Damsel In Distress
By Brenna Lyons
Nothing in his training has prepared Corey for the Beast enclave he encounters. They are serial torturers. They take trophies of their kills. They may even be flesh eaters. Expunging them is the least he can do to give their latest victim peace of mind.
After three days in the hands of the Beasts, Hannah is scarred, blood weak, and suffering severe PTSD. The fact that the Beasts got away with their crimes in Armen range is a stain on the entire house and will be for centuries.
The only person Hannah trusts is Corey. With the aid of the Stone in controlling his sexual drives, can he help Hannah reclaim her life and her sexuality? Can she accept any man after what the Beasts did to her? Only time will tell.
Hannah tried to force herself to move, but the pain made her head spin. There was no chance she would make it to her feet, less chance she could find her way home in the near future. Even finding her way to a phone and help seemed beyond her wildest dreams.
She raised her head, focusing blearily on a doorway and light beyond. Light was good. The...things—whatever they were, because they certainly weren’t human—didn’t like the light. She knew that much. Hannah reached a hand out, dragging herself across the cold tile toward her only hope. Light.
Until the sun goes down again, and it starts all over. She shuddered at that, certain she’d be no closer to freedom when that moment came. Just the thought of claws and teeth—and their bodies touching hers—wrenched a sob from her.
Whatever they were—vampires or some other kind of monster—they reveled in blood and pain. They drank the blood from the cuts they inflicted, and they drank the blood torn from her battered tissues after sex. Part of her wished they’d drink enough to send her into shock and kill her, but they hadn’t so far. They healed the wounds, just enough to make sure the blood wasn’t wasted and that they didn’t take too much at once. Anemic or not, she wasn’t going to die of blood loss anytime soon.
The shaft of sunlight beckoned, and Hannah made her way toward it, each inch gained sending shards of agony through her thighs and abdomen. Even her bruised and scarred body didn’t ache as much as the sorely-used center of her sexuality.
She needed to touch the light more than she needed water or food, needed this small victory more than she needed freedom. While her heart argued that last, her rational mind knew there was no chance of escape...save this small one.
It seemed to take forever to reach it. Her heart pounded with every muscle-clenching slide across the cold floor. Her head spun in the certainty that it was some trick, that it was a strong artificial light meant to give her false hope, that it would disappear the moment she reached it and the torture would start again. Alternately, she feared the sun was going down, that she’d reach the light just as it faded away naturally.
Hannah held her breath at the threshold of the larger room; her hand hovered at the edge of the light, shaking. She stared at the bright glow surrounding her fingers, blinking hard to make the tears clouding the beautiful vision fall. With one last gargantuan heave, Hannah pulled herself into the light, turning to catch the rays on her face, her entire body trembling.
They could kill her now. If she had this for just a few minutes, she could die without a qualm.
Corey Armen slammed the door of his truck shut, cursing how far out of the way this attack was. It had been over long before he’d arrived.
It wasn’t the loss of a kill that bothered him. It was the victim he was concerned for. If he or she wasn’t in evidence, Corey would be stuck with tracking to offer protection. Worse, if he couldn’t track the victim, there were too many unpleasant possibilities to consider, death nearly the least of them.
The smell was overpowering, and Corey recoiled from it. He calmed his nerves, then stepped into the abandoned mine refinery building. Abandoned by humans, that is. The place had been used by the beasts for years, it seemed, though the beasts must have bled victims without true feeding to hide it this long. The smell of death was thick and gut-wrenching, and Corey vowed to burn it when he left it. In the meantime, he had to search it, distasteful as that was.
As Corey half expected, based on the stench, the rooms were full of trophies of their kills. Bones and half-rotted skin peeled from helpless humans littered the first two rooms. The bile rose in Corey’s throat, and he swallowed it down. Burning this place would be a blessing.
A sound intruded on his concentration. Was it a sob? The slide against the ceiling was too large to be a rat; something else was in the building with him. Something alive. Corey backtracked to the stairs, his sacred weapon in hand, though there was little possibility a beast was above ground at this hour. More likely, he’d found the victim still alive.
The second floor was office space, a more polished though weather-rotted area. The scent of fresh blood and sex was strong. This was where they took their victims. Downstairs was the slaughterhouse for the dead. He shuddered at the possibility that the victims hadn’t been dead when they were slaughtered. He’d heard of flesh-eating beasts, but they were thankfully few and far between.
The first room was stacked with furniture from the others. The second was bare, save the bolts worked into the floor and ceiling, a metal plate full of rotting food, and an empty metal mug. The smell of sex was overpowering, and Corey didn’t question that far too many had suffered degradation here. The trappings of forced sex lay about. There were whips, oral dams, and all manner of cutting tools, not that the beasts needed the last with the claws they were surely able to form.
At the third room, he stopped short, disbelief stealing his battle sense for an instant. The victim lay on the floor, her bruised face turned to the sunlight streaming through a high window. Her face was nearly without color; even the tear tracks on her cheeks hadn’t reddened, as they usual would. He would have thought she was dead, if it wasn’t for her shivering and the shallow movements of her chest with each breath.
Her torn blouse gaped open, revealing ragged tears on her chest and abdomen, healed by the beasts, probably for the sole purpose of extending her life for more torture. The blouse was the only clothing she wore, and Corey stared in dismay at the scars peeking from between her trembling thighs.
“Gods,” he breathed. “Dear gods.” He’d never seen depravity on this scale before. Corey hardly knew where to begin rebuilding a life after it. A simple rape and feeding, yes. But this?
Begin at the beginning. Get her out of here. Corey sheathed his weapon and knelt to her side, laying a hand on her shoulder gently.
A sob escaped her throat, and she tensed. The words to reassure her stuck in his throat. What could Corey possibly promise? That he’d make this right? He wasn’t sure he could.
“I’m here to help. Trust me. I won’t let them touch you again.” That was something he could promise with confidence.
She blinked her eyes, searching his face. After a long moment, she nodded. He didn’t waste time; Corey scooped her to his chest and made his way back to the truck. Then he wrapped her in a blanket and settled her inside. He took a deep breath and slid behind the wheel.
Begin at the beginning. But what now?
Corey’s fingers shook against the buttons on the phone, and it took him two tries to dial the manor. His gaze strayed to the woman asleep on the bed, an IV in her arm feeding her both glucose solution and a mild sedative.
“Manor,” Tim answered.
“I need Tyler,” he replied simply.
“Tyler,” he repeated. No one but his house lord would do, in this case.
“You’ve got it. Hang on.”
The wait was maddening. By the time Tyler came on the line, Corey was certain his heart would burst from continued pounding.
“I need men, and I need them fast.”
“Tim! What is it?” his house lord inquired. “Start waking the men. Now.” That was obviously delivered to Tim. The fact that Tyler didn’t question his assessment heartened Corey.
“We have an enclave that needs to be expunged. Tonight. If we don’t take them tonight, we may lose them entirely. If that happens...” He swallowed down a painful lump, flicking his gaze to Hannah again. “You don’t want more victims like the one I’m caring for, Tyler. You don’t want to lose more this way, either. We have to stop them here, before they set up shop again.”
A sharply indrawn breath came back to him. “How bad is it?”
“Not to get too technical... And thank the gods her memories aren’t clear, because I pray to Tes they never are. She’s been bled and raped multiple times, over at least three nights so far. She’s certain of three beasts, but there may be more. I almost burned the site, but this is all I can give her, the end to the ones who did this to her. But I can’t do it alone. I need men, Tyler. I need them before nightfall.”
“They’ve done this before?”
Corey ground his teeth at the truth. “I can’t even calculate how many we’ve lost this way. They take trophies.” His stomach lurched at the memory. “So many trophies.”
“You have the men. Four hours. As many as I can roust and get to your location in that time. But Corey...”
“Don’t leave her alone. Not after dark.”
Memories of Hannah’s terror when he’d delivered her to Marcos for medical aid seared him. Corey had stayed with her through the entire ordeal, holding her hand and making promises for her safety. Part of him wanted to take the hearts of every beast who’d touched her. Another part wanted to stay by her side. It wasn’t simply his duty to do it that drove him; he wanted to be there for her.
“I’ll lead them to the site during daylight hours,” he decided. “They can take the enclave without me. Hannah needs me.”
“Are you sure about this?” Tyler asked carefully.
He didn’t need to be more specific. Warriors of Armen were known for falling for the damsels in distress, fast and hard. If there’d ever been a woman who needed help, it was Hannah.
“She needs me, Tyler. I have to be here for her, as long as she needs me...or as long as I can.”
“Not too long,” he cautioned.
“No. Of course not.”
Hannah shifted on the bed, stretching her hand out in search of Corey. He took it, as she knew he would. It was enough. Just the fact that he was there was all she needed to feel safe, though she didn’t understand why he affected her that way.
It wasn’t that Corey took her out of the torture chamber. Just the sound of his voice had convinced her that he wasn’t like the ones who’d hurt her.
She opened her eyes, focusing on him with some effort. Corey sat in a chair at the bedside, stroking her hand, his expression soft and calming. He didn’t waste words asking how she was. There was silence, but it was a pleasant silence...comfortable.
“They’ll be here soon,” he assured her.
Hannah furrowed her brow. “Who?” Her hand tightened in the unspoken fear that the people showing up were meant to replace Corey.
“I’m not leaving,” he soothed her.
She nodded, her breathing easing. “Who?” she requested again.
“More like me. It’s over. They’ve killed the ones who...” He met her gaze fully for a moment. “They’ve incinerated the site, Hannah. It won’t happen again. You have my vow on that.”
She choked back a sob, nodding. Over. She could hardly believe it.
Corey raised her hand to his lips. He didn’t kiss her knuckles as she expected; instead, his breath and skin warmed her. He trailed a fingertip along the bracelet he’d given her as part of his protection. Whether it was a vow that he would protect her or a way to assure himself that she still wore it, she wasn’t sure.
Time seemed to have no meaning. Corey didn’t move, even when the door to the room opened and someone stepped inside.
Hannah took her time, turning to the new arrival slowly.
The man was dressed much as Corey was, older but not by much, she’d wager. He took a step toward her, and Hannah shied closer to Corey.
His eyes opened, panning to the new arrival. Corey guided her hand back to the bed but didn’t release it. “Tyler,” he rumbled.
Tyler dropped to one knee. “You have my vow, Hannah.”
Her voice shook. “Vow?”
“All of Armen is at your service. If you have need, it will be provided. That something like this happened in our range...” He blanched. “It never should have happened in our range.”
She nodded. “I don’t understand what this means, but thank you.”
Tyler tipped his head to Corey. “Cabin ten is at your disposal.”
Corey sighed. “Good choice. Thank you.”
Hannah’s head spun. Following the conversation was tiring. “I don’t understand.”
Corey hesitated. “Do you believe you could walk down a crowded street?”
His voice was soothing, but the words sent a spike of fear through her. People touched you on crowded streets. They got close. The noise. The scents. She shook her head, working through the physical impossibility of staying at her apartment, returning to work, shopping... How was she supposed to live?
Tyler rose, taking a step back to give her space as she edged away. “We’ll move your belongings for you. You have my word, Hannah. Everything you own will be moved for you before you arrive.”
Her heart ached at that. The idea of being alone was worse. She started to protest.
Corey stroked his thumb over her hand. “You have my word, Hannah. I’ll be there for you.”
She met his gaze, sighing. “Okay.” Why couldn’t she come up with something better than that?
“I spoke to Marcos and Sherri,” Tyler continued.
“When Hannah’s ready...” He glanced to her then away.
“What?” she asked nervously.
Corey squeezed her hand lightly. “A psychiatrist, when you’re up to it.”
“I’m not crazy,” she reminded him.
“No. But you may want to talk.”
She considered that. “Not now.”
“If you want to. When you want to.”
Hannah closed her eyes, relaxing into the pillow.
“Take care of her,” Tyler ordered quietly.
“I will,” Corey replied. “I will.”