“Don’t look back,” my father said the last time I saw him. He had hugged me tight and then looked deep into my eyes. “We only want you to be happy, Lexi, happy and free.”
My mother had hugged me then and whispered in my ear, “I love you, Lexi. Remember that, I will always love you.”
And then she pushed me down the trap door and slammed it closed. “Go to the cave. Do not come back for at least a day after you hear the sounds stop. We have prepared for this. Now go.”
Tears streamed down my face as I ran silently through the woods between the tunnel and the cave. The heavy layer of ferns on the ground quieted my footsteps. We had practiced this drill many times, for we knew that it was only a matter of time before they came looking for me.
It was a heavy burden, to know how much my parents had sacrificed, the risks they had taken. It weighed on me while I hid in the cave, the lava tube. Dark and damp. My father had outfitted a section with food and a tarp to keep us dry. I lit a small lantern for a few minutes in order to get situated for the night, then shut it off to save the precious fuel. Huddled in my makeshift tent, I cried myself to sleep, praying that with the dawn my parents would come for me. When they didn’t, I waited until dusk and then I retraced my path through the forest back to the cabin.
I knew even before I stepped through the door that they were dead. The cabin had been ransacked. The books that my father had preserved as his own personal act of defiance have been tossed into the fire and burned. My parents had been bludgeoned and I wept over their bloodied bodies.
Somehow I managed to bury them together. By the time I had finished my entire body ached from the effort and my heart was utterly shattered.
I spent that night huddled in the corner of the cabin. I dared not travel through the forest after dark. But at first light I gathered up everything usable and took it with me to the lava tube deep below the earth.
I stayed down in the cave for several days mourning the loss of my family. Mourning for the loss of my future, whatever it might have been.
Eventually I left the cave for short periods of time each day, trying to find meaning in life. I moved carefully as my father had taught me through the woods. In addition to the government scouts, the freelancing bounty hunters, the other rebels, and the wild animals of the forest, I also had to be concerned about the mountain beasts.
I had never seen one and some people said they were a myth. I didn’t know what I believed but didn’t wish to take any chances.
I had heard the stories, of their cruel and inhumane ways. It seemed that all of humanity had lost its humanity.
One day I found a clearing with a cabin and a garden. A lush, beautiful garden with tall stalks of corn, rows of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots.
I could see the tasseled tops of the carrots in the row closest to where I hid. I waited in silence for several long minutes, gazing all around the area to make sure I would not be seen. And then I ran to the corner of the garden, yanked a carrot out of the ground and ran back to my hiding place, devouring it, dirt and all, in seconds.
It was the most delicious thing I had eaten in weeks. Sweet, crunchy, and juicy, the flavor burst across my tongue. I had been subsisting on dried fruit, cured meat, and some random canned goods, most of which I dared not even think about the contents. I knew I just needed to eat in order to keep my body going.
But the carrots, fresh and nutritious, beckoned to me. After I had the first one, I forced myself to turn my back on the garden and make my way through the forest to my cave. I had no business allowing myself to get distracted. Distraction leads to destruction, my father had drilled into me, and he was right. I had to always be on my guard.
Two days later I found myself staring at the garden again. Feeling bold and reckless, I scurried to the edge and yanked out carrots in each hand, double what I’d taken on my last visit. Then instead of pausing to eat them before heading all the way back to my cave, I shoved them into my pockets and rushed to safety. I made my way to my back corner of the cave in the semi-darkness where I had built my shelter. I removed the carrots from my pockets and stared at the bounty. I carefully stowed one away with my other rations of food. It would be a treat to have in a few days. The other I broke in half and quickly ate one section before adding the other part, reluctantly, to my pantry.
Within a few days the carrots were gone, I was bored, and I hated living in that tunnel below the earth. As though beckoned by some unseen force, I returned to the garden.
I paused at my usual hiding place and scanned all around. I waited and saw no movement. I had been lucky the first two times; I felt confident I would be this time too.
Though I was tempted by the ripening tomatoes and the full ears of corn, I told myself that I would not step any further into the garden than the row of carrots on the perimeter. It was just too dangerous.
I took a step closer to the garden and suddenly the ground below me gave way. I tumbled a few feet down until I felt myself hit metal. Sharp metal. A door above me locked with a clang. I gasped and put my hands out. I was inside a cage.
Terror surged through my body. My fingers stung as they clawed at the walls of the trap.
“Well, you’re a pretty one. You’ll fetch top dollar.” A beady-eyed man leered down at me, his feet rested on the dirt at the edge of the opening that held the cage. Clumps of soil fell through the metal grate and landed next to me. “I wouldn’t mind taking a poke at you myself, ‘cept no one pays for damaged goods.”
Bile rose in my throat at the import of his words. I crossed my arms over my chest and forced back the angry words on my tongue. Rage ran through my veins. This man, and all the others like him, was the reason I had to live in a cave, scrounging for muddy carrots. My parents gone.
Anger would do me no good. I needed to keep my wits about me. I’d already let my guard down—over some stupid carrots—and look where that had gotten me.
Locked in a cage with no one around for miles except the bastard who put me in here.
He whistled for his henchmen.
“Oh, looka here.” Two more horrid faces joined the first, all staring down at me with hungry eyes. “Simon,” the taller of the two said, “this is the second one this month.”
“Yeah,” Simon said, shaking his head from side to side. “This damn garden attracts more girls than rabbits. But that’s why I use the big cage. Don’t need no rabbits.”
“Ever think about, you know, maybe keeping one of ‘em?” the final man spoke, giving his crotch a scratch as he grinned at me.
“There’s plenty of used girls in town,” Simon said. “No point in wasting this fresh young thing on the likes of you.” He spat on the top of the cage and turned away. “Get her loaded on the truck. I’ll meet you at the bounty office.” He paused and glared at both of them. “Don’t touch her, ya hear?”
They grumbled in reply and grabbed onto the cage, lifting it from the ground with little care for my comfort. My head slammed into the metal side. “Ouch!”
“Shut up, bitch.”
They tossed me, cage and all, onto the back of a truck.
Vehicles were a rarity, but Simon had several. It made his job easier and attested to the amount of money he’d earned capturing people.
Simon took off in a smaller, faster vehicle, apparently in a hurry to collect his money. The two others jumped in the cab of the truck and when the engine fired up, I had the sick feeling my life as I knew it had come to an end.
Oh, please. Someone help me.
The only way down the mountain for something the size of the pickup truck was over rough terrain. No wonder Simon had rushed off in another direction. The truck lumbered along, rocking from side to side as we made our way over rocks and in and out of ruts in the dirt. I clung to the metal grates around me in order to keep from slamming into the walls of the cage as it bounced along. My teeth rattled with each jolt and my heart filled with dread.
It was a tedious drive since the government purposely didn’t have any roads on the mountain, the better to discourage defectors from hiding there.
The truck lurched to one side. The driver must have panicked and yanked the wheel hard in the opposite direction. The momentum of our careening course sent the truck listing to the left while my cage and I tumbled out to the right. I screamed and held tight as the cage crashed into the ground. Once I recovered from the impact, I grabbed at the door. Surely the force of the fall would have broken the lock.
I rattled it with all my might but it held. Frustrated, I kicked at it. No luck.
Meanwhile, the truck had stopped moving. From my vantage point I could see at least two flat tires.
The guy on the passenger side jumped out, examined the flat tires, and let out a groan. He kicked the bumper of the truck then grabbed his foot and hopped around swearing.
The driver wasn’t much smarter, but he at least knew better than to kick a metal object.
I kept quiet, not wanting to draw attention to myself. Though I’d had no luck trying to get out of the cage, as long as the truck wasn’t moving toward the bounty office, I had hope, or so I told myself.
“We havta tell Simon,” the passenger said. “You were driving, you make the call.”
“I ain’t gonna tell him. He’ll go apeshit. You know he wants to get this taken care of before the sun goes down. He don’t like traveling on the mountain at night.”
The two of them glanced around. I did too. It was still afternoon, but in a few hours, the sun would set. I had no idea the distance we needed to travel and considering the slow pace we’d taken so far, our final destination might be hours away.
I wasn’t too keen on spending the night in the forest either, but it was better than the bounty office, that’s for sure. At least for me. I had a feeling there were many cages and locked doors in my future.
“Well, someone has to call and tell him what happened,” the driver said, handing his satellite phone to the other guy. “You do it.”
“Son of a bitch,” the passenger said, taking the phone and walking a few paces away. I couldn’t make out what he said, but Simon’s voice rang through the forest loud and clear. He wasn’t happy, that’s for sure.
“He says he’ll be here in the morning. Says our punishment for screwing up is that we have to stay out here all night.”
They dug around in the cab of the truck and found some snacks and a bottle of whiskey. I wasn’t offered anything.
They managed to make a small campfire and sat around it enjoying their dinner, such that it was, while I huddled in the corner of the cage, knees pulled up to my chin, seething with anger.
And humiliation. How had I let them catch me? I hated, more than anything, letting these pricks have the upper hand.
I suppose I should have been concerned about what they planned to do with me, especially now that we’d all be out in the forest for the night, though I hoped the bottle of whiskey would do the job and put them both to sleep soon. But in that moment, all I could think about was how angry they made me.
My teeth clenched together and it felt like the blood in my veins was actually boiling, little bubbles prickling along under the surface of my skin. I laced my fingers through the wire of the cage and wondered if my rage was sufficient fuel for me to rip the metal enclosure apart like some sort of superhero on an adrenaline high.
“Hey, whatcha think yer doin’?” The driver stood up and walked over to the cage, glaring down at me. “I told you to behave yourself.” His leather boot connected with the side of the cage, sending my world into a rocking, vibrating clatter.
“You’re real tough when you know I can’t get to you, motherfucker.”
“That’s some nice talk there.” He grabbed at the lock, tugging and swearing. “You little bitch. Just wait until I get my hands on you.” He fumbled with the lock, and I watched—not sure whether I hoped he got it open so I could at least have a chance at kicking him in the nuts and getting away, or hoping he just left me alone. The cage offered a bit of protection from whatever these assholes had in mind and for that, I was grateful.
“Hey,” the other guy called, “you want the last of the whiskey?”
That got his attention. “Hell, yes, I do. Don’t you finish it without me, selfish bastard.” He dropped the lock and moved toward the whiskey.
I was glad to see his back as he directed his attention elsewhere.
“How come we didn’t bring more booze?” the passenger asked.
“I thought we’d be done up here a lot sooner. “ The driver shook his head from side to side. “Simon said this would be easy.”
“What we gonna do with her?” the passenger asked.
“I’d like to do something with her. In fact, I might even crawl inside her cage and get to know her better.” The driver leered down at me and though terror ran through my veins, I refused to look away from him. Maybe that was a bad idea. They say you shouldn’t make eye contact with wild animals and this guy was barely more than a rutting boar.
“Why don’t you bring her out and fuck her where I can watch? I bet she’s horny. She’s been living out here for a while now.”
“I kinda like the idea of having her trapped in there, where she can’t get away.”
“I guess that’s the only way you can get a woman. Locked in a cage.” The passenger laughed and tossed the empty beef jerky wrapper into the fire.
“You shut up!” The passenger stood and raised his fists.
“For fuck’s sake, just stop it. Ain’t neither of us gonna do it with her. Simon’d fire us, or worse, if we ruined the goods. He said not to touch her. Now get back over here and leave her alone.”
“Then what the hell we got her for? Why not just leave her out here. Let the mountain beasts get her.”
“There ain’t no such thing as mountain beasts, you idiot. Just an old wives’ tale.”
“No, sir. My aunt says she heard them once. She was out hanging her laundry and heard a noise like nothing she ever heard before.”
“I can’t believe you give any credit to that stupid stuff. Don’t you think that if mountain beasts existed, we would know about them by now?” the driver said.
“You’re just sayin’ that because you’re afraid to admit there’s something you don’t know. You think you need to have the last word on everything.”
“The last word is, mountain beasts don’t exist and if they do, they are nothing but big hairy animals with brains the size of peas that eat people and grunt like apes and swing from the trees. Basically just anything you see in the zoo, but with more hair.”
I covered my ears. What a couple of morons. Mountain beasts. Sure, I’d been all over this side of the mountain during the last few years and… well, there were a few things that seemed a little odd to me, but then, the mountain wasn’t like the city. It had a life of its own.
At least those pinheads had left me alone and returned to the fireside to continue their debate about the existence of mountain beasts.
I ventured closer to her cave than I had ever dared before. I’d lingered in the woods and watched for a long time, but there was clearly no activity there so I approached and waited by the opening, listening for movement.
It was the sort of thing many children had nightmares over. A mountain beast watching and waiting for them.
I hated those stories. Those fibs and fabrications meant to make me, and others like me, into something not human.
But it also kept people from doing too much snooping around, so I had to at least be grateful for that.
Except she was missing. My girl. The one with the big brown eyes and the cute ass. She’d been hiding in the cave for a few weeks. I’d heard the commotion when the raiders had attacked her home and several others. I’d tried to get there in time to help, though that was tricky since I also didn’t want to reveal myself.
I’d feared the worst when I saw the destruction of the cabin, her parents dead on the living room floor. I’d planned to bury them, but when I returned with a shovel and some blankets, I saw her from the distance, taking care of the task herself.
It broke my heart to see her sobbing over the pile of fresh dirt. I’d wanted to run to her then, hold her close and tell her I’d take care of her.
Now I wondered where the girl had gone. I called her Brown Eyes. I knew that was a mistake. Once you give them a name, it’s hard to let them go. Or at least that’s what my mother used to say about stray animals I brought home. It becomes hard to think of them as just a human being. I knew I ought to be glad she was gone. Hopefully she’d returned to the base of the mountain and civilization—if that’s what you wanted to call it. Back where she belonged.
She didn’t belong on the mountain. Therefore, she didn’t belong to me and the sooner I got that into my head, the better.
I protected my mountain.
I needed to get on about my business. Finish my patrol, go home, and go to bed. Now that the girl was gone, that was one less thing for me to worry about. One less burden on my shoulders. It had been a challenge to keep her safe without revealing myself.
I continued my patrol, putting the girl out of my thoughts, though I couldn’t help but think about the bounty hunters, particularly Simon, who lived on the mountain and used his proximity to capture the rebels who hid in the forest.
I didn’t know all the specifics of life in the city at the base of the mountain, and maybe I didn’t want to.
But I knew enough.
No, it was best she left and went back to her way of life.
I turned toward home, putting thoughts of her big brown eyes out of my mind and tamping down my protective instincts.
“Leave me alone, you assholes.”
I froze in my tracks.
Though I had never actually heard her voice, something deep inside me told me it was her. And she was in trouble.
I headed in the direction of her voice and crept up on a sight that made my hair stand on end. I saw a pickup truck with flat tires, two men sitting on tree stumps eating beef jerky and drinking whiskey from a bottle. Worse than that, they had her, Brown Eyes, in a cage.
A fucking cage.
And they say we’re the ones who are less than human.
“I’m telling you, the beasts eat babies. Everyone knows that.” One of the assholes around the fire was talking, authority in his voice, despite the falsity of his statement. I had gotten used to overhearing such comments. Much as it pained me, all of those lies were necessary to protect our privacy. Protect our way of life.
“Jerry down at the plant told me he saw some roasting a kid on a spit over an open fire.”
My jaw clenched and my vision blurred red.
Patience, I told myself. I just needed to wait until they fell asleep and then I’d go and free the girl, send her on her way back to her cave. Once she was safe, I’d deal with these asshats.
“I bet the beasts would love to get with you, Lexi. A fine young lady like yourself. I bet those beasts would fuck you senseless. You’d probably like something like that, though.” The man who said those words moved toward the cage and unzipped his pants, dragging out the pitiful appendage of his manhood and held it in his hand. “Let me give you a chance to practice sucking dick. That way you’ll be able to make the beasts happy and they won’t eat you for dinner.”
Lexi—now I at least knew her name—shrank back in the cage, her eyes full of hate for the man taunting her.
Patience be damned. With a mighty roar I rushed them, first knocking dick-in-hand to the ground and then bashing his head against a tree stump. The other guy took a step in my direction, a knife in his hand, like that would scare me. I grabbed the arm with the knife in it and twisted it behind his back until I heard the satisfying pop of his shoulder dislocating.
I picked up the cage, Brown-Eyed Lexi and all, and jogged through the woods.
“What the hell are you doing? Put me down!” I slammed my palm against the floor of the cage, which was now several feet above the ground, hoisted on the shoulder of what I had to believe was a mountain beast. What else could it be?
I had heard the tales, every child had. I’d been terrified. One of the neighbor kids had been the one to first tell me, as a very young girl, about the beasts inhabiting the mountain that ate children and tore adults limb from limb. This little boy had taken particular delight in frightening me.
I’d gone running to my mother, my face buried in her lap. “Don’t let the beast get me,” I’d sobbed. She’d stroked her hand over my hair. “Hush now, Lexi. There aren’t any such things as beasts,” she’d said.
They were real and very strong. And fast. The cage rested on his shoulder, so I inched my way toward his head. “Hey, I said put me down,” I shouted directly into his ear.
“I heard you the first time,” he said.
I gasped and reared back. I hadn’t really expected him to speak. Not only did he speak, but his voice had a deep timbre that felt warm as it rumbled through me. From my perch on his shoulder I took a moment to examine him. Strong features, a furrowed brow, and long dark hair that matched his beard. He smelled of fresh air and the mountain—earthy with a hint of pine.
Despite my predicament, I couldn’t help but notice how handsome he was. He exuded masculinity and power, which awoke a sense of femininity in me. I had an urge to bury my hands in the thickness of his hair.
Stop it! This was not the time for more distractions.
He didn’t seem distracted by me and his steps continued at the same rapid pace, jostling me inside the wire mesh of the cage.
“If you heard me, then why am I still up in the air?” I needed to get away from him and the odd sensations he created in me.
“Because I am in charge here, little girl. I would think it was obvious.” He turned his head slightly and pierced me with his steely gray eyes. It felt as though he could see all the way into my soul. Vulnerability mixed with excitement inside me and I looked away first.
“You aren’t in charge of me. No one is in charge of me.” Putting on a bold front, I dared not let him realize the effect he had on me.
“I would give that a bit more credence if you weren’t locked in a cage.” The corner of his mouth tipped up as though he fought back a grin.
“That’s not my fault. You need to let me out. You’re no better than they are if you keep me in here.” I paused for a moment. “Hey, you talk pretty good for a mountain beast.”
“Well. I speak well for a mountain beast.”
“I am correcting your grammar. You said I speak good, but the proper phrase is speak well. You ought to learn such things. You don’t want to sound like a hick, do you?”
“You’re a fucking mountain beast, where do you get off calling me a hick?”
With a sigh, he stopped his rapid pace through the forest and set my cage on a tree stump. He glared down at me, his intense gaze making me squirm. I covered my mouth with my hands, instinctively wishing to take back the insult.
To my surprise, he snapped the lock on the cage and put it in his pocket. The door swung open. “Get out,” he said.
I gaped up at him, wondering what the trick was.
“I said, get out.” His nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed.
“Wh-why? What’re you going to do to me?” I shrank back in the cage.
He sniffed at me, then looked me over once again. “Little girl, you need to get out of this cage and go on about your business. Go back to your cave and never come back. I’m not going to ‘do’ anything to you. But if you don’t do as I tell you, I can promise you won’t like the consequences.”
My captor stuck his face in the opening of the cage. His dark eyes swept over me and I stared into their depths. Huge and strong. No doubt he could snap me in half with one hand while snacking on a sandwich with the other. Yet, there was something about him, something in his eyes, that told me he meant what he said. I just needed to leave the cage and go back to my cave.
Moving out of the doorway, he gestured for me to exit. I shook my head. “I-I don’t know how to get back there,” I said, looking at the ground in shame. What sort of chances did I have for survival if I couldn’t even find my way to my safe place? “Hey… how did you know about my cave?”
“I know everything that happens on this mountain.” He paused for a moment, rested his hand on the top of the cage near my head, sort of like he wanted to touch my hair. “I-I’m sorry about your parents.”
I cocked my head to the side and gazed up at him. I’d been alone since they’d died. He was the only person to offer me condolences. “Thank you,” I said. Maybe he wasn’t quite so beastly as he seemed.
He reached his hand out to me and I took it, his huge palm engulfing my hand. A heated jolt went through me at first contact. Startled, I chalked it up to my complete lack of any sort of human contact in weeks.
Once I was out of the cage, I stretched to alleviate some of the stiffness in my body.
He stood me in front of him. I peered upward. His arms were crossed over his chest and he scowled. “I will not tell you again, this mountain is no place for you. Go on. Git.” He jutted his chin in the direction he wanted me to go but my feet froze in place.
“No,” I said with more courage than I actually felt. Seriously, this guy was huge. I should have been terrified and run away as fast as I could. What was wrong with me? Why did I feel compelled to move toward him instead of away?
He sat on a tree stump and yanked me across his knees then started whaling on my ass. Hard. His big beasty hand covered both cheeks of my rear in one swat. He landed a couple before I even figured out what was happening.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing? Good lord. You are like a fucking caveman.” I wrenched my head around so he could see my face. My serious ‘don’t mess with me’ face.
He paused and met my gaze. “You have terrible language. Someone needs to wash your mouth out with soap.” Oh, god. Why did his stern voice make me feel squirmy instead of indignant? I had to get away from him before he discovered my humiliating reaction to his presence.
The punishment continued, hot slaps all over my rear. My denim jeans offered no protection from the onslaught and my ass burned from stem to stern.
“Ouch!” I shouted after another hard smack. “Stop it! This is ridiculous.”
“What is ridiculous, little girl, is that I have given you ample opportunity to run off to safety but you have not taken it. Why is that?”
“Stop calling me little girl. I’m a woman. I am nineteen years old.”
“Oh, my. All of that,” he mocked, and that was nearly as aggravating at the way he kept smacking my ass. “You did not answer my question. Why are you still here?” He stopped spanking and stood me up between his knees, his intense gaze boring a hole into me. “It seems there is something you are not telling me.”
His hot stare made my tummy flip, but I replied with defiance. “Of course I’m not telling you. We’re not friends. This isn’t some self-help retreat in the mountains.”
Cocking his head to the side, he studied me again. I could almost hear the mechanisms of his brain working. For a fleeting second, the corner of his mouth twitched, then his lips formed a firm line.
He stood, picking me up by the belt and carrying me down the mountain. It was like some sort of freaky mountain Cirque du Soleil, my arms and legs flailing while my body was suspended from his hand.
He had me in one hand and the cage in the other.
With his large stride, we covered several yards before my brain kicked into gear. “Stop. Please, stop. I-I…” My voice faded away and I choked back tears.
He took a couple more steps and halted, setting me on my feet, but keeping a grip on my arm. With one hand, he managed to unfasten my belt and pants and shoved the clothes down around my ankles. I gasped, standing there in the forest with my lower half bared.
“Hey!” I jerked to get my arm out of his grasp, but he was much too strong. He held me upright, making it impossible for me to reach for my clothes or even cover myself with my hands.
He ran his gray eyes over me and my lower half heated under his gaze. He sniffed the air. Even I could smell the musk of my arousal. I flushed with humiliation.
Still gripping my arm, he used his other hand to assault my bare ass. Even if I could have gotten away, I was tethered by my jeans and panties around my ankles.
“Ouch! Holy shit.” His palm was like a hot frying pan against my naked flesh. Tears stung my eyes and the sound of his hand smacking my butt echoed around us, though it was mostly drowned out by my yelps of pain. “Ouch! Stop that!”
“It is time for you to explain yourself. Every other person who has seen me on this mountain could not get away fast enough, but you, I have to give you a personal escort. Are you always this much trouble?”
I tried to catch my breath and finally managed to answer between my gasps of pain. “Those men, they will capture me again. They won’t stop looking until they catch me and take me back to the city. They want to h-hurt me. Do you know what happens to girls like me, down in the city? Do you understand?”
He stopped swatting and turned me to face him.
“You need protection.” He stated it like a fact. Because it was a fact.
“Yes,” I said, relieved that he at least appeared to understand my predicament. “You seem to know where my cave is, so if you could just take me there I’ll be fine.”
“Those men will get paid for capturing you. What makes you think they will not find you again?”
I shrugged. My mind was in a whirl trying to figure out what to do, which was only made more difficult by the fact that I was half-naked and my butt felt like it was on fire.
“I protect what is mine,” he said.
“Well, good. That is nice to know.”
“You do not understand my meaning. I will protect you from them and any other threat.”
I glanced up at him and for the first time in ages felt a tiny bit of safety. “Thank you,” I said. “I’ll find another place to live in a day or two, and then I will be out of your hair. So to speak.” I gave him a small smile. His tresses fell a couple of inches past his shoulders and combined with his beard definitely conveyed ‘mountain beast.’
“No,” he said, shaking his head from side to side, his hair swaying with the movements. “I protect what is mine. And what is mine I keep forever. If you wish for my protection, you must give yourself to me. Bound for the rest of your life.”
“Whoa.” I reared back and held up my hands in front of me. Like that would block him. “I was just asking for a favor for a day or two.”
“I do not do things by half measures.” He peered into my eyes. Mesmerized, I could not look away. “I am a man of my word. Once I give it, it is absolute. But, I expect you to keep your word as well. In exchange, I shall provide well for you and keep you safe.”
What? This was crazy.
“So,” the beast said to me, “do you wish to return to your cave? Or would you like to accept my offer of protection? Think carefully, little girl. There will be no turning back, for either of us.”
I swallowed hard. My heart raced. My head swam and I thought I might faint.
“Before you answer,” he said, his voice a husky whisper, “know this, you will be mine in every way. Body and soul. To do with as I see fit.”
I thought about the dangers in the forest and the men who were after me. And the even darker danger standing before me. The squirmy feeling returned and I suspected my exposed pussy lips were humiliatingly damp.
In the distance I heard men shouting, their voices getting closer.
“You have a deal,” I said, putting my hand out. Having never agreed to turn myself over, body and soul, to another being, man or beast, I wasn’t sure of the protocol.
He took my hand in his, the corners of his mouth curving upward. “Deal,” he said.
Our eyes met and a sense of calm washed over me. That is, until he yanked me forward by the hand and tossed me, pants still around my ankles, back into the cage, hoisted me, cage and all, onto his shoulder again and took off at a rapid clip through the forest.
What had I just agreed to?
My breathing was now coming in shallow panicked pants. I forced myself to try to breathe more slowly for fear that I would faint if I continued panting so aggressively. I had given my word but now I questioned that decision.
Inside the cramped cage I managed to pull my jeans and panties up so I was properly dressed again, though that was small comfort considering I had just given myself to a seven-foot-tall mountain beast.
Effortlessly, he carried the crate with me in it up the mountain and into his cabin. He set the crate on the floor then turned away.
I quickly glanced around the cabin. One large room with a fireplace, table and chairs, some shelves of books and other items, and a giant bed. I suppose it had to be to accommodate someone the size of my captor. A fire provided warmth and the walls were sturdy and secure. It was nicer than I expected and compared to the damp cave I had been using, it was a palace.
Or a prison.
After he had dropped my crate on the floor, the beast dug through a drawer and came back with a lock to replace the broken one for the door of the cage. Once that was secured, he closed the front door of the cabin and slid a heavy bolt across. It was easily a foot higher than I would be able to reach, so there was no way I would be able to escape.
My flesh ran cold as I considered the possibilities of what this mountain monster had in mind for me. My eyes strayed to the bed.
I had not been in my right mind when I’d made the deal with him and agreed to give myself to him body and soul. I could plead insanity.
But to whom would I make that plea?
His back to me, he did something in the cooking area of the cabin. When he lifted a huge knife high in the air, I shrieked and covered my mouth.
He had said he would keep me and protect me, but now I wondered if he intended to simply butcher me up and toss me into the big stew pot he had going in the fireplace. Maybe he had changed his mind as well. Or had lied to me all along.
His massive shoulders flexed as he raised and lowered the knife. It landed on the wooden counter with a sharp crack. I saw a bit of flesh fly away from the impact and I wondered if I might be sick.
What sort of beast was this?
With nothing to lose, I started pounding on the sides of the cage, rattling the thick wire walls. Despite the racket it made, the gate remained closed. Regardless, I continued pounding. The noise and activity made me feel as though I was at least doing something.
When I threw my body against the wall with as much force as I could muster, the cage scraped across the floor an inch or two.
Well, I would not just wait there for him to come and chop me up. Crouching low, I went to the back wall of the cage, then ran and hit the opposite wall as hard as I could.
It hurt like hell. Pain shot down my arm and I wondered if I had dislocated my shoulder, but that didn’t stop me. I screamed and slammed into the wall over and over.
Suddenly, the beast’s huge fist crashed down on the top of the cage, the wire mesh indented upon impact. From where I had landed on the floor, I looked up at him as he glowered at me. His jaw set in a firm line, his nostrils flared slightly and I waited for him to lecture me… or worse. Instead, he threaded his fingers in the mesh, lifted the cage with one hand and returned it the few inches I had managed to move it.
I had made no progress, my shoulder hurt, and I had likely really pissed him off.
Once he repositioned the cage, he returned to his task. More chopping. I huddled in the corner of the crate, knees drawn to my chest.
For a large man he moved around the kitchen gracefully. Broad shoulders, a trim waist, and narrow hips all supported by powerful legs. While I had my face buried in my knees, I couldn’t help but glance up periodically to see what my captor was doing.
He continued as though I was not even there. Within a few minutes he turned and stomped over to my cage. Bending down, he opened the door and glanced in. I shrieked and pressed myself as far back into the corner as I could, fearing for my life.
I closed my eyes and covered my head. Then I heard the cage door close and latch and I peeked up to see that he had left a plate of food inside the cage for me. Astonished, I looked at the plate filled with roasted meat that smelled wonderful as well as a sliced tomato and even a few carrots.
Confused, I stared at the plate then turned my head to see that he was seated at the table facing me. “Thank you,” I said.
“You are welcome,” he said, his gaze meeting mine. “I promised to provide for you and I intend to keep my promise. I expect the same from you. Stop trying to escape. I will not hurt you, but I will discipline you. Those few swats in the forest were just a taste of what you can expect. If I were you, I’d work on my attitude.” He raised an eyebrow at me to emphasize his point and then went back to his dinner.
I considered being obstinate and refusing the food, but it had been ages since I’d eaten a hot meal. The aroma of the roasted meat drew me to the plate. I used my fingers and made quick work of the meat and vegetables. The sliced tomato and fresh carrots were like a banquet of delicacies for me.
I used my sleeve to wipe my chin and again glanced over at him. “That was very good. Thank you.”
He looked at me, but he did not respond. Just paused for a moment, his penetrating eyes sweeping over me in a way that was difficult to interpret.
A decent meal always had a good effect on my attitude, but even that didn’t change the fact that I was in a cage, held captive by a mountain beast. While he continued eating, I did my best to study him without him knowing what I was up to.
The most overwhelming feature was his sheer size. Maybe close to seven feet tall, long dark hair that reached past his broad shoulders. The ease with which he carried me and my cage around testified to his strength. I’m sure that was just a small sample of the power that lurked within. He sat, the muscles in his thighs flexed and it seemed he was always prepared to take flight if necessary.
He finished his meal and I darted my eyes to the other side of the room lest he catch me watching him. There was not a whole lot to see. It’s not as though he’d filled the place with mementos or objets d’art. I did notice shelves on one wall that held a couple of things that might be weapons and an odd-shaped wooden box. Hmm. Long and narrow, it was about a foot long and four inches square. It was too small to hold his clothes. What might he have in there? Love notes?
I stifled a giggle and gave myself a mental shake. Focus, Lexi.
Turns out I didn’t need to tell myself to stop daydreaming because the cage rattled and the door swung open. I gasped and stared up at my behemoth of a captor. He reached into the cage and took my plate away. He carried it to the sink, but he left the door open.
Was this a test? Did I dare try to get out? Or was it an invitation to leave the cage? Crouched down on my haunches, I inched toward the opening, all the while keeping my eyes on the beast.
Whether he knew what I was doing or not, I had no idea, but once he had put away a few things in the kitchen area, he returned to the cage, reached in, took me by the arm, and hauled me out.
“Hey!” I said, pushing at his hand, “that hurts.”
My words had no effect on him. Or at least not one that I wanted. While he continued to hold my arm, he inspected me. Still dressed, I felt completely naked under his gaze.
The beast’s eyes raked over me from head to toe, pausing with particular interest on my breasts. To my utter horror, the tips hardened under his scrutiny and jutted out against my t-shirt. When his gaze reached my pussy, he bent forward and sniffed. Humiliation washed over me.
I stared into his face trying to discern his intentions, though sniffing my pussy ought to have made it clear enough. Whatever sort of peace offering the meal might have been, I had been a fool to think it was a sign of good faith. He probably just didn’t want me to faint during whatever sexual depravities he had in mind.
I shuddered and my knees went weak. But for his hand still firmly clamped around my upper arm, I would have landed in a heap at his feet.
I closed my eyes and prayed to a god I wasn’t sure even existed, but I was at a point where I had no other options.
Once he’d finished looking at me, the beast fisted my braid and dragged me from the cabin, out the door, across the porch, and down a steep incline. I scampered along to keep up with his much longer and faster footsteps.
“Ouch, ouch. That hurts. Let go!” I tried swatting at his hand in my hair, but it had no impact on him. We continued moving down the mountain, my mind racing with the possible scenarios he had in mind for me. Though considered a myth by many, the mountain beasts were rumored to be cruel and inhumane. Brutish and without feelings. I had been a fool to let him lull me into a sense of security and agree to his crazy plan. He was a trickster and a scam artist too.
I stumbled over a tree root and fell. He no longer had a hold of me and in that moment, I had a chance at freedom. A minuscule chance, but I had to take it. Crouching to evade his grasp, I scuttled across the grass. Terrified, I ran for my life. I dodged into the forest, my mind whirling as I made life and death decisions in nanoseconds. In the forest, my smaller size gave me an advantage. I stayed low, branches and brambles slashing at my arms and legs. I could hear him behind me but dared not look back.
I made a quick turn to the right, hoping he would not notice my change of direction. Ahead of me, a tree with some low limbs appeared and I sprang onto the bottom branch, quickly scrabbling up several rungs until I blended into the leaves. If I could not see out, surely he could not see in. I held my breath and waited, straining my ears to determine his location. My fingers itched to move the branches out of the way for a quick peek to see where he was, but I held my breath and clenched my hands around the branches to steady myself and waited. And waited.
I slowly let out my breath. Had I done it? Maybe he’d decided I was too much bother. In any case, I relaxed ever so slightly. The knot of fear in my stomach loosened. I began to breathe normally.
Adrenaline numbed me to the pain, but as it subsided, I realized just how uncomfortable it was to sit in a tree. My shoulder already hurt from slamming into the wall of my cage, and now my back chafed against the bark of the tree. Who cared? I had regained my freedom.
It would be a challenge to find my way back to my cave—but I did not care. I had broken free from the mountain beast and I was determined to stay that way.
I had a new appreciation for the dark cave I called home.
Suddenly, the ground began to shake. I clung more tightly to the tree branch. Ground tremors, while not an everyday occurrence, were not uncommon. The mountain was actually a dormant—or so I hoped—volcano. It had not erupted in decades.
The shaking continued and the intensity increased until the tree swayed violently from side to side. I held on as best I could but eventually my hands gave way and I tumbled through the limbs, gathering more scratches on my way to a crash landing with the ground.
I braced for impact, desperately trying to protect my head as I saw the earth rushing toward me. I closed my eyes and told myself not to cry out when I landed. I still needed to stay away from my captor and did not wish to give him any clues to my whereabouts.
Just when I thought I’d be smacking into the dirt, I landed on something else, still hard, but it gave way on impact to soften the blow. The earth tremor had stopped as well.
I opened my eyes, but I knew the answer before I saw him. The beast. The violent motion of the tree had not been caused by the mountain but by a mountain man. For a moment I was held close in his arms, his face just inches from mine. Awareness flared in me and my breath caught in my throat as I licked the dryness from my lips and my gaze lingered on his mouth.
The moment didn’t have the same impact on him, as he tossed me over his shoulder and trotted through the forest toward the clearing from which we had started. I fisted his shirt with both my hands to keep my balance. His back and shoulders were broad with muscle upon muscle and I could feel the heat of his body beneath mine.
At the edge of the forest, he paused to snap a branch off a sapling then he continued down the slope where we’d been walking before I’d gotten the bright idea to run away. He had one arm wrapped around my thighs to hold me in place.
There would be no more running away.
He stopped walking and lowered me from his shoulder, though he kept a firm grasp on my arm. We were next to a stream. Beautiful clear water rushed over smooth rocks. My throat felt dry and all I could think about was filling my cupped hands with the water and pouring it into my mouth. Without thinking, I took a step in that direction.
I was immediately hauled back to the beast’s side.
He turned to face me, one hand clutched my braid while the other tore at my clothing. My t-shirt gave way on the first tug and in a flash my jeans and panties were around my ankles. Again. Lifting me around the waist, he stripped off my pants and shoes before setting me back down, completely naked.
His eyes roamed over me, just as they had in the cabin, though this time instead of making me feel naked, I was naked. Heat suffused my body and once again he leaned forward and sniffed at me.
“Hey,” I said. “Stop that.”
He looked at me. “No.”
He must have decided he needed an even closer grip on me because he let go of my arm and took a firm hold of the curls of my mound. As though having his hand so near to my pussy was not enough of an attention-getter, he gave a tug to those short hairs.
“Ouch!” I glared up at him. He glared back, but his glare was bigger and scarier because he was, well, much bigger and scarier than me. Another tug on my pussy curls to emphasize who was in charge.
“Hey, you said you would protect me, but now you’re hurting me.”
“You gave your word, but your word means nothing. You ran away. After I saved you from those men. And fed you dinner.”
He found a tree stump and rested one foot upon it, drawing me to stand between his knees. With the hold he had on my mound, I had no choice but to follow along.
If I had felt small and vulnerable when he had inspected me before, it was even worse now. I had deliberately run away. I could not imagine that would be met by praise and jubilation by the mountain beast. And his fingers were warm and distractingly close to my pussy, causing an embarrassing ache in my core.
I wasn’t sure what would cause praise and jubilation from a mountain beast, but I had a pretty good idea what would not cause it. Basically everything I had done that day.
He had stripped me bare and hauled me, after my failed escape attempt, to the edge of a stream. Did he intend to have his way with me and then toss me in the water to drown? Or would he make sure the job was done by holding me face down until my lungs filled with water and life left me after a few violent gasps for air?
I cursed myself for allowing those bastards to catch me in the first place. I had been so careless. And now, I was about to be assaulted, drowned, and forgotten.
Well, I was not going to just let that happen.
So I bit his arm. Hard.
He clamped his other hand around my jaw and disengaged my mouth from his arm with no more effort than if I had been a pesky insect instead of a full grown woman of nineteen.
He did let go of me, but only long enough to toss me over his raised knee. With one massive palm on my back, he pinned me to him while he used the other to swat my bare ass. A biting sting cut across the flesh of my backend. Now I understood why he’d stopped to snap off part of the sapling. That little bit of young tree whipped my ass. Over and over.
“Ouch! Hey, stop that,” I gasped, the blows from the branch taking my breath away.
I had no reason to believe my words would stop him, but it was the only thing I had in my arsenal, so I gave him a full on verbal assault.
“You motherfucker. Let me go. You have no right to treat me this way, you misogynistic son of a bitch.”
The switch covered my entire butt so there was not much need for him to vary his movements in order to inflict searing pain across both globes of my ass and a few swats to my thighs added in for good measure. He moved up from the crease where my thighs met my cheeks, making orderly slashes that scalded my ass.
My legs were immobilized, but I had use of my arms and I pounded my fists on his leg.
“You stupid mountain freak,” I said, my anger and insults increasing with the fire across my ass. “You think just because you’re bigger and stronger you can treat people this way but that’s just wrong. You’re no better than those assholes who had me in the cage.”
There. I’d said it. The worst insult I could think of.
It had no effect on him. He didn’t even act like he’d heard me.
Tears streamed down my face. Anger, pain, frustration, and sadness poured out of me and I continued to sob and shout and pound until I finally lay across his knee, spent.
It was over. I had given all I had, but how much could a small, naked woman do against a mountain beast?
The spanking stopped, though pain continued to radiate through my body. I was utterly worn out.
The beast touched my shoulders, lifted me from his knee, and once again stood me between his thighs, this time holding me in place with his knees. He tossed the switch on the ground then pulled his shirt off over his head to reveal even more muscles than I had imagined. With surprising agility, he removed his shoes, then stood up, grabbed my arm yet again and used his other hand to take off his pants. I closed my eyes; maybe that would make this nightmare end.
My virginity, the commodity that I had protected until now, was about to be stolen by a mountain beast.
He picked me up and I scrunched my eyes closed even tighter, telling myself not to look. To think of other things and it would all be over soon.
However, when cold water flowed over my head, I opened my eyes and mouth in shock, swallowing some water in the process and quenching my parched mouth.
My captor set me down in the shallow water, which soothed the ache in my ass. Then he cupped his hands and poured copious amounts of the refreshing liquid over my head. He loosened my braid and once my hair was saturated, he massaged my scalp and down the length of my hair. I felt twigs and leaves loosen and fall away. Ick. Living on the mountain had taken a toll on me.
After that, he moved to my shoulders. Standing behind me, he poured water down my back and shoulders and then scrubbed with his coarse hands. I could not remember the last time I had been so clean.
Despite my certainty that he was simply making me more appealing for his eventual plans for me, I felt myself relax. At least I wouldn’t die covered in a layer of mountain grime.
Just as I allowed myself to take some enjoyment from this unexpected event, something long and firm brushed against my spine. I stiffened. Just as it already had.
The beast must have noticed the change in me for he paused in his ministrations, then turned me to face him.
Oh, mercy. There it was, right in front of me. It wasn’t just long and firm, it was massive. I knew the basics of sex and no way was that going to fit inside me, or at least not without causing significant damage. I clenched the muscles down there.
I stared. I’d never seen a cock in real life. I tore my eyes away from his cock and glanced upward—narrow hips, flat stomach, bulging chest. My gaze settled on his shoulders and arms. He could snap me like a twig.
Our eyes met and there was something I hadn’t seen there before. Maybe he didn’t intend to kill me. Or put me in the stew pot.
He cupped more water and poured it down the front of my body. My nipples pebbled from the cold water and I watched the rivulets trickle along my torso. The water I sat in came to my hips and I swished my hands around in it.
Would he wash my front the same as he had scrubbed at my back? I held my breath and waited.
To my surprise, he walked a few steps away and slipped into the deep water. He was below the surface so long I became concerned.
What the hell? How had I gone from climbing trees in order to get away from him to caring whether he had drowned himself or not?
He rose like a whale breaching the surface and when I jumped in surprise, I think he might have smiled a tiny amount. It was difficult to tell with the wild beard he sported.
Still dripping with water, he scooped me into his arms, stopped to gather our clothes then carried me all the way back to his cabin. It was certainly an odd sensation to be outside, naked in the grip of a giant of a man. Once we were inside and I saw the huge bed… and cage… my fears returned.
If he hadn’t drowned me, or left me to die in the woods, what did he plan to do with me?
That’s all until next week’s installment! If you’re aching to finish right now, though, just click below and buy the book!
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