Wednesday, November 23, 2022

CAPTIVE (The Survival Race, book 1) - CHAPTER 49

In last week's episode, Max and Addy escaped captivity and fled into the forest. Regan wasn't far behind. Can they make it across the river and into the refuge before Regan captures them?

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  Ch2  Ch3  Ch4  Ch5  Ch6  Ch7  Ch8  Ch 9  Chs10&11  Ch12  Ch13  Ch14  Ch15  Ch16  Ch17  Ch18  Ch19  Ch20  Ch21  Ch22  Chs23&24  Chs25&26  Ch27  Ch28  Ch29  Ch 30  Chs31&32  Chs33&34  Ch35  Ch36  Ch37  Ch38  Chs39&40  Chs41&42  Ch43  Ch44  Ch45  Ch46  Chs47&48

 

CAPTIVE

Chapter Forty-Nine


Addy craned her neck at the base of the thirty-foot rocky cliff they had just descended, watching the river plunge straight down into a cloud of mist before the rushing current raced downstream.

This must have been the place where Red Beard had crossed. There weren’t any rapids here.

“I’d bet it’s two hundred and fifty feet wide,” Addy shouted above the pounding waterfall. “If we start here, we should be able to reach the other side before we’re swept into the rapids downstream. I’m a strong swimmer, Max, but I’m not sure I can do it with Noah. Can you take him?”

“Uh...”

“What?”

“Remember when I told you I drowned?”

Addy’s heart dove into her stomach. “You can’t swim.”

“I can doggy paddle.” Max made pawing motions in the air and gave her a cute, sheepish smile.

If they hadn’t been running for their lives, she would have laughed. “Not across this. You’ll be in white water before you make it halfway.”

“Here.” He handed her a rock with a sharp edge. “Cut me as many vines as you can. The longer the better.”

“A raft won’t take us across any faster.”

“We’re not building a raft.”

“What are we—”

“Trust me.” He gave her a wink before striding off into the brush.

She did trust him. Wholeheartedly.

She settled Noah on a soft patch of ferns away from the rocky bank and at a safe distance from the vines she cut and gathered, but close enough that she could reach him in the unlikely event of a predator showing up.

“What are we going to do?” she asked when Max returned with an armful of vines, dropping them onto the pile she had collected. “Swing across like they did in Romancing the Stone?”

Max picked up a stick and, unsatisfied with it for whatever reason, tossed it aside. “Never saw that movie.”

“You’ve seen Tarzan, right?” She sawed through another vine.

He grabbed another stick, weighed it in his hand, then tossed that one, too. “I’ve lived Tarzan.”

Hopefully, they collected enough vines for whatever plan he had in mind. She didn’t need to ask what that plan was. She’d said she trusted him, and she did.

She gathered up the vines and made her way to the ferns where Noah’s eyes focused on his daddy’s as Max murmured something to him. Did he just say disemboweled to a baby? It was best not to ask. “Is this enough?”

“We’ll see. Can you tie them into a long rope?”

“Of course.” She made herself comfortable on the ground next to Noah and began twisting and braiding the vines while Max used a sharp rock to scrape the end of a thick, straight branch about five feet long.

She could get used to this—them sitting together doing domestic chores. Only she wished she were doing them on the “free” side of the river. Something gnawed inside her gut. Would they do chores together on the free side? She assumed he’d want a relationship with her and Noah, but assumptions weren’t truths. She had to hear it from him. “Max?”

“Yeah?”

“What happens after we cross the river?”

“We’ll search for the clan.”

“I mean what will happen to us? To you and me and our son?” There. The question finally came out. They’d been in survival mode for so long, she never had an opportunity to ask. There had never been a right time. Or maybe she was afraid of the answer.

“You and Noah are my responsibility. I’ll protect you until we reach the clan.”

“Not after?”

He stopped whittling the branch and turned questioning eyes on her. “What are you asking, Addy?”

She bit her lip and gathered her nerve. “I want to know how you feel. I want to know if you...if you…”

“If I love you?”

Her fingers went numb and fumbled the knot she’d been tying. God, to hear him say it made her sound pathetic. “I need to know where we stand.”

“I am an alpha gladiator trained to fight, kill, and survive. I am not husband and father material.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat and willed her fingers to continue braiding. How could he say that? He was an awesome father. And as far as his being husband material went, she wouldn’t mind exploring that avenue.

But Max still saw himself as an animal. He needed more time to heal. He wasn’t ready for the dreams that she had, and maybe he never would be. “Right,” she tried sounding aloof. “I understand.”

Max took hold of her hands, stopping her from her task. She refused to look at him, refused to let him see the hurt. The gentle touch of his fingers tilting her chin upward so their eyes could meet engulfed her sensibilities.

“No, you don’t.” His lips, a breath away from hers, invited her to taste them. She closed her eyes and leaned into him. He pulled back. “Look at me.” When she did, she saw pain haunting his green eyes. “I can’t be the man you deserve, Addy.”

“So just be the man I want.”

His eyes closed as if savoring the moment. Slowly, he drew near, his lips parting.

Her heart hammered, anticipating the touch of his mouth on hers. But before she could close her eyes, his opened and he pulled away again. “We’re not free yet. Let’s slay one beast at a time.” Abruptly, he turned his attention back to his whittling project, leaving her aching for his kiss and pondering the possibilities of their future.

He wanted her. He may be fighting it at the moment, but it was plain to see that he wanted her. The question was: when the time was right, would he want her for a while or forever?

They worked in silence until she finished braiding the rope.

Max tied one end of braided vine rope around a notch he’d carved into his pointed stick. He yanked on it to test its strength and then rolled it up around his hand and elbow as if he were wrapping up an extension cord. He placed the coil at the river’s edge and handed her the rope’s tail. “Hold on to this and don’t let go.”

“Why?”

“See that ‘V’ over there?”

On the opposite bank, two trees grew from the same point in the ground, making a narrow “V” with their trunks.

“Yes.”

“Keep your eyes on it.” Max counted off several paces from the water’s edge. He stretched out his neck, rotated and stretched his shoulders, then took in and blew out a few quick breaths. He raised the stick—which looked more like a double-ended spear—shoulder high. His fingers loosened and tightened around its middle until he seemed satisfied with its balance.

The spear steadied.

Slowly, deliberately, he raised his left hand out in front of him. Max sprinted toward the water and released the spear, yelling the entire time it sailed across the river. Its point dove between the “V” of the two trees and stuck into the ground.

“Yes!” Both fists punched the sky in triumph. “Told you I was Olympic-bound.”

She giggled. “Would you like to take the podium for your gold medal and national anthem, or should we cross the river?”

“So much for my victory lap.” He tugged on the vine until the javelin came out of the dirt and braced crosswise in the “V.” He yanked harder—no doubt to be sure it was secure—and then took the tail end from Addy, carrying it toward a fat tree trunk. It didn’t reach.

“Damn. We need one more vine.” He tied it off to a sapling. “Keep an eye on the line. I’ll be right back.” He retrieved the rock he used for whittling the javelin and then disappeared into the forest.

Addy picked up Noah and kissed his soft forehead. “You’re daddy’s a smart man. Once the vine rope is secured to the sturdy tree, we can use it to cross the river without getting swept downstream. Just a few more minutes and we’ll be safe.” Noah’s fuzzy head moved back and forth as he rooted on her shirt. Her breasts prickled like pins and needles. She sat down and bared one for him. He latched on, sucking greedily. “Well, aren’t you a hungry boy.”

“Mmm. You’ve no idea, pet.”

Addy shot to her feet, making Noah cry. She clutched him to her breast. Though she couldn’t see where the voice came from, she knew from the chill in her marrow that Regan lurked a short distance away.

She scanned the woods for Max. Where was he? Did Regan find him first? Had he been captured? Or killed?

Her pounding heart drowned out the slapping waterfall and Noah’s wails. She glanced over her shoulder at the rope hovering above the water’s surface. If she crossed, would the sapling hold her weight?

A twig snapped. Regan emerged from the woods. “Hello, pet.”

She held back her scream. This can’t be happening. Not now. Not when they were this close. Regan’s presence meant that Xanthrag or Ferly Mor was here, too. She would not let those bastards take her son to HuBReC. She had to get Noah to the refuge.

Addy splashed into the river. Ice water, like shards of glass, stung her body. With one hand clutching Noah to her shoulder and the other on the vine, she shimmied and kicked toward freedom. She prayed that the vine would hold, that the current wouldn’t pull Noah from her arm, and that she’d have the strength and speed to make it before—

Heavy legs wrapped around her body. “Going somewhere?”

Addy twisted and wriggled but couldn’t break Regan’s hold. “Let go of me.”

“Most women enjoy my legs around them.”

“That’s ’cause they don’t know any better.”

His crushing thighs forced the breath from her lungs. When would she learn not to antagonize this brute?

“Where’s the loser?”

“Gone.”

“You’re lying.” His legs straightened, squeezing her, dragging her and Noah under the water.

Not her baby! In an explosion of power, she broke to the surface, her bicep straining as her one-arm pull-up brought Noah’s head above the river. “Get off me, you bastard.” She kicked and squirmed to free herself from his viselike grip.

“Where’s your beta gladiator?”

“I don’t know. I swear. He went to get another vine but hasn’t come back.”

“He’s abandoned you again.” Regan’s sinister laugh pierced her soul. “First at the Tuniit village and now, as I close in on him, he escapes, leaving you for capture.”

Bull. Max wouldn’t desert her. Something must have happened to him. Before she could imagine what, her palm burned across the vine as Regan hauled her toward shore.

Her strength was no match for his. Her muscles burned from straining against him. They wouldn’t last. She needed a new tactic. Quick. Oh hell, she wasn’t above pleading. “Let us go, Regan.”

“And face Xanthrag’s punishment? Not on your breeding life.”

Hyboreans couldn’t enter the refuge. If Regan had no need to fear Xanthrag, he wouldn’t have to take them back. “Xanthrag can’t hurt you in the refuge. Come with us.”

“Warming up to me, pet?” A sly smile came to his lips. “You like the feel of me around you. My power excites you. You want to get fucked by a real alpha.”

“Max is more alpha than you’ll ever be.”

“You won’t be saying that when he’s dead, and you’re writhing beneath me.”

She let go of the rope to punch his groin, but he moved his hips, and she caught his inner thigh. His legs crushed her; cold water rose around her mouth, her nose, the top of her head. She lifted Noah straight up to get him above water.

Regan yanked him from her hands.

No! She kicked and floundered for the surface, grasping for the vine, seeing nothing but water splashing. Submerged again.

Too long.

Need air.

A precious breath rushed into her lungs.

“I can take you back dead or alive.” Regan dragged her coughing and gasping onto the bank. “Makes no difference to me. Except in this.” He rolled his heavy weight on top of her, pinning her to hard rock. His hair and nose drooled river water over her face.

Noah wailed somewhere to her right. Her baby was in pain, but she couldn’t move to get to him. Violent and uncontrolled anger raged inside her, fueling her with the strength to struggle, yet Regan’s rock-solid, massive body wouldn’t budge. She strained to see Noah, but Regan’s hot mouth on her neck kept her head from turning.

She clawed and bit and squirmed.

Regan pulled back so his eyes were inches from hers and laughed in her face. “Go ahead and fight. Today, tomorrow, and the next day. Remember this, one day you won’t fight. On that day, you’ll know I broke you.”

He ripped her drenched shirt down the center before capturing her wrists and pinning her arms above her head.

“Max! Help!”

“That’s it. Scream. Let’s see if he comes before I do.” He thrust his hips into hers for emphasis before his mouth assaulted her breasts.

* * *

Max opened his eyes to spinning ground above him. Correction, below him. Ten feet below. Shit. He was hanging upside down by one leg.

The vine—now embedded in his skin—had come out of nowhere, grabbing his ankle, flipping and pitching him against the tree.

Pressure from pooled blood throbbed in his sinuses. His head ached where it whacked the trunk. Pain like a Hyborean blade sliced through his ankle.

How long had he been out?

He couldn’t reach his rock on the ground below. He needed Addy.

“Max! Help!”

Addy? He twisted toward the direction of her cry. About eighty yards away, through branches, leaves, and hanging vines, Regan restrained Addy on the ground as she struggled in vain.

“Get the fuck off her!” Writhing in midair, he’d never felt this helpless.

Regan’s head popped up, and their eyes met. Max cursed the stupidity of his tactical blunder. By giving away his location, he’d lost the element of surprise.

As if he watched it in slow motion, the bastard smirked a come-and-get-me smirk, then licked her nipple as she fought beneath him. He backhanded her across the jaw, drawing blood.

“Addy!” Feral rage exploded inside him, obliterating his senses. No more headache. No more pressure. No more ankle pain. Only wild gladiator fury. “I’ll kill you, you son of a bitch.”

Max grabbed the noose but couldn’t loosen the damn thing enough to force it over his foot. He yanked on the vine. It didn’t break. He’d need more weight to snap it.

Hand over hand he climbed then let go, free-falling until the vine jerked taut, and embedded deeper into his flesh.

Again, he ascended. Fifteen feet off the ground, Max dove straight down. Again he was jerked at the bottom. He reached up to climb once more, but the vine snapped.

Thwump. His left side hit the ground. He felt nothing. Not from the fall or the noose or the ring of blood around his ankle. It would hurt like hell later, but he’d suffered worse pain. He snatched his rock and sprinted toward Addy and the beast he would slaughter.

 

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Ugh! Can't Max and Addy catch a break? How are they going to defeat Regan? Find out next week in Chapter 50 or read the full story now at your favorite retailers.

 
K.M. Fawcett
Romance with a rebel heart  

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