Run, run, just keep running…
I willed my tired legs to keep pumping. My muscles burned as though injected with venom and my bare feet were completely numb as they slammed onto the cold hard forest floor, but I would not give up… could not give up.
Breathe, run, just keep moving…
My eyes darted around the dark forest, searching for the disciples. None to be seen, but it was only a matter of time. They would soon realize I was missing. But I could not stay, could not do my pre-ordained duty to the prophet; not after what happened tonight.
My lungs burned with the severity of my sharp gasps and my chest heaved with overexertion.
Push through the pain. Run, just run.
Passing the third watchtower, unseen, I let myself feel a momentary sliver of joy—the perimeter fence was not too far away. I allowed myself the hope that I might actually get free.
Then the emergency siren wailed and I shuddered to a stop.
They know. They are coming for me.
I forced my legs to move even faster; thorns and sharp sticks jabbed into the soles of my feet. Gritting my teeth, I told myself, Do not feel pain. Do not feel pain. Think of her.
They could not find me. I could not let them find me. I knew the rules. Never leave. Never attempt to leave. But I was fleeing. I was determined to escape their wickedness once and for all.
Spotting the tall posts of the perimeter fence, my arms pumped with renewed vigor as I made the final steps of my sprint. I smashed against the rigid metal with a crash, the posts grinding at the force of my collision.
I frantically searched for a gap.
I ran along each post—no gaps, no holes… no hope.
In a panic, I fell to the ground, clawing the dry earth, tunneling, digging for freedom. My fingers raked at the hard mud—fingernails snapping, skin ripping, blood flowing—but I did not stop. I had no choice but to find a way out.
The siren wailed on, seeming to scream ever more loudly, like a countdown to my recapture. If I was found, I would be watched constantly, treated worse than ever before—I would be even more of a prisoner than I was right now.
I would rather die.
How long have I been gone? Are they close? Panicked thoughts whirled in my mind, but I kept digging.
Then I heard the dogs closing in; the barking, snarling, rabid, vicious fury of The Order’s guard dogs and my digging became more frenzied.
The disciple guards carried guns; large, semi-automatic guns. They defended this land like lions. They were brutal and they always got their prey. I would be captured and punished, just like her. Tortured for my disobedience.
Just. Like. Her.
The search hounds were louder now, harsh, heavy panting and nerve-jangling barks getting ever closer. I swallowed back the cry threatening to rip free from my throat and continued digging, burrowing, scooping, shoveling—to be free. Always yearning to be free…
I stilled momentarily as I heard a babble of voices. Sharp commands sounded out. Gun barrels were loading, the echoes of safety catches clicked; heavy boots stomped closer and closer.
They were too close.
I almost shrieked in frustrated terror when I judged the gap under the fence did not look big enough to fit me. But I had to keep going. I did not have a choice. I had to try. I could not live one more day in this hell.
Headfirst, chest grazing the newly-excavated ground, I slipped through the tiny gap under the fence. The flesh of my shoulder grated on the ragged metal of the mesh wire but I did not care—what was one more scar?
Using my hands as claws, I dragged my body forward. I heard clear voices, the crystal timbre of the brothers; their savage dogs, consumed by bloodlust, as they howled with deliberately induced hunger.
“She’ll be searching for gaps or weak links. Secure the second team along the north gate. We’ll head for the south, and no matter what, FIND HER! The Prophet will bring the wrath of the Almighty on us all if she is lost!”
Quelling an anxious cry, I pushed and scrambled forward. I scurried through the dry mud, legs flailing in desperation. Deep scratches covered my skin. My white gown ripped and tore into shreds on spikes of jagged barbed wire, and I watched helplessly as my blood trickled onto the dry ground.
No! I almost screamed out in frustration. The hounds would smell my blood. They were trained to scent blood.
With one final push, my body was through, only my legs were left to go. I shuffled onto my back, heels digging in, striving for freedom.
A feeling, no, a flood of elation at the realization I was all but free quickly evaporated at the sight of a black hound skirting round a nearby bush. Focusing on a tree outside the fence—a goal to crawl to—I tried to pull myself forward, when a jolt of pain seared through my left leg. Razor-sharp teeth sliced into my flesh, and when I looked down, a heavily muscled guard dog held my left calf in its grip; snarling and shaking its head, tearing into fragile skin and muscle.
Paling with the severity of the pain, I fought back a growing sense of nausea. I slapped my palms on the forest floor, finding purchase on a large stone. Choking back a scream that was clawing its way up my throat, I dragged my mauled leg away from the fence toward my goal. The dog tried to force its large head under the fence, tightening its grip on my limb, shaking it back and forth like it was playing with a stick.
With the last of my energy, I attacked. The stone I had dragged myself with came loose in my hands and I hit the dog’s skull over and over and over, its bared fangs dripping with white-red foam, its hellish black eyes burning bright with anger. The disciple guards starved their hounds to make them bloodthirsty and forced them to fight each other to make them permanently angry. The disciple guards reasoned that the hungrier their dogs were, the more vicious they would be when hunting down deserters.
Inhaling through my nose, I tried to keep focus; I just needed to loosen the dog’s grip, just a fractional release to let go of my injured left leg.
And then it happened.
With a final crack of the stone, the incensed canine reared back, shaking its bruised head. I dragged myself free of the shallow gap, my breath coming in short sharp bursts as my body reacted to the shock.
As I shuffled away from the fence, a wry thought sped across my mind; I had actually done it. I am free.
The dog, though groggy and recovering from its hit, lunged for the gap. Once more it snapped its large jaws and sharp teeth and with it, me from my haze. Edging forward, I quickly filled the gap with as much mud as I could gather, then tried to stand, but my injured leg could not take the strain, could not bear my weight. Inside, I cried, Not now! Please, Lord, just give me the strength to keep going.
“Here! She’s here!”
A black-uniformed disciple emerged from the dense foliage, glaring furiously at my crouched form beyond the fence. He removed his balaclava and my heart fell. I would recognize that long scar on his cheek anywhere. Gabriel, Prophet David’s second-in-command; his brown heavy beard hiding most of his face, as was custom with all the brothers at The Order. However, Gabriel was the disciple my people feared most, the man responsible for the atrocity I witnessed tonight… responsible for me losing her…
"You do not cage me, Styx . You make me soar."
*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*
It Ain't Me Babe intrigued me from the start, it is the story of Salome, a girl raised in a commune and Styx an outlaw biker; they seemed an unlikely couple yet their chance meeting years ago sealed their fate. Salome had been conditioned to believe that the outside world was full of sinners and she was only safe within the walls of The Order, a religious cult. However, when she loses her sister, it is the last straw and Salome decides life behind the gates must be far better than the one she has been forced to live up until now. Chance would have it that she falls into the lap of the boy she has dreamed of for the last fifteen years.
"I cried for a long time before I gave in to exhaustion and drifted off to sleep, still unsure if I was being lured into a den of evil. But I felt completely and utterly safe in the strong arms of the only boy I had ever kissed."
When Salome arrives battered and broken outside The Hangmen MC, Styx can't believe she is the same girl that has been haunting his dreams since he was eleven years old. Styx wants nothing more than to claim Salome as his own but his conscience gets the better of him and he doesn't believe the life of an old lady is fair to Salome, she has been sheltered from the world and every act she has been led to believe is a sin. Styx can't expose her to violence, guns and debauchery but can't turn her away either so when he has to leave for business he pushes her away and into the arms of his good friend Rider, trusting him to look after her.
When Salome arrived at the MC club, she wanted to start over and with that she became known as Mae, shedding the name given to her by The Order. The story skips forward to one month later and I felt I missed the early days of Mae's recovery. I really wanted to know how she adjusted to her new life and with her spending time apart from Styx, this slowed down their connection and it took me a while to feel it.
Both characters interested me and I liked the fact they both brought something different to the story. Styx was known as the Hangmen Mute. He suffers from a speech impediment and therefore he uses sign language as a means of communication. For a president of an MC club, you think it wouldn't work but strangely it does. Styx commands attention and no one dares to cross him.
I could understand why Styx was torn, he felt in his bones that Mae was made for him and she was the only person aside from his late father and best friend that he could speak in front of. But he cared for her too much to involve her in his way of life. When Styx returned from his first run, seeing how close Rider and Mae had grown infuriated him and he realised his mistake. He was done holding back from Mae and he claimed her as his own.
"My old man was fuckin' right; I did only need three things in life: my Harley, my Fender . . . and the love of an old lady-Mae; only Mae."
Mae was a strong character; it took courage for her to escape her commune and for her to live through what the leaders subjected her to. When I discovered the age Mae was when the tortured started, it brought tears to my eyes and it doesn't bear thinking about. Mae walked away from the only life she had ever known. She had to start over, learning everything from scratch. Material possessions and current affairs were foreign to her, everything she believed to be true was called into question and Mae had to work out the type of person she wanted to be. The acts she witnessed at the MC shocked her to the core and although frightened Mae knew by Styx' side was where she was meant to be. A motorcycle club could have been the worst place for her to end up but in fact, she found shelter, love, solace and peace in the MC and the members within it.
The storyline had action, plenty of violence, raw, gritty scenes and many sexy times too. It really is Sons of Anarchy in book form. There was a twist at the end that was done well and Styx would stop at nothing until Mae's safety was guaranteed. He was pure Alpha through and through at that point.
I am a fan of Tillie Cole's work and It Ain't Me, Babe is a big departure from her previous books. Her writing is always thorough and well researched and I could appreciate the quality of the writing but for some reason I didn't fall head over heels for Mae and Styx, I did feel their anguish and I wanted them to be together but I felt there was a barrier that prevented me from really getting them. Perhaps the slow build in the beginning and their shaky start halted my ability to connect with them. The relationship with Rider threw me off course and all I wanted was more time with Styx and Mae.
The plot puts a new spin on your average MC book and I really liked the inclusion of the commune, although it was heartbreaking to read about, it was interesting yet simultaneously terrifying to think this actually happens. The real life of an MC was portrayed well, there was no sugar coating it. Styx wasn't your normal clean cut boyfriend, there was blood, gore and action thrown in. It was raw, gritty and in your face. I thought the world Tillie created was genuine, believable, and above all entertaining.
It Ain't Me, Babe is a great new offering from Tillie Cole. I have no doubt fans of MC books will love this one. It has some interesting characters and a unique story line, worth checking out for yourself.
"With every passing second his kiss grew more frenzied, like this was it, like this kiss was all we would ever have. This time everything was different. The boy River had grown into Styx the man and despite his flaws and his harshness, he was all I wanted. All I had ever wanted."
"I was completely consumed by his every touch, his taste and smell, and at that moment, I gave my soul whole-heatedly, to a sinner."
"Mae cleared her throat and her big blue eyes lifted up to meet mine. "I have only ever liked one boy in my life. I have only wanted one man to have as my own. I have only ever had one dream since I was eight. Styx, the dream is you. You stole me heart fifteen years ago and you still haven't given it back."
"So that was making love. . . I had just made love to Styx. I had been right all along. We were always fated to be together. He is my everything. He is my entire world. . . Styx is my salvation."
Tillie Cole is a Northern girl through and through. She originates from a place called Teesside on that little but awesomely sunny (okay I exaggerate) Isle called Great Britain. She was brought up surrounded by her English rose mother -- a farmer's daughter, her crazy Scottish father, a savagely sarcastic sister and a multitude of rescue animals and horses.
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