Thárros


Available from: Harmony Ink Press
Release Date: April 14, 2016
Cover by Reese Dante

Θάρρος
Thárros. Greek. Meaning courage
Courage. n. /ˈkərij/
1. The ability to do something that frightens one.
2. Strength in the face of fear, pain, or grief.

Courage is resistance to fear,
mastery of fear,
not the absence of fear. ~Mark Twain

~*~

High school senior Michael Sattler leads a charmed life. Almost. He has great friends, parents who love him just the way he is, and he was a champion hurdler until someone took out his knee when they kidnapped his boyfriend. Yet, Michael is determined to make the USATF tryouts in spite of his injuries.

Christy Castle is Michael’s entire world. Healing from years of abuse, his abduction by a predator has left him hiding a new secret as he tries to start his life again. Together, Michael and Christy work to recover from their wounds in time to make prom and graduate high school. To complicate matters, Christy is astonished to learn a fellow victim from his native Greece has survived. Christy will stop at nothing to bring him to the US to keep him safe.

But the prosecution of Christy’s kidnapper looms large in their futures and the struggle to return to normal only worsens. Christy's past continues to haunt them and, when the prosecution turns ugly and Christy’s new life is torn apart, only their unrelenting courage and determination can save them from the nightmare that threatens to destroy their future together.

~*~

CHAPTER ONE

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital

UPSTATE NEW YORK, April, 2012

Michael’s knee burned and sweat beaded on his chest and rolled down his abs as he leg-pressed a lame three hundred and fifty pounds for the fifteenth time. Determined to make four hundred and fifty pounds by the third set, he dismounted the machine, added two twenty-five-pound plates to the sled, and resumed. Fueled by rage and hatred for Yosef Sanna, the reps came easy, a satisfying clank filling the air each time he pressed the sled to its limit. With each fury-driven leg-press came another design, another plan for what he’d like to do to the man who’d kidnapped and abused his boyfriend. The same man who’d taken out his knee, put his best friend, Jake, in the hospital with a life-threatening concussion, and permanently disfigured Jake’s girlfriend. He would do whatever it took to make sure the bastard rotted in prison. He would not fail.

He completed the fifteenth rep, added another fifty pounds to the sled, and began the last set. On the second rep, his knee began to give way. He didn’t care. The more it burned, the more determined he became. He would do whatever it took to put his boyfriend back together again. When they got out of this godforsaken hospital, he’d take Christy to the waterfront so he could ride the Ferris wheel as many times as he wanted. He’d take Christy shopping so he could buy whatever clothes he wanted for prom. They’d make prom. They’d graduate from high school. He would not fail.

He’d thanked his lucky stars a thousand times over it was his left leg, his foreleg, that had taken the hit from the baseball bat during the kidnapping. Otherwise, his hurdling career would be over. And his scholarship to Oxford. So far, they’d agreed to stand behind it, but he wouldn’t take any chances. He would make the USATF tryouts this summer. He would not fail.

Peter, his physical therapist, leaned against the wall, arms folded over his chest, and watched him. He’d learned early on not to interfere with Michael’s determination to get back to a hundred percent. By the fifth rep, his knee wouldn’t hold and he shouted his frustration at the ceiling.

Peter shoved away from the wall, collected a clean towel, and brought it to him. “You done?”

Michael took the offered towel and wiped the sweat from his face and abs. “I’ll be back in four hours.”

“No, you won’t.”

Michael looked at the big, burly African American man, prepared to fire back.

“The doc wants to talk to you. So does Mr. Santini.”

Michael’s doc just so happened to be his dad and Mr. Santini, a lawyer, just so happened to be Jake’s dad. If they wanted to talk to him together, something was up. Michael silently prayed it was the news they’d waited for since Christy’s rescue two weeks ago: that the president of Greece had revoked Yosef Sanna’s diplomatic immunity so the United States could arrest and prosecute him for kidnapping Christy. He wrapped the towel around his neck and dismounted the machine.

“Make sure you soak your knee for thirty minutes,” Peter instructed as he checked the Velcro straps on Michael’s knee brace.

“Thanks, Peter.”

John, Michael’s security guard, waited for him at the door to the weight room. He would never have guessed in a million years that he’d need personal security, but with the kidnapping and the media, Mr. Santini insisted on it. Now, he lugged a security guard with him wherever he went. Man, my life has changed so damn much over the past six weeks.

“Ready?” John asked.

Michael nodded and limped down the hallway toward the elevator that would take them to the floor where he shared a hospital room with Christy. The room right next to the one Jake and Sophia shared.

He wiped more perspiration from is brow and neck, pressed the elevator call button, and mentally thanked his lucky stars yet again that they’d all be okay. Jake had survived a baseball bat to the head and emergency brain surgery, and was left with a mild tremor in one hand and no memory of their night out right before the kidnapping went down. Sophia’s injuries were superficial, the knife intended only to scar her beautiful face and body, and ruin her modeling career. Christy, on the other hand, hadn’t been so lucky. Badly beaten and run down by a car, Christy had two fractured legs, broken ribs, and hundreds of stitches in his hands. And, in a supreme act of unmitigated cruelty, Yosef had cut through the scar that already bisected Christy’s neck, a souvenir from the previous abuse he’d endured. “Bastard,” he muttered under his breath as the elevator doors opened and he stepped aside to allow people to exit.

A doctor glanced at him briefly, having overheard the utterance.

“Sorry,” Michael said softly as he boarded the elevator with John.

“You okay?” John asked once the doors slid closed and he took a place against the wall, hands clasped neatly in front of him.

Michael nodded as the elevator lurched and began to ascend. “Do you know what my dad and Mr. Santini want to talk to me about?”

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”

They rode on in silence. With endorphins from the workout still ringing in his system, Michael took slow, even breaths in an effort to remain calm.

John pressed a button on his watch acknowledging a communication from another guard, an action Michael had become all too familiar with. John reached for the stop button and the elevator came to an abrupt halt. “They’re dealing with a reporter. It’ll be a moment.”

Michael’s fury at Yosef multiplied exponentially, as it always did when he thought about their loss of privacy on top of everything else. The media had been rabid since the kidnapping and the discovery of Christy’s identity. John pressed the button on his watch again and released the stop button. The elevator lurched upward again.

“Do they know how he got onto the floor?” Michael asked.

“He dressed as an orderly.”

Michael was further angered. How many times had that happened since they’d arrived here? Ten? Twenty?

John moved to shield Michael right before the doors opened. After checking to ensure the area around the elevator was clear, he guided Michael down the hall, a comfortable but deliberate grip on his arm. Standard procedure.

Michael rounded the corner to see the reporter struggling with two security guards. He ignored the scuffle and continued down the hallway.

“Michael! Michael! The US Attorney filed criminal charges against you this morning for assaulting Yosef Sanna. Would you care to comment?” the reporter shouted.

Rage infused every fiber of Michael’s being and he turned abruptly to ask what in hell the guy was talking about.

John’s grip tightened on his arm. “Let it go, Michael.”

Michael jerked his arm free and strode to his room, ignoring the searing pain in his knee, and found some small satisfaction in John having to trot to keep up with him. He barged through the door and glanced at Christy’s bed. It was empty and he turned to his dad.

“Where’s Christy?” he demanded.

“I sent him for some x-rays,” Mac responded calmly.

“What in hell is that asshole out there talking about?”

“Michael.”

The warning tone in his dad’s voice had his jaw clenching as he fought to rein in his temper.

“It’s all right, Mac. He has every right to be upset,” Nero Santini said calmly.

Nero was one of the largest men Michael had ever seen, both in height and girth, and was anything but demure.

“Tell me, Mr. Santini,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Thanks to General Sotíras, Yosef’s diplomatic immunity was revoked this morning and the FBI arrested him.”

This news was music to Michael’s ears and it went a long way in cooling his temper. Thanks to some strategically arranged interference, Yosef’s plane hadn’t been permitted to depart JFK’s private air terminal. Effectively, Yosef had been jailed in his plane on the tarmac while General Sotíras awaited the Greek president's decision.

“Did they arrest his goons, the guys who attacked us?”

“Yes,” Nero continued. “There will be a bail hearing on Tuesday morning—”

Michael exploded. “You gotta be fucking kidding me! Yosef gets bail? He can’t have bail! He’ll leave the country!”

Nero held a dinner-plate-sized hand up in a gentle “let me finish” gesture.

Michael swallowed hard, every nerve in his body ablaze with fury, and bit back the words that threatened to fly off his tongue.

“It’s a formality. Given the evidence, no bail will be set. They’ll remain in custody.”

Michael’s nervous system ratcheted down so fast he felt faint.

“Sit down, Michael,” Mac said softly.

“Fantastic. That’s fantastic, but what’s that reporter talking about?” Michael asked as he took a seat on the edge of his bed and waited for Nero to continue.

“Petros, Yosef’s father, made it public knowledge that you assaulted Yosef on the plane during Christy’s rescue. As a result, the US Attorney’s office is facing scrutiny from the media and certain political factions. In a gesture intended to give the impression of impartiality, Daniel McFarland, the US Attorney who will prosecute Yosef, charged you with fifth degree assault and battery.”

“That’s fucking bullshit!”

“In a manner of speaking it is as he has no intention of pursuing these or any other charges against you.”

This gave Michael pause, his anger stuttering through his mind. “I don’t understand.”

“Let’s say he did it for appearance’s sake.”

“It’s a sham to keep the press happy?”

“And for political reasons.”

Michael’s anger ebbed a fraction. “What about Oxford? They can withdraw my scholarship if I’m charged with a crime.”

“I’ve spoken with them and they understand the circumstances,” Nero said smoothly.

Michael relaxed a little more. “Okay. Thanks. When’s Christy going to be back, Dad?”

“Any moment now. What did you do to your hand?”

“What are you talking about?” Michael looked down at his bandaged hands. He’d earned several stitches climbing the same razor-wire-covered fence Christy had climbed in an effort to escape Yosef. They both had stitched hands, and blood now seeped through the gauze on one hand. “I probably did it when I added weights to the machine.”

“That’s what your physical therapist is for,” Mac chastised as he pressed the nurse call-button.

Within seconds, a nurse appeared and Mac pointed to Michael’s hand and asked her to change the bandage. She departed in silence only to return a few moments later with supplies.

“Nero has something he’d like to ask you,” Mac said.

Michael looked at Nero expectantly as the nurse removed the bandage from his hand. He gritted his teeth as she swabbed his palm with alcohol, then displayed his palm for his dad’s inspection. Mac nodded his approval and she bandaged his hand again.

“How is Christy doing with the nightmares?” Nero asked.

Christy had worked his ass off for a year trying to get beyond his nightmares and Michael hated Yosef all the more for bringing them back. They were fresh and raw again, Christy reliving the hell of his past, and waking nightly in screams. Michael always held him, reassured him, and rubbed his back until he fell asleep again. “Last night was the first night he’s had without them since the kidnapping. Why?”

Nero sighed deeply. “General Sotíras raided the Sanna yacht this morning. They found several more victims than expected. He sent photographs and would like Christy to identify them if he can.”

“They can’t identify themselves?”

“They’re dead.”



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