Ransom (The Unchained Omegaverse #1) - Callie Rhodes

Chapter One

Scorching yellow and red flames spiraled up from the crater in the center of the vast, empty grasslands. Acrid black smoke rose into the sky, climbing high above the plains of rural Nebraska before being caught by the wind and carried west, tendrils of toxic inky fumes drifting far into the distance.

Other than that, it was a beautiful day.

Butterflies danced on the summer breeze that rippled through the tall grass, and bees lit on the sun-dappled petals of yellow and white wildflowers. The slim pale trunks of aspen trees in the distance swayed in time to a melody all their own, shaking their leaves like castanets. Yes, Ransom Forester thought, this was the most gorgeous day he’d seen in eight years.

Of course, that wasn't a hard bar to clear, given that he'd spent every day of those eight years as a captive in a windowless prison—the same one that he was currently watching burn to the ground.

It was hard to decide which was the more satisfying view: the boundless countryside or the inferno consuming his old torture chamber. Not that it mattered, since Ransom had plenty of time to enjoy both. Only moments had passed since his escape from the Central Infectious Disease Research Facility, and he wasn’t going anywhere until he got his vengeance.

Ransom took his time walking across the field away from the fire. There was no reason to rush, since it would take a while for the first emergency crews to reach such a remote location, leaving him plenty of time to choose his vantage point.

He found it half a mile away among a scattering of poplars next to a dry creek bed. The waters had carved a deep path into the earth, but the trees and tall bluestem grass obscured the steep-walled gully until he was nearly on top of it. He jumped down into it and found that the earthen walls served as perfect cover, letting him vanish from view—quite a trick for a seven-foot-tall alpha.

Ransom settled in to wait, propping his elbows on the bank of the gully and parting the grass to give him a clear line of sight to the fire.

For nearly an hour, he watched the deceptively modest building burn. The flames reduced it to a skeleton in half that time, but the inferno continued to bellow soot and ash from the center as the first responders finally arrived.

Ransom smirked as highway patrol officers and sheriffs from two different counties came in hot with lights and sirens blaring, trailing huge plumes of dust behind their SUVs. He wondered why were they in such a hurry—it wasn't as if they could arrest the fire.

But even when the firefighters figured out how to get their rigs down the miles of rutted dirt road, they were going to have a hell of a time putting out this beast of a blaze. Ransom looked forward to seeing the expression on their faces when they discovered that this government facility reached far beyond the unexceptional two-story building on the surface, extending twelve floors below the earth.

They'd get another surprise when they found that the blaze had been triggered by a cache of grenades, mortars, RPGs, and an impressive SAB 250-200 bomb, all of it packed in bricks of C-4.

Before they made that discovery, though, the fire would have to burn itself out, and that would take days, maybe weeks. Even if every fire department in a 50-mile radius responded, there was nothing they could do about the huge stores of fuel burning in what was now just a cavernous pit.

Ransom had discovered the facility's armory during his escape. None of the alpha brothers he'd been with understood the potential of such a treasure trove of weapons—but he did.

Born into a family with many generations of military service, Ransom and his twin brother Ryan had been obsessed with combat from the moment they could walk.

He almost felt sorry for the beta government functionary who'd have to explain why a research laboratory, ostensibly housing some of the deadliest pathogens on the planet, needed so much firepower.

Of course, there was only one living beta who could answer that question, and Ransom knew that bastard would do everything in his power to make sure that the public never found out.

But that didn't mean that Roger Fulmer would escape justice.

Ransom would see to that. It was why he'd set the blaze in the first place.

As cathartic as it was to watch the facility burn to the ground, the satisfaction of destroying