Dark Captive Collection

-

English
324 pages
Lire un extrait
Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
En savoir plus

Description

Enslaved. Captured. Imprisoned.



When society bends to the will of men, darkness beckons, hope fades, and love crumbles.



Submit to your Alpha. There is no other choice.



Three Alpha heroes in this collection of four steamy, dark romance tales – The Victorian Shift, Jailed Little Jade, The Murderess, and Betrayed by Blood – which contain power exchange and scenes which may trigger some reader





The Victorian Shift
In a world of five men to one woman, chaos is just the beginning.



At a young age, Piper and her sister Ruby are placed into the prison system designed to keep the female population safe. With the knowledge Piper obtains about the program that women are forced into when they turn 18, Piper retaliates against the guards and finds herself locked in maximum security.



It's been seven years since she's seen her younger sister.



Her determination to rescue Ruby from the program is what keeps her going. In the decade that Piper's been locked up, the world has changed significantly. Women are forced to have a master, obey their every command, or expect severe punishment.



Jailed Little Jade
With a crappy ex-husband and a new lease on life, Jade moves to Spring Mills for a fresh start. What she gets is far more than she bargained for when Holden Foster shows up at her door.



He's hot, dominating, and harbors a secret of intergalactic proportion.



The Murderess
Women that leave the royal harem, cast out by a Prince of Brayleigh, are sent into the Courtesan Slave Trade. Prince Aaron wants nothing to do with his father’s dark dealings and sinister ways.



Can he disrupt the Courtesan Slave Trade, or will the courtesans find themselves in a fate worse than hell?



Betrayed by Blood
When Aaron discovers his father, King Gideon, and brother, Prince August, are alive and a verdict for treason to come within a few days, Aaron has no choice but to infiltrate the palace. Forced to align himself with the rebel leader Rhys, Aaron and Lorelei must return to the palace to seek justice and protect the crumbling nation of Brayleigh. Will she be loved by all who know of her as the murderess or feared for her deadly sins?

Sujets

Informations

Publié par
Date de parution 29 avril 2020
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781645632627
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0037€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Signaler un problème

DARK CAPTIVE COLLECTION
ALLISON WESTPublished by Blushing Books
An Imprint of
ABCD Graphics and Design, Inc.
A Virginia Corporation
977 Seminole Trail #233
Charlottesville, VA 22901
©2020
All rights reserved.
No part of the book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The trademark Blushing
Books is pending in the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Allison West
Dark Captive Collection
EBook ISBN: 978-1-64563-262-7
v2
Cover Art by ABCD Graphics & Design
This book contains fantasy themes appropriate for mature readers only. Nothing in this book
should be interpreted as Blushing Books' or the author's advocating any non-consensual
sexual activity.C o n t e n t s
The Victorian Shift
Jailed Little Jade
The Murderess
Betrayed By Blood
Allison West
Blushing Books
Blushing Books NewsletterThe Victorian ShiftPublished by Blushing Books
An Imprint of
ABCD Graphics and Design, Inc.
A Virginia Corporation
977 Seminole Trail #233
Charlottesville, VA 22901
©2020
All rights reserved.
No part of the book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The trademark Blushing
Books is pending in the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Allison West
The Victorian Shift
EBook ISBN: 978-1-68259-651-7
Print ISBN: 978-1-68259-355-4
Audio ISBN: 978-1-64563-458-4
v2
Cover Art by ABCD Graphics & Design
This book contains fantasy themes appropriate for mature readers only. Nothing in this book
should be interpreted as Blushing Books' or the author's advocating any non-consensual
sexual activity.Chapter 1
unched in the confines of the caged bars, Piper found it difficult to breathe.
She gripped the metal between her fingers as her heart slammed against her
chest.H
It wasn't shit enough, living in a prison, but she'd made a mistake, and now she was
stuffed into a crate that would barely hold a wild dog.
She hadn't seen an animal in a decade and sunlight had been even longer, forced
inside the dark prison. The only crime she'd committed: managing to stay alive. Her
stomach burned with a ferocious intensity just reliving the distant memory. Her parents
had left Piper and her younger sister Ruby at their home. She tried desperately to forget
that day many years ago. In dreams, it haunted her, always resurfacing as she heard
the cries from her eight-year-old sister begging their mother to stay.
"Let me out!" Piper screamed, her lungs aching and throat raspy from her fight. The
only ears within the hall were those that were caged, just as she had been. The guards
were on rotating shifts.
She'd really gone and screwed up this time.
Biting a guard might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but all it did was
land her in the cage, because being trapped in a prison cell wasn't terrible enough.
Her mouth shut the moment the buzzer sounded and the metal door slid open. With
curiosity, she watched two guards enter the hallway. One, she had known since the first
day she'd found herself imprisoned. He'd always been the biggest prick, wanting to
shove his cock down her throat. What did she get for it? An extra bottle of water and
stale piece of bread. The second guy, he locked eyes on her. She couldn't stop staring
up at him, praying somewhere inside of him, he held an ounce of compassion.
Piper didn't know why she still held out hope for humanity and men. They were the
ones imprisoning her, separating her from Ruby. Her sister was eighteen now, which
meant she opted into the program, whether she wanted to be a part of it or not.
That simple thought of losing absolute freedom and choice had been what had
gotten Piper into maximum security. There was no way in hell she was being sent to
rehabilitation to be a good girl and marry a man who demanded her hand. Ever since
the Victorians had taken over, husbands owned not only all property but, also, the
woman's body, choosing to do whatever he pleased, whenever he desired. That had
been the price of being a woman in 2125.
The thought sickened her.
Yes, the world had gone to hell; it was the only thought that made sense. Freedom
was a fleeting memory for a woman.She'd escaped the hell of the program for another atrocity, being locked in a prison
cell twenty-four-hours a day. The cells weren't pleasant, but she had room to stand and
a metal cot to sleep on. If she was lucky, she'd be back in her bunk in two weeks,
maybe three, for good behavior. Not that she could do much cramped in a box.
The young man's alluring blue eyes latched onto Piper's. "How is that humane?" he
asked Ivan, the guard.
"Humane?" Ivan laughed, his yellowing teeth glistening under florescent light. "You
should have seen what Steck, the old warden, used to do for punishment. Graham's at
least a little more kind. Steck used to line the girls up, paddle their bottoms raw until
they blistered. That was for small offenses. Big ones resulted in being whipped or
occasionally fucked if they were worth half a cent."
The new guard looked uncomfortable at the mere mention of physical brutality and
rape. Piper wasn't too keen on it, either. For the most part, no one ever touched her,
except for the occasional guard who wanted a blow job or fuck in the office. On a few
occasions, she'd resorted to the disgusting acts as she attempted to grab the guard's
keys, but it had never worked. Most of her encounters involved fighting back and
attacking the guards when given the opportunity.
It hadn't won her any good will toward the guards or a chance at seeing sunlight
again.
"Sounds a tad harsh, don't you think?" the new guard asked. He stepped further
down the hall, coming toward Piper. "What'd she do to get stuffed into a cage for an
animal?"
"She bit me," Ivan said, unfastening the button on his sleeve as he rolled his work
shirt up his arm, revealing fresh teeth marks. Piper had broken skin and left a nasty
gash. Ivan hadn't worn a bandage, but his injury did look poorly stitched.
"He deserved it," Piper said, her eyes casting a quick glance before darting to the
ground, afraid of her punishment for speaking out so freely.
"Shut it!" Ivan shoved a metal rod at the cage, electrifying the bars as he pressed
down on the handle. The current coursed through the metal, finding its way into Piper's
body.
She shook and convulsed, banging into the metal railings of the cage
unintentionally. The zap of voltage lasted only a second, but the residual effects would
remain for the twenty-five-year-old woman.
"So you put her in a cage because she acted like an animal?" he asked and then
laughed, as if it were the most absurd or brilliant idea he'd heard.
As each second ticked by, she began to catch her breath, hunched into a ball,
pulling her limbs closer to her chest. Her eyes cast down at the floor, unwilling to let the
stranger see the fear looming over her. She knew many guards lived on the thrill of
causing another's pain. It had been what led some of the guards to their positions. The
rest thought they were helping their country, told they were keeping the future
generation safe.
It had been a lie. Did they not see what they were doing was wrong? Those guards
at maximum security were not much older than Piper when she had first arrived. With
time, they'd aged the same, and a few younger guards joined the ranks, wanting to
save the world.
It was sadly optimistic. They never had a chance.He stepped around her cage. She didn't dare face him, but his shoes stood out as
she stared at the black leather and perfect laces. Where had such an item come from?
The war had taken resources, and Piper hadn't thought she'd ever see a grocery store
or amusement park again. The world she knew and loved had died, presumably with
her parents. Although she was certain they'd abandoned her and Ruby. Not because
they hadn't loved their children, but because they thought fighting in the war was the
noble thing to do.
Piper didn't know which he thought, but she prayed she'd found herself an ally. She
needed someone she could manipulate, and he seemed like a potential candidate, in
fact, the only person she had a chance with.
"It worked, didn't it, Charlie?" Ivan asked. He paced around Piper's cage as though
he were the predator and she his prey, staking his claim that she was his.
She just hoped he wouldn't pee on her cage to mark his territory. If he did, next
time, it wouldn't be just his arm she'd bite, she'd gouge an eye. She would have her
revenge.
"Debatable," Charlie said and shrugged.
Ivan walked further from her cage, down the cement floored hall and through
another sliding metal door offering the only way out of the facility. Charlie didn't follow.
Instead, he glanced back over his shoulder at Piper. What was he thinking?
Piper wished she had the key or even the slightest hint of how to open the metal
doors, should she be lucky to break out of her cage. Escaping wasn't a viable option,
not without inside help. Minutes silently ticked away.
"Charlie," Piper said, her voice beckoning him to come toward her cage. She had
one chance to convince him she wasn't the monster they believed her to be.
Charlie turned on his heels and glanced her over. His eyes told her what he couldn't
say, he felt sorry for her, but his stance conveyed the message he was supposed to
verbalize, that he was in charge and she was nothing more than a slave to the system.
"You don't get to talk to me. Unless I tell you to," Charlie said.
"You're new." Piper got right to the point. There was no reason to suspect anything
different. He pretended to be hardened, but his demeanor told her otherwise. He had
looked horrified to see the way the prisoners had been treated at the facility.
His voice dropped softer, careful not to let any other inmates hear. "How can you
tell?"
She didn't have it in her to admit that he smelled clean, looked well-groomed and
had the most soulful eyes she'd ever seen. There seemed to be an innocence about
Charlie, as if he hadn't yet been corrupted by the system.
The government, run by old money, wanted to turn the world into what it had been, a
simpler lifestyle, when there hadn't been internet and phones, before people spent their
time communicating with a machine instead of another human being, that society would
be more evolved. It was idealistic, what they had envisioned: cowboys roaming the
range and open fields with welcoming communities.
The lifestyle of the Old West, later coined the Western Movement, lasted a few
years, until there was an increase in violence and shoot-outs.
The resistance gained momentum, envisioning a shift back to the Victorian era, to
put women in their place with men in charge. The Victorian Shift intended to keep
society civil; with a ratio of five men to one woman, the system allowed women to beladies and men to choose a wife.
Charlie cleared his throat and cautiously approached the cage. "Answer me,
inmate." He did his best to portray a tough exterior, and no doubt he could wrestle her
easily to the ground, but that would never happen as long as she was hunched on all
fours, nestled too close to cement for her comfort.
Piper glanced up, her cheek brushing the cold, metal bars. "You look surprised to
see what they do to us." She'd been surprised once too, until she'd found herself
repeatedly within the confined space for bad behavior. "Have you never worked in max,
or is prison a new career choice?" She didn't intend to mock him, but she knew it had
come out a tad harsh. It wasn't as though there were many job options nowadays. Join
the military or work for the prison, those were the two most prevalent careers.
Everything else fell under gray territory.
The ground shook and the cage rattled. Piper's eyes widened, uncertain what was
going on. She'd experienced gunfire drills, hostage takeover practice, when she was
forced to be their hostage, but nothing prepared her for the explosion that turned the
building to rubble. What the hell was going on?
"SHIT," Charlie cursed and jogged down the hall, catching up with Ivan before he fell in
line with the warden.
"We need to move the prisoners, now," Graham said.
"How do we move them, Graham?" Charlie asked, his stomach in knots. Why
couldn't he have a normal day on the job? Though what constituted normal? Seeing a
young woman in a cage hardly called for typical behavior. Even in the messed-up world
in which they lived, people weren't housed in cages, animals were. "What's going on?"
THE BUILDING SHOOK A SECOND TIME, and the blast drew nearer as a third struck the
side of the building, blowing off the roof and wall nearest to the girl in the cage, Piper.
He'd seen her file, knew of her before he'd stepped foot in the prison. Charlie had
studied all the prisoners' information, wanting to know how to handle the inmates and
what to expect. She had a thick file for a girl so young, twenty-five.
Piper squeezed her eyes shut and counted to one hundred aloud.
Did that actually work to calm her down? His heart pounded erratically in his chest.
Grabbing the keys from his pants, he shoved the key into the lock. The clasp turned,
clicking as he unlocked her cage door.
"Come on," Charlie said.
Her eyes flashed open. Had it been his words or the sound of the lock that had
caught her attention?
Without delay, she climbed from the metal and stretched. Her knees wobbled asshe tried to walk, slowing him down. Smoke permeated the room, dancing toward the
ceiling.
"Keep low to the ground and stay with me. I'll get you out of here," Charlie said. He
escorted Piper down the hallway, his hand gripping her arm, pinching her skin as he
stalled in front of another cage, his keys rattling in his fingers, shaking as he tried to
shove the single skeleton key into the lock. Smoke burned his eyes and the adrenaline
surged through his body, making him unsteady.
Another bomb rocked the prison, forcing his hand to loosen his grip as he clutched
the cage to keep from falling over.
Piper ran.
"Shit!" Charlie cursed, growing infuriated that he couldn't handle a girl. It wasn't as
though she were twice his size. Why couldn't he keep her in line? It was his job, and
apparently on his first day, he was performing it like crap. Charlie deserved to be fired,
not that it mattered. The prison crumbled all around him.
HER FEET LIFTED off the ground and she tore from the facility she'd been held in,
gasping as she stepped outside. The air smelled putrid, the sky a dark red and gray.
The clouds formed a peculiar shape, Piper had never seen the haze this far from the
city, but it had been too long since she'd seen sunlight. It enveloped the prison and
drifted with the wind. It would have hidden her in the shadows, had she not been so
loud crunching on the ground. She'd never learned to walk in silence, and this struggle
meant life or death.
"Piper!" Charlie's voice echoed through the half-torn building.
Shit. She needed to keep out of his sight. The last thing she wanted was to end up
in another prison.
Piper held her breath, trying to escape without being caught or seen. Her clothes
didn't help her blend in, but she'd deal with that later. Right now, she needed to evade
Charlie and anyone else working for the prison.
Through the thicket of smoke and fire blazing to her right, she ran, sheltering herself
behind trees as she skirted the forest. Where was she? The men who had driven her to
maximum security had shoved a bag over her head. The darkness had encompassed
her for far too many hours to count, from car to plane, and then car again. She'd felt the
warmth of the light, even in the darkness through the windows, against her arms.
From behind, she heard heavy boots pounding the grass. Fire crackled, and she
ducked, slamming against the ground as another explosion rocked the building,
sending debris flying in her direction.
Pushing herself off the ground, Piper glanced around her surroundings, determining
the best route to run. To her right, fire snaked along the ground, burning through dry
grass. She headed left, through the dense forest and into unknown territory. Branches
scraped her cheeks as she avoided the barren path. The enemy had to be near if they
were bombing the prison. Who were they trying to kill, the prisoners or the guards? She
didn't want to run into anyone if she had her choice."Piper!" Charlie's voice carried with the flames as he grew nearer.
She could spot him through the thicket of leaves just a few yards away.
The bombings increased with ferocity, and her footsteps slowed as fire rained from
the sky. She had nothing to cover or shield herself from the burning ash that fell from
the heavens. Piper found it difficult to breathe. Her lungs burned as she coughed and
choked on the smoke and gas that poisoned the air.
No longer could she see in front of her. She stumbled, one foot in front of the other,
and inadvertently got turned around. With smoke at every angle, it made the journey
impossible. She very well could stumble right back to her captors.
Her legs buckled under the smoke, and she was unable to breathe. Her hand hit the
ground first, then both knees, as she was gasping for breath. She felt as though she
were drowning, the breath stolen from her lips, as poison weighed her down. Her eyes
fluttered, desperately trying to stay open. Piper's vision blurred as she saw a dark
figure, with a mask covering his face, approach.
She tried to scoot back, forced against the trunk of a tree, unable to escape as he
shoved the mask over her face. Her eyes closed, drinking in the air, each breath as
though it were her first, dragging the oxygen into her lungs. The mask filtered the air,
protecting her from the smoke and deadly fumes.
Charlie rushed at the man giving Piper the mask, slamming him down onto the
ground. Did he want Piper's mask? Would he try to kill her next?
She gripped the rubber band, sliding it around her head, securing the mask as she
quickly scurried from Charlie, backing away from the trees and through the forest
further down the mountainside. He was one of the bad guys as far as she was
concerned.
Darting down the path, she didn't care to avoid the trail; there was enough smoke
making it impossible to see as it was.
She silently prayed she wasn't turned around and heading back to the burning
facility that she'd been forced to call home for the past seven years.
Through the forest and dense smoke, she couldn't see her hands in front of her,
even with the mask. Running from Charlie, she ran face first into a man who towered
above her. Her face hit his chest, and she bounced back, attempting to get away.
Whoever he was, he grabbed her arms, keeping her from escaping.
"Get off me!" Her voice drowned in the smoke. Even if someone else was nearby,
she knew they'd never find her.
"I'm trying to help you," he said through his mask.
Taking him in, she noticed the military uniform and boots. He was dressed in
camouflage, hiding out in the forest, but why? She didn't know if he was the enemy or
someone she could trust. It seemed doubtful an ally would bomb the prison.
She hadn't run into any other prisoners. Had they escaped too? Did the smoke and
acid fog make it impossible for them to breathe? Were they lying face down in the
grass, dying?
"Piper!" Charlie's voice echoed against the trees as he grew nearer. She couldn't
see him through the smoke, but she knew the guard wasn't far.
"Come with me," the stranger said, loosening his grip on her arm.
"I don't even know who you are," she said, speaking the truth. "Why help me?" She
was a criminal, according to the system."Piper, you can't trust them!"
She took a step back, and the man in the uniform dropped his hold on her. "If you
go with him, he'll put you back into the system. We've been watching you, Piper; we
know where your sister is."
Everything inside of Piper told her not to trust this man, but he dangled hope, and
she had no choice but to grasp it. She hadn't mentioned Ruby in two years, which
meant whoever these men were, they'd been watching and keeping track of her for a
long time.
"Fine. Lead the way." She didn't trust him, not entirely, but if there was a chance of
finding Ruby again, she had to take it. The guards weren't her friends; at least she had
a chance at freedom, even if it was small.
Charlie's voice grew distant as he called out for her again.
"What's your name?" she asked.
He pointed toward the strip revealing his last name sewed to his jacket. "Levi
Grayson."
Piper found it difficult to read in the smoke. He grabbed her hand. "Come with me."
She didn't dare ask about the man who had given her the mask to breathe. He must
have been with Levi. She couldn't comprehend why they had decided to bomb the
prison. They had killed many and wreaked havoc on the plot of land in the mountains.
Blindly, she followed Levi through the forest and away from the prison, or so she
assumed, as they didn't come into contact with any additional rubble.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Base camp. We're set up at the bottom of the trail."
Piper didn't voice her opinion that it didn't seem safe. Wouldn't those who survived
retaliate? Charlie and Piper couldn't have been the only survivors.
Levi walked alongside of her, and as they reached the camp, she glanced over at
the tents the men had slept in. How long had they been stationed at the bottom of the
mountain? They couldn't have been more than a few hours from the prison. Wouldn't
someone notice such a large group within a few hours' distance of the massacre?
He removed his mask. The air at the bottom of the mountain was clean and easier
to breathe.
She followed, doing the same, assuming it must have been safe. Though the sky
was still gray and red, the air wasn't covered in darkness and soot. The smoke roared
far above them.
"Get inside and change," Levi said, pushing her into a nearby tent as he grabbed a
dress and shoved it into her hands.
"You expect me to wear this?" She bunched the material into her fist, the dark
purple beautiful but nothing she'd ever worn or desired to wear. Piper had grown
accustomed to the prison wardrobe: gray sweats and an orange t-shirt. The clothes she
wore smelled like sweat and grime. It had been days since she'd had a shower. Fresh
clothes would only help so much.
"Hurry up. We don't have time for a fuss," Levi said. He grew impatient, gesturing for
her to enter the tent and hurry.
What was the rush? She ducked into the tent and zipped the doors closed. There
wasn't a lot of room, but at least she had her own bit of privacy, something she had
forgotten about.Piper removed her shirt and pants, letting the panties go along with it. They were
hideous and much too big for her small frame. It seemed the prison ordered everything
in one size, and it was all too big, until the clothes shrunk.
She slid the dress over her head and worked the laces on the back of the gown,
tightening the bodice. Even without a mirror, she knew she looked beautiful. Though
dirt caked her skin, she hadn't been given the chance to dress up since before her
parents had died.
"HURRY UP and get into your dress!" Piper's mother shouted at her from the bottom of
the stairs. "I don't have all day."
"I don't want to go." She stomped her foot and folded her arms across her chest.
Piper's mother sported a very pregnant belly. "Don't make me come upstairs!"
Grumbling, she shuffled into her room and slammed the door shut. She was barely
seven, but she knew that she didn't want to go to the festivities. Every year, she had
the same fight with her mother, as she was forced to attend the annual ball featuring
artists and wealthy donors of the museum, all vying for her mother's affection, because
she was the curator for the museum.
"Next year, I'm hiring a babysitter," Piper's mother said to her husband.
He stepped out from the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror as he readjusted
his tie. "You say that every year, darling. Then you insist on bringing Piper along."
"The donors love her, and we always need the money."
Piper closed the door tight, no longer desiring to hear her parents' conversation.
With reserve, she slid the red velvet gown over her head. Her mother would be
pleased, which, in turn, would please Piper. At least she'd held her parents' attention for
a few short minutes.
"HURRY UP IN THERE!" Levi gripped the doors to the tent, rustling them, forcing the
canvas to sway around Piper.
"I'm coming!" she shouted back, tired of his insistence on telling her what to do. She
didn't have to listen to him. Piper had gained her freedom; why was she listening to
another man in a uniform?
She unzipped the tent and stared back, gaze unwavering, at Levi. "Would you lace
the back?" Piper pointed behind her at the gown. She'd done her best to tighten the
garment, but there were some things she couldn't do, no matter how hard she tried.
Piper stepped out from the tent, her bare feet grazing the dry earth as she turned
around, letting him fix her gown. "So what is all this?" She didn't understand why a
group of men would have been carrying gowns suitable for a ball.
"The dress?" Levi asked. He pulled the ribbons tighter, cinching the bodice as she
sucked in a breath. "Our women all dress the part of a Victorian lady. I guess you
haven't heard, since being locked in prison. There are a few laws you should probably
become aware of."
He finished the bow at the bottom of the corset, and Piper spun around, unpleased
by his announcement. "Laws? What the hell are you talking about?" She knew the
resistance had taken over the government but let Levi speak anyhow. The specificshad eluded her from prison.
"Language, for starters. No woman should be caught cursing or speaking such
vulgar language." He grabbed her wrist, dragging her across the grass toward the fire,
where bowls were being cleaned. Grabbing the thick bar of soap, he shoved it toward
her lips.
Piper's mouth clamped firmly shut. She wasn't letting him shove that into her mouth
or anywhere else. She repeatedly shook her head, telling him without words, she
wouldn't cooperate.
His hand came down, swatting her bottom hard. Her eyes widened, and her lips
opened to protest the spanking. She wasn't a child!
Levi shoved the bar of soap past her lips, into her mouth. "I will hold you down and
force my men to clean out your mouth if you don't stop struggling."
She held her breath for as long as possible, the soap coating her tongue, making
her choke and gag as she found herself forced to breathe or risk passing out. He
grabbed a clean cup and filled it with water from a jug.
"Rinse and spit."
Without hesitation, she whisked the cup from his hands and gurgled the water,
spitting beside the fire, as she tried to get the vile taste of soap from her mouth. Her
stomach fought back, just as unhappy as she was with the discipline. "Anything else I
should know?" She rinsed her mouth, using the rest of the cup of water, before handing
it back to Levi, empty.
"A woman must be escorted by another woman or a man at all times. This is to
ensure her protection."
"Protection from what?" Piper asked. The rules seemed a tad harsh and
unreasonable. She didn't want to encounter another discipline for her actions.
"There are men who haven't adjusted to the new laws and new way of life. Those
men wander the forest, raping and kidnapping women for their own sick pleasure."
Piper swallowed the lump in her throat. She could handle someone accompanying
her at all times, except maybe when she had to use the bathroom. Though, in all
honesty, she was used to the guards seeing everything anyway. She'd lost all privacy
when she'd been set to max.
"Women must always be dressed as a lady and act as a lady. Punishment for
offenses is reserved for her master. Seeing as how you're a ward of the state, until
you're married, I've taken claim to you."
"I'm not anyone's property."
Her disobedience landed her another rough hand straight to her bottom. Piper
jumped and tried to skirt away from Levi. She felt humiliated that he'd spank her, and
worse, it was outside in front of his comrades. He gripped her wrist, pulling her closer.
"Do you want to learn what it's like to be disciplined? The bar of soap is just the
beginning, Piper."
Wordlessly, she shook her head no.
"Then I suggest you learn to act more lady-like." His palm landed squarely on her
bottom again, cushioned slightly by the gown covering her rear. For a moment, she
wished she'd worn the dirty panties for an extra layer of protection. Anything to keep
from feeling the sting of his hand against her flesh.
"Yes, sir," she said, half-mocking him with the title.Levi's eyes narrowed, and he nodded, releasing his intense grip on her wrist.
She rubbed the raw skin on her wrists where he'd left a red mark from his hold.
"You will stay at camp with me and be at my side at all times. I'm your master, until I
choose the man you will marry. Is that understood?" Levi asked.
She didn't have much choice at the moment. Agreeing with him seemed easiest.
During the night, she could always try to get away.
"Yes, of course. Are there any other laws?" She didn't wish to find herself in another
institution owned by the state.
"No woman shall carry any type of weapon with her."
Piper frowned. That seemed a stupid rule, especially since women weren't allowed
to walk alone. "You mean no guns."
"Nothing of any sort. No knives, guns, axes, or anything that could be used to cause
bodily harm to another person."
What the hell had women done that made these men so fearful of them? "Got it."
There was no chance Piper would stick around. As soon as night came and Levi went
to bed, she would escape.Chapter 2
ight fell, and the moon rose in the sun's place. Charlie skirted the edge of the
rebel camp, his footsteps soft as he blended into the sounds of the night.
He needed to find Piper, certain she had been taken here by the maskedN
men who had bombed the prison. What did they want with her?
As he approached the tents, heavy sounds of snoring enveloped the air. Many of
the men were loud sleepers, which was good; it probably meant they slept deeply as
well.
Tiptoeing through the camp, the moonlight glistened against silver metal. A labrys
lay against the ground, singing out to him to pick it up. What were these men doing with
such harsh weapons? Beside it, lay a half-dozen double barrel shotguns, weathered
and dirty, the copper having faded with designs of gold, red, and black along the handle
and forearm. As tempting as they were, the double-headed axe would be a safer and
quieter option, should he need to use the weapon.
Lifting the metal, the weight not nearly as heavy as it looked, he carried it toward the
nearest tent. He needed to be silent as he unzipped the tent to find Piper.
Across the grass, Charlie heard a rustling sound, and he dropped to the ground and
froze in place. Who was there? Were they sneaking out of the tent to take a leak?
Piper stood up and leaned forward, zipping the tent that she had climbed out from.
With hesitation, she glanced back, probably looking to see if anyone would notice her.
A moment later, she ran, hard and fast, just as she had when she had escaped him at
the prison.
Her bare feet pattered against the forest floor, heels clanking, making a mockery of
the silence. There were no lights, only the moon to guide them away from camp.
Did she know not to head up the mountain, that that would only end in misery? Piper
ran, deeper into the valley, far from the camp. The trees grew scarce, and as Charlie
followed quietly behind, her heels had begun to sink into the soft earth. Her footsteps
were too easy to follow.
He covered her tracks, pressing them down with earth, using the labrys to even out
the ground and then covering the dirt with bits of leaves and branches to keep the
rebels from finding her.
Piper's footsteps slowed. She glanced back over her shoulder. Charlie had been
quiet. He ducked, snapping a branch in the process. Cursing under his breath, he shut
his mouth, not wanting her to find him.PIPER COULD NO LONGER SEE the fire from camp. The cool night air forced a shiver
down her spine.
A branch snapped, and she froze, unwilling to move. Who had followed her? She
didn't dare call out to whoever was nearby. If Levi was right, and she was breaking the
law by being alone, she didn't want to experience his discipline a second time.
"Piper," Charlie's voice whispered with the wind.
She knew there was nowhere to hide with the forest having thinned out. He called
out to her, seeing her in the darkness. Perhaps she could pretend he was mistaken and
it wasn't the prisoner he knew. She was, after all, in different clothes.
"Piper, come on. I'm trying to help you," he said, his voice growing slightly louder as
his footsteps picked up pace.
She didn't find it particularly easy to run in a dress, and worse, she worried about
tripping on her heels. Piper had remembered the elegant shoes her mother had worn to
the annual balls. It seemed they all hadn't been destroyed in the war.
Charlie reached for her shoulder, spinning her around to face him. "I knew it was
you." He panted, trying to catch his breath.
Piper glanced him over from head to toe. His clothes were torn and ragged from
being outdoors all night. Her heart ached, glancing at the uniform he wore; it reminded
her of everything she had fought to leave behind.
"You're coming with me," Charlie said, his hand finding her wrist.
"Get off me!" She spun around, slipping from his grasp. She ran. She didn't belong
to anyone, and she certainly wasn't going to let Charlie or Levi gain the role of her
master. Yes, she needed to find her sister Ruby, but there had to be another way.
Charlie swung his feet beneath hers, knocking her onto her stomach, face first in
dirt.
"You bastard." She choked on dirt, turned her head and spit the offensive words and
soil from her lips. "Get off me!" His weight had come down, trapping her against the
cold ground, pinning her down to show her who was in control.
"I'm trying to help you."
"I don't need your help," she said, spitting at him as she rolled around onto her back.
Charlie lifted a double-headed axe to her throat.
She swallowed, feeling nervous. Would he kill her? He probably wanted to, seeing
as how she was a prisoner, but she hadn't done anything terrible. She'd escaped, but
only because the resistance had bombed the facility.
"Take the handle," he said, letting her hand brush against his. Piper lifted an
eyebrow, confused, as she gripped the shaft and swung the axe away from herself and
back toward Charlie.
She lunged at him with the weapon, needing to know that he wouldn't hurt her.
He jumped off her small frame and kept out of her reach, backing up farther from
her grasp. "That's a labrys," Charlie said, explaining to her what he'd given her.
She could practically hear his heartbeat, it pounded so loud. The fear in his eyes
told her everything she needed to know. Charlie wasn't the enemy. He'd have killed herwith the labrys if he had wanted her dead.
"Why'd you give it to me?" Piper didn't understand what he was doing. No one had
been nice to her in years. She lowered the weapon, praying she wasn't being naive and
it was a trick to set her up. Women weren't allowed weapons, and he'd just handed her
a huge one that could chop off his head if she wanted it to.
Swinging the blade, she got used to the feel and the weight of the weapon. At least
she could protect herself from Levi and anyone else who wanted to hurt her.
"I read your file. You, along with a dozen other prisoners, didn't belong in maximum
security, let alone locked up. Not all of us agree with the way the world is being run,"
Charlie said.
Piper's eyes narrowed, trying to determine if he was lying to her. What reason would
he have to give her a weapon and then lie about why he had helped her? He'd put his
own life in as much danger as she was in, for no reason other than to offer assistance.
That had to account for something.
"I've never seen anything quite like it," Piper admitted. The silver blade had been
intricately carved with small circles along the surface of the axe. Effortlessly, she
swung the handle of the blade, using two hands and then one, trying to get a proper
feel for how to use the weapon and defend herself. She wasn't in the habit of murdering
people, only defending herself.
"Its origins are from Crete, in Greece, but it became popular again during the early
days of the war."
"I wonder if my parents ever used one," Piper said.
Holding the labrys, Piper felt comfortable beside Charlie. Had that been his
intention, to gain her trust, or did he truly wish to look out for her?
"Possibly your mother. Women were the only bearers of the labrys. Men feared the
strength and power that had been obtained, and many retaliated. About ten years ago,
there was a blood bath among the women soldiers, murdered by their own troops."
Piper had heard about it briefly in prison, from a guard talking to another guard.
She'd learned not to ask questions and to pretend not to care, or else they'd shut up
with the stories.
It had been during the time when Piper and Ruby had been drafted into the prison
system. There'd been no contact from either of her parents. They were both likely dead,
probably in that bloody battle.
Together, they walked side-by-side, deeper among the grasses. The land was
barren, and there were no houses or hint of light even in the distance. The only guide to
their path had been the moonlight and stars that lit the perfectly blackened sky.
She kept the shaft tight in her grasp, listening to the sounds all around them. The
only noise was their voices and footsteps as they pattered on the earth. At least Levi
hadn't come after her, yet. Charlie, she could manage. There was something about him
that she found not only appealing but also arousing. Perhaps it had been the weapon
he'd given her and his absolute trust. It made her heart flutter and her stomach tense.
No one had ever cared that much about her in a decade.
Unable to stop herself, she leaned closer, gripping his hand tightly as she turned
him around and brushed her lips against his. She wanted to feel alive and needed. Fire
tore through her heart, twisted and conflicted that he had been the enemy, and now,
here she was, kissing him. The labrys fell to the ground beside them as her fingerstangled in his thick, dark hair.
Piper's eyes fell shut, savoring the moment, the kiss, the heated feeling stirring
between her thighs. Where was this coming from? Had his loyalty turned her on as
much as the power he'd given her? Perhaps it was that he treated her as an equal,
something unheard of, that stirred her desire for him.
"Piper," he whispered between soft kisses. His lips parted, and her tongue sought
entrance into his mouth. His fingers smoothed down her back, pulling her tighter
against him. She could feel his erection poking at her through his trousers.
One hand stayed in his hair, the other trailed a lazy path across his stomach and
down to his thighs, wanting to feel his cock. With most men, she'd pleased them
entirely for an exchange of something she needed: information or food. With Charlie,
she did this because she wanted to, because it had been something she desired: him.
Gasping for breath, Charlie broke the kiss.
Panting hard, her eyelids were heavy, and she leaned closer, wanting another taste,
a closer feel of him against her body.
"We need to keep moving," he said, his voice soft yet firm. His breath mixed with
hers as she leaned in and paused, hating to know how right he was.
Levi would be after them, and she didn't want to put Charlie's life in danger. He
didn't deserve it. Attempting to settle the throbbing ache between her thighs, she
cleared her throat and bent down, lifting the labrys yet again. "Why did you decide to
become a prison guard?"
Charlie waited for her, before taking her hand yet again and walking alongside of
her as they continued further from the resistance camp. His breathing was heavy and
thick as he answered her, "After the resistance assassinated the president and took to
power, I haven't felt like I fit rightfully in anywhere. Both systems had their flaws,
significant ones, actually, but there was more stability in the region. Now, I feel like the
world is falling into chaos. I became a guard because I knew that not everyone arrested
had committed a crime. My brother had been detained and denied a trial."
"Where is he now?"
"Dead. They executed him. Have you ever noticed the prison only houses women?"
"Yeah, of course." Piper nodded, not seeing the big deal. For centuries, prisons kept
the men away from the women. It was to protect the population. Babies didn't stay
small forever. Besides, who needed delinquent children running around?
"Piper, all the prisons house women. There are no male prisons anymore."
"What happened to them?" She didn't imagine they were set free. The bubbly feeling
in her stomach turned to an intense knot, filled with concern and apprehension.
"Each prison held an execution day. It was horrific. My brother, he was one of the
men murdered by our new government."
She swallowed the lump forming in her throat. "So you joined the resistance?"
"Not quite. I decided not to side with anyone and took matters into my own hands
and became a guard."
Piper laughed. "You looked scared shitless your first day. Do you know that?"
A faint smile crept onto his face. "That's because I was. Do you know how horrifying
it is to see a grown woman caged like an animal?"
The mirth in her eyes faded like the night. "I was locked up in one." She stopped
walking and bent forward, grimacing."What's wrong?"
She ached; that was what's wrong. She'd spent seven years in max, allowed only
out of her prison cell for a shower a few times a week. Running was forbidden. Exercise
was non-existent. She'd tried to keep in shape in her cell, but there wasn't much room,
and when she was forced into the cage, she might as well just have prayed to be dead.
"Just a bit sore," she said, deciding not to elaborate.
"Then we'll sit for a bit." Charlie took a seat on the ground and waited for Piper to
join him. He reached out for her hand, pulling her down to the earth to sit with him.
She relented, knowing her legs needed the rest. Piper glanced back in the direction
from which they'd come, concerned there'd be Levi and his men chasing after her.
Her eyes fell to the labrys at her side, and she stared at the silver glinting under the
moon. Transfixed by the metal, her mind wandered back to her parents.
"DO YOU HAVE TO GO?" Piper's eyes glistened as she gripped her younger sister's
hand.
"Mommy, please don't leave!" Ruby dropped hold of her sister and rushed for her
mother, throwing her arms around her waist, refusing to loosen her grip.
Her father had volunteered to serve and had left his wife and two daughters behind.
They needed more soldiers on the ground. Many weren't returning home. Electricity
had been cut, and food grew scarce. Piper's mother had taken the girls to their summer
house in the mountains, a safe hideaway for two young girls to live while the war settled
down.
"You know, Piper and Ruby, I'm serving our country to protect you girls." The women
who survived were being hauled away for rehabilitation, soldier and citizen. Piper didn't
know what rehabilitation meant, but it sounded bad.
Her father hadn't returned. She didn't know if he was still alive and protecting them
by staying away or if he'd perished. The cottage sat nestled deep in the woods, away
from civilization. Piper could scavenge enough food for the two of them to survive.
She stepped closer to her mother, embracing her in a tight hug. "I don't want you to
go," Piper whispered into her mother's ear. She didn't bother to be brave and pretend
she was fine with her leaving. "I promise I'll be good if you stay." She would try anything
to keep her mother from following in her father's footsteps.
"I have to, Piper." Gradually she untangled herself from her children's embraces and
backed up to the front door. "Don't let anyone inside. Keep quiet if you hear voices
nearby, and whatever you do, protect little Ruby."
"I will," Piper said, knowing she had to grow up. She was in charge, now that her
parents were gone.
Her mother kissed the girls one last time before she carried her bag outside to the
car. Piper locked the front door, watching from the window and waving goodbye.
Ruby cried, hard and long, finding herself unable to breathe.
Piper wrapped her arm around her sister's shoulder, feeling tears seeping into her
shirt. "It'll be okay," Piper said. It had to be okay."PIPER?" Charlie tried again to get her attention. She seemed to have been in a daze,
her mind someplace else entirely.
"What was that?" she asked.
"How old were you when you were detained?" he asked. He knew from the files, but
he wanted to hear it from her.
She shifted uncomfortably beside him. "Fifteen. My legs are feeling better." Piper
stretched and stood, carrying the labrys with her. "What do you think will happen when
Levi and his men notice I've gone missing?"
Charlie stood, keeping pace with Piper. He knew they'd call in for reinforcements,
but how many men would search for one girl? Weren't there others who may have
survived the explosion? "They'll be pissed and probably try to track us. You left quite a
trail, which was how I was able to find you. It's good we're moving again," Charlie said.
Piper nodded, walking beside Charlie. "Tell me a story."
"What do you want to know?" he asked, glancing at her. In the moonlight, she was
absolutely beautiful with her long dark hair and soulful eyes. There was an innocence
that surrounded her, and without a doubt, Charlie knew he'd done the right thing in
helping aid in her escape.
"Who are you? I know your first name is Charlie, but that's all I know about you."
He smiled and nudged her as they walked. "Let's see. My name is Charlie Taylor. I
was born in Pennsylvania and lived there all my life, until I enlisted as a prison guard.
I've never been married and don't have any kids, as far as I know."
Piper laughed. "I'm not looking to date you. I just want to get to know who you are."
"Right." Charlie nodded. "I spent two tours fighting the enemy, to realize that we are
our own enemy. During my second tour, our leaders had shifted, and instead of
protecting our country and our freedoms, the Commander-in-Chief began blaming
women for the problems of our nation: the war, the economic downturn, and the
violence that spread like a disease. It turned into a bloody civil war, when I left my
duties and returned home. It wasn't a war I wanted to fight. That's when I discovered my
brother had been executed." The memories of his brother surfaced like poisonous fog,
choking him during the night, forcing nightmares to eat away at his peaceful slumber.
"I'm so sorry."
They continued to walk, the night stretching on as the sun began to rise in the
distant eastern sky.
"How'd you survive for so long in prison?" Charlie asked. He'd seen her in the cage,
with no room to move around. How could someone live like that?
"I read, a lot. At least when I wasn't being punished. Did you see the library at the
prison?"
Charlie shook his head.
"The only books sanctioned are those focusing on the nineteenth century, mostly
historical fiction. Occasionally, a guard would bring the book cart by, and a newer book,
written during the twenty-first century, was stuffed inside a hardcover. I never knew who
smuggled in the texts and didn't dare ask. That kept me going, just knowing that I mightreceive something special the next day." She sighed, nudging up against him. "Do you
think there were other survivors from the prison?" Piper asked.
Sunlight began to skirt the sky, forcing the stars to disappear. Though tired, Charlie
kept the pace going, knowing they'd be even easier to see now that morning had come.
Piper yawned, and he felt the weight of the day wearing him down. Up ahead, in the
distance, a shimmer from the roof of a farm glistened under the sun.
"Maybe it's abandoned," Piper said, a tinge of hope filling her voice.
"And if it's not?" He didn't dare want to imagine what they'd find. The world had
become a troubling place over the last decade.
Porch lights flickered, which meant electricity from steam ran into the house.
Someone lived in the home, so they weren't alone. Through the sheer curtains, a figure
wandered through the first floor.
Piper whined under her breath, probably too tired to stay awake much longer and
find another place to hide out.
"We sleep in the barn," Charlie said. Taking her hand, he led her inside through the
wooden doors.
Horses neighed as they stepped inside.
Charlie's heart quickened. Would the owners, just a few feet away, hear the
animals? He needed to keep them quiet. He headed for one of the stalls, petting a
horse, quieting her down, and then he moved on to the next one. Eventually, the horses
calmed, and Piper relaxed in the back of the barn on a bale of hay.
"Is there room for one more?" Charlie asked.
Piper patted the space beside her. She leaned back and curled up against the hay.
"No chance you brought a blanket?" She yawned.
"It's in my other bag," he said, joking as he stretched out on the hay. The hay made
Charlie itch, but he hid his discomfort well. If Piper could sleep in a cage, he could
handle some uncomfortable hay for a few hours.
"Tell me, Charlie, why would the resistance bomb the prison and then rescue me.
What's their end game? The man I met, Levi, he knew my name and that I have a
younger sister."
Charlie pulled some straw together, forming a pillow as he lay on his back, staring
up at the rafters. "How old is your sister?"
"She just turned eighteen."
"Then they probably knew about her because of the rehabilitation program." Charlie
shifted slightly, glancing at Piper. "You must have done something pretty bad to get out
of rehabilitation. Did you murder someone?"
"Do I look like a murderer?" she asked. Beside her, lay the labrys. "Don't answer
that." Piper shut her eyes, and the faintest hint of a smile covered her face. "I didn't
want to be forced into rehab, so I attacked a guard. It was enough to send me away to
max for the rest of my life."
"What got you picked up in the first place?" Charlie asked. "What did you and your
sister do to land in prison?"
"The state picked us up when we were caught alone, with no parents to claim us. It
wasn't like I could call my mother and ask her to pick us up. The phones, electricity, it
was all dead. We were detained for forty-eight hours, but no one came looking for us,
then we became wards of the state. They drove us in the back of a dark van with nowindows, to a minimum-security prison. We were told it was temporary and that we
weren't prisoners, just being cared for with a lot of other kids."
Charlie reached out, brushing his hand over Piper's.
"I knew they were lying, but as long as they kept Ruby and me together, I went
along with it."
"You must have noticed the girls disappearing as they turned eighteen," Charlie
said.
Piper sighed. "Yes. It's why I fought back. I knew I wouldn't be able to protect Ruby
any longer anyhow. In that moment, I did what I could to look after myself." Piper's life
probably would have been easier if she'd just gone along with the program and entered
rehabilitation. Apparently, she hadn't wanted to. Charlie had heard the rumors about the
brainwashing techniques used and the men the young women were forced to marry. He
didn't blame her for not wanting any part of it.
"Do you know what prison you were kept in?" Charlie asked. "Maybe I could help
you find your sister."
"I heard the facility closed down, and all the inmates were relocated. It was in the
Appalachian Mountains."
Charlie knew of the prison Piper spoke about. It had been shut down from a water
main breaking. It hadn't been much of a secret when inmates were driven and flown
across the country, ramping up security as they were transported to a new facility. The
damage at the prison was too extensive, and without funding from the state, there was
no chance of fixing the damage. The prison had been one of the last facilities not run
by a corporation.
"Who told you it closed down?" Charlie asked. Information was difficult to obtain
from behind prison walls. Had she acquired an ally in her time at maximum security?
"Another guard." Piper cleared her throat. He recognized that she wasn't
comfortable further elaborating about the situation. "We need to get to Virginia. Do you
think there might still be records on the premises?"
Charlie could see the cogs ticking and what Piper was hoping to ascertain. Perhaps
inside those files held information about her sister and where she had been transferred
to.
"That's quite a way's drive from here, Piper. We're in the foothills of Colorado. If
Ruby didn't put up a huge fight with the guards, she's probably in a rehabilitation facility
by now. When was her birthday?"
"Two weeks ago," Piper said.
"Assuming her transfer wasn't far, I may know where she's being detained."
Piper sat up, a hint of excitement and anxiety lacing her voice. "Will you take me
there tomorrow?"
"It won't be that easy," Charlie said. "We'll need a car; it's too far on foot. We'll plan
our trip after a few hours of sleep." He wanted her to rest. Talking about her sister
would probably keep them both awake.
Piper shifted to lie back down on the hay.
"Night, Piper." Charlie pulled his arm back and slipped it beneath his head for
cushioning.
"Goodnight."Chapter 3
iper's eyes fluttered open, the morning light forcing her awake. Charlie's arm
nestled against her hip. She rolled into his embrace, trying her best to ignore
the itchy hay against raw skin.P
"Morning," she said, half-asleep, as Charlie's eyes opened to face her.
His cheeks burned red as he pulled his arm away from her body. Was he
embarrassed to embrace her?
"Sleep well?" Piper tried not to make a big deal of how they'd woken up together.
They'd made out like teenagers on the journey to the barn. At least they weren't naked
and didn't remember what happened. There were far worse situations to be in. She'd
heard the stories from other prisoners while she was much younger, locked up with
Ruby.
Charlie cleared his throat, visibly flustered. Was it because she'd been a prisoner?
Piper thought he'd gotten over that obstacle yesterday. His cheeks were red, and as
she glanced him over, she could see him sporting a morning hard on in his trousers.
She opened her mouth, the breath stolen from her lungs as she leaned toward him,
wanting to unzip his pants and take care of his erection. Her hands reached out, soft
fingers dragging a path over his crotch.
A deep moan slipped from the back of his throat.
"Let me help you," she said, wanting to satisfy him. Her lips fell against his neck,
and her fingers found their way into his slacks.
"Piper," he whispered. His eyes shut and his breathing intensified.
"Let me do this for you." She wanted to please him. He deserved to be happy.
"We should get up and start our day."
Piper knew he didn't mean the words. He wasn't pushing her away or stopping her.
"Not so fast," she said, holding him down against the straw mattress. She unbuttoned
his slacks and pulled down the zipper, springing his cock free from his trousers. Her
fingers gently coaxed the shaft, trailing a soft path up to the head. Crawling down, she
took him into her mouth, tasting the salty pre-cum, licking the tip and swirling her
tongue over the head. Her breath teased him with soft kisses as she moved down his
shaft and then inched her way back up, taking him into her throat.
Charlie seemed unable to speak, but his moans and grunts were enough for Piper
to know to keep going. His face looked blissful, and her heart pattered as she felt him
swell before exploding inside of her.
Sucking all that he had to offer, she kissed a lazy path up his chest to his lips.
"Good morning," Piper said and smiled, staring down at him."That, it most certainly is," Charlie said in agreement.
His fingers trailed over her hips and up under her shirt, working to repay the favor.
She covered her hands with his and leaned in, dropping another perfect kiss to his
lips. He was more than she'd bargained for, a prison guard and an inmate? At least
they were far from the facility, together. "I want you," Piper whispered, dropping several
kisses to his lips and jaw, "but not in here." The hay was still too scratchy for her
complete enjoyment. She'd find a place that he could return the favor, and she knew
without a doubt that Charlie wouldn't forget either. She found herself drawn to him in an
unexplainable way.
Charlie nodded, trying to understand what she wanted. "Okay. You just tell me when
and where." His fingers found her hand, giving her a tentative squeeze. They were in
this mess together.
Sitting up, he stretched, the shirt rising to reveal a soft dark patch of hair just below
his navel. He fixed his slacks and belt, trying to look presentable, not that they
expected to run into anyone.
"What do you suggest?" Piper pushed herself off the bale of hay and wiped the
straw from her dress.
"A car would be helpful."
"Where are we going to get a car?" They couldn't just steal a car without there being
repercussions. Besides, she hadn't seen anyone since escaping Levi's camp.
"Your resistance men had a few vehicles back at their site."
The color from her cheeks faded at the mere mention of Levi. If they had vehicles,
then surely, they could find her much easier than she had thought. "We're not going
back."
"Don't worry; I wasn't really suggesting it," Charlie said. "How about we see what's
around this place." Dusting his hair and clothes from the yellow straw, he headed
outside, taking in his surroundings.
Piper waited by the door, keeping out of the sun. Her eyes were still heavy and
halffilled with sleep. Waking up wasn't the easiest task for her right now, and she didn't
dare admit how aroused she was from giving Charlie a blow job. With the few men
she'd done it for in the prison, it hadn't been enjoyable. Everything about Charlie was
different.
"Don't take another step!" a gruff voice shouted at Charlie.
Piper swallowed the bile rising in her throat as she caught sight of the stranger
pointing a copper and silver rifle at Charlie.
He didn't look happy about it, either. Charlie's hands flew up into the air, and he took
a tentative step back toward the barn door. "I'm just on my way out of town," Charlie
said. His voice remained calm, but his heart had to be pounding erratically. She felt as
though her heart would leap from her chest at any moment. "My friend and I needed a
place to stay for some sleep. We traveled all night on foot."
"Your friend?" the man asked, shoving the barrel of the gun at the door, opening it
further to land eyes on Piper. Swiftly, she tucked the labrys behind her back.
"A woman?" His breath seemed to catch in his throat, and he relinquished his rifle,
letting the end graze the grass. "Forgive me, ma'am. It's been quite some time since a
lady graced our home with her presence."
The old man's eyes crinkled, and his warm features eased Piper further from thebarn. At first impression, the man seemed lonely, surprised and pleased to see a
woman. Relief flooded Piper's features as she relaxed, knowing they were safe, at least
for now.
"What do you need from me?" he asked. "My home is your home." He led Charlie
and Piper toward his farmhouse.
Piper's eyes trailed along the two-story home. The paint had chipped away and had
faded under the sun, but it still smelled warm and inviting.
"Come inside," the man said, insisting that she step into the foyer as she examined
the wraparound porch and the wooden swing.
He caught sight of the glistening metal gripped behind her back.
Without warning, he ripped the handle of the labrys from her grip. "Women have no
need for weapons, and certainly not here."
The man placed the double-headed axe by the door, leaning it up against the wall.
Piper glanced at the weapon. The gentleman was no longer a threat, holding the
barrel of a gun up at them. She needed to relax and try to fit in with how she was
supposed to be seen, as a lady. It felt beyond awkward for her.
One foot in front of the other, she took her time examining every cozy detail. The
floors were made of wood, and soft yellow paint coated the walls, making the room
appear even sunnier. It hardly matched her disposition.
"I'm Sean," he said, properly introducing himself.
Piper offered her hand. "Piper," she said and then nodded toward Charlie. "And this
is my friend, Charlie."
"Friend?" Sean asked. Curious, he reached for her left hand, lifting it to examine—
no ring. "So you're her master?"
Charlie shuffled his feet, looking rather uncomfortable.
Piper didn't feel too much better with the line of questions Sean posed. She pulled
her hand back, while smiling, to ease any tension as she worked to quickly change the
subject. "Have you lived alone here all your life?" Piper asked. "It seems quite lonely
out here." They hadn't run into anyone, let alone another home, for hours on foot.
Charlie's shoulders relaxed, and he gestured to the sofa. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all," Sean said.
The guard didn't waste a beat; he stalked right over and sat down on the plush
couch. "Come join me, Piper," Charlie said, patting the space beside him.
It looked far more comfortable than the hay she'd slept on, which was still a huge
step up from prison life. Sean watched with fascination as Piper walked over, doing as
Charlie said. She didn't know whether she could trust Sean or if he'd know how to
contact the men who were out searching for her. She stepped closer to the sofa and sat
down, careful not to let their legs touch.
The owner of the house nodded in agreement with Piper's statement. He
approached the fireplace, glancing at the family portraits sitting on the mantle.
"My wife and I moved out here a few years before the war. I lost her shortly after we
both enlisted to serve. She was a brave woman, Talia."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Piper said.
He turned around and walked toward a chair, sitting down, his hands on his knees.
"Thank you. The world was a different place back then. It's weird how it doesn't feel so
long ago."Piper didn't dare point out that it had only been a few years since the world had
been turned upside down. For her, it felt like it had happened overnight. The prison had
strangely sheltered her from the new laws and expectations of the people. Given she'd
had no freedoms while locked away, opening the bars to the prison doors didn't feel so
different.
The stranger, Sean, studied her for a long moment before he cleared his throat.
"There's something off about the two of you."
Had it been the labrys that had set off his suspicions? Piper leapt from the sofa,
prepared to protect her freedom, whatever the cost. The weapon was only twenty feet
away. She could get to it far quicker than he could, even in heels and a dress.
Sean stood up, though slower, he came to face her head on. His eyes locked onto
hers.
For the shortest of moments, she held her breath. Could he smell the stench of the
prison on her or perhaps the smoke from the escape and fire that had taken over the
facility? She didn't move. It was a draw between them, to see who would react first.
"Listen," Charlie said, standing up, coming between them.
Did he think Piper would be capable of murdering Sean? She'd never hurt anyone,
at least anyone who hadn't deserved it.
"We're just traveling through town." Charlie kept his voice calm and steady.
Piper's heart skipped a beat, concerned that Sean had more than just a few
suspicions about the two of them. From what she'd learned of Levi, she didn't fit into
this world she'd found herself in. Prison life seemed easier.
"Then where's your car?" Sean asked. He walked toward the window, peering
outside at the empty grass.
"We had some trouble when we hit a deer. I gave Piper the labrys, in case anything
happened to me while we were out in the woods together. You can never be too
careful."
Sean didn't so much as flinch. Did he believe Charlie's tale? Piper wiped her sweaty
palms on her skirt, careful not to let anyone notice her discomfort. She didn't want to
draw attention to herself and her nervous behavior.
"Here, take my keys," Sean said, offering his vehicle to Charlie, seemingly oblivious
to Piper's movements.
Piper wasted no time, heading for the door with a brief nod of thanks. She'd lived in
a prison for over a decade. Her social skills were severely limited; even she knew it.
"Let me pay you for it." Charlie dug into his wallet.
Apparently, cash still held market in this new world Piper had come to experience.
He handed a wad of hundreds to Sean. Piper didn't ask how a newly hired prison
guard had such an abundance of money or why he'd felt compelled to carry it with him.
Charlie fingered the keys in his palm and walked outside.
Piper grabbed the handle of the labrys, before following him.
He glanced back at the house. Did he miss his life before the explosion? He could
still go home. Piper had no home. It was best for them to leave; there was no sense in
putting Sean in any further danger. Eventually, the men who had destroyed the prison
would come looking for Piper. She'd escaped their clutches for as long as she could.
She had reservations about trusting Charlie. He was the enemy, imprisoning her and
countless other innocent women. Though she'd heard his story, his decision andreasons for helping, the pit of her stomach ached, and a small voice in the back of her
head nagged her constantly. Trusting didn't come easy for Piper. She'd been betrayed
by those she cared about.
Charlie shoved the key into the lock on the car door. Covered in rust, the car was an
antique. Would it run? The vehicle had to be faster than walking, and besides, her legs
throbbed and her feet ached. She couldn't endeavor a second journey throughout the
night. They needed to get far from the small house and valley, away from watchful
eyes.
"Get in," Charlie said, not wasting a beat. He climbed into the front seat, slammed
the driver's door shut and started the engine. It roared to life and continued to hum like
a jet engine. Piper remembered the airplanes near her home, when she'd been a small
child.
She opened the door and climbed into the vehicle, placing the labrys into the
backseat. The leather felt worn and was torn in several sections, patched with thick,
black tape.
Charlie hit the gas, lurching them forward without hesitation. "You might want to
buckle in."
She reached behind her for the seatbelt, pulling it tightly across her chest, fastening
the clasp just as they hit a bump and she jolted upward, the belt keeping her restrained.
"Thanks for the warning," she said, a half-mutter under her breath. Was he trying to
kill her? It wasn't bad enough the engine could be heard from a distance, but smacking
bumps and jolting the two of them around made it seem even louder. "What's the plan?"
Finding Ruby was her top priority, though survival should have been listed at number
one. If she got captured, what good would she be to her younger sibling?
"We could drive down to my uncle's cabin. Hunker down there for a few days, until
the chaos around here has passed."
"Do you think that's safe?" Piper's stomach gurgled with a combination of hunger
and nerves. Her hands began to sweat, and she wiped her palms on her dress. "Won't
someone from the prison come looking for me?"
"You're assuming anyone else survived." Charlie sounded confident that they were
the only ones left.
There were people who ran the prison who never stepped foot in it. Those were the
people Piper felt most concerned about. If they ran into the resistance, would they
discover not only of her survival, but her escape as well?
The resistance wouldn't be stupid enough to hang around and risk being caught,
which meant they were probably on the move. Piper hoped it happened to be in the
opposite direction.
Charlie drove with his foot hard on the gas, whipping over worn down roads. He
flipped on the radio, scouting channels until he landed on a crackling voice with static
forcing its way over the radio.
"We have a confirmed report of at least one survivor, Piper Barnes. She has taken
Charlie Taylor, a guard at the maximum-security prison, as a hostage and is
considered armed and dangerous. Do not approach. If you see her, please contact the
local sheriff's department."
"Hostage?" Piper's heart skipped a beat. "Who told them that? Sean?"
Charlie's jaw remained tight and his lips grim. "I should have known not to trust him.The bastard was too helpful. Probably has a GPS tracker in this old piece of shit car."
He slammed on the brakes, forcing the car to come to a dead stop. Piper's body
lurched forward, the seatbelt restraining her from flying through the windshield.
"What the hell?"
Without warning, he shut off the engine and hopped out of the car.
Piper unbuckled herself, grabbed the labrys from the backseat and followed after
him as he wandered into the woods. "Where are you going?" she asked, chasing him
down, grabbing his arm and spinning him around. "What is going on?"
"Walk," he commanded, refusing to slow as he ordered her to follow him.
"I'm not some prisoner," she said. "You owe me an explanation."
"Technically, you are, but that's beside the point. If we stay with the car, we'll get
caught."
"Are you sure?" Piper didn't want to believe it. Wasn't it possible Levi had called in
the tip? Though, what would his motivation have been? They'd taken Sean's car, and
even though he'd offered it up, clearly, he hadn't wanted to truly part with it. Maybe he'd
just wanted to get rid of them, keeping them far from his house and property.
"The cabin is a good day's hike from here, but I still think it's the safest place for us
to go. Can you make it?"
It wasn't really a question. Piper had no other choice.
Together, they walked through the brush and thicket of leaves. The trees were
covered in fresh green leaves, the smell clear like the morning air the higher they
climbed up the side of the mountain. The ground grew steep, and Piper felt it necessary
to stop every few feet, catching her breath. She was far more out of shape than she
realized. Living in a cage didn't exactly provide her with a space to run or get any
exercise at all.
Charlie kept his voice low. "We're probably safer now, without the car's engine
giving away our location."
Piper knew he was right, but she also feared their car being spotted. If anyone
discovered the vehicle, would they search the perimeters, looking for her? She was a
wanted fugitive. Even if she didn't see herself as guilty, the government and the people
did.
"Try to keep up." Charlie grabbed her arm, helping her hike up the mountain. She
wasn't in the best clothes or shoes for the trip, though it was better than wearing a
prison outfit and being barefoot.
"How much farther?" Her bravery felt like a mask, fleeting like a rabbit being chased.
He stalled, letting her catch her breath. Charlie turned to Piper, brushing a dark
strand of hair out of her face. Her bangs were matted against her forehead; she could
feel the stickiness and worked diligently to recover.
"Sorry, I don't have any water," he said, apologizing. Her cheeks must have been
flushed. Her entire body felt as though it were on fire between the heat of the sun, even
in the shade beneath the canopy of trees, and the exertion it took for her climb.
"It's fine. It's not like you knew we'd be going on a hike today." Piper laughed, trying
to use humor to defuse the awkward situation they'd found themselves in. He was
going out of his way to help her. Easily, he could have left her behind to fend for
herself. Maybe it would have been for the best, knowing she'd be safer alone, but she
didn't know where to start to even find Ruby. At least if she did get caught, they hadn'taccused Charlie of any involvement. She wasn't sure whether to be ecstatic or angry.
There was something about this new society, the structure they put on women, that
unnerved her. She'd never seen it this bad as a child. Her mother had fought alongside
of her father. That world had changed, evident by the laws and customs that were being
forced down their throats. They'd lost the war, and this was the price they'd paid.
"We need to keep moving," Charlie said. He gripped her arm, helping her further
climb the mountainside.
"Working on it." Her eyes were cast down on the ground, careful not to stumble over
tree roots. As they climbed the giant beast, the air felt cleaner and she took in a deep
breath, enjoying the scent from the trees and flowers blooming all around them. The
prison never felt this clean or fresh.
He glanced for just a moment in her direction.
"It smells nice," she said. Her eyes twinkled and the faint smile only grew wider.
"The warden should have opened a window."
"Why? So you could have escaped?"
Piper laughed and shook her head. "No. It's beautiful out here. You don't see it, do
you?" How could he, when he'd been allowed to come and go through the prison as he
pleased. Even though it had only been his first day on the job, he still maintained his
freedom.
Charlie glanced up at the canopy of trees overhead. "No, I guess I don't."
"You take it all for granted." Piper kept climbing, and as the trail narrowed, she
walked ahead of Charlie. She knew he had a nice view of her rear in his face as they
inched up the steep slope. Her hands reached for the trees, using the small trunk as
leverage to steady herself. The path they'd been following had all but vanished. "Are
you sure this is the right way?"
"Positive."
It didn't look as though anyone had walked through these woods in months, if not
years. Grass grew at her feet, crunching beneath her shoes. Did they need to worry
about being overheard? Charlie hadn't dwelled on it, and Piper knew he'd say
something if it were necessary to keep quiet. "How much farther?" She'd lost track of
time. He'd mentioned arriving before nightfall, but she doubted that was true at the rate
they were traveling together.
"Not too much longer," Charlie said.
Though there was no visible path, the tree line widened like the mouth of a river,
and Charlie took Piper's hand, leading her alongside of him to their destination.
She listened to the rustling of leaves, making sure all remained silent outside. There
were no vehicles parked by the cabin.
The single-story log cabin reminded her of a Christmas story she'd read as a child.
It had ironically been the last holiday she'd celebrated with her family, before her
mother had broken the news to her, and disappeared to fight in the war.
"It's safe; come on inside." Charlie walked up the front porch steps and grabbed the
key hidden above the doorframe. He unlocked the door and held it open, waiting for her
to enter first.
With trepidation, she inched forward. She had nowhere else to go, and Charlie had
been incredibly kind to her. "Thank you."
He closed the door behind them, locking it and flipping on the lights. "There's no onefor miles. We can hide out here until things settle down a bit more."
She'd exchanged one prison for another, unknowingly. "I have to find Ruby." Piper
had no intention of staying cooped up with Charlie for several months, let alone years.
Who knew how long the resistance would be searching for her? It felt as though all that
existed were evil men, two sides she didn't wish any involvement in. Piper wouldn't be
able to stay forever. As soon as Sean's car was found, teams would be searching the
forest. Someone would find the cabin. Hopefully, they would be gone long before that
happened.