Mate Run: Cherise
The year is 2124, and the world's population has been divided into two groups: infected and non-infected. Race, ethnicity, and nationality no longer matter.
Cherise Golden is one of the infected. On the run and in hiding since she was fifteen, she’s had enough of being alone. She wants a mate and a family. Someone strong who will protect her from the man hunting her. Taking a huge risk, Cherise goes to the Mate Match Agency, seeking a husband among the infected.
Noah Hunter is the leader of his clan and one of the owners of Mate Match. Noah isn’t looking for a woman. He came to keep an eye on things and make sure the males follow the rules. He didn’t expect to find an infected woman among the potentials, or to be overwhelmingly attracted to her.
If he claims her, does Noah have what it takes to keep Cherise safe? Will Cherise trust Noah long enough to give him a chance? Ready. Set. Go! It's time for a mate run.
Twelve years earlier…
“Momma, come with me. Please.” I clutched her hand so tightly hers would probably bruise.
“I can’t.” The words were stark. Final. The accompanying expression said, ‘Don’t ask again.’ “Remember what I told you. What did I say?”
“Run. Don’t look back. Don’t come back for any reason,” I answered by rote, I’d said it so many times. Inside, emotions battered me, pushing me to the edge of desperation. The strain of keeping my voice subvocal caused my throat to ache. It was imperative we not be discovered.
“And if you’re caught?” she asked, her steady, determined gaze holding mine in the semidarkness.
Taking a shaky breath, I straightened my shoulders. “Escape, by any means necessary.”
“Here.” She handed me a thin blade with a wickedly sharp curve. It was one of the kitchen knives. We weren’t allowed weapons. “Use it if you have to. Don’t hesitate. No mercy.”
I took it from her and held it down by my side. The handle fit securely in my hand.
Momma cupped my face with both hands and leaned her forehead against mine. “You only get one shot. Don’t waste it.” My tears quickly soaked her flesh. She dried my face and kissed my forehead. “Hush now. It will be all right. Remember I love you. Stay safe. Be strong. Most of all, be free.” She gave my shoulders a light push. “Go. Get into position.”
I wanted to grab her and cling. To hold onto this moment for as long as possible, but time wouldn’t allow. Momma turned and walked away. Knowing I couldn’t wait any longer, as silent as a cat, I eased further into the shadow of the nearby cabin. Carefully, with the darkness as cover, I made it to the edge of the encampment and sank down onto my haunches.
My mother sauntered into the open, a sensual sway to her hips. Momma was short and curvy, with full breasts and thick thighs men liked. Her long cotton skirt in drab colors swished from side-to-side. She’d loosened a few buttons of the mandatory button-down shirt all females wore, revealing the shadow of her cleavage.
“May, what are you doing out of your cabin? It’s after two in the morning,” the sentry said. Jarvis was young, about twenty-four or twenty-five. He had olive skin, a thickly muscled body, and a face that looked like someone had taken a battering ram to it when he was a child.
She lazily flapped one side of her shirt open and closed as she moved closer to him. “Couldn’t sleep. I got hot and decided I wanted company. You don’t mind, do you?”
From the motion of her hand, I could tell she was stroking him between his legs. As a result, his voice was strained when he said, “I’m on guard duty.”
Momma waved a hand, indicating the encampment and the surrounding woods. “It’s late. Everyone is asleep, and no one comes out this far. Are you sure I can’t persuade you to…?” She spoke the rest directly into his ear.
Jarvis gripped Momma’s skirt and began easing it up. “Maybe just a few minutes won’t hurt.”
She laughed, low and husky, and unzipped his pants.
“Wha-what will Hiram say?” Jarvis asked.
Momma sank to her knees and poised his erect penis so close to her lips, he had to feel her breathing. Then she glanced at him from under her lashes. “Do you care?”
I could hear him swallow from where I crouched near the tree, tensely waiting for Momma to give the signal.
“No, right now I can’t say I give a damn about anything but your mouth on my cock,” he said.
Another husky laugh from Momma. I turned my face away as she lowered her mouth, not needing the visual to know what she was doing. From the groans and growls he made, Momma was really getting him stirred up.
There was a soft popping sound and then Momma said, “You know what I really want?”
“What?” The words were a growl.
“To be fucked, long and hard. Hiram’s good, but he’s getting old. You know what I mean? I need someone young and strong to show me how sex should be.”
I glanced over in time to see Jarvis unbuckling his pants. “You’ve come to the right man,” he boasted.
Momma paused in the act of unbuttoning her blouse. When she spoke again, her tone was coy. “How about we make this a real party? Who’s on sentry duty tonight besides you?”
“Travis and Clay.”
She walked her fingers up his crotch. “Invite them to join us. I want to be completely filled, if you know what I mean?”
I placed my hand over my mouth to muffle my gasp. All of the men in the clan were debauched. Those three were the most depraved. More tears streamed down my face as I realized what Momma planned. Knowing I wouldn’t have agreed had I known, all she’d told me was that she intended to create a distraction.
Jarvis’s eyes gleamed red in the darkness, his eyes taking the little bit of ambient light and reflecting it like a dog—or a wolf. “You sure you want to do that, May? We like to play rough.”
She stroked his penis again. “I think I can handle you.”
Suddenly, Jarvis frowned and gripped her small brown wrist in a hard hold. “What are you up to? You’ve never shown any interest in me before.”
I pinched my leg hard to stifle the surge of emotions that rushed through me, the foremost being fear. The infected could smell strong emotions. Some even got off on creating terror in their victims, like Jarvis and his crew. Being downwind and the insignificant, occasional breeze wouldn’t be enough to prevent my discovery if I didn’t get ahold of my sudden terror.
Sighing, my mother gracefully stood and began doing up her shirt. “It’s no secret that Reese turns sixteen next month, and Hiram is eyeing her to be his new woman. I would prefer to have a protector than become a clan whore. Thought you and your crew might be interested in the role, but if that’s not the case, I’ll return to my cabin. Sorry to bother you.”
She got two steps away before Jarvis said, “Wait. Are you for real?”
Turning to face him, Momma put her hands on her hips. “Am I serious about not wanting to be passed around, expected to spread my legs for any man that asks? Definitely. Hiram’s getting old, and his taste for women is getting younger and younger. Soon, I’m the one he’ll thinks is too old.”
Lie with the truth, Momma had taught me. Momma was only a few years older than Jarvis, but she’d been with Hiram since she was my age. She’d lasted longer than any of Hiram’s other women, but lately Hiram’s eyes had begun straying.
Momma despised Jarvis and men like him. She thought they should be put down like rabid wolves. However, none of that showed in her voice or expression. If I hadn’t known the truth, I’d have believed she really wanted them to claim her as theirs.
“You’d stay with me, be my woman?” he asked.
Momma tilted her head to the side, studying Jarvis from under her lashes. “Will you protect me? Keep the others away from me if I do?”
“With the exception of a select few of my choosing, yes.” He brushed her cloud of curly black hair off her shoulder before suddenly gripping it tight enough to tilt her face up. “If I make you mine, you do what I say, when I say it, and don’t give me any lip. I’ll fuck you however and whenever I want. In exchange, I’ll keep you safe from the others.”
“Agreed, but if Hiram finds out about us before he officially releases me, he’ll kill us both,” Momma warned.
Hiram’s word was law. He strictly controlled what his followers could and couldn’t do. Females couldn’t drive. Couldn’t go into town unescorted. Book learning was allowed, as was learning the skills needed to maintain a family and home. The men were considered soldiers in Hiram’s army, and as such, taught to hunt and kill. The majority were little more than well-trained thugs. Hiram controlled the money and the women. If a man wanted either, he had to bow to Hiram’s wishes.
Jarvis smiled and it was pure evil. “Like you said, Hiram’s getting old. Might be time for a new leader.” He took out his phone and typed into it. “I sent a text to the others to join us. Consider this your audition.”
The scents of Travis and Clay came to me on the wind, coming from two different directions. Seconds later, the three had Momma surrounded. Their hands were on her, impatiently stripping her out of her clothes.
“Are we doing this here where anyone can look out and see? Shouldn’t we go somewhere more private?” she asked.
Hearing the command, I eased into the forest, staying low, moving from tree-to-tree. My steps were slow and steady, as quick movements drew the eye. When I was far enough away, I ran like demons were on my trail. My steps were swift and silent, something I couldn’t have managed in my normal clothes. Fortunately, Momma had been able to steal a pair of Hiram’s pants and shirt from the laundry.
Hiram stood about six feet, had a lean, wiry build, long black hair and the face of a fallen angel. I was tall for a woman, standing five-eleven without shoes. With the addition of a belt for the pants, the clothes were only a little loose. The clothing was still heavy with his scent, which helped to mask mine. I don’t know where she got the boots, but worn with an extra two pairs of socks, they fit well enough for me to run in.
I ran downhill, away from the paved road that led to the small town that was under the cult’s control. Away from the lake that ran along the western border, and the mountains to the north. I was in good shape because exercise was not only encouraged, it was mandated. Got to keep the women strong and healthy so we could give them strong sons, I thought angrily.
“Stay safe. Be strong. Be free.” My mother’s final words to me were a chant in my mind, pushing me to run faster, leap higher, push harder, and last longer. Finally, I bent over at the waist, panting. A stitch pained my side, and I fought the urge to throw up. Finally, after what felt like hours, I could smell the scent of old oil, which meant I was near the barely used logging road.
When I had my breathing under control, I walked, careful to remain hidden by the thick underbrush. I’d smudged my face and hands with dirt, the better to blend into the darkness. As I glanced to the right and the left, I caught a flicker of light. I waited, and it came again. I edged closer to the source.
Every five minutes, a short burst of light released from a flashlight in code. After the third time, I was sure it was my contact. I gave one more careful glance around, lifted my nose to sniff the air, and stepped out into the open.
As soon as I was spotted, a middle-aged woman dressed in a black oversized sweatshirt with the hood up and a pair of jeans got out of the vehicle. She’d backed into the scrub brush so that it was almost hidden. She motioned me over, glancing around warily. Ducking low, I ran across the road.
“Hurry, we don’t have much time. Dawn is approaching.” She led me to the rear of the vehicle and opened the trunk. “Help me move these.”
There were several baskets of clothes, linens, and blankets inside. It looked like she’d just come from the laundry mat. The scent of fabric softener wafted up as soon as she opened the trunk. I struggled not to gag as it overpowered my sensitive nose.
“Climb in. I’ll pile this in around you and pray we don’t get stopped.” This close to her, I saw golden brown skin, round black eyes with a slight tilt to them, a pert nose and straight black hair that swung forward like a curtain when she bent forward.
I scrambled inside and scooted as far back inside of the large trunk as I could. Even as I positioned myself, she was tossing everything back inside.
“If it gets stuffy, turn and face the rear seats. I lowered the middle console to allow air to seep through. This is the best I can do until we’re safe. You good?”
“Yes.” My nostril clogged and I struggled not to choke, but I’d suffer through worse if it meant freedom.
“I threw in a couple of pillows. Brace one under your head so you don’t get a crook in your neck. If you need to get my attention, pound on the back seat. I’m closing the trunk now.”
“Okay. Thank you.” My words were heartfelt.
“Honey, I owe your momma. She got me out. No way wouldn’t I help get you away from those loonies.” The lid of the trunk shut soundly, enclosing me in darkness. Seconds later, the engine turned, and the car was in motion.
“Bye, Momma. I love you,” I whispered, knowing in my bones I’d never see her again.