Wednesday, September 21, 2022

CAPTIVE (The Survival Race, book 1) - CHAPTER 37

In last week's episode of CAPTIVE, Addy's water broke weeks early. Now she has to deliver a premature baby on an umiak boat that keeps crashing into ice floes without Max's help. He needs to protect the vessel from bring smashed to pieces and killing them all. Can Max and Addy survive?

An abducted cop and a gladiator prisoner must learn to trust each other with their lives…and their hearts…to escape their alien captors.    

 

Catch up reading on CAPTIVE here for free: Chapter 1  Ch 2  Ch 3  Ch 4  Ch 5  Ch 6  Ch 7  Ch 8  Ch 9  Chs 10 & 11  Ch 12  Ch 13  Ch 14  Ch 15  Ch 16  Ch 17  Ch 18  Ch 19  Ch 20  Ch21  Ch22  Chs 23&24  Chs 25&26  Ch27  Ch28  Ch29  Ch 30  Chs 31&32  Chs33&34  Ch35  Ch36

 

CAPTIVE

Chapter Thirty-Seven


Max crawled into the tent. His arm encircled her back in support. Glorious heat radiated from him. Naked from waist to boots, a chill penetrated her legs even though she had rubbed in more thermal cream It was no epidural, but perhaps the cold air would help numb the birthing region. “We shouldn’t have traded the whiskey.”

Breath labored, poor Max had been winded since the contractions started. He’d been rowing, fighting through icebergs, and checking in. The comforting scent of sweat and fresh sea air clung to his clothes until she held her breath and bore down again.

Fatigue owned her.

“Hell, woman. Push.”

With what little energy she could muster, she grabbed a piece of his smilodon-shredded thermal suit, fisting it along with lacerated skin underneath and pulled. “I’m having...your baby...you bastard. The least you can do...is call me...by my name.” She let go and fell against his arm as the contraction lessened.

He eased her down on the pelt before again crawling out of the door flap. There came a swear and a splash from the oars. The umiak pitched and bobbed and changed direction before everything stilled, and everything contracted inside her.

Max didn’t return for the next few contractions. There was no sense in worrying or being upset. Even prior to her emergency training, she’d learned to push emotion aside and focus on the tasks. How many milestones had she reached on her own. What was one more?

But then Max came beside her again, holding a small chunk of ice to her lips. She sucked on it, grateful to wet her dry mouth, relieved she wasn’t alone. If she were honest, she didn’t want to do this without him.

Hot, white pain ripped her body. She bore down and pushed with what little energy was left. Finally, the baby slid free. Silence followed.

Heart aching, she feared looking.

The tent exploded with a tiny, high-pitched wail.

The baby was alive. Thank God.

“You did it.” The awe and vulnerable pride in Max’s voice broke her heart.

She couldn’t be happier he shared in this moment and yet couldn’t stop sobbing. At nine weeks, how long could it survive? A premature baby wouldn’t last long without proper medical care.

“What the hell did Ferly Mor put into that prenatal injector?”

Another wave of fear washed through her. “Why, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. He’s perfect.”

The effort to sit up was great. Max’s arm slid behind her shoulders and did most of the lifting. In the mess between her legs, lay a precious baby boy. She scooped him into her arms, relief crashing over her like an ocean wave. She sobbed uncontrollably as tension, worry, and fear ebbed.

Whatever she imagined a preemie to look like, it certainly wasn’t a child of this size. God willing, his lungs and heart and brain were as fully developed as his body. Tears spilled down her cheeks faster than she could wipe them away. They dropped onto his scrawny, wrinkled, slime-covered body.

“He’s beautiful,” she whispered, not recognizing the sound of her own voice.

“And loud,” Max said. The baby’s entire body shook with each ear-piercing cry.

“It’s okay, baby. Let me hold you.” She wiped clean the slime with the baby blanket she had brought. Though tiny—he couldn’t have weighed more than five or six pounds—he appeared to be a full-term newborn. “Nine weeks is a little more than the first trimester. Does he look premature to you?”

“He looks like a baby to me.”

“Thanks for stating the obvious.”

“I mean he looks normal. I don’t know how else to describe it.” Max squeezed thermal cream onto the baby, and together they rubbed it all over his little pink body.

“They must have given me some new kind of acceleroid drug.”

The boat pitched. Addy clutched the baby, and Max caught her before falling over.

His goofy, proud smile vanished. His eyes flashed with purpose. “I’ve got to get out there.”

“Go. We’ll be fine.”

He studied her a moment with longing in his eyes. He seemed to want to say something. Finally, he settled on, “You did it.”

Cursing came from the other side of the tent, followed by the familiar sound of a gladimort chopping ice, and then a large splash. The boat rocked. Oddly enough, she wasn’t afraid. Max would handle it. He’d protect them. They were going to be okay. He would take care of things out there.

It was up to her to take care of things in here. First thing was to cut the umbilical cord. She needed Max’s knife, but his pack was outside, and from the sounds beyond the tent flap, he was too busy saving them to bring it to her. The knife she’d taken from Duncan’s house would have to do. She found it in her backpack.

She cut a long, thin thong from a pelt and used it to tie off the cord an inch or so above the baby’s navel. Hoping she did that right, Addy took a deep breath and cut through the rubbery umbilical cord. Queasiness rolled her stomach. Once he was free, she swaddled him in the discarded thermal pants. He stopped wailing.

Now what? Was it too early to feed him?

With one hand, she unzipped the thermal jacket and placed her baby boy to her breast. “Ow, ow, ow.” She broke the suction and tried again. And then again. Why didn’t this work like it did in the movies?

Cramps started again, gripping and tightening and squeezing her muscles. “Oh, no way.” She cried between pants. “Not twins.” She couldn’t go through another day of this.

Tolerating the cramps as best she could, she tried nursing the baby, but his sucking hurt too much. She must have been doing something wrong. What if she wasn’t able to feed him? What if he starved to death? Her nose ran, and she sniffled. If Ferly Mor were here, he’d know how to feed her son and keep him healthy. But then he’d take him away.

Please don’t let him be looking for us. She wiped her tears and sweat.

The baby’s eyes closed, and the painful sucking stopped. Addy placed her sleeping boy by her side in a coiled nest of bedsheet rope. Unable to stand the cramps any longer, she bore down and pushed.

Sweat couldn’t cool the heat radiating inside. She burned. The tent spun. Fatigue and exhaustion consumed her. At least the pain had lessened. She barely felt it now. She barely felt anything. She panted and sucked in air.

Another push. The placenta slid out. She couldn’t blink her clouded vision into focus. The tent spun. She closed her eyes and collapsed on her back. She felt for the baby nestled safely at her side and then surrendered to the summoning darkness.

* * *

Max stared out at the wide-open sea and breathed a sigh of relief. After a day and sleepless night, it was finally over. He had maneuvered the craft through the iceberg gauntlet of the Southwest Passage with minimal damage. There would still be scattered icebergs ahead, but the hardest part was behind him.

He pulled in the oars, giving the mighty South Arctic Current free rein to carry them to Southland.

The hardest part was over for the woman, too. After giving birth, the tent had turned silent the rest of the night, as momma and baby slept.

He pulled the oars inside, and without rotating his stiff shoulders or stretching out his back, crawled into the dimly lit tent and righted the lightstick. Fatigue and soreness jumped ship when he saw her grayish-blue body. Blood and placenta covered her thighs, boots, and the bearskin bedding.

In an instant, he was at her side. “Woman?” His heart pounded as if he’d been running in the survival race. He shook her shoulder. “Can you hear me?”

No answer.

He threw back his hood and dropped his ear to her chest, trying to control his ragged breaths in order to hear better. No warmth seeped into his ear or cheek. She felt cold.

Cadaver cold.

What the hell happened? Had he been fighting his way through the ice gauntlet, imagining they were asleep all this time, when in reality she was dying?

No. She was too strong.

She hadn’t needed help giving birth. He’d wanted to do something for her, but having no clue what, he’d settled for holding her and, like an idiot, telling her to push, as if she hadn’t already known that. He was a spectator. She did all the work, taking nothing for the pain, and rocking the birth like a champion. She was too tough to die.

Shutting down the wild thoughts and all outside sounds, he concentrated on a heartbeat. It was slow—very slow—but stable. His ear lingered, making sure he hadn’t imagined it. Realizing the rise and fall had come from her chest and not the rocking boat, relief washed over him. She was a survivor. She’d probably be up and around tomorrow asking to take the next watch.

The baby slept in a nest between her waist and arm.

“You sure are an ugly little chicken.” Jaw muscles he hadn’t used in years ached from the stupid grin he couldn’t wipe from his face. After all the breeding he had done, this was the first time he had seen the—correction, his—baby.

The boy was his responsibility. His to protect. As was his mother.

Max cracked his neck and rubbed the stiffness from his shoulders as he glanced around for something with which to cover her. He took the pelt she had folded for a pillow and used that. Then he rubbed thermal cream into her exposed skin.

Her eyelid half opened.

“You did it.” He repeated his earlier phrase because no other words expressed the respect and awe and marvel. He’d brought much death into this world. She brought life. He’d never witnessed such an amazing thing.

Smiling weakly, she opened drunken eyes and lifted her head a few inches.

“Does he have a name?”

Her breaths came fast and shallow as if she exerted too much energy. Her head fell back onto the pelt. She managed to whisper “Noah” before her eyes closed, and she lost consciousness.

Compelled to watch her chest rise and fall with each slow breath, he refused to leave her and the baby’s side. They were helpless. Vulnerable. They needed someone to stand guard and protect them. That was an alpha’s job. His job. Except that, since the abduction, his success rate for protecting and providing for others remained abysmally low.

Did he remember how to care for a baby? It had been three decades since he’d held a bottle for his brother. And he certainly never had contact with his offspring here. How many were out there? Where were they? What were they?

Why ask troubling questions that had no answers? He needed to focus on this child. His son. Noah.

Max yawned, envying their sleep. He had been going on pure adrenaline for the past few days and wanted nothing more than to curl up next to the woman and drift into oblivion, but there was work to do. He had to clean up a bloody mess and then catch dinner.

What kind of fish could he hook using placenta bait?

* * *

“Max?” The faint whisper might have been the wind or a dream, yet years of light sleeping made him wake. He stretched. How long had he been out?

“Cold,” she whispered.

Max sat up at her side. Her body shivered, yet sweat beaded on her face. He touched his lips to her forehead like his mother had done when he was a child. Heat scorched him and he pulled back. “You’ve got a fever.” A damn high fever.

“Dying.”

“Don’t talk like that.” The only thing worse than defeat was accepting it.

Her glassy-eyed gaze found his. “Promise me.” Her voice was barely audible. “Take care of him.”

His gut clenched. That sounded like an acceptance speech if he ever heard one. “Stop it. You hear me?”

“He needs you.”

“He needs his mother, not a beast.”

“Promise.”

“No. Don’t you dare give up, woman. If you die, the kid’s fish bait. I swear it.”

“Tell him.” Her breathing labored. “I love him.” Her eyes rolled back before closing.

A vise gripped and squeezed his heart. Angry heat exploded within. “I’m not your messenger boy. If you’ve got something to say to the kid, you tell him. You hear me, woman? If you want him to survive, then fight. Fight for him, dammit!”

A tear slipped from her eye and ran down her temple like the first night they had met in the breeding box. He remembered wiping it away with his thumb. I won’t hurt you, he had said.

What a load of crap.

Not only had he hurt her, but he had escorted her to death’s front door.

He covered his mouth with his hand and closed his eyes. This was his fault. Hadn’t he told her she wouldn’t make it to the equator? If he hadn’t escaped with her, she’d be safe in HuBReC. Well, as safe as any woman could be with a Yard full of lusting gladiators constantly assaulting her like Regan had.

He hated himself as much as he hated that bastard. Max had been cold to her then, refusing to help her escape and blaming the pregnancy. But she hadn’t given up. She poisoned her tormentor and wound up in the infirmary, almost getting killed by Xanthrag’s shock treatment. Yet she’d survived.

Then Regan had come to her kennel exciting himself with taunts of breaking her. Only they weren’t merely taunts. He’d assault her again, no question. She’d fight, of course, and he’d relish the sport. The game would continue until her spirit died, until Regan tired of her, or until a new alpha leader took over the Yard.

Staying at HuBReC would have killed her spirit. Escaping was killing her body.

Which fate was worse?

I’d rather die free, she had said. She was right. She would die free.

But not today.

He wiped her tear. “You’re going to live. You know why? Because you’re a survivor. Do you hear me? You will fight death, and you will win.” He picked up her chilled hand and kissed her palm.

“Fight for me...Addy.”

#

Yay! Max finally calls Addy by her name, but is it too late? Can Addy survive, or will she die free leaving behind Max and their new born son? Find out next week Chapter 38 or read the full story now for only $2.99 at your favorite retailers.

 

K.M. Fawcett
Romance with a rebel heart  

 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments set on moderation - all spammers will be exterminated!