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Swallow it Down

Swallow it Down

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“A love story as passionate and intelligent as it is beautiful.”- Alta Hensley, USA TODAY bestselling author

I’ve seen the way he looks at me.

The Captain. The unquestioned leader of this ship.

I’ve felt his fingertips brush my skin. Heard his laugh. Experienced his smile.

One that’s only for me, and only in secret.

And I know what he wants.

Main Tropes

  • Abduction, Blackmail
  • Dubious Consent
  • Breeding
  • High Angst
  • He Falls First
  • Abuse of Power
  • Possessive, Obsessive Male
  • Virginal Heroine. Resistance
  • Love Conquers All


“A love story as passionate and intelligent as it is beautiful.”- Alta Hensley, USA TODAY bestselling author

I’ve seen the way he looks at me.

The Captain. The unquestioned leader of this ship.

A ship I wish to be free of. A man I want to be as far away from as my legs might carry me.

The society he’s designed, the rules, the endless battle of wills...

Yes, I’ve seen the way he looks at me.

I’ve felt his fingertips brush my skin. Heard his laugh. Experienced his smile.

One that’s only for me, and only in secret.

And I know what he wants.

He told me himself that everyone has to pay; that all who survived the fall of civilization were culpable. That’s how he justifies the decisions he’s made, the necessary evils he allows to take place on this ship… all in the name of a greater good. 

And it’s why I resist the starved way his gaze drinks me down. Why I can’t be had at any price. 

SWALLOW IT DOWN is an angst-ridden, enemies to lovers romance, boasting a strong female lead and a swoon worthy hero. This standalone features an HEA that will keep you turning the page all night.

Intro into Chapter 1

Dripping, swampy sweat had gathered between Eugenia’s breasts. Her mouth a desert. Knowing exactly how foul the act was, she delved dirty fingers between slimy mounds to bring the salty brine to parched lips.

And she sucked them clean, ignoring the taste of road dust.

Scrambling to cover exposed skin, cleavage was concealed. From head to toes, her body fully draped to protect from the relentless sun. That same protection half the reason she was melting alive in no man’s land. 

Sweat. Or burn and sweat. A lose-lose situation.

Wide-brimmed hat, woven by hand and ugly as the day was long, kept the sun off her face. A bandana kept the dust out of her mouth. Layers of repurposed tee-shirts, badly sewn together animal skins, jeans, sneakers on the verge of losing their soles. Torn bits and bobs, a sea of safety pins and animal gut thread keeping her just as fashionably disgusting as everyone else since the world ended.

And the goddamn sun was relentless, miles yet until she might reach where Fresh Water marked her map.

It had been two days.

Two days without fluids was enough to kill in this kind of heat.

A lapping lakeshore—spanned by the raggedy stone bridge underfoot—was just another reminder that nothing could be trusted. Murky, undrinkable water taunted travelers. Water that had tempted many to take a sip. Eugenia had seen enough corpses on the road not to fall for nature's trick.

Not to listen to the sweet splashes as she pined for a drink.

It had once been so easy to grab a bottle of chilled water from the fridge. To not question the source or the safety. Food had been abundant and full of variety. People used words like organic, vegan, prime...

Now? Not so much. Eat what you find or don’t eat at all. And that included the rare expired snack food that one would think might be exciting when the menu often included grubs, but really… the taste of before didn't come with a sense of nostalgia. It came with a knife of remembrance. 

The stone bridge. The water. The dead forest taunted her enough with what the world had been. A rare find of Cheetos just pissed her off.

Humid air rustled through branches, but there was no whisper of leaves sighing as trees swayed. Only the bony noise of clicking, snapping wood.

Pathetic last words, but worth muttering. “What I wouldn’t give for air conditioning.” 

The man plodding on at her side grumbled, “They got that up in city. If you’d just go to one, you can pay for cool air like everyone else.” 

John wasn’t the worst companion she’d met on the road. Of a similar age, strong enough to carry his own pack and contribute, he was the quiet sort. Only got handsy with her once. Learned his lesson and remembered the manners his mother must have taught him before nuclear war fucked up everything everywhere.

“Need I remind you, John, this shortcut was your idea.” He'd strongly suggested this very route, leaning over her without so much as brushing her shoulder when they came to a crossroads and she had to decide left or right.

With a slanted grin, he shrugged. “According to your map, this trail took two days off the journey to Fresh Water.”  

It wasn’t a trail if the road was paved, but there was really no point in correcting him. Especially since she had agreed. The reason she’d agreed? Because it also kept them farther from the marked settlements on her map. 

Even better, travelers avoided the dead woods under the false assumption that the forest was toxic. But there were no char marks or wilting. None of the telltale signs that hinted at radiation. The trees were dead, true, but they were also decaying. Irradiated woods didn’t decay, because they lacked the microbes responsible for recycling organic matter. These trees died after the bombs fell.

Gypsy Moths.

The forest died when, year after year, caterpillars decimated their leaves—damaging the tree’s ability to respirate and gather energy from the sun. Trunks fell and rotted like they were supposed to. Many lay in the road, slowly turning to sawdust.

There were bugs to eat. There were animals to hunt. There were other things growing like weeds on a grave, which meant there was also rain.

Not that Eugenia had enjoyed a sudden thunderstorm or the relief of water she might actually drink falling from the sky. From the look of the dried-out body face down in the middle of the bridge, that poor soul hadn’t felt the rain either. 

Rushing to pillage the corpse’s pack, John pulled the zipper and found… nothing of value. Eugenia could have told him that. If the person had water, they wouldn’t have died on the middle of a bridge, face down and mostly ignored by the wildlife.

Let the man moan and curse.

John’s frustration was hers; it was everyone’s in the dead world where nothing was easy and everything hurt.

A world greedy humans ruined.

A spoiled world in which Eugenia had been crushing her second year of med school. Harvard, full scholarship.

Then the bombs fell; cities were wiped away in a blink. She’d been camping with friends. Friends who were all dead now, or being whored. Or died being whored. She didn’t know.

Couldn’t think about it too hard. Just like she wouldn’t think about who the corpse might have been.

Because whatever existed before was gone.

The dark ages were back with a vengeance, and City. City was a cesspool. Didn’t matter which one. No sanitation, roving gangs always fighting for territory, the only way most women might make a buck was on their backs.

And considering the extreme increase in violence against women once the world went to hell, there weren’t all that many women left.

So fuck City. And considering the types she’d kept up with since the fall, fuck men in general.

John wasn’t so bad. But if he looked at her with that puppy stare one more time, she just might pop him in the mouth.

Leaning against a crumbling stone side rail, she watched John pick through the corpse's pockets, wondering when someone would be doing that to her. And boy would they be disappointed. She had nothing others would find valuable in her pack—the pack itself faded from the blue it had been when new. Torn here and there. Empty of supplies. Heavy, because no matter how bad things got, both volumes of Nelson’s Textbook of Pediatrics went where she went.

He flipped the corpse over to rifle through what rotting tatters might conceal, the body seeming to smile up at her.

Eugenia didn’t smile back.

“We need to get moving.” Or this was how she was going to die. 

On an endless stone bridge in dangerous, unknown territory, seeking water that was so close she could taste it. Going mad from the sound of tainted drink just a few feet away.

No different than the other bodies they’d found on the road. The whole bodies, the bloated bodies, the dried bodies, and… well... the bits of bodies left after wild dogs found supper.

Man’s best friend wasn’t so friendly once it started starving.

Which was a pity. Eugenia had grown up with such a great mutt. She still liked dogs. And they liked her too… for a snack.

Killing that first pup in self-defense had been harder than knifing a man trying to get into her pants.

And they all tried.

Which was precisely why she’d been forced to leave her former accommodation, again, and make her way south to new territory.

Where she’d picked up John wallowing on the side of the road. Where she didn’t make small talk but shared her supplies.

Everyone held on to something from the past.

John’s seemed to be a sense of optimistic stupidity.

Eugenia’s was sheer stubbornness and an undying sense of anger that—thanks to a shit president and a fucked-up world—all her dreams had been blown to ash. All her hard work, all the sacrifices she had made to achieve her goals… useless.

Two years of med school did not make one a doctor. A medic, in theory. Which had been handy when there was nothing to trade. But a medic with tits wasn’t safe.

She learned that lesson in the first disease-riddled settlement. AKA, the shanty town of Wellspring.

Pretty name for an awful place.

And in the years since, there wasn’t any place she wandered by that wasn’t awful. Might as well pick one and plant her flag. Give up on her life as a vagrant. Live where sewage collected on the streets and everyone was sick from dirty water and improper hygiene. Try to make things better.

But, if they didn’t get moving, she was going to die on that long, stone bridge, never knowing air conditioning again. John would probably take her stuff and die a mile or two up the path. Another traveler would loot his corpse. Just as she had looted bodies for years and pretended not to cry.

There wasn’t any moisture for tears now. No point in regrets. But still, that kernel of anger festered, because her perfect future had been stolen by power-mongering boneheads. And six years of living a hard life had not broken her as quickly as it had the others.

Which was unfair.

Why care anymore? Why keep looking for a good place and good people?

“Do you see that?” John, wasting precious energy, waved his arm toward a portion of the lake obscured by dead trees.

“Yup, it’s water.”

“I didn’t think the stories were real, but I’ll be damned. They even got power!”

Electricity was only in City, and even there it was hard to come by, spotty, and cost more than just a cock in the cunt. Anal. That’s what it cost.

Yet, a glitter broke through the copse of decaying trees. Electric light. Which meant water.

Which meant survival.

Already making a mental list of the crap in her pack, trying to scrounge up any idea of what to trade for a full canteen. Shamefully daydreaming of air conditioning and a soft bed.

Knowing full well that an ocean liner had no business in a freshwater lake. That electricity didn’t exist in the no man’s land on her map. And that she’d gone too long without hydration and was hallucinating.

“Wait.” The word was dry, so dry that even though she tried to stop him, John had already begun to run toward the shore. Splashing through sludge, having left his valuables right there on the shore, he dove in, swimming toward the enormous, shining boat.

Something wasn’t right.

Who uses electricity when the sun is up? That awful gut feeling that kept her as safe as one might be in this new world clenched so hard it stole her breath. This wasn’t a good place. This wasn’t a good place if no one knew about it and no map she’d seen marked a moored, massive ship large enough to hold thousands.

But there were people on the landing, coming out at John’s hollering. There was a red-carpeted gangplank leading up to the upper levels, welcoming passengers as if they were about to take Eugenia’s dreamed-of cruise to the Bahamas.

There would be water. Filtration systems that pumped out water she could actually drink.

“John, come back!” But he ignored her, swimming on.

And she could see those few gathered outside were armed. Men pointing right at her as if to say, “Collect that.”

Because this was a bad place

And thanks to John, they had seen her.

Options were limited. Swim across the lake and face whatever might be found on her terms. Or, wait for the party already boarding a dinghy to come chase her down in the woods.

She didn’t have the strength to run. She didn’t have the strength to swim.

But no way on God’s dead earth was she going to stand on the shore and be collected.

Potentially drowning in that lake would be better than dying under strangers, chased down by the men earnestly slicing oars through water to reach her. 

Men who didn’t call out a greeting. Men who looked large and well fed.

And don’t forget those guns. Big ones. 

Considering it was so fucking hot, why not take a final swim?

Let them see she was not afraid. That she never buckled. That she was smarter than leading them on a merry chase through dead woods.

And that was that. 

Off went the hat, the backpack with her precious volumes, the outer layers that would come between her filthy skin and cool, murky water. In she went, swimming for the ship. Knowing she’d never make it.

But she did.

The human condition wouldn’t let her sink. Delirious, the body fought the mind and she cut through the water like a fish. Fingers reached the bobbing gangplank, having somehow passed the boat, somehow passed John, who splashed in her wake.

A stranger’s firm hands pulled her from the lake, where she fell immediately to her back, staring up at a sun so blinding she couldn’t make out the shadowed faces standing over her.

“Well, aren’t you a pretty one?” Someone was pawing at her face, turning her chin and brushing wet, red curls off her cheek.

Trying to swat off the attention was almost more effort than her exhausted muscles might put forth. “Hands off the goods.”

“And bossy to boot.”

The sounds of her companion being pulled from the water, of his sputtering and coughing, were ignored. Eugenia, still blinded by the sun but doing her damnedest to point her eyes in the direction of the dark figure hovering closest, muttered, “Mister, just tell me one thing. You got air conditioning on this ship?”

A masculine chuckle was the only answer supplied.

Her companion coughed, then sucked in a breath to say, “Brought the girl for sale. As you can see, she’s a beauty. A great ride too.”

John. Fucking puppy-eyed John.

How dare he! After she’d hunted for him, shared resources... allowed him to travel with her and glimpse the precious map. 

Even though someone held a canteen to her lips, even when clean water warmed by the sun splashed her tongue and was gulped. Right then, right when that water hit her gut, she knew it. John had been planning to sell her all along. That’s why the pussy kept pushing for City. That’s why he suggested the shortcut when his whining never won her.

His voice was coming closer. John crawled near where she guzzled. “Do we have a deal for the girl?”

“No.” Authoritative, definite.

Maybe there was a God.

Or maybe there was just nothing but evil. “A slave can’t sell a slave. You want water, boy. You work for it. If you don’t work, you get tossed over with the rest who failed to pull their weight.”

In raggedy underclothes, head pounding, muscles noodley, Eugenia found the strength to lean up on an elbow and spit every drop of life-saving water in her mouth at the traitor. “Pig!”

The same man who had deemed her a slave at first glance ordered, “Get her off the ramp before that creamy skin burns. Take her to the women on Level 15—in the air conditioning. Have them clean her up and keep her alive. This siren’s too valuable to let die.”

Fighting with the little strength she had, biting, hoarse screams, and pathetic flopping did nothing to keep her from being shouldered like a knapsack.

It wasn’t a short walk, but she didn’t give up, powerless to move her arms more than a sorry swing but sharp with her tongue. She threatened the stranger’s life, swore she’d tear off his cock if he put it anywhere near her. His mother. His family. Creative in her expletives until a door opened and cool air blasted her back.

There really was air conditioning on that boat! One taste of it on her skin and she went from spitting hellcat to sobbing wreck.

The trivial thing she’d craved most from the life stolen when the bombs fell was just as divine as she remembered.

“Hey, Joan, here’s a new one. Captain wants her cleaned up and kept alive. Level 15.”

“Well”—a woman spoke, a no-nonsense, middle-aged voice—“won’t that just get the men frothing at the mouth? And just look at all that red hair.”

“Temper to match. She’s a biter.” Hefting Eugenia down against something soft and forgotten, the bruiser who dragged her into air-conditioned hell warned Joan, “Watch yourself.”

“Yeah, I heard you. Now go. No men are allowed up here until the bell.”

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