Stryker - Lexi Buchanan

Prologue ~ Stryker ~ 10 years ago

“DAD, I’M NOT SURE this is such a good idea.” My heart raced in my chest as though it would explode. My palms went slick as fear coursed through my veins.

I’d already thought Dad’s late night plans were a bad idea…and they seemed worse the minute I saw the dark, deserted alley. It gave me the chills.

Nothing good was up that alley.

Even at fourteen I knew it, but my dad was determined so I followed him across the street. Something shouted for me to run, which gave me pause, but my legs had a mind of their own and followed him.

My dad turned, and then frowned when he noticed the slight hesitation in my usual eagerness to follow him anywhere. The nervous twitch in his right eye went crazy. “It isn’t, but it’s the only thing I can do.”

Before I could work out what he meant, my dad grabbed my arm as though he was afraid I’d run. He dragged me to the mouth of what I considered a nightmare.

The stench of rotten food made me want to hurl. Every creak, even the wind howling around us, had my eyes constantly straining to see through the pitch black. I half expected someone to jump out brandishing a gun, or knife, or some other weapon.

Head down, my eyes landed on the hold my dad had on my arm. Something wasn’t right. In fact, nothing about the evening felt right.

I knew my dad constantly bet on the fighters in the cage, winning and losing on a regular basis, but what that had to do with tonight, if anything, I didn’t know. My dad never took me to the fights no matter how much I begged. I wanted to hang out with dad…wanted to be like the fighters—tough, strong, fearless. One day, that would be me standing in the cage with the crowds shouting my name. Then my dad wouldn’t have any choice about keeping me away from that life.

I’d never understood the obsession my dad had for the fights, but they’d put him on a high for days afterwards…unless he lost.

Pulled to a stop, I felt the shake of my dad’s hand as his grip tightened. He turned to look at me and the fear I saw in his eyes was something I’d never expected to see. My blood turned to ice and the wrongfulness of the night felt all too real as a large vehicle headed down the alley from the opposite entrance.

Caught in the headlights, my first reaction was to run and hide. The tension jumping off my dad was high. His breathing was frantic and sweat beaded on his forehead.

With my free hand, I shoved the black hood of my sweatshirt from my head so I didn’t miss anything.

My pulse hammered in my neck and all I could hear was my heartbeat thrashing in my ears.

When my dad’s only reaction was to stand and stare at the approaching vehicle, I knew then, that they where here because of him.

What had he done?

“Dad?” I turned and hoped he’d offer me an explanation as fear and anger knotted in my gut.

He didn’t and wouldn’t meet my gaze until the purr of the SUV’s engine cut off. “Son, I’m sorry. If there was any other way I’d have taken it, but there isn’t…I love you. You won’t believe those words soon, but I mean them with every breath I take.”

“What?”

Before he could say more, the doors of the SUV opened and a large man climbed out, moving behind us. Three other men emerged and stood in front.

The one in a dark suit stepped forward, his steely eyes on my dad. “Peter.”

“Mr—”

“No names tonight…Peter.” His gaze slid to me and my breath caught at the back of my throat. He looked me over—assessing. “He’ll do.”

What did he mean?

“Dad?”

My dad didn’t explain and, seconds later, I felt his grip on my arm loosen as the large guy stepped closer.

None of this made any sense, but I’d known something was wrong the minute I’d stepped out of our apartment.

It was obvious that my dad had done, said, or agreed to something, but my brain worked overtime trying to work out just what.

Then I felt my wrists clasped tightly before they were pulled behind my back in a grip so strong that I knew even as I struggled that I wouldn’t get free.

“Dad,” I shouted, my eyes begged him to help me, but he just watched while they dragged me away.

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