week's episode of CAPTIVE, Addy gave birth to her son, but complications set in and she died in Max's arms. Crying, Max held his son, asking him for forgiveness as he felt Addy's death was his fault. But this can't really be the end for our heroine, can it?
An abducted cop and a gladiator prisoner must learn to trust each other with their lives…and their hearts…to escape their alien captors.
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Max woke with aching muscles, a humming in his ears, and a little added weight on his chest. Did Noah fall asleep on top of him before or after exhaustion knocked him out for the count?
wiped sleep from his eyes. Dried sea salt abraded his lids and stung him to
tears, or so he wanted to believe. He couldn’t still be crying over Addy, could he?
The lightstick cast a dim glow in the tent. Darkness outlined the space between the tent flaps. He couldn’t have been out long. An hour, maybe?
He should get back to rowing, but what was the point? Addy was gone, and soon Noah would be, too.
The hum in his ears grew louder. It sounded like a motor. It sounded close. Too close. Like right next to the umiak.
Hope and panic hit him with a one-two punch. There was still time for Ferly Mor to save Addy and Noah. But at what cost?
Max crawled out of the tent and into a tranquilizer gun’s line of fire.
Ah hell. When Addy reawakened, she was going to kill him.
It was pitch-black. She couldn’t see. She blinked, opened her eyes wider, then blinked again. Still blackness. Panic sprung to life inside her, causing her body to tremble. Was she blind?
“Max?” she croaked through a dry throat. Not sure that he heard her attempt at his name, she mustered up the energy to call again, louder. “Max?”
His leg jerked against hers. “I’m here, I’m here,” he said in a wrenched-from-sleep voice.
Addy tried to sit up, but rubber arms gave out. Her head throbbed.
“Don’t. You’re reawakening.”
“It’s okay. There’s no light right now. Here, drink this.” His hand gently lifted the back of her head until her lips met the canteen. He poured a small amount into her mouth.
“More.” Cold water splashed over her tongue and down her throat. It spilled from her lips and dribbled down her neck. “Baby?”
“He’s asleep between us.”
Max placed her hand on the baby’s warm little body. Joy quelled her earlier panic. Her baby was alive.
“Thirsty.” Adjusting to the darkness, she made out the shape of the canteen as she drank. The silhouette of Max’s arm, body, and face slowly came into focus.
She drank as though she hadn’t in weeks. “How long have I been out?”
“Since you gave birth two days ago.”
Water spewed from her mouth, drenching him. “Two days? I haven’t fed—”
“I fed him.” He wiped his face with his sleeve.
“Well, I plugged him in. Noah did the rest.”
“Noah? You named our baby Noah?”
“No, you did. Remember?” His voice was soft, gentle as if talking to a little child. He brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. “Just before you passed out, I asked what his name was, and you said ‘Noah.’”
“No. You asked if he had a name and I said no.”
“Oh.” Max pulled his hand away and cleared his throat. “Well, this is awkward.”
“You’ve been calling him Noah?”
What gives? He’d never once called her by her name, yet he’s been calling the baby by his name for two days straight. It wasn’t even a real name. It was an answer to a question. Agitation powered her to sit up. “Are you kidding me?”
“That’s so unfair. I carried him. I suffered in labor and nearly died giving birth. I should have named him.”
“Hell, Addy, then call him something else.”
Ah, back to the gruff gladiator voice— Wait. “What did you say?”
“I said name the kid something else.”
“Did you call me Addy?”
“Yeah,” he said, as if this wasn’t the first time he spoke it.
Emotions like electricity spiked through her nerve endings, setting her body tingling with energy. Focused on Max’s dark, solid form, she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Hit him or hug him. After all this time, the father of her baby finally called her by her name.
What’s more, she enjoyed the sound of it rolling off his tongue. She closed her eyes, savoring the moment. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten angry, especially after all you’ve done for us. Thank you for taking care of him…and me. And Max”—she couldn’t stop the smirk from forming on her lips—“thanks for not naming him Hell Boy.”
The baby stirred and she stroked his fuzzy head. “Noah.” She tested the name. “Noah. I suppose it suits him considering you’re male, I’m female, and we’re on a boat.”
“Uh. There’s something I have to tell you.”
“What’s wrong? Is Noah sick?”
“No. He’s fine. For now.”
For now? What did that mean?
“Addy, we’re not on the umiak anymore.”
“What do you mean? Where are we?”
“We’re on a subaquatic.”
“A Hyborean watercraft.”
He shook his head. “Worse. We’ve been captured by poachers.”
She flailed her arms, feeling for her surroundings in the dark. The back of her hand smacked a smooth wall behind her, not wood or animal skin. Her stomach dropped. “Why does this wall feel familiar?”
“Because it’s identical to the wall you were feeling up when we first met.”
“We’re in a breeding box?” She pounded her fist on the floor. Un-freaking-believable! How could they’ve suffered through every minute of their escape only to be caged again?
“Breeding box. Containment cage. Whatever.”
“Can we escape?”
“No. The cage is sound. The wall behind you is solid. The three other walls are made of cage bars like the kennel. There’s no furnace, but there is a pot in the corner if you need it.”
“I don’t believe this. We’re back where we started, except now there’s three of us.” Not ready to admit defeat, she choked back threatening tears. “How long before they return us to HuBReC?”
It must have been getting brighter because she could now see Max’s grave expression. “We aren’t going back to HuBReC. Ever. These are poachers, Addy, and we’re their cash cows. They’ll assume I’m a gladiator from my gladimort and boots.”
Right. A human pet wouldn’t normally have a Hyborean-issued gladiator weapon or boots with crampons.
“Once they check their records, they’ll learn I lost the regional championship, I’m old, and currently without an owner. No owner means no reward for my return. They’ll sell me for sport on the black market.”
She gasped. “You mean smilodon fighting? Like Lucky told us about?”
“What about Noah and me?”
“I don’t know.”
The uncertainty of those three words was worse than knowing their fate, no matter how brutal. Would they take her baby? Would they sell him to a gladiator master and train him to kill?
Would they sell her as a broodmare? Or sell her on the black market? Duncan had said those fights weren’t reserved for just the men.
Her mind’s eye played the scene of Max and the smilodon engaged in bloody battle. Max was a gladiator. A fighter. He’d survive.
If she were thrown in with the beast, she’d get slaughtered. Torn apart. Eaten alive.
Lucky had said the Hyboreans provide you with a rusty knife. Could she plunge it into her heart before the tiger drew first blood?
“Addy?” The shadow of a hand waved in front of her face. “You in there? The kid’s hungry.”
She snapped out of her nightmare into the reality of Noah’s crying. She picked him up, scooted back against the wall for support, and felt for the jacket zipper. Loose linen—not the thick spandex-like material of her thermal suit—bunched in her palm, soft to the touch. No glove acted as a barrier to the nerve endings in her hands, and her fingertips tingled. The sensation was strange, almost foreign.
She pulled the poacher-issued shirt to navel height, and hesitated, aware and uneasy of Max watching her in the dark. Should she tell him to turn around? It’s not as though he hadn’t seen or touched her breasts while she’d been unconscious. A shiver ran up her arms at the same time heat spread through her body.
Without a word spoken between them, Max shifted and looked away, giving her privacy. That was a first.
Addy bared a breast, positioned the baby, and gave him her nipple. “Ouch.” She pulled him off.
“No. I can do this.”
She tried again. “Owww.”
“Let me.” Without giving her a second to protest, Max took Noah’s head in one hand and her breast in the other and shoved the baby’s entire face to her skin.
“He’ll suffocate.” Noah latched on and drank without causing pain. She caught Max’s gaze. “How did you learn that?”
He shrugged. “Common sense. If I were in his place, I’d want more than just your nipple in my mouth, too.”
Flames shot through her from cheeks to core. Was it hot in here, or was it the thermal suit? Oh yeah, she wasn’t wearing a thermal suit.
“I’m glad to see your breasts full again.”
Hopefully he couldn’t see the color of her skin in the dark. It must have turned three shades of red. Keeping her attention focused on her son’s beautiful face as he suckled, Addy cleared her throat. “How did we get captured?”
Max leaned back against the solid wall with legs stretched out in front of him. “The day after you gave birth, a subaquatic surfaced behind us in the S.A.C. I figured it was Ferly Mor waiting for us to come through the Southwest Passage. I debated whether I should row away or toward him. You were sick and I knew he could help you.”
“You brought us back? How could you?” She kept her voice soft-spoken so as not to upset the baby. “Don’t you understand I’d rather have died free?”
“You did die free. I respected your wishes. With everything I had, I rowed with the current away from Ferly Mor. You got worse and worse, and that night you died.”
Numb, she caressed Noah’s back. She had been brought back to life twice now.
“I don’t know how long I lay next to your corpse before I heard the sound of a second chance. The subaquatic’s motor was next to us this time. As soon as I left the tent a poacher shot me with a tranq gun. We were fish in a barrel.”
“I don’t suppose you could refrain from the animal idioms?”
He snickered. “Sorry. I woke up in here alone. It was a long time before they brought in Noah. He was clean, fat, and a healthy pink. They must have given him fluids and growth hormones or something because he’s big. Maybe nine pounds. I didn’t recognize him. I had to check for his birthmark. Did you know he has your familial birthmark on his pelvis? Anyway, a few minutes later, they brought you in. Alive.”
Was that relief in Max’s voice? “I don’t get it. How do poachers know how to reawaken people?”
“Could be every Hyborean knows how to do that. Or maybe they’re doctors gone bad. Or maybe they learned because there’s no profit in selling a dead human.”
“Then why don’t they revive the people killed in the smilodon fights?”
“Seems advanced technology has its limitations. They haven’t figured a way to reawaken digested bodies.”
“Ew. Thanks for the visual.” She swallowed bile.
“You feeling okay? You look pale.”
She glanced up at him. “There’s barely any light—how can you tell I’m pale?”
“I’ve great night vision.”
“And supersight.” Max certainly was talkative today. Was it because he was happy she and Noah were alive? Did it even matter why? This was an opportune moment to get answers, and she wasn’t going to waste that chance. “How do you see things that are miles away?”
Max didn’t respond right away. Perhaps he wasn’t in a talkative mood after all.
“I was born with brown eyes,” he finally said. “Needed glasses in third grade and wore contacts since high school. Then I came here, and one day I woke up with better-than-perfect vision and could see great in dim light. Came in handy during the survival races. Which I guess was the reason your master gave me these cat eyes.”
“He gave you eyes from a cat?”
“No. They’re my own eyes, enhanced. But whatever he did to enhance them made them turn green.”
The nipple slipped from Noah’s mouth. Little green eyes gazed up at her making her smile. “He has your eyes.” She kept her attention on her boy. “Do you think he has your supersight?”
“Hope so. It’ll be his advantage in battle.”
Addy drew Noah in tight. “He’s not going to fight.”
Max’s gaze dropped. Though he didn’t say it, she knew what he was thinking. Decisions regarding Noah wouldn’t be hers to make. “The kid’s finished. You need to burp him, or he’ll toss his cookies all over the place. Trust me. You don’t want to see or smell that.”
Addy positioned the baby on her shoulder and patted his back.
“You’ve got to burp him, not lull him to sleep. Do it harder. He won’t break.”
She did and was rewarded with a loud burp. She giggled, unable to decide what was funnier: Noah’s noises or getting baby-care lessons from an alpha gladiator. She envisioned Max changing cloth diapers and stifled her laugh with a cough.
“Are you okay?”
“Uh, yeah.” No need to explain what made her giggle. “Other than a headache, I feel great. Completely pain free. Actually, I feel as though I never gave birth. Or died.”
Max nodded in understanding.
“Is that how you felt after reawakening from the Survival Race Championship?” She remembered his leg bone sticking through his skin on the operating table. Two weeks later, he’d been able to crawl through conduit systems and run across the frozen tundra.
“That’s how I felt after every survival race. Groggy from the drugs but pieced back together and physically healed. This sport is fucked up. When you’re fighting the same guy you ran your sword through and left for dead last month, you become desensitized to the bloodshed. And when cold steel penetrates your flesh or a man-eating beast mauls you, yet you wake up without pain or a single scar, you believe you’re immortal.”
Goose bumps tingled her arms and spine, making her shudder. Gladiators led a violent life, and Max’s casualness in discussing that violence proved it was a normal everyday occurrence.
No wonder men like Regan thrived on power, control, and instilling fear in others. From birth, gladiators had been drilled in aggression and hostility. Regan probably didn’t have a clue how violent he was.
Max knew. So did she. They hadn’t been born into this chaos. They were just destined to die in it.
She bent her head to Noah and her hair fell like a curtain around her face, concealing her tears from Max. What was to become of them? How long until they were separated? Would death come quick, or would it be drawn out and excruciating?
Max brushed his thumb across her cheek, and she closed her eyes, savoring his tender touch. He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Don’t cry.”
“I’m scared.” Careful not to crush Noah, she leaned into Max’s solid chest. She needed his comfort.
His muscles tensed.
The last time she’d leaned into him and stroked his hair, he’d straightened his spine and snapped back into Max the gladiator, which was a step above Max the beast. She pulled away to prevent him from relapsing, but his arm encircled her, stopping her. He drew her tighter to him and guided her head onto his shoulder. Apparently, Max the man felt comfortable enough to console her.
She closed her eyes and inhaled. He smelled good. Clean. Weeks of sweat, grime, and sea spray had been washed away, leaving the scent of cleanser and man. A scent reminiscent of the breeding box...and the shower...and Max’s magnificent, naked body.
Her breasts tingled. Perhaps her hormones were out of whack from giving birth.
Or was it from dying?
What a fool she had been to think she could survive this world. If it hadn’t been for the poachers, she and Noah would have died, but Max would still be free. A heavy weight anchored her to him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered into his shirt. His heat radiated through the soft material, finding a home in her cheek.
“Sorry for what?”
“For causing you so much trouble. You were right. It was easy being brave when I stood in the safety of HuBReC’s kennel. I had no idea about this world or anything in it. I didn’t realize how cold it was. How harsh.”
She had to gain control of her chin’s quivering. If she cried now, she wouldn’t be able to tell him she was wrong, and she needed to tell him. She needed to unload the emotional baggage she’d been schlepping since the escape.
“You took care of me this whole time. And you took care of Noah, too. I understand why you left me at the Tuniit village. You were trying to protect us. I wouldn’t have made it through one night in the frozen wilderness alone. I thought I was brave, but I was just plain stupid.”
“Stupidity and bravery are not defined in the moment, you know.” He stroked her hair. “They’re defined by the outcome.”
Her train of thought pulled out, hijacking her emotional baggage car. She met his eyes. “I don’t understand.”
“Say a guy’s in a war. The enemy is advancing. His orders are to retreat. Instead, he goes back through a minefield to rescue his fallen brother. What do you call him?”
He shook his head no. “It depends on the outcome. If he rescues the guy and makes it back, you call him a hero and give him a medal. If he gets blown up, you call him a stupid ass.”
She cracked a smile at his logic. “You mean you’re only brave if you win?”
“Let me put it this way. If the Continental Army lost, they wouldn’t be known as heroic freedom fighters. They’d be known as the stupid buggers hanged for treason.”
A laugh formed in her belly but fizzled out before it reached her mouth. “I’m sorry, Max, but I don’t see how we can win when poachers have trapped us in this cage.” She waved her free hand for emphasis.
Max caught her hand and held it firmly between strong fingers. “I remember us being trapped once before, yet we managed to escape. Funny thing about cages. Eventually”—he released her hand—“they’re opened.”
Yay, Max and Addy finally hit a big turning point in their relationship. Max's heart is changing from that of a beast to that of a man. Will things continue on this way? Will the three of them escape their captors and find freedom? Find out next week Chapters 41 & 42 or read the full story now for only $2.99 at your favorite retailers.