Found Again by Lynn Tyler by Lynn Tyler - Read Online

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Found Again - Lynn Tyler

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Lieutenant Colonel Mark Thompson picked his way through the thick jungle, keeping his eyes peeled for any source of viable protein. It was vital that he bring meat back for Pay. The kid wouldn’t have a chance at shifting and healing without it. Normally, he would be able to scent any small prey around, but the smell of rotting leaves and animal excrement made it hard to locate what he needed.

Sweat dripped down his back, causing his shirt to stick uncomfortably to his skin. Stripping down to just his pants was tempting, but the cloud of little bug vampires that swarmed around his face convinced him to keep all his clothes firmly in place.

Every single muscle in his body burned. The gnawing ache in his stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten in nearly two days and he had to fight to keep his eyes open. But he kept moving forward, forcing one foot in front of the other, because if he stopped he would never get up again.

And that would be catastrophic for them all.

His mind spun with conflicting thoughts and emotions. He’d led his men directly into an ambush. He should have listened to his instincts about what was going on. All the signs had been there. They hadn’t had a supply drop-off in months, leaving them to deal with the locals in Afghanistan and trading things they desperately needed on the black market for things they needed more.

The timing of the order to relocate to their present location, right after their fourth missed supply drop, had been the last straw. He knew he had to get them out of the military before they were pushed over the edge, either into death or into madness.

He’d managed to arrange a safe pack in northern Ontario, one that was willing to take them all, and had come to grips with the reality that he would be encouraging his men to abandon their posts.

He should have listened to the small voice in the back of his mind that begged him to push up his timeline. But really, how could he have known that they were being sent into a trap, a setup? And that they would be abandoned by the very country they were serving?

There was no way he could have known, of course. But it didn’t change the fact that he was responsible for his unit, and that, under his command, one of his men had been killed and another gravely injured.

The gruesome wound on Pay’s face flashed in his mind. The youngest member of their unit and the sweetest by far, the boy wasn’t meant for battle. He should be at home, studying for university finals, eating his mother’s home-cooked meals and flirting with anything that had a heartbeat.

He shoved the thought deep into the recesses of his mind. Pay didn’t need his pity; he needed protein to provide him with enough energy to shift. So he let the thought of saving Pay motivate him to keep going. He would mourn for Doc later, when his men were safe.

A rustle in a nearby tree caught his attention. He stiffened and tightened his grip on his gun. Some kind of monkey skittered into view, staring down at him curiously. He shook his head in frustration and kept looking for a smaller, easier-to-catch animal. The monkey would probably provide enough meat for all of them—and God knew they were in desperate need of the calories—but preparing it so it was fit for consumption would take more time than they had. The deprivation training they’d all endured to be able to join this unit had only prepared them for so much. And who knew when they would have access to food again.

The inability to make a decision overwhelmed him. Air clogged in his throat, too heavy and wet to slide down into his lungs easily. The humidity pressed in on him from both inside and out, and it was impossible to draw in a full breath. In Afghanistan, the dry, scorching air might have burned their throats but at least he’d been able to breathe properly.

He still harbored the hope that he was trapped in a nightmare, that he would wake up and see Doc—whole, happy, and alive. It was hard to believe that only a few days ago the sole concern was whether or not the Canadian military would see fit to restock their supplies and issue them uniforms that suited their environment.

He wiped the perspiration out of his eyes with the back of his hand, shuddering when a cold sweat broke out over the back of his neck. His throat worked, saliva flooding his mouth as his body struggled against his mind’s resistance to ridding his stomach of the rest of its contents. He closed his eyes and breathed through his nose. Puking up the meager amount of water he’d swallowed was definitely something his body could do without.

It took a few moments more of deep breathing and visualization before he was sure he could start moving without anything making an unpleasant exit, but eventually he was able to stagger a few steps forward. He pushed his way through the jungle, forcing his woozy mind to focus on the task at hand.

At least the air was still, with no wind to carry any scents away. He would be able to track any prey anywhere once he could distinguish its odor over everything else. It was a huge advantage.

Of course, the prey had the same advantage. His own scent would reek of predator, and any animal that caught his smell would stay well away from him.

He sifted through the fragrances in the air, considering his choices carefully, until he zeroed in on some warm, coppery aromas through the cacophony of smells. The monkey was still somewhere close by. There was also a rodent or something, frozen in fear a few feet away. He could detect the adrenaline coming from both animals, both having realized he was a much bigger, and far deadlier predator than they were used to.

The rodent would be easier to catch, of course. No climbing necessary. But it didn’t offer much meat.

He was still debating whether to spend the energy on trapping the monkey so all of them would have some much-needed food or conserving his energy and precious time by going with the rodent, when a strange sound buzzed from somewhere to his left. Whatever it was startled the rodent out of its fear and it scampered away. The sound was familiar, something that sparked both hope and terror in his heart.

It was an engine. A loud engine.

It was doubtful the guerrillas had access to a vehicle, and even if they did it wouldn’t be a large one.

For a brief moment, hope flared in his chest. Maybe he’d been wrong when he’d assumed that his government and military had abandoned him and his men in the wild to die. Perhaps, somehow, they had tracked them down and had sent in backup, hopefully with medical supplies.

Then again, it was more likely that whoever had put the guerrillas up to attacking them had heard about what happened and had decided to finish the job themselves.

His claws popped through the skin at the tips of his fingers before he even had a chance to realize he was about to shift. Without stopping to figure out how he’d managed to halt his change in the middle he used the claws to his advantage, scaling the nearest tree.

The bark and wood gave way under his claws and he used his thighs to grip the trunk and help push him up as he climbed. It was amazing what a little adrenaline could do for a tired body.

He climbed until he saw the canopy towering ten feet above him, then stopped. The foliage wasn’t thick enough to camouflage him, but he didn’t have much choice. He searched the area, scanning the ground for any sign of the vehicle. It didn’t take long to find it.

It was an open, Jeep-type military vehicle. He could make out a bunch of people in the back, could see the rifles sticking up from where they were strapped to their backs.

He could also see the Russian flag emblazoned on the door.

These people were definitely here to pick them up, but not to rescue them.

Fuck. He glanced down at the ground. The distance between him and the forest floor was staggering. When had he climbed so high?

Down was a lot harder than up. His claws anchored him to the tree, and while it had worked to his advantage on the way up they did nothing but slow him down on the way back. He slid down the tree as fast as he could, only letting his claws graze the bark in an effort to return to his men as fast as possible.

Too slow. He’d never make it back to the clearing in time to warn them at this rate.

He had to be close enough to the ground to jump by now. A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed it. The drop was maybe five feet. All he had to do was soften his knees when landing so he didn’t break an ankle and he could shave off thirty seconds, maybe a full minute, and right now he needed every spare second he could get.

His heart crawled up his chest until it sat solidly at the base of his throat. He pushed away from the tree trunk and dropped like a stone. Air roared in his ears and seconds stretched into hours even though he didn’t have time to open his mouth to scream.

Until he did have time. He came to a sudden stop, his body jerking to a halt a split second before a lightning strike of agony had him attempting to curl into the fetal position.

And then he was on the ground, sprawled out, his back arched over what he could only assume was one of the tree’s giant roots. The pain was so intense he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. It felt like bricks had been stacked on his chest as he struggled to inhale. White haze clouded his vision. A small voice that sounded exactly like one of his boot camp sergeants recited symptoms in the back of his head. Shock, it chided him. The voice listed off treatments, water and warmth being the first. It wasn’t until the fog dissipated and his breathing eased that he registered the sound of the engine, closer than before.

Fuck. He didn’t have time to figure out what he’d injured, let alone how he’d done it.

He rolled to his side, grunting when the pain increased exponentially. He’d never known his body was capable of producing that much agony. The muck and slime of the jungle floor oozed through the knees of his pants, adding to his discomfort. He planted his palms on the ground to push up to his feet and promptly collapsed. At least he knew where the pain was radiating from. His right wrist pointed inward. His claws hadn’t retracted fully and blood was pouring from one. Well, fuck. He’d somehow declawed himself on the fucking tree. He stared at the claw still embedded in the trunk and tried not to throw up again. Claws were an extension of the hand bones, and it looked like he’d managed to pull one out completely.

The edges of his field of vision began graying out, little black spots dancing in front of his eyes. He concentrated for a few seconds on calming his racing heart. Now was not the time to pass out.

He staggered to his feet and forced them to move, placing one foot in front of the other until he didn’t feel like he was going to fall over. Much.

As soon as he balanced his body weight, he broke into a dead sprint. His men needed him. They needed a warning to scatter, to hide in the thick jungle until the threat passed. He couldn’t have another death on his shoulders. He wasn’t sure he could live through it.

He had no idea how much time had passed since he’d spotted the Russians, or how far