doubtful, an expression that grew when Orion raised his feeble hand, the one the alpha had crushed until Orion could scarcely hold anything with it unless he infused it with the bear’s energy. Even still, when he shifted, he had no claws on that paw. Noll could heal him, but he never would.
Orion laid the offensive hand across his abdomen, trying to hide it. He couldn’t hide the crisscross of wounds all over his body. Luis sniffed and stood up. He pinched the ratty jeans he wore open and lowered the zipper.
“If you want, you can have me, Orion,” Luis said.
Orion’s eyes bugged. “Are you crazy? You’re not gay.”
“I know, but if it will make you feel better, it’s all right. It’s the least I can do for the times you were hurt to keep me alive.”
Orion rolled over and faced the wall. “Go back to your cot. I don’t want you.”
“Go!” Orion gritted his teeth. “For one thing, my dick still hurts, and for another, I’ll never use a man like they use me! I’m going to figure out how to get out of here, Luis. I don’t know how or when, but I will. I’m going to get out, and I’m going to find the alpha. Then we’ll all be saved. That’s my promise to you.”