Captured (The Captive Series Book 1), p.1Erica Stevens / Romance & Love
Copyright 2012 Erica Stevens
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Also from the author
Books written under the penname Erica Stevens
The Captive Series
Captured (Book 1)
Renegade (Book 2)
Refugee (Book 3)
Salvation (Book 4)
Redemption (Book 5)
Broken (The Captive Series prequel)
Vengeance (Book 6)
Unbound (Book 7)
The Fire & Ice Series
Frost Burn (Book 1)
Arctic Fire (Book 2)
Scorched Ice (Book 3)
The Kindred Series
Kindred (Book 1)
Ashes (Book 2)
Kindled (Book 3)
Inferno (Book 4)
Phoenix Rising (Book 5)
The Ravening Series
Ravenous (Book 1)
Taken Over (Book 2)
Reclamation (Book 3)
The Survivor Chronicles
Book 1: The Upheaval
Book 2: The Divide
Book 3: The Forsaken
Book 4: The Risen
Books written under the penname Brenda K. Davies
The Alliance Series
Eternally Bound (Book 1)
Hell on Earth Series
Hell on Earth (Book 1) Coming August 2017
The Road to Hell Series
Good Intentions (Book 1)
Carved (Book 2)
The Road (Book 3)
Into Hell (Book 4)
The Vampire Awakenings Series
Awakened (Book 1)
Destined (Book 2)
Untamed (Book 3)
Enraptured (Book 4)
Undone (Book 5)
Fractured (Book 6)
A Stolen Heart
Special thanks to my husband and best friend,
my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews who make life more interesting and fun,
and Leslie Mitchell from G2 Freelance editing for all her hard work.
Table of Contents
Books by the author
Where to find the author
About the author
The words were enough to send a cold chill of terror down Arianna’s spine. She shuddered, swallowing heavily, and repeatedly, as she tried to wet her suddenly very parched throat. Her lips were sore, she could taste her dried blood upon them as they were chapped and cracking. She’d had nothing to drink in hours, she was thirsty and her mouth was dry as cotton. The fire that had consumed parts of the forest had burned her throat, and she could taste the ash upon her tongue. The smell of smoke clung to her, cloying in its acrid odor. She would have given anything for some water, but she was fairly certain that her misery and discomfort would soon be coming to an end anyway.
The dead did not require water after all.
Surprisingly, the thought of dying aroused even less fear in her than the alternative did, and that was becoming a blood slave. Though the notion had never entered her mind before, she realized she’d prefer to take her own life before such a thing happened to her. The thought of being kept, of being trapped and used for the most disgusting means known to man, was enough to make her want to rip out her hair and run screaming in horror.
She did neither however, simply because she couldn’t move enough to carry out either action. She was trapped, surrounded, penned in by the bodies crammed against her. The raid on the encampment in the woods had been successful. The temporary homes of many had been ripped apart, destroyed then set ablaze. Their lives had been irrevocably destroyed; they would never see their loved ones again.
The fortunate ones, the ones that weren’t chosen to be blood slaves, would be bled outright. Their blood would be drained unwillingly, and painfully, from their bodies. A hundred separate needles would pierce their skin before they were finally killed. The blood would be bottled and saved for later use. The unfortunate ones, the blood slaves, would be used over and over and over again until their owner became tired of them and either sold them off, or bled them dry.
Aria hoped that she would be chosen to be bled dry. She would rather feel the sting of a thousand needles than be repeatedly used for months, or years. However, she had a feeling that if the vampires found out who she was, they would never allow her such a compassionate death. They would never grant the merciful end she fervently hoped for.
She glanced at the people surrounding her. She knew they would all willingly die before they revealed her identity, she also knew that she had been a fool, a complete idiot for allowing herself to be captured in the first place. If these monsters ever found out who she was, they would have strong leverage over the rebellion, and her father. They would try to use her against the rebels that lived within the woods, hiding, moving, and fighting the vampires that hunted them relentlessly. The vampires that had taken their world and twisted it into a cruel mockery of what it had once been.
At least that was what she had been told had happened.
She didn’t remember a world without starvation, hiding and death. She didn’t recall a world where food had been purchased in stores, and homes had been heated and cooled. She knew a world of woods and caves, of hunting and struggling for her meals. She knew a world that was either brutally hot or deathly cold, a world where there had never been a consistent roof over her head. A world where her father was the leader of the rebel movement, her mother was dead, and her two brothers were being relentlessly trained to take over their father’s position one day.
She had never experienced a life of safety and security, never experienced a life where she wasn’t fighting and running on a daily basis. She had been told stories of the world before the vampires ruled, and though she was certain that some of the tales had to be off, or wrong, she still thought that world sounded simply amazing compared to the reality of this one. As a child she had foolishly pined for that world, as an adult she had thrown aside childish dreams in favor of learning how to fight and hunt. Instead of dreaming of a world that no longer existed, she learned to survive.
After childhood, hugs were no longer exchanged amongst her family, and the only praise she had received lately was for her far superior skills with a bow and arrow. However, though love was not freely given, she knew that it was there, and that it was strong. Her brothers would risk everything to get her back; her father would want to do the same. Her father would also know that it couldn’t be done. No matter how much he would want to, he couldn’t risk the lives of so many for just one person, even if that person was his own daughter. Though it would kill him to lose her, he would make the sacrifice, just as he had sacrificed so much else in his life.
No, she had no grand ideas of salvation, no dreams that her brother William would charge recklessly in to rescue her, yelling like a banshee, just as he charged so wildly into everything he did. She didn’t have these dreams because her father, and the ever sensible Daniel, would never allow William to do such a thing. In fact, they would probably have to tie him up just to keep him away. He would hate it, but it would be the only way to keep him alive.
A twinge of regret and sorrow filled her at the thought of William. He was her twin, her other half. They had been nearly inseparable since conception. He would never get over this, just as she never would have gotten over his loss if their roles had been reversed.
She never should have allowed herself to be captured. But then, she hadn’t had a choice. The child...
Aria’s gaze slid to Mary Beckins. Mary stood proudly, her shoulders thrust back, her chin jutting out as she stared unblinkingly across the sea of heads before her. If it weren’t for the tears streaking silently down Mary’s dirt and soot smeared cheeks, Aria would have thought her fearless. Even with those tears, she still looked proud, defiant; unbreakable.
Seeming to sense Aria’s stare, Mary’s eyes slid toward her. It was Mary’s child, John, whom Aria had saved. It was John’s place that she had taken in this cramped hell of near certain death and deprivation. Aria had forfeited her life for young John’s, and she would do it again if she had the choice. She just wouldn’t have been so reckless about it. She wouldn’t have plunged carelessly in again, and she would have at least tried to think of a way to ensure that she and Mary were not ensnared also.
Like her twin though, she rarely thought out her actions and often charged thoughtlessly forward, heedless of the consequences. But these were by far the direst consequences she’d ever faced and they would also soon be her last. Or so she hoped.
Mary held her gaze for a moment; gratitude filled her brown eyes. She briefly nodded her thanks, and managed a tremulous smile that Aria returned.
The vampires didn’t know who Aria was, or who her father was, and she was certain that no one that knew her here would tell them. The people had always respected and admired her father, but today, with her actions, they had also come to admire and respect her too. They would all die before they handed her over, even if handing her over meant a pardon on their own lives, even if it meant a chance at freedom for themselves.
“Worry not girl.”
She tried to turn to see who had spoken to her, but she couldn’t move against the crush of bodies pressing against her. She could smell the dirt, the sweat, the fright, and smoke that adhered to all of them. Life in the woods didn’t allow for regular bathing, she was accustomed to body odor, but this was far more intense than what she was used to. She didn’t know if it was because they were all so confined when they were used to wandering free, or if it was the certain end of their lives that made their odor exceptionally acute. Either way, the stench was nearly overwhelming. She wanted to gag from it, to cover her nose and attempt to block it out. She wanted to cry, but instead she stood unmoving, frozen by the paralysis of revulsion that gripped her.
Sudden movement drew her attention back to the stage set up before them. A stage for crying out loud. It wasn’t humiliating enough to be packed in like this, but they were also going to be paraded forward, separately examined, and chosen from the specimens presented. Aria shuddered again as she struggled to keep her composure in this swiftly unraveling, and entirely unfamiliar world.
“Be brave Aria, be brave.” She swallowed heavily, managing a small nod as the man behind her whispered in her ear again. “Take strength from those around you.”
Aria fought back the hot wash of tears that suddenly flooded her eyes. She straightened her shoulders, refusing to show weakness, refusing to break in front of the monsters now lining up before them. As long as she was chosen for death, she could remain strong through this. She could, she would, be as brave as her father and brothers would be in this situation. She would never give the vampires the satisfaction of seeing her break; she would die with her pride firmly intact.
There was a ripple of movement amongst the imprisoned crowd. Aria realized that the gate had been opened and they were starting to pull people out. She watched in revulsion as they removed the first person and led them up the stairs to the stage. She didn’t recognize the young woman, who was sobbing openly as she was paraded before the line of monsters eagerly eyeing her. Behind the stage, other vampires had gathered on the street that seemed to lead through the heart of the town, which was contained within the massive walls surrounding the distant palace. The vamps were crammed in between the two and three story buildings lining the street as they eagerly strained to see the fresh human meat being presented.
The enormous walls, that offered protection for the town nestled within them, enclosed nearly four square miles of land around the palace. The richest, the aristocrats of vampire society, resided within the walls, lavishing in their lives of opulence and brutality while the humans they had enslaved suffered at their greedy hands. She despised them. Every part of her, every cell in her body, hated every single vampire within these palace walls as well as outside of them. The only thing she hated more were the humans that had betrayed their own kind in order to reside in relative freedom amongst the ruling class of vampires.
On the mountain, rising above the town like an avenging demon, the imposing palace loomed over them. She’d seen it before, it was impossible not to see its glistening turrets and golden spires from the treetops, but she’d never been this close to the enormous structure before. Though she hated to admit it, the palace was impressive and beautiful as it glimmered in the muted rays of the sun. She hated the fact that it terrified her as much as it did, but she couldn’t shake the overwhelming sense of doom as she gazed at the massive, exquisite structure that housed the biggest monster of them all, The King.
Unable to look at it anymore, Aria tore her attention from the palace. Her attention drifted down the hill behind her. Beyond the outer palace walls, scattered towns were situated within the valley nestled below. Towns that housed the human servant traitors and vampires that were not as wealthy as the ones gathered on the street across from her. Her people starved, they froze to death in the woods and caves. They fought to retain a freedom that was elusive, and brutal, while their own kind betrayed them, and the captured fighters were brought here to be humiliated, tortured, and sold.
The gathered vampires watched the proceedings with an air of indifference that left Aria fuming. It was bad enough that they had been caught, that they were considered no more than food, but did they have to be treated as if they were worth less than an animal? Actually, most animals she came across were treated far better than this as they were necessary for human survival. Aria’s hands fisted at her sides, her jaw clenched as she fought to keep control of her volatile temper.
She watched as a woman was led to the side. The woman bowed her head; her shoulders shook with the force of the tears that streaked her face as she was brought onto the stage. The woman’s clothes were little more than rags, though Aria knew her own clothes weren’t much better. For that matter, neither was her hair, or her overall appearance. In fact, due to the hunting party she’d been with before being captured, she’d gone even longer than normal without bathing. The lingering scent of blood, body odor, wild animal, and death stuck to her. They didn’t blend so well with the other awful scents encompassing her. She found herself hoping that her dismal appearance, and scent, would be enough to earn her the much coveted sentence of death.
A young boy was brought forth next, then a shirtless young man that was well muscled from hunting, and working within the forest. The man was not led over to the boy and woman, but escorted over to a vampire. It was a young woman that came forward to claim him, or at least she appeared young, there was no way to know her real age. She was tall and thin, with a hawkish face that was both brutal and strangely beautiful. The vampire woman eagerly eyed the young man; the look in her eyes caused Aria’s legs to shake. It was more than apparent what that woman was going to do to him, and it seemed that she wasn’t going to wait long either as she hastily led the man off the stage, and through the crowd gathered upon the street. The crowd leered after them as they disappeared from view.
Aria swallowed heavily, she wasn’t sure she would make it through this. She understood now that the woman and boy still on the stage were destined for death, a fact the boy seemed to also realize as he began to weep openly. His sobs were heartbreaking and it took all Aria had not to cry in response.
The muted sound of sniffles began to make their way through the rest of the crowd. The majority of people remained strong, but it would only be a matter of time before they were also broken beneath the heel of the monsters that now held their fate. Aria watched unseeingly as more people were brought forth. The compression of bodies began to ease, if it weren’t for the tense pressure in her chest, she might actually have been able to inhale easily again. Instead, she could barely breathe through the panic threatening to crush her.
Though most people were slated for death, it was the ones that were chosen to be blood slaves that were the saddest, and openly wept the loudest. Aria was panting for breath when someone stepped beside her. A strong, work worn hand slipped into hers and squeezed it reassuringly.
She turned toward the person beside her, she felt as if she’d been kicked in the teeth when she saw him. “Max,” she breathed.