Last week's episode ended with Max planning on leaving Addy at the ice caverns. But first, they have to get there. This week, we'll also catch a glimpse at the Human Breeding and Research Center to see what Duncan and Regan are up to. It can't be anything good.
Because chapters 23 & 24 are short (2 & 2.5 pages respectively), I included both for your enjoyment.
An abducted cop and a gladiator prisoner must learn to
trust each other with their lives…and their hearts…to escape their alien
Little white pinholes pierced the darkening sky. With the appearance of each star, temperatures plummeted as though what little warmth this planet held drained through a sieve in the heavens.
Hopefully, they would finish digging their shelter before the heat in her thermal gear surrendered to the bitter night. With gladimort and flesh-eater in hand, she and Max hacked away the surface hoarfrost and packed snow.
“How did you come to Hyborea?” she asked to break up the monotonous sound of arctic wind and chopping.
Max scooped loose snow and ice from the shelter.
“The patch on your backpack may be worn, but I’d swear it looks like Donald Duck. You from the US? Were you taken from California, too? ”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
By his tone, she must have hit a sore spot. “Why not?”
“That life’s gone.”
“How can it be gone? That life helped mold you into the person you are. It will always be with you.”
His head cocked. Behind his goggles, his eyes grew cold and hard. “Take my advice. Forget your family. Forget your life. Forget Earth. It will do nothing but torment you.” He went back to work scraping a wall with his sword.
How could she ever forget the people who helped her become the person she was today? Even her messed-up relationship with her mother had made Addy a strong and independent woman. Heck, if they’d had a great relationship, she probably wouldn’t have had the fortitude to escape HuBReC. “Is that what you did?”
“I’ve even stopped dreaming about it.”
His flat, emotionless voice hit her in the heart. Her throat thickened as if an onset of tears would let loose. A quick throat clearing stopped the sensation. “What a sad and sorry thing to say. Forgetting where you come from is like letting a part of you die.”
“I’m used to dying.”
“Well, your Earth life isn’t completely dead in you.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Nuh-uh. I distinctly remember you singing an eighties’ rock ballad in the breeding box. Albeit, you whistled the beginning, skipped the whole song, and went right to the end, but still, it proves you haven’t let go of home altogether.”
“That was strategy.” He removed the chunks of ice.
“Right. You were trying to have patience with me.”
“No. I was trying to act like I did in college so you’d have sex with me.”
She saw a flash of dark sky when her eyes rolled. “Max, the big college stud.”
He jerked away. “I wasn’t a stud until HuBReC.”
A weight fell on her heart. Here she was trying to breathe some life back inside him, but instead of helping him find good memories to grasp, she reminded him of being an animal. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I just wanted to know—”
“Hell, woman, I don’t want to discuss it.”
“I have a name.” She threw two handfuls of snow in his face. “And it’s not Hell Woman.”
With the tips of his gloved fingers, Max raked the snow from his goggles. He offered no apology. He scooped out the rest of the snow debris from the shelter. “It’s done.” He gathered up his sword, knife, and backpack.
“If you don’t want to think about home, why hold on to Donald?”
Max drew his sword and pointed the steel blade at her chest.
Her heart stopped.
“Since you’re obviously not tired, you take the first watch.” The gladimort plunged into the hoarfrost-covered snow at her feet. He turned and crawled inside the shelter. “Wake me in three hours.”
Addy stared at the weapon until her breathing normalized. Apparently, the night wasn’t the only dark and bitter thing she’d have to put up with.
Regan stepped out of the bathing pool. Muddy grass squished between his toes. The sun warmed his wet, naked body and seeped into his muscles, still pumped up from today’s awesome training session. He’d been undefeated in every match since returning victorious from the regional championship. That was to be expected. No gladiator from HuBReC’s Yard could compete worth a damn. He needed something to sharpen his skills. He needed a bigger challenge.
On the opposite side of the pool, a large body swished through the cattail weeds. Duncan emerged with a bottle of whiskey in hand. He hadn’t requested the alcohol. The old fart wanted something.
“Regan, me lad. Ye made a mighty impressive show in the Survival—”
“Cut the crap, Gramps. We both know who you bet on and why. You must have been pissed when my sword plunged into that bastard’s belly and out the other side. Heard you lost half your treasure.”
“Do ye believe every lie told to ye?”
“State your business, old man, before I plunge my sword into you.”
Duncan did that throat-clearing thing most people did when talking to him. He liked that noise, that sound of anxiety. Though a lesser fear on the terror spectrum, it was fear nonetheless.
“Aye. Well, I canna find Addy.”
“So my newest pet finally left her kennel.” And thinks she can hide. How amusing. There wasn’t a man nor beast he couldn’t track down.
“’Tis more than that. Yesterday a HuBReC doctor found Addy’s collar hidden in an examination room. Concerned for her welfare, Ferly Mor left his symposium before presenting his research.”
Shock collars were deactivated in the exam rooms. If she cut it off and concealed it there, her master wouldn’t have been alerted. “Clever little minx, isn’t she?” Not only was the woman athletic and spirited, she was cunning, too. She had all the ideal genetics for breeding champion gladiators.
Then why the hell did the Hyboreans pair her with fucking Max first? He’d always hated getting that bastard’s sloppy seconds. Well, now that he was the reigning Regional Survival Race Champion, he’d never get anyone’s seconds again. “Since your master has failed to locate her, you’ve come to me.”
“Aye, but she isna’ alone. Another choker had been found with hers.”
“It belongs to the alpha gladiator Max.”
Anger surged through him. Max was no alpha. Regan had stripped him of that title. “That damn loser is hiding my broodmare?”
“I dinna think they are hiding. I fear the pair have escaped.”
“Impossible.” Though he knew it wasn’t.
“Have ye forgotten Max had escaped once before?”
Had he forgotten? Who the fuck could forget the most excruciating pain he’d ever endured? Because of Kedric and Max’s stunt, every one of Xanthrag’s gladiators had been fatally punished. He’d been mutilated to death four times until Max’s recapture months later. Thank the master. Regan couldn't have endured another systematic snapping of every bone in his body.
Needless to say, those months of torture turned his childhood idol into his mortal enemy.
On the bright side, Xanthrag’s abuse had trained him to become the toughest survival race competitor. He could withstand more pain than any other human on the planet. Not to mention that after Max had been tortured and sold to the Hyborean subclass, he’d claimed alpha status in HuBReC’s Yard.
In reality, he should thank Max, but he preferred breaking his spirit instead. He never got tired of that game.
“Aye, I suppose ye have no’ forgotten.” The twinkle in Duncan’s eye and his knowing tone sent fire through Regan’s veins. Heat spread through him. He could almost hear the water droplets sizzling on his naked skin. “Fear not, lad. Neither Max nor Addy belong to Xanthrag. I’m sure ye won’t be receiving your master’s wrath again.”
He barely felt his knuckles connect with Duncan’s temple. The old fool dropped hard, knocked out with one punch. Regan claimed the whiskey bottle, stepped over the body, and left in search of an unwilling woman or two.
He craved a few spirits to break.
How dare that bastard steal his broodmare!