Chapter ten is a short chapter (only 2 pages), so I added chapter eleven for your enjoyment as well. Enjoy the crazy surprises!
An abducted cop and a gladiator prisoner must learn to
trust each other with their lives…and their hearts…to escape their alien
The blood frozen on Max’s face and in his nostrils made breathing difficult. He gulped in air, trying to catch his breath. As he did, the blood cracked, giving him a little relief.
After days of survival and bloodshed, the regional championship had come down to two alpha gladiators—him and Regan.
Covered in as much blood, Regan wielded his broadsword with a power and fluidity that equaled his own. Their swords clashed.
It was a miracle he’d made it this far. He hadn’t been focused. He didn’t care. As much as he would’ve liked to kill Regan, what was the point?
Who was he fighting for?
Max sidestepped a blow. His boot’s crampons dug into the snow-covered ice.
He wasn’t fighting for the Hyboreans. He didn’t give a crap about them.
Aiming for Regan’s collarbone, he brought down his gladimort sword at an angle. Again, the blades crashed. Vibrations shot up his arms.
He wasn’t fighting for himself. His life was meaningless.
Regan attacked, sword slashing. Max stepped back on an angle, squatting on his back leg, and blocked the strike with the flat of his blade. He shifted his weight to the front leg, lunging forward with a thrust. Regan moved back out of striking distance.
Slowly they circled, giving him an opportunity to catch his breath.
So what if he won? He’d still be a beast. He couldn’t fool himself any longer, not after what happened in the breeding box—or afterward. The Hyboreans had stripped him of his last bit of humanity. They had turned him into the one thing he vowed never to become.
They had broken his spirit, and he accepted his defeat.
Yet he couldn’t stop fighting. Why?
Because animals have strong survival instincts.
And no souls.
He swung his gladimort again. Regan evaded and countered with a thrust.
Stabbing pain ripped through Max’s abdomen. Fire burned inside, the blaze searing his spine and back. He gulped air but couldn’t breathe.
Keeled over, he stared at Regan’s fist, twisting and swirling the sword’s hilt as the blade shredded his innards. Blood spilled onto the trampled white powder, turning the footprints red.
His strength drained like the fading beam of a lightstick with dead batteries. An icy chill invaded his muscles, numbing them.
Regan jerked a fistful of Max's hair, snapping his head back. Regan’s smug mouth moved, but Max heard no sound.
His legs gave out, and he fell back onto the ground. The gray clouds blustering across the sky blurred and then dimmed into darkness until he saw nothing more.
A memory came to him. Red-blonde hair. A woman. Fighting spirit. And a devil’s fire.
Was she watching him die?
Pain receded until he felt nothing more.
They would kill her spirit like they killed his. He hated that thought.
And then he thought nothing more.
Cloud wisps floated across the blue holographic sky like they did when Addy first saw them six days—one Hyborean week—ago.
Duncan sat in the grass with his back against the side of his house. She crouched down to see what he was whittling and picked up some of the shavings. Yellow color. Straight grain. Scent of potato skins. “Yellow cedar.”
“Used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes, as well as for making dishes, masks, paddles, and—”
“Boats.” Duncan proudly held up his work in progress. He glanced from Addy to Tess. “Where are the two of ye headed?”
“The grove,” Tess answered. “We’re out of oranges.”
“Sorry. I’ve been really hungry lately.” Without the use of her sport utility and other earthly conveniences, Addy’s caloric needs had increased.
“Well, if ye bump into Regan on the way, ask if he needs more whiskey for his celebration.”
The pit of Addy’s stomach twisted. Regan was the last person she wanted to bump into, which was why they’d be taking the long way to the orchard. She didn’t want to go anywhere near the training field.
He had returned yesterday, victor of the survival race. That meant he’d be on testosterone overload. It also meant Max had been killed. Along with thirty-nine other men. For some reason, they were always an afterthought.
Why did Max’s death bother her so much? It’s not like they were friends. Seriously, she had barely known the guy. It must’ve been some kind of Earthling-bond thing as he was the only other person she met who had been abducted. Everyone else was born here. Duncan may have learned about his ancestral home through his father’s stories, but he could never appreciate Earth like they did. They shared a bond because neither one belonged in this world. But now Max was gone.
Tess handed her a basket and led the way into the forest. They followed a well-worn path to a pristine lake and walked along its shoreline, listening to the lapping waters. The sound might have brought comfort had she not been thinking about gladiators and breeding.
No matter how much she wanted to, she couldn’t avoid Regan forever. Eventually, she’d be sent back to the sex box paired with that barbarian. Moths fluttered inside her stomach. He’d already sexually assaulted her the day they’d met. He’d have no qualms about abusing her or forcing himself on her if she put up a fight.
Considering that alpha gladiators like Max couldn’t beat Regan, it wouldn’t matter if she put up a fight. She’d end up just as pregnant.
She picked up a rock in her path and fast-pitched it into the lake like she and her father used to do. It didn’t make her feel any better. How could this have happened to her? All her life she’d been determined not to wind up like her mother, knocked up at nineteen and trapped in a life she wasn’t ready for and didn’t want.
But here she was trapped on Hyborea and forced to get knocked up at twenty-three.
Her stomach lurched, and she swallowed bitter bile.
Addy didn’t noticed the woman sunbathing until Tess spoke. “Hi, Shirley. Da has some books and school supplies for you.”
“New books to read?” The woman’s raspy voice sounded like she’d had a cigarette pack too many. “Your father never ceases to amaze me. Who’s your friend?”
“This is Addy.”
The woman propped herself on an elbow, shielded her eyes from the fake sun, and scrutinized Addy. “Fresh off the ship, eh?”
She must’ve been in her mid-fifties but looked older with that tanned-to-leather sun-worshiper face. Even so, she had eyes that sparkled and a body shaped like a generously proportioned hourglass. She was the second woman Addy met who didn’t have a swollen belly.
“How do you like it here?” Shirley asked.
It sucks. Plain and simple. She shrugged a noncommittal response.
“Addy misses Earth.”
Shirley sat up, adjusted the shoulder strap on her brown one-piece bathing suit. “What do ya miss most? The pollution? The corruption? The rat race?”
No. She missed her father most. A familiar ache crept into her heart. It was the same ache that resulted in a dampened pillow every night. What she wouldn’t give to hike once more with him, listen to him name the trees and plants and their uses. She’d fall into his strong arms, his loving embrace, and thank him for all he’d given. She’d tell him again how much she loved him. Hell, if she could go home, she might consider telling her mother that.
“I miss my family. Don’t you?”
She snorted. “Honey, back home I worked two jobs and barely made ends meet. I married a white trash bum who drank my paychecks faster than I could pay the bills. I cooked, cleaned, and took care of his sorry ass for thirteen miserable years. Coming here was an answer to my prayers.”
“You prayed for this?”
“Look around you, girl. It’s beautiful. And there’s no money worries. No responsibilities. No pressure to keep up with the Joneses. All you have to do is be. It’s paradise.”
“Paradise? What about HuBReC?”
Eyes gleaming, she grinned like the devil. “Honey, I haven’t been with an ugly male yet.”
Was this woman for real? “But they take your children.”
“Ah, there’s your problem. You can’t think of ’em as yours. I never did. We’re surrogate mothers. That’s all. It’s a small price to pay for freedom.”
Freedom? If being a broodmare was freedom to this woman, she must’ve had a hell of a life on Earth.
Tess tapped Addy’s arm. “We best get going. See you later, Shirley.”
“Tell your dad I’ll stop by later for the books and supplies,” she called after them.
“There’s a school here?” Addy asked.
“I don’t get it. If the Hyboreans take the babies when they’re born, who’s the school for?”
“First of all, the Hyboreans don’t take newborns. The offspring stay with the mother until they are fully weaned.”
“How long is that?”
Tess shrugged. “It depends on the type of growth accelerator drug the child is given.”
“But long enough for the mother and baby to bond.”
“Don’t look forlorn, Addy. Many children stay right here in the Yard. Especially the males, since most belong to Xanthrag.”
For the second time that morning, Addy swallowed bile. She must be catching a cold or something. So much for Ferly Mor’s twice-a-day vitamin injections.
“Once a woman is past childbearing years, she usually steps into a teaching role.” Tess hopped a residual puddle from last night’s rain, or watering. “It’s an open learning system. Whoever shows up—young or old, resident or visitor—is welcome.”
“Do the Hyboreans know about the school?”
“Of course. They’re intelligent beings. I’m certain they understand our need for learning. Plus, everyone knows clever humans fare best at the survival races.”
“Why does everything go back to that damn horse-race-meets-gladiator so-called sport?” Addy grew warm. Sweat trickled between her breasts.
“You okay? You don’t look so good.”
Addy wiped her forehead. “I hope I’m not catching some Hyborean flu.”
“Don’t be silly. There’s no sickness here. It’s natural for you to be upset and confused by your surroundings. To be honest, you’ve handled the past week quite well.”
A pungent citrus fragrance filled the air. They had made it to the orange grove without bumping into a single warrior. Thank God.
Two trees ahead, another very pregnant young woman, who couldn’t have been more than nineteen, picked a plump orange and handed it to her toddler. “Put it in the basket, Angel. That’s right. Good girl. Oh, hi, Tess.”
“Hi Carra!” Tess’s pale, white skin contrasted against Carra’s warm, russet-brown as they hugged hello. She gave the little girl a hug and commented on her beautiful new braids and beads before introducing Addy to mother and daughter. While they exchanged pleasantries, Tess placed her hand on Carra’s belly. “Wow. You look like you’re due any second.”
“I am. It’ll be twenty weeks tomorrow, and I’ve got to tell you, I am so ready for this baby to pop out. I figured a walk through the orchard would help things along.”
“Excuse me. You’re hoping to give birth at twenty weeks? That’s only five months, right?” Hadn’t Duncan explained that one Hyborean month had the same amount of hours as one Earth month?
Carra looked at her as though she had three heads.
“She’s from Earth,” Tess said as if that explained everything. “A pregnancy there is about nine months.”
“Ugh. That’s awful. I could never last that long.”
Tess turned to Addy. “The Hyboreans are extremely advanced in science and medicine. They have accelerated human gestation. Isn’t that something?”
“It’s something, all right.” No doubt they sped up the gestation period in order to make more babies to replace the men killed off in their stupid gladiator races. Her nausea returned. What was wrong with her body lately? It was as if all this pregnancy talk gave her sympathy pains.
After saying their good-byes, they continued farther down the row and stopped at a tree with downturned branches laden with heavy, ripe fruit. She didn’t get three oranges into her basket before a strange Hyborean came toward her wearing one of those stupid silver headbands. A tech-ring, Duncan had called it. He walked with purpose—head up, long strides—as if on a mission.
Her stomach lurched, bumping her heart way up into her throat. Something hard hit her shoe with a thud and rolled away.
When the Hyborean walked by her, a ringtone played. Carra, with a smile on her face, and Angel toddling in tow, went to him.
Addy released the held breath and was struck once again by the sweet fragrance of oranges. She bent to retrieve the one she dropped among the fallen fruit beneath the tree and waved away tiny, hovering flies.
“No,” Carra cried. “Not yet. Don’t take her yet.”
Tess’s head popped out from behind the branches. The Hyborean strode past, cradling the whimpering child.
Holding her belly, Carra ran after them and jumped for her daughter. The alien pushed her to the side. She hit his legs over and over. “Give her back,” she screamed through her tear-choked voice. “Give me my ba—” She clutched her necklace and dropped to her knees.
Raising a pitiful hand to the retreating Hyborean, she choked out the word “Angel,” then collapsed in tears.
Nausea undulated in Addy’s stomach. All at once, sweat broke out on her body, and hot saliva pooled at the sides of her tongue. Muscles deep within her stomach convulsed. She bent over and heaved soured breakfast.
Tess pulled back her hair. “Are you okay?”
“No.” She vomited again. “I think I’m pregnant.”
Stay safe out there!
Romance with a rebel heart