week's episode of CAPTIVE, Addy, Max, and Noah were captured by poachers. They escaped captivity once, can they do it again? And what ever happened to Regan, the alpha gladiator who was hunting them down?
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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Regan peered over the subaquatic’s railing to the umiak tied up below. Sunshine warmed his face; salty sea air penetrated his lungs, but neither calmed his frustration.
The only thing he’d found onboard that primitive manmade vessel was an animal pelt with a spot of freeze-dried blood.
It had to be his broodmare’s. Who else would be out here bleeding? Not the Tuniit bastard who locked him up with Duncan and his pathetic excuse for a Hyborean master for eight days.
Eight. Fucking. Days.
If he hadn’t spent his time training and doing calisthenics, he might have killed them both. Then where would he be?
Duncan climbed out of the hatch and joined him at the railing. “Ferly Mor has finished the DNA test. The blood is Addy’s.”
Regan nodded. Where the hell was she?
He’d found no evidence of an attack from marine life. The single rip in the animal skin covering appeared to be caused by ice. They couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to leave the boat’s safety and climb aboard a melting iceberg. And if they accidentally fell overboard, all their gear wouldn’t be missing. The abandoned vessel had been left intact but deliberately cleaned out. The facts were clear and yielded one explanation.
She’d been poached.
Drumming his fingers on the railing, he gazed at the empty horizon. How the hell would they find her now?
“Fear not, lad. Ferly Mor is sure to call the Human Gaming Commission. He’ll report a poaching, and with the HGC’s help, it will no’ be long before Addy and the babe are recovered. Ye’ll see.”
The heated watercraft must have been doing wonders for Max, because any iciness he had shown Addy prior to her death had completely melted. He acted uncharacteristically optimistic, and—dare she say it—happy. It was as if he were a different man. Different wasn’t the right word. He was acting like a man. Period. Not a gladiator and not a beast in survival mode.
There were many questions she wanted answered and much more she wanted to say, but she didn’t want to push him. He was treading new territory. Asking too much too soon might be overwhelming, causing him to revert back to his inner beast. Her questions would have to wait. She remained silent for a long while.
Sitting next to her with his back against the wall and his arm touching hers, he didn’t move away or seem to mind when she rested her head against his shoulder, not from weariness, but for comfort. She wanted to feel his presence in the darkness, to know she wasn’t alone, to know he was on her side, and to know he cared for her a little. Though scared of their future, the unknown seemed easier to bear leaning against his solid body.
At least Noah didn’t sense her fear or anxiety. He fell asleep in her lap. For that, she was grateful. She wanted to kiss his soft, little head but thought it best not to disturb him. He needed to sleep. The first two days of his life had been rough ones.
“Have you ever been captured by poachers before?” She couldn’t see his head, but felt his body move as he shook it.
“No. I’d always been owned by race masters. The last time I escaped, Xanthrag found me.”
“What was it like? Your escape with Kedric, I mean. It must have been a lot easier teaming up with another gladiator rather than a pregnant lady.” If it weren’t for her, Max would have been able to travel faster. He might have been able to evade these poachers and reach the refuge this time. She couldn’t mask the dejection in her sigh.
“Honestly? My first attempt sucked. I was in the garbage a lot longer. I lost my sword to Lucky for food and shelter. It was winter, so the Tuniit made their village farther south of the Ice Mountains—like a-month-on-foot south.
“Of course, neither Kedric nor I knew who the Tuniit were. We waited until dark, raided a house for food, then tried to steal a boat. Some guy clubbed Kedric, and we were forced to spend more time there while he healed. Somehow he procured us a two-man canoe but never said what he traded for it.”
Her head bobbed up and down with his arm as he shrugged. “I don’t know. Kedric didn’t say much.”
Look who’s talking. She managed to stifle a laugh so as not to give him a reason to shut down.
“Anyway, we had to portage that damn canoe ourselves all the way to the Southwest Passage. We didn’t have a team of wolves pulling it. Then a storm hit us in the middle of the ocean. The canoe capsized. I would have drowned a third and final time if it hadn’t been for Kedric.
“Finally, we hit land. It was late winter, and temperatures were bearable, which was good, since our thermal cream had run out. Huddling with him to keep warm wasn’t nearly as pleasant as with you.” He leaned in. Heat radiated off his body.
Her heart fluttered. Huddling with this capable warrior brought comfort and security. Their relationship may have been rough until now, but having Max on her side filled her with hope and...and something more.
“The problem came with all the melting snow,” he continued. “The farther south we traveled, the more mud we encountered. Which was probably how Xanthrag found our trail. We split up at a ravine marking the border of Pele, the island refuge. A huge river separated us from freedom. I never got the chance to cross, though. Xanthrag captured me.”
Staring beyond her, Max’s eyes hardened as if watching that dire moment. His attention snapped back. “I assume since Xanthrag never captured Kedric, he made it across. That’s what I told Duncan, anyway. There you have it. I’ve been much luckier escaping with you.”
“Luckier? What about the saber-toothed tiger and these poachers?”
“You weren’t with me when I got attacked.” His voice turned softer. “And you weren’t with me when the poachers came. But you’re back now, and I know we’re gonna make it to the refuge.”
“It’s too dark for me to read you, Max. I’m not sure if your optimism is due to arrogance or ignorance.”
“It all depends on the—”
“—outcome,” she finished. “Right.”
Shadows melted from Max’s face, revealing the clear white and vibrant green in his eyes. She had forgotten what they looked like without the accompaniment of fury, fatigue, or famine.
They were gorgeous.
As was he with his mischievous smirk, his short black hair, and his rugged stubble that looked good on models, some actors, and him. The poachers must have shaved and groomed him. Probably wanted him to look good for his sale. They didn’t disappoint. He looked better than good. The man was sexy hot.
Heat spread from her core into her limbs and face. Her lips dried. She licked them.
Max’s gaze darted to her lips and then met her gaze again with an unspoken question. He ran his fingers down the length of her hair. His eyes smoldered with lust.
She started to lean in.
In an instant, his hand fisted her hair, and he wrenched her to him in fierce hunger. He devoured her mouth with frightening brutality before quickly releasing her. “Dammit!”
The pounding of her heart subsided. If he hadn’t let her go, she would have feared his Regan-like attack. But he did let go, proving yet again that his humanity prevailed over his animal instincts.
Cupping his stubbly jaw in her hands and raising his lips to meet hers, she kissed him softly, offering his abused soul tenderness.
A full two seconds passed before he returned the kiss. Though he markedly reined in his aggressiveness, she sensed the volatile edge of the alpha warrior inside. He possessed a danger like wildfire that could spread out of control with the slightest breeze.
Her heart clambered. Her head clouded in dizzy excitement. His mouth seared her lips as he deepened the kiss. Surrendering to him, she opened her mouth to his tongue and tasted his passion.
Another rush of heat exploded in her core, engulfing her with desire. With Noah still asleep on her lap, she wrapped her arms around Max.
He didn’t touch her in return.
“Hold me,” she whispered against his lips.
She pulled back enough to meet his eyes. “Why not?”
“Because this is the first time you’ve kissed me of your own free will. And welcomed my kiss in return.” Through the darkness, his green eyes shone with pain. “If I touch you, I’ll lose control. I can’t risk hurting you again.”
Hurt her? How many times had he demonstrated his humanity? Yet he still feared his animal brutality. Didn’t he see the tenderness inside himself? Couldn’t he recognize it when he had cared for her and Noah? If he could trust those feelings, he could tame his inner beast.
She was about to tell him when water crashed around the ship, and the suddenly brightened room destroyed the moment. She seized his arm and blinked against the sharp light. “What happened?”
“We’ve surfaced.” He peeled her death grip from his bicep, rubbed his arm, and got to his feet.
Waves splashed against the hull about two-thirds up the transparent walls, and colorful marine life darted away. Sunshine streamed through those parts not submerged. In the light, he appeared healthy. Without the beard, sunken cheeks, and thermal suit, he no longer resembled a fierce gladiator. He was dressed in a white Renaissance-type shirt and the same type of black pants Regan had worn on the training field. Max looked like a barefoot pirate. All he needed was a red sash and a gold hoop earring.
She almost chuckled at his getup until she realized she wore an identical costume. At least Max’s too-tight clothes hugged the musculature of his body, allowing her a nice view of his rear end. Unfortunately, her clothes were way too big. One size did not fit all.
Max moved around the cage, surveying their surroundings. No light penetrated the ceiling, the floor, or the solid wall she leaned against. The fifteen-foot-square cage stood two feet off the floor in the center of an oblong room that appeared narrower at the front than the back. Could they be at the bow of the watercraft?
Max ran an open hand hard against each cell bar like he was playing a giant harp.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking for a loose rail again, now that there’s light.”
“No. Our gear is over there.” He knelt, wedged his arm between two bars up to his shoulder, and strained to reach the backpacks on the floor.
He swore a string of profanities. “It’s too far.” He stood and rubbed his knuckles up and down his stubbly chin as he paced the floor. His movements back and forth played on her nerves until she couldn’t bear sitting any longer. She gently placed Noah on the floor and joined Max in pacing and thinking.
When he stopped short, she almost crashed into him. Something in the far distance caught his attention. “What is it?”
She followed his gaze, squinting at the horizon. A vast ocean spread out before them. She saw no land, but she didn’t need to. Max could see lemming tracks in a snowstorm and Ice Mountains that were days away. If he said he saw land, she believed him.
Her heart sunk. It wouldn’t be long before the poachers separated them and sold them to who the hell knew. “How far?”
“With the speed of this thing? Half hour. Maybe less.”
“Will they give us back our thermal suits?”
He looked at her bewildered then his eyes softened. “No.”
“Here’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Survival doesn’t always go to the fittest. It goes to the smartest. You need to use everything you know about the world around you to figure things out. You tell me why not.”
She resumed pacing. She always thought best when moving. “Well, if they don’t give us back our thermal suits, we can’t survive in the arctic, therefore we won’t try to escape.”
“True, but not the right answer.”
“Maybe the suits can be traced back to HuBReC, and the poachers would be arrested for selling HuBReC’s humans on the black market.”
“Perhaps. But it’s still not the right answer.”
“Well, we wouldn’t need thermal protection if we were in warm weather.”
She faced Max. “They’re taking us to Southland? Or Pele? Or whatever it’s called? Why?”
“Maybe you haven’t noticed how empty this cage is?”
“Wait. Are you telling me these Hyboreans are going to hunt humans in the same place we want to escape to?”
Max sat down next to Noah and stroked the baby’s fuzzy head. “They’re practically bringing us to the front door of the wildlife refuge.” With a satisfied smile, he laced his fingers behind his head, closed his eyes, and relaxed against the solid wall as if easing into a hammock on a Sunday afternoon.
“What good does that do us? I kinda hoped we’d escape to the refuge, not watch it pass us by from behind bars. Do you have a plan or are you hoping we’ll get lucky?”
A devilish smirk curled his lips. Suddenly, he pulled off his shirt.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting lucky.” He stripped off his pants.
What is Max doing? He can't be thinking about having sex at a time like this?!? Then again, he is a gladiator stud so... LOL. Tune in next week Chapter 43 to see what Max has on his mind or read the full story now for only $2.99 at your favorite retailers.