Last week's episode ended with Max and Addy getting a chance to rest, recover, and take a much needed
shower...together. ;) This week sees them on their journey again. But what does Max have up his sleeve?
An abducted cop and a gladiator prisoner must learn to
trust each other with their lives…and their hearts…to escape their alien
Snow stormed through the open louvers where Addy crouched in wait with Max.
Lucky—his body a dark contrast to the white frenzy—scouted his frozen backyard for Hyboreans. Incessant wind launched a powdery top layer into the sky, giving the appearance of a blizzard starting from the ground and storming upward. Whipping snow would camouflage the escape, but poor visibility meant a greater chance of getting lost.
Garbage vessels clanked. Steam hissed through the pipes. Neither drowned out the jackhammering of her heart.
“On your mark,” Max whispered.
She donned her goggles.
Every motor neuron waited to fire upon the lookout’s signal.
She ducked through the slats to the outside and raced through calf-deep snow behind Max. As he passed Lucky, Max thrust the three bullets into the older man’s hand.
“Good luck you two.” His words faded on the storm.
Icy nettles stung her cheeks, and arctic air chilled her lungs. Sprinting on Max’s heels, she quieted her breathing—inhale...stride, stride, stride...exhale...stride, stride, stride—and listened. Not for the breaths or footfalls of other competitors or even her coach’s voice in the crowd. This time she listened for the sound of a Hyborean vehicle. She listened for telepathic anger or surprise, indicating they’ve been spotted. She listened for the hounds she imagined were chasing them. And for the crack of a rifle.
She heard nothing. Sensed nothing. Saw nothing over her shoulder. The blizzard had erased Lucky and the incinerator plant. With each step, Hyborean civilization fell behind, and her heart grew lighter and her feet faster.
It felt great to be outside. Really outside. In the elements. Not some artificial climate-controlled Yard. The freedom of it overwhelmed her, and she barely contained the urge to whoop with joy.
The sprint slowed to a run. The run slowed to a jog. The jog slowed to a comfortable hiking pace, but after five hours, sore quads screamed for a rest. The exercise didn’t seem to strain Max. He wasn’t even breathing hard.
He hadn’t spoken since leaving the incinerator building; not that she’d be able to hear him above the howling wind. He hadn’t looked back either. Would he realize it if she fell behind?
“How do you know where we’re going?” She said when the wind died down. “Everything looks the same.”
“Just keep the peak of the Ice Mountains southeast of you.”
“There.” He pointed somewhere between ten and eleven o’clock. “In the distance.”
Narrowing her eyes didn’t help. Visibility was limited to snow and loose hair whipping across her goggles. “I don’t see anything.”
“Look at the horizon. See how it’s gray compared to the ground and sky? That’s the Ice Mountains.”
When the wind died down again, she concentrated on the horizon. Were mountains there? Perhaps training in wintry conditions had improved Max’s focus. Or perhaps it was like those hidden 3-D pictures in the mall, where if you stared long enough, your eyes crossed and—boom—the image appeared. In this case, staring didn’t help. She blinked before her eyeballs froze open. “I see gray haze. Are you sure it’s a mountain?”
“You leave your glasses on Earth?”
“My vision is twenty-twenty.”
Max stopped, and she nearly slammed into his shoulder. He studied her. “You really can’t see the Ice Mountains?”
She shook her head, grateful to rest her legs.
“Huh.” He shrugged and started hiking again.
Her legs cramped. Damn. She shouldn’t have stopped. Unable to resume her pace, Max pulled ahead. There was no way she’d let him leave her behind in this frozen wilderness. This was one race she could not lose. Pumping her arms until her legs caught the faster rhythm, she jogged to catch up and drafted off his shoulder again.
* * *
Who would’ve thought the woman would have kept pace with him? When he had sprinted out of the cooling vent at top speed, he figured he’d lose her quickly through the snow and ice. She should have been too slow, too tired, and too scared to continue. She should’ve turned back to the incinerator plant, where she’d have no trouble handling herself with Lucky. She’d be safe there...as long as her master didn’t find her.
If he hadn’t known she was an athlete from the first time he’d caressed her firm, muscular body, he should’ve known it when those shapely legs powered her climb in HuBReC’s ductwork. He should’ve known her strength wouldn’t fatigue easily when she clung to him with that death grip in the garbage truck.
Who the hell was he kidding? He knew. In fact, he had counted on it.
It wasn’t enough to be an athlete, though. Athletic ability alone wouldn’t deliver anyone to freedom. The perils of this journey required courage and determination.
It required a fighter.
Whether due to stupidity or guts, she had stood her ground with both him and Regan. Her fighting and writhing beneath him in the breeding box had been admirable yet infuriating. His chest tightened as esteem and ire engaged his heartstrings in a tug-of-war.
She had wanted him. He’d been with enough females to know when their bodies answered his. But she wouldn’t give in. Not even under the influence of the aphrodisiac fire. She knew her self-worth. She wasn’t an animal and refused to be treated like one. Weaker physically, she had stood strong on her belief. He could have overpowered her and taken her, yet his brute strength or her fear didn’t shake her principles.
She definitely had courage.
Once upon a time, he did, too. But that was a lifetime ago. Hell, more like eight lifetimes. Memories long locked away scratched at freedom. No point in letting them out and reliving the ache of all he lost. He wasn’t a man anymore. He was a beast. That truth tasted bitter in his mouth. He turned his head and spit.
Still, walking five hours through arctic winds was no easy task. She should have fatigued a long time ago. He had waited for her pleas for a break, but she kept quiet. Each time she fell back, her breathing changed as she caught up again and used him to block the wind.
The woman had grit.
The rhythm of her footfalls changed again. Was she limping? She was definitely sucking in air too fast. He slowed. When she didn’t catch up this time, he stopped. “What happened?”
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
Liar. By her hunched shoulders and her deliberate long, deep breaths, he knew she had cramped up. His gaze searched the desolate terrain. “We’ll rest ten minutes.”
“I’ll hike my ten.” She passed him, her hand stroking her abdomen.
A smile cracked his chapped lips as esteem wrenched his heartstrings, ending the tug-of-war. The woman’s fighting spirit proved admirable.
Too bad he’d have to leave her at the ice caves.
Oh no! Find out if Max leaves Addy at the ice caves in next week's episode or read the full story now at your favorite retailers.