After Carla's plane crashes in the year 2064 she learns that nuclear war destroyed technology and unleashed a plague that devastated the female population. Alpha wolf Taye knows Carla is his mate. He wins her in a Bride Fight, but can he win her heart?
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EXCERPT -- Chapter 1
It wasn’t the crowd that made Carla’s palms sweat, or even the fact that this crowd was made up exclusively of men who were staring at her. She had spent most of the last five years standing on stage, singing her songs and playing her guitar for thousands of enthusiastic fans at a time, both men and women. She’d even received half a dozen marriage proposals from men she had never met. None of that had ever made her suffer from nerves before. There were only a few hundred men fixated on her here, but her sweaty hands were shaking worse than they ever had before a show. The difference was none of her adoring fans had a snowball’s chance in hell of marrying her, but one of these half-savage men lining up to fight for her would be her husband in a few hours. God help them.
How could she have gone from being a rising country music star in the year 2014 to a piece of merchandise in 2064? Useless questions raced angrily around her head, bringing her perilously close to tears, so she scowled at her surroundings.
The theater she was in now must have been a showpiece in its glory days, and maybe a historical site later. Right now it was a shell. The majority of one wall had been knocked out and replaced by mismatched windows so light could come in. The afternoon sun lit the interior like a spotlight on a once elegant but now aging diva. Half the fancy chandeliers were missing, and half of those remaining were missing most of their crystals. The balconies, like the one she stood in now, lined the only intact wall. Carla could see traces of the gold paint that once embellished the ornate carved wood. The raised stage was below and to the left of her balcony, framed in carved wood, but the curtain was gone. The slightly sloping floor was bare wood, marked with rough spots where the seats had once been fastened. The stage had a large square marked off to designate where the fights would take place.
Several of the men made a point of standing below her balcony while they stripped off their shirts and shoes to get ready to fight. They preened for her, stretching muscled lean bodies trying to catch her eye. Some made kissing faces at her. She pointedly ignored them.
Her fingernails, showing only chipped remnants of Cherry Bomb nail lacquer, were ragged while they bit into her palms. If she counted correctly, today was The Day. If her world hadn’t ended four days ago she would be singing the national anthem at game five of the World Series tonight. But that world was gone. No cell phones, no cars, no computers, no planes. At least none that could fly … When she left Minneapolis after a show four days ago and boarded a plane to Denver, the world had been sane. Highways were full of cars driven by people who listened to CDs and played DVDs for their children. There were restaurants and grocery stores and malls in every town they flew over. The plane had been full of businessmen tapping away on their laptops and families with teenagers who were glued to their cell phones. And then … the world ended. Somehow the plane had gone fifty years into the future. And this future was after the apocalypse.
Carla glanced over at the woman on the balcony beside hers. Lisa Anton was beautiful. Of course she was beautiful: she was a model. She had long blond hair—natural blond!—perfect skin, perfect body, perfect makeup. At least, her makeup had been perfect when she’d got on the plane. Carla, already in her seat, had cynically tagged her as a Blonde, not too bright, way too vain, and useless. But when the plane went down and the survivors tried to dig through the wreckage to find others, the blonde model had done more than her share of digging and lifting. Her perfect makeup had been smeared all over her face, her perfect clothes torn and dirty. She’d held a little boy while he died and smiled for him the whole time, not crying until after he was gone. While others were hysterical when their cell phones and laptops didn’t work she managed to stay calm. When the only surviving member of the plane crew asked for volunteers to walk to try to find help, she immediately offered to go. Three groups of two survivors each set out in different directions to find help. Carla had been impressed by the blonde and hadn’t minded being paired up with her as one of the teams going to find help.
Help? A fat lot of help they had gotten. They had been glad and relieved to see the farm people after hiking for a day with no signs of life. The two-lane asphalt road they found was badly cracked and overgrown with grass and weeds. They didn’t know where they were, except somewhere between Minneapolis and Denver, without any cell-phone reception. There had been nothing to see but grassy plains for miles. The first town they came to after walking for two hours was totally empty except for rusted shells of cars and sagging buildings. They continued to struggle on, confused by the emptiness around them and worried about the people they left behind. They passed a number of empty ruined farmhouses without ever seeing a person. It made no sense why miles of farm and grazing land were empty. Carla grew up on a ranch in eastern Wyoming, and it wasn’t unusual for ranches to be spread far apart, or to see an occasional older house or barn abandoned. But a dozen empty houses? Carla knew there was something weird about that. But she never in a million years would have guessed they had gone fifty years into the future. The crash had been completely unexpected. It was a beautiful day for travel, so when the turbulence hit it caught all the passengers by surprise, and Carla had felt terror close her throat when the plane jolted violently and began to descend. So many had been killed or hurt she felt almost guilty to be merely bruised. But the crash didn’t explain the eerie emptiness of these houses and towns.
The walled farming community they found the following morning was weird too. The men guarding the gate had worn plain dark clothes, and held some sort of shotgun or rifle which Carla didn’t recognize. A militant Amish community? Or some strange group like at Waco? If she and Lisa hadn’t been so tired and hungry, and if their feet hadn’t hurt so much from walking in high-heeled boots, they would have passed on. But these were the first people they had seen, and the people from the plane needed help.
There were plenty of suspicious men, but very few women in the Odessa farming settlement. The farmers wore plain pants and shirts, and their wives wore ankle-length dresses. These farmers did without phones or televisions or computers. They seemed odd but not aggressive in spite of the armed guards at the gate. Their religion was rigid, and all-prevalent. At the midday meal the elder had prayed for “the two worldly strangers from the Times Before whom God sent to us as a gift to save us from the harsh winter.” Carla had to bite her tongue to keep from saying something rude. The women had fussed over their blisters and torn clothes and set up skimpy baths of water heated over the stove, like in Little House on the Prairie. The men agreed to take Carla and Lisa to the nearest town so they could get help for the survivors.
Right. Fooled by a bunch of Amish farmers. The farmers had taken them in a horse-drawn wagon into a nearby town that looked like a cross between an Old West town and a military base, to the so-called mayor, Ray Madison. The town was strange, with tall walls made of stone sectioning off some blocks and no signs of technology anywhere. There were no cars, no lights, no fast food places. They passed a building that had once been a popular chain restaurant, but the familiar sign was bleached by age and weather. Some men and boys were on the streets, staring at the two of them like they had two heads each, but they saw no women. Ray had looked them over like they were prime livestock while they had explained about the plane and the survivors needing medical help. Ray hadn’t shown much interest in that. He only gave the farmers some boxes and bundles in trade for the two of them. The farmers had left them with Ray. Lisa had cried. Carla had argued. But Ray had rubbed his hands together gleefully and announced that he would offer them as prizes in a Bride Fight. It seemed that two unknown women in their twenties were hot commodities in this future hell.
So that’s what they were now, prizes the best fighters could take home. And no help yet for the plane crash survivors. Had either of the other volunteer teams found help? Carla met Lisa’s eyes just for a minute and saw the model shaking. Her fair skin showed the signs of tears. Carla hoped her own tanned face was calm. She was so furious she’d like to punch these men. If there hadn’t been four guards standing behind her chair she’d have tried to escape. But where could she go?
Ray, the man who had bought her, stepped into her balcony. He smiled at her, showing a few gaps between yellowed teeth. Dental care must be hard to come by in this place. He indicated the men below. “One of those fine men will be yours in just a little while. You got a preference, little lady?”
His father-of-the-bride attitude rubbed Carla the wrong way. “My preference is to go home,” she said between clenched teeth.
Ray looked pitying. “Can’t,” he said patiently. “We’ve told you over and over that your world doesn’t exist anymore. Hasn’t for fifty years. Same thing happened a few years back. My missus told you about them other women from the Times Before who showed up out west of here. They never got back neither. They got good husbands now, and couple kids too, I heard. But I ain’t never heard nothin’ about them complainin’. So, buck up. You got twelve men fighting for you.” He sounded like he was congratulating her. “No more than what might be expected, a healthy-looking gal like you. You have a bit of meat on your bones. Gives a man something to hold on to.”
Carla’s teeth were in danger of shattering. She wore a size twelve, and a size twelve was not fat.
About the Author
I am a member of the SCA, a non-profit education organization that studies the Renaissance and Middle Ages. I've learned a bunch of fascinating stuff in the SCA, and I have plans to use that knowledge in my writing. Someday.
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