Absolution (Youngblood #5) by Monique Orgeron


Prologue





Gunner





OVER A YEAR AGO





“The hunger to see blood spilt runs rampant in men, whether they want to admit it or not. Give them a taste and they will find a way to get their fix.”

Shane’s words from earlier won’t leave my mind. Proving how little he actually knows about me, or how much I understood every single syllable that fell out of his mouth.

I’m barely holding my position, hidden on the outskirts of Shane’s property, shrouded by the darkness of night. Watching, waiting, for the right moment to strike. I’ve been sitting here for hours, every muscle in my body strained since I was shown the cages. Taking even, controlled breaths, I go back over every word Shane told me, particularly what he called the men.

“Inside the red ring, gladiators are born. The ones who fall and aren’t sent a reprieve, are struck down. They become the damned.”

Gladiators. My fury comes back full force. Such a poetic word, gladiator. There is nothing poetic about what happens in or out of those cages. They don’t become the damned; they are damned from the second the cages come into their sights.

“You’d be shocked if I told the stories of men who were homeless or simply taken from their families and homes to be used for this addiction. Under my watch that shit doesn’t happen anymore.”

Oh Shane, you don’t have to tell me the stories. I lived them. I am the damned.

Getting to my haunches, I push my knuckles down into the ground, grinding them, letting the dirt and small twigs cut through my skin. Feeling the pain, needing the pain, to keep me from going over the deep end. Keeping me from falling back into a cycle of self-loathing. I need to stay calm and keep my mind clear. Patience, Gunner. I’ve waited this long; a little more time won’t kill me.

There are more players here to consider. Ones I must be careful of. The Sterns.

Seeing the guard leave his post, I take a chance and carefully make my way toward the warehouse. With each step, I try to control my anger. Patience, patience is all I can recite in my head, but will it hold me back? I’m not sure. I won’t know until I’m inside, facing my past.

Getting to the door, I quickly grab my kit from my pocket and begin picking the lock. It’s taking more time than I’d like because my anxious hands keep fumbling. “Come on, come on, you piece of shit!”

Finally, I feel the lock give. I try the handle and it turns, giving me free rein. Looking back over my shoulder I seek out the guard, wondering how much time I have, and if Shane knows how sloppy his security is. Opening the door, I take my first step inside and forget everything outside of these four metal walls, not caring about anything but my target.

The room is dimly lit, making visibility a little easier as I go. Another step, I look inside each cage, seeing the other two men sleeping on cots. Quietly, I continue making my way to the last cage, the one left on its own, separated from the others. The one that imprisons the reasons for my nightmares.

Reaching my destination, I stand so still it almost frightens me, it’s like my feet refuse to go another inch closer. I stand here like the child I once was, scared of the boogie man. Not a muscle moves as I watch the sleeping man before me. Studying him, I notice the changes the years have caused. His jet-black hair is now sprinkled with grey. Wrinkles surround his mouth from the years of using the snarl he loved to give. His muscle mass might be a little softer, but his size is still intimidating. A beast. Yes, he was and still is, an ugly beast.

His eyes pop open and my body instantly flinches. I actually flinch like a scared little bitch. Of course, I do, it’s a natural reaction. One he taught us all well. Fear, above all else, is what he required. It’s what he demanded in order to remain in control, and I’ll be damned if one look from him doesn’t send me right back there. Right back to me wanting to bow my head in front of him.

He slowly sits up on his cot, staring at me with confusion written on his face. His confusion gives me an upper hand. I force my feet to move, taking one step closer to his cage.

“Do you know how hard it was to pretend earlier?”

His head tilts and I catch his eyes shift from side to side, checking to see if I’m alone.

“No one is here. Just… us. We’re all that is left. Unless…” I bravely take another step closer to the chain-link, squinting my eyes out of curiosity. “Do you see them? Are you haunted by them like I am?”